For some of us it may still be too soon, at the mere mention of Cilla my only thought is "lorra lorra foon". Which is a shame because damn she could sing. Give it another twenty years or so....
A problem which is not helped at all by various Western discourses* that actually limit the scope of the Saudi government, which may be imperilled when seen to be giving in to Infidels. Indeed the current witch hunting does seem to look like that similarly political vehicle of Catholicism The Inquisition.
Which took place in the 12 and 13th centuries
Apologies I was a bit lazy in making my point. It always amuses me that Saudi Arabia is referred to as an absolute monarchy as this would imply relatively simple rules of succession and authority. In reality the king has to propose a successor and can only pass laws/decrees* with the approval of the Ulema under the terms of the agreement between Saud and al-Wahhab. Ulema are Islamic scholars, who run the judiciary and advise the king. The most influential group amongst the Ulema are the Al ash-Sheikh family, descendants of al-Wahhab. Hence the king is surrounded and to some extent contained in his authority by Wahhabi scholars. A critical point of local control and influence is the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice. When I lived in Saudi these were known to me as Mattawa - the religious police. Though they report directly to the King they are by nature an extension of clerical authority. In the past we all knew not to upset the Mattawa, but were not deeply fearful of them. As pointed out, their activities of late have taken a sinister turn for the worse. It was this that drew a comparison with the Inquisition and invited my own speculation that this change is politically driven and not necessarily with the complete blessing of the King or the Consultative Assembly * *. It may be pushing the point a little to suggest that this alarming regression is a reflection of the dissonant politics of the country and the region as a whole.
Witch-hunts and snatching apostates however limited in numbers isn’t in keeping with the country I left behind and really very unpleasant. The old agenda was “reform in our own time”; this sadly seems to have gone. I make this point in the knowledge that the nation state that describes itself as Saudi Arabia is only 82 years old. Like much of the Middle East a coherent national identity still comes second to an array of regional and tribal interests. By way of contrast, it took America more than 50 years to grant female suffrage and another 40 or so years to grant universal suffrage. My point being that the world expects a great deal of a new nation in terms of modernisation, democracy and rights.
And John Key is looking forward to going to Saudi Arabia next year to negotiate a free trade agreement.
I mean, can we get even a little condemnation up in here?
I have no problem at all with western democracies being very critical of their own duplicity. Indeed I wish it would happen more often. After all when you see two kids scuffling in the yard do you throw them each a knife? Because it is worth remembering that USA, Russia, Britain and France have happily armed just about everyone in the region at different times; making substantial profits from a regional arms race that is proving to have dire consequences.
I also sometimes wonder what difference it would make if the world just consumed less oil………
*As noted in the programme Sharia is a living interpretation of “gods will”. The important implication here is that there is no common law, no constitution or bill of rights. Basic human rights are determined through clerical interpretation of the Quran and Sunnah. In the absence of case law, courts can be very political and somewhat arbitrary in judgement. This is problematic, but then again so is the 2nd Amendment of the US constitution.
** The consultative assembly is a 150 person council made up largely of overseas educated technocrats 30 of whom are women.
I thought he could have been a lot less equivocal about the vile punishments employed in Saudi Arabia
In fairness you didn't give him a lot of space to work with. The elements preceding the discussion afford an unkind line of equivalence to be drawn between the activities of ISIS (IS) and Saudi via sharia law. As Toi points out the issues around this are somewhat complex. Sharia is a scholarly device for interpretation of in Islamic terms "gods will". The problem here is not the device but the context of interpretation. Saudi Arabian governance is dominated by Wahhabism. You can’t really discuss Sharia in Saudi without examining the historical and contemporary relationship between the family of ibn Saud and Wahhabi. This in the simplest of terms plays out like the relationship between Catholicism and European Monarchy with one key weakness, that there is no divine right to rule under Islam. In terms of social and intellectual authority this limits the power of any leader in Saudi to modernise. A problem which is not helped at all by various Western discourses* that actually limit the scope of the Saudi government, which may be imperilled when seen to be giving in to Infidels. Indeed the current witch hunting does seem to look like that similarly political vehicle of Catholicism The Inquisition. I am quite sure that many Wahhabi scholars would much prefer a pure theocracy rather than one which reflects a 250 year old legacy deal with a strong and somewhat fortunate tribal leader. Wahhabism does in fairness provide a more logical link between what goes on in Saudi and ISIS but I think it is reasonable to say that similarities end there.
For the sake of balance it is worth noting the scope of the struggle within Saudi Arabia through some often overlooked facts on the ground. Take a look at the relationship between KAUST and Saudi Aramco. For as much as they may be described as “window dressing” they are real, very un-Wahhabi and rarely ever discussed in any media analysis of Sharia or Saudi politics.
While I would prefer not to be seen as an apologist for beheadings, I do despair at the one dimensional analysis of affairs in Saudi Arabia. This at times seems driven by self-serving caricatures and historically wilful ignorance. I am deeply sceptical of “springs” and “shoots of democracy” that too often have tragic consequences. They appear to me at least to have deeply sinister overtones when set against the broader context of politics and economics in the broader Middle East.
<disclaimer> I was born in the Middle East and did some significant growing up in the region. It has been some time since I left the region and my interests/opinions are personal rather than academic.
*I would seek to include another so called “theocratic democracy” in that discourse which is very much part of the problem but I won’t go on about that at risk of a Middle East Godwin.
Gotta say I love voting in NZ me and the wee man went together and then I went for a run in the sun. What a chilled out day after the past few weeks. Perhaps now I'll get some work done......
The inference in Cameron Slater's email that blogger and lawyer Cathy Odgers had any influence over that column is risible.
So it is reasonable to infer that Fran and Cathy Odgers were in communication?
As an aside to religion in Universities:
In my first year I was billeted in halls and witnessed a tale that has passed into urban myth. During freshers week and for a month or so later it was quite common to have the student evangelical union roam the halls looking for lonely souls on Sunday nights. One weekend they happened upon a young man five doors down from me who had just dropped his first (and only) “trip”. After being talked into attending a prayer meeting he had a “lysergic epiphany” and of course, he was baptised on the spot. Had the f***ery ended there, perhaps things would not have been so bad. Unfortunately he found the resolve to dump his girlfriend that night and phone his parents to tell them of his most recent conversion. Unfortunately his family were Hindu. At the time this caused quite a scandal. The young man concerned continues to enjoy a successful career in finance (make of that what you will).
Okay some questions on education.
Depending on how you see it, the Student Green card is a nod or bribe to the student vote. However it is no substitute for a teritiary policy. The value of the graduate premium is going down, the individual debt burden for students is going up, bulk funding for Universities/Tertiary has dropped in real terms and the growth caps on Universities have left a number of instuitutions with large debts accrued through underfunded infrastructure expansion. So what is the future for the HE sector? Where will the money come from and is the current model sustainable or indeed desirable?
The current fixation on league tables and ineffective zoning rules have led to an extensive growth in pupils being driven from some distance to so called "good schools". This would seem to be a green issue; is the only answer more public transport?
Oh and while we're at it, what's the policy on standards/testing?
Oh I forgot the...
"at the end of the day ordinary New Zealanders aren't interested in three year old news..."
Unfortunately I failed to recall.....