Do we see a glimmer of light in the dark case of Raif Badawi? King Abdullah has referred the case to the Saudi Arabian supreme court, following the international dismay at the public flogging Badawi received earlier this month.
Last week the news was grim. The imprisoned blogger might not have received his scheduled 50 lashes on Friday morning, but this was no act of clemency on the part of the Saudi authorities. The flogging was only delayed because Badawi was too ill and weak from his flogging the week before.
One-thousand lashes and a 10 year prison term would be a brutal punishment for any crime. But the fact that Badawi has received this sentence for insulting Islam and of founding a liberal website is astonishing. The world is appalled. The Charlie Hebdo murders have drawn public attention to ideas of freedom of speech and blasphemy, and the Raif Badawi case offers a chillingly convenient coda to the events in Paris. Continue reading We can win the fight to save Raif Badawi from the horror of Saudi Arabian ‘justice’→
If the electorate cannot get rid of their representative outside of election time … I think its is only fair that the representatives cannot rid themselves of their electorate either.
I think a similar principle holds for monarchies. If the hereditary principle means that people cannot choose their head of state, then its inconsistent and wrong for the monarch to be able to choose whether or not they serve as head of state! If we allow blood-lines to play a part in our constitution then we have to accept whatever gaffe-prone idiot that genetics throws up… and that idiot is stuck with the populous too.
To my mind, a single abication undermines the whole idea of hereditary monarchy. Any country where that happens should transition to a full democracy with an elected or legislature-appointed head of state (I prefer democracies with a nominal, not executive president but I’m sure there are arguments for and against both models). I hope that the abdication of the Spanish King triggers a referendum that ends the anacronism.
Wrong. A crucial bit of sexism remains, and it is this:
When the reigning monarch is male, he is called ‘King’ and his consort is called ‘Queen’.
When the reigning monarch is female, she is called ‘Queen’ and her consort is called Prince.1
Why the discrepancy? Well, because a ‘King’ is greater than a ‘Queen’! There is obviously no practical reason for this inequality. It is just that our culture is sexist. The problem runs deep: Think of how a King is worth more than a Queen in card games.
If we’re going to stick with a hereditary monarchy, then future male consorts of reigning Queens should be called ‘King consort’.
You know how we change the official wording of things when its a Queen and not a King (for e.g. Queen’s Counsel; God Save the Queen)? British people should make the same changes when it comes to card games. ‘British Rules’ poker and bridge should see the four Queen cards trump the four King cards, when the monarch happens to be a woman.
1. In reverse chronological order: Prince Philip is married to Queen Elizabeth II Prince Albert was married to Queen Victoria, and Prince George was married to Queen Anne. Both Queen Marys were married to people who were reigning Kings, and Queen Elizabeth I never married. Empress Matilda was never called Queen herself.
The #EqualMarriage timeline on Twitter is full of people praising Queen Elizabeth II for approving the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill. There is a strong sense of knowing irony steaming off those messages. I feel that most of the people celebrating the new law think its rather ridiculous that the approval of the Monarch is still required.
What a relief, then, to learn that actually, Queen Elizabeth II did not formally approve the new law. ‘Royal Assent’ is actually a procedural step in the House of Lords. The monarch is invoked in the process, but she is not personally involved in the decision. From the Wikipedia page:
This matters, because we should recognise that this pro-family reform of the law is the work of Parliament and Democracy. It is not a gift to us from the Establishment. It is not that ‘La Reyne’ or ‘Le Roy’ wills it… but that the people of the United Kingdom have willed it. That’s important.
Benjamin Cohen, a long-term campaigner for the reform, has the right formulation:
The double-Booker winning author Hilary Mantel has caused controversy, after delivering an uncompromising critique of the Duchess of Cambridge. The lecture she gave to the London Review of Books is now online: audio and text.
The Daily Mail and the Metro seem to have misinterpreted Mantel, reporting the speech as a ‘scathing’ and ‘venomous’ attack on the Duchess. But that is not the author’s sentiment at all. Instead, Mantel is critiquing the way in which the illusion of Royalty turns women into objects, vessels, and wombs. I am sure that Kate herself would find the analysis uncomfortable, but the attack is on the Monarchy as a whole, and on media outlets like the Mail and the Metro that feed off the images of Royal consorts.
The backlash towards Mantel puts me in the mind of the Orwell (or was it Hearst) quote: “Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations.” The speech is a form of social and cultural criticism rather than journalism, but I think the Orwell/Hearst sentiment applies equally. Mantel’s negative comments about Royalty are precsiely the sort of thing that other people – call them Monarchists, or ‘The Establishment’, or social conservatives – would prefer had been left unsaid. That fact is, in itself, a reason to applaud Hilary Mantel for saying it alound and in public. This speech should shock us into reconsidering the role of Royalty in our society. It should make us revise our stratospheric expectations of the Duchess of Cambridge, too.
It is worth noting that this kind of speech act is precisely the sort of thing that gets censored in other countries. Thailand has strict lèse-majesté laws and many, if not most, other countries, have criminal defamation or ‘scandalising’ laws that would have seen Mantel down at the police station for an interview, or on trial, or in prison. In the UK, we finally abolished our dead-letter analogues in 2009. It should be a source of pride that one of our most celebrated novelists is able to make such controversial statements, unfettered.
This is precisely the kind of social leadership that we need from our authors. I wonder what would have happened if a politician had said the same thing?
The Duchess of Cambridge is pregnant, and my Twitter timeline and Facebook wall have immediately been filled with curmudgeons complaining that the issue of #Leveson and other important stories will get buried. I think this may be an over-reaction – there will be other news reported in the papers tomorrow.
Most of the comments in my timeline were meta – discussions about the discussion, not a discussion about the news itself. This is unsurprising because of course, there is no actual analysis that can be done on this kind of story: Kate is pregnant. The kid will be born about 7 months from now. They will one day be monarch, regardless of gender.
I have little patience for those complaining about the level of coverage. Britain is an immensely influential country, and a new head of state – one that could potentially reign for decades – has just been designated. We went nuts for discussion of the US Presidential election, and the French Presidential election. The opaque appointment of a new Chinese leader was also well documented. Why should the emergence of a new British Head of State be any less talked about?
The madness is not the level of coverage given over to this story. The madness is that British heads of state are still chosen by the hereditary method. If you are annoyed, irritated or angered by the news overload, but you’re not a republican, then you’re just being inconsistent.
The Sun argues that it is in the public interest to publish naked pictures of Prince Harry. I say it is in the public interest to keep them out of the papers. It reinforces the notion that celebrities (and for better or for worse, Royals are a form of ‘celeb’) can operate by different standards of behaviour to the rest of us.
We’ve been here before. Remember when upstanding moral beacon Prince William groped a Brazillian teenager, Ana Ferreira? Antics that would and should get you thrown out of the nightclub, and maybe even a visit from the police in other circumstances, are waved away as ‘just a bit of fun’ or ‘spreading wild oats’ if you are a Royal. People were less understanding when (Mike Tindall was caught on camera in a lap-dancing club, but he is only married to a Royal).
The double-standards we grant to some people was amusingly highlighted by Hadley Freeman in The Guardian yesterday:
He is the Boris Johnson of the royal family, a buffoon whose every antic only improves his public standing.
In economics, a Veblen Good is a status symbol that defies the usual assumptions about price and demand. Such goods becomes more sought after when the price increases (for example, Rolls Royce cars). In such a way, Prince Harry is the Veblen Royal, where the things that would sink a less likeable member of the Royal Family (Prince Edward, say?) only increase his stock. Boris Johnson is a Veblen Politician.
Should public figures aspire to Veblen status? No. The problem with the concept is that it is arises due to arrogance and unnatural wealth. We deplore Veblen goods when we encounter them in economics, and we should not encourage the Royal or Political variations either. The excessive attention only encourages the behaviour… and the behaviour usually involves demeaning other people.
Not before time. I’ve argued previously, on several occasions, that the existing law enshrined sexism at the heart of our constitution. In my opinion, this has been settled consensus since women were given the right to vote in the 1920s.
Sadly, in many other countries and cultures, the “we wish you were not a girl” sentiment still persists. The Japanese system does not allow women to ascend to the throne at all and elective abortions of female foetuses have skewed the gender balance in India.
In my rant a couple of weeks ago about the woman formerly known as Kate Middleton, I expressed a good deal of angst about whether I should be passing comment on her religious choices and motivations. In the comments, Helen called me judgemental and hypocritical.
Writing in the New Stateman, Peter Wilby offers a defence of passing judgement on the Royals and invading their privacy:
What is the point of a Royal Editor if he doesn’t hack people’s phones? Laws for the protection of privacy should not apply to the Queen and her family. The monarchy cannot be private: it is a public institution with no significant function other than to satisfy public curiosity. …
… what to everybody else would be private – family, love, procreation – becomes in royalty’s case public, because it determines the line of succession and the identity of our future head of state.
There is a logic to this. The Royals have also been referred to as the ‘National Soap Opera’ which speaks to the same idea, that we have some kind of right to know everything about them. Certainly, part of the justification for their continued existence is as role models and figureheads, for which a degree of discussion about their personal lives seems to be part of the quid pro quo (even if the royal social contract was entered into by distant ancestors, rather than the current incumbents themselves). While I am sympathetic to Wilby’s point of view, I think the Royals do need some privacy, if only to stop them going insane. The last thing we need is a paranoid recluse for a King.
Its interesting that in the 1990s the monarchy was said to be in “crisis”, when every single problem cited was related to personalities and personal infidelities. While this posed questions about their suitability as leaders of the Church of England, this in no way affected their constitutional status. And it never has. I once read that pretty much every monarch before the 20th Century had extra-marital affairs, which never seemed to weaken their status as Head of State. One of the few faithful monarchs was King Charles I, who plunged the country and the monarchy into a real crisis, by snubbing parliament and asserting his Divine Right to Rule.
Micah in Kansas City is uneasy about the celebrations surrounding the killing of Osama Bin Laden:
The backlash of ignorant commentary and opinion about the death of Bin Laden on Twitter tonight was disheartening, and I’m so very glad I deleted my Facebook so I didn’t have to gaze upon the even more ignorant statuses of “patriots” glad about the death of another human being.
For me, it was impossible not to make the mental link between the celebrations in America, and the recent flag-waving down on The Mall. Both events have been obvious moments of unity for the respective countries. Both events mark symbolic endings to a particular period of national history. In the British case, the confusion of Princess Diana’s marriage, the sorrow of her death, and perhaps the end of a particular type of monarchy. In the American case, it is the ending of something much more significant (what Emily Maitliss on the BBC just called a “psychological watershed”), a decade of fear, insularity and a sense of revenge not yet wrought.
Moreover, the Royal Wedding and Osama’s death both signal much more optimistic new chapters. A pared down, modern and middle-class Monarchy for us. And for the Americans, a reassertion of their primacy in matters military.
I wonder whether these events can sustain this symbolism. Wills and Kate are but two individuals getting hitched in a country that has massive economic problems and not a few social and cultural challenges ahead of it. And in the American case, the death of a figurehead will not in itself stop the Al Q’aeda threat, nor reverse its economic decline relative to the Asian super-powers. Time will tell whether these outpourings of national confidence, on both sides of ‘the pond’, mark a new period of success or a patriotic dead-cat bounce.
Regardless of the final significance, Micah’s post highlights an crucial difference between the two groups of cheering crowds: On The Mall in London, the flag-wavers were celebrating life; On The Mall in Washington, they were cheering a death. I wonder how this essential difference between these two moments of patriotic punctuation will affect the two nations in years to come?