Chapter and verse on Islam
Sir: Irshad Manji’s generally very sensible article on ‘Reclaiming Islam’ (29 March) suggests using the Qur’an sura 3:7 as a verse to challenge Islamists who claim a fundamentalist reading. She quotes the verse as saying that ‘God and God alone knows the full truth of how the Qu’ran ought to be interpreted’. I don’t speak Arabic, but unfortunately in my English translation this isn’t quite what the verse says. What it says is ‘only God and insightful people know their true meaning’. Sadly then the verse, I suspect, would be next to useless in challenging fundamentalist interpretations — as most Islamists would, I suspect, consider themselves to fall within the category of ‘insightful people’.
Fr David Palmer
Sir: I read with interest the article by Irshad Manji and in particular her quote of Chapter 3 verse 7 of the Qur’an which states that God and God alone knows the full truth of how the Qur’an ought to be interpreted. It reminded me of a minister in Northern Ireland being interviewed in the 1960s about the controversy about ‘Sunday swings’ that were locked up in observance of the so-called ‘Ulster Sunday’. The reporter tried to put across the viewpoint that people should have a choice. If they did not want to go to the parks on a Sunday, then fine, but why should people who did want to go be stopped from doing so?
He was somewhat nonplussed when the minister replied: ‘But, my dear man, I know what God wants!’ Clearly not only Muslim extremists have a hotline to the Almighty.
Majorly into adverbs
Sir: My friend Miriam Gross frets about the disappearance of the adverb, as in ‘He’s doing terrific’ (Diary, 29 March). She would be less concerned if (as I admit does not seem very likely) she watched bicycle racing on television. There she would hear the great Sean Kelly, as commentator on the Paris–Nice which he won so often, or the Milan–San Remo, or the Tour de France, saying that ‘It’s a majorly important stage,’ and other adverbially rich turns of phrase.
Don’t do it, Boris!
Sir: Charles Moore (Notes, 29 March) has a point in suggesting that Boris Johnson ‘should take a leaf out of President Putin’s book’, but there are limits. The thought of the Mayor of London stripped to the waist with his arms around the neck of a horse kept me awake all last night.
Key to success
Sir: Luke Malpass, in his encomium to New Zealand’s Prime Minister (‘Key to defeat’, 29 March), never stops to ask why Mr Key is so popular. It is because he is a born compromiser in a way that the Margaret Thatchers and Winston Churchills and John Howards and Bob Hawkes were not. We could never imagine any of them with net approval ratings of 50+ per cent. And these others are the better politicians for it, ones who have taken decisions that have lasting effects, rather than just riding the wave of what is least contentious. As Churchill once noted, ‘You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.’ Mr Key did virtually nothing to campaign against MMP at the recently past referendum, and only late in the day even conceded the holding of that referendum. Had he gone in hard against it, rather than trying to be all things to all people, it might well be gone today. Mr Key is thus hoist with his own petard and, contrary to Malpass’s lame pleas, deserves everything that comes his way.
Sir: Luke Malpass presents accurate statistics regarding the popularity of the New Zealand Prime Minister John Key as ‘preferred Prime Minister’ in polls. His background on the structure of MMP is also accurate. But he gives an unsubstantiated opinion on how the system works.
The reference to the referendum that took place in 2011 is glossed over as it does not fit in with the argument being offered. The question was asked ‘Should New Zealand keep the MMP system?’ 57.77 per cent of voters answered ‘Yes’ with 42.23 per cent voting ‘No’. Part 2 of the referendum asked ‘If New Zealand changed its voting system what system is preferred?’ 46.66 per cent voted for a return to first past the post with STV and other proportional options gaining 53.34 per cent. It is interesting to note that 33.14 per cent of the votes were informal/invalid so the first past the post per-cent mark drops to 31.9 per cent. Based on this result there is obviously no real wish by New Zealand voters to change away from MMP back to first past the post.
The final paragraph is where the author’s opinion is not what is actually showing in the polls. John Key is extremely popular as ‘Preferred Prime Minister’ at around 50 per cent with the leader of the Labour party David Cuncliffe at 10 per cent, but this has no relationship to polls on preferred parties. The National party is currently at 45-47 per cent with Labour at 30-33 per cent. The Greens are at 12 per cent and Winston Pater’s New Zealand First party is at 5 per cent. The secret of MMP is for parties to form alliances with other parties in order to win votes from citizens who may favour one particular party’s view on education but another party’s view on taxation etc. A voter’s party vote may well be based on an alliance they see as having the most policies they agree with. They may vote for a party within a particular alliance that may be struggling to get over the 5 per cent threshold. They may not like the political policies of the party their local MP belongs too but believe he or she to be very effective and can separately vote for this person outside party politics to be their local MP. Some system indeed! But it is democratic.
Auckland, New Zealand
A good joke
Sir: A good friend of mine introduced me to The Spectator Australia, suggesting it could be helpful in balancing my reading. Politically green, conservative, fast approaching 60, I listened and considered, why not? It always pays to hear out the other side of the argument. Entertaining. No doubt. Hair-raising, terrifying and outright monstrous. Take, for example, the essay published under the name of James Allan (‘The devilish problem of Tasmania,’ 22 March). Never have I seen or read anything that makes me think the right-wing exponents are becoming more and more irrational and irresponsible. But then again, he did indicate he was a professor of law — in Queensland. Say no more.
Whistling to fame
Sir: Sir Paul McCartney’s reaction to the milkman whistling the latest Beatles hit (‘A Brief History of Whistling’, 29 March), echoed Sir Harry Lauder when he heard the delivery boy singing ‘I love a lassie’ — only I think it was the baker and not the milkman. And this before radio or TV!