When In Rome

When in Rome, one is supposed to do as the Romans do. Children know this, but the memo appears to have bypassed Iranian President Hassan Rouhani:

Mr Rouhani and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi spoke at Rome’s Capitoline Museum after Italian firms signed business deals with Iran.

 

But several nudes there were hidden to avoid offending the Iranian president.

 

Italy also chose not to serve wine at official meals, a gesture France, where Mr Rouhani travels next, has refused to copy.

I’m not suggesting that Rouhani needed to put on a toga and spend those official meals reclining on a couch while being plied with grapes by nubile slave girls (or however Romans behave on such occasions these days – my impressions may be a little dated, now that Berlusconi has been out of office for a while), but to arrive in a foreign country and expect the local authorities to pander to one’s dour religious puritanism is a touch high-handed.

To be fair, I don’t know whether the wine and statues vanished from sight at the insistence of the Iranians or the cautious initiative of the Italians. Nevertheless, I find myself in full agreement with a politician who takes a dim view of the way Rouhani’s visit is being handled:

“Respect for other cultures cannot and must not mean negating our own,” said Luca Squeri, a lawmaker in Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right Forza Italia party. “This isn’t respect, it’s cancelling out differences and it’s a kind of surrender.”

The Italians may feel that the prospect of doing some lucrative business with Iran, now that international sanctions are being lifted, is worth a few cultural compromises. However, it sounds like the French will be signing some serious contracts with the Iranian delegation too, while managing to keep le vin firmly sur la table.

If we Canadians are prepared to sell military vehicles to the Wahhabi monarchy in Saudi Arabia, as I think we should be for the sake of our economic well-being, we ought to be able to sell all kinds of things to the Shiite quasi-theocrats in Iran. Let’s get Rouhani to Ottawa as soon as possible – but if he insists that his god won’t let him share the dinner table with a nice bottle of Okanagan Merlot, he can surely find some halal grub on his own and then meet up with Trudeau the Younger to talk business afterwards.

Random thought having nothing to do with the rest of the post: Happy Australia Day! This momentous occasion marks the first time since 2015 that Australia Day has immediately followed Robert Burns Day.

17 thoughts on “When In Rome

  1. Really? Your big worry is whether there is too much cultural sensitivity being shown to a regime where we finally have hope of a thaw on the mullahs hold over the people, of this significant regional player, one where our diplomatic efforts may create a significant buffer state in the war against terrorism? But selling weapons of war to a disgusting, nepotistic, inhumane, barbaric regime, known transmitters of terrorism via their fundamentalist, Wahhabi religious views, who, along with the US, are probably the prime actors in creating the war torn debacle that is the middle east today, selling them arms is justifiable on the basis of economics? How do square that circle?

  2. > To be fair, I don’t know whether the wine and statues vanished from sight at the insistence of the Iranians or the cautious initiative of the Italians.

    It was the Italians.

    In fact, Iranians in general think it was a stupid thing to do, and have been mocking Italy. (Of course, the reason many of them are saying it was stupid is because Islam is too awesome to be harmed by a few naked statues. Nevertheless.)

    It seems to be have been forgotten in most of the reportage about this incident that Iran wasn’t the only god-besotted country involved in this story, and not even necessary the most religiously backward. This was not a case of bleeding-heart liberals going too far trying to avoid causing religious offence; Italy is an *extremely* religious country, with a very regressive ruling class that literally kisses the feet of religious leaders as a matter of course. It may be fashionable to point fingers at the Muslims these days, but Italy shouldn’t get a pass just because they’re mostly Christian and not Muslim. This isn’t the first time statues in Rome have been covered up to protect the delicate sensibilities of the religious, and it was Italian Christians doing it back then, too, not Iranian Muslims.

    • It was the Italians.

      Are you sure? The Italian government is apparently claiming that concealing the statues wasn’t their idea either. I guess it could have been the management of the Capitoline museum. Iran reportedly does maintain an “insistence on a longstanding diplomatic protocol that its diplomats should not participate in events where wine is served”, so in the matter of libations the Italians really were conceding to an Iranian demand.

      It seems to be have been forgotten in most of the reportage about this incident that Iran wasn’t the only god-besotted country involved in this story, and not even necessary the most religiously backward.

      Oh, please. Italy may not recognise same-sex marriages (and more power to ’em, in my opinion) but in Iran homosexuality is flat-out illegal, although one can apparently do an end-run around the problem by having a sex change. Iran makes women wear at least a token head-covering in public, but Italy has nude beaches. In Iran you can be Muslim, Christian, Jewish or Zoroastrian without having your prospects in life too severely limited; in Italy you can be whatever. Iran is an Islamic republic, and Italy is a secular republic (though doubtless an imperfect one). Iran’s head of state is an ayatollah, and Italy’s is a president. And that’s before we even get to the vino! You’re being ridiculous.

      This was not a case of bleeding-heart liberals going too far trying to avoid causing religious offence…

      No, probably not. More like a case of Italian politicians needlessly fretting that their country would lose important contracts if they didn’t bend over backwards to accommodate their Muslim guests.

      This isn’t the first time statues in Rome have been covered up to protect the delicate sensibilities of the religious, and it was Italian Christians doing it back then, too, not Iranian Muslims.

      I’d be curious to know what episode you’re alluding to. In any case, you can’t deny that the statues are usually uncovered and the wine usually flows pretty freely, even with the pope just next door. I’d be delighted if Italy threw off the shackles of Christianity tomorrow, but the shackles of Islam would clearly be considerably worse. Your willful blindness on that point is exasperating, but it’s also pretty funny.

      • > I guess it could have been the management of the Capitoline museum.

        They have already said they were asked to do it by government officials.

        Yes, I’m reasonably sure it wasn’t an Iranian request. If you read between the lines of the various denials, the Iranians are saying that nothing about covering statues was even discussed, period – which makes perfect sense – while the Italian politicians are merely saying “it wasn’t *me* who asked for it”. The latter is the standard cry of the politician covering their ass; it leaves the door open for someone else on their staff being responsible. (Both the museum and the ministers are pointing fingers at lower-level officials. And anyway, as I mentioned, this wasn’t the first time Italy’s done this.)

        > Oh, please. Italy may not recognise same-sex marriages (and more power to ’em, in my opinion)….

        I hope you’re not serious.

        > Iran’s head of state is an ayatollah, and Italy’s is a president.

        So what? Our head of state is a Queen allegedly granted her powers by God.

        At any rate, what I was referring to was that Iran is at least taking steps forward in recent years – baby steps though they may be – while Italy has seemed hell-bent on regressing to the Dark Ages. (Although, to be fair, that was before Renzi. He seems pretty much the Italian Trudeau to me.) Obviously Italy is objectively more free than Iran, but latter is improving (marginally), the former is going backward.

        > And that’s before we even get to the vino!

        What is this fixation everyone has with the wine? Why is it so freaking unreasonable to ask for no wine at a dinner party? Regardless of your reasons for not drinking, when you’re a non-drinker at a party full of people drinking, it can be awkward and uncomfortable. What’s the big fucking deal in asking the host to put the wine aside for the evening? Especially when it’s a dinner specifically to honour *you*, for fuck’s sake?

        I also don’t get the logic of holding up France as heroic for telling a guest who asked politely for a favour: “Fuck you no, in *our* house we drink wine! Deal with it.” That’s not being firm in your principles (unless your “principle” is that you drink wine at meals?). That’s just being a douche.

        > I’d be curious to know what episode you’re alluding to.

        Episodes, plural. This is not a new thing. This is standard practice in Italy.

        Hell, here’s one case from just four months ago: http://ibloga.blogspot.ca/2015/10/italy-covers-nude-statue-to-avoid.html

        Like I said, the denials being thrown about by the Italian politicians are a bit ridiculous. They’re so OMG-outraged about this travesty!… now that the story’s gone viral. But all the times this happened before? Nary a peep.

        > I’d be delighted if Italy threw off the shackles of Christianity tomorrow, but the shackles of Islam would clearly be considerably worse. Your willful blindness on that point is exasperating, but it’s also pretty funny.

        And this is the kind of ignorance and cluelessness that endlessly exasperates me. As usual when Christianity and Islam come up in a story together, Christianity gets off easy just so points can be scored against Islam. As if somehow the reason things are so horrible in Iran is specifically due to something particularly in Islam, and not just religion period combined with a totalitarian dictatorship. As if a regressive, totalitarian, fundamentalist Christian regime wouldn’t be just as bad. You even have a hard time accepting that this whole covering-the-statues thing was Italy’s idea – Muslims were involved, so obvs is must have been them, right? It’s not like Italy hasn’t been bending over backward doing favours for the Catholic Church for centuries (they even gave them their own fucking country!). Nope, it *had* to have been the Muslims who called for the statues to be covered; Islam’s always the villain. You hand-wave away all the horrors Christianity managed to wreak when *IT* had total control over society, just because it so happens that Islam’s horrors are the contemporary ones and you can’t see any further than what happens to be right in front of your face… but *I’m* the blind one, of course.

        For the record, I say neither the shackles of Christianity nor those of Islam are “worse” than the other. Christianity’s shackles are just more familiar to you, and thus more comfortable – just as Islam’s shackles feel more comfortable to someone raised in that culture. But shackles are shackles. I say both sets of shackles are equally bad. No Islamic country would be improved merely by a transition toward Christianity. You may consider it an improvement to cast off the shackles of Islam and put on the shackles of Christianity; I don’t.

        This, ultimately, seems to be the difference between me and the Islam-haters around here. You guys think Christianity is bad, but Islam is worse – which, in effect, means you think Christianity is better than Islam. Meanwhile I think comparing them is like asking whether you prefer a bee sting or a wasp sting; the comparison is meaningless, pointless, and ultimately just about your tolerance for being stung. I refuse to give Christianity – or any other religion – bonus points merely because they’re not the most badly behaving religion around *today*, even if that were objectively true.

        • Just a couple of things.

          So what? Our head of state is a Queen allegedly granted her powers by God.

          Nice try, but there’s a big difference between a monarch “allegedly” appointed by a deity and, y’know, an actual cleric.

          …while Italy has seemed hell-bent on regressing to the Dark Ages.

          LOL. You might want to back slowly away from the hyperbole – that stuff isn’t healthy. Neither is the blinkered habit of describing social evolution in terms of progress and regress, as if there were only one meaningful axis.

          Although, to be fair, that was before Renzi. He seems pretty much the Italian Trudeau to me.

          Oh, come on. Renzi may be a bit on the underwhelming side, but surely he’s not that bad.

          I also don’t get the logic of holding up France as heroic for telling a guest who asked politely for a favour…

          I wouldn’t say heroic, just solid. Telling a host “we can’t have wine at dinner because my god says so” is bratty, high-handed and intolerant. The Iranians didn’t ask politely – they simply declared they weren’t going to participate in any official meals that included wine. A Gallic shrug and an implicit invitation to go eat cake was the appropriate response.

          Hell, here’s one case from just four months ago…

          A case of Italy covering up a nude statue during a visit by the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, who is – you guessed it – a Muslim! So all the statue-covering that’s been going on in Italy may well have occurred on the initiative of Christians, as you claimed originally, but the motivation was clearly to protect the feelings of Muslims. Perhaps the Italians were being overly cautious, and neither Rouhani nor the fellow from Abu Dhabi would have been bothered by marmoreal nudity anyway, but the point of covering the statues was clearly deference to (real or perceived) Islamic puritanism. The current controversy may at least ensure that this sort of thing doesn’t happen again in Italy.

          You hand-wave away all the horrors Christianity managed to wreak when *IT* had total control over society, just because it so happens that Islam’s horrors are the contemporary ones and you can’t see any further than what happens to be right in front of your face…

          I think we’ve been talking about different things. In my opinion the relevant comparison is between the current versions of Christianity and Islam, as they’re practised in the modern world. Of course there’s variation within each religion, but you don’t seem to disagree that the current “horrors” (if we must use that melodramatic term) are primarily on the Koran-thumpin’ side of the fence rather than the Bible-thumpin’ side. Historical comparisons between the two religions are interesting, but separate from the question of which set of religious shackles would be less intolerable right now in 2016.

          Meanwhile I think comparing them is like asking whether you prefer a bee sting or a wasp sting; the comparison is meaningless, pointless, and ultimately just about your tolerance for being stung.

          Actually, the relative painfulness of bee and wasp stings has been a topic of serious scientific inquiry (see this PDF, for instance). I’m not sure why you think the question is a meaningless one.

  3. I am dismayed. That’s a lot of words from you both over what is frustrating but trivial religious nonsense, while Corwin’s notion that selling military equipment to the Saudi’s “for the sake of our economic well-being” goes unchallenged.

    The Saudi’s have declared war on atheists!!! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7iDhdTg6wic
    That would in fact make them your enemy, and a more despicable one I can’t imagine. Yet our government makes deals for MILITARY equipment with them and that doesn’t draw a breath of anger or despair? Our own government would sell us out for cash and that goes uncontested here?

    Damn those Italians and Iranians for their silly social conventions.

    • Religious nonsense is never trivial and accommodating the religious and their nonsense has far reaching effects.

      • Apparently not far reaching enough. I’m not insensitive to what was written but the Saudi’s are a much bigger problem. Surely, we can’t seriously sit by while they declare war on atheists? Why aren’t we demanding the Government cut ties with them immediately? All for a few jobs, the profits of which will go to huge American arms manufacturer, the other war mongers in the region? Where is the outrage?

        • I’d be happier if the arms manufacturer were unequivocally Canadian, rather than a subsidiary of an American firm. But on the other hand, jobs are jobs.

    • The Saudi’s have declared war on atheists!!!

      Do you really expect them to do much of anything about it, at least outside their own borders? The Saudis are unpleasant, of course, but I don’t see them as any kind of threat to Canada, to Canada’s close allies, or to Canadian interests. Selling them goods, even military vehicles, doesn’t have to imply patronage, friendship or approval. We might as well maintain cordial relations and take advantage of whatever trading opportunities ensue, while chuckling wryly at their follies and superstitions. I don’t think we should do the Saudis any favours, but doing business is another matter.

      • I give up. If their declared enmity and brutality against atheists won’t stir you and pragmatic money trumps morality in your world view, I can see why the world is as screwy as it is.

        • You’re right to despair. The world is run on bullshit and money.

        • I just don’t see much of a moral issue here. What awful thing are the Saudis going to do with those specific armoured vehicles? They’re not facing much in the way of domestic unrest, as far as I know, and their campaign in Yemen (however you feel about it) is being conducted from the air. Furthermore, I’m pretty sure armoured vehicles aren’t their instrument of choice for cracking down on atheists. It might be a tougher call if we were selling them military aircraft, but as matters stand I think we can be confident we’re not abetting some terrible brutality. If you’re arguing that the Saudis are so nasty Canada shouldn’t trade with them at all, though, then we may indeed have to simply agree to disagree.

  4. @Bruce

    The Globe story you linked to starts by saying:

    “The sprawling General Dynamics plant in northeast London, Ont., is a rare success story today in Canada’s badly battered manufacturing sector.”

    It goes on to note that the deal will keep 3,000 Canadians employed for 14 years. Even if those numbers turn out to be exaggerated, they’re a reminder that it’s not only Saudi princes and American corporate bosses who stand to benefit. If we’re interested in the well-being of the Canadian economy and the Canadian workforce, then it doesn’t behoove us to oppose this deal without a damn good reason.

    So does the article provide any good reasons? It makes a strong case that Saudi Arabia isn’t exactly a liberal egalitarian paradise, but that was never in dispute. I still think, though, that the key question has to be about the consequences of the specific arms deal that’s on the table, not about the general moral standing of the country we’re trading with. Sure, they don’t let women drive in Saudi Arabia, but I’ll bet they don’t use armoured vehicles equipped with anti-tank cannons to run them off the road.

    I’ve always thought Trudeau was wrong to describe the vehicles as “jeeps” (that’s obviously misleading), but they’re not going to seriously alter the balance of power. Saudi Arabia has never been noted for military adventurousness, especially when it comes to sending in ground forces, and I don’t really see that changing because of some shiny new combat vehicles. The Globe article says that the biggest actual risk “would be that the National Guard uses the combat vehicles against the restless Shia minority in Eastern Province”. Well, I’d rather they didn’t, but we’re talking about a hypothetical possibility, and does the restless Shia minority have a prayer of standing up to the central government in military terms anyway? In any case, should the interests of the restless Shia outweigh those of 3,000 Canadian workers, in the eyes of the Canadian government? I don’t think so, but I acknowledge that there’s room for reasonable disagreement.

    • Jobs trump ethics,trumps human rights, trumps our international agreements, trumps transparency as we can’t see the agreement, etc. If we put a couple of boxes around some nude statues to get this deal, would that get you upset enough to argue against this deal?

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