Fred Nile and the land of trials

  • SMH

Column #2 filling in for Peter Fitzsimons in summer 08/09

Fred Nile, friend of Islam?

The irrepressible Reverend Nile displayed uncharacteristic concern for Muslim sensibilities this week by advocating a ban on topless bathing on our beaches. The Christian Democrat MLC fears that the brazen baring of breasts might cause offence. “If they’ve come from a Middle Eastern or Asian country where women never go topless – in fact they usually wear a lot of clothing –- I think it’s important to respect all the different cultures that make up Australia,” he said.

This constitutes something of a road-to-Damascus conversion for a man whose election platform last year called for a moratorium on Muslim immigration because of the community’s alleged lack of respect for “Aussie values including democratic pluralism and the rights of women”. Nile also spoke against Muslim women covering up, calling for a ban on the chador.

So what’s Nile’s objection to topless bathing? After all, didn’t God initially create Adam and Eve naked before that pesky serpent intervened? Well, the long-serving MP worries that displays of bare flesh might raise the ire of Muslim men, and so enforcing modesty is necessary to prevent “any provocations or disturbances on our public beaches.”

The argument that those who flaunt their bodies are responsible for the misbehaviour of lust-crazed men is a curiously familiar one. So no doubt we’ll soon see Rev Nile forming an alliance with his Muslim fellow traveller, Sheik al-Hilaly, to rid our beaches of the provocative display of “uncovered meat”.

It will be interesting to see whether Nile’s newfound advocacy on behalf of the Muslim community extends to reversing his strident opposition to Islamic schools like the one proposed for Camden. Somehow I suspect not.

Land of trials

As ever, many Aussies have travelled to Thailand over their end-of-year break, and no doubt are having a great time. But one Australian visitor who isn’t bartering for bargains and slurping down Singhas is Harry Nicolaides, a Melbourne writer and academic who has been in a Bangkok prison since September. He has been charged with violating Thailand’s strict lèse-majesté laws, which provide penalties of up to 15 years for insulting the royal family.

His crime? One paragraph about an unnamed prince’s personal life in a 2005 self-published novel, Verisimilitude, which sold a paltry seven copies. While Foreign Affairs Minister, Stephen Smith, has raised the caise with his Thai counterpart, so far Nicolaides’ bids for bail have been denied, and he still faces up to 15 years in jail.

King Bhumibol, the kindly bespectacled monarch who stares down from the wall of every Thai restaurant, is revered with good reason after decades of sensible rule and many charitable works. Nicolaides’ best hope now is that the king will grant him clemency, as he’s done in similar cases. But surely a monarch who said himself in 2005 that he was open to criticism doesn’t need such laws to protect his excellent reputation?

Forget Paris

You won’t have been able to avoid the news that Paris Hilton once again joined us for New Year’s Eve after the Trademark Hotel in Kings Cross reportedly paid her $100,000 to appear at its party. Which I found hard to believe – surely all you need to do to guarantee Paris’ appearance at just any social function to tell her there’ll be cameras. Her visits to our city are becoming concerningly regular, though, which raises a vital question for all Sydneysiders. How much more does she charge to stay away?

Literal Britain

Working for The Chaser means never being sure whom you’re going to offend next. A couple of weeks ago, we received a complaint from Dr Seuss’ representatives about our t-shirt for Mambo depicting The Hat In The Cat, a parody of the famous character whose iconic headgear is in a more uncomfortable position.

Now we’ve upset the Little Britain guys, whose publicist Moira Bellas sent us an email demanding the removal of an news article on our website with the headline “Even stars now sick of Little Britain”. In a subsequent heated phone call with our manager, Bellas said that the show’s two stars were angry about our little piece, and concern was expressed that fans would think it was real.

We were surprised – surely David Walliams and Matt Lucas can identify satire when they see it? Nevertheless, we felt that two performers whose considerable success has been built on parodying pompous transvestites and rural homosexuals can cope with some gentle mockery of their own, so the article’s staying up.

Fatty New Year

Like many Aussies, I was shocked to hear in June that we’d become the most obese nation in the world. So for 2009, I’ve decided to slim down and get into shape. To combat my own chunk of the obesity crisis, I’ve resolved to visit the gym three times a week. I won’t actually do it, of course. But as with all New Year’s resolutions, it’s feeling good about making them that counts, isn’t it?