Death to Tinker Bell

I was going to name Santa Claus in my heading, then thought, it would give too much comfort to the Sultan of Brunei. You may now get five years in gaol for celebrating Christmas in that oil satrapy, if your Muslim neighbours can see you doing it. This includes Santa displays. The theory behind the latest edict is more reasonable than first appears. The Sultan clearly holds the Islamic religion to be so profoundly flawed, that any exposure to an alternative will endanger a Muslim’s faith.

Thus my frivolous desire to float in the Seventh Fleet, with Stars-of-Bethlehem on the masts, and Santas lining the decks. (Perhaps this was not worth mentioning.) The Marines could conduct them to shore in their landing craft, with gifts for all the children in the Sultanate.

Brunei is majority Muslim, but it is not an overwhelming majority. Native Christians, and Chinese of several religions (intentionally undercounted in the census, as in Indonesia) do most of the work; members of the established Shafi’i sect of Sunni Islam live off the fat, or rather oil of the land. “Guest workers” come, mostly from India and the Philippines.

My knowledge of the place is seriously dated; but even decades ago there were petty little laws and regulations to keep non-Shafi’is in their place, and to prevent Muslims generally from being exposed — to Christianity in particular. Since 1990, the laws have multiplied. The government now calls itself Melayu Islam Beraja, which is to say, a “Malay Islamic Monarchy.” Housing, schools, mosques are provided through this government from the oil revenues, and the state funds aggressive Islamic proselytizing. Non-Muslims, however, pay their own way. The latest law, to suppress Christmas, seems to have caught brief media attention, though only as light humour. In Brunei it is illegal to teach anything about the Christian faith, in principle even to Christians. A couple of dozen churches exist, but are tightly regulated.


So it is not Santa, but Tinker Bell I’m going after today. It will be seen by my fact-checkers that I know precious little about her, having encountered her only in Peter Pan, a play that repelled me even in childhood. The Disney version is “after my time.” As I recall, this Tinker Bell sprinkles fairy dust about — in envelopes and drinks I have suspected — and is by turns gratuitously spiteful and vindictive, or saccharine kind. I’ve known many like her. The association with shopping-mall Christmas is perhaps on my part pure speculation. But I’ve noticed a lot of fairy dust in there, and the angels on the trees (if any) tend to resemble pixies, with wands, just like Tinker Bell. If I knew a sympathetic imam, I might ask him for a fatwah on her. Santa Claus goes to the cliff edge of my Lockean tolerance. Tinker Bell flitters beyond it.

Ah, “Christmas” — in the current entirely commercialized and therefore stickily sentimentalized sense — comes but once a year. Thank God. Count me with Scrooge, before his conversion; indeed, I blame Dickens for inspiring the Victorian retail trade. The sound of (carefully “secularized”) tape-loop carols in a store actually drives me back out into the cold. Where one can at least smoke and bray, “Bah! Humbug!”


But thanks to a British reader (the razor-sharp Mrs S, now Lady N), my attention has been directed to the most wonderful piece on “the meaning of Christmas” I have seen in many years. It appeared quietly, Sunday morning, among the blogs in the National Catholic Register, and is by beloved Monsignor Charles Pope. I positively command all my gentle readers to peruse it. The title is also admirable: “Christmas Isn’t Candy Canes — It’s D-Day in the War Against Satan.” That is surely enough of a spoiler; go read the thing, here.