The PM goes to Saudi Arabia and talks about Easter eggs. What’s she playing at?

The PM goes to Saudi Arabia and talks about Easter eggs. What’s she playing at?

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The great thing about culture wars is that everyone can win. Real wars are so much messier. But in a skirmish like the one over Cadbury’s unEaster eggs, everybody wins. The National Trust gets masses of publicity, and so does the Church of England. Cadbury’s sells lots of eggs. And Theresa May gets to pose as a defender of incoherent commonsensical Englishness well ahead of any other candidate.

All of these parties get to look good in front of their core constituencies. Even the archbishop of York gets in on the act, although he, as a vicar in south London, used to have pieces of chocolate egg handed out to children at his Easter services. That wouldn’t have pleased George Cadbury either, since Victorian Quakers took a low view of Easter celebrations as well as Christmas ones. So the row is also pleasing to people who know this kind of obscure fact and can feel even smugger as a result.

But look a little harder at all the things the row is not about, and which it is distracting attention from. It takes a special sort of tunnel vision to go to Saudi Arabia and denounce the National Trust for hostility to Christianity. Saudi is an Islamic theocracy in which Christians live furtive and underground lives. They are not the only religious minority persecuted. Shias and the occasional superhumanly brave atheist are also liable to imprisonment and flogging. People accused of “witchcraft” can be executed, something which hasn’t happened on National Trust properties for a very long time.

Saudi is also a funder and exporter of extremely intolerant and aggressive strains of Islam. It bears some responsibility for the terrible religious persecutions in Pakistan, where Christians are routinely murdered or imprisoned on grotesque charges of blasphemy. But at least it has never organised chocolate egg hunts that don’t mention Easter.

Nor are there culture wars within Saudi Arabia: the religious police with their floggings and other punishments see to it that the other side can never get organised enough for anything more than sporadic guerilla actions, like women getting into cars and driving them as if this were a normal or legal thing to do.

Real wars the Saudis do better, or at least more enthusiastically. The pointless and cruel war that has brought Yemen to the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe shows no sign of ending; 10,000 people have died already there, some killed by British cluster bombs, which May’s visit will be helping to sell more of. Ten million more people are now starving as a result of the war in Yemen. But at least they are not hunting for the wrong sort of chocolate egg.

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