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Ed Webb

Azza al Garf: Is she Egypt's answer to Michele Bachmann? - Slate Magazine - 0 views

  • The rise of the strong female politician with regressive ideas about women’s rights seems to be a global phenomenon. In Egypt, the sisters of the Muslim Brotherhood share similarities with the extreme right wing of the Republican Party including relying on the supernatural advice of a “higher power” for their political involvement and an unabashed commitment to policies that limit or reverse women’s rights. Though these women have benefitted from the notion that women are equal, they work hard to differentiate themselves from feminists and attack them whenever possible
  • Funded by infusions of hundreds of millions of dollars over the years from conservative donors in the Gulf countries, al Garf and thousands of women like her have a powerful political ground game the Tea Partiers can only look upon with awe.
  • She understands that the majority of Egypt’s poor women already work outside the home and must at least travel alongside men, often supporting deadbeat husbands and children
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  • there is no correlation between the Muslim Brotherhood's rise to power and sexual harassment. Sexual harassment has existed long before they came along
  • This article reeks of prejudice and confirmation bias with the author conveying her pre-conceived notions of what she expects an islamic party or muslims to behave and act like regardless of what she saw in actuality. 
  • The fact is that women in Egypt and other countries in the region are already legally second class citizens, and one would hope that their revolution, to which the women gave so much, would begin to change that, rather than have a regressive effect.
  • Although I am no fan of the Brotherhood (or the Tea Party), I am dismayed by crude generalizations and stereotypes employed by this author. I would hope that Slate could choose something a little more insightful to present to Western readers wanting to understand the Islamist movement (and what this means for the shape of politics in the Middle East) instead of perpetuating crude stereotypes.  
  • Nina, you are not fit to write about the "fate" of women after any Arab revolution. As an Arab, Muslim FEMINIST who "swaddles" herself in a headscarf, I can tell you that you just don't know enough. Plain and simple. I know Egyptian womyn who "swaddle" themselves in headscarves and identify as anarchists. I know Egyptian womyn who "swaddle" themselves in headscarves and go tagging in downtown Cairo. I know Egyptian womyn who "swaddle" themselves in headscarves and are members of the Revolutionary Socialist movement. I wonder if these womyn will be featured in your book. Probably not because it seems to me you have a very specific portrait you'd like to portray about the Arab, Muslim womyn donning the headscarf.
  • the orientalising nature of this piece
  • are you sure those are 'conservative' foreign donors? are they even the majority of donors? Are you implying the most popular political party in egypt for the last century cannot afford to pay its own bills? Actually 'conservative' donors would donate to the salafis, not to the Muslim Brotherhood. 
  • There are massive social and economic problems in Egypt and in the Arab world at large. And yeah, women are largely treated as second-class citizen and face cultural and legal hurdles. But this is not something that outsiders can fix. Every society and every culture changes on their own terms. The fact that Azza al-Garf is even in that position is progress. Whether or not one likes it, religious women are seen to have more "legitimacy" when it comes to challenging and changing the cultural mores in many Islamic societies than outsiders or people deemed to be too "Western."  And really, swaddled? I'm an American Muslim woman who has worn all sorts of garb. Sorry, but her abaya is likely far more comfortable than whatever business suit the author was wearing.
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    Heh. Not great journalism, some good comments.
Ed Webb

Opinion | France cynically targets Muslim women - again - The Washington Post - 0 views

  • France, more than any other European country, has struggled with a wave of Islamist violence that has led to the death of more than 230 people. One response to these attacks from the political right and the center-left has been a rhetorical hardening on Islam and its place in French society. But many French Muslims and other minority voices say this hardening has often stifled good-faith criticism of government policies
  • I was called a terrorist and repeatedly harassed by social media trolls, only to find out they’d been funded by the French government
  • several organizations were given money without having to demonstrate their previous work on radicalization or, for some of them, to demonstrate any work at all. And some of those organizations and their representatives had personal relationships with Schiappa. Then it appeared that some of the money doled out by the government was ultimately used in the 2022 presidential campaign to criticize opponents of Emmanuel Macron, which is not legal. The government’s money cannot be used in favor of a candidate during a campaign — it has to be neutral.
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  • some of those organizations used that money to harass people online, including me. A number of other anti-racist and feminist advocates were targeted. The worst was when they depicted a number of us together in an illustration that also showed the face of Salah Abdeslam, the convicted terrorist who was mastermind of the 2015 attacks on Paris. Even some of the government’s allies had to ask: Should tax dollars be used to harass and defame public figures who are seen as criticizing the government?
  • announced the ban of abayas and qamis — traditional garments — in public schools, interpreting them as “religious outfits.” This is in keeping with France’s principle of laïcité, or secularism, which enshrines the neutrality of the state toward religious observance and the freedom of belief. Since 2004, laïcité has become a political football, especially in schools.
  • There’s no question that all of this constitutes a legitimate national trauma, but this very real fear is used by the government to depict the way some Muslim teenagers dress not only as a “violation of secularism” but also as “an attack” and “an attempt to destabilize” the French republic.
  • This is warlike rhetoric, and it treats teenage female Muslims as a monolithic entity — and a threat.
  • recent years show that it is impossible for any Muslim woman who wears a religious sign to be visible in the public sphere. And I connect this to my own experience as a Black and Muslim woman. Being in the public eye and outspoken on Islamophobia, I have faced many attempts to silence me.
  • France has been tremendously ingenious and imaginative to make sure to enable its narrow conception of national identity. France pursues an ideal of assimilation and uses laïcité as an instrument to standardize the display of cultures
Ed Webb

Are Europe's Muslims America's problem? - Opinion - Al Jazeera English - 0 views

  • Scapegoating and race-baiting during a US electoral season are not new; as the campaign heats up, so will the rhetoric. The irony is that the negative rhetoric surrounding race, Islam and Europe is rising - just as the State Department is trying to counter the "nativist surge" in Europe by showcasing the US model of racial integration, and dispatching African-American and Muslim-American goodwill ambassadors to Europe to extol the civil rights movement.
  • it is, perhaps not surprisingly, in France that the State Department's assessments and outreach to Muslim communities have triggered the most outrage. The dispatches from the US embassy in Paris are blunt in their appraisal - "the French have a well-known problem with discrimination against minorities". Some cables read like descriptions of a pre-civil rights United States: "The French media remains overwhelmingly white... Among French elite educational institutions, we are only aware that Science Po has taken serious steps to integrate."  
  • numerous outreach projects (exchange programmes, conferences, media appearance) to raise awareness among state and societal actors about the US civil rights movement.
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  • Young French Muslims note that the US embassy's outreach is different from the French government's security-centred approach and shrill rhetoric about Islam and immigration (Sarkozy a few years ago threatened to clean up a cité with a Kärcher, a high-pressure hose). Widad Ketfi, a young blogger, who participated in an embassy-sponsored programme says she knows she was targeted by the US embassy because of her Algerian-Muslim background, but adds: "What bothers me is being the target of the French state." These youths claim that French politicians will visit their enclaves only during election time, surrounded by security guards
  • given France's official discourse and self-image, "such an effort will continue to require considerable discretion, sensitivity and tact on our part".
  •  The cable that drew the most indignant responses from French state officials was written by then US Ambassador Craig Stephenson, at the height of the civil unrest in November 2005: "The real problem is the failure of white Christian France to view its dark-skinned and Muslim compatriots as citizens in their own rights." Speaking on a television show, former Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin scoffed [FR], "This [cable] shows the limits of American diplomacy," adding that US diplomats were wrongly reading the banlieues crisis through their own history, and viewing France's urban crisis through a religious prism. 
  • As in Britain, segments of French society were displeased by revelations that the US had, since 2003, been deeply involved in the integration process - trying to shift the media discourse, to get French leaders to rethink their "terminology" and "intellectual frameworks" regarding minority inclusion; trying to generate public debates about "affirmative action", "multiculturalism", and hyphenated identity; pushing to reform history curricula taught in French schools, and working with French museums to exhibit the contributions of minorities. Left-leaning analysts opposed to US policies in the Islamic world saw this "Marshall Plan" for the banlieues as a diversionary tactic [FR]. One cable notes that, by improving the lot of French Muslims, the US embassy can alter French-Muslim perceptions of the US, to show that the US respects Islam and "is engaged for good in the Arab-Muslim worlds". Other critics just don't think US conceptions of race and integration can travel across the Atlantic.
  • Western states have a long history of intervening in the Muslim world to protect and empower religious minorities. This practice continues, in different forms to this day, but it is unprecedented for Western states - allies - to court or protect each other's minorities. And yet the US is spending millions of dollars to win the hearts and minds of Europe's disaffected Muslim communities, often vying with European states' own local efforts.
  • the efforts to exhibit US racial harmony and forestall ethnic conflict in Europe are taking place as political hopefuls whip up resentment of Muslims and African-Americans in the US.
  • Perhaps the greatest irony of the State Department's efforts to showcase the model integration of US Muslims, and to deploy the images and ideas of the civil rights movement in Europe, is that these efforts have been occurring against a backdrop of unfavourable media images of Quran burnings, anti-mosque rallies and accusatory Congressional hearings. The anti-mosque movement has now morphed into a broader "anti-Sharia" movement. Thirteen states from South Carolina to Arizona to Alaska have introduced bills banning Islamic law. The Texas Board of Education passed a resolution rejecting high-school textbooks that are "pro-Islam [and] anti-Christian", and a similar campaign is underway in Florida. American Muslims are facing a rising tide of discrimination that will no doubt worsen as the 2012 presidential campaign progresses. As for the Democrats, maybe it is politically easier to be photographed with Muslims in Paris singing "We Shall Overcome" than to challenge the organised bigotry brewing at home.
Ed Webb

God and the Ivory Tower- By Scott Atran | Foreign Policy - 0 views

  • On a global scale, Protestant evangelical churches (together with Pentacostalists) continue to proliferate, especially in Latin America, but also keep pace with the expansion of fundamentalist Islam in southern Africa and eastern and southern Asia. In Russia, a clear majority of the population remains religious despite decades of forcibly imposed atheism. Even in China, where the government's commission on atheism has the Sisyphean job of making that country religion-free, religious agitation is on the rise. And in the United States, a majority says it wants less religion in politics, but an equal majority still will not vote for an atheist as president.
  • for nearly a century after Harvard University psychologist William James's 1902 masterwork, The Varieties of Religious Experience, there was little serious investigation of the psychological structure or neurological and biological underpinnings of religious belief that determine how religion actually causes behavior
  • the greater the investment in outlandishness, the better. This is because adherence to apparently absurd beliefs means incurring costs -- surviving without electricity, for example, if you are Amish -- which help identify members who are committed to the survival of a group and cannot be lured away. The ease of identifying true believers, in turn, builds trust and galvanizes group solidarity for common defense
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  • recent research echoes the findings of 14th-century historian Ibn Khaldun, who argued that long-term differences among North African Muslim dynasties with comparable military might "have their origin in religion … [and] group feeling [wherein] mutual cooperation and support flourish." The more religious societies, he argued, endured the longest
  • the same logic that makes religious and sacred beliefs more likely to endure can make them impervious to compromise. Based on interviews, experiments, and surveys with Palestinians, Israelis, Indonesians, Indians, Afghans, and Iranians, my research with psychologists Jeremy Ginges, Douglas Medin, and others demonstrates that offering people material incentives (large amounts of money, guarantees for a life free of political violence) to compromise sacred values can backfire, increasing stated willingness to use violence. Such backfire effects occur both for convictions with clear religious investment (Jerusalem, sharia law) and for those that are at least initially nonreligious (Iran's right to a nuclear capability, Palestinian refugees' right of return).
  • Although this sacralization of initially secular issues confounds standard "business-like" negotiation tactics, my work with political scientist Robert Axelrod interviewing political leaders in the Middle East and elsewhere indicates that strong symbolic gestures (sincere apologies, demonstrating respect for the other's values) generate surprising flexibility, even among militants, and may enable subsequent material negotiations. Thus, we find that Palestinian leaders and their supporting populations are generally willing to accept Israeli offers of economic improvement only after issues of recognition are addressed. Even purely symbolic statements accompanied by no material action, such as "we recognize your suffering" or "we respect your rights in Jerusalem," diminish support for violence, including suicide terrorism. This is particularly promising because symbolic gestures tied to religious notions that are open to interpretation might potentially be reframed without compromising their absolute "truth."
  • seemingly contrary evidence rarely undermines religious belief, especially among groups welded by ritualized sacrifice in the face of outside threats
  • Religious issues motivate only a small minority of recorded wars. The Encyclopedia of Wars surveyed 1,763 violent conflicts across history; only 123 (7 percent) were religious. A BBC-sponsored "God and War" audit, which evaluated major conflicts over 3,500 years and rated them on a 0-to-5 scale for religious motivation (Punic Wars = 0, Crusades = 5), found that more than 60 percent had no religious motivation. Less than 7 percent earned a rating greater than 3. There was little religious motivation for the internecine Russian and Chinese conflicts or the world wars responsible for history's most lethal century of international bloodshed.
  • studies by behavioral economist Joseph Henrich and colleagues on contemporary foragers, farmers, and herders show that professing a world religion is correlated with greater fairness toward passing strangers. This research helps explain what's going on in sub-Saharan Africa, where Islam is spreading rapidly. In Rwanda, for example, people began converting to Islam in droves after Muslims systematically risked their lives to protect Christians and animists from genocide when few others cared.
  • When competing interests are framed in terms of religious and sacred values, conflict may persist for decades, even centuries. Disputes over otherwise mundane phenomena then become existential struggles, as when land becomes "Holy Land." Secular issues become sacralized and nonnegotiable, regardless of material rewards or punishments. In a multiyear study, our research group found that Palestinian adolescents who perceived strong threats to their communities and were highly involved in religious ritual were most likely to see political issues, like the right of refugees to return to homes in Israel, as absolute moral imperatives. These individuals were thus opposed to compromise, regardless of the costs. It turns out there may be a neurological component to such behavior: Our work with Gregory Berns and his neuroeconomics team suggests that such values are processed in the brain as duties rather than utilitarian calculations; neuroimaging reveals that violations of sacred values trigger emotional responses consistent with sentiments of moral outrage.
  • research in India, Mexico, Britain, Russia, and Indonesia indicates that greater participation in religious ritual in large-scale societies is associated with greater parochial altruism -- that is, willingness to sacrifice for one's own group, such as Muslims or Christians, but not for outsiders -- and, in relevant contexts, support for suicide attacks. This dynamic is behind the paradoxical reality that the world finds itself in today: Modern global multiculturalism is increasingly challenged by fundamentalist movements aimed at reviving group loyalty through greater ritual commitments to ideological purity
Ed Webb

Medieval robots: How al-Jazari's mechanical marvels have been resurrected in Istanbul |... - 0 views

  • the history of automation goes back some 900 years, when Ismail al-Jazari, a Muslim scholar, invented the first robotics, water clocks and other mechanical devices.
  • his outstanding machines have now been recreated for The Magnificent Machines of al-Jazari, an exhibition at the UNIQ Expo in Istanbul
  • his masterwork, The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices,
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  • In his book, al-Jazari explained the construction of his devices and automatons, from water-raising machines to fountains, complete with illustrations and instructions that gave engineers the opportunity to reuse them. 
  • “The impact of al-Jazari's inventions is still felt in modern contemporary mechanical engineering,” wrote 20th-century English engineer and historian Donald Hill in his book Studies in Medieval Islamic Technology.
  • The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices,  was the most important work of engineering written before the Renaissance centuries later. 
  • “The idea of having robots to do humans work - or simply automation - was developed by al-Jazari 250 years before Leonardo Da Vinci, with some excellent examples."
  • in the 21st century Muslim countries see relatively less scientific activity. According to the World Bank, in 2016 the United States and the European Union respectively published 426,165 and 613,774 articles in scientific and technical journals. That compares to 40,974 in Iran and 33,902 in Turkey, although the number of articles is rising.
Ed Webb

The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer: Turning Qatar into an Island: Saudi cuts off... - 0 views

  • There’s a cutting-off-the-nose-to-spite-the face aspect to a Saudi plan to turn Qatar into an island by digging a 60-kilometre ocean channel through the two countries’ land border that would accommodate a nuclear waste heap as well as a military base. If implemented, the channel would signal the kingdom’s belief that relations between the world’s only two Wahhabi states will not any time soon return to the projection of Gulf brotherhood that was the dominant theme prior to the United Arab Emirates-Saudi-led imposition in June of last year of a diplomatic and economic boycott of Qatar.
  • The message that notions of Gulf brotherhood are shallow at best is one that will be heard not only in Doha, but also in other capitals in the region
  • the nuclear waste dump and military base would be on the side of the channel that touches the Qatari border and would effectively constitute a Saudi outpost on the newly created island.
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  • The plan, to be funded by private Saudi and Emirati investors and executed by Egyptian firms that helped broaden the Suez Canal, also envisions the construction of five hotels, two ports and a free trade zone.
  • The $750 million project would have the dump ready for when Saudi Arabia inaugurates the first two of its 16 planned nuclear reactors in 2027. Saudi Arabia is reviewing proposals to build the reactors from US, Chinese, French, South Korean contractors and expects to award the projects in December.
  • Qatar’s more liberal Wahhabism of the sea contrasts starkly with the Wahhabism of the land that Prince Mohammed is seeking to reform. The crown prince made waves last year by lifting a ban on women’s driving, granting women the right to attend male sporting events in stadiums, and introducing modern forms of entertainment like, music, cinema and theatre – all long-standing fixtures of Qatari social life and of the ability to reform while maintaining autocratic rule.
  • A traditional Gulf state and a Wahhabi state to boot, Qatari conservatism was everything but a mirror image of Saudi Arabia’s long-standing puritan way of life. Qatar did not have a powerful religious establishment like the one in Saudi Arabia that Prince Mohammed has recently whipped into subservience, nor did it implement absolute gender segregation. Non-Muslims can practice their faith in their own houses of worship and were exempted from bans on alcohol and pork. Qatar became a sponsor of the arts and hosted the controversial state-owned Al Jazeera television network that revolutionized the region’s controlled media landscape and became one of the world’s foremost global English-language broadcasters.
  • Qatari conservatism is likely what Prince Mohammed would like to achieve even if that is something he is unlikely to acknowledge
  • “I consider myself a good Wahhabi and can still be modern, understanding Islam in an open way. We take into account the changes in the world,” Abdelhameed Al Ansari, the then dean of Qatar University’s College of Sharia, a leader of the paradigm shift, told The Wall Street Journal in 2002.
  • if built, the channel would suggest that geopolitical supremacy has replaced ultra-conservative, supremacist religious doctrine as a driver of the king-in-waiting’s policy
Ed Webb

Turkey: An Ambivalent Religious Soft Power - 0 views

  • Albania is not the first country to realize that the mosques built with Turkey’s money and other services were also used for political purposes to promote Erdoğan's sociopolitical and religious desires. For instance, in June 2018, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz ordered the closing of seven mosques run by the Diyanet and deported more than 40 Turkish imams and their families in consequence of their political activities under the cover of religion
  • Germany launched an investigation into the Diyanet to explore the possibility that some Turkish imams have spied on members of the Gülen Movement among the diaspora
  • surveillance activities conducted by imams within the territory of foreign states cannot be defined within the concept of religious soft power, which fundamentally means the promotion of religion for a country’s foreign policy purposes. However, these investigations underline that the Diyanet imams are not alone; on the contrary, they have been working with Turkey’s other transnational apparatuses, which have been seen as soft power tools of Turkey in host countries
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  • Since coining the term in the late 1980s, Joseph S. Nye Jr. has modified the concept of soft power multiple times, but he has not explicitly theorized religion as a form of soft power
  • Jeffrey Haynes, as one of the first scholars to talk about the relation between religion and soft power, noted that religious soft power involves encouraging actors to change their political behaviors
  • Starting from the late 1940s, within the multi-party system, political parties have realized that religious rhetoric could be transformed into votes; therefore, both right-wing and centrist political parties tried to enlarge the real authority of the Diyanet to reach religiously sensitive masses of people. After the re-establishment of the democratic order annihilated by the 1960 coup d’état, the Diyanet gained prominence because the state employed it in its struggle against communism. 
  • After the 1980 coup d’état, the Diyanet’s mission included the promotion of Turkish Islam abroad, and it began to play a sociopolitical role in the international arena with the aim of promoting Turkey. Thus, Turkey’s Diyanet and Turkish moderate Islam have been actively instrumentalized in Turkish foreign policy as a soft power tool, providing an advantage over other potential actors since they have been seen as a preventive force against some of the radical Islamist movements and ideologies.
  • With its ascendant economy, domestic reforms aimed at the EU accession process, and a global climate proposing the compatibility of Islam and democracy, Turkey rose as a soft power with religious tools at its disposal. In this, Turkey has become publicly almost more visible than the other Islamic soft power actors in continental Europe, in the Balkans, and in some particular countries like Somalia.
  • opened branches in more than 40 countries, publishing and distributing Qur'ans and religious books in more than 25 languages. It also provides financial support to official Muslim representative institutions in the Balkans, continental Europe, and Africa. Furthermore, the state-run construction companies TOKİ and TİKA have been constructing mosques around the world
  • process of democratic backsliding has manifested through both domestic politics and significant changes in foreign policy, and the increasingly acrimonious rivalry between the Gülen Movement and the AKP has negatively affected Turkey’s capacity to wield effective soft power. In this transformation the AKP has started to instrumentalize Islam quite differently compared to the previous periods of Turkish attempts to exert influence in the Middle East and North Africa, the Balkans, and beyond. Notably, the Diyanet’s policies have been synchronized with the policies of the AKP, and its budget, administrative capacity, and activities have been gradually expanding throughout these years despite the shrinking economic environment within which the AKP operates. Over time, the Diyanet of the now increasingly repressive and less moderate AKP has started to be perceived differently by various countries and groups around the world
  • these religious soft power apparatuses have started to involve themselves in the host countries’ domestic politics, as in the case of Bulgaria, due to Erdoğan’s new foreign policy mentality
  • Turkey’s religious soft power is best characterized in terms of ambivalence—particularly given the increasingly competitive market of Islamic soft power
Ed Webb

Trapped in Iran | 1843 - 0 views

  • Iran has a complicated, and at times paranoid, government. Elected parliamentarians give a veneer of democracy but power ultimately resides with the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the regime’s most powerful security force, answers directly to him. Rival arms of the state, including the security forces, jostle for influence. And the rules are unclear.
  • I had gone to report on the impact of American-imposed sanctions. Some news stories were claiming that Tehran was on the brink of collapse, but I saw few signs of it. There was no panic buying. The city looked cleaner and more modern than on my visit three years before. It has the best underground in the Middle East, with locally made trains. Parks and museums were abundant and well-tended, pavements were scrubbed and the city’s many flower-beds immaculately maintained.
  • America’s sanctions had hurt people, of course. Average monthly salaries were worth less than a pair of imported shoes. I saw people sleeping rough or hawking junk on the streets. One former university lecturer I met had been reduced to busking. But few people went hungry and there seemed to be a joie de vivre among many of those I talked to. Cafés, theatres and music halls were packed. An earlier bout of sanctions had forced Tehran’s Symphony Orchestra to disband but I wangled a ticket for the opening night of the reconstituted Philharmonic.
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  • My captors wore no identifying uniforms, but on the second day the doctor told me that he was an officer in the intelligence arm of the Revolutionary Guards. Iran’s security agencies are many tentacled. In 1979 the new Islamic Republic retained much of the existing state apparatus, including the army and a good part of the bureaucracy, but it added another tier to keep existing institutions in check, and the parallel systems have competed ever since. The government’s own intelligence ministry would be unlikely to detain a Western journalist whose entry it had approved. My accusers were from its more powerful rival.
  • Over the course of four days the men spent most of their time glued to phone-screens, watching Bollywood films, or American or Chinese schlock full of street fights, which they accessed through virtual private networks to evade the censorship they were supposed to enforce.
  • Self-censorship ranks as one of an authoritarian regime’s strongest tools, and I was complicit.
  • Despite Iran’s pious reputation, Tehran may well be the least religious capital in the Middle East. Clerics dominate the news headlines and play the communal elders in soap operas, but I never saw them on the street, except on billboards. Unlike most Muslim countries, the call to prayer is almost inaudible. There has been a rampant campaign to build new mosques, yet more people flock to art galleries on Fridays than religious services. With the exception, perhaps, of Tel Aviv, I had visited nowhere in the Middle East where people read as voraciously as Tehran. “The Handmaid’s Tale”, Margaret Atwood’s dystopian fable of women enslaved to a theocratic caste, is a particular favourite, the owner of one bookstore told me.
  • Life in Iran has always swung both ways. Nothing goes and everything goes. Alcohol is banned but home delivery is faster for wine than for pizza.
  • The space for veil-free living had grown since I last visited. In the safety of their homes, women often removed their head coverings when chatting over the internet. Darkened cinema halls offered respite from the morality police who enforce discipline. In cafés women let their scarves fall languorously. The more brazen simply walked uncovered in the streets, risking imprisonment. And, in an unusual inversion of rebellion, ties have made a reappearance some 40 years after Ayatollah Khomeini denounced them as a symbol of British imperialism.
  • The listing of plays in Tehran was almost as long as London’s West End and I devoured them. Directors are adept at finding ways to evade the censors. A striking number of plays and films I saw were set in prisons – a commentary on the Iranian condition – but under bygone regimes. Opera was taboo, but a performance one evening in the red-cushioned opera house of the former shah, which was billed as Kurdish folk music, included Verdi. Beneath a vast glittering chandelier the audience threw bouquets of flowers at the Iranian singer, who is acclaimed in both Rome and Berlin; for an encore, she finally dared to sing a solo.
  • Of course not everyone got away with pushing at the strictures. In my first week in Tehran the authorities pulled a production of Ibsen’s “Hedda Gabler” – the play is about suicide, which is forbidden in Islam – and another about poor women reduced to hawking to feed their families. Cafés that hosted live bands risked closure until they had paid off fines. Women without head-coverings who were spotted on one of Tehran’s many surveillance cameras received police summons by text. But the morality police, who drove around town in new green-and-white vans, seemed too stretched to suppress every challenge.
  • as well as being an intelligence officer, he was an academic and wrote a newspaper column
  • It was liberating to have the run of Tehran, without minders, deadlines or chores. But of course, I wasn’t truly free. I policed myself on behalf of the regime, becoming my own jailer and censor, aware that any lapse could have consequences. Sometimes I tried to speak over colleagues or relatives who were saying things that I feared might enrage my captors. I felt the presence of hundreds of electronic eyes. The friendliest faces who greeted me might be informers. And I could not leave Iran. It is an odd experience to know that you can be caught out at any time. But this was the way of Tehran. Some avenues open up, others close. Everyone feels like a captive. There are those who say that it is all a grand plan of the ayatollahs to keep people on edge.
  • I was caught in a political game involving high-seas tankers and international diplomacy that far exceeded my ability to influence it.
  • I feared either that the Revolutionary Guards thought they could use my presence to negotiate some kind of deal, or that I was becoming a pawn in the internal rivalry within the Iranian government. I was beginning to see at first hand the glaring tensions between the two arms of the state. My hotel seemed increasingly nervous about hosting an over-stayer without a passport. In an attempt to evict me one evening, they cut the lights and blamed an unfixable electrical fault. The following morning the Guards arrived to transfer me to another location. En route we were chased by two motorbikes and careened up and down the alleyways of northern Tehran. Only when we pulled into a cul-de-sac did the Guards succeed in shaking them off.
  • A new interrogator – toad-like and clad in leather – told me that the Guards had found incriminating material on my laptop that touched on matters of national security: he had found a note from a conversation I’d had with a government flunkie about smuggling rings connected to the offspring of senior Iranian officials. This proved, he said, that I had crossed the line from journalism to espionage. They were reopening the case.
  • Notes he had discovered on Iran’s spiralling brain drain confirmed, to his mind, that I was seeking to undermine national morale.
  • I wasn’t even sure how genuinely religious many of those I had met were. When we drove about town, Ali talked of his student days, his young family and his passion for British football. Ideology rarely came up. Within the parameters set by the vice squads, Tehran’s dominant culture was defiantly secular. Iran called itself a theocracy, yet religion felt frustratingly hard to locate and the truly religious seemed sidelined, like a minority.
  • For ten nights in Muharram these passion plays were performed with growing fervour. Even an irreverent man who taught me Farsi, who devoted much of his spare time to picking up waitresses in cafés, said Muharram was the one religious occasion he observed. The streets were lined with mokebs, stalls offering tea and dates and decorated with tragic representations of the battlefield using decapitated toy soldiers. At one mokeb, I came across a camel being readied for sacrifice. Many of these rites drew on ancient folklore rather than Muslim practice, akin to the celebration of Easter in the West. Since its inception the clerical regime had sought – and failed – to purify Iran of its non-Islamic elements.
  • “You feel a direct connection between people and God here,” a 40-year-old programme manager told me. He had stopped going to government mosques altogether, he said. Like some other pious Iranians I met, he feared that politics had sullied their religion rather than elevating it.
  • Panahian preached from a cushioned, teak throne beneath a vast chandelier while his acolytes crowded around him on the floor. He projected so much power, I got the feeling that if he’d read from a phone directory his disciples would still have sobbed. “Are you a servant of God or of man?” he said, scanning the crowd for suspects. “Choose between the tyranny of westernisation and God.” After he’d left a woman in a black chador took me aside. I steeled myself for an ideological harangue. Instead, she held up a plastic bag of bread and a plastic container of beans that the Husseiniya distributed after the sermon. “That’s why we came,” she said. “If you ask about the contents of the sermon, no one can tell you. If you ask about the contents of breakfast, they’ll all remember.”
  • the largest and most vibrant Jewish community in the Muslim world. Since the ayatollahs toppled the shah, Iran’s Jewish population has shrunk from 80,000 to around a tenth of that number. The ayatollahs have largely kept the remaining Jews safe, but they have also confiscated some of their property, particularly that of those who have left the country. Tensions between Iran’s Jews and the regime ebb and rise depending on the country’s relationship with Israel. But over time the Islamic Republic seems to have grown more at ease with the community
  • Iran has 22 mikva’ot – pools for ritual immersion. Many of Tehran’s dozen active synagogues are vast and packed with worshippers
  • There was a Jewish café, two kosher restaurants and a maternity hospital funded by the Jewish community in the south of Tehran, where less than 5% of those born were Jewish. A Jewish sports centre was also under construction
  • By rare coincidence the first service of selichot, the penitential prayers recited for a month in the run up to the High Holidays, began on the first day of the solemn month of Muharram. The synagogues were packed. At 1am Iran’s largest synagogue still teemed with families. At 2am the congregation swayed in prayer for Israel and its people. The communal chest-beating was gentler than in the Husseiniya, but more ardent than in Western congregations. Women walked up to the ark and kissed the smooth Isfahani tiles painted with menorahs and stars of David, acting like Shia pilgrims at their shrines. People milled around on the street outside chatting. I must have recited my prayers for forgiveness with conviction.
  • two men in black entered and introduced themselves as officers from another branch of intelligence. They apologised profusely for the difficulties I had faced and blamed the Guards for the inconvenience. They hoped that I had been well treated and expressed outrage that the Guards had made me pay my own hotel bill. They assured me that they’d been working strenuously for weeks to fix matters. My ordeal was over, they said. But could they just ask a few questions first?After 40 minutes of interrogation, they disappeared. Ten minutes later they were back with embarrassed smiles. One awkward matter needed resolving. Because I had overstayed my visa, I needed to pay a fine of 4m toman, about  $200.“Of course, the Guards should be paying since the delay was of their making,” they said.I called Ali and asked him to clear the fine.“No way,” he replied. “Can’t they waive it?”The intelligence officers apologised again but remained insistent. There were regulations. They couldn’t foot the bill for a mistake of the Guards.
  • Only when the flight map on my seat-back screen showed the plane nosing out of Iranian airspace did I begin to breathe normally.
Ed Webb

A Tale of Two Moralities, Part One: Regional Inequality and Moral Polarization - Niskan... - 0 views

  • Conservatives fifty years ago opposed interracial marriage, but now they mostly don’t. Why not? Haidt and his colleagues find that conservatives have a stronger sense of moral purity, contamination, and disgust than liberals. That was as true in 1967 as it is in 2017. But conservatives in 1967 were likely to find interracial marriage a disgusting contamination of racial purity in a way that most conservatives in 2017 just don’t. What changed? There’s little reason to believe that the psychological attributes that incline an individual to conservative or liberal attitudes have much changed. It’s much more likely that the cultural triggers of the conservative purity and disgust response changed. And why did that change? Because our entire culture has become more broadly liberal—more egalitarian, tolerant, and individualistic—in its attitudes, shifting the whole range of opinion in a broadly liberal direction.
  • As countries become wealthier, their people generally become less and less concerned with mere physical survival and the values associated with survival, and more and more concerned with self-expression and autonomy. People animated by survival values prefer security over liberty, are suspicious of outsiders, dislike homosexuality, don’t put much stock in politics, and tend not to be very happy. In contrast, those fueled by self-expressive values prefer liberty over security, are welcoming to outsiders, tolerant of homosexuality (or most any expression of the real, authentic, inner self), are more positive about politics and political participation, and tend to be fairly satisfied with life.
  • Cultures also tend to transition from “traditional” to “secular-rational” attitudes about the grounds of moral, cultural, and political authority as they modernize and gain distance from mass poverty and material insecurity. Traditionalists about authority are generally religious; prize traditional notions of marriage and family; esteem obedience; and wave the flag with zesty, patriotic pride. In contrast, people with secular-rational values are less religious; aren’t so troubled by Heather having two Dads; are more likely to question and defy authority; and take less pride from national membership.
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  • This strong connection between a society’s value system and its per capita GDP suggests that economic development tends to produce roughly predictable changes in a society’s beliefs and values, and time-series evidence supports this hypothesis. When one compares the positions of given countries in successive waves of the values surveys, one finds that almost all the countries that experienced rising per capita GDPs also experienced predictable shifts in their values.
  • countries with moral cultures that emphasize self-expressive, secular-rational values demand and enjoy the most freedom
  • Secular-rational and self-expressive values tend to move in the same direction over time, but they don’t always, and in the United States they haven’t. If you watch the below animation of the cultural map through time, you’ll see that since the World Values Survey began, the United States has become significantly more secular-rational, while losing ground on self-expressive values.
  • World Values Survey results for countries as populous, diverse, and geographically large as the United States can be misleading. Small aggregate shifts can hide large swings in particular regions and sub-populations
  • If the United States has shifted slightly toward survival values and away from self-expressive values in the aggregate, it seems likely that there has been a large shift toward survival values in large swathes of the country that swamped the forward march of college towns and big cities toward self-expressive values. Likewise, a small aggregate shift toward secular-rational values can conceal a much larger shift in the places liberals live, offset by a somewhat smaller shift toward traditional values elsewhere.  
  • United States may be dividing into two increasingly polarized cultures: an increasingly secular-rational and self-expression oriented “post-materialist” culture concentrated in big cities and the academic archipelago, and a largely rural and exurban culture that has been tilting in the opposite direction, toward zero-sum survival values, while trying to hold the line on traditional values
  • If we were to plot urban “blue” America on the WVS map, my guess is that it would fall in the “Protestant Europe” zone, perhaps somewhere between the Netherlands and Norway. If we were to plot low-density “red” America on the WVS map, I’d guess it would, like Northern Ireland, fall on the border of the “Latin America” zone, near Uruguay and Argentina
  • the United States recently went through a big recession, but so did the rest of the world. That, and the wave of foreclosures that precipitated it, might account for some of the shift toward survival values. But then there’s the U.S.’s unusual sharp increase in income inequality, which is symptomatic of a deeper trend in diverging material conditions
  • If you’re searching for ideas about why the United States’ has been sliding away from liberalizing self-expression values, and becoming less and less free, it makes sense to look at the things that differentiate the U.S. from its English speaking cousins. Significantly higher economic inequality is one of those things.
  • “Skill-biased technical change” is the economist’s term for the fact that advances in technology increase the productivity, and thus the pay, of highly-educated workers more than less-educated workers. Because the U.S. system of primary education is incredibly variable in quality, and garbage on average, we’ve been unable to meet market demand for skilled workers, further driving up the wage premium for education, while leaving people in areas with ineffective schools struggling to get by without the sort of skills the labor market wants. Meanwhile, the minority of highly-educated Americans are becoming more and more heavily concentrated in cities, and have been enjoying steadily increasing incomes.
  • The geographic concentration of economic production has increased over the past fifteen years, due to the feedback between human capital concentration and the choices of high-productivity firms to locate in those places. As the Economist noted last March: In 2001 the richest 50 cities and their surroundings produced 27% more per head than America as a whole. Today’s richest cities make 34% more. Measured by total GDP, the decoupling is greater still, because prosperous cities are sucking in disproportionate numbers of urbanising Americans. Between 2010 and 2014 America’s population grew by 3.1%; its cities, by 3.7%. But the 50 richest cities swelled by 9.2%.
  • the Trump vs. Clinton population density divide really amounts to a high-output/low-output economic divide. With few exceptions, the counties responsible for a more than a trivial portion of American GDP preferred Clinton over Trump.
  • According to Muro and Lui, in the 2000 election, which also featured a split in the popular and electoral votes, Bush won 2397 counties, accounting for 46% of GDP, while Gore won 659 counties accounting for 54% of GDP. In the 2016 election, the general pattern repeats: the Republican candidate wins many many more counties responsible for a smaller share of American economic output, but the asymmetry has become even crazier. Clinton took just 472 counties, which account for 64% of GDP, while Trump took 2584, which account for just 36% of GDP.  That’s amazing.
  • I suspect cultural and moral polarization is being driven by the Great Divergence—by inequality between densely and sparsely populated regions—rather than by inequality within cities, where the gap between rich and poor is the widest
  • While the urban poor and working classes have benefited in a number ways from the concentration of human capital and wealth in their cities, very little has trickled down to the rest of America. Much of the problem is that, as Moretti emphasizes, the “good jobs” are increasingly concentrated in big cities. This means that wage growth generally has been very low for the (mainly white) middle and lower income classes outside big urban centers. But there’s more to material security than income. There’s also wealth. Americans tend to store their wealth in their houses. Much of the country still has not recovered from the housing crises. As Michela Zonta, Sarah Edelman, and Colin McArthur of the Center for American Progress observe, counties that shifted from Obama in 2012 to Trump in 2016 had unusually high rates of negative equity.  
  • the labor force participation rate for prime-age men decreased from 98% in 1954 to 88% last year. This is the second largest decrease among any of the OECD countries
  • the huge increase in women’s labor force participation and economic independence over this period, which has shifted power relations between men and women in a way that working-class men have found especially hard to adjust to. It’s not just about decline in manufacturing employment and the lack of “good jobs” men happen to find suitably dignified, through it is partly about that.
  •  The higher the death rate from overdose and suicide in Rust Belt areas, the more Trump tended to outperform Romney. When it came to predicting Trump’s gains over Romney, The Economist found that the only factor that could did better than an area’s percentage of whites without college education was an index of public health metrics
  • the specific subset of Mr Trump’s voters that won him the election—those in counties where he outperformed Mr Romney by large margins—live in communities that are literally dying.
  • The idea that an increasing sense of material precariousness can lead to cultural retreat from liberalizing “self-expression” values can help us understand why low-density white America turned out to support a populist leader with disturbingly illiberal tendencies. But this idea can also help us understand why our larger national culture seems to be growing apart in a way that has made it seem harder and harder to communicate constructively across the gap.
  • Given the specific counter-majoritarian mechanisms in the U.S. constitution, this is a recipe for political dominance of the less economically productive conservative white minority, who control most of the country’s territory, over the liberal multicultural majority who live in increasingly concentrated urban centers of wealth. To the extent that increasing economic security is liberalizing and stagnation and decline tend toward an illiberal, zero-sum survival mindset, this amounts to a recipe for the political imposition of relatively illiberal policy on increasingly liberal and increasingly economically powerful cities. This is not a stable situation, and bodes ill for the future of American freedom.
  • I think the cultural antagonisms generated by the polarizing material consequences of the Great Divergence have their own internal logic, which has led to a sense of winner-take-all culture war hostility that exacerbates the instability of America’s basic economic and political situation
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