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China’s wild west

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As ever, history becomes politically charged – historical facts are regularly pressed into service and even falsified in current disputes. In Kashgar’s dusty, little-visited museum, there’s a sign reading: “In 60BC… local government was established under the Han dynasty. Since then Xinjiang has been part of the Chinese state.” That version was the official one for a long time but has now been dropped, as has the idea that the Chinese were the first inhabitants of the region. The magnificent Indo-European mummies found in the Taklamakan desert put paid to that claim. Xinjiang was on the Silk Road and has seen a mixture of races, cultures and warlords. It’s absurd to try to reduce it to a single influence.

On the other hand, dating the “colonisation of the province” to the arrival of the communists in 1949, as the World Congress of Uyghurs would have it (a view accepted by several French newspapers), doesn’t reflect reality either. The first Chinese political presence in Xinjiang dates from the Manchu dynasty in the 1750s. In the wake of rebellions, Daoguang, the eighth emperor, created the first “reconstruction offices” as part of a policy of assimilation in which the powers that be were reluctant to depend on local leaders as they were “corrupt and harmful to the policy of central state”. In 1884 the province became part of China. (By way of comparison, New Mexico became part of the US shortly before that (in 1846), as did California (1850).)

It’s true that history is not linear and Xinjiang has seen several bids for independence. The emirate of Kashgarie survived from 1864 to 1877 thanks to the recognition of the Ottoman empire, Great Britain and Russia. A short-lived East Turkestan Republic lasted from November 1933 to February 1934. And finally, a Second East Turkestan Republic, a vague satellite of the USSR comprising three northern districts, existed from 1944 to 1949. As Rémi Castets puts it, “the feeling of being heir to a powerful empire or kingdoms which have sometimes rivalled China” has left its mark.

Most Uyghurs are not in fact calling for independence, but greater justice and recognition of their identity. “We may be better off than we were a decade ago,” Abderrahman says, “but we’re still lagging behind.” GDP stands at 15,016 yuan per inhabitant in Shihezi (which is 90% Han), 6,771 in Aksu (30% Han), 3,497 in Kashgar (8.5%) and 2,445 yuan in Hotan (3.2%) (6).

These flagrant, ethnically based inequalities are pushing the Uyghurs towards Islam, the only vehicle for their opposition and means of affirming their identity. Already the sight of women in burqas is no longer a rarity. There is a clear danger that the fundamentalists will be the beneficiaries of this shift. Extremist groups are still marginal, but that could change if Beijing refuses to engage in any sort of dialogue.

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Image source: Unkar.jp

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Vatican embraces Oscar Wilde

In a week in which the Vatican made its peace with that dangerous consorter with witches Harry Potter, the Holy See has also revealed an unexpected soft spot for Oscar Wilde.

Earlier this week the Vatican’s official newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, which had previously described JK Rowling’s books as presenting a “vision of the world and the human being full of deep mistakes and dangerous suggestions”, praised the film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince for making it clear that good must overcome evil “and that sometimes this requires costs and sacrifice”.

Despite the Catholic Church’s condemnation of practising homosexuality, the newspaper has now run a glowing review of a new book about the famously doomed lover of Lord Alfred Douglas. Wilde was “one of the personalities of the 19th century who most lucidly analysed the modern world in its disturbing as well as its positive aspects”, wrote author Andrea Monda in a piece about Italian author Paolo Gulisano’s The Portrait of Oscar Wilde.

In an article headlined “When Oscar Wilde met Pius IX”, Monda wrote that Wilde was not “just a non-conformist who loved to shock the conservative society of Victorian England”; rather he was “a man who behind a mask of amorality asked himself what was just and what was mistaken, what was true and what was false”.

“Wilde was a man of great, intense feelings, who behind the lightness of his writing, behind a mask of frivolity or cynicism, hid a deep knowledge of the mysterious value of life,” he said.

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Does God Hate Women?

After all the arguments for subordinating women have been shown to be self-serving lies, what are misogynists left with? They have only one feeble argument that is still deferred to and shown undeserving respect across the world, even by people who should know better: “God told me to. I have to treat women as lesser beings, because it is inscribed in my Holy Book.”

Ophelia Benson and Jeremy Stangroom are the editors of Butterflies and Wheels, the best atheist site on the web. In Does God Hate Women? they forensically dismantle the last respectable misogyny. They argue: “What would otherwise look like stark bullying is very often made respectable and holy by a putative religious law or aphorism or scriptural quotation . . . They worship a God who is a male who gangs up with other males against women. They worship a thug.”

Every major religion’s texts were written at a time when women were regarded as little better than talking cattle. Their words and commands reflect this, plainly and bluntly. This book starts with a panoramic sweep across the world, showing – with archetypal cases – how every religion has groups today thumping women down with its Holy Book.

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Find God, win a trip to Mecca (or Jerusalem, or Tibet)

t sounds like the beginning of a joke: what do you get when you put a Muslim imam, a Greek Orthodox priest, a rabbi, a Buddhist monk and 10 atheists in the same room?

Viewers of Turkish television will soon get the punchline when a new gameshow begins that offers a prize arguably greater than that offered by Who Wants to be a Millionaire?

Contestants will ponder whether to believe or not to believe when they pit their godless convictions against the possibilities of a new relationship with the almighty on Penitents Compete (Tovbekarlar Yarisiyor in Turkish), to be broadcast by the Kanal T station. Four spiritual guides from the different religions will seek to convert at least one of the 10 atheists in each programme to their faith.

Those persuaded will be rewarded with a pilgrimage to the spiritual home of their newly chosen creed – Mecca for Muslims, Jerusalem for Christians and Jews, and Tibet for Buddhists.

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Grandmosque

Saintes-Maries-de-la Mer, Le pèlerinage des Gitans 24-25 mai

Roms, Manouches, Tsiganes et Gitans arrivent des quatre coins d’Europe et même d’autres continents pour vénérer leur Sainte, Sara la Noire. Ils s’installent dans les rues, sur les places, au bord de la mer. Pendant huit à dix jours, ils sont ici chez eux. Le pèlerinage est aussi l’occasion de retrouvailles et la plupart des enfants sont baptisés dans l’église des Saintes.

A la suite de la descente des châsses le 24 mai, la statue de Sara est portée par les gitans jusqu’à la mer pour symboliser l’attente et l’accueil des Saintes Maries par Sara, patronne des gitans. La procession revient alors à l’église dans la joie des acclamations, des instruments de musique et du carillon des cloches de l’église.

UPDATE: (sms) “Eίναι εδώ ο Manitas de Plata φέτος” (Thanks A.A. =)

Light at the end of religion’s dark tunnel

Andrew Sullivan on The Evolution of God by Robert Wright (June 2009):

Fundamentalism, in this reading, is a kind of repetitive neurotic interlude in the evolution of religion towards more benign and global forms. It’s not a linear process — misunderstanding, violence, stupidity, pride and anger will always propel human beings backwards just when they seem on the verge of progress. Greater proximity has often meant greater hatred — as one god has marshalled earthly forces against another. But in the very, very long run, as human beings have realised that religion is nothing if not true and that truth can be grasped or sought in many different ways, doctrines have evolved. Through science and travel, conversation and scholarship, interpretation and mysticism — our faiths have adapted throughout history, like finches on Darwin’s islands.

Wright’s core and vital point is that this is not a descent into total relativism or randomness. It is propelled by reason interacting with revelation, coupled with sporadic outbreaks of religious doubt and sheer curiosity. The Evolution of God is best understood as the evolution of human understanding of truth — even to the edge of our knowledge where mystery and meditation take over.

Read the Introduction in pdf /New at Amazon?! =)