Eclectic Grounds

conflicts and conversation

Archive for the ‘Clashing Civilisations?’ Category

Ubuntu: A person is a person through other persons

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Archbishop Desmond Tutu explains the principles of the Southern African philosophy Ubuntu, which stresses community, consensus and the interconnectedness of people.

Via Institut für Friedenspädagogik

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Idol TV Series in Afghanistan: Pop culture, social transformation & reappropriation

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Below, a short talk by Cynthia Schneider on the Afghan version of the “Idols” series. She demonstrates how the show has become a means of social change, especially for women, and how the content is culturally re-appropriated.

Also check out here a lengthier talk by Schneider on Western pop culture re-appropriation in the Middle East more generally. She discusses examples such as hip hop or the effects of the show 24 (select the video by Schneider and scroll to minute 30).

The minaret vote and public symbols of Islam in Europe: a sign of progress?

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Following the Swiss anti-minaret referendum, I quoted Tariq Ramadam who argues that the referendum reflects a rejection of public symbolics of Islam in Europe. The contested symbols, he says, are different in each European country but the mindset behind it is essentially the same.

Nilüfer Göle believes that these symbolic battles mark a new stage in the process of immigration to Europe:

Just like the other silent symbol, the veil, minarets reveal the presence of Muslims both pious and female in public life. This visibility certifies the presence of Muslims in European society and their desire to remain there, demanding freedom of conscience, freedom to practice their religion and also the freedom to dress according to their personal interpretation of their religion. Paradoxically, Islam becomes a political and cultural source for identifying immigrants, their quest for acknowledgment. They in turn manifest their particular citizenship within the European public arena. This visibility marks the end of a stage in the migratory phenomenon, that of integration, as well as experiences and ways of appropriating the public sphere in Europe. It is the difficulty in acknowledging this passage from foreigner to citizen that lies beneath the controversies surrounding Islam.

Might the Swiss minaret rows be seen in a positive light in the end? Is it the last mobilisation of the ignorant and fearful against a changing public sphere; one that accommodates Islam as a component of European civil society? Is it a futile attempt to undo the development of a more inclusive concept of citizenship? Let us hope for it.

The tale of the Peace-Bringer

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For the most peaceful season of the year, a beautiful Iroquois folktale…

Before the Peace-Bringer came, the Iroquois were afierce and violent people, constantly at war with neighboring tribes. Their braves were raised to be warriors; their tribes were organized for waging war; their culture was shaped by the mythology and values of the raid, the ambush, the valiant act, the violent victory.

Then came the Peace-Bringer. He walked through the village to the house of the greatest and bloodiest hero, the Man-Who-Eats-People, and he climbed to the top and looked down through the smoke hole.

The Man-Who-Eats-People was preparing a ritual feast from the cut-up body of one of his victims; he would absorb the victim’s power by eating him. A large pot sat on the fire, and the face of the Peace-Bringer, looking in at the smoke hole, was perfectly reflected on the oil on the surface.

The Man-Who-Eats-People froze as he saw the reflection, astonished by the nobility he saw in it.

“That is my face,” he said to himself, “and it is not the face of a man who kills others and eats their flesh to steal their power. That is the face of one who draws people together, the face ofone who makes peace, not war.

He seized the pot and emptied it outside. “Never again shall I take a life or seek to take another’s spirit and strength,”he told all those who came running.

Then the Peace-Bringer came forward to meet him, and the man said, “Here is the face of peace. I have seen it in my own face. I see it in another’s.”

And the two became as one. The Man-Who-Eats-People became Hiawatha the hero, the healer, the maker of peace.


Merry Christmas & happy holidays!

Organ trafficking, the global economy and militant anthropology

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Shocking revelations emerged yesterday from an interview with the head of the Israeli forensic institute. In the interview, he admits systematic organ harvest by Israel from dead palestinian bodies (more information here).

The statements were made during an interview with Nancy Sheper-Hughes – a fantastic anthropologist whose work has inspired many (me included) for the field and the ethics of anthropology. She deserves a mention in this debate for her investigations in the global network of organ trafficking.

In years of research, Sheper-Hughes shed light on the global relations of organ donors, smugglers, doctors and recipients. A focus of her work is on global power relations that enable this illegal industry. She writes about the marginalized in the global economy from places like South Asia, Latin America or Eastern Europe, who are willing to sell parts of their body to support their families or simply to be able to afford status symbols and satisfy consumption needs. Many others have their organs removed without consent – the revelations about organ theft in Palestine is a remarkable case there. Sheper-Hughes says:

“I was confused, because there were so many forms of real violence; […] but what they [people in the community in Brazil] wanted to talk about was their incredible fear that their bodies were at risk, or those of their children, of being kidnapped by an organ mafia.”

Sheper-Hughes traced the path of trafficked organs through places like India, China, South Africa or – prominently – Israel:

“I found out from the transplant surgeons that these weren’t just allegations but that they were true, and that organ trafficking amongst living people was spreading. […] I began by following the rumours, before I started following the bodies. My primary aim is to disabuse the world of the notion that this is just a rumour.”

At the end of the global “supply chain” or organs are mostly recipients from industrialized parts of the world, usually Europe or the US.

“I worry about the politics, the bio-politics in a global sense, of the people who are resisting the getting of an organ through a waiting list or through friends or family, and would rather get a poor and anonymous person. It’s easier. You don’t have to deal with them after the fact.”

Sheper-Hughes calls her method ‘militant anthropology’, which means that it is prepared to take on a political or moral engagement with its subjects rather than merely engage in academic analysis. In the course of her work, she founded a small NGO called Organs Watch who acts as a pressure group to spread the word, build alliances, and push for legislate response to the injustice.

“Much as I feel for the recipients, for their pain and their suffering, they are represented and visible. They have surplus empathy, they’re in the newspapers and everybody’s heart goes out to them. Nobody’s heart goes out to the sellers, because they’re the riff-raff of society, and not people you naturally want to embrace, but they’re human beings – they need to be represented. Their body is precious to them. We talk about the gift of life. I talk about the gift of the body – instead of ‘I think therefore I am’, you can say ‘I’m embodied therefore I am’. To have to plunge in to yourself and sell that through which you have a personhood, and to think of your only resource as being your organs is so tragic.”

Quotations taken from an interview with Three Monkeys Online.

Tariq Ramadan: Symbols of Fear and the Swiss referendum

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In the Guardian, Tariq Ramadan gives his perspective on the question I posed here yesterday:

There are only four minarets in Switzerland, so why is it that it is there that this initiative has been launched? My country, like many in Europe, is facing a national reaction to the new visibility of European Muslims. The minarets are but a pretext – the UDC wanted first to launch a campaign against the traditional Islamic methods of slaughtering animals but were afraid of testing the sensitivity of Swiss Jews, and instead turned their sights on the minaret as a suitable symbol.

Every European country has its specific symbols or topics through which European Muslims are targeted. In France it is the headscarf or burka; in Germany, mosques; in Britain, violence; cartoons in Denmark; homosexuality in the Netherlands – and so on. It is important to look beyond these symbols and understand what is really happening in Europe in general and in Switzerland in particular: while European countries and citizens are going through a real and deep identity crisis, the new visibility of Muslims is problematic – and it is scary.

At the very moment Europeans find themselves asking, in a globalising, migratory world, “What are our roots?”, “Who are we?”, “What will our future look like?”, they see around them new citizens, new skin colours, new symbols to which they are unaccustomed.

Over the last two decades Islam has become connected to so many controversial debates – violence, extremism, freedom of speech, gender discrimination, forced marriage, to name a few – it is difficult for ordinary citizens to embrace this new Muslim presence as a positive factor. There is a great deal of fear and a palpable mistrust. Who are they? What do they want? And the questions are charged with further suspicion as the idea of Islam being an expansionist religion is intoned. Do these people want to Islamise our country?

Why did Switzerland decide to ban minarets?

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Some reactions by the victorious camp in favour of the ban on minarets after the referendum on Sunday, 29 October:

“Forced marriages and other things like cemeteries separating the pure and impure – we don’t have that in Switzerland and we don’t want to introduce it.”
Ulrich Schlüer, co-president of the Initiative Committee to ban minarets.

“Society wants to put a safeguard on the political-legal wing of Islam, for which there is no separation between state and religion.”
Oskar Freysinger, member of the Swiss People’s Party and a driving force in the campaign

“People who settle here have to realise that they can’t turn up to work in a head scarf or get special dispensation from swimming lessons.”
Toni Brunner, president of the People’s Party

(all quotes from SwissInfo)

If one listens to its initiators, yesterday’s referendum was not about the construction of new minarets in Switzerland at all. The organizers of the campaign admit quite frankly what was really rejected: their image of a Muslim religion and culture and what they perceive as an assault on Swiss values.

With only four minarets existing in the country is hard to argue that the referendum is justified. Yet, the campaign poster speaks a clear language where minarets are used symbolically for a hostile attack: missile-sharp minarets riddle a Swiss flag. The rationale behind the campaign is “a” culturally pure Switzerland and “a” hostile culture of Islam.

So as of Sunday, the Swiss have joined the exclusive club of Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan as the world’s only countries that have laws which to prohibit the construction of towers on religious buildings (In S.A. and Afghanistan, it’s Christian churches though). With the outcome and implementation of the ban, Switzerland breaches the European Convention on Human Rights and is likely to face expulsion from the Council of Europe.

Just to be clear: a debate concentrated on issues (dispensation from swimming lessons, head scarfs, etc) is necessary for communities as a negotiation of shared communal values. However, in such debates the majority often drifts of to racial and cultural stereotyping of minorities. It looks as if the anti-minaret campaign is the most extreme example of this in a European country to date.

The question that the organisers of the winning side will have to ask themselves is whether their success will really help their goal of driving back “traditional Islam” and the construction of “parallel societies”.

The campaign has highlighted a massive stigma of Muslims in Switzerland as culturally inferior and ultimately unwanted. On top of that, Muslims will now be more marginalised than ever before. Discrimination will no longer be limited to the social level but also reflected in the legal structure as soon as the words ‘the construction of minarets is prohibited’ will enter article 72 of the Swiss constitution.

With this decision, the liberal and integrated majority of Muslims in Switzerland is under attack and extremist groups will gain momentum. If the initiators of the referendum were genuinely interested in the integration of religious and ethnic minorities they would see the outcome of their campaign as a catastrophe.