Eclectic Grounds

conflicts and conversation

Archive for the ‘Intercultural issues’ Category

Cultural traditions as instruments of opposition

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On TED, yet another interesting talk on one of the main themes of this blog: how to embrace religious and cultural traditions while at the same time remaking them as instruments for opposition and empowerment.

Kavita Ramdas tells three stories of quite remarkable women who do just that.

Written by henrik

April 29, 2010 at 11:05 am

Are you a change agent?

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I am sure you are, as we all are most of the time. Change is a constant part of our lives, along with the messy conflicts and confusions that it often creates. For many of us, change is even more than that: we try to change structures of injustice or create innovations that touch upon the lives of others.

If you want to deal constructively with change then give this advice a thorough read:

The image is a slide of a fascinating slideshow by Victoria Pynchon based on a talk by Kenneth Cloke. I recommend you to click through the whole thing!

(Via MediationChannel)

“we fought to get off the slave yard, now we fight to get us a green card”

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Written by henrik

April 9, 2010 at 7:11 pm

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).

How language shapes our mode of thinking

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At Edge, Lea Boroditzky makes the compelling case that the language we use effectively determines how we perceive the world around us. It’s a fascinating article with many  illuminating examples:

Instead of words like “right,” “left,” “forward,” and “back,” which, as commonly used in English, define space relative to an observer, the Kuuk Thaayorre, like many other Aboriginal groups, use cardinal-direction terms — north, south, east, and west — to define space. This is done at all scales, which means you have to say things like “There’s an ant on your southeast leg” or “Move the cup to the north northwest a little bit.” One obvious consequence of speaking such a language is that you have to stay oriented at all times, or else you cannot speak properly. […] Simply put, speakers of languages like Kuuk Thaayorre are much better than English speakers at staying oriented and keeping track of where they are, even in unfamiliar landscapes or inside unfamiliar buildings. What enables them — in fact, forces them — to do this is their language. Having their attention trained in this way equips them to perform navigational feats once thought beyond human capabilities.

Even what might be deemed frivolous aspects of language can have far-reaching subconscious effects on how we see the world. Take grammatical gender. […] In one study, we asked German and Spanish speakers to describe objects having opposite gender assignment in those two languages. The descriptions they gave differed in a way predicted by grammatical gender. For example, when asked to describe a “key” — a word that is masculine in German and feminine in Spanish — the German speakers were more likely to use words like “hard,” “heavy,” “jagged,” “metal,” “serrated,” and “useful,” whereas Spanish speakers were more likely to say “golden,” “intricate,” “little,” “lovely,” “shiny,” and “tiny.” To describe a “bridge,” which is feminine in German and masculine in Spanish, the German speakers said “beautiful,” “elegant,” “fragile,” “peaceful,” “pretty,” and “slender,” and the Spanish speakers said “big,” “dangerous,” “long,” “strong,” “sturdy,” and “towering.” This was true even though all testing was done in English, a language without grammatical gender. The same pattern of results also emerged in entirely nonlinguistic tasks (e.g., rating similarity between pictures).

Written by henrik

December 27, 2009 at 9:17 am

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.

Logic, harmony & foolishness: a look at Indian and western mythology

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Another great talk from TED, this one just up today from TED India.

Devdutt Pattanaik of Future Group aims to explain common misperceptions and misunderstandings between Indians and westerners. To do so, he takes a look at the mythology that underlies western and Indian culture. He explains why western linear thinking isn’t a universal logic, why there is no concept of harmony in Indian music – and he tells the story of Alexander, the conqueror, and the Gymnosophist, a naked wise man, who thought of each other as fools.

Watch the clip here

Written by henrik

November 19, 2009 at 11:19 pm