A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘diasporas

[LINK] “China’s Harbin City courts Jews once again”

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At Canadian Jewish News, Ng Weng Hoong writes about the interest of at least some Chinese in a revival of the Jewish commnunity in the northeastern metropolis of Harbin.

When Chinese tour guide Eric Liu found out that Jews were fleeing Paris and other European cities to escape their worsening anti-Semitic environment, he asked if they might want to “return” to his city of Harbin, once among the most vibrant and important Jewish centres in the Far East.

“We welcome them. They are smart, educated and hard-working, and will be a very positive influence for the city,” he said as he recounted the role of Jewish businessmen, musicians, writers, bankers and engineers in making this northeastern Chinese city one of the country’s most prosperous early last century.

[. . .]

China has been quietly growing trade and investment with Israel and Jewish businesses. From about $2.6 billion (US) in 2005, Israel’s bilateral trade with China had grown to $15.59 billion in 2013, just slightly below the $16.3 billion worth of business conducted with the United States.

Given recent growth rates, China could soon overtake the United States as Israel’s largest trading partner, said Ophir Gore, the head of trade mission at the Israeli embassy in Beijing. With China hungry for Israeli water expertise, information technology and farming know-how, the government of Israel has set a target to double its exports to the Asian nation over the next five years.

As if catching up with its own past, Harbin is eager to attract a new wave of Jewish businesses and settlers to replicate the success that the earlier legendary generation had brought. Mayor Song Xibin is leading a delegation to Israel this month to invite Israeli investors to his hometown.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 21, 2015 at 2:04 am

[LINK] “Putin 21-Year Quest to Be Russian Guardian Began in Estonia”

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Bloomberg’s Ott Ummelas makes the case that, as early as 1993, Putin was involved in promoting Russian separatist movements in neighbouring Estonia.

Two decades before seizing Crimea, Vladimir Putin showed his willingness to challenge the post-Cold War order in defense of Russians in Estonia, a country now bracing for the possibility he may go even further.

In 1993, as the St. Petersburg official running foreign affairs, the former KGB colonel helped the Russian majority in the Estonian border city of Narva approve a referendum on autonomy that was later struck down as unconstitutional, according to Vladimir Chuykin, who then headed the city council.

A unit of pro-Russian Cossacks, who once policed the tsarist empire by horse, had amassed on the Russian side of the Narva River before the ballot. Its organizers, who wanted a “clean” referendum, feared bloodshed if they were allowed to cross, Chuykin, 62, said in an interview.

“I held talks with Putin about the need for Russia to close its border so these guys couldn’t come here,” Chuykin said. “I knew Putin and his boss, Mayor Anatoly Sobchak, and they arranged a meeting for me with basically the KGB. We agreed that no ‘third forces’ would be allowed to interfere.”

Unlike Crimea’s vote to join Russia and Putin’s annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula, which the U.S. and the European Union declared illegal, the Narva initiative didn’t have the backing of the Kremlin, so there was no outside pressure to grant Russians greater autonomy, Chuykin said. That experience may have helped shape Putin’s approach to helping Russians throughout the former Soviet Union, which became a foreign policy priority after he was elected president in 2000.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 18, 2015 at 11:14 pm

[LINK] “Angry White Buddhists and the Dalai Lama: Appropriation and Politics in the Globalization of Tibetan Buddhism”

Savage Minds has a guest post from anthropologist Ben Joffe, talking about the ways in which the conflict in the Tibetan Buddhist community between worshippers of the Dorje Shugden and followers of the Dalai Lama has been co-opted by Western converts. I don’t necessarily agree with this–as Joffe himself notes, there are serious complaints to be had with the Dalai Lama’s policy towards this minority sect and its practitioners–but it’s an interesting viewpoint.

In November of last year, the fourteenth Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso completed an extensive lecture tour of the USA. Of the thousands who showed up for the Nobel Peace Prize winner’s talks, one group arrived without fail to each of his events: crowds of mostly white protestors in Tibetan robes who came to boycott the religious leader. Brandishing placards and shouting slogans, they accused the Dalai Lama of being a hypocrite, a liar and a denier of religious freedom. Calling the leader ‘the worst dictator in this modern day’ and a ‘false Dalai Lama’, the demonstrators seemed to be channelling the most zealous of Chinese Communist Party ideologues. Yet these were no party cadres. Rather, they were converts to the Dalai Lama’s own school of Tibetan Buddhism. As representatives of the ‘International Shugden Community’ (ISC), the protesters came to highlight their grievances over the Dalai Lama’s opposition to a Tibetan deity known as Dorje Shugden, and the discrimination and human rights violations they claim the religious leader’s rejection of this being and its followers has engendered.

The ISC is a major mouth-piece for the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT), a sect of almost exclusively non-Tibetan converts to Tibetan Buddhism that currently spearheads the global pro-Shugden, anti-Dalai Lama agenda. On the surface, the NKT’s almost two decades-long global campaign against the Dalai Lama and his supporters – that is, the overwhelming majority of the ethnic Tibetan and Tibetan Buddhist global population – appears to be primarily about a dispute hinging on opposing theological positions within a single tradition. The Dalai Lama believes that Dorje Shugden is a dangerous demon masquerading as a benign deity, the NKT believes that the being is a bona fide Buddha. What I want to argue here is that the controversy, and specifically NKT’s involvement in it, points as well to the politics of race, appropriation, and privilege involved in conversion and new religious movements, and highlights ongoing tensions between ethno-nationalist and universalist impulses in the globalization of Tibetan Buddhism and culture.

The Dalai Lama and NKT converts are all members of the Geluk school of Tibetan Buddhism, in which at least since the 19th century, Dorje Shugden has been seen by some practitioners as a particularly potent ‘protector’ (in Tibetan Buddhism protectors are powerful, yet ferocious, egotistical spirits that have been ritually converted into defenders Buddhism). Although the Dalai Lama is technically not the highest spiritual authority in the Geluk school, his line’s historical political leadership of Tibet has made him one of the school’s most prominent figures. His dual role as a national leader and sectarian authority, however, has generated some tension, and historically the Dalai Lamas’ more inclusive, nationally orientated policies have clashed with the narrower sectarian priorities of some Gelukpa elites. Himself once a Shugden propitiator in accordance with his Geluk education in Tibet, the current Dalai Lama began to voice reservations about the spirit in the 1970s. Shugden’s reputation for ruthlessly punishing (and assassinating) prominent Gelukpa practitioners who engage with teachings from other schools has made the spirit iconic of a certain brand of Geluk supremacism. Such bias is in fundamental conflict with the Dalai Lama’s particularly non-sectarian vision of Tibetan Buddhism and a Tibetan nation in exile. Thus, to protect himself and the Tibetan people from what he sees as a dangerous demon, the Dalai Lama has prohibited those with ritual commitments to the spirit from attending any of his teachings, and has purged exile monastic and government posts of anyone associated with the being.

[. . .]

NKT members have made their quarantine into something of a virtue. NKT converts claim Tibetans have become too worldly and politically-focused to be worthy of functioning as custodians of pure Buddhist teachings. Though inji monks and nuns entering the NKT rely on a Tibetan guru, adopt Tibetan names, wear traditional robes and preserve lineage practices hailing from Tibet, any direct engagement with Tibetan politics or culture is denounced as retrogressive and unnecessary. The NKT’s philosophy is one of ‘one lama, one yidam (meditational deity), one protector’ in reference to their sole reliance on Kelsang Gyatso and his particular teachings, a stance distinctly odds with how Tibetan Buddhism has historically been practiced. Today, the NKT curriculum is based exclusively on Kelsang Gyatso’s texts, and ritual activity and teaching in NKT centres worldwide happens pretty much entirely in languages other than Tibetan.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 2, 2015 at 10:37 pm

[BLOG] Some Tuesday links

  • Antipope Charlie Stross speculates about the consequences of SYRIZA’s eleciton victory.
  • Bad Astronomy discusses the Rosetta probe’s pictures of Comet 67P.
  • blogTO notes that Uniqlo is coming to Toronto.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze links to a comparative study of binary stars with exoplanets.
  • The Dragon’s Tales links to a study of the atmosphere of Pluto.
  • Joe. My. God. notes that Alexis Tsipras has foresworn a religious oath of office.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money notes that fast food restaurants could pay their employee living wages.
  • Otto Pohl links to a study of his on German exiles in central Asia.
  • The Power and the Money’s Noel Maurer notes that the Nicaragua Canal still makes no sense.
  • Transit Toronto observes the spread of Presto cards on the TTC.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy notes an English court’s distinction between female genital mutilation and male circumcision.
  • Window on Eurasia notes the decline of Christianity in the North Caucasus, high inflation in Kaliningrad, official Belarus’ measures to deal with a Ukraine-style invasion, and suggests Ukraine could still win the conflict.
  • The Financial Times‘ World blog considers the question of Greek debt.

[BLOG] Some Friday links

  • Centauri Dreams considers the perhaps implausible magnetic sail.
  • Crooked Timber looks at William Gibson’s new novel, The Peripheral.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze links to a paper suggesting that half of all red dwarf stars might host Earth-like or super-Earth-like planets.
  • D-Brief looks at the latest findings from Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.
  • Joe. My. God. notes Irish same-sex marriage activists turning to their Irish-American counterparts.
  • Language Log considers the distinction, in official Chinese, between “accident” and “incident”.
  • The Planetary Society Blog considers the dynamics of the geysers and subsurface ocean of Enceladus.
  • Savage Minds notes that the 17th of February is national anthropology day.
  • Towleroad notes that Scotland has hosted its first pagan same-sex wedding.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy notes an odd dispute, one parent suing another for writing a book about their moderately famous autistic son.
  • Window on Eurasia notes Russia’s proposal to try a Russian soldier accused of murdering an Armenian family in a Russian court in Armenia, and points to armed unrest in Turkmenistan.

[URBAN NOTE] “Shanghai on the Nile”

Slate‘s Miriam Berger recently posted an article about Cairo’s surprisingly thriving Chinese restaurant scene.

Amina and her panda suit have gone back to China. In her absence, the fiery flavors at the one-room Chinese Muslim restaurant in Abbasiya, Cairo, have faded. Amina had for a while memorably served food at her mother’s restaurant wearing a onesie panda suit her grandmother bought in China. But it was really the tantalizingly long and succulently addictive hand-pulled noodles, or lamian, that kept my friends and me coming back to this secret staple of Cairo cuisine.

Amina may be gone, but a new owner keeps the noodles coming. Egypt’s revolution (and counter-revolution) has not deterred the Chinese. There are now more than 10,000 Chinese in Cairo, mainly clustered in three areas. Chinese Muslims, like Amina, typically live either in Abbasiya, a dense neighborhood with dusty buildings in need of a deep shine, or Nasr City, close to Al-Azhar University, the revered Islamic institution where many of them study. Then there’s a large Chinese community in Maadi, where the big Chinese companies are centered. These Chinese come from all over China and are largely here for business of all sorts, not religion. Only it’s Egypt, so all the meat is still halal.

When I first moved to Cairo three years ago, the other American khawagat—Egyptian slang for foreigners—raved about Abbasiya’s Uighur restaurants. Only the main restaurants in Abbasiya now aren’t actually Uighur, the Turkic minority living predominantly in Central Asia and China’s (or, to the Uighurs, Chinese-occupied) western Xinjiang province: They’re Hui, another mainly Muslim ethnic group with communities (and cuisines) in northwest China and dispersed and assimilated throughout the country.

Now take a right at the gas station near the Abbasiya stop, and there’s a fork in the road with four (Hui) Chinese Muslim restaurants: two cheap adjacent storefronts with photo albums as menus, a third inside a shisha café two doors down, and the fourth (and most expensive) on El Fardus Street on the other side. The names and reputations of the restaurants, like their owners, are often in flux. In a way, it seems fitting that the Chinese have settled in Abbasiya: A century ago, a Jewish community thrived.

On a cool night in December, I take the metro to Abbasiya with friends to retry the second of the cheap eats. We settle into plastic chairs at an outdoor table, sip green tea, and begin the ordering process: What from the picture book was available that night? We switch off between the server from Northwest China’s formal Arabic and our Cairene dialect. Soon the dishes begin to haphazardly fill the slanted tables.

Written by Randy McDonald

January 20, 2015 at 11:59 pm

[NEWS] Some Sunday links

  • Al Jazeera notes that Tunisia is still on the brink, looks at the good relations between Indians and Pakistanis outside of South Asia, suspects that a largely Armenian-populated area in Georgia might erupt, and reports on satellite imagery of Boko Haram’s devastation in Nigeria.
  • Bloomberg notes that a North Korean camp survivor caught in lies might stop his campaign, reports on Arab cartoonists’ fears in the aftermath of Charlie Hebdo, notes the consequences on Portugal of a slowdown in Angola’s economy, and notes that the shift in the franc’s value has brought shoppers from Switzerland to Germany while devastating some mutual funds.
  • Bloomberg View warns about anti-immigrant movements in Europe and notes that Turkey’s leadership can’t claim a commitment to freedom of the press.
  • The Inter Press Service notes Pakistani hostility to Afghan migrants, notes disappearances of Sri Lankan cartoonists, and looks at HIV among Zimbabwe’s children.
  • Open Democracy is critical of the myth of Irish slavery, notes the uses of incivility, and observes that more French Muslims work for French security than for Al-Qaeda.
  • Wired looks at life in the coldest town in the world, and notes another setback in the fight for primate rights.
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