Archive for July, 2007

TSA: Keeping Us Safe From Sanity

Via Mike at Vagabondish, a seven year-old Florida boy is on the national “no fly” list, as he is clearly a terrorism risk:

Michael Martin is only 7 years old, a typical youngster who enjoys skateboarding and playing drums. Because he shares a name with a known or suspected terrorist, he has run into roadblocks three times before boarding an airliner, Krista Martin said.

Each time, she was unable to quickly obtain a boarding pass for him online or via an airport kiosk. She had to march to a check-in counter to sort things out, which she said was mostly an inconvenience but also “exasperating.”

Apparently, in a nation that uses predator drones and can digitally spy on its citizens, we are still not quite at that technologically advanced stage where we can discern between a small boy who enjoys drums and a suspected terrorist.

Just for context, a quick search for “Michael Martin” in New York state brought 157 results. Keep us safe, TSA, keep us safe.

Bon Voyage to ‘The Daily Kimchi’

incheon international airport. photo by d’n’c.

The famous Korea blogger Gdog of The Daily Kimchi is heading home tomorrow – or rather today, Korea time – as his teacher’s contract recently expired. I’ve kept track of his posts for the past half-year or so, and as many of his dedicated readers also surely feel, it’s sad to see him go. His well-maintained blog grew rapidly and did a lot to generate interest in Korea, showing a light-hearted (and food-centric) view of expat life in Seoul.

Bon voyage Daily Kimchi, hope to see more posts from your next destination!

Fixing History

Israel’s Education Ministry announced yesterday that it will release a third-grade textbook that acknowledges the suffering Palestinians endured with the formation of the Jewish state – via the SF Chronicle:

Previous editions gave only the Jewish narrative of the war, pointing out the Jews’ connection to the Holy Land and their need for a state because of persecution in Europe. That version focused on heroism of the Israeli forces and referred to the Palestinian flight as a voluntary escape.

The new edition adds the Arab perspective, noting for the first time that many Palestinians were forced from their homes and became refugees after the winners of the war confiscated their land and barred their return. [Full]

The catch? The new text will only be taught to Arab children, not Jewish students.

I can’t pretend to be informed enough on the Palestine/Israel issue to pass judgment, but the fact that the Education Ministry is even willing to concede the Palestinian viewpoint is evidence enough that it is legitimate on some level. If that’s the case, then why shelter Jewish students from having an open dialogue? Why try to cook the history books in a time when we need desperately to understand each other?

In a related event, Taipei announced plans to “drop references that describe mainland Chinese historical figures, places and artifacts as ‘national,'” the Education Ministry has announced.” (International Herald Tribune)

While I can understand Taiwan’s hesitancy to declare full-out independence (China has threatened military retaliation if it does so), this seems passive-aggressive. If you’re gonna say it, President Chen, then say it.

Meanwhile, Japan still won’t cave on its hardline of ignoring the realities of the past, despite the outrage it has caused. High-schoolers there continue to glaze over the Rape of Nanking (reduced to a footnote) and the oppressive occupation of Korea.

Amid all of this, we must question whether children around the globe are being educated about the social realities of our world. If regimes continue to sacrifice legitimate dialogue for the sake of legitimizing their politicized view, the rifts between us will only continue to fester – we must look back on our pasts honestly, or we will never move forward.

(Revised 07/24/2007)

This Week’s Wandering News

  • After years of opposition and protests, the Starbucks in the Forbidden City has finally closed its doors, says World Hum – good riddance.
  • Despite their grittier feel and heavy history, the formerly soviet Baltic states and their capitals are thriving, says the SF Chronicle.
  • The International Herald Tribune’s Tyler Brûlé reports on the hassle of getting through airport security the world over – “In the Catalan version of the airport security check you have to take off as many articles of clothing as possible, fill up as many plastic bins as you can balance in one arm while towing a wheely suitcase in the other and then deposit all of them on a conveyor belt.” – yikes.
  • It’s a travesty in our own back yard, and Salon’s Bill Sasser takes us there, to the rebuilding of culture and life in New Orleans.
  • The Metropolitician offers up an eerie portrait of a street-market mannequin in Seoul: check out his surreal photo.

This Week’s Wandering News is a collection of travel-related links from the past week TDT finds interesting. It is posted every Sunday.

Modernity Worldwide

hejaab. photo by Please! Don’t Smile.

Many Westerners commonly, if unconsciously, believe that the paradigms enveloped by the term modernity – progressivism, universal suffrage, feminism, etc. – were essentially birthed in the West, only to leak out and infiltrate other societies in recent eras.

While my education and experiences abroad have certainly taught me better, I could have at least in part counted myself among the masses who subconsciously subscribe to that belief – until yesterday.

Yesterday afternoon I sat down with a professor of feminist literature who lives here in Madison, and by chance dove into a brief discussion about feminist thought in the Middle East. As we talked, she drew upon personal experiences with Middle Eastern women and on books from Middle Eastern authors to make a point about how the West never held the market on progressivism.

One of the authors she mentioned that intrigued me most is Marjane Satrapi, an Iranian woman who wrote and illustrated a graphic memoir titled Persepolis. Satrapi was raised in a progressive household in Tehran, but was sent by her parents to Vienna at age 14 to escape an oppressive regime – she lived a migratory life, hopping between Iran and Europe a couple times before settling in Paris.

Though I’ve yet to read the books, what I gather from this professor’s commentary on them is that despite Satrapi’s exposure to the West, the roots of her progressivism stemmed from her homeland. I could perhaps relate this to a feminist novel I have read written by Egyptian author Nadal al Saadawi, who’s disdain for patriarchal society was homegrown.

My interaction with this professor encouraged me to think a bit more deeply about the dangers of viewing the world as split geographically into backwards and forwards. In this time of fear and war, the images most Americans see of Middle Eastern society are those representing backwards tradition – radical Islamic clerics, women wearing face veils, and bombed-out dust bowl cities. If we are ever confronted with opposing representations, perhaps of Middle Eastern academics or educated people fighting for equality, media often frame them as being “Westernized.”

And there is another danger in this view – making similar assumptions, many fundamentalists in the East have written off and dismissed progressive ideologies as simply being an invasion of Western thought, rather than being homegrown movements. The truth is that Eastern societies have a rich cultural history of academic thought, and wherever there is a pursuit for knowledge, dissidence for the status quo will surely sprout.

The fight for equality and wisdom is first and foremost a human endeavor, and no one region or society holds the keys. Movements for freedom often take on different features and cultural traits, as evident in Turkey’s current struggle for balance between secularism and Islamic faith, but the heart is essentially the same.

When Westerners view other nations or societies as typically backwards, needing to be fixed by Western value systems, we are unwittingly reverting to the archaic perspective of “the white man’s burden.” This is an odious reality we need desperately to face, because in truth, we do not have the corner on modernity – everyone has legs to stand.

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July 2007