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Social Media in China and Suppression Thereof

Internet Cafe in Beijing (Courtesy of the Guardian (US)/Photo by How Hwee Young/EPA)

Citizens’ voicing dissent through social media as well as the Communist Party’s efforts to quell speech it deems a threat to its rule is nothing new in China.

In the late 1970s, at a wall near Tiananmen Square in Beijing—which would become known as the Xidan Democracy Wall or simply Democracy Wall—people would voice their grievances and yearnings for change (See Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China).

It was used like a bulletin board where people posted banners, essays, poems, and other writings on various subjects, including but not limited to issues on economics and politics.

Deng Xiaoping even tolerated it for a while, as he didn’t want to become as rigid as Mao Zedong was and let innovative thinking and economic growth stagnate as it did during the Cultural Revolution (1965-1968). He also believed that people had the right to vent. But as the messages posted on the Wall became more and more anti-Party, especially after Wei Jingshing posted an essay calling for democracy as the Fifth Modernization,* Deng and the Party started clamping down. The postings were moved elsewhere, and people had to pay or get permission from their employer to post something on the wall.

One Country. One Constitution. One Destiny.

​Today, April 15, 2015, is the 150th anniversary of the death of Abraham Lincoln. He was shot shortly after 10 PM on the night of April 14th, 1865, inside Ford's Theatre, then was carried across the street: 10th Street, between E and F, NW, to the Petersen boarding house, where he expired at 7:22 AM the next morning.

Since I live in Washington, DC, and since I am usually a bit of a night owl, I spent some time there last night and into this morning. The solemnity of the candlelight vigil in the middle of 10th Street in the middle of the night, commemorating the hours when the president lay dying, was quite moving to me -- and, it seemed, to virtually all the participants.

Tad Daley inside Ford's Theatre at 11:15 pm EDT on the night of April 14th, 2015, directly across from the box where U. S. President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated exactly 150 years earlierI spent some time touring the museum in the Ford's Theatre basement, and the recently-opened "Center for Education and Leadership" immediately adjacent to the Petersen House. I have done this before and will undoubtedly do it again.

But this time, I noticed something new.

50% Women, 100% Equal

A few weeks ago, my professor did something I’m not used to witnessing in liberal Berkeley, California: he made a sexist comment. Discussing Chinese military expansion at length, and feeling the lack of energy in the room, he tried (and failed) to lighten the mood with a joke: “I’m sure the women are bored by this, they’d rather I go back to talking about Hello Kitty.”

My jaw dropped only slightly further than yours. 

Its that not that I am so naïve as to think sexism is dead, I had just never witnessed it so blatantly and so close to home (my very progressive, liberal home). Growing up, I was blessed to be surrounded by the image of equality: all my class rooms were more or less 50% girls, I’ve always had female state senators representing me, and both my parents have the same graduate degree. In my eyes, my corner of the world appeared to be equal.

But numbers can be deceiving. After all, the room to which my professor made his “joke” was over 50% women; and yet, sexism was still 100% there.

This is exactly the point being made by Andrea Cornwall, a professor of anthropology and development at the University of Sussex: a focus on improving the numbers often overlooks and inhibits reducing the stereotypes and institutional standards that created gender inequality in the first place. As she eloquently argues:

while the push to fulfill the numerical targets set by the MDGs gets billions of dollars, the transformational work of women’s organisations is often absent from decision-making tables and starved of funds…the development industry has entrenched tired and limiting stereotypes and left untouched the deep structures of privilege and power. 

Letters to Jake Series, Letter #7

Dear Jake,

I am proud to say that words my Cincinnati team wrote to share at the 2014 Greater Cincinnati World Peace Festival have been posted on the website. The title is Embracing a United Federation of Nations and you can find it here.

The text begins with our vision of a world at peace, where all people have the Right to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. Many great thinkers, including Socrates, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Albert Einstein, and Martin Luther King have pointed the way. The web-pages that unfold when you follow the red prompts explain why this is a good idea, what it includes (and excludes), and what are the benefits. They also provide answers to frequently asked questions.

At our World Peace Festival which took place at the World Peace Bell in Northern Kentucky, I gave a brief speech entitled "We are citizens of the world." I also introduced Father Ben Urmston, SJ, who had his 89th birthday on the day of the festival. It was so fitting to be able to honor Father Ben at the peace festival. He is a World War II veteran who has been working for peace ever since. He is the one who introduced me to the concept of a democratic federation of nations and the need for global citizenship. Ben firmly believes that war would not be needed if we establish world laws in a democratic manner and used them to protect universal human rights. We could use world courts to solve disagreements instead of bombs and guns. The laws would apply to every individual on the planet, and the leaders who made the decision to go to war are the ones who would be brought to court. That certainly would be a better way to govern the world.

Europe’s Proactive Efforts to Reach Out to Youth at Risk of Joining Jihadist Movements

Courtesy of AP/Archives and Mitteldeutsche Zeitung

 In my previous blog, I mentioned examples of interfaith and intercultural dialogue going on in Europe and emphasized the need for expansion of such efforts and the need for the world public to be more informed about them. In this blog, I will focus on intervention for youth considered to be greatly at risk of going to the religious extreme.

Bishop Michel Dubost (Head of French Bishops Council for Interfaith Relations), says that lots of immigrants, especially teenagers, don’t feel connected with society in France. This is partly because they don’t have roots in French society and don’t have an elder to talk to about their heritage, and this makes them easily influenced by extremists. This is true in Germany as well, where many people (both Muslim and non-Muslim alike) believe that one can’t be German and Muslim at the same time. Environments like these create the conditions for extremist yearning among youth to fester in a cycle of hostility between those who perceive other groups as being different.

The place where disaffected youth tend to become influenced by extremists is usually over the internet via social media sites, not in a mosque. In Europe, certain nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) seek to intervene when they notice young people accessing extremist websites.

The Syrian Refugee Crisis Demands Our Attention

Thousands of Syrians stream across the border into Iraq in search of shelter. Photo: UNHCR/G. Gubaeva

This March marks four years since the beginning of the Syrian civil war.

In these four years, over 210,000 human beings have lost their lives. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees is aware of over 3.9 million people who have fled Syria for other countries. Most of those refugees have ended up in neighboring countries, putting massive strain on already weak economies. At least 7.6 million people are internally displaced within Syria; that is, they’ve fled their homes but stayed within the nominal borders of Syria. 2.6 million children are out of school, and 5.6 million children are at high risk for violence, poverty, trauma, and exploitation. Children born to Syrian mothers outside of Syria may well end up stateless: with no documentation of their birth or no citizenship in their host countries, they have little or no access to basic services and schooling.

Tuned out yet?

The Human Side of Agro-Forestry

HTRIP: 1.6 million trees and counting...

This blog was authored by Edward Rawson, Executive Director of Haiti Friends (not to be confused with Ed Rawson, founding member of CGS).

By the turn of the 21st century, 98% of Haiti had been deforested due to logging for timber, slash-and-burn agriculture, and the great demand for cooking fuel. Most of the land’s rich topsoil has washed into the sea, where it chokes the reefs and marine life.

Haiti’s mountains have eroded to bedrock and its aquifers are drying up. The habitat loss for wildlife is staggering, with many native plants and animals on international registries of endangered species. The deforestation and the resulting desertification is Haiti’s single largest ecological problem, which has had a negative ripple effect on the overall ecology of Haiti and its surrounding waters.

In response, the Haiti Timber Re-Introduction Program (HTRIP) began in 2008 as a grassroots movement that applies a scientific and education-based approach to support communities in the mountain regions. HTRIP seeks to transform the mountains with three approaches:

The Other Reason to Educate Girls

Malala Yousafzai, education advocate and Co-founder of the Malala Fund, speaks during an event to mark 500 Days of Action for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). UN Photo/Mark Garten

Programs seeking to improve girls’ education around the world have a laundry list of critical justifications supporting them. In particular, girls’ education is seen as an important development tool. This World Bank report shows how uneducated women directly affect countries’ Gross Domestic Product; this infographic from USAID makes explicit how more girls in school improves GDP, increases agricultural output, and creates an investment in future generations because women are more likely to spend their money on their families than men are.

Simply put, educating girls is awesome for pretty much everybody.

But here's what's barely mentioned in too many of these reports: these education programs are educating girls. Their chief importance isn’t in economic benefits or the return on investment donors see in financial reports or improvements in the global economy. Educating girls matters because women matter.

Europe Needs to Expand Interfaith Dialogue

The attacks on the French Satirical Newspaper Charlie Hebdo show the need for more interfaith dialogue in Europe, both in the expansion of already existing efforts and the creation of new programs. Sadly, interfaith and multicultural dialogue in Europe, like everywhere else, does not receive much attention in the media.

Even countries like Holland, which has seen a rise in Islamophobic attitudes, have been engaging in dialogue via community programs, such as those in the Slotervaart neighborhood in Amsterdam.

Muslim-Jewish dialogue and cooperation have even been going on in several European countries, particularly Norway. For instance, after an attack on a synagogue in Denmark this February, Muslims in Norway gathered around a synagogue to protect its parishioners from acts of extremism.

Even in France, there has been a history of Muslim-Jewish dialogue. During the attack on Kosher marketplaces shortly after the Charlie Hebdo attack, a Muslim citizen from Mali saved the lives of some of the hostages.

The Cultural Heritage of Iraq and Syria: "Destroyed by human ignorance − rebuilt by human hope"

Destruction of Iraq's historical treasures by ISIS members

On Friday, 27 February 2015, the United Nations Security Council condemned "the deliberate destruction of irreplaceable religious and cultural artifacts housed in the Mosul Museum and burning of thousands of books and rare manuscripts from the Mosul Library." 

The Mosul Museum, which was not yet open to the public, had a large number of statues from the pre-Islamic Mesopotamian civilizations as well as statues from the Greek Hellenistic period. The spokesman for the Islamic State faction that carried out the destruction—and filmed and posted it on the internet—maintained that the statues represented gods which had been worshiped while only the true god should receive worship.

This approach to pre-Islamic faiths and their material culture is the same one that led to the destruction of the large Buddha statues in Afghanistan—monuments that attested to the rich culture along the Silk Road.

There have been iconoclastic movements in the past, especially among Muslims and early Protestants holding that the spiritual world cannot (and should not) be represented in forms; all forms lead to confusing the specific form with the formless spiritual energy behind it. The iconoclastic reasoning can be defended, but the destruction of objects that represented other philosophies, cultures and levels of understanding cannot.