Ian Buruma’s Murder in Amsterdam – a direct challenge to my liberal values

[Note: I am moving this post up because I invested a lot of energy/emotion in it and don’t want it to drop off the homepage yet.]

Ian Buruma’s Murder in Amsterdam: The Death of Theo van Gogh and the Limits of Tolerance is a slender volume with big type and lots of white space that nevertheless forced me to challenge some of my most cherished liberal principles. I loved this book because it made me think. It showed me a side of life in contemporary Europe that I didn’t know much about. Yes, I had an idea of the Muslim ‘ghettoes’ that have become a standard feature of many great European cities, but I must admit, I hadn’t realized how serious a threat they now pose.

That was a dangerous sentence I just wrote, and a reluctant one, too: it hurts to have to acknowledge that we can be too tolerant, that in fact being too tolerant is just as dangerous as accepting intolerance.

This is a point Buruma drives home forcefully. Even today the Dutch remain traumatized by the extermination of most of their Jews during WWII. Why didn’t more Dutch citizens speak out? Why did so many of them collaborate? How could they have allowed this to happen? The ghost of Anne Frank is alive and well in the conscience of just about everyone in the Netherlands, Buruma tells us. In reaction to that horrible time when the Dutch closed their eyes to intolerance, they have since gone off in the opposite extreme, tolerating anything and everything. We all know Amsterdam is famous as the city where you can smoke hashish in the bars, as a ‘gay Mecca’ and as a city where absolutely anything goes.

Okay, so far I’m fine with that. But let’s look at the darker side of this toleration. The Netherlands became known, also in thanks to its tolerance, as the easiest place for immigrants fleeing despotic regimes to enter. For a variety of reasons, huge numbers of Muslims from many different countries chose to settle there. Now, the US, too, was the recipient of millions of Muslim immigrants, also due in part to our own policy of tolerance and welcoming immigrants. But there the comparison ends. Most of the Muslims in the US are famously well integrated, which explains why we have never seen the kind of mini-civil-wars now going on in France.

In the Netherlands and other European cities, however, something different happened. The Muslims stayed together and failed to integrate, eventually becoming the majority is various neighborhoods, creating what are known as “dish cities” – large neighborhoods that in every way look like they could be out of the Middle East, with Muslim restaurants, signs and menus and documents written in Arabic, with all their citizens connected to the outside world mainly by satellite dishes tuned in to Middle Eastern satellite TV. Even at this point, my liberal side tells me we must be tolerant. Isn’t it their right, after all to live as they please? Is it any different from the Hasidic Jews in Williamsburg or the Amish in Pennsylvania?



Registering Chinese bloggers

A priceless essay on this infuriating topic, from which I will offer but a small sample:

Apparently 17.5 million people have started blogs in China. Because you often find insults, curses, libel and even fraud on blogs, the relevant departments have will require bloggers to register with their real names. This way the problem can be stopped.

This is a kind of logic that would destroy Hegel.

I wonder how much water has entered the brain of the individual who came up with this? The idea that forcing people to use real names will put an end to unsavoury online discussion is like a Grimm’s fairy tale.

Insults and swearing did not start because of the Internet or blogs; libel started when people first started writing. Fraud and confidence tricks are ancient crimes, you can’t just blame them on the Internet. Is it possible that the real name system will solve al these problems? It’s like that old joke: if the eighth steamed bun is the one that makes you full, why bother eating the first seven?

It then gets better, more funny and more serious. Definitely check it out now. Those last two paragraphs are so funny, yet so serious. Priceless, the whole thing.

I am over my head in class and work and am aware of the dearth of new posts. We’re working on it, but can’t make any promises for the next 24 hours. Meanwhile, if you can read Chinese, check out this post on how China is going overboard in rounding up unlicensed dogs in Beijing (via this site).


IT misery

The comments to the post below on Vietnam have become inexplicably inaccessible. You can use this space for comments (as long as it, too, doesn’t get corrupted). I’ve been having IT problems all day.

Update: Hmm, now the comments seem to be okay. The site has been down on and off throughout the day, as has the Duckpond. Apologies.


The next China?

Keep your eye on this one. When I was there I was told that in the past year or two property values in the big cities had soared by as much as 1,000 percent and more (I actually think the guide said 10,000 percent – is that possible?). Anyway, all I could think about as I walked the streets of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City was how similar it seemed to China, in that everyone seems to be running a business, everyone’s selling something. There’s that same sense of irrepressible entrepreneurialism. What I also noticed was the kinder, gentler environment – people smile, cars and motorbikes yield to one another (which isn’t to say there aren’t massive traffic jams, but they are friendlier traffic jams than those in Beijing) and the people in general looked happy. Of course, this was through the eyes of a naive first-time tourist. Who knows what lurks beneath the smiling exterior? But based on my first impressions, if I were an American manufacturer trying to choose between Guangzhou and Hanoi, I know which one I’d pick. (Remember, that is qualified by the phrase “based on first impressions.”)

Be sure to check that article if you have any doubts at all about Vietnam’s incredible success story.


Rush Limbaugh

He really is evil.


Torture in America

This is, quite simply, the most devastating and most breathtaking post I’ve ever seen on the evils of torture and the bullshit jutifications we are always spoonfed by the right – especially the noxious and absurd “ticking time bomb” scenario. Here is a very small sample from a post I hope you can visit for yourselves. It deals specifically with the “ticking time bomb” we see all the time on 24. And there’s a reason we hear about it all the time – it’s the only conceivable way to justify the barbarism of torture, even if the scenario is hopelessly false and cynical.

That fictional invention continues to be criminally abused by the torture advocates. As I explained in the spring of 2003, the problem with this fantasy is an epistemological one: the example fails because of the specific means by which we acquire knowledge, and the patterns in how we do so. The “ticking bomb” scene is common in a certain kind of Hollywood thriller, and it has been made cheap and utterly unoriginal by endless repetition and imitation. However, it is virtually, if not entirely, impossible that such a situation would ever develop in this manner in real life.

The fact that those who advocate the “legitimated” use of torture find it necessary to avail themselves of such an obviously false hypothetical reveals that other concerns drive their campaign to make the most monstrous kind of inhuman brutality “acceptable” to any degree at all. They pretend to bring intellectual rigor to their unforgivable task — but their allegedly “serious” arguments are full of the most obvious defects. The pretense at intellectual engagement serves a crucial function: it is the cover for much darker motives, which they do not care to face — or to name. I will deal with those motives, and with the forces that drive advocacy of this kind of extreme cruelty, in the final parts of this series.

And he does deal with the motives, splendidly. No one is spared – not Bill and Hillary Clinton, not Alan Dershowitz, and best of all, not the odious Charles Krauthammer. This is a goose-bump-inducing piece, one that is so visceral and raw and ruthlessly brilliant you feel a physical reaction as you read it.


The Chinese Invented Soccer, Part 2

My first post about this topic still brings googlers to this blog every day. Now, an article in the New Straits Times brings up the topic once again, and makes it clear (to their own satisfaction, at least) that soccer was first played in China.

Who actually invented soccer? For the British, the first soccer ball was the head of a vanquished Danish prince. In Egypt, soccer evolved from a harvest ritual where a linen ball was belted across a field. Even Eskimos played a type of soccer on a wide ice pitch.

Did soccer fever ever rage in China? In Ancient Soccer, the second instalment of Chinese Whispers, Zhang journeys across China and into the past in search of the answer, following the whispers of an ancient game called cuju dating back to the Qi kingdom more than 2,500 years ago and way before Europeans had their first free kick.

Cuju was so popular that it was played by the emperor, court officials, peasants, children and even women. The game spread to Japan and records show that a match was held between Japan and China around 50 BC. The Chinese were very serious about this game that it was literally a matter of life and death.

My own attitude is, who cares? But it was fascinating to see how emotional readers became when discussing this topic. Does this movie settle the question for good? Or is relating cuju to soccer a big stretch?


Chinese wonder how to improve media for foreigners

Man, I wish they had invited me to this conference:

Chinese communication experts convened at a forum in Beijing on Saturday to discuss ways of improving the reporting of domestic affairs for an international audience. “The Chinese should develop more efficient ways of communicating with the outside world,” said Wu Jianmin, president of the Foreign Affairs College and former Chinese Ambassador to France.

“An acclaimed foreign expert on China once told me China’s distorted image would be the largest obstacle for its further development,” Wu said. “Sometimes, even when information is reported objectively, it can still send the wrong signals.”

For example, some media focus too much on China’s GDP or exports growth, giving the foreign audience an impression that everything in China is rosy, but they forget the cost of the successes, for example harm to the environment, Wu said.

The Chinese media which provides overseas services include Xinhua News Agency, CCTV 9, China Radio International, China News Service and several other TV channels and daily newspapers, magazines and websites.

CCTV and Xinhua giving foreigners too rosy a picture of China? Perish the thought. Look, as long as these media so blatantly and embarrassingly sing the party line and regurgitate all the tired myths and slogans, foreigners will continue to see them as a joke. As long as CCTV-9 news begins every hour with fascinating stories of Hu attending some land-use seminar in Xinjiang, no foreigner is going to take it seriously. As long as Dashan is on the air, no foreigner’s going to take CCTV seriously. As long as Lei Feng’s birthday is celebrated in all the media like it’s the second coming, no one can take these media seriously. It’s not a matter of tweaking the foreign-language media. It’s about razing them to the ground and starting over.


Xinjiang Travelogue

Just go there. What a great read. Not my idea of a dream vacation (the cold is my greatest enemy in life, which explains why I own a house in Phoenix, Arizona), but hilarious and replete with priceless images.


A new China news aggregator

This one looks better than most in terms of simplicity and thoroughness. I suspect I’ll be adding it to my list of must-visit-at-least-once-a-day sites. Check it out.