Being Persian

To be Persian before nationalism was to belong to a generous, plural identity woven through language, kin and manners by Mana Kia is associate professor of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies at Columbia University in New York. She is the author of Persianate Selves (2020). Edited bySam Haselby At the end of the 19th century, under the looming shadow of European colonial encroachment, political and intellectual elites in Iran began to draw on nationalist forms of belonging as a way to unify the various ethnic and religious groups that lived within its territory. The nation was gaining ground at this … Continue reading Being Persian

Where the rivers meet

Pilgrims have long sought in India’s holiest city an antidote to the modern West, but Varanasi is more dream than reality Manini Sheker is a scholar and writer interested in religion, the arts, social justice, the environment and the good life. Her writing has appeared in The Guardian, open Democracy and Litro, among others Edited by Sam Haselby On a sweltering summer’s day five years ago, as I returned to my rented home in the holy city of Varanasi in India, I was greeted by an astonishing sight: a blue-eyed white man, dressed only in a thin orange cloth knotted around his … Continue reading Where the rivers meet

Longhouse lockdown

On a regular cycle, the Nias islanders of Indonesia would retreat into enforced seclusion. What can we learn from them? Andrew Beatty is an anthropologist. He is interested in psychological anthropology, life writing, and literary approaches to ethnography. His books include Emotional Worlds: Beyond an Anthropology of Emotion (2019) and two narrative ethnographies: A Shadow Falls: In the Heart of Java (2009) and After the Ancestors: an Anthropologist’s Story (2015). Edited by Sam Dresser With lockdown now as inevitable as death and taxes, our confinements have become as regular as the seasons. Like recidivists in and out of prison, we head through the revolving door, scarcely aware … Continue reading Longhouse lockdown

WHY THIS SMALL COUNTRY HAS A PENIS ON EVERY ROOF

by C. Brian Smith  Walk just about anywhere in Bhutan — the small South Asian country wedged between China and India on the edge of the Himalayas — and you’ll likely find large, ejaculating penises with hairy balls. They’re painted on the exterior walls of buildings, perched on the roofs of houses and fixed in front of doors to ward off bad luck.  The phallus is meant to demonstrate the virility of Bhutanese men and keep malicious gossip at bay, explains Sonam Dorji, a tour guide and senior reporter with News of Bhutan. “We believe phalluses dispel evil spirits,” he tells me, explaining Bhutanese people … Continue reading WHY THIS SMALL COUNTRY HAS A PENIS ON EVERY ROOF

The myth of Westernisation

Americans liked to believe that Japan was Westernising through the 20th century but Japan was vigorously doing the opposite by Jon Davidann is professor of history at Hawai‘i Pacific University. He is the author of Cultural Diplomacy in US-Japanese Relations, 1919-1941 (2007), Cross-Cultural Encounters in Modern World History (2nd ed, 2019) and The Limits of Westernization (2019). He lives in Kailua.Listen here Edited by Sam Haselby In 1860, Fukuzawa Yukichi, a young Japanese student still learning English himself, accompanied the first ever Japanese diplomatic mission to the United States as its English interpreter. This American encounter, along with a second trip with a Japanese Embassy to Europe … Continue reading The myth of Westernisation

The Panopticon Is Already Here

Xi Jinping is using artificial intelligence to enhance his government’s totalitarian control—and he’s exporting this technology to regimes around the globe. by Ross Andersen Northwest of beijing’s Forbidden City, outside the Third Ring Road, the Chinese Academy of Sciences has spent seven decades building a campus of national laboratories. Near its center is the Institute of Automation, a sleek silvery-blue building surrounded by camera-studded poles. The institute is a basic research facility. Its computer scientists inquire into artificial intelligence’s fundamental mysteries. Their more practical innovations—iris recognition, cloud-based speech synthesis—are spun off to Chinese tech giants, AI start-ups, and, in some cases, the People’s … Continue reading The Panopticon Is Already Here

First, the pandemic made Indians abandon pets, then they rushed to adopt them

The coronavirus pandemic is changing our relationship with pets. But it’s natural that more Indians are relying on animals and ‘adopting’ to the times. by FARAH MANECKSHAW  In India, the beginning of the pandemic saw a widespread phenomenon of abandoning pet animals. Most families made this decision due to misinformation, fear-mongering and irresponsible articles and hoardings, which claimed animals could spread the coronavirus. Although a few animals have been testing positive for Covid-19, the World Health Organization (WHO) has stated unequivocally that there is still no evidence they can transmit the disease to humans. Since the pandemic, the number of abandonment cases has sky-rocketed, according to Deepa Talib, chairperson of The Anubis-Tiger Foundation, an organisation that works on finding … Continue reading First, the pandemic made Indians abandon pets, then they rushed to adopt them

Ashoka’s moral empire

Being good is hard. How an ancient Indian emperor, horrified by the cruelty of war, created an infrastructure of goodness Sonam Kachru is assistant professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia. He is a contributor to Words Without Borders. Edited by Sam Haselby In the Khyber valley of Northern Pakistan, three large boulders sit atop a hill commanding a beautiful prospect of the city of Mansehra. A low brick wall surrounds these boulders; a simple roof, mounted on four brick pillars, protects the rock faces from wind and rain. This structure preserves for posterity the words inscribed … Continue reading Ashoka’s moral empire

WHAT THE FUCK ?

New swine flu with pandemic potential identified by China researchers G4 strain has already infected 10% of industry’s workers in China but no evidence yet that it can be passed from human to human. Researchers in China have discovered a new type of swine flu that is capable of triggering a pandemic, according to a study in the US science journal PNAS, although experts said there is no imminent threat. Named G4, it is genetically descended from the H1N1 strain that caused a pandemic in 2009. It possesses “all the essential hallmarks of being highly adapted to infect humans”, said the authors, … Continue reading WHAT THE FUCK ?

China Has Dominated the West Before

In their earliest interactions, the Chinese were dominant. by MICHAEL SCHUMAN As China comes into greater conflict with the West, and the United States in particular, now is a good time to consider the long arc of this relationship. In the West, Chinese history is commonly framed as having begun with the first Opium War, giving the impression that European powers always had the upper hand. But from the first direct contact between East and West—the arrival of the Portuguese in south China in the early 16th century—the Chinese were dominant. In 1517, they appeared near the famed trading haven … Continue reading China Has Dominated the West Before