Foreign Policy Review

China's 'social credit' system: 'Hunger Games,' Big Brother or the book of Revelation?

China's 'social credit' system: 'Hunger Games,' Big Brother or the book of Revelation?

A few weeks ago, I stumbled across a piece on Vice.com about China’s social credit system, a mix of “Brave New World,” “The Hunger Games” and Revelation 13:16-17.

Do you think the Chinese government would use this system to punish religious believers? We will come back to that angle.

For those of you not familiar with end-of-the-New Testament prophecy, the latter concerns a “mark” (barcode?) one must have to do any financial transactions worldwide. It all sounded like something out of the 22nd century until I began reading about China’s creepy citizen tracking system.

A short piece at Vice started thus:

RONGCHENG, China — Here and in other cities across China, monitors have been tracking people's behaviors — good and bad — for the country's new Social Credit System. It’s kind of like the American credit score system, except it tracks far more than financial transactions.

And the consequences can be pretty serious.

Part of the system is a neighbor watch program that's being piloted across the country where designated watchers are paid to record people's behaviors that factor into their social credit score. Zhou Aini, for one, gets paid $50 USD a month to watch her neighbors as an "information collector." She records observations in a notebook and then shares it with a local government office that determines the results.

A high score could bring you lower interest loans and discounted rent and utility bills, but if your score is low, you can be subjected to public shaming or even banned from certain kinds of travel. Basically, your life gets harder.

While the score is not exactly the biochip everyone must have embedded in their hand or forehead mentioned in the apocalyptic “Left Behind” novels, it is unsettling.

China’s persecution of its Muslim, Falun Gong and Christian minorities is getting worse by the day, so you can guess which groups would immediately suffer losses of their social credit. Today they might not be able to buy tickets for a plane flight. Tomorrow they may not be able to buy food.

Various media have been covering this trend for the past year. However, when it comes to religion, I haven’t seen much connecting of the dots.

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Manipur, India, horses, polo and societal change: So what's missing in this picture?

Manipur, India, horses, polo and societal change: So what's missing in this picture?

In the beginning, it appeared to be merely a story about quasi-abandoned horses in northeastern India and for the most part, that’s what “In the Kingdom of Dying Ponies” was a recent offering of Foreign Policy Review.

Until I began realizing the scene was set in Manipur, that neglected corner of India that tourists rarely get to. Northeastern India is the one part of the country that is either majority Christian or has equal parts Hindu and Christian, which is the case with Manipur.

A bit of history: It was mainly the Baptists who swept through the area converting folks in the late 19th century, plus establishing schools, hospitals and translating the Bible into their language. That area of India has seen its Muslim population grow due to immigration from nearby Muslim-majority Bangladesh.

So … in a piece about society in Manipur, would you expect to see at least a little bit about the religious demographics happening there?

Two paragraphs into the piece:

Polo is the archetypal sport of snobs. But in Manipur, where the British learned of the game before introducing it to the world -- or at least the aristocracy -- polo is still a commoner’s game. And the exalted status of the Manipuri pony, the only breed used at the Manipur tournament, is one reason why. The indigenous semi-feral pony is a sacred figure for residents of Manipur, featuring prominently in the ritual life of the Meitei people, the area’s majority ethnic group. The ponies are treated as regal mounts, never put to labor, and trace their origin in local lore to the Pegasus-like Samadon Ayangba, the “swift first among beasts.

The Meitei, by the way, are Hindu.

But the ponies’ regal status has not stymied their slow demise. For decades, the ponies’ numbers have gradually dropped and now there are thought to be only around 500 left. In Imphal, one spots them on the streets, huddled together in pitiful herds, red-eyed, skinny, and surrounded by honking traffic. At night, they forage through garbage piles alongside cows and mongrels. Many of them seem hardly in a condition to be used in sport, which is just as well, because there are far fewer places in Manipur to play polo than there once were. “People in Manipur have forgotten the legacy of the pony,” lamented one local musician.
The ponies’ sorry state is a symbol, and result, of Manipur’s own downward trajectory. For centuries a prosperous, independent kingdom, it is today a pariah on India’s fringes. If it is ever in the national conversation, it is over its separatist unrest, heavy militarization, endemic corruption and overall dysfunction. But for residents of the New Jersey-sized state, the biggest shift isn’t just the violence and disorder -- it’s the area’s marginalization, and the way it has sapped the city’s pride, autonomy, and political will.

The author only sees political reasons behind the region’s poverty of spirit. Something is missing.

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Catholics are a crucial voice in world population debate, but do journalists know it?

Catholics are a crucial voice in world population debate, but do journalists know it?

Ever since President Donald Trump took office nearly three months ago, certain publications have made it nearly their full-time job to criticize every step his administration takes.

This is not to say they’re wrong, because the man is rather easy to attack. However, these newsrooms have stepped away from their original purpose and have evolved into something totally other than what I was seeking when I took out a subscription.

Take, for example, Foreign Policy Review, which used to provide me with wonderful dollops of the kind of foreign news I can’t find in any local newspaper.

Things have changed and today’s “voices” column is typical. “Can Trump Learn?” asks one columnist. “Donald Trump’s Presidency is an Assault on Women,” reads another. And then there’s “Is Trump Russia’s Useful Idiot or Has He Been Irreparably Compromised?”

On some of its foreign news dispatches, its coverage has shown the same singular focus. On April 3, it posted the following about a controversial UN fund that, among other things, funds abortions. Although that’s not quite how Foreign Policy Review words it:

The State Department announced Monday that it would cut funding for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), a policy shift that could directly impact the lives of girls and women around the world.
Foggy Bottom claims that the UNFPA, which funds reproductive health and family planning in 150 countries around the world, “supports or participates in” the Chinese government’s policies of coercive abortion and involuntary sterilization.

Now, the State Department is not the only entity that opposes the UNFPA. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has a position paper placing the agency right in the center of China’s murderous “one child” policy. Continuing on:

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Anatevka resurrected? Feature in Foreign Policy Review misses a few Jewish details

Anatevka resurrected? Feature in Foreign Policy Review misses a few Jewish details

How many of us remember the mournful song that appears near the end of "Fiddler on the Roof" when the tzar’s soldiers kick the Jews out of their tiny village?

Hint: It goes like this. You can click here and watch the scene in the classic movie. You may want to have tissues nearby.

Anatevka, Anatevka.
Underfed, overworked Anatevka.
Where else could Sabbath be so sweet?

Anatevka, Anatevka.
Intimate, obstinate Anatevka,
Where I know everyone I meet.

Soon I'll be a stranger in a strange new place,
Searching for an old familiar face
From Anatevka.

When Sholom Aleichem wrote the story that inspired the 1964 musical (and 1971 film), Anatevka was a fictional name for a real life village just west of Kiev.

So what should pop up this week in Foreign Policy Review but the story of a real place called Anatevka? It's a fine story, yet it has one major hole, which we'll get to. Yes, we are talking about important religious details.

KIEV -- When the rabbi of Chernobyl, Mordechai Twersky, felt he was dying in 1837, he set out on a long walk from Kiev. He made it about 30 kilometers to the west, where he came upon a rolling green field of wildflowers on the banks of the Irpin River, outside the village of Hnativka.
It was there, he decided, that he would be laid to rest, having chosen the pastoral location, according to local lore, “because there is no house of idol worship, and the sound of impure bells won’t disturb my rest in the grave.”

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Times Journey into Iran: Business-side embarrassment or news conflict of interest?

Times Journey into Iran: Business-side embarrassment or news conflict of interest?

Intimidation works. In fact, it works quite well, and it appears not to matter whether the intended target is a nation, a kid in the schoolyard or a media outlet.

Witness Iran and the case of Washington Post Tehran correspondent Jason Rezaian, recently freed after being held by the Iranian government for 18 months.

Martin Baron, the Post editor, says the newspaper will not station another reporter in Iran until the Islamic republic assures the newspaper that any reporter it sends to Tehran will be allowed to function free of government intimidation.

A cautionary word of advice to Marty: Don't hold your breathe.

So not only did Iran get to hold Rezaian as a bargaining chip during the recent nuclear sanctions negotiations, it also rid itself of one more Western journalistic thorn in its side, that being the Post.

As I said, intimidation works quite well. Journalists working in Russia, Mexico, China, Turkey, Egypt, Cuba, Ethiopia, Burundi and a host of other nations know this all too well. It doesn't matter whether the intimidators are government officials or narco criminals.

But here's a question. Is there a moral conflict of interest issue when the business side of a news outlet chooses to cooperate for financial gain with a government that intimidates journalists, both its own citizens and foreign correspondents?

Specifically, I'm referring to those New York Times operated tours to Iran.

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Why is the mainstream press (and Congress and churches) silent as Christians are literally being crucified?

Why is the mainstream press (and Congress and churches) silent as Christians are literally being crucified?

Last fall, I took out an online subscription to ForeignPolicy.com, because I love international news. Although it’s chiefly for foreign policy wonks, I’ve been pleased at the occasional religion piece they’ve posted such as why certain Buddhists detest the Dalai Lama by FP’s Asian editor. Or this story about a former Rocky Mountain News reporter who’s become an “Islamic Lenin.”

So I was intrigued to see this article that asks why Congress and churches alike are silent as Christians are getting literally crucified in Syria and their churches are demolished all over the Middle East: 

Last August, President Barack Obama signed off on legislation creating a special envoy charged with aiding the ancient Christian communities and other beleaguered religious minorities being targeted by the Islamic State.
The bill was a modest one — the new position was given a budget of just $1 million — and the White House quietly announced the signing in a late-afternoon press release that lumped it in with an array of other low-profile legislation. Neither Obama nor any prominent lawmakers made any explicit public reference to the bill.
Seven months later, the position remains unfilled — a small but concrete example of Washington’s passivity in the face of an ongoing wave of atrocities against the Assyrian, Chaldean, and other Christian communities of Iraq and Syria. The Islamic State has razed centuries-old churches and monasteries, beheaded and crucified Christians, and mounted a concerted campaign to drive Christians out of cities and towns they’ve lived in for thousands of years. The Iraqi city of Mosul had a Christian population of 35,000 when U.S. forces invaded the country in 2003; today, with the city in the hands of the Islamic State, the vast majority of them have fled.
Every holiday season, politicians in America take to the airwaves to rail against a so-called “war on Christmas” or “war on Easter,” pointing to things like major retailers wishing shoppers generic “happy holidays.” But on the subject of the Middle East, where an actual war on Christians is in full swing, those same voices are silent. 

The article goes on to tell how various people — most of them in Washington – are trying to change this indifference by pressuring Congress, 2016 presidential candidates, the State Department. I found remarks by John Eibner, the CEO of Christian Solidarity International-USA, closest to the mark as to why the White House – and hence the media – has been silent about this genocide. 

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