From Trump's Muslim Travel Bans To Muzbnb

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When a freshly inaugurated Donald Trump issued his infamous travel ban exactly one year ago, the message was clear, not only to Muslims but to the entire world, that the United States was suddenly a very different place. But in some way, the policy can be viewed as just an official confirmation of a disturbing resurgence of a reality as old as travel itself: Members of certain communities are explicitly unwelcome by others.

The history often begins closer to home, for domestic travelers. Writing for The Washington Post, journalist Rhonda Colvin explains how, decades ago, African-American families would never travel without the Negro Motorist Green Book, a "survival tool" that listed restaurants, gas stations, hotels, pharmacies and other places they could safely stop at. "Black travelers risked more than the humiliation of being turned away at restaurants or service stations; they often encountered harassment or physical danger if they inadvertently stopped in the wrong town," Colvin writes.

But sadly, in recent years, discriminatory practices have returned to the surface in the age of social media and Airbnb, as direct person-to-person lodging platforms have revealed that would-be hosts refuse to rent to African Americans and other minorities.

But though the internet might have played a role in the resurgence of this scourge, it seems it's also providing those affected with a means to fight back. After having experienced racism first-hand on Airbnb, Rohan Gilkes founded Innclusive (formerly Noirebnb), which bills itself as a "platform where people of all backgrounds can travel and stay with respect, dignity, and love." Another, unrelated initiative named Noirbnb, clearly states however that its target audience is black people only.

And it's a juicy business too.

The same goes for other minorities and communities. Writing for Swiss daily Le Temps, Boris Busslinger reports that similar initiatives exist for Jewish people (Jewgether), gay people (Misterb&b) and Muslims — among many others. Muzbnb, a U.S.-based platform that lets Muslim proprietors rent to Muslim travelers around the world, is expanding fast and now entering the Swiss market, Busslinger writes. And it's a juicy business too. According to the Global Muslim Travel Index, Muslim tourism worldwide could be worth $220 billion by 2020.

Some, however, are pointing out the potential danger that these initiatives may encourage a "drift" toward ethnic or religious groups shutting themselves off from others, as Busslinger puts it. Saïda Keller-Messahli, a Swiss-Tunisian who received the 2016 Human Rights Prize in Switzerland, warns for instance that Muzbnb "promotes parallel society and sectarianism," while denouncing the fact that members of the Muslim Brotherhood are involved in the project.

It's a sad irony that in a time when traveling has never been easier and when the world has never been smaller, more and more people have the feeling they have to retreat inside their own communities to travel safely. Because traveling also entails being confronted to the unknown, the Other, in a much more direct way than across the screen of your computer or smartphone. It's yet another sign that no matter how technologies may simplify our lives, the human experiment remains as complicated as ever.

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Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.

In the Netflix series, losers of the game face death

Yip Wing Sum


SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.

The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.

It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.

Seoul housing prices top London and New York

In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.

According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.

Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.

One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.

According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.

Playing the stock market

At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.

A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."

In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.

42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s

Simon Shin/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Game of survival

In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.

But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.

This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.

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