October 30, 2014
BERLIN — Everything has its flip side. A Wiener Schnitzel tastes delicious, but it's bad for your health. The Internet brought us unlimited access to information and cute cat videos, but also introduced us to online trolls and cyberbullying. And religion is not exception.
History has long taught us that both good and bad acts are committed in the name of God. The Bible itself is a contradiction, calling as it does to love thy neighbor even as it tolerates slavery. And at the Vatican, we know the mixed record through the ages of the supposedly infallible popes.
Terror in one form or another has played, and in some cases continues to play, a role in nearly all religions. There was Christian terror, as in the era of the Crusades, and Jewish terror such as that perpetrated by the underground organization Irgun at the time of the founding of the Israeli state. There's Hindu terror such as the 2002 mass murder of Muslims in Gujarat, India. Although it's hard to believe, there has even been a recent spate of Buddhist terror — against the Muslim minority in Myanmar.
But there's one religion that, if its apologists are to be believed, doesn't have a dark side: Islam.
Not long ago I was a guest on a German talk show, where the subject was "Fear of Holy Warriors — Is Islam a Threat to Us, Too?" I was seated next to Khola Maryam Hübsch, a German Muslim and prominent author. On the couch across from us sat Aiman Mazyek, chair of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany. It only took a few minutes before one of the favorite rhetorical tricks of Islam was trotted out. "When I look at ISIS, it's a fanatical ideology that has nothing to do with Islam," Hübsch said.
On this occasion, Mazyek avoided the standard phrase "nothing to do with Islam" that he cites on frequent occasion, applying it to everyday phenomena or the international situation with equal ease. But as a representative of Islam in Germany, he declined any and all responsibility. Asked about the radicalization of young people and whether it's the duty of Muslim communities to prevent the young from drifting into fundamentalism, he replied that it was the duty of the security services and the police – that, in essence, it had nothing to do with Islam.
Then a German TV presenter, who is a convert to Islam and another guest on the talk show, piped in with yet another disclaimer: "What ISIS is doing has nothing to do with Islam." Why do so many Muslims appear on these talk shows when none of all this apparently has anything to do with their religion?
Playing the Islamaphobe card
That has nothing to do with Islam... What a comfortable shield. It's this reflex, of pushing everything away, that makes sensible discussion of the potential dangers of Islam impossible. Instead, anyone who criticizes conservative and radical Muslim elements is accused of suffering from a heavy case of "Islamophobia."
A 2001 image of Taliban beating a woman who wasn't wearing a burqa. Photo: Rawa
If a passenger plane crashed every day somewhere in the world, it would be reasonable to have a fear of flying. That the majority of all planes land safely would be completely irrelevant and wouldn't reassure anyone. Whenever traveling on a plane, the fear of crashing would be constant. One plane a day! It could happen anywhere, at any time. But that's only make-believe.
With Islam, it actually works that way. There is no way to predict when and where the next attack will take place. Until a few weeks ago, we thought that countries like Australia and Canada were safe from Islamic terror, but we've been disabused of that notion. Every European city now has its own Salafist scene.
Is it really Islamophobic to criticize all this without having to add every time that of course the majority of Muslims are peace-loving? We don't have to praise airlines for being able to keep their jumbo jets aloft. So why should we applaud Muslims for sticking to basic laws? We should quite simply be able to take it for granted.
Modern society must allow us to find ideas and ideologies — whether communism or capitalism, vegetarianism or feminism, Christianity or Islam — bad, and to be able to criticize them without constraint. Our forefathers literally went through hell for hundreds of years so that we could enjoy this right of freedom of expression today. And now we're supposed to revise that because Muslims feel insulted?
When profound critics such as political scientist Hamed Abdel-Samad, sociologist Necla Kelek, politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali and neuroscientist Sam Harris are all dubbed "Islamophobes," then enlightenment voices such as Voltaire, Bertrand Russell and Sigmund Freud must have been "Christophobes."
Many Muslims believe that Islam is perfect and that only individual Muslims may not always be. If all the negative manifestations of Islam — terror attacks, honor killings, genital mutilation, forced marriages and ISIS — have nothing to do with an otherwise perfect religion, then any defeat of Bayern Munich has nothing to do with the otherwise perfect soccer club.
Anwar al-Awlaki was an imam and a terrorist before he was killed in 2011.
If we were to apply an artificial separation line to all things like the one we put between Islam and Islamism, the results would be very interesting. Global warming would have nothing to do with climate change, the economic crisis nothing to do with capitalism, and the Left nothing to do with the Socialist Unity Party.
If Ayatollah Khomeini could refer to an unveiled woman as an "Islamophobe," then any enlightened humanist in the here and now has to be one too. That's right: every women's rights activist, every critic of totalitarianism, every anti-fascist, every human rights advocate and apostle of peace.
The idea that good Islam means peace, and that there's no bad Islam, exposes many of the official representatives of Islam as impostors and deceivers. As long as the Islamic world remains indecisive, ambiguous and keeps up this wait-and-see attitude towards radical tendencies, as long as it won't admit that Islam has a warring-political side, the problem is one that concerns all of Islam. And until that stops, we need not feel guilty about making an association between Islam and Islamism.
To paraphrase the words of Aiman Mazyek, this has nothing to do with Islamophobia. We call it being enlightened.
Die Welt ("The World") is a German daily founded in Hamburg in 1946, and currently owned by the Axel Springer AG company, Europe's largest publishing house. Now based in Berlin, Die Welt is sold in more than 130 countries. A Sunday edition called Welt am Sonntag has been published since 1948.
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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.
Yip Wing Sum
October 16, 2021
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
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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