FRANKFURT â€" It's a Thursday morning on the No. 39 bus in Frankfurt, Germany. Suddenly, a migrant woman with an accent begins to complain loudly and aggressively about a woman wearing a niqab. "I don't feel safe next to her," she says to no one in particular.
The other passengers remain silent, though one eventually speaks up to defend the woman in the dark blue niqab whose eye slits were covered with trendy, slim glasses.
But the woman continues her lament. "I don't feel safe next to you, especially in times like these... I donâ€™t even know if you're a woman or a man."
The veiled woman remains silent, sitting with her baby in a stroller in front of her, and her 5-year-old son sitting at her side, her hand resting calmly on the boy's thigh. Her husband, a heavy man with a full black beard, jeans and a leather jacket, is sitting on the other side of her, silently as well. Maybe they don't understand what their tormenter was saying, though her rude tone is crystal clear.
The bus keeps going, and so does the woman. "For myself, I come from your same culture," the abusive woman continues. "I know what I'm talking about."
Street scene in London â€" Photo: Photocapy
She is shaking with anger but keeps her distance. The driver too remains silent, as do the two dozen or so other passengers. Everyone is avoiding the husband's eyes as he scans the bus for help, some kind of support.
"Leave the woman alone," another passenger finally speaks up. Even before anyone could say anything else, the angry woman now starts to scream: "Here, equality rules, and it will remain like that."
She gets off the bus, mumbling to herself, at which point the couple's hands relax.
The outburst lasted about 10 minutes, and when it was finally over, everyone on the bus breathed a collective sigh of relief. She was impolite and offensive, and unfair to focus on one person, but was her criticism really wrong? It took a while until it began to dawn on me that perhaps I had seen the future, what is to come in an increasingly anxious Europe.
The fundamental clash between more secular Muslims who have integrated in Europe and strict Muslims among more recent arrivals, is not going away anytime soon. And it is bound to become nasty.
Though silent, any veiled woman does make her own kind of statement, speaking through her clothing and attitude and, in her own way, denouncing others as dishonorable. One of those who refuses such judgment wanted to let the world know, beginning with the No. 39 bus in Frankfurt.
'Xi Jinping Thought' ideas on socialism have been spreading across the country since 2017. But now, Beijing is going one step further by making them part of the curriculum, from the elementary level all the way up to university.
BEIJING — It's important to strengthen the "determination to listen to and follow the party." Also, teaching materials should "cultivate patriotic feelings." So say the new guidelines issued by the Chinese Ministry of Education.
The goal is to help Chinese students develop more "Marxist beliefs," and for that, the government wants its national curriculum to include "Xi Jinping Thought," the ideas, namely, of China's current leader.
Xi Jinping has been the head of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for almost 10 years. In 2017, at a party convention, he presented a doctrine in the most riveting of party prose: "Xi Jinping's ideas of socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new age."
Behind this word jam is a plan to consolidate the power of the nation, the party and Xi himself. In other words, to make China great again!
Communist curriculum replaces global subjects
This doctrine has sent shockwaves through China since 2017. It's been echoed in newspapers, on TV, and screamed from posters and banners hung in many cities. But now, the People's Republic is going one step further: It's bringing "Xi Jinping Thought" into the schools.
Starting in September, the country's 300 million students have had to study the doctrine, from elementary school into university. And in some cities, even that doesn't seem to be enough. Shanghai announced that its students from third to fifth grade would only take final exams in mathematics and Chinese, de facto deleting English as an examination subject. Beijing, in the meantime, announced that it would ban the use of unauthorized foreign textbooks in elementary and middle schools.
But how does a country that enchants its youth with socialist ideology and personality cults rise to become a world power? Isn't giving up English as a global language the quickest way into isolation?
The educational reform comes at a time when Beijing is brutally disciplining many areas of public life, from tech giants to the entertainment industry. It has made it difficult for Chinese technology companies to go public abroad, and some media have reported that a blanket ban on IPOs in the United States is on the cards in the next few years.
Targeting pop culture
The regime is also taking massive action against the entertainment industry. Popstar Kris Wu was arrested on charges of rape. Movies and TV series starring actor Zhao Wei have started to disappear from Chinese streaming platforms. The reason is unclear.
What the developments do show is that China is attempting to decouple from the West with increasing insistence. Beijing wants to protect its youth from Western excesses, from celebrity worship, super wealth and moral decline.
A nationalist blogger recently called for a "profound change in the economy, finance, culture and politics," a "revolution" and a "return from the capitalists to the masses." Party media shared the text on their websites. It appears the analysis caused more than a few nods in the party headquarters.
Dictatorships are always afraid of pluralism.
Caspar Welbergen, managing director of the Education Network China, an initiative that aims to intensify school exchanges between Germany and China, says that against this background, the curriculum reform is not surprising.
"The emphasis on 'Xi Jinping Thought' is being used in all areas of society," he says. "It is almost logical that China is now also using it in the education system."
Needless to say, the doctrine doesn't make student exchanges with China any easier.
Dictatorships are always afraid of color, pluralism and independent thinking citizens. And yet, Kristin Kupfer, a Sinology professor at the University of Trier, suggests that ideologically charged school lessons should not be interpreted necessarily as a sign of weakness of the CCP.
From the point of view of a totalitarian regime, she explains, this can also be interpreted as a signal of strength. "It remains to be seen whether the Chinese leadership can implement this so thoroughly," Kupfer adds. "Initial reactions from teachers and parents on social media show that such a widespread attempt to control opinion has raised fears and discontent in the population."
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