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TOPIC: culture

FOCUS: Israel-Palestine War

Palestinian Olive Trees Are Also Under Israeli Occupation — And That's Not A Joke

In the West Bank, a quieter form of oppression has been plaguing Palestinians for a long time. Their olive groves are surrounded by soldiers, and it's forbidden to harvest the olives – this economic and social violence has gotten far worse since Oct. 7.

HEBRON – It was after Friday prayers on October 13th of last year, and Zakaria al-Arda was walking along the road that crosses his property's hillside to return home – but he never made it.

A settler from Havat Ma'on — an outpost bordering Al-Tuwani that the United Nations International Law and Israeli law considers illegal — descended from the hill with his rifle in hand.

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After kicking al-Arda, who tried to defend himself, the settler shot him in the abdomen. The bullet pierced through his stomach, a few centimeters below the lungs. Since then, al-Arda has been in the hospital in intensive care. A video of those moments clearly shows that neither al-Arda nor the other worshippers leaving the mosque were carrying any weapons.

The victim's cousin, Hafez Hureini, still lives in the town of Al-Tuwani. He is a farmer, and their house on the slope of the town is surrounded by olive trees — and Israeli soldiers. On the pine tree at the edge of his property, settlers have planted an Israeli flag. Today, Hafez lives, like everyone else, as an occupied individual.

He cannot work in his greenhouse, cannot sow his fields, and cannot harvest the olives from his precious olive trees.

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Seven Wacky (And Boozy) Races Around The World

Alcohol, food, costumes and ... wife carrying? Around the world, people have imbued weirdness and fun into the very serious sporting events that are marathons and races. Follow us in exploring the silliest ones out there.

Long distance running is an athletic feat that many associate with months of hard training, muscle strains and unbelievable breath control work. Running a marathon is no joke — except when it is.

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Around the world, lovers of athleticism have found ways to turn the sport of racing into a fun, and often outright weird, event. Sometimes it's about costumes, other times its about putting a twist on cultural traditions, and a lot of the time it's about alcohol.

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How War And Censorship Are Killing Russian Rap Culture, One Beat At A Time

Censorship in Russia has increased rapidly over the last couple of decades, especially since their invasion of Ukraine. Russian rap, which has often challenged the politics and society of Russia, has become even more censored than before, even causing some rappers to emigrate.

In retrospect, rap in 1990s Russia was truly free. How so? Look around: the bright post-Soviet future of which Russians caught a glimpse during the 1990s has collapsed, replaced with something much darker, with one of its victims being rap.

In my PhD research on 1990s rap in Russia, I find the era allowed Soviet nostalgia, sexual promiscuity, and self-reflection to live alongside political cooptation, much like in the 1999/2000 song “Beat Battle”, a covert political message in support of centrist electoral candidate Grigory Yavlinsky. The 1996 track “Vote or Lose” by Bachelor Party (in Russian: Malchinik, Мальчишник) is yet another case:

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What you can’t find is censorship. Whatever one thinks of Boris Yeltsin’s embrace of the West, thanks to rap, a strong community was created. Come 2023, and censorship has changed that community’s fabric forever.

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Bravo! Brava! Opera's Overdue Embrace Of Trans Performers And Storylines

Opera has played with ideas of gender since its earliest days. Now the first openly trans performers are taking to the stage, and operas explicitly exploring trans identities are beginning to emerge.

BERLIN — The figure of the nurse Arnalta is almost as old as opera itself. In Claudio Monteverdi’s saucy Roman sex comedy The Coronation of Poppaea, this motherly confidante spurs the eponymous heroine on to ever more lustful encounters, singing her advice in the voice of a tenor. The tradition of a man playing an older woman in a comic role can be traced all the way back to the comedies of the ancient world, which Renaissance-era writers looked to for inspiration.

The Popes in Baroque Rome decreed that, supposedly for religious reasons, women should not sing on stage. But they still enjoyed the spectacular performances of castratos, supporting them as patrons and sometimes even acting as librettists. The tradition continues today in the form of celebrated countertenors, and some male sopranos perform in female costume.

“I don’t know what I am, or what I’m doing.” This is how the pageboy Cherubino expresses his confusion at the flood of hormones he is experiencing in his aria in Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro – one of the most popular operas of all time, full of amorous adventures and sexual misunderstandings. Cherubino cannot and does not want to choose between a countess, a lady’s maid, and a gardener’s daughter. He sometimes wears women’s clothing himself, and in modern productions the music teacher even chases after the young man.

The role of Cherubino, the lustful teenager caught between childhood and manhood, someone who appears trapped in the "wrong
body, is traditionally performed by a woman, usually a mezzosoprano. The audience is used to this convention, also seen in Richard Strauss’s Rosenkavalier or Siegfried Matthus’s Cornet Christoph Rilke’s Song of Love and Death, first performed in 1984.

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Yam Kumari Kandel

Flexing Against Sexism: Meet The Women Bodybuilders Of Nepal

Women bodybuilders are rare in a society that prefers them thin, soft — and fully clothed. But with sports, gold-medal winners like Rajani Shrestha are helping inspire change.

KATHMANDU — Rajani Shrestha exercises at a gym near Baneshwor Height, a neighborhood in Kathmandu, as she prepares for a major bodybuilding championship. As the 42-year-old lifts around 50 kilograms (110 pounds) in a deadlift, her veiny arms and neck muscles bulge out. A woman with “muscles like a man,” she says, is a very rare sight here.

The men bodybuilders in the club stare at her. “I don’t care what anyone says or does. I must win the competition anyway,” Shrestha says. As the day progresses, she is the only one left in the club. For Shrestha, there is no time to waste. On this August weekday, it’s only a month to go till the 55th Asian Bodybuilding and Physique Sports Championship.

In 2019, Shrestha won silver medals at the 12th South Asian Bodybuilding and Physique Sports Championship, held in Kathmandu, and the 53rd Asian Bodybuilding and Physique Sports Championship, in Batam, Indonesia. The National Sports Council also recognized her for excellence.

Shrestha does not fit the normative definition of an ideal woman in Nepal. In a society where a thin body is considered beautiful, women bodybuilders with brawny bodies are labeled “men” and are often the target of ridicule and derision.

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FOCUS: Israel-Palestine War

Why Taiwan Backs Israel Even If Its Own Struggle Mirrors Palestine's

Taiwanese, though under the weight of a far more powerful neighbor, have the tendency to idealize Israel and fail to create a self-definition beyond the island nation's anti-China image.

TAIPEI — After the October 7 attacks on Israel by Hamas, who killed around 1,200 people and took 200 hostages, Israel imposed a complete blockade on Gaza and began a large-scale counteroffensive. Originally, most Western countries fully supported Israel's right of self-defense. However, sentiments have shifted in a section of the west over the past month, with Israel's counterattacks having caused up to 10,000 deaths in Gaza and pushing the Gazan population into a humanitarian crisis, marked by a dire shortage of water, electricity, food, and medicine. With the opening of a new front by Israel on the Lebanese-Syrian border, there are fears that the fighting could expand even further, resulting in an even greater humanitarian catastrophe.

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After the Hamas raid shocked the world, public opinion in the Chinese-speaking world, like in western society, split into two. One side firmly supported Israel's determination to defend its homeland and national sovereignty, while the other side invoked the region's history and sympathized with the Palestinians.

However, unlike in the west, most Chinese people did not choose a side based on well-considered national interests or humanitarian concern for the disadvantaged, but rather based on their attitudes toward the United States and China. Being anti-American or anti-China has become a fundamental factor determining whether you support Palestine or Israel.

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Aishwarya Singh and Meenakshi Ramkumar

Beyond Matrimony? Charting A New Course For LGBTQ+ Unions in India

In the wake of India's landmark decision to reject marriage equality, the authors suggest that the way forward for the queer community, perhaps, is not to insist on a right to marry but to challenge laws that put marriage over other forms of familial and kinship bonds.

Welcome to Worldcrunch’s LGBTQ+ International. We bring you up-to-speed each week on the latest on everything LGBTQ+ — from all corners of the planet. This week, we feature an article by Aishwarya Singh and Meenakshi Ramkumar for New Delhi-based news site The Wire about how LGBTQ+ couples in India are looking at other forms of unions after the country’s decision to reject marriage equality. But first, the latest news…

✉️ You can receive our LGBTQ+ International roundup every week directly in your inbox. Subscribe here.

TW: This content may address topics and include references to violence that some may find distressing

🌐 5 things to know right now

• Mexico's first openly non-binary magistrate found dead: Jesús Ociel Baena, Mexico's first openly non-binary member of the judiciary and prominent LGBTQ+ activist, was found dead in Aguascalientes, alongside their partner. Security Minister Rosa Icela Rodriguez said it was unclear whether the deaths were “a homicide or [...] some kind of accident.”

• Gay Israeli soldier displays LGBTQ+ flag in Gaza: A gay Israeli soldier held an LGBTQ+ flag in Gaza, reading: “In the name of love.” Yoav Atzmoni, an IDF soldier who was called up to fight after the October 7 massacre, said he displayed the flag in defiance of the territory's harsh anti-LGBTQ+ stances. Israel’s official social media accounts called it “The first ever pride flag raised in Gaza.”

• Latvia votes to allow same-sex civil unions: Latvian lawmakers recently voted to allow same-sex civil unions, providing same-sex couples with legal recognition for the first time. They will still have fewer rights than married couples. The legislation, due to take effect in mid-2024, allows same-sex couples to register their partnership, giving them hospital visitation rights and tax and social security benefits, but still not the right to adopt children or inheritance.

Austria to compensate gay people who faced prosecution: Austria has set aside 33 million euros to compensate thousands of gay people who, until two decades ago faced prosecution, the country’s justice minister Alma Zadić announced. Austria decriminalized homosexuality in 1971 but certain discriminatory provisions remained in place until the early 2000s. Zadić said that an estimated 11,000 people were eligible for compensation.

• Gay Games in Hong Kong: It’s a wrap for this year’s Gay Games in Hong Kong, with participants celebrating the end of the week-long sporting competition. Taking place in the special administrative region of China for the first time, the games featured events like dragon-boat racing and Mahjong. Despite political challenges and strict LGBTQ+ laws in both Hong Kong and China, the week was hailed as a celebration of inclusion and diversity.

Beyond Matrimony? Charting A New Course For LGBTQ+ Unions in India

NEW DELHI — The recent judgment of the Indian Supreme Court on marriage equality was, without a doubt, a disappointment for India’s queer community. With a 3:2 majority, the Supreme Court held that queer couples in non-heterosexual relationships do not have a fundamental right to marry and denied legal recognition to their relationships. The court’s judgment placed heterosexuality at the centre of marital relationships by holding that marriage between persons of opposite gender is the only valid form of marriage under Indian law.

Thus, while transgender persons identifying within the gender binary who are in heterosexual relationships are entitled to marry, queer couples who do not find themselves in what can be classified as heterosexual relationships are left without any legal remedy.

But perhaps in rejecting that there is any fundamental right to marry under the Constitution for queer couples or otherwise, the court has opened a portal (especially in the minority opinions) for re-imagining the existence of what were understood to be matrimonial entitlements (like succession rights, adoption, guardianship, financial entitlements that accrue to spouses, etc.) beyond marriage.

The petitioners had primarily mounted a challenge to the provisions of the Special Marriage Act, 1954 arguing that the non-recognition of non-heterosexual marriages under the Act violated their fundamental right to marry and discriminated against them on the basis of sexual orientation. An important prong of the petitioners’ argument was that they are denied the matrimonial benefits listed above.

Indeed, the queer community’s quest for marriage is either grounded in either the belief that marriage is a normative ideal to which queer people should also have access to; or that marriage provides a bouquet of entitlements, the absence of which significantly disadvantages those in queer relationships. Some queer individuals will agree with both propositions. But many challenge the elevation of marriage as the norm and as an ideal that all of us should aspire towards. They highlight the oppressive foundations of marriage, specifically its heterosexist nature and foundation in caste endogamy, which is difficult to dismantle. Further, they argue that marriage as an institution, through the bundle of rights and entitlements it provides, privileges married partners over others who choose to not marry or cannot marry.

It is difficult to contest that marriage is founded on heterosexist norms. Marriage continues to be imagined primarily as a heterosexual union (even if the social reality may be different or is changing). Queer people across jurisdictions have won marriage rights after much suffering and only after being able to prove that their love/relationship conforms to a heterosexual ideal.

The majority opinion authored by Justice Bhat in the marriage equality judgment also highlights and reinforces the heterosexist values that are attached to marriage. He says, "marriage, however, has been regarded for the longest time, as a relationship of man to woman" and at another place, he reiterates that, "traditions of marriage per se may not support the basis of recognition of marital relationships between non-heterosexual couples".

Examples of weddings between same-sex couples in India or of relationships that are functionally identical to marriage between same-sex couples (in the absence of legal recognition) are not enough to displace the normative assumption that marriage is a heterosexual union. Social marriages that deviate from the heterosexual script are considered only as exceptions, not as evidence of a pluralist understanding of marriage. They remain exceptions because the norm that the marriage establishes is of the heterosexual union.

Even if we say that queer couples, by gaining the legal right to marry, can somehow displace these heterosexist assumptions of who can marry and whom, they cannot dismantle the privilege of committed coupledom that marriage prescribes over other forms of adult associations and kinship. This is because these other forms of adult associations veer off the course of heteronormativity in ways that same-sex committed coupledom does not. As Katherine Franke has argued: same-sex marriage can still fall under the ambit of traditional family values that promote nuclear family, bourgeois respectability and privatized dependency.

Marriage’s place as the normative ideal creates symbolic harm for individuals, queer or otherwise, who refuse to participate in marriage. In fact, feminist critiques of marriage as an oppressive institution have been the most trenchant. They have highlighted how marriage continues to be a patriarchal institution, even if many of the marriage laws that discriminated against women (like the law of coverture) have been removed.

Queer participation in marriage reinforces its status as the most sacred form of commitment, as the only relationship form that can confer dignity to queer lives and something that saves individuals from the doom of loneliness. In Obergefell v. Hodges, the U.S. Supreme Court relied on similar tropes stating that marriage has some transcendental importance and it’s the only institution that can fulfill our most "profound hopes and aspirations". [...]

Read the full piece by Aishwarya Singh and Meenakshi Ramkumar for the Wire here.

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Manon Laplace

A Future For Timbuktu's Ancient Books? Conservation And Digitalization

Mali's "mysterious city" welcomes a new class of students trained in looking after ancient books. From conservation to digitization of these works, a colossal task awaits them to preserve this endangered heritage and the secrets they contain.

Updated Nov. 13, 2023 at 6:30 p.m.

TIMBUKTU — In the workroom of the Ahmed-Baba Institute of Higher Studies and Islamic Research, time seems to have slowed down. As the dust and the sound of brushes on paper float by, six students hold in their hands one of the most precious heritages of the region.

Ceremoniously, they repeat the same gestures: lifting the pages, one by one, with the tip of a thin wooden spatula, then, with the flat of the brush, ridding the inks and the centuries-old papers of dust.

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Federico Taddia

When A Library Is Born On A Tiny Italian Island

Inside an old watchtower dangling over the crashing waves of the port of Capraia, dwell 6,000 books and their keeper: 33-year-old Viola, a librarian who took the time during the COVID-19 pandemic to ask herself, "What makes you truly happy?"

CAPRAIA — "The waves crashing loudly against the cliffs, the bad weather that prevents the ferry from arriving for days, the strong northeast wind making its presence felt... And then a handful of men and women, each with a kettle and their own cup of tea brought from home, protected inside the tower, reading a novel together: this, for me, is the library; this, for me, is building a community - building an identity - starting from books."

It almost seems as if, off in the distance, one can glimpse the Corsairs sailing on their galleys. Meanwhile, with the passionate gaze of someone who loves their land and the enthusiasm of someone who adores their job — actually, of someone who has realized their dream — Viola Viteritti, the librarian of Capraia, explains how the tower, built by the Genoese in 1540 to defend against pirates, is now home of what the Center for the Book and Reading has dubbed the most extraordinary library in Italy.

"I've spent four months a year on this island since I was born," she explains. "It's my home; it's the place where I feel good, where I am myself. As a child, I devoured books, but on the island, there was no place for books. When I chose to move here permanently, the library project started simultaneously. There couldn't have been a better cosmic alignment."

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Ignacio Pereyra

A Humble Note To Helicopter Parents And Hyperpaternity Dads: We're Born To Fail

One thing's for sure, whether you have children or not: You are bound to make mistakes, experience frustration and learn things the hard way. The key is to gradually understand how to live with it.

"Whatever you do, you won't do it well". Sentences like that tend to feel like a relief as a father (and in life in general). Sometimes I think I worry (obsess?) too much about being the best parent I can be.

I also end up spending too much time caring about what others think about me as a father — be it my children, my partner or a random person in the park.

That initial sentence is all the more calming considering it was uttered by someone who really knows what they're talking about: the mother of Spanish artists David and Fernando Trueba, a woman who raised six more kids to boot.

In fact, I came across this sentence via an article about hyperpaternity* in Spain’s El Periódico, which helped me think more about how to raise children.

"We are having fewer children, and we are having them later. Children are thus ever precious beings. [...] A status symbol, a reflection of their parents. Raising children, which is something natural and instinctive, has professionalised. We plan each second of our lives around our kids," says journalist Eva Millet.

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Yves Bourdillon

What Makes Rugby The Defining Sport Of Modern Democracy

As the Rugby World Cup final approaches, French writer Yves Bourdillon notes that the sport is popular almost exclusively in democratic countries. The reason? Its Anglo-Saxon origins, the complexity of its rules and its values, a miracle of balance between individualism and collective spirit.


PARIS — The Rugby World Cup has an unusual, if not unique, feature among major national team competitions: all 20 participants are free-market democracies.

The list of countries — South Africa, New Zealand, England, Wales, Ireland, Australia, France, Japan, Scotland, Argentina, Fiji, Italy, Samoa, Georgia, Uruguay, Tonga, Romania, Namibia, Chile and Portugal — can be verified as being among the more or less liberal states that, according to the Freedom House think-tank, account for only one-quarter of humanity.

It's true that some of these democracies, such as Georgia, have room for improvement, or haven't always been so democratic, as in the case of Argentina 40 years ago. And of course there's the unique case of South Africa, which lived under the racist system of apartheid until 1991, before the team's memorable post-apartheid victory in the 1995 World Cup — albeit controversial for other reasons, with suspicions of doping and poisoning of New Zealand's opponents before the final.

But none of the participants in this year's tournament are to be found among the authoritarian regimes of the Middle East, Africa, Asia or Latin America, where rugby is hardly ever played — the number of rugby players never exceeds 0.01% of the population.

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You Peng

Western Plunders Of Antiquities? Challenging The New Chinese Uproar

There is no doubt that the old museums in Europe and America bear deep imprints of the colonial era; in a mirror image, "protecting treasures" has become a transcendental reference for the new China.

In mid-August, the British Museum reported a suspected burglary.

A batch of gold jewelry, precious stones, semi-precious stones and glass from the 15th century B.C. to the 19th century A.D., not on public display and used for scholarly research, were said to have been stolen from the museum. The suspected burglar? The museum's curator of Greek artifacts. In a more explosive revelation, the director of the museum, Hartwig Fischer, confirmed that some 2,000 items had been lost from the museum's coffers over the past 10 years. He resigned at the end of August.

The incidents made ripples in China. The Global Times published an editorial on August 27 titled "Please return Chinese cultural relics to the British Museum free of charge," stating that "Most of them were looted or stolen when Britain took advantage of people's danger, robbed them while they were on fire, or even directly engineered disasters for China."

In September, a Chinese social media user produced a web series called "Escape from the British Museum'' — it became a hit. The show tells the story of a Chinese "jade pot" in the British Museum's collection that transforms into a young woman who wants to return to China.

Ironically, the jade pot is a contemporary artifact (made in 2011) and was given to the British Museum by its creator, Yu Ting, a jade carver from Suzhou.

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