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Geopolitics

The Last Cafe In Pakistan: Moderates Voice Quiet Resistance In The Face Of Islamist Assassinations

Following the assassination of two political leaders campaigning to change Pakistan’s Islamic blasphemy law, those who dream of a more open society and an enlightened Islam are trying to fight back.

Evening in Karachi
Evening in Karachi
Frédéric Bobin

KARACHI - Situated smack in the heart of this huge port city, the Second Floor Café (T2F) is a haven for the enlightened thinkers, a refuge against Karachi's urban sprawl and simmering tensions. Tucked away in a building on a back street, T2F is unique. Posters of John Lennon and Pablo Picasso hang on the wall, folk or blues music plays in the background, and on any given night Urdu poetry recitals or debates on Charles Darwin might take place. An oasis of resistance, it is where free thinkers can take a stand against the dark cloud of Islamic intolerance now looming on Pakistan's horizon.

Are these free thinkers a tiny minority, on the margins and out of sight? The answer is probably yes, something the owner of the establishment, Zaheer Kidvai is ready to admit. "We are a very small community here," he says. "We do what we can to react against the current climate of fear, although I do wonder whether it will change anything."

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Coronavirus

In Shanghai, A Brewing Expat Exodus As COVID Crackdown Shows "Real" China

Not only strict rules of freedom of movement as part of Zero-COVID policy but also an increase in censorship has raised many questions for the expat population in the megacity of 26 million that had long enjoyed a kind of special status in China as a place of freedom and openness. A recent survey of foreigners in the Chinese megacity found that 48% of respondents said they would leave Shanghai within the next year.

People walk in Tianzifang, located in Huangpu District, a well-known tourist attraction in Shanghai.

Lili Bai

SHANGHAI — On the seventh day of the lockdown, Félix, a French expat who has worked in Shanghai for four years, texted his boss: I want to "run,' mais je sais pas quand (but I don’t know when). A minute later, he received a reply: moi aussi (me too).

Félix had recently learned the new Mandarin word 润 (run) from social network postings of his local friends. Because its pinyin “rùn” is the same as the English word “run,” Chinese youth had begun to use it to express their wish to escape reality, either to “be freed from mundane life”, or to “run toward your future.”

For foreigners like Félix, by associating the expression “run” with the feeling of the current lockdown in Shanghai, “everything makes sense.” Félix recalled how at the end of March, the government denied rumors of an impending lockdown: “My Chinese colleagues all said, Shanghai is China’s top city, there would be no lockdown no matter what.”

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