Welcome to Thursday, where Emmanuel Macron has COVID, air pollution is guilty in the death of a 9-year old, and couscous is culture. Meanwhile we look at how "cancel culture" in India is a very different thing.
SPOTLIGHT: TEN YEARS LATER, THE ARAB SPRING DELUSION MUST NOT KILL HOPE
When Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in December 2010, it first triggered a wave of revolts, then hopes of a historic liberalization in Arab countries. But the doors of democracy, barely half-opened, have been shut ever since, writes Dominique Moïsi in French daily Les Echos.
Exactly 10 years ago, on December 17, 2010, a low-key Tunisian fruit and vegetable seller felt so harassed and abused by public officials that he set himself on fire. Bouazizi's fatal act of desperation and revolt would mark the beginning of a wave of uprisings in the Arab world, that spread from Tunisia to Egypt, and then on to Libya and Syria.
A decade later, what remains of this immense flame of hope? It was of course very quickly followed — with the notable exception of Tunisia — by a wave of repression, sometimes fierce, as in Syria. How did we go from the Arab Spring to the Islamic winter? And then on to the deepening of the infernal dialectic between authoritarianism and corruption? It's as if the doors of democracy, barely ajar, had been summarily closed by those of the kleptocracy.
Was the hope unfounded, nothing more than a product of a far too Western reading of a culture that we did not understand, of images that we did not know how to interpret?
It is of course easier to destroy than to rebuild. The young people of Tahrir Square in Cairo were able to bring down President Mubarak, but they were unable to create a democratic, strong and stable Egypt. They were caught between a security apparatus — dependent for the maintenance of its wealth on its presence in power — and the Muslim Brotherhood, who would soon prove their mixture of incompetence and intolerance.
Over time, the Arab Spring has exposed the dangerous limits of Islamists and political Islam, but has not strengthened civil society and the cause of democracy. The direct, almost mathematical link between the extent of Egypt's debt and the wealth of the "Egyptian generals' was strengthened at a time when the voices that remained of freedom were being fiercely muzzled.
Was the expression "Arab Spring" – a reference to the 1848 revolution known as the "Springtime of the Peoples' – a deceptive illusion from the outset? Or is it still too early to judge whether it is true or not?
If the comparison between that revolutionary European Spring of 1848-1849 and the Arab Spring of 2010-2011 is to remain legitimate, is it not because of their respective failures In Europe. It was not the Frankfurt Parliament that unified Germany, but Bismarck's Prussia. And, in France, it was Louis Napoleon Bonaparte who was able to reap the benefits of revolutionary unrest.
In the traditional heart of the Arab world, in Egypt, after the very inconclusive experience of the Muslim Brotherhood in power, the army regained control of the country, even more brutally than in Mubarak's time. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi knows that he can count on the mixture of fear of radical Islam and the mercenary appetites of many Western countries to weld friendships that ethics should condemn, but that politics encourages. Read the full article.
— Dominique Moïsi / Les Echos
THE SITUATION: 7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW
- COVID-19 latest: French President Emmanuel Macron tests positive for COVID-19, less than a week after an in-person summit of top European leaders. The U.S. once again records the highest daily number of cases, as the spread rates soar "exponentially" in South Africa, and Sweden's king says the national coronavirus strategy has failed.
Charlie Hebdo trial: A French court convicts 14 people linked to the 2015 attacks in Paris on the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, which killed 17.
Pollution-asthma case: A London court rules unlawful air pollution levels as a factor in a nine-year-old girl's death, following an asthma attack.
China's Moon rocks: China's Chang'e-5 lunar probe has returned to Earth with 4.4 pounds of rock samples from a previously unexplored area of the Moon.
U.S./Taliban talks: Top U.S. military officers hold unannounced talks respectively with Taliban peace negotiators and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to try and reduce violence across the country.
Bitcoin breaks record: The value of Bitcoin jumped 4.5% to as much as $20,440 amid stock market turmoil this year.
- Couscous culture: UNESCO has added couscous to its Intangible Cultural Heritage list, praising the dish (shared by Algeria, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia) for its ability to bring people and cultures together.
Tunisian daily Assabah features a cartoon on its front page showing the declining protest movement since the Arab Spring was sparked 10 years today, when Tunisian street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in Ben Arous.
"CANCEL CULTURE" IN INDIA LOOKS LIKE OLD-FASHIONED BIGOTRY
Hindu nationalist groups want to force the cancellation of Netflix shows that celebrate inter-religious romance with Muslims — it's both censorship and ethnic prejudice, writes Debangana Chatterjee on Indian news website The Wire.
Richie Mehta's original Netflix series Delhi Crime, based on the 2012 Delhi gang-rape, sparked an outcry for banning Netflix India — and a #BanNetflix campaign was launched. What set the furor off though was an episode of another Netflix show, A Suitable Boy, and the "inappropriate" on-screen kiss between a Hindu (Lata) and a Muslim (Kabir) character in the backdrop of a temple. Members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) took no time to demand the all-out ban of Netflix India.
In the West, "Cancel Culture" first arose in a much different context, notably around the #MeToo movement that sought to shame and shut down alleged perpetrators of sexual harassment and violence. The dynamic has expanded to publicly shame and silence a wide range of public figures whose ideas or words have clashed with the young generation's progressive "woke" culture.
Unfortunately, unlike its Western counterpart (which itself raises eyebrows), India's cancel culture coupled with the dogma of Hindu nationalism has taken a malicious turn. Under this precarious political climate, anything that antagonizes the Hindutva ideology faces indelible wrath.
This goes hand-in-glove with the government's new-found interests in OTT (Over-the-Top platforms) regulations. Last year in October the government made its intentions clear on promulgating a set of "not to do" lists for the streaming platforms that include Netflix, Hotstar, Amazon Prime, as well as the digital news media.
➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com here.
According to a new investigation led Brazilian daily Folha de S. Paulo, police in the country have shot dead 2,215 children and adolescents between 2017 and 2019.
We'd hoped that the dead of Bergamo could have protected the rest of Italy. Instead our sacrifice has been in vain.
— Luca Fusco, who heads a group of survivors of the record numbers of people killed by COVID-19 in in the northern Italian city of Bergamo, speaking with weekly magazine L'Espresso. The group, which wants to hold government officials accountable for mismanagement of the crisis, has denounced continued bad policy that has led to a deadly second wave in Italy.
PHOTO DU JOUR
See top photo
A mystery man tricked U.S. artist Joshua Hawkins by paying him to paint an enormous Soviet-style mural of Sesame Street creature Cookie Monster, with three Russian words spelling "Peace Land Cookies!," on a commercial building in Peoria, Illinois. It turned out that the man had impersonated the building's owner, who was furious to see the "Soviet Muppet," and had the mural painted over white. The apparent prankster with a taste for the absurd — who paid the artist in full for the work — has not been identified. Meanwhile the real owner of the wall is holding a contest to decide a new design for the wall.
In San Diego, California, a researcher tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun.
SAN DIEGO — Everybody, it seems, welcomes the arrival of new restaurants, cafés, food trucks and farmers markets.
What could be the downside of fresh veggies, homemade empanadas and a pop-up restaurant specializing in banh mis?
But when they appear in unexpected places – think inner-city areas populated by immigrants – they're often the first salvo in a broader effort to rebrand and remake the community. As a result, these neighborhoods can quickly become unaffordable and unrecognizable to longtime residents.
An appetite for gentrification
I live in San Diego, where I teach courses on urban and food geographies and conduct research on the relationship between food and ethnicity in urban contexts.
In recent years, I started to notice a pattern playing out in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked food options. More ethnic restaurants, street vendors, community gardens and farmers markets were cropping up. These, in turn, spurred growing numbers of white, affluent and college-educated people to venture into areas they had long avoided.
This observation inspired me to write a book, titled The $16 Taco, about how food – including what's seen as "ethnic," "authentic" or "alternative" – often serves as a spearhead for gentrification.
Take City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood where successive waves of refugees from places as far away as Vietnam and Somalia have resettled. In 2016, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice) to neighborhood residents, along with tourists and visitors from other parts of the city.
Informal street vendors are casualties.
A public-private partnership called the City Heights Community Development Corporation, together with several nonprofits, launched the initiative to increase "access to healthy and culturally appropriate food" and serve as "a business incubator for local micro-entrepreneurs," including immigrants and refugees who live in the neighborhood.
On paper, this all sounds great.
But just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors – who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets – now face heightened harassment. They've become causalities in a citywide crackdown on sidewalk vending spurred by complaints from business owners and residents in more affluent areas.
This isn't just happening in San Diego. The same tensions have been playing out in rapidly gentrifying areas like Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighborhood, Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, New York's Queens borough and East Austin, Texas.
In all of these places, because "ethnic," "authentic" and "exotic" foods are seen as cultural assets, they've become magnets for development.
A call for food justice
Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation.
Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure.
It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies. Small food businesses, with their relatively low cost of entry, have been a cornerstone of ethnic entrepreneurship in American cities. And initiatives like farmers markets and street fairs don't require much in the way of public investment; instead, they rely on entrepreneurs and community-based organizations to do the heavy lifting.
In City Heights, the Community Development Corporation hosted its first annual City Heights Street Food Festival in 2019 to "get people together around table and food stalls to celebrate another year of community building." Other recent events have included African Restaurant Week, Dia de Los Muertos, New Year Lunar Festival, Soul Food Fest and Brazilian Carnival, all of which rely on food and drink to attract visitors and support local businesses.
Meanwhile, initiatives such as the New Roots Community Farm and the City Heights Farmers' Market have been launched by nonprofits with philanthropic support in the name of "food justice," with the goal of reducing racial disparities in access to healthy food and empowering residents – projects that are particularly appealing to highly educated people who value diversity and democracy.
Upending an existing foodscape
In media coverage of changing foodscapes in low-income neighborhoods like City Heights, you'll rarely find any complaints.
San Diego Magazine's neighborhood guide for City Heights, for example, emphasizes its "claim to authentic international eats, along with live music venues, craft beer, coffee, and outdoor fun." It recommends several ethnic restaurants and warns readers not to be fooled by appearances.
Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against the "urban food machine"
But that doesn't mean objections don't exist.
Many longtime residents and small-business owners – mostly people of color and immigrants – have, for decades, lived, worked and struggled to feed their families in these neighborhoods. To do so, they've run convenience stores, opened ethnic restaurants, sold food in parks and alleys and created spaces to grow their own food.
All represent strategies to meet community needs in a place mostly ignored by mainstream retailers.
So what happens when new competitors come to town?
Starting at a disadvantage
As I document in my book, these ethnic food businesses, because of a lack of financial and technical support, often struggle to compete with new enterprises that feature fresh façades, celebrity chefs, flashy marketing, bogus claims of authenticity and disproportionate media attention. Furthermore, following the arrival of more-affluent residents, existing ones find it increasingly difficult to stay.
My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. The listings I studied from 2019 often enticed potential buyers with lines like "shop at the local farmers' market," "join food truck festivals" and "participate in community food drives!"
San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44.
When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.
Going up against the urban food machine
Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against what I call the "urban food machine," a play on sociologist Harvey Molotch's "urban growth machine" – a term he coined more than 50 years ago to explain how cities were being shaped by a loose coalition of powerful elites who sought to profit off urban growth.
I argue that investors and developers use food as a tool for achieving the same ends.
When their work is done, what's left is a rather insipid and tasteless neighborhood, where foodscapes become more of a marketable mishmash of cultures than an ethnic enclave that's evolved organically to meet the needs of residents. The distinctions of time and place start to blur: An "ethnic food district" in San Diego looks no different than one in Chicago or Austin.
Meanwhile, the routines and rhythms of everyday life have changed so much that longtime residents no longer feel like they belong. Their stories and culture reduced to a selling point, they're forced to either recede to the shadows or leave altogether.
It's hard to see how that's a form of inclusion or empowerment.
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