Saturday, May 12, 2007

A simpler Middle East Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

Just stumbled onto this article about the exodus of Mandaean community from Iraq, to Sweden. We know that the Christians of Iraq are leaving in droves, but, it is not always appreciated that this is the second great emigration of Iraqi Christians. Early last century the more numerous members of the Church of the East, which was the dominant Christian confession in Mesopotamia since the time of the Sassanid Empire, left their homeland after cooperating with the British and experiencing persecution. The Christian remnant in Iraq was represented by the Chaldean Church (Tariq Aziz is a member), and these are the refugees of today. Of course, the even more antique community of Iraqi Jews were also expelled during the 20th century. In Syria and Lebanon the proportion of Christians has decreased in part because of massive emigration to the West. The ancient Palestinian Christian community is vanishing to triviality.


Monday, April 30, 2007

Turkey, Islam & the EU Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

A few years ago I pointed out to M. Yglesias that Turkey was more religious than the United States (he emailed me immediately and agreed that that characterization was about right). Less than a year ago I offered that Turkey was a nation with a greater percentage of Creationists than the United States, and so it was not culturally suitable for EU admission. Today M. Yglesias has a post where he suggests that the AKP, the current moderate Islamist party in power in Turkey is basically an analog to the Republican party. There are obviously differences (see Daniel Larison for more exposition), while the AKP has been from its inception (through itself proper or its predecessors) the vehicle for upwardly mobile religious conservatives, the Republican party has been transformed within the past few generations from a party dominated by elite affluent mainline WASPs to one where evangelicals call the shots (notionally at least). Nevertheless, along with Yglesias I tend to think that the rise of groups like the AKP is a good thing, even if they are regressive they accept the democratic principle and so are agents for long term (I mean generations, not years) cultural evolution. The EU agrees. But here is a paradox: I believe that genuine cultural democraticization makes it less plausible that Turkey could be an EU member because at the grassroots it is a far less European nation than its secular elite wants to project.1 And yet the same people who would wink at the idea of dividing North American between Jesusland and the United States of Canada tend to favor admission into the EU of a nation which is still mostly Allahland!

1 - Of course overall the EU been an elite pushed project, and democratic sentiment has tended to give a rubber stamp to something which was already fait accompli. With Turkey though I think this is problematic because the chasm between the alcohol drinking secular elite and Christian missionary throat cutting non-elites is pretty wide.

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Saturday, April 21, 2007

HIV in Africa Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

Recently I stumbled upon this story, Speeding HIV's Deadly Spread: Multiple, Concurrent Partners Drive Disease in Southern Africa, via Radio Open Source. The important point is that one of the major variables in the spread of HIV in Sub-Saharan Africa is the nature of sexual networks (it shouldn't be too hard to imagine that social network theory models this well). From the article:
Researchers increasingly attribute the resilience of HIV in Botswana -- and in southern Africa generally -- to the high incidence of multiple sexual relationships. Europeans and Americans often have more partners over their lives, studies show, but sub-Saharan Africans average more at the same time.
...Husbands spent months herding cattle while their wives, staying elsewhere, tended crops, Mosojane said. On his return, a husband was not to be quizzed about his activities while he was away. He also was supposed to spend his first night back in an uncle's house, giving his wife time to send off boyfriends.

Steve Sailer has long been emphasizing the low paternal investment that African males engage in as part of the problem. Without a consistent and reliable single male to supplement her own economic productivity (in much of Africa women were the primary agricultural producers) it seems that it would be rational to "diversify" one's portfolio. This is obviously not the only issue, the variation in HIV infection rates across the continent which track circumcision rates show that the dense sexual networks facilitate the spread of the virus at different rates depending upon the nature of the "choke points" (so to speak).

Note: The report suggests that circumcision was discouraged by European colonial missionaries in southern Africa. I'm skeptical of this for several reasons. First, during much of the colonial period circumcision was the norm in England, which was the dominant power in this region. Second, colonial influence seemed to be irrelevant in most of east & west Africa, where the rates of the practice follow traditional patterns. There is one group in Kenya that does not practice circumcision (unless, I assume, they are culturally Muslim, such as Barak Obama's father), the Luo. Is it because they were less colonized than other ethnic groups? I doubt it. Finally, I am to understand that Zulus circumcision specifically ended due to the command of the warlord Shaka. This predated colonization or missionaries. So, I think it is important not to take all the contentions in the article without a grain of salt since the reporter is obviously dependent on sources who will tell him whatever they want (i.e., I think the idea that circumcision was discouraged by whites is probably plausible because of the dominance of Post-Colonial theory which makes Europeans gods who have ultimate power over the direction of all the world's cultures).


Saturday, March 24, 2007

Noruz & Iran Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

A few weeks ago we discussed the extent of non-Islamic cultural practices in Iran, in particular, Noruz, the Zoroastrian New Year. In an article about the Kurds and Noruz here is a tidbit of interest:
The holiday is a much bigger deal next door in Iran - ancient Persia is the birthplace of the Zoroastrian religion, and the government practically shuts down for weeks. The Kurds are given fewer days off and hold fewer rituals, but Noruz remains an important holiday, in part because it is used to commemorate one of the founding myths of Kurdish identity.

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