Militant Buddhist monks are stoking sectarian tensions in Myanmar

Militant Buddhist monks are stoking sectarian tensions in Myanmar
Alerting the world to Muslim misdeeds

INSIDE a Buddhist monastery in Mandalay five teenagers are looking at a poster, bemused. A graphic collage of photos depicts children’s corpses, monks covered in blood and enraged jihadists brandishing weapons. A monk in a maroon robe approaches. “This is a reminder of what Muslims are like,” he says.

Ashin Wirathu, the most famous resident of the Masoeyein monastery, expands on the theme during a break between meditation sessions. Buddhism, he explains, is in danger. Centuries ago, he points out, Indonesia was principally a Hindu and Buddhist country, but it has since “fallen” to Islam. The Philippines, meanwhile, is struggling with “hordes” of jihadists. Myanmar, he warns, is next. As the leader of the most extreme fringe of the Organisation for the Protection of Race and Religion, a Buddhist charity best known by its Burmese acronym, Ma Ba Tha, he is mounting a fierce campaign to rouse Burmese Buddhists to...Continue reading

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Repression is feeding the Muslim insurgency in southern Thailand

Repression is feeding the Muslim insurgency in southern Thailand

AT FIRST all seems well in the old centre of Pattani, a city surrounded by lush vegetation near the southern edge of Thailand. Shop buildings painted with bright purple, orange and blue rhombuses offer clove cigarettes, mobile phones, abayas and much more. But there is one jarring detail: vehicles park next to a low green wall down the middle of the street, not by the kerb. Car bombs are sufficiently common for parking to be shifted away from the multicoloured emporia to limit injuries and damage from the explosions.

Pattani used to be the capital of a Muslim sultanate that traded with China, Japan and Europe in its glory days. The current insurgency has its roots in the engulfing of the sultanate by Siam, as Thailand was then known, in the late 18th century. Resistance by the local, ethnically Malay population met cruelty: Thai generals ordered groups of men, women and children to be tied together and trampled to death by elephants, according to historical...Continue reading

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Tokyo’s once ubiquitous public baths are fighting to survive

Tokyo’s once ubiquitous public baths are fighting to survive
Not to be confused with Soapland

STEP from the fraying lobby into the tiled interior of Akebono-Yu, Tokyo’s oldest sento, or public bath-house, and there is an almost churchlike silence, interrupted only by the tinkle of spring water and the odd groan of pleasure from one of the elderly customers sinking into its tubs. A mural depicts the iconic, snow-capped Mount Fuji, 100km and a world away from the grime and din of the city outside.

Once attached to Buddhist shrines, sentos still have a whiff of the spiritual. For centuries they were places where neighbours—men and women—stripped and bathed together. The custom was intensely practical. Until the frenetic modernisation in the run-up to the Olympics in 1964, 40% of homes in Tokyo lacked baths, so millions of people depended on sentos for their nightly soak.

Those days are long gone. Across the city’s skyline, the...Continue reading

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The nephew of Singapore’s prime minister faces court

The nephew of Singapore’s prime minister faces court

“IN NORMAL circumstances…I would have sued,” said Lee Hsien Loong, the prime minister of Singapore, in July. He was responding to claims by his siblings that he was secretly manoeuvring to prevent the demolition of the house of his father, Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s founding prime minister, in violation of the terms of the older Mr Lee’s will. In the end, the younger Mr Lee said in a public statement, he concluded that such action would “further besmirch my parents’ names”.

Singapore’s attorney-general, however, takes a different view. On July 21st his office wrote to Li Shengwu, the son of one of the critical siblings and thus the prime minister’s nephew, to denounce a private post on his Facebook page as “an egregious and baseless attack on the Singapore judiciary” and one which “constitutes an offence of contempt of court”. It demanded that he should delete the post and apologise by July 28th. Mr Li, an economist at Harvard University (and a former...Continue reading

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What North Koreans learn from their smartphones

What North Koreans learn from their smartphones

THE world may think of North Korea as a “hermit kingdom”, but its 25m citizens are surprisingly wired. Perhaps half of all urban households now own a Chinese-made “notel”, a portable media player. Over 3m have mobile-phone subscriptions, with Northern-branded smartphones like the Pyongyang and the Arirang. South Korean NGOs that smuggle foreign films and TV shows into the North on USBs receive text messages from their contacts there with requests for specific titles (South Korean soaps and Hollywood dramas are popular).

The North Korean government, which has long relied on isolation to keep its wretched people in servitude, has nonetheless abetted this revolution. In 2008 it invited Orascom, an Egyptian telecoms firm, to develop a 3G network in a joint venture with a state-owned enterprise. There are now many more sanctioned North Korean mobile phones than illegal Chinese ones (which can pick up a signal near the border); many use them to conduct business on the black market, to...Continue reading

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Justice Kennedy will take centre stage during the Supreme Court’s upcoming term

Justice Kennedy will take centre stage during the Supreme Court’s upcoming term

WHEN Charles Grassley, chair of the Senate judiciary committee, said in the spring that he expected an imminent Supreme Court vacancy, all eyes turned to Anthony Kennedy. The 81-year-old native Californian, appointed by Ronald Reagan in 1988, is the court’s longest-serving member. He is also the median justice on a court often riven between four conservatives and four liberals on hot-button questions. At a reunion of his law clerks in June, Justice Kennedy widened everyone’s eyes when he said “there has been a lot of speculation about a certain announcement from me” before declaring with a wink that the bar was staying open late. The teasing may have fooled Mr Grassley for a time, but the Iowa senator is changing his tune. “Evidently”, he told Reuters last week, the Supreme Court vacancy is “not going to happen”.

Why is Justice Kennedy hanging around for another year? Maybe he would like to put in a full three decades before hanging up his robe. Maybe he isn’t anxious to give Donald Trump an opportunity to replace...Continue reading

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