Archive for August, 2010

America’s Muslim problem

August 28, 2010

I’ve been ignoring the controversy over Cordoba House – the so-called Ground Zero Mosque – hoping for a sudden outbreak of sanity across America. I took a similar approach to run-up to the invasion of Iraq, and, considering how well that worked out, I really should have known better.

Opposition to the community center – calling Cordoba House a mosque is like calling Columbia University a restaurant since it serves food, or Saint Patrick’s Cathedral a bar since it serves wine – makes me ashamed to be an American. Opposing Cordoba House does far more damage to America and its values than a few planes flown into buildings ever could.

The bigotry and narrow-mindedness behind much of the opposition to Cordoba House attacks the fundamental principles of our nation and does irreparable damage to America’s image overseas. Hostility toward Cordoba House proves radical Islamists’ point: Americans hate Muslims, so Muslims should hate them back. Building Cordoba House won’t help recruit terrorists to attack the US and Americans overseas; opposing Cordoba House is doing precisely that.

I was plenty ashamed about the Iraq invasion, but now American is making war on its own values. What’s particularly troubling is that, unlike the highly orchestrated Tea Party movement, the Cordoba House backlash truly is a grassroots movement. Two years ago, during another controversy involving Islam, I noted that many Americans consider “Muslim” a dirty word. Since writing that piece for The Guardian, the percentage of Americans who believe President Obama is a Muslim has doubled, and I doubt any of them laud his links with Islam.

The arguments against Cordoba House are specious at best, at worst against the very principles that make America the land of the free. Islam didn’t attack the US on 9/11, al Qaeda did. Assigning collective guilt to Muslims is no more logical than blaming Christians (or God) for Nazi Germany because its soldiers carried Bibles and wore belt buckles proclaiming “Gott Mitt Uns (God is with us).” Collective guilt, a fancy term for bigotry, means we all end up hating each other. When Newt Gingrich argues that the US shouldn’t allow Cordoba House because Saudi Arabia doesn’t allow churches or synagogues, he paints a grim vision for America. If our country doesn’t aspire to a higher standard than a theocratic monarchy, then what’s the point of America?

I’m shocked that so many Americans are acting this foolish, this bigoted, and this misinformed. But perhaps I shouldn’t be. How many years ago would there have been poll number similar to those opposing Cordoba House against living, working or going to school with Irish, Catholics, Jews, blacks, Hispanics? Opposing Cordoba House follows the tradition of Yankee hypocrisy that began with slaveholders who declared all men are created equal.

Americans can take no comfort that it’s just this one special case because it’s Muslims and Ground Zero, as if James Meredith and the University of Mississippi, or Rosa Parks and the Memphis bus, or Jews and the Ivy League, or women in the executive suite weren’t also special cases in their day.

America is either the land of the free, or it’s not – and right now, the Cordoba House controversy points which way the country is heading. It’s up to good people to take our country back, to stop making excuses and equivocating and stand up for liberty and justice for all.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.

Big screen Bali box office boffo

August 18, 2010

The movie version of Eat, Pray, Love grossed US$24.7 million through its first weekend. Whether or not the film keeps up the pace, it’s expected to boost tourism in Bali, one of three destinations featured in Elizabeth Gilbert’s 2006 best seller that I first encountered on a website presenting “100 books to die before you read.” Even before the movie’s release Eat, Pray, Love tourism in Bali has plumped the Indonesian resort island’s record arrival numbers.

“Ubud is definitely attracting more EPL readers, which really like turning the volume up to 11 as Ubud already attracted the kinds of people who seem to most relate to the book –women, but not all women, who relate to Gilbert because they like how she decides to turn inwards and make everything about herself, about self-awareness, about self-actualization,” travel writer Ryan Ver Berkmoes, who first came to Bali in 1993, says.

“It’s easy to stereotype the EPL readers as middle-aged horny women hoping to meet a man in Ubud, but that’s not fair. I have met women in Ubud who simply felt inspired by the book to leave the US for the first time and travel half-way around the world to Bali to have an adventure even as their stodgy friends and relatives at home questioned their sanity.”

As reported in Asia Times, many in Ubud are concerned that the explosion in tourism and influx of expatriates is changing the character of what was once a traditional village considered the nexus of Bali’s varied arts. “What worries me is how dependent Ubud’s economy is on tourism, which is a notoriously fragile industry,” author of the novel drawn from Balinese folklore The Painted Word Diana Darling, married into a large Ubud family, says. “There’s almost nothing else happening here. On Ubud’s main streets there are no services, shops, or eating places for local people. Aside from a few temples, the only thing at the center of Ubud for local people is the market, and there’s talk of moving that out of town so the market can be devoted entirely to souvenirs. Nobody seems to have any ideas for any other future.”

Some wonder if Bali is reaching a tipping point, when the island loses its cultural identity and becomes a tourist theme park. “People have been asking that since Dutch tourists drove around Sanur looking for topless women,” Ver Berkmoes, writing guidebooks on Bali since 2004, notes. “The fact is, once you get away from the south – and now Ubud – Bali is Bali with the changes that come with being in the 21st century. There are broad swaths of the island where if you double the number of tourists it will mean two people a day will turn up instead of one. I think it is a real concern for the future in that the island is finite in size but so far Bali overall seems adept at absorbing the masses.”

Regardless of how EPL turns out, the Bali epic may have a happy ending.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.

Macau ignores elephant as casino revenue soars

August 3, 2010

What a difference a year makes. At the 2009 Global Gaming Expo Asia at the Venetian Macao, crowds were thin and worry was thick. For the first time since casino competition began 2004, casino revenue growth had stalled due to visa restrictions that cut the flow of visitors and money from mainland China. A year later, Macau’s casinos are steaming ahead at a record pace, 67 percent of a year ago. Yet the possibility of visa restrictions remain Macau’s elephant in the room that could send the house of cards crashing down again.

As I reported in Asia Times, experts are divided on whether the Beijing will tighten the noose again. But sooner or later, Macau’s resorts will need to broaden their appeal to visitors to expand beyond the Chinese market. Record revenues can make that transition easier or more difficult.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.


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