Thursday, April 03, 2008

Chinese Muslims, Malt Liquor, and Minorities

This photo drips with irony

In Boston and other cities it appears that the color-line influences the placement of package stores according to a recent study:

"A University of Minnesota study of 10 cities, including Boston, has found that alcohol, especially malt liquor, is more widely available in poor, black neighborhoods.

The study, released yesterday, found that poor neighborhoods with high concentrations of African-Americans had significantly greater than average numbers of liquor stores, 40-ounce bottles of malt liquor in coolers, and storefront ads promoting malt liquor.

"It wasn't overly surprising, as I think there's been anecdotal evidence to suggest that," said Rhonda Jones-Webb, the study's principal investigator. "We are one of the first to systematically document that."

Some local activists said yesterday that liquor stores are preying on the poor. "Start at the intersection of Dudley Street and Blue Hill Avenue and go all the way to Mattapan. . . . There's more liquor stores than churches," said the Rev. Shaun Harrison, who works to keep youths out of gangs at Project GO (Gang Out)." Read the whole article here.

Meanwhile in China, it's not just Tibetans who are protesting in the streets:

"SHANGHAI — Chinese officials said Wednesday that they were grappling with ethnic unrest on a second front, in the northwestern region of Xinjiang, where Uighur Muslims protested Chinese rule last month even as Tibetans rioted in the southwest.

Chinese security officers in Kashi, Xinjiang Province, on Wednesday. In March, Uighur Muslims protested in Hotan.

One Uighur demonstration, which appears to have been quickly suppressed, took place in the town of Hotan on March 23, at the same time China was deploying thousands of security officers across much of its southwest to put down Tibetan unrest.

Officials said the protest was staged by Islamic separatist groups seeking to foment a broader uprising in Xinjiang. China often accuses what it calls splittists and terrorists of being behind any ethnic disturbance. Human rights groups say that Chinese Uighurs, like Tibetans, have fought for greater freedom to practice their religion as well as more autonomy from Beijing.

The news of the protest in Xinjiang underscored the breadth of China’s problems with ethnic and religious minority groups in the country’s vast western regions, where there is a long history of unhappiness with Chinese rule. Ethnic groups Beijing has sought to pacify with economic development programs and suppress with a heavy police presence appear to be using the coming Olympic Games, to be held in Beijing in August, as an opportunity to press their grievances and attract international attention." Read all about it here.

What do unhappy Chinese Muslims and way too much malt liquor in poor black communities have in common? The issue here is the vexing question of how majorities relate to minorities in any society. Virtually every conflict on the globe and the related problems regarding ethnicity and race are connected to this question. For some minority communities, things have gotten so intolerable that they have come to believe that the only answer is become majorities in separate states of their own (i.e. Kosovo). As I have often said, the heart of the matter is power, in this case the concentration of power within majority groups due to their size relative to minority groups and the tendency of majority groups to use their power to their own advantage at the expense of minorities. Changing this unjust dynamic, I believe is central to the mission of the Baha'i Faith:

"Let there be no mistake. The principle of the Oneness of Mankind -- the pivot round which all the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh revolve-- is no mere outburst of ignorant emotionalism or an expression of vague and pious hope. Its appeal is not to be merely identified with a reawakening of the spirit of brotherhood and good-will among men, nor does it aim solely at the fostering of harmonious cooperation among individual peoples and nations. Its implications are deeper, its claims greater than any which the Prophets of old were allowed to advance. Its message is applicable not only to the individual, but concerns itself primarily with the nature of those essential relationships that must bind all the states and nations as members of one human family. It does not constitute merely the enunciation of an ideal, but stands inseparably associated with an institution adequate to embody its truth, demonstrate its validity, and perpetuate its influence. It implies an organic change in the structure of present-day society, a change such as the world has not yet experienced."
(Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha'u'llah, p. 42)

Part of this organic change that the world has not yet experienced is a fundamental transformation in the way that majorities behave toward minorities. This transformation is identified as something that should distinguish Baha'i communities:

"Unlike the nations and peoples of the earth, be they of the East or of the West, democratic or authoritarian, communist or capitalist, whether belonging to the Old World or the New, who either ignore, trample upon, or extirpate, the racial, religious, or political minorities within the sphere of their jurisdiction, every organized community enlisted under the banner of Bahá'u'lláh should feel it to be its first and inescapable obligation to nurture, encourage, and safeguard every minority belonging to any faith, race, class, or nation within it."
(Shoghi Effendi, The Advent of Divine Justice, p. 35)

Imagine for a moment how different the world would be if this was the standard by which majorities measured their behavior towards minorities.