Monthly Archives: April 2006

From Revolutionary to Reactionary in 20 Years

Theatres … were much more tightly controlled [after the Russian Revolution]. The Moscow Art Theatre soon had to search for a repertoire more attuned to the new era, just as Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko had to forget their enthusiasm for Kerensky, who had fled into exile following the Bolshevik coup in Petrograd. In fact the tall and distinguished Stanislavsky now strode down Moscow streets with his fur coat thrown wide open to show a large red bow, demonstrating his revolutionary loyalty. The actors and stage crew of the Moscow Art Theatre became state employees on pitiful salaries and answerable to People’s Commissar for Enlightenment Anatoly Lunacharsky.

Bolshevik agitprop groups brought factory workers into the much larger Solodovnikovsky Theatre, just across the road, where Stanislavsky and his colleagues performed as part of a programme, designated ‘Proletkult’, to bring culture to the factory floor. This organization, promoted so strongly by Lunacharsky, was designed through groups of actors, musicians and singers to create a cultural revolution for the working class, just as the encyclopédistes had produced one for the bourgeoisie of eighteenth-century France. Lenin, however, was privately scathing about such efforts, partly because his own tastes owed more to the ancien régime, but also because he knew perfectly well that this was not real proletarian culture. At best, it was simply an attempt to force-feed the masses on high-minded political correctness. At worst, it was an excuse for cultural nihilists, such as Futurists like Mayakovsky, to call for the destruction of all traditional art works as a shock tactic of cultural liberation.

Some of these workers gaped in bewilderment at the Moscow Art Theatre production or simply ignored the proceedings and just ate, drank, smoked and chatted together. Others, however, shuffled their feet in irritation at what seemed to them a sympathetic portrayal of bourgeois life. Many yelled their opinions. On some occasions, the noise and behaviour struck Stanislavsky as so unseemly that he went front of stage to remonstrate with the audience. The Moscow Art Theatre, which had appeared so revolutionary when it began in 1898, now looked dated, if not reactionary. It was a depressing twentieth anniversary for those who, in Stanislavsky’s phrase, ‘always served beauty and nobility’. But he also acknowledged rather abjectly that ‘we have become the representatives of experience; we have been placed as conservatives with whom it is the holy duty of the innovator to struggle. One must have enemies to attack.’

SOURCE: The Mystery of Olga Chekhova: The true story of a family torn apart by revolution and war, by Antony Beevor (Penguin, 2005), pp. 52-54

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The Palestinian Diaspora in Latin America

The Head Heeb has compiled a longish account on a fascinating topic, the Palestinian diaspora in Latin America, much of it dating from Ottoman times. Here’s just the beginning.

I’ve been doing some fascinating reading lately about the 600,000-strong Palestinian diaspora in Latin America. Their story is, in considerable part, the story of four countries. There are Palestinians throughout Latin America, but in most of the region they are a minority within a minority, overshadowed by the far larger Lebanese community. In four New World countries, it is the Palestinians who are the dominant presence within the Arab diaspora and who have left a cultural impression.

Chile is one. The Palestinian community in Chile is the largest in the region, possibly exceeding 300,000, and a saying quoted (or possibly invented) by emigre Mario Nazal holds that every village “is sure to have three things, a priest, a policeman and a Palestinian.” …

The New World region most associated with Palestinians, however, is Central America. El Salvador and Honduras each have a Palestinian population of 100,000 to 200,000, constituting the overwhelming majority of the Arab diaspora in those countries. In Honduras, Palestinians make up as much as three percent of the population, which is the highest proportion in Latin America and possibly the highest in any non-Arab country. The Palestinians are prominent in the retail trade, the professions and politics, with both countries currently having ethnic Palestinian presidents. And these countries are joined, surprisingly enough, by Belize, where the Palestinian population consists of six extended families but includes the prime minister, the country’s pre-eminent historian and much of the professional class.

These success stories, though, are only the surface of what sets the Latin American Palestinians apart. One of the overwhelming impressions that comes through from studying these Palestinian communities is that the term “Palestinian diaspora” is something of a misnomer. It may be more accurate to say that there are two Palestinian diasporas, because the communities in Central and South America differ in age, religion and reasons for migration from their counterparts in the Arab world and Europe.

The rest of the essay analyzes these differences.

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How AIDS in Africa Was Systematically Overstated

A new study reported in the Washington Post (6 April) drastically redefines the extent of the AIDS epidemic in Africa.

The new data suggest the rate never reached the 30 percent estimated by some early researchers, nor the nearly 13 percent given by the United Nations in 1998.

The study and similar ones in 15 other countries have shed new light on the disease across Africa. Relying on the latest measurement tools, they portray an epidemic that is more female and more urban than previously believed, one that has begun to ebb in much of East Africa and has failed to take off as predicted in most of West Africa.

Yet the disease is devastating southern Africa, according to the data. It is in that region alone — in countries including South Africa, Botswana, Swaziland and Zimbabwe — that an AIDS Belt exists, the researchers say….

Years of HIV overestimates, researchers say, flowed from the long-held assumption that the extent of infection among pregnant women who attended prenatal clinics provided a rough proxy for the rate among all working-age adults in a country. Working age was usually defined as 15 to 49. These rates also were among the only nationwide data available for many years, especially in Africa, where health tracking was generally rudimentary.

The new studies show, however, that these earlier estimates were skewed in favor of young, sexually active women in the urban areas that had prenatal clinics. Researchers now know that the HIV rate among these women tends to be higher than among the general population….

In West Africa, Sierra Leone, just then emerging from a devastating civil war, was found to have a national prevalence rate of less than 1 percent — compared with an estimated U.N. rate of 7 percent.

Such disparities, independent researchers say, skewed years of policy judgments and decisions on where to spend precious health-care dollars.

“From a research point of view, they’ve done a pathetic job,” said Paul Bennell, a British economist whose studies of the impact of AIDS on African school systems have shown mortality far below what UNAIDS had predicted. “They were not predisposed, let’s put it that way, to weigh the counterevidence. They were looking to generate big bucks.”

via Foreign Dispatches

Prevalence of male circumcision correlates with lower rates of AIDS.

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Burma’s Sir Paw Tun in Exile in Simla, 1940s

In the Himalayan foothills near the Solan beer factory [Burma’s ex-prime minister] Sir Paw Tun, the last pre-war prime minister wrote the obituary of the old order in a long, rambling series of letters to [Burma’s ex-governor] Dorman-Smith, part combative, part self-pitying. He wrote as an Arakanese who had imbibed some at least of Britain’s imperial ideas and had tried to reconcile them with Buddhism and his deep sense of Arakanese and Buddhist Burmese identity. He recalled during his school days in a Christian convent he had read Samuel Smiles’s essay on ‘character’. He had prayed daily for his governor, his king and his country. ‘My mother taught me to be absolutely loyal to the British crown’, he wrote. But this was difficult when many British officials acted with arrogance and racial pride. It was natural for well-brought up Burmans to bow before superiors. But more than once he had ‘straightened up from my bending posture to show that he [the British official] no longer deserved respect because he was bullying me’. Mortal man, he said, was liable to be blinded by greed, passion and ignorance. This was particularly true of the old British administration in Burma which knew little of the people or their religion. The British, of course, were not as corrupt as the Burmese ministers such as Ba Maw and U Saw. They were less tempted by money as such, but they still fell victim to ‘other attractions – in some cases women, and in other cases, flattery, platitudes and kow-towing’.

Paw Tun loathed British racism and arrogance, but he believed the Thakins were beneath contempt, merely low-class upstarts. What worried him was the way in which the Thakins and Japanese had rallied the monkhood and the faithful in his ‘priest-ridden country’. He noted how the Japanese were giving liberal donations to the Shwedagon Pagoda and how their commanders had liberally fed the monks and taken part in Burmese religious ceremonies. Despairing of the British, because Dorman-Smith seemed intent on bringing back the new plebeian Buddhism of the Thakins, Paw Tun slowly came to see that he had no future. It was this that lay behind his increasingly erratic behaviour and protacted bouts of illness.

SOURCE: Forgotten Armies: Britain’s Asian Empire & the War with Japan, by Christopher Bayly and Tim Harper (Penguin, 2004), p. 354

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Shinto’s Material Spirituality

One of the books I brought along to read while in Japan is Shinto: The Way Home, by Thomas P. Kasulis (U. Hawai‘i Press, 2004). The introduction is available online in PDF form. Here’s how it begins.

Westerners with some exposure to Shinto know it also as a religious tradition stressing sensitivity to nature, purification, and simplicity. Most foreign tourists to Japan have been impressed with the extraordinary serenity, restrained design, and natural beauty of many Shinto sites. Towering trees, white gravel grounds, carefully pruned shrubs, and beautiful flowers instill peace in many visitors, a peace arising not from an aesthetic flight from the world but from a heightened appreciation and outright enjoyment of it. Boisterous Japanese families with young children and old folks on pilgrimages suggest Shinto not only celebrates life but also brings celebration to life. I have heard many foreigners say they felt oddly at home in such environs. Some who have lived in Japan for some time have gone so far as to say that on many occasions they have “felt Shinto” themselves.

Most people are aware of another dimension of Shinto as well: the Shinto of nationalism, imperial reverence, and ethnocentricity. It is the Shinto of kamikaze pilots and militarist fervor, the Shinto of a divine emperor leading a unique global mission for the Japanese nation and its people. It is the Shinto that dominated the international politics of the first half of the twentieth century.

This book investigates how these aspects—the traditional festivals and rites, the celebration of nature and life, the nationalism and militarism—can coexist in the same religion. Is there perhaps something about the paradox in Shinto that can shed light on other religious traditions as well? Or, on the contrary, is the case of Japanese Shinto unique? In exploring such questions we will examine Shinto spirituality as both point of departure and ultimate destination. By framing the discussion in this way, we will find subtle links within the development of Shinto that we might otherwise overlook. There are two warnings, however, about the term “spirituality” as employed in this book. First, the term is not being used to emphasize personal over social or institutional religiosity. Second, the term does not necessarily imply something mystical or transcendent. Let us consider each point briefly.

With respect to the first admonition, when some people hear the word “spirituality” rather than “religion” they think of a religious experience that is especially personal, individual, and outside “organized” religious institutions. Yet reflection shows that spirituality is seldom a strictly private affair. Felt as an inner resonance, spirituality is not an external phenomenon we can study simply by looking at it. Its character emerges only through the intimation of those who share their intimate experiences with us. The neophyte internalizes spirituality by doing what others do and talking how they talk. To express one’s own spirituality, one must first be impressed by the spirituality of others. Even the Buddhist or Christian hermit, alone in an isolated cave or cell, sits in the lotus position or kneels in prayer. The hermit did not invent these postures but learned them from someone else. Even in solitude, the hermit reflects a communal context. We must not overlook this vital communal dimension in even the most personal expressions of the spiritual.

The other admonition is not to assume that “spirituality” always implies a belief in something transcendent or supernatural. People sometimes think that spirituality is inherently mystical, a withdrawal from everyday affairs. It need not be so. Whereas any religious tradition may include ecstatic departures from the ordinary, religious people frequently find the spiritual in the most quotidian of human experiences. Spirituality can be like our awareness of light: we might experience it as a blinding, all-encompassing flash or as the medium through which we see the configuration and coloration of our ordinary world. It is the difference between a flashbulb going off near our faces in a darkened room and our being engrossed in the luminescent nuances of an Ansel Adams photograph. Both are experiences of light. Indeed the light of the flashbulb and the highlights on the misty peak of El Capitan are in some respects the same thing—light. Yet the different contexts make for a different kind of experience. So, too, for spirituality. It may appear so intensely and abruptly that it obliterates everything else, or it may be reflected off or refracted through the most mundane events. As we will see, Shinto spirituality most often takes the latter form. To limit our sense of spirituality to the mystical would be to miss a major part of what it means to be Shinto.

Long ago, when I was freelance proofreading to support myself in grad school, I had the chance to proofread Kasulis’s Zen Action/Zen Person, a book that very much impressed me with its creative thinking and clear writing. This one looks to be similar.

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Wordcatcher Tales: Bokeh, Shidare-zakura

Yesterday the weather was clear and my wife was still on term break this week, so we took local trains through small towns and sometimes scenic countryside from Ashikaga to Oyama to Mito to visit the nationally famous Kairakuen (偕楽園 ‘shared pleasure park’), one of Japan’s three most beautiful landscape gardens. As the name implies, the park is open to the public; and the views are indeed spectacular. The blossoms on the 3,000 plum trees for which the park is most famous may have been a few weeks past their prime, but the cherry blossoms were in full bloom (満開, compare 満タン ‘full tank [of gas]) both in the park and across the broad expanse of Senba (千波 ‘thousand wave’) Lake and Park, which the Kairakuen hillside overlooks. Here are two verbal souvenirs from the trip.

Bokeh – This is an English technical term borrowed from Japanese, as I learned from Philbert Ono’s PhotoWords. The Photoxels Glossary of Digital Photography Terms defines it thus:

Boke (pronounced BOH-KEH), and increasingly referred to in print as “Bokeh” – Japanese word meaning “fuzzy” and referring to the out-of-focus (OOF) portions of a picture. A lens is said to have “good boke” if the OOF is pleasant and does not detract from the main subject. A lens with good boke produces out of focus smooth-edged highlights and reproduces an out of focus point of light as bright in the middle and progressively getting fainter with a fuzzy edge.

I’m not sure which Japanese boke this English borrowing comes from. Certainly not 木瓜 ‘Japanese quince, japonica’, which I was excited to find in full bloom, glistening like coral on the garden path down to Senba Lake. My best guess is 惚け/呆け, whose several meanings include ‘dull, dullheadedness’, as in 呆け色 boke iro ‘dull color’, from a verb 惚け/呆け meaning ‘grow senile; become mentally weak; fade, discolor’. The New Nelson kanji dictionary and Kenkyusha’s New Japanese–English Intermediate Dictionary, 5th ed. (in my Canon Wordtank), are not quite in synch on this, and neither of them mentions usage in photography. In any case, both my digital photographs and my digital words here are sure to provide plenty of evidence of boke.

Oddly enough, while English has borrowed a Japanese word for the out-of-focus part of a photo, Japanese appears to have borrowed a Dutch word for the in-focus spot: Japanese ピント pinto, from Dutch punt van focus or (focus)punt. (Dutch u is a front-rounded vowel—front like Italian i, round like Italian u—while Dutch oe renders the equivalent of English oo.)

枝垂れ桜 shidare-zakura ‘branch-drooping cherry tree’, Prunus pendula – Among the few types of cherry trees I can now reliably recognize are the branch-drooping ones. I’m also pretty good on 枝垂れ柳 shidare-yanagi ‘branch-drooping willow’. Yes, yes, I know that most people characterize both types as ‘weeping’, but that bit of poetic license completely bypasses the etymological briar patch that this prosaic pedant intends to poke his nose into.

Leaving out the tree itself, there are two pieces to the attribute 枝垂れ: 枝 shi ‘branch’, whose Japanese reading is eda, as in edamame ‘(soy)beans on the branch (or at least in their pods)’; and 垂れ tare ‘drippings, sauce, gravy, jus’. When it relates to apparel, 垂れ can also mean ‘hanging, curtain, lapel, flap, skirts of a coat’. So 垂れ tare covers the range of ‘drip, drop, droop, drape’ (which helped inspire one English linguist to coin the term phonaesthesia).

The Sino-Japanese phonetic element 支 shi of the two-part kanji 枝 itself means ‘branch’ in a lot of compounds, such as 支社 shisha ‘branch (company) office’; 支流 shiryuu ‘branch (flow), tributary’; 支族 shizoku ‘branch family, tribe’. To be more specific, one can rely on the semantic element 木 ki ‘tree’, which often relates to wood (either woody plants or items once made of wood), to disambiguate the 枝 shi that specifically means ‘tree branch’. Another contrast relies on the semantic element 肉 ‘meat’ (= 月 in combination), which usually relates to the body, so 肢 shi indicates ‘limbs of the body, arms and legs’.

Finally, 支 (in the shape of 枝) shi can be completely redundant. The New Nelson gives shidareru as an alternate reading for simple 垂れる tareru (vi and vt) ‘hang, droop, drop, lower, pull down; dangle; sag; drip, ooze, trickle’, so it’s perfectly okay to say 柳の枝が枝垂れている yanagi no eda ga shidareteiru ‘the branches of the willow are (branch-)drooping’. Webster’s Online Dictionary offers more—much more—on the semantics of droop in a wide range of languages. Turkish and Romanian are particularly rich.

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Italian POWs in India, 1944

One of the most intriguing organized units involved in road building [in India] was the Italian Auxiliary Pioneer Corps. This was raised from so-called Italian ‘co-operators’. During 8th Army’s campaigns against the Italians in 1941 and 1942, thousands of Italians had been brought to POW camps in India as they could not be taken to Britain. At first, the Italians were something of a nuisance in a jocular sort of way. They were adept at spreading anti-Allied propaganda to the Indian population – for example on the backs of cigarette packs with one or two cigarettes left in them. British military intelligence was particularly struck by one jape. The POWs had fabricated an Italian fascist flag from old clothes. They captured a vulture which flew into their compound and tied the flag to it. The unfortunate bird was seen flapping around the surrounding villages for hours displaying the insignia of Mussolini’s new Roman Empire. After the fall of the dictator and the German invasion of Italy, however, many Italian soldiers who were not committed fascists agreed to work on the Allied side. The valleys of Assam were alive with the sounds of the songs of Sorrento.

SOURCE: Forgotten Armies: Britain’s Asian Empire & the War with Japan, by Christopher Bayly and Tim Harper (Penguin, 2004), p. 426

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Black American Troops on the Burma Front, 1943

After the Japanese invasion of 1942, the Allies had lost control of the original Burma–Yunnan road which had brought supplies up to the Chinese nationalists. For a year everything had needed to be flown to Chungking from India over the Hump or northern mountains, a dangerous and costly exercise. The Americans decided early on that it was imperative to build a new road from India across the northern tip of Burma into China as part of their support for the fragile nationalist regime….

The plan was to get this road finished before the monsoon of 1944. The task seemed impossible…. Some progress had been made by February 1943, but then the rains washed the embankments away… By September 1943 the whole project had ground to a halt. It had progressed only forty-two miles during the whole year.

Then on 13 October General Lewis A. Pick arrived on the scene. Chosen personally by [Gen. Joseph] Stilwell following an interview in a rain-sodden tent, he had been in charge of flood control works on the Missouri river during the 1930s. Pick drove the project forward at the Chinese end with extraordinary energy. He relied heavily on black troops of the US Engineer Corps and was later acknowledged as having improved race relations within US forces as a whole. He disciplined and organized the fragmented Indian, Chinese and Burmese labour force. he instituted twenty-four-hour shift working. During the night flares were lit in buckets of oil placed every few yards along the road. Pick achieved the extraordinary progress of one new mile of road per day. By New Year’s Day 1944 he had got as far as Shingbwiyang, the ill-fated refugee camp where so many Burma refugees had died the previous year. It was through this route that Stilwell and his Chinese troops were to enter north Burma that year….

As in other sectors of the war front, racial tensions sometimes exploded when Indian, British, American, Free French and Chinese troops were in close proximity. Black American troops, often driving around in large jeeps and sporting larger wallets than even British and Indian officers, were resented by white and high-caste Indians. The black soldiers for their part complained of an Indian and white colour bar. There were occasional scuffles and fights around restaurants and hotels. Meanwhile, even in the crisis of war, many British continued to discriminate against mixed-race Eurasians, the most loyal of the empire’s subjects, who had suffered the most from the Japanese and kept all the major services running even in the face of the Quit India movement.

SOURCE: Forgotten Armies: Britain’s Asian Empire & the War with Japan, by Christopher Bayly and Tim Harper (Penguin, 2004), pp. 280-281, 297

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Wordcatcher Tales: Denchi

How many tales can be spun out of something as small and insignificant as a portable battery? Let’s see.

First, the word itself. In Japanese, ‘battery’ is rendered as 電池 denchi, lit. ‘electricity reservoir’. The second kanji also translates ‘pond’ and (small) ‘lake’, Japanese ike.

Second, where the word turns up. Denchi first lodged permanently in my mind while I was doing fieldwork in Yap, Micronesia, where (1) I was dependent on batteries for my flashlight and portable cassette-radio while living out in a village without electricity (at that time, anyway); and (2) people had managed to borrow a lot of Japanese vocabulary during three decades of Japanese rule (1914–1945), like sikoki ‘airplane’, and sikojo ‘airport’. Some of the more amusing borrowings are now archaic, if not obsolete, in Japanese, like sarumata ‘traditional Japanese men’s underwear’ (now used with reference to adult diapers) (Yapese didn’t need to borrow a word like fundoshi ‘loincloth’), chichibando ‘breast band’ (definitely a foreign concept in traditional Yap), and kachido ‘movie’ (< Japanese 活動大写真 katsudou daishashin ‘moving big picture’).

Third, how the items so labelled are subclassified. The relative sizes of the old familiar cylindrical dry-cell batteries are indicated numerically in Japanese, ranging from largest to smallest: 単1形 tan-ichi-gata (D cell), 単2形 tan-ni-gata (C cell), 単3形 tan-san-gata (AA cell), 単4形 tan-yon-gata (AAA cell). My electronic dictionary requires two 単4形, my digital camera requires two 単3形 (I forgot to bring my recharger), and our gas stove requires two 単1形. I’ve recently had to replace all three sets. At least I don’t have to carry two spares of the largest size around with me. (BTW, Philbert Ono’s Photowords is a great resource for translating photography-related vocabulary, including battery types, between English and Japanese.)

Finally, when I removed the Fujitsu 単1形 batteries from the stove and looked for the size designation, I first thought they were 単0形. After all, the midnight hour in Japanese is 0:00 reiji ‘zero o’clock’. But the characters surrounding the 0 were making a different claim: 水銀0使用 suigin zero shiyou ‘mercury zero use’. When I examined the other replacement batteries I had bought, they all made the same claim, no matter whether the brand was Maxell or Fujitsu (both made in Japan), or Konnoc (made in China). I hadn’t kept up on dry-cell battery technology. Fujitsu Magazine (July 1997) explains.

By using purified materials,a special zinc alloy powder,and a zinc-indium-bismuth-aluminum anode,and by establishing clean production lines,we have been able to develop an alkaline-manganese dry battery that has no mercury.The discharge rate of the battery was improved by remodeling the structure of the cathode.Moreover,by remodeling the anode disc,the battery has been made much safer.

Also,since 1996 we have been producing ferrite cores for the deflection yokes of cathode ray tubes using raw material recovered from spent dry batteries.

There are still a few other products from which mercury needs to be eliminated.

POSTSCRIPT: It’s good that Japan is trying to restrict mercury pollution, which caused Minamata disease. BTW, the Japanese (and general Sinitic) compound for the element mercury 水銀 suigin translates literally as ‘water silver’ rather than ‘quick (i.e., living) silver’. The planet Mercury is 水星 suisei ‘water-star’, and Wednesday is 水曜日 suiyoubi ‘water weekday’, which matches pretty well the Romance-language names for the same day of the week: Romanian miercuri, Spanish miércoles, Portuguese mercoles, French mercredi.

UPDATE: Reader Peter North adds a comment and query:

Sorry, I can’t resist reporting a new usage in Philippine English, not “Taglish” (since 2003). “Low Bat” describing a child lacking energy – needing food or sleep. Presumably derived from abbreviations on cell phone displays – you appreciate how widespread and central to life cell phones have become. Anyone seen this elsewhere?

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Crescent, Star, and Cherry Blossoms, 1943

The Japanese had promised less to the Malays than they had to the Burmese, but by early 1943 they seemed to be offering a little more. The Marquis Tokugawa’s scheme to reform and diminish the Malay sultanates was abandoned, and the Japanese became more solicitous towards the rulers themselves. The also began to dabble in Islamic affairs. On 5-7 April 1943, the ulama, Islamic religious leaders from across the peninsula and from Sumatra, were summoned to a conference in Singapore…. The mayor even went to the trouble of having a room set aside for the delegates’ evening prayers. The ulama was regaled with a show, a film presentation and speeches on the progress of the war. The Japanese impressed on the Malays that Nippon was the true defender of the faith….

The delegates were each sent home with a white commemorative medal, enamelled in scarlet, embossed with a crescent and a star, surrounded by twelve cherry blossoms. The Malay phrase Sehiduplah dengan Nippon – ‘Live with Nippon’ – was inscribed on the back in Arabic script. The ulama left giving formal expressions of satisfaction at Japan’s commitment to protect Islam and of support for the war.

The gestures were token on both sides. Before the Mufti of Pahang had left for the meeting he had met with his sultan and the Japanese governor of the state. The governor had posed the question: ‘Can the Malay States declare a holy war (jihad) against the British and her allies?’ The question was referred to the Mufti. He quickly answered: ‘Yes, provided that the Japanese emperor is a Muslim.’ And there the matter rested. There was confusion and anger when the Japanese followed through their initiative by thrusting prepared texts on kathis to be included in their Friday sermons and by encouraging prayers for the emperor and the success of the war. On occasion, Japanese officers themselves invaded mosques and interrupted prayers with speeches, even ordering the worshippers to turn their prayer mats 180 degrees away from Mecca and towards Tokyo. This propaganda became more subtle over time, but it generated anxieties. In some areas attendance at the mosque for Friday prayers fell. More generally, religious values were felt to be under threat; divorce rates, gambling and opium use were dramatically on the rise. These were profane times. Like all Japan’s efforts at political engineering, the most important effects of the Islamic conference were unforeseen by its initiators. It realized a long-held ambition of many clerics: the creation of a more unified voice for Islam, outside of the control of the rulers and their courts. This was to have far reaching implications for politics of religious reform in Malaya after the war. The real significance of pan-Asianism lay not in what it achieved for the Japanese Empire but in what it allowed others to achieve for themselves.

SOURCE: Forgotten Armies: Britain’s Asian Empire & the War with Japan, by Christopher Bayly and Tim Harper (Penguin, 2004), pp. 315-316

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