The Power of Culture


World is less democratic than people think

According to the UNDP, the development program of the United Nations, the spread of democracy in the world has come to a standstill. The Human Development Report 2002 shows that only 57 per cent of the world population lives in a constitutional state; 38 per cent does not have a free press. In many countries, dictatorial regimes have won over democratic governments. This is occurring in spite of the fact that democracy offers a bigger opportunity for economic, physical and cultural prosperity than authoritarian governments.
The Arab Development Report 2002 of the UNDP, published earlier this month, shows this as well. The 22 Arab countries investigated are developing at a much slower rate than the rest of the world. Half of all Arab women are still illiterate. The researchers, themselves Arab in origin, blame this lagging behind not only on squandering oil revenues, but also on the lack of democratic freedoms. Repression of women, indifference to education and a lack of political participation in Arab countries are reported to contribute strongly to the underdeveloped climate.
The chief editor of the Human Development Report emphasised though that democracy should not be seen as a means for developing a country, but as a goal in itself. "Democracy is development", according to Sakiko Fukuda Parr.
More information: Human Development Reports

'Neger' and 'creool' remain in dictionary

The 'Dikke Van Dale' (Van Dale Unabridged Dutch Dictionary) does not need to remove the words 'neger' (black) and 'creool' (creole) from the Dutch Language dictionary. The dictionary does not discriminate by including these words, according to a decision by the Committee for Equal Treatment. "After all, the function of a dictionary is simply to record the meaning of words in accordance with their actual usage", according to the Committee's statement. The Foundation for the Honour and Restoration Payments for Victims of Slavery in Surinam started the legal proceedings, claiming such words would be hurtful and insulting to Afro-Surinam Dutch citizens (see Actueel, juni 2002).
The complete text of the verdict can be found at the site of the Commissie Gelijke Behandeling (Equal Treatment Commission) verdict 2002-87

War as an educational computer game

There are computer games full of senseless violence and there are games that carry a message in addition to the violence. The American army recently became the producer of the latter version, an educational war game. In America's Army, American youth is taken along online on a military operation and, on the way, is trained in the values of the American army. The objective of the game is peculiar for a shooting game: to accomplish the mission with the fewest possible victims. Since it was launched at the beginning of July, more than a million players have downloaded the game.
Under Ash, the first Arab 3D war game became popular among Arab youth during the past year. The hero of the game is the Palestinian Ahmad. Producer Dar Al-Fikr describes Ahmad as a peace-loving young man, who is forced by circumstances to pick up arms. Ahmad starts by throwing stones at Israeli colonists, at higher levels he uses heavier ordnance. When Ahmad dies, the game is over. The game also ends if Ahmad shoots and kills a civilian.
War games in which international or interracial conflicts are fought out virtually have been on the market for some time already. A peace loving gamer ("kill pixels not people!") remarks that luckily the games do not amount to much as computer games.
Downloads: America's Army and Under Ash

HIV doll on Sesame Street

Takalani Sesame, the South African version of the children's program Sesame Street, receives a doll with HIV. The female doll must teach the little viewers how to interact with children and adults with HIV. Ten per cent of the entire South African population is infected with the disease, including 2.4 million children under fifteen.
Young people seem to be an easy prey for the disease. During the fourteenth international AIDS conference in Barcelona it was revealed that half of all new infections occur among young people between the ages of 15 and 24. The international music statio MTV organised a discussion about this subject between adolescents and former President Bill Clinton during the conference. Movie star Rupert Everett took part in the debate as well.
The forum marked the beginning of the Staying Alive-campaign, a world-wide multimedia action that wants to inform young people about Aids.
More information: UNAIDS at Barcelona

Iranian forbidden to dance

The Iranian court passed sentence on dancer Mohammed Khordadian for his so-called evil influence on the young. The very popular Khordadian, Iranian by birth, has lived and worked for years in the United States. His dance classes are broadcast via television and are very much loved in his native country as well. Khordadian was arrested when he visited Iran again after 23 years. He is not being allowed to leave his homeland for ten years.

Copyright on silence

Who owns silence? According to music publisher Peters, John Cage. Cage is the composer of the famous 4'.33'', that consists of four minutes and 33 seconds of silence. Producer Mike Batt has now recorded a minute of silence on a CD by The Planets. According to Peters, Batt is violating copyright law by doing so.
The controversy evokes bizarre questions. For instance: is the silence by Batt original, or is it a quotation? Is there a difference between a performance of the silence by Cage and of that by Batt? And exactly what part of that silence did Batt steal?

European academics boycott Israel

A professor in Translation Sciences at the University of Manchester fired two Israeli employees for political reasons. Professor Mona Baker, originally from Egypt, threw her Israeli colleagues off the editorial staff of two scientific magazines. In so doing, she is responding to the call from British academics to boycott Israeli scientific and cultural bodies in protest against Israel's actions against the Palestinians. According to a statement by the teachers it is about time that Israel abides by UN resolutions.
The call dates back to the beginning of April and has meanwhile been signed by over seven hundred European academics. Large British Unions for scientific staff joined the effort to isolate Israel as well.
The boycott is facing strong international criticism. The primary complaint is that academic life should not be tainted by political motives. But Professor Mona Baker compares the sanctions to those against the former Apartheid regime in South Africa.
The call: University Professors call for European boycott of research and cultural links with Israel
The protest: Academics Against Boycott

No cricket between India and Pakistan

The International Cricket Council (ICC) has requested Nelson Mandela to help get India and Pakistan back to the cricket field. India suspects Pakistan of supporting the rebels in the Indian federal state of Kashmir, and thus refuses to play against the country. It is the first time that the political conflict has influenced cricket matches between the two countries.

American Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional

A California judge has declared the pledge of allegiance to the American constitution illegal. It all revolves around the excerpt 'one nation under God'. According to judge Alfred Goodwin, this phrase violates the separation of church and state mandated by the constitution. According to him 'one nation under God' carries no less of a religious connotation than 'one nation under Vishnu' or 'one nation under Zeus'.
The case was initiated by a father from California who did not want his daughter to be confronted with religion on a daily basis. Every American public school starts the day with the students saying the pledge of allegiance.
President George W. Bush was highly indignant about the verdict, as was the entire Senate. He warned that he would not appoint judges with these kinds of ideas in the future. Because of all the commotion, Goodwin decided to suspend the judgement till further notice.

Nine new world heritage monuments

UNESCO, the UN's cultural organisation has proclaimed nine new monuments to be world heritage on its annual meeting. These include the ruins of Jam in Afghanistan, the Mexican Maya city Calakmul, the Indian Mahabodhi temple complex, the Egyptian Santa Catherina monastery and the Tokaji region in Hungary. The historical inner cities of the Surinamese city of Paramaribo and the German cities of Stralsund and Wismor were declared to be 'valuable for humankind' as well. Currently there are 730 cultural monuments and natural areas on the UNESCO list.

Sources: NRC Handelsblad, het Parool, De Telegraaf, Trouw, de Volkskrant, Rotterdams Dagblad, Algemeen Dagblad, De Standaard, Gazet van Antwerpen, The Guardian, Daily Telegraph, Commissie Gelijke Behandeling, Unesco, United Nations Development Programme, Chigaco Jewish Community Online, Palestine Chronicle, Alternet

Movieculture in Egypt en Italy


Indonesian cartoon stories

The State Museum for Cultural Anthropology in Leiden is exhibiting Indonesian cartoon stories from 1930 to the present. Most of the cartoons are politically inspired and often they are a medium of public opinion. The exhibition can be seen from July 19 through October 27 2002.
See also the site of the Rijksmuseum voor Volkenkunde.


You can find more exhibitions, cultural events and gatherings in 'World in action', the schedule on the International Collaboration web site.


august 2002