Taboo Tattoos in Osaka and Ex-Guerrillas in Colombia: The Week in Global-Affairs Writing

Mladen Antonov / AFP/ Getty

Colombia’s Guerrillas Come Out of the Jungle
Jon Lee Anderson | The New Yorker
“Last September, Carlos Antonio Lozada, a commander of Colombia’s FARC guerrillas, returned home to a jungle encampment in the vast wetland region called Yarí. He had spent the past two years in Havana, staying in a villa near Fidel Castro’s home, while working with other guerrilla leaders and Colombian diplomats on a peace agreement to end the FARC’s fifty-two-year insurgency—the longest in the Western Hemisphere. His time there had been grueling: an endless succession of arguments, proposals, and counterproposals, with painful testimony from victims of both sides. ‘It was non-stop,’ Lozada told me. At last, though, on August 24th, the two sides reached an agreement. When Lozada’s plane touched down, los camaradas—his fifty-odd personal bodyguards, young men and women who had been with him since they were little more than children—greeted him on the airstrip with a song that they had composed. ‘They made me cry,’ he told me. ‘Toward the end of my time in Havana, all I could think about was being back here. The FARC is my family.’”

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A Japanese Artist Takes on a Country That Despises Tattoos
Anna Fifield | The Washington Post
“Japan’s ingrained aversion to tattoos will be put to the test when Tokyo hosts the Summer Olympics in 2020, an event that will bring a huge influx of foreign visitors—including athletes with body art.

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It will get an earlier test, though, with a legal battle that will start in Osaka this week.

Taiki Masuda, a 29-year-old tattoo artist, is going to court Wednesday to fight a $3,000 fine that was imposed on him two years ago when police raided his studio. They relied on a 14-year-old regulation originally intended specifically to regulate cosmetic tattooing, such as creating permanent eyebrows, which stipulated that only licensed health-care providers could do such work.”

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Caste Lives On, And On
Prayaag Akbar | Aeon
“The varna system, ordained in ancient India, has diminished relevance today. More pertinent economically, and socially, is the division between high-castes (the top three groups) and low-castes (Shudras and, after a further cleavage, untouchable communities). Still, whether via Vedic scripture or Dumont, the varna pyramid is what most people think of when considering caste. Importantly, in independent India, in what seems like an act of collective self-deception, this pyramid hierarchy is also popularly seen as containing the limits of caste. Flatten the pyramid, and caste will end. Education, republicanism, industrialization, modernization—each has been portrayed as the agent that will bring about this flattening, finally ridding the Indian subcontinent of caste divisions.

Yet every Indian knows that there is another aspect to caste: jaat, or jati. Jati is the caste identity that every Indian is born with, the multifarious groupings of clans, tribes, communities and religions that comprise Indian society. Each jati is typically associated with a traditional job function, and some jatis are defined by religious variation or linguistic groupings. Jati is not limited to Hindus: Indian Muslims, Sikhs and Christians all hold to age-old sectarian identities, with prescribed rules and customs analogous to jati, within their larger belief system. Indian society is divided into thousands of these endogamous kinship groups, no one is sure how many. The bigger jatis are further subdivided, in accordance with observable differences in custom and rule. A Hindu’s jati prescribes the rules and rituals of life: the foods they can eat, whom they can marry and socially interact with, where and how they pray. When the Portuguese wayfarers ventured inland from the Western coast, it is the numerous social divisions that jati mandates that would have reminded them of casta. Endogamy, chief among them.”

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The Rise and Fall of Erdoganocracy
Burak Kadercan | War on the Rocks
“However, how he achieved his final victory, and the political environment over which he will rule as the ‘one man’ for the foreseeable future, suggests that Erdogan’s grip on power will be increasingly shaky. In order to ‘win,’ Erdogan pushed his hand too hard, contributing to the long-term structural challenges Turkey faced way before his time. Good or bad, Erdogan broke the ‘old’ Turkey to build a new one in his image. The problem is that he probably broke it a little too much. Rebuilding a stable and strong ‘new’ Turkey out of the broken, or even shattered, pieces will prove to be an overwhelming task, even for a skillful Machiavellian like Erdogan. His final victory will haunt him and his regime in the long run. Ironically, his own victory may eventually defeat Erdogan.”

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Booze in the U.S.S.R.
Dan Piepenbring | The Paris Review
“In the American imagination, the Russians are a vodka-loving people, every last one of them. They gargle with it. They water their plants with it. Their cars run on it. Is any of this true? Who cares? It feeds a treasured stereotype—the plump, stoical Russian, in some kind of furry ushanka, swilling that sweet, sweet fermented potato distillate until the first glimmer of dawn sweeps across the desolate, frozen Soviet horizon.

But get this: not all Russians drink. It’s true! Even Tolstoy himself, one of the few Russians that Americans pretend to know and care about, eschewed the bottle. After his wild, drunken youth, he founded a temperance society, the Union Against Drunkenness, and he hoped to affix a label to all vodka bottles marking them as poison—with a skull and crossbones, the whole works.”

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Why America Should Envy Brexit
Michael Brendan Dougherty | The Week
“The government of British Prime Minister Theresa May is utterly crushed by the responsibilities imposed on it by the electorate. They have a two-year deadline to make final the terms of departure from the European Union. They have to come up with a solution for a customs border in Ireland that doesn't kick up old sectarian fears. They have to protect the concentration of financial firms that makes London one of the most important global mega-cities, and they have to make sure that most of the workers that have come from France and elsewhere on the continent to work in the city can stay.

But Brexit's tight deadline and its mandate also means that the government must junk or rewrite nearly 15 percent of the statute book. Nearly one-sixth of the laws that govern Britain come from Brussels. It’s a legal revolution in waiting, and they should be thrilled at the chance to do it. Over 12,000 legal regulations of the U.K. economy are just waiting for revision or abolition.”