Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Unintended Consequences


The Daily Star of Lebanon covers an unintended consequence of Israel's air-and-sea blockade of Lebanon: Sea cargo bound for Lebanese ports is having to be landed in Syria's ports and trucked over the border to Lebanon:

Thousands of shipping containers filled with vital imports have been turned away from Beirut Port by the Israeli blockade, causing commercial cargo bound for Lebanon to flow through Syrian ports. Containers destined for Lebanon have started arriving over the last few weeks at the Syrian ports of Latakia and Tartous, where they are being loaded onto trucks and moved to Lebanon on roads bombed by Israel in the recent war, port officials told Reuters.

"We hope the Israeli blockade does not last but the number of containers for Lebanon is bound to rise if it does," said Bassam Fedda, head of traffic at Latakia, Syria's main port. "We have been under instructions from the prime minister to accelerate the clearing of cargo."

Not only does this make everything late, it allows Syrian middlemen to collect both official and unofficial fees for transshipment. This both enriches Damascus and raises the cost of goods—mostly foodstuffs, the Star reports—to the Lebanese consumer.

Back in the days when Syrian troops and intelligence agents more or less ran Lebanon, the country functioned as Syria's unofficial and most up-to-date port. It looks like happy days are here again, at least as long as the Israeli blockade remains in place. Considering the dithering that's going on in EU capitals over troop levels and rules of engagement for the planned multinational force in southern Lebanon, that could be quite awhile. If they were a stock issue, I'd buy futures in Syrian customs agents and trucking companies.

Monday, August 28, 2006

The Very End of the Long Tail


As much as I admire Chris Anderson’s thesis in The Long Tail, I’ve had a problem with it since I first heard him describe it at a conference last fall. That boiled down to the question, What about the non-wired world?

At that conference, I asked him, What about the great majority of the world that isn’t on the Internet? Doesn’t the Long Tail thesis break down when you deal with moving physical objects around a physical world, or in cases of poverty, spotty electricity, illiteracy etc.?

To Anderson’s credit, he thought for the briefest moment before admitting that it did and added, as I recall, that it would be awhile before most people were on the Internet and able to enjoy some of the efficiencies that it enables.

I’ve been casting around since then for a good way to illustrate my point—that the Long Tail, while an immensely powerful way to think about online economics, is for now a First World phenomenon. Old-school technologies still dominate in terms of creating efficiencies and transparency in the world’s poorer regions.

Finally, along comes Anuj Chopra’s “Rural Indians turn to radio over Maoists” in the Christian Science Monitor:

BAURAHA, INDIA—When villagers in this restive corner of India realized that an official was siphoning off food and fuel meant for the poor, they had a choice. They could go to the authorities, or turn to Maoist rebels.

Worried the government would get bogged down in bureaucracy and the Maoists would only invite bloodshed, the villagers chose a new route: They broadcast their case on community radio.

After their report aired two years ago, administrators were questioned, and the corrupt official was promptly sacked. Distribution of food essentials resumed. Soon after, residents of a nearby village followed suit and drove out an official who was pilfering rice and wheat.

"Such action is unprecedented. It made us marginalized people heard for the first time," says Satendra Kumar Mehta, a local farmer who exposed the Bauraha official on the radio. "It solved our problem."

Tired of the daily toll of Maoist violence, rural people in India's Jharkhand state are experimenting with radio as a potent new tool that promises social transformation—without bloodshed and gore.

"They [the Maoists] come and kill the corrupt. But that doesn't solve our problem," Mr. Mehta says. "Community radio [on the contrary] empowers people to kill corruption."

Local villagers say they are excited to find a voice of their own on the airwaves. During broadcasts, people gather at village schools and community halls with a radio set - still beyond the means of many—for group listening. Many villagers—literate and illiterate alike—actively report stories, and participate in making these radio programs.

In this case “community radio” is locally produced programs that play on government-owned radio in the local Maghi dialect, frequently in the form of musical plays that are appealing and easy for both literate and illiterate villagers to understand. They deal with issues ranging from alcoholism to unresponsive government. Here are some of radio’s advantages in this type of poor, rural setting:

A 2001 study by the US-based Rockefeller Foundation says that community radio is one of the best tools to reach the marginalized segments of society who lack other means of communication. The study notes that experiences from Latin America, dating as far back as the 1940s, have demonstrated the potential of community radio for social change - especially in third-world rural areas. And with community radio stations multiplying by the thousands all over the world in the past five decades, the same was being repeated in Asia and Africa.

Radio, analysts say, has several comparative advantages over other media as a tool for social change and participatory communication. It is cost-efficient, for those who run the station and the audiences. Its language and content can be targeted to local needs.

The Maoist rebels understand the programs’ potential to erode their regional soft power, though, and have served the NGO that produces the programs, Alternative for India Development (AID), with a typically thuggish cease-and-desist:

A local [Maoist] Naxalite outfit has warned AID to stop their radio program in the region. Two years ago, they gutted one of their audiovisual vans. And the rebels often browbeat local reporters from AID. While the Maoists refused to comment on this issue, many here view this friction as a sign of insecurity over losing influence.

In a case like this, I can honestly ask readers to stay tuned for word on whether AID’s programs stay ahead of Maoist and bureaucratic attempts to silence them.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Five Seven Five


Wonk cries unheeded
by residents of Penn. Ave.
It’s the policy

Nations’ soft power
Radiates abroad from acts
Not capital talk

Shannon Airport refugees
Still covered with Lebanon
Corner Karen Hughes

Thursday, August 24, 2006

“If Only They Knew Us”


The State Department has always been keen on exchange programs that bring foreign students and professionals to the U.S. to study at universities and interact with their peers, and never more so than since 9/11.

There are good reasons for this: a general feeling that “if only they knew us, they’d like us better” and, more trenchantly inside the Beltway, the fact that exchanges’ outcomes can be measured. State tends to poll those who visit the U.S. under its auspices when they arrive and when they leave; visitors’ views generally have improved during their stays, and this helps justify State’s requests for funding.

These programs undoubtedly create thousands of new friends for the United States and probably soften the negative views of those who were and remain U.S. opponents; but the “Fulbright mentality,” as a communications professor here at the University of Iowa called it recently, has its limits.

Which brings me to Lawrence Wright’s The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11. Wright, a New Yorker writer of long standing and a former teacher at the American University of Cairo, traces Al-Qa’ida’s intellectual origins back to 1948, when the group’s intellectual godfather, Sayyid Qutb, arrived in New York City from Cairo.

Qutb, already middle-aged, had left Egypt at the urging of friends who feared persecution by a monarchy enraged at Qutb’s literary and social criticism. Even before he disembarks in New York, the already-conservative Egyptian educator gets a taste of loose morals of the New World:

[Qutb’s solitary] deliberations were interrupted by a knock on the door. Standing outside his stateroom was a young girl, whom he described as thin and tall and “half-naked.” She asked him in English, “Is it okay for me to be your guest tonight?”

Qutb responded that his room was equipped with only one bed.

“A single bed can hold two people,” she said.

Appalled, he closed the door in her face. “I heard her fall on the wooden floor outside and realized she was drunk,” he recalled. “I instantly thanked God for defeating my temptation and allowing me to stick to my morals.”

Wright takes us through some of Qutb’s other impressions of New York and Washington D.C., which despite their postwar prosperity could still be hard on visitors. Qutb sees Jews for the first time—New York City alone had two million—just as the Arab armies are trounced by the new state of Israel. He encounters the Kinsey Report’s description of “a country that was frantically lustful but also confused, ashamed, incompetent, and astoundingly ignorant” of sex. A nurse who cares for him at George Washington University after a tonsillectomy describes the qualities she wants in a lover.

Qutb spends more time teaching and studying in idyllic Greeley, Colorado and in California but the die has been cast, Wright tells us:

The America he perceived was vastly different from the way most Americans viewed their culture. In literature and movies, and especially the new medium of television, Americans portrayed themselves as sexually curious but inexperienced, whereas Qutb’s America was more like the one sketched by the Kinsey Report. Qutb saw a spiritual wasteland, and yet belief in God was nearly unanimous in the United States at the time. It was easy to be misled by the proliferation of churches, religious books, and religious festivals, Qutb maintained; the fact remained that materialism was the real American god. “The soul has no value to Americans,” he wrote to one friend. “There has been a Ph.D. dissertation about the best way to clean dishes, which seems more important to them than the Bible or religion.” ...

Certainly the trip had not accomplished what Qutb’s friends in Egypt had hoped. Instead of becoming liberalized by his experience in America, he returned even more radicalized. Moreover, his sour impressions, when published, would profoundly shape Arab and Muslim perceptions of the new world at a time when their esteem for America and its values had been high.

A direct ideological line reaches from Qutb through Ayman al-Zawahri to Osama bin Laden, the “Manson with an MBA” who was finally able to connect Qutb’s parochial paranoia with the tools and organizational abilities to pull off September 11. I wonder what might have happened if Qutb—or bin Laden, for that matter—had been able to visit the U.S. in their impressionable 20s instead of, as in Qutb’s case, at 46, when his ideas of what society should be were already set in stone.

I’ll look forward to finishing The Looming Tower but recommend it highly for anyone interested in Al-Qa’ida’s origins. (And thanks to Dick O’Neill for alerting me to the fact that Wright’s book is now in bookstores everywhere.)

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Beacon No. 97: “It Looks Good to Get White Guys”


Having been raised Catholic, one of the things I’ve never quite gotten about Protestantism and Islam are their lack of top-down ideological control.

For Catholics, the Pope and the Vatican bureaucracy (high-ranking cardinals and their staffs) set a unified policy that everyone understands and usually obeys. Even though groups like the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops will grumble about nuclear weapons or women’s rights, they pipe down and toe the line when the Pope or a deputy tells them to.

Not that that a supreme central authority is always a good thing. Central control of Catholicism by the Vatican can lead to high-quality university education and good works—but it also caused the disaster of the Crusades.

On the other hand, U.S. Protestant denominations tend to have highly democratic leadership structures, setting theology and policy by sending representatives to infrequent but regular synods. But nothing stops any Protestant from starting a new denomination. Here’s an extreme example:

—The Seventh-Day Adventists spring from the Millerites
—The Shepherd’s Rod breaks off from the Seventh-Day Adventists
—The Branch Davidians arise from the Shepherd’s Rod
—David Koresh ascends to lead an even smaller Branch Davidian offshoot in Texas

And that’s just in the past century. By the time you’re on the ranch with Koresh, you’re sufficiently distant (ideologically) from mainline Adventists, Presbyterians, Baptists and Methodists that the feds feel it’s okay to burn you out.

Ideological control in Islam is even looser. There is no central, governing authority for what constitutes “Islam,” and so beliefs and practices vary enormously over regions, countries and even valleys. There are many authorities on the faith, but their influence depends entirely on reputation. The head of Al-Azhar University in Cairo, for instance, has great moral authority as an interpreter of the Qur’an and Islamic beliefs, but his impact is limited because of Islam’s lack of hierarchy and enforcement mechanisms, not to mention the Sunni/Shi’a/Sufi schisms. Islam, like Protestantism, is at once global and intensely local.

I’m writing about this because Dick O’Neill suggested that I read “Hungry for Fresh Recruits, Cult-Like Islamic Groups Know Just When to Pounce.” Despite the scare headline, this article calmly discusses British—that is to say, white British—converts to Islam and how they are at once coveted and set upon by extremists who want to make new extremists.

Three of the 24 bomb-plotters arrested in Britain two weeks ago were “blue-eyed Muslims,” i.e. gringo converts. Sarah Lyall’s article makes the point that the converts’ newfound extremism isn’t necessarily because they’re being taught a deranged version of Islam, but suggests a few other factors. One of these is a tendency among addictive types to swap addictions:

Myfanwy Franks, a researcher who has studied converts to Islam and is the author of “Women and Revivalism in the West: Choosing Fundamentalism in a Liberal Democracy,” said, “Being troubled does not necessarily lead people to conversion—people who aren’t troubled convert—but it could lead to extreme radicalization.”

Mentioning reports in the news media that [British convert and bomb-plot suspect Abdul] Waheed was a heavy drinker and drug user before turning to Islam, Ms. Franks added: “I think there’s a tendency for some people, when they stop using some kind of addictive substance, to be left with a big hole in their lives. To do something extreme is the easiest way to go, because it fills that big hole.”

People with holes in their lives that are that big will always find ways to fill them. But the larger problem seems to be that in the otherwise normal development of identity, some British youths are seeing an association with Islam as an extension of adolescent rebellion by other means:

... Among young people in Britain, a common theme seems to be adolescent anomie, a longing for answers in a world full of intractable questions. “It’s not a physical thing — it’s a passionate approach,” said Khalad Walaad, a spokesman for the Bradford Islamic Center, in the north of England. “When someone is looking for something, it’s us who can lead him as a human being.”

Then there’s the political factor: Some people are so opposed to the Iraq war, the war on terror or both that they convert this opposition into identity with Muslims:

Before Sept. 11, converts tended to discuss spiritualism and personal choice, [conversion researcher Myfanwy Franks] said, “but now they’re not talking like that.” She added: “I think there’s this polarization now. It’s like the middle ground has disappeared.” Where women once tended to wear head scarves — even in her hometown of Bradford, in West Yorkshire — she says that she sees many more in garments that cover their entire bodies, including their eyes. “It’s a political statement,” she said.

Sarah Lyall is nice enough to wrap these two factors together into a new equation:

Identity Quest + Political Motivation = Blue-Eyed Bombers

For young white men in economically blighted sections of the north, where jobs are scarce and disaffection is high, [Myfanwy Franks] said, Islam speaks to their masculinity, offering a place of refuge and a solid political base from which to reject their heritage. “The greater Muslim community is transnational and supranational,” she said. “It gives them an identify and a togetherness which is inevitably going to be against the West, because of their identity with other Muslims.”

There is literally no way to keep people from being sympathetic with Osama bin Laden, George Bush, a Palestinian refugee or Britney Spears if that’s what appeals to them. But blue-eyed Muslims have no reliable, central authority to turn to that can define the duties, rights, responsibilities and limits of being a Muslim. If they did, it might make the task of keeping converts—traditionally thought of as zealous in the first place—from making mistakes that engulf those around them.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Ordem e Progresso (e Ethanol)


The motto emblazoned on Brazil’s flags reads “Ordem e Progresso,” Portuguese for “order and progress,” which is exactly what the South American giant’s long-term focus on ethanol as an alternative fuel is producing.

Brazil recently declared that it was self-sufficient in oil thanks to its own mineral reserves and refining capacity, plus an additional card that it is uniquely positioned to play: heavy investment in an infrastructure for sugarcane-derived ethanol as a fuel.

Set aside Brazil’s reputation for gang violence, racial problems and steady destruction of its Amazon hinterlands for a moment to read “Brazil’s Road to Energy Independence.” It shows that Brazil’s long-term focus on energy independence has paid off:

The production of sugar cane-based ethanol is expected to reach an all-time high. And just three years after the introduction here of flex-fuel vehicles—cars that run on either ethanol or gasoline—several major automakers predict that such vehicles will represent 100 percent of their production by the end of the year, eliminating gas-only models.

Pull up to most service stations in this country of 185 million people and you will find fuel pumps offering three choices: ethanol, gasoline or premium gasoline. The labels are slightly misleading: The gasoline varieties are blends that contain at least 20 percent ethanol. The pure ethanol is usually significantly cheaper—53 cents per liter (about $2 per gallon), compared with about 99 cents per liter for gasoline ($3.74 per gallon) in Sao Paulo this past week.

"I buy gasoline only if I can't get anything else," said Alexandre Rigueirra, 28, a Sao Paulo taxi driver who modified his flex-fuel Chevrolet to also use natural gas, which is sold at many locations throughout the country. "Gasoline is always the last option."

Hey! Why aren’t those flex-fuel Chevys here in America’s heartland? Thanks to Iowa’s aggressive promotion of corn-based ethanol, I’m almost forced to put a gas-ethanol blend in my car each time I fill up; but unfortunately, corn-based ethanol is horrendously inefficient compared with ethanol derived from sugarcane, and there’s not enough of it in Iowa blends to really reduce the price per gallon.

Comparing sugar cane ethanol with corn-based fuel in terms of the reduction of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases is one that Brazilians such as [Eduardo Pereira de Carvalho, president of Sao Paulo's sugarcane producers union] love to make. The ethanol extracted from corn yields only about 15 to 25 percent more fuel than the fossil fuels that were used to produce it. In Brazil, according to industry studies, the sugar-based ethanol yields about 830 percent more.

All kinds of high-level visitors are drawn to Brazil for its increasing hard and soft power (technological prowess + perceived commitment) in alternative fuels:

"It's amazing how sharply the level of interest in our experience here has jumped in recent months," said Eduardo Pereira de Carvalho. ... "We receive visiting politicians from the U.S., and we get invitations to speak to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and to leaders of investment funds.”

Now for the good news for the U.S.:

... Many experts in all aspects of Brazil's industry agree that the future of ethanol resides neither in sugar nor corn, but in cellulosic ethanol, a biofuel that theoretically could be extracted from almost anything from switch grass to scrap paper. The United States is leading research into developing cellulosic technology, and the Energy Department this month announced it was dedicating $250 million for two new research centers dedicated to the cause.

Brazil has the lead in ethanol right now, thanks to the yanking of agricultural subsidies and the sugarcane industry’s resulting efficiency drive—plus some surprisingly forward thinking by generals who otherwise bungled their turn as Brazil’s rulers.

But the U.S. could regain its lead, some energy independence and a great deal of world respect through a friendly competition with Brazil to see who can crack the cellulosic code first—and then popularize the solution both at home and abroad.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Managing Capital Flight? Priceless


In “For Venezuela, as Distaste for U.S. Grows, So Does Trade,” Simon Romero describes Hugo Chávez’s increasing animosity toward the U.S. in the context of increasing trade with it:

Venezuela’s oil exports, of course, account for the bulk of that trade, as the country remains the fourth largest oil supplier to the United States. Pulled largely by those rising oil revenues, trade climbed 36 percent in 2005, to $40.4 billion, the fastest growth in cargo value among America’s top 20 trading partners, according to WorldCity, a Miami company that closely tracks American trade.

But American companies are also benefiting, as Venezuela’s thirst for American products like cars, construction machinery and computers has steadily grown, rising to $6.4 billion last year, from $4.8 billion a year earlier.

The new growth comes even as Mr. Chávez has done his best to try to redirect his nation’s trade toward what he considers more likeminded nations. He has formed a new socialist trade agreement with Cuba and Bolivia. A few Chinese cars can now be glimpsed in showrooms here. Iranian tractors are rolling off a new assembly line. And a Russian company plans to open a Kalashnikov rifle factory soon.

The U.S. trading partners Romero mentions are blue-chip: Financial companies like Morgan Stanley advise Caracas on bond issuance; Ford and GM sell increasing numbers of cars; AES Corp., Halliburton, Conoco-Phillips and ExxonMobil handle energy-related tasks; Microsoft software dominates; Cargill recently invested in a flour-milling business; and MasterCard amplifies Venezuelan consumers’ spending power.

Venezuela’s businesses and affluent consumers don’t have a lot of love for the leftist Chávez in the first place; but it’s still an excellent sign for U.S. soft power that they recognize American expertise in so many fields. Halliburton, whatever you think of its former officials, has a reputation for excellent oil-field services; Morgan Stanley provides bond issuers with nearly unparalleled access to buyers; and Microsoft’s software will remain easier to understand and use than Linux or other competitors for the foreseeable future.

But these companies would like to keep a low profile in case things go south in U.S.-Venezuela relations. The Times article is illustrated with a photo of a Venezuelan McDonald’s drive-through, and McDonald's would rather not have the next article feature a Venezuelan farmer ordering fries from the cab of his Iranian tractor.

(I'd like to see McDonald's USA replace its grating "I'm Lovin' It" campaign with the more graceful Spanish "Me Encanta" I found on the company's Venezuela site.)

This is in part why MasterCard declined to comment on profits from a Venezuelan crackdown on capital flight in 2003:

Some government policies have unexpectedly benefited American companies. For instance, after Venezuela restricted access to foreign currency for trips abroad to prevent capital flight during a sharp downturn in the economy in 2003, MasterCard profited because travelers were still allowed to spend up to $2,500 on their credit cards outside Venezuela.

Though MasterCard has recently stopped breaking out figures for Venezuela, it credited the exchange controls with helping to raise its gross dollar volume in the country by 82 percent, to $460 million, in the third quarter of 2005.

“We’re going to have to pass on this one,” Janet Rivera, a MasterCard spokeswoman, replied when asked about operations in Venezuela.

MasterCard can’t be blamed for tweaking its accounting to protect its image, even if its success is only a side effect of Venezuela’s macroeconomic policies. I’m sure if repression in Venezuela increased, or if relations with the U.S. deteriorated further, that U.S. companies would hurry to anonymize their Venezuela earnings under a larger “South America” in earnings reports if they haven’t done so already.

Full disclosure: I frequently consult for a company that works for Visa, Inc., a MasterCard competitor.

Monday, August 14, 2006

During the Ceasefire


I’ve intentionally kept from commenting on the hard- and soft-power aspects of the Israel-Hizb’ullah conflict because I’ve had difficulty navigating the one-sided responses of people I know who are either a) American or Israeli Jews, whose views range from “this is unfortunate but necessary” to “kill ‘em all, kill ‘em now,” and b) American Muslims and students of Arabic, who focus almost exclusively on IDF impacts on Lebanese civilians and infrastructure, and have their own memories of their families being ejected from Palestine in the 1940s.

Leaving these extremes to one side, I’ve got a few observations about the war, which apparently has entered a cease-fire phase.

The U.S. has the power to restrain Israel, but not to incite it; and the IDF would have gone into Lebanon and Gaza after its people no matter what the U.S. said, at least for the first few days after the kidnappings. In contrast, Iran has the power to incite Hizb’ullah (to get the West off its back about nukes) but apparently not the power to restrain it (from the strategic mistake of kidnapping two Israelis).

Warfare theorists fret that Iran is waging a proxy war against Israel and therefore the U.S.—but they forget that the U.S. is also waging a proxy war against Hizb’ullah and thus Iran and Syria, which have lost tremendous amounts of political capital (Iran) and treasure (Syria, through the Lebanon blockade). Using the IDF to pressure Tehran, for example, is a good move for the U.S. from a strictly realpolitik perspective—and the West has managed to keep up or even increase its pressure on Iran regarding its nuclear program in the interim.

Hizb’ullah, desperate to show off how much it had grown as a force, achieved what appears to be complete tactical surprise by using up-to-date weapons it received from Iran, particularly antiship and antitank missiles. However, these weapons caused minimal damage and their surprise can’t be repeated at a later time.

Many, many commentators claim that the Israel-Hizb’ullah war is a disaster for the U.S. image among Muslims; but how much worse could the U.S. image have gotten? Among Sunnis, not much at all, but Iraq’s Shi’ites are sympathetic with their co-religionists; in combination with increasing U.S. efforts to crack down on government-sponsored Shi’ite death squads, the American position with Iraqi Shi’ites may deteriorate over time.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Painting the Fence

Just a quick note to thank all the people who contributed to the "best of" series in the past 10 days: John Brown, Nicholas Cull, Joshua Fouts, Patricia Kushlis, Joseph Nye, Mark Safranski and Nancy Snow each helped Beacon get a little closer to what constitutes good public diplomacy and effective soft power.

I'll be taking a bit of a summer vacation now but will be back to regular postings around August 11.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Mark Safranski

Here is the seventh installment in Beacon’s series on the best episode of public diplomacy and the most important element of soft power, and it’s unique in that Mark Safranski chose to examine an element of soft power—religion—that created a hard-power backlash, showing that soft power does have hard consequences.

Mark is a teacher and educational consultant to secondary schools and serves as an adviser to Connecting in Conversation. An occasional contributor to The History News Network, his blog Zenpundit is devoted to questions of foreign policy, intelligence and military affairs.--PK

Soft Power: Christianity Arrives in Japan and Provokes a Backlash

Paul Kennedy, author of The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, some years ago made the case for the limitations inherent in “hard power.” To Kennedy, the very success experienced by great powers in using hard power led them into hubris and a crisis condition he termed “imperial overstretch.” Though less frequently experienced, soft power too can produce a triumphal success of public diplomacy that leads to excess and reaction.

As Japan entered the 16th century, it was torn between the warring armies of feudal lords and Buddhist monasteries. The Emperor in Kyoto was a mere figurehead and three remarkable military men, Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Ieyasu Tokugawa would spend the better part of sixty years forcibly unifying Japan under the Tokugawa Shogunate. It was at this time, in 1549, that Francis Xavier, the Spanish Jesuit missionary, arrived at Satsuma. Xavier’s mission as Apostolic Nuncio would meet, in the words of historian Edwin O. Reischauer, “with considerable success.”

Xavier came to Japan having memorized the catechism in Japanese but managed to pick up enough of the language to become an effective, if not elegant, preacher. Having converted many minor lords of Kyushu to Christianity, Xavier established the religion throughout Western Japan. A proselytizing effort was buttressed by the indirect economic rewards flowing from the preference of Portuguese merchant ships for Japanese ports where Jesuits were resident, Nagasaki being built for that very purpose.

The success of Xavier’s mission and the very popularity of Christianity among Japanese of all classes proved to be its undoing. Perceiving the squabbling between Portuguese Jesuits, Spanish Franciscans, Dutch Protestants and their respective Japanese followers as a security threat to Shogunal rule, Ieyasu began a program of reaction and persecution that ultimately ended with Japan’s utter seclusion from the outside world. When restrictive laws failed to suppress Christianity, the Tokugawa regime began mass executions in 1622, followed by the expulsion of the Spanish, the Portuguese and the drastic restriction of foreign trade. After 1650, any European or Japanese returning from abroad, or entering Japan for any reason, was put to death.

[Here is a brief look at Nagasaki’s Portuguese-driven rise. Also, James Clavell’s novel Shogun is a fictionalization of Ieyasu Tokugawa’s rise to the Shogunate.--PK]
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