CASTLEBAR — Sometime around AD 600, a handful of Irish monks decided that the rigors of fasting and penance on the mainland were not exacting enough. Waiting until the seas were calm enough, they are believed to have rowed to Skellig Michael, a small, pyramid-shaped island seven miles off Ireland’s southwest coast. There, the holy men built a monastery and found the raw seclusion they were after. A millennium and a half later, the site’s ruins are one of Ireland’s best-known heritage and tourist attractions, an antique allure made all the more vivid by the colonies of seabirds that flock to the island’s crags and crevices, and by the puffins and gulls sheltering in the monks’ long-abandoned stone structures. But since 2015, some of those visitors are as likely to be dressed as Chewbacca and waving lightsabers as they are to be conversant in the ways of early Christian eremites or the nesting habits of kittiwakes or gannets.
DUBLIN – Irish heritage conservationists fear that a rugged island off the country’s southwest coast could lose its prestigious Unesco listing because of a spike in visitor numbers, after scenes from Star Wars: The Last Jedi were shot there. An Taisce, Ireland’s national trust, is seeking government intervention over Skellig Michael, the site of an ancient monastic settlement described as “Ireland’s Machu Picchu” by National Geographic, but which the trust believes has undergone a “commercial re-branding” after being “swamped” by the Star Wars connection. However, Emma Hynes, press officer for Ireland’s Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht said Unesco was informed of each episode of filmmaking and “has raised no correspondence whatsoever on the matter” “The Unesco status of the island is not in question nor is it contingent on a certain visitor level,” she said.
SINGAPORE – Indonesia’s constitutional court today turned down a petition to have extra-marital sex banned, the latest culture war skirmish in the world’s biggest Muslim democracy. A narrow 5-4 majority of judges voted to reject the request made by a group called the Family Love Alliance which said it wants Indonesian law to categorise adultery to mean any relationship that involves sex outside marriage, not just married people having affairs. The group said it would appeal the decision and is hoping that like-minded MPs will resume the campaign in parliament to criminalise “sexual deviance,” including gay relationships as well as adultery.
SINGAPORE — Reacting to the U.S. move last week to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Muslim-majority countries in Asia have joined fresh calls for wider recognition of an independent Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital. Speaking in Istanbul on Wednesday, Indonesian President Joko Widodo told the 56 other members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation that the group “can serve as a motor” to persuade countries that have not recognized Palestine “to do so immediately.” The Palestinian mission to the United Nations lists 137 countries as recognizing Palestine. The level of recognition varies among those countries, as Palestine has not been granted full U.N. membership. Though some OIC members recognize Israel — including summit host Turkey — Asian countries such as Pakistan, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Malaysia do not have diplomatic relations with Israel.
JAKARTA — The region’s jarring social media jousting means that platforms such as Twitter are not really “social” anymore, but have become “weaponized” according to Indonesian political analyst Wimar Witoelar, who has 439,000 Twitter followers. “So interaction is more often divisive than not. You cannot form a consensus. Instead you sharpen your differences,” he said via WhatsApp. Even Joko Widodo, Indonesia’s president, is not immune to savaging on social media, taking to Facebook in September to make his point. “I was asked, ‘President Jokowi, how is the state of social media in Indonesia?’, I replied, ‘In Indonesia, it can get very vicious,” he posted.
JAKARTA — With volcano Mt. Agung billowing ash into the sky above his home island, the majority-Hindu Bali, Khairy Susanto was unsure if he would be able to fly home on December 3, the day after he joined tens of thousands of fellow Indonesian Islamists at a rally held in the shadow of Monas, the national monument that towers over a huge plaza across the street from the presidential palace in Jakarta. “Inshallah, we can fly, but it doesn’t matter, we will be ok,” he said. “We are happy to be here today to celebrate our victory.” The event was organized to mark a year since an estimated half million people chanted in the rain for the arrest of Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, the Governor of Jakarta. Purnama, a Protestant of Chinese descent nicknamed “Ahok,” since lost the gubernatorial election and was jailed for two years in May on the same blasphemy charges that twice brought hundreds of thousands of people onto Jakarta’s streets late last year.
TANGERANG, Indonesia — Asian governments in countries with large Muslim populations condemned U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move its embassy to the city, with the leaders of Indonesia and Malaysia speaking out against it. “Indonesia strongly condemns the United States’ unilateral recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and asks the U.S. to reconsider the decision,” President Joko Widodo said at a news conference on Thursday. With parliamentary elections scheduled for next year, Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak was more forceful. Speaking at a ruling party conference in Kuala Lumpur the same day, he said, “I call on all Muslims across the world to let your voices be heard. Make it clear that we strongly oppose any recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital for all time.”
JAKARTA — According to legend, the world’s oldest beverage came about by accident more than 4,000 years ago, when a draft blew some tea leaves into a pot of boiling water being prepared for Shen Nung, the Chinese emperor known as “the divine farmer.” Divine intervention, maybe? Whatever the provenance of that fateful gust, it was not the first farce — or tragedy — to propel the tea industry forward and eventually globalize what was for thousands of years an Asian drink. As recently as the late 16th century, a handful of Japanese Christian pilgrims in Rome prompted much curiosity among their hosts by making tea: Locals assumed at first that the drink was just boiled water, according to “Tea: The Drink That Changed The World,” a 2007 book by John Griffiths. Kakuzo Okakura’s “The Book of Tea,” a 1906 paean to tea culture, suggested that the drink — by then almost as much of a staple in parts of Europe and North American as it had long been in Asia — could be a liquid bridge between East and West. Tea, wrote the Japanese scholar, who was also known as Tenshin Okakura, “has not the arrogance of wine, the self-consciousness of coffee, nor the simpering innocence of cocoa.”
JAKARTA — The tea industry has watched in envy as coffee’s cachet has skyrocketed across Asia, and now it wants a piece of the action. But it faces a difficult challenge: How to convince people that something they’ve been quaffing like water all their lives can be a premium product. Eliawati Erly, vice president of David Roy Indonesia, the local distributor for Sri Lankan brand Dilmah Tea, recognizes that developing a culture of cool around tea won’t be easy. “People are accustomed to having tea and teh botol (bottled tea drinks sold in shops) since they are young,” she said. Erly and others in the tea industry are well-aware of how coffee companies have benefited from promoting the ethical sourcing of beans and the distinct qualities of single-origin roasts from specific regions.
JAKARTA — Businessmen clad in batik shirts tap on laptops and smartphones, while women in designer Muslim garb chat over pots of hot chai and browse menus listing hundreds of teas, from the exotic (Yellow Gold Tea Buds from China) to the commonplace (English Breakfast). This crowd, a mix of old and young and mostly well-to-do, has made the TWG shop in the Pacific Place mall in Jakarta a lively meeting point in the city. With dozens of these boutique tea shops across Asia offering fine dining and veneered furnishings, Singapore’s The Wellbeing Group, known as TWG, is trying “to bring a new era of tea appreciation” in the region, said Trixie Anindita, the group’s communication and operation manager in Indonesia.