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Posts Tagged ‘Hope’

The ‘Other’ is not a new concept. As a society we have marginalised minorities and those that we disagree with or misunderstand for hundreds of years. It is a social construct by which we develop not only our own identity but shape the identity of others. And it is the group or groups with greater political and economic influence that have the greater ability to shape and represent identities. It is important to note then – that an identity, especially the identity of the Other is not something we are born with – rather it is a social construct we step into and live in by design.

Zygmunt Bauman said on Otherness that Woman is the other of man, animal is the other of human, stranger is the other of native, abnormality the other of norm, deviation the other of law-abiding, illness the other of health, insanity the other of reason, lay public the other of the expert, foreigner the other of state subject, enemy the other of friend (Bauman 1991: 8). This is an awareness that we form our own identity through the inclusion of an element of exclusivity. In order to define the self or society you must also define what you are not. Man identifies himself as a superior being by comparison to the animal in attributes that are similar but also attributes that are different or lacking.

Societies have advanced through time by defining identities of civility as opposed to barbarity, colonial as opposed to indigenous, black as opposed to white and free as opposed to oppressed. These same societies have wielded their substantial political clout to shape and re-shape the identity of the other based on characteristics that would be most economically beneficial at the time. When Colombus ‘discovered’ America, the marginalisation of the Indian as Other was economically motivated. How else would Columbus and the ensuing British colonisation have been able to usurp land and build profitable a profitable society? How else would Manhattan be bought for $24?

 

When the British colonised India, Africa and Australia, the characteristics of being poor, dirty and inferior were associated to the colour of their skin and Black became the Other to White. This too was economically motivated. How else could the Dutch East India company convince it’s men that Indian were slaves to be herded onto ships bound for the fields of Africa? How else would the British have been able to commandeer and mobilise large contingencies of colonised peoples to work on infrastructure and fight in wars that were of no material benefit to them? How else were members of the Pakistani Army and society convinced that Bengalis were not Muslim, not human and thus ripe for raping, looting and killing? Man identifies with Man till society finds an economically beneficial reason to distinguish differences and draw boundaries.

Societies of economic influence wield the authority of their social institutions such as the law, media, education, religion to hold the balance of power through their representation of what is accepted as Normal and what is considered Other. Organisations such as the UN are a prime example of a selection of powerful economies distinguishing themselves as leaders and thus authorises to interfere in the societies and economies of other countries. This is not to say the UN is bad – No. Rather it is to understand that our world is governed by a man made awareness of who we are and who we are not based on the economically motivated decisions of the politically and financially privileged.

When we understand and are aware of this concept and remember that none of us are born as the Other, our minds can awaken to the political hegemony being played out on a global scale. Our minds can awaken to the realities of being the Jewish Other in 1940’s Europe. Of being the Asian Other in 1970s Australia. Of being the African American Other in America … always. Of being the Muslim Other in America, Australia, Europe and Burma. When we understand that we have a choice to accept or reject the identity of the Other, we can explore and seek to learn about the so-called Other. If we only venture outside of the propaganda sold 24/7 on mainstream media we can come to an enlightenment on what Islam really is and who Muslims really are. If we do this we can strip the fear we associate with the tag other. We can remove the animosity that drives decisions like the Burkini ban in France and we can celebrate the diversity through embracing our similarities as well as our differences.

What kind of society have we become when a 10 year old boy cannot feel safe in his own front yard? When the very figures of authority that are sworn in to serve and protect are the ones that run down and gun down first and ask questions (or provide weak justifications) later. What kind of society exhorts the values of Liberté, égalité, fraternité and yet leads the way in dictating how a woman should and should not dress? If you ban someone from covering, is this not the same oppression and banning someone from revealing? What kind of society have we become when we spin bias on everyday actions based on the attire of the individual. Would these women have been singled out as ‘members of Isis’ (a horrible thing to accuse someone of!) for being on their phones if they were not in Hijab? Surely there is logic and common sense left somewhere in the world?! Thank God for Canada where Hijabs are not part of the official uniform of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Justin Trudeau who says the burkini ban has “no place in Canada,”

Allah swt says in the Quran, O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted. (49:13) We are encouraged to know each other for where there is knowledge and enlightenment there can never be fear and animosity no matter how profitable it is to the ruling elite. We are the masters of our own fate and we the masses shape the direction of our society. So don’t let an economically motivated Big Brother tell you who to like and dislike, don’t let faceless corporations teach you to hate – go out and talk to people who you don’t know, who you don’t understand and who you don’t like – you might just find you have more in common with them than you think.

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Floatie

Sometimes I feel like a floatie… you know.. those things that bob in the water while you fish.

 

They look harmless enough but underneath lurks a hook with bait that proves the fatal end for a unsuspecting fishy. That floatie is controlled by the fisherman. It gets reeled in when the fisherman wants to reel it in. It gets thrown out when and where the fisherman so desires.

I feel like a floatie sometimes. Sometimes I feel that the reins to my life are never in my own hands. My parents bought me here, my work dictates my weekly routine, my friends dictate my weekends, my sisters dictate holiday plans… what do I dictate in my own life? Sometimes I feel as if I dictate nothing. I own nothing. I merely float and bob when and where I am thrown.

At times like this, such a feeling of absolutely helplessness bring about a smothering amount of self pity. I, who write about female empowerment and preach about it to all and sundry… feel so unempowered. So lost.

And then I remember those women I interviewed in the villages of Bangladesh. Those girls I saw working at home. I zoom out just a tiny bit from my own life, take off the rose coloured glasses of self pity and I see that thanks to my parents bringing their fishing rods to Australia, I am a floatie in a vast multicultural fishing pond. Thanks to my professional life I am a floatie that floats with mature, experienced floaties around me that can teach me all the bobs and tugs of life in a professional pond.

And thanks to my sisters and friends who drive me crazy, I am a floatie that bobs up and down instead of being boringly stationary. (And… in terms of desi culture I also have a hook with bait (my purdy looks and bubbly personality)  to lure a prospective husband haha)

Sometimes I feel like a floatie in the great river of life, sometimes I feel like I am helplessly bobbing up and down, sometimes I let myself wallow in self pity – a small dose never hurt anyone – but then I zoom out and widen the periphery of my existence and realise I am as blessed as a floatie can be!

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2010 – The year that was

The fireworks are done and my sleepy cousins have gone home having gotten bored after the first five minutes of the 15 minute show that Sydney’s Fireworks display provided. During the whole extravaganza all I could think about was that this cost over 10 million dollars, money which could elevate the living conditions of millions below the poverty line in Bangladesh.

I know I know.. I should be excited about a new year, new prospects and for just five minutes I should put aside my preaching hat, but truth be told I am totally underwhelemed this new years eve. The question is though.. why? Was 2010 that bad that I am dreading 2011? This question catalyses a trip down the year that was… 2010.

Personally

The year started off quite well (I think… my memory is not that good in my old age). I was riding on the high of the success of my thesis and enjoying my job. I was upbeat about a new year and new prospects personally and professionally. The months wore on and the pressure of my job and family wore down my enthusiasm. By mid-year, having turned 25, a weary kind of complacency settled in and I was ready to try anything to shake it off.

I went to the gym for a while to keep myself distracted from a tumultous time in my personal life and ended up wasting $400 and losing 300grams. I then took up painting on canvas and found the experience soothing despite the end results being nothing to write home about. It was at this point in 2010 that I made the intention to go to Hajj.

Actually.. I made the intention to go on a holiday…and Alhamdulillah, Hajj presented itself as a possibility and then a probability and then a reality. It was the highlight of 2010 and possibly the highlight of the decade. Hajj showed me my faults in glaring neon lights as well as the path to reprieve and redemption in more soothing tones. I’m not one for making and keeping resolutions. I break and make ideas and ideals at every moment, but after Hajj I resolved to actively better myself as a person.. I really hope 2011 sees that come true.

I’m 365 days older, hopefully that much wiser and despite no bubbly enthusiasm for the coming year, I am quietly wistful that 2011 will allow me to fuflil at least a few of my personal and professional goals.

Nationally

2010 was by most accounts a good year for Australia. Our currency rose 13%, the second highest in the world just behind Mongolia (yes Mongolia!) at 15%. We as a nation watched in shock as the affable ruddy cheeked Rudd was cruelly stabbed in the back by the fiery haired Gillard as the first female Prime Minister of Australia. We also saw just how complacent and indecisive we were as a Nation with a hung parliament, a hung Australia’s Top Model and a hung NRL Final (Not that I know the difference between the NRL or the AFL or whatever).

It was a dismal year for Aussie Cricket though, even the last days of the year saw our team battling a losing streak with the poms and resulting in the pommy papers having a riot of a laugh. I like this quote the best, “If, as is generally asserted, we Poms are almighty whingers, the Australian approach is more akin to a child shouting: “LA LA LA, I’M NOT LISTENING.”

2011 should see us rise in the economic ranks as a result of our consistent close ties with China, it should see the media reports squabble a bit more about the burqa, the refugees, whether Australia will ever win another cricket match, and .. most importantly.. whether crocs are fashionable or not!

Globally

I found this wiki page to be an interesting summary of the year that was 2010 but here’s my own:

  • Politically Obama slid and Rudd hid.
  • Environmentally – Coastal planners should apparently take into account a 40cm rise in sea levels which has already started to erode riverbanks in Bangladesh and other low lying countries.
  • Sports wise FIFA put on a great show and Man Utd still rocks despite a slump in Rooney’s performance (yayy for Berbatov)
  • Entertainment wise – Can we go past Oprah and the flying Hugh Jackman?

For some it was a disaster, for others a milestone, but 2010 is now in the past and 2011 brings the dawn of a new day, and I for one, plan to embrace it with arms wide open. Happy New Year!

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This article made me cry with frustration – ’I didn’t think of Iraqis as humans,’ says U.S. soldier who raped 14-year-old girl before killing her and her family

This ‘Soldier’ says that “The deaths (of his friends) intensified Green’s feelings toward all Iraqis, whom soldiers often called by a derogatory term. ‘There’s not a word that would describe how much I hated these people,’ Green said. ‘I wasn’t thinking these people were humans.'” He also says that he, “sought help from a military stress counsellor, obtaining small doses of a mood-regulating drug – and a directive to get some sleep before returning to his checkpoint south of Baghdad.” and that “he had ‘an altered state of mind’ at the time. ‘I wasn’t thinking about more than 10 minutes into the future at any given time,’ Green said. ‘I didn’t care.'”

He raped and killed a 14 year old. Fourteen.

Abeer Qassim al-Janabi, Green's 14-year-old victim, whose parents and sister were also murdered in the attack. Green said deaths of two of his colleagues had 'messed him up real bad'

It reminded me of the Genocide in Bangladesh. A crime against the very fabric of humanity upon which our globalised society stands. A crime for which no one has yet been brought to account. A crime for which the innocent victims are still suffering in silence and shame.

The word “Soldier” is supposed to instill a sense of security and comfort in the minds of civilians. Soldiers are meant to be safekeepers… Why then are these the very men who take mind altering drugs and commit heinous crimes against the helpless and the innocent and leave deep wounds in the hearts of humans all over the world? Wounds that never heal but rip apart with fresh reports of murders, rape and incomprehensible violence on a daily basis.

Is humanity dead? Common sense as well?

When Pakistani soldiers were told that ALL bangladeshis are ‘Kaffir’ (non-muslims) and should be killed, did they not think that EVERY man woman and child in a country of 75million people could not possibly be guilty, that their deaths could not possibly be justfied. Were these soldiers so inhumane that they felt no remorse when they skewered babies and raped women and killed them by pushing bayonets between their legs? Did they not fear even God’s wrath at the insensitive violence they were disseminating in such an awful manner?

And are we deaf and dumb as onlookers? 40 years on when the same thing is happening in Iraq and the perpetrators are US Soldiers, are we to sit by and watch passively as innocent women and children pay for the price of a greedy and power hungry few?

We should be ashamed of ourselves. We should stop our passivity and actively protest the use of mind altering substances by soldiers which leads to such heinous crimes against humanity. If not then we, like humanity, will wither in our shameful passivity.

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Cross-cultural exchange

I walked into work yesterday to find a greeting card and a box of chocolates from a colleague. Thanking her I realised that I need to buy the same but as a thank you to my team for the support they have given me over the past year.

As I gave a colleague her chocolates and card she said, ‘Oh isn’t this nice, a nice cross cultural exchange!’ Those words stuck in my head. What exactly did she mean? Her sentence implied to me that:

  1. She and I are of different cultures
  2. Christmas is a cultural event

I disagree with both.

I am an Australian and so is she. We both participate in and are part of Australian Culture which is multicultural and diverse. So how is that a cross cultural exchange? And isn’t Christmas a religious celebration? Since when is it a cultural event? Yes it may be celebrated in ways that are representative of Australian Culture but does that make it a cultural event? And does my exclusion from ONE cultural event make me of a differing culture?

“Culture (from the Latin cultura stemming from colere, meaning “to cultivate”) in this sense is the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterises a group” (According to Wikipedia). Wikipedia also says that “the culture of Australia is essentially a Western culture influenced by the unique environment and geography of the Australian continent and by the diverse cultural input of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and the various waves of multi-ethnic migration which followed the British colonisation of Australia”.

Australians identify as Anglo due to the predominance of the English language, the democratic (ha! Says the ranga) government and the Work hard play harder fair dinkum mentality that predominates Australian life. But Australian culture is more than this. It has been consistently and substantially influenced by the “various waves of multi-ethnic” immigrants that were encouraged by the national anthem vigorously stating that, ‘For those who’ve come across the seas/We’ve boundless plains to share.’ These immigrants have woven around the solid blocks of Australian culture to create a fine art that is diverse, multicultural and exciting whilst in keeping with the themes of working hard and of giving everyone a fair go (ha! Says Rudd)

While I took no offense at my colleague’s very innocent and well meaning statement, it made me think about cultural exchanges. According to an Australian internship website, ‘Cultural Exchange is the exchange of differing ideas, beliefs, rituals, customs and traditions between people with different backgrounds.’ And in this respect Australians rock at cultural exchanges and I hope we keep this alive in the years to come in a society which continuously creates friction using differences in cultural as a lame excuse.

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People say that Hajj is a life changing opportunity and that one returns from the journey a changed person. Well I’m glad to say those words came true for me as well. Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam. It is a once in a lifetime journey to the holy city of Makkah. To be eligible for Hajj one must: be a Muslim; have reached puberty; be of sound mind; be free (not a slave); have the financial means; and possess the physical means.

Hajj spans five days with several specific locations and rites to perform for ones hajj to be valid. The first day of Hajj falls on the 8th day of the Muslim month of Dhul Hijjah and everyone who has made their intention for Hajj goes to Mina on this day. The day is spent at the camp in Mina, settling in, praying and resting for the days ahead. I was warned ahead of time that the camps at Mina are no luxury camps and I would have to have patience with others and with my environment. Still I was surprised to see the minimal conditions and the frugality in the level of hygiene maintained by others.

Despite this, Mina was a great experience. I spent time at close quarters with people I would never ever see again that were now my best friends for the next four days. People whose clothes hung to dry at my feet, whose hands nudged me in their sleep. As an Australian in a Bengali camp, we were a bit of an anomaly and everyone wanted to know our life story. It was at times like this patience was again key, as we tried to remember and gently remind others that this was a time for prayer and repentance, not twenty questions.

The next day was the 9th day of Dhul Hijjah also known as the day of Arafat. On this day every single Hajji (person who is performing Hajj) stands on the field of Arafat and prays from noon to sunset for forgiveness and for anything they so wish. Contrary to popular belief, the central part of Hajj is not to perform the tawaf (rounds around the Ka’ba), but to be present at Arafat during the time between noon and sunset on the 9th of Dhul Hijjah. The prophet said, “Hajj is Arafat.” (Ahmad).

The sheer amount of people was intense and I was mentally ready for all kinds of mishaps, and yet the heat seemed mild, the tent seemed cool, there was even a light breeze as every single person (6 million I later found out) made their presence felt on the field of Arafat through their tears and cries for forgiveness and their hushed prayers for their loved ones. The sight of so many people from such varied walks of life, race and creed was enough to move even the most hardened heart. I found myself wondering that Hajj was not only an introspective journey, but a way for us to mingle with people from all over the world and learn from them and observe them and grow as a mature and aware individual with respect and patience.

After sunset we made the move to walk to Muzdalifah, seven kilometres away) where we were to spend the night. As we prepared to walk we were informed that a bus was available, little did we know that this bus would be the reason seven kms would take 6 hours. The bus did not move for the first three hours due to the amount of traffic on the road. The next three were spent crawling at snail’s pace amongst the thousands of other buses going on the same road. Again, Patience was the key as women on the bus became increasingly agitated and the driver got lost. Having finally made our way to Muzdalifah, we spent the remainder of the night sleeping, praying and collecting pebbles and returned to Mina in the morning.

On the third day of Hajj – the 11th of Dhul Hijjah – we started off to the Jamrat, the place where three walls stood which represented the devil, where we would cast 7 stones as a way of expunging the devil from our consciousness. From our camp to the Jamrat it was a 4km walk. A walk which took over an hour, climbing over broken sandals, umbrellas, blankets and rubbish, moving as a sea of bodies towards our destination. Despite the huge volume of people, there were no fights, no disruptions and people shared their food and water as well as smiles.

After casting our stones we made our way back to Makkah and performed the seven rounds of the Ka’ba which is known as tawaf. Here again I was surprised at the level of patience exercised by such a huge volume of people as we all moved in unison. So close and yet so completely unaware of each other and so intensely aware of God. Again patience was key as people grew tired and slowed down and others overtook them, but everyone had only one thing on their minds, repentance.

There are two key things I have brought away from my Hajj experience, Patience and Observation. Without patience, 6 million people would not have been able to complete the 5day ritual that is Hajj with smiles on their faces. And without observation, one cannot learn from the people around them nor judge themselves and ask for repentance. During Hajj there was not a moment that I was physically alone, I was continuously pressed upon by others surrounding me and yet the peace and tranquillity and heightened awareness of being close to God I have found nowhere else.

Abu Hurairah reported that the Prophet said: “He who performs Hajj for Allah’s pleasure and avoids all lewdness and sins will return after Hajj free from all sins as he was the day his mother gave birth to him.” (Bukhari and Muslim). Congratulations to everyone that performed Hajj for completing such an intense journey.

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Hanging in there

With the viral spread of the Burqa ban (acutally a ban on the niqab but hey BB sounds much catchier), there has been an explosion of media activity on the subject. Some I find funny, some inspirational and some plain exasperating.

In France, two French students have discovered a creative way to protest against the burqa ban in France — walking around the streets of Paris in a niqab, high heels and mini-shorts. Read the article and watch the video.

In Australia, we tried with words and posters at parry park – read the acticle

In Britain, the University of Nottingham’s Official Student Magazine asks, Is it British to Ban the Burqa?

Reuters does an analysis – Analysis: Burqa bans: France, then Netherlands – who’s next?

The Wall Street Journal prints an opinion which state that, The Burqa Ban is about Security

 Wear what you like, when you like, how you like – but don’t push the limits of the society you live in – unless society pushes you first.

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