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Posts Tagged ‘media’

On 16 October 2017, Rachel Bexendale of The Australian wrote an article about Plan international’s misleadingly pairing Education Minister Simon Birmingham as part of their #girlstakeover Program.

The article describes me as a “32-year-old Muslim activist”. An activist is “a person who campaigns to bring about political or social change.” An advocate is “a person who publicly supports or recommends a particular cause or policy”. I support women’s empowerment but am not part of any political party or campaign. Therefore I am an advocate of women’s empowerment but not an activist and certainly not a political one. I do not have, or claim to have, any political affiliations.

Plan admitted to making a mistake in communicating to Senator Birmingham that he would be paired with an “adolescent girl advocate” but at no point was I informed that this was the communication with him. If I had known I would not have proceeded. I attended a two day training with Plan where I vocalised my age but was not asked to withdraw. Instead I was paired with the Senator. I understand this was a genuine mistake and I hold no ill will towards either Plan International or the Senator.

While I agree with the crux of the Senator’s letter, I am disappointed that despite writing “Without wishing to reflect on the woman in question” he proceeded to do just that by stating incorrectly my age and that I am a political activist, but more importantly by assuming that I am “driven by alternative activist motivations” which is wholly untrue. I entered this competition because I believe in the right of all girls regardless of age, appearance, ability, creed and race to be empowered. I looked forward to discussing with the Senator how our Education system could facilitate this.

I am also disappointed that Plan deputy chief executive Susanne Legena’s comment, “Plan is fiercely non-party-political. It’s a mistake we made,” was written in a way that did not clarify that I am non-party-political.

The article indicates I did not respond to a request for comment. The request for comment came via email at 1:36pm on Sunday and stated a 4pm deadline on the same day. I didn’t see the email till 8pm and felt no need to respond if the deadline had passed. I also waited till after the event to post this reply as I did not wish to detract from the importance of the event and the coverage it deserves.

The author chose to misrepresent my online presence by stating that my blog contains posts about implementation of shariah law when in fact the blog post clearly states that the post is lecture notes from an open workshop held at Australian National University (ANU) about what shariah law is. If the author had cared to read the blog post – she would have realised the post states that there is no need for shariah law to be implemented in Australia as Muslim enjoy the full range of rights they require under Australian Law. She goes onto state that I have ‘videos of hairstyle tips to hijabis’. I have A video of hairCARE tips to hijabis. The rush to pen and print a sensationalist story sacrificed the facts. Besides the notes from that workshop, my blog also contains posts on my work with women and girls education, empowerment and health. Posts on Cricket, Korean dramas, charity work, poems and short stories. A decades’ worth of non-Islam related posts were overlooked and only Islam related topics were mentioned to sensationalise the story and further polarise the narrative.

Interestingly, the Huffington Post wote an article, federal education minister Simon Birmingham pulled out, the next day, which covers the same thing in a more straightforward manner (some lessons to be learnt here methinks!). The Huffington post article repeated the use of activist (although kudos to them they removed ‘political’ probably because a quick google search proved otherwise) and in doing so proved that repetition creates reinforcement of an idea, whether it is a fact or not. The Senator’s letter used the words and they were repeated by journalists. The lesson we can take from this, Senator, Journalist or member of the public, is to check our facts before making statements. And being mindful of the impact of what we say or write about a woman or women in general, especially if we exhort to supporting women in the same breath, letter or article.

The crux of the matter is that without confirming who I am and what I represent, I have been misrepresented as a political activist driven by alternative activist motivations to polarise an incident and detract from the real issues and the very important and much needed exposure and platform Plan International is providing young women to nurture their leadership ambitions.

The real issue is that girls do not see themselves represented in leadership roles and thus have decreasing leadership ambitions. Read the report by Plan here. And if my experience is anything to go by – the moment a girl steps into the public space she is judged with an armload of assumptions – so why would girls dare to nurture their leadership ambitions?

The real issue is that a female journalist misused her platform to misrepresent another female. I am not afraid to be known as a Muslim – I am proud of it. I am not upset that she stated I am a Muslim that writes about Islam in the article – I am proud of it. My concern is her lack of journalistic integrity allowed her to capitalise on my faith, and passion for my faith, by sensationalising her article with a focus on that, rather than the incident at hand. Fear of misrepresentation is one of the main reasons girls’ leadership ambitions are not nurtured – especially girls from minority and ethnic backgrounds.

The real issue is that activism has been tainted as a dirty word and something to be afraid of when activism is what has earned women and people of colour the rights they have today. I am not an activist because I do not campaign for, or affiliate with a political party. But if I was to become one – there is no shame in that. Enduring positive impact has to come from within the system and girls and women with leadership ambitions need to advocate for more political activists (regardless of colour, creed, ability and gender) within the existing system who will represent them and provide them with opportunity.

The real issue is that people fear what they do not understand. I am an open book. I come up in Google search results. If you want to know who I am and what I am about – come and talk to me. Don’t sit and make assumptions about who I am and use that as an excuse not to interact with me. This is what creates barriers between classes, genders and religions and the perception of the Other that I have written about previously. Don’t hate – Communicate.

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If the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, does this mean the rich have to curb their dreams and aspirations to lift up the status of the poor? When David Beckham earns $100,000 a day, should he be giving that away to live in Ingleburn so that the poor can rise up to a proper standard of living? The reality of modern society is that the rich are rich at the expense of the poor. We live off the poor, we take their land, their oil, their minerals, their gemstones and their labour at such horrifying low costs that we create a socio economic divide responsible for the brain drain and resource drain of other countries. In doing so we make ourselves wholly responsible for the growing economic divide and the misfortunes of those less well off.

Does this mean the rich are not allowed to aspire? No. But everyone is entitled to aspire. The garment worker who is only paid 50c for a dress you bought at $110 is also entitled to aspire. But she lives in a society where you have contributed to the death of her dreams. We have built a Socio-economic arena in which third world countries are pitted against first world countries like gladiators with little to no hope for success. Shouldn’t we work towards a society where her labour is duly paid and her right to dream is duly respected and given a fighting chance? Islam’s way of wealth distribution gives people that chance. The concept of Zakaat which is to donate a small portion of ones wealth to the less fortunate means that if we all gave a little of what we have then there would be no poverty in this world. But we don’t. We would rather spend on a new house or another car than give even a cent more than what is expected of us.

It is here that I believe it is our collective responsibility to judge each other and remind each other of our boundaries. Of the risk of hedonism. A reminder between friends that extravagance leads to loss of values and sense of self should not be taken offense at. Rather it should be gratefully accepted so that we do not lose ourselves in the consumerist mad dash for materialistic satisfaction. So no. I don’t think David Beckham should live in Ingleburn. He has worked very hard to get where he is, by virtue of his looks, his talent and his efforts at harnessing his fame. But he should remember that the privileges he takes for granted which position him in the crème de la crème of society are but a dream for 90% of his fellow humans. And he remembers that. His efforts with Unicef and those of Meryl Streep and Angelina Jolie with other NGOs shows that there are celebrities who take on the responsibility of helping those fortunate and take it very seriously.

So the next time you look at that amazing red sports car, or the brand new housing complex in which you can build a mansion, remind yourself that you having food, shelter, clothes and access to education puts you in the top 10% of society. Remind yourself that we live in a world of 6 Billion people in which the majority go hungry every day, have little to no shelter or are facing religious and cultural persecution. Recognise that the current socioeconomic status, division of wealth and labour and  of the political hegemony only perpetuate this divide and drive mankind to total despair and apathy. Remind yourself that YOU can make a difference by doing your bit for your fellow humans, buy fair trade, look behind the façade of materialism, refrain from extravagance, put aside some portion of your wealth for charity.

The most important thing you can do to stop the perpetuation of our consumerist culture is to educate your children, families and friends. Teach them the value of money. Show them through your own actions that simply because you have the means to deck yourself in Louis Vuitton doesn’t mean that you do. For somewhere in some dark decrepit factory, there is a little girl who makes those lush things you crave with no hope of ever wearing them herself. Remember that while you have aspirations – you are not the only one that does. And there is nothing more rewarding than giving back someone’s right to aspire – in whatever way you can.

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Legally Brown is a new show airing on Australian TV this year. It is only 6 episodes old and has already caused a furore with Muslims and Non-muslims alike. Not surprisingly because it’s protagonist, Nazeem Hussain, is already known for his outrageous and in-your-face comedy which confronts racial and religios stereotypes.

However his show takes is one step further – and for some – one step too far. Friends of mine recently expressed their anger and dissapointment that Nazeem’s show was actually being aired and it was ‘tripe’ rife with religious allusions which they felt were an ‘injustice’ to Islam and sent the wrong message to Non-muslims.

With this in mind, I asked several non muslim friends and randoms (most notably the salesgirl at the oroton store on pitt st):

  1. Do you watch Legally Brown?
  2. Had you heard of Nazeem before this show?
  3. What do you think about the show?

Only two non muslims out of 10 were familiar with Nazeem the comedian prior to the show, only 4 had watched one or more episodes and all ten had one or more Muslim friends and acquaintances. All of them however had this to say in common, ‘I have muslims friends, they are cool. I don’t know much about Islam but I’d like to know more. I don’t buy into the media hype and I’llbe sure to check out that show now.’

It drove home the point that Most Australians simply didn’t know or didn’t care about Islam and Muslims. Despite my having the hijab on, several people asked me what religion I followed. In such a case as this, I personally believe that we as Muslims have a duty to propogate the message of Islam how WE see it. How WE interpret it and how WE live it. The first and foremost objection to this I know will be, ‘But Islam is a perfect religion and Muslims are imprefect. Why would you show people your imperfection when you can show them the perfection that is Islam?’.

The simple answer to this is that Perfection scares people. In a world where perfection equates to photoshop, airbrushing and fakeness, showing the perfection of Islam will simply lead it to be ignored as ‘too hard, too irrelevant to the society we live in.’ I know this because I have tried that with someone very near and dear to me. And failed. If we can show in our own ways, through our own abilities (be it comedy, photgraphy, writing or public speaking) that while we aspire to perfection, this is how we practise it in our own ways with the firm belief in the Mercy of the Almighty that it will accepted – then we are doing enough.

Sadly this is not the accepting and tolerant view some of us share. Most Muslims comes from cultural brack grounds in which loud verbose arumentation is widespread and evident in situations like the one below as read on FB.

A convert friend posted this: Many years ago after first embracing Islam I went to a breakfast house on a Sunday with my father. There was a large group who looked like they just came from church and a large group of Muslims (from a Muslim majority country). My father asked me to look over at both of the groups to see if I noticed anything significant….

ME: They’re both large religious groups.
FATHER: That’s stating the obvious. What else do you notice?
ME: The women in both groups have their hair covered with either scarves or hats?
FATHER: Also obvious. Look beyond the surface.
ME: I don’t see anything significant.
FATHER: Watch longer. What do you notice about attitudes and demeanor?
ME: (after watching for a few mins) The church group is lively and most of them are smiling and joking and engaging with people.
FATHER: And the other group?
ME: (reluctantly) They are mostly frowning and arguing with one another and not being very pleasant and yelling at their children.
FATHER: And as a Muslim you tell me that you believe Islam is the truth. But so often when I see the Muslims they don’t look happy to me. They seem angry, even when dealing with each other. And you’re telling me that this is what I need in my life? That’s a very hard sell son. A very hard sell.

Why is it that we publicise our disharmony? Can we really justify it by saying its a product of our cultural influence? Prophet Muhammed SAW spread the message in Arabia at a time where people spoke with swords more readily than words let alone softly! If he managed to tone down his ‘cutlure’ so that the beauty of Islam could shine through… then why can’t we?

If Nazeem Hussain is proud enough of his religion, his culture and his comedic talent to combine the trio into a veritable force that confronts, informs and entertains the masses… then I for one happily lend my support.

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It saddens me that I have to write this blog entry. It shames me as a human being that such acts take place in our world, a world of human rights, progress, equality and kindness to all. And yet, it happens. And it needs to be discussed so that no more victims shy away in shame and their perpetrators go unpunished.

The moment I got to Bangladesh I was guarded constantly by my aunt, uncle, father or cousin (male). As a woman who roamed freely in and around Sydney city this was frustrating enough without the obvious impositions on my privacy as well. When asked for an explanation I got the following stories which left me open mouthed and sick to my stomach. The first was relayed by an aunt, who, upon hearing me say my mum worries too much replied, why shouldn’t she dear? The world is not what it used to be, even men are not safe these days let alone women going out alone. Only the other day I read in the paper of a young doctor who paid a house visit in a village nearby and had to stay the night at the patient’s house. During the night the guard of the house knocked on her door, she thought something must be wrong so she opened the door and the guard tried to rape her, when he was unsuccessful he slit her throat.’

This is not an isolated case. Rape has become increasingly prevalent in the subcontinent. Another case was relayed by a friend who is an intern. Another intern at the same hospital was on night shift on the top floor of the hospital and was raped by her fellow interns and guards. Victims of rape and their families are so ashamed they hardly ever follow through and press charges and these heinous crimes go unpunished. Soon after, the now infamous case of the Delhi gang rape hit headlines. When I first saw this news air on BBC, I couldn’t believe my eyes. A moving bus, a city like Delhi… this didn’t happen behind closed doors.  The public watched. And they did not react. Humanity died on this day.

Rape is such a taboo word. Gang rape even more so. People say it in hushed tones and avoid discussing it in front of children. What good is that if such a cruel act happens in Public?! Why are women so unsafe in such a modern and educated world? One of these women wore hijab, the other was quite old, the other with her boyfriend. These men do not look at what a woman is wearing or doing or saying.. they do not consider anything but that she is a female and they are sick and twisted! What are we doing wrong that such disgusting things have to be borne by women who have done nothing wrong?!

Education is the key. These men… if they can be called that were never taught to respect women. They were never taught any manners, they were never taught right and wrong. If they were, then they would never have done something so despicable. In a country where the female population outweighs the male, it is still the male that is taught to be the master, it is still the male shown in movies that aggressively chases the girl. It is still the female objectified and revealed in media and advertising. This is the culture and society which breeds such filthy acts. A society in which woman are objects to be attained, not respected. In which woman are things to be defiled and not humans to be treated with kindness and respect? This is the society we live in. And we call ourselves human.

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I blame the media. As a freelance journalist I am ashamed that Journalists do not do more to bring to light such acts and ensure through proper coverage that these acts are properly punished. I blame the education system for failing to teach men and boys to respect women. To respect the sex that bear them, nurse them, feed them and take care of them. I blame the families who fail to teach their sons that a woman is someone’s mother, someone’s sister, someone’s wife.

While I thank God that I live in Australia everyday, even here women experience domestic and sexually aggressive violence.  FaHCSIA reorts that “Around one-in-three Australian women have experienced physical violence and almost one-in-five have experienced sexual violence since the age of 15. For certain groups, this statistic may be much higher.” The Australian Government though, has made a concious effort in recognising and dealing with this issue. Who can forget the “To violence against women, Australia says No.” ad campaigns that flooded our televisions and raised awareness of White Ribbon? Information on The National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010 – 2022 (the National Plan) is widely available and transparency is key to educating society on such an important issue. This is what countries of the subcontinent need. India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and even the Maldives need education, policy reform and most importantly a root culture change in their way of thinking and addressing rape and issues of violence against women to avoid any more cases like the Delhi incident.

This woman has not died in vain. She has brought to light an act which thousands of women endure all over the world. US soldiers defile women in Iraq and Afghanistan on a regular basis. No one says anything. In Syria, Women are raped, tortured and left to die, their brothers and fathers shot in front of them and no one says anything. A small article in the last pages of a newspaper does not do justice to the pressing issue of the DEATH OF HUMANITY! 

May Allah swt safeguard us and our loved ones, May He keep us on the right path and allow us to speak out and act out for what is right. Ameen.

A girl lights candles during a candlelight vigil for a gang rape victim who was assaulted in New Delhi, in Kolkata

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