Media

Right of Reply: A Call for Difficult Conversations, Not Censorship

In case you missed it, I wrote a reply in the New York Times to Lionel Shriver's piece, and also to further clarify the points I made in the original Medium/Guardian essay.

To the Editor:

Re “Will the Left Survive Millennials?,” by Lionel Shriver (Op-Ed, Sept. 23):

My initial response to Ms. Shriver’s keynote address at the Brisbane Writers Festival last month — walking out and writing about why — seemed to be largely misunderstood. Many took the reaction to be a call for censorship and responded with fury. They took as a given the right to say and write what they want, without critique, consequence or interrogation of intent.

The debate is not about censorship: People can write in the voices they please. The real question is whether they should. It is about the structures that define the world in which we live and work.

Fiction does not exist in a vacuum: It becomes people’s realities, because so often the only exposure we have to those with very different lived experiences to our own is through stories. But this discussion is larger than the world of fiction.

Ms. Shriver claimed that those who now fight for equality have become the oppressor. Her words betrayed a disappointment that the times are changing, and lamented that people are so terrified of being caught saying the wrong thing that they instead choose not to say anything at all.

This must be the same censorship that sees her books published, her keynote addresses delivered and her Op-Ed article published in The New York Times. Her perspective betrayed a deep fragility, born out of the fear of change. To those with privilege, equality may feel like oppression. But equality need not be a zero-sum game. Framing it so seeks to divide and ultimately to halt progress.

Yes, the times are changing. Millennials, like me, are agitating for us all to be better, and that should come with the acceptance that nobody is beyond reproach. Difficult conversations will make us all uncomfortable. Good. That discomfort is how we improve, how we render the best characters, best stories, how we create the most equitable societies.

So rather than making broad, sweeping generational assessments, how do we move forward? We can start with intent. Is the intent to preserve the status quo, or to demand more?

YASSMIN ABDEL-MAGIED

Melbourne, Australia

 

It's been a while...

Hey y'all!

A few things have been going on so I thought I'd share a few links, thoughts and announcements... 

1. I wrote this piece after attending an Iftar with the Prime Minister of Australia, the first Iftar held by a sitting PM in the history of the nation.  It was also in response to some pretty vicious reporting following the event... check it out here!

The fallout has been pretty rough, and has definitely provided lots of food for thought. I'm still ruminating but hope to share some reflections soon. Stay tuned inshallah.  


2. I had the pleasure of being interviewed by the lovely Meri Fatin for Cover to Cover WA talking about 'Yassmin's Story' and the process of writing a book. It was broadcast on Westlink TV a little over a week ago. Check out the video below!


3. I started a new Instagram! It's very self indulgent...

*chuckles*

@HijabKween is where I'm sharing my hijab/turban styles, fashion influences and bits and pieces of inspiration that I collect on my travels. Hit a sista up!

Gallery Block
This is an example. To display your Instagram posts, double-click here to add an account or select an existing connected account. Learn more

4. Junkee let me reminisce about the last year. Subhanallah, it has been a full year, Alhamdulilah! Check it out here...but more importantly - if you'd like a nomination for Junket let me know - and nominate someone you think is cool for Aus or Young Aussie of the year! It's how we recognise those changemakers around us! <3 


5. Amaliah are doing this really awesome thing where their readers 'takeover' their Snapchat for a day and show what Ramadan looks like in their world! Follow the account below...I'll be doing a Ramadan Takeover on the 29th of June inshallah! Watch out for it! 

SNAPCHAT YO.&nbsp;

SNAPCHAT YO. 


6. Still haven't picked up your copy of 'Yassmin's Story'? Well, fortunately for you, Mammia Mia posted an excerpt (a particularly angry one, haha!) here.  Check it out...then BUY THE BOOK! *grin* *angel face* #MyHijabCoversMyHaloRight? :D 


7. I'll be cruising around Switzerland, The Netherlands, Berlin and Uganda over the next month inshallah. Follow my travels on @yassmin_a (twitter, snapchat and insta), but if you're in these areas and you'd like to catch up and say hello, holla @ me! Email yas@yassminam.com - I'd love to meet you inshallah, and bonus points if you have a copy of the book for me to sign ;) 


8. Last note... this is what I wrote on my FB wall today. Food for thought.

 

  

Conversations with Richard Fidler

Today I had the honour of being interviewed by the incomparable and charming Richard Fidler. You can listen to the hour-long yarn here (click for the link).

Airing of the IQ Squared debate on ABC!

intelligence squared

The Intelligence Squared debate which was shown on BBC, "God and His Prophets Should be Protected from Insult" is now online!

You can also catch it next week on ABC TV Big Ideas on Friday 7th February on ABC1 at 11 am.

This program will REPEAT on Sunday 9th February on ABCNEWS24 at 6.00am.

If you aren't near a TV, the the full web version of the session it is available here.

It will also be available on ABC Online (iview) after the program has aired :)

Looking forward to hearing your feedback!

Speech: IQ^2 Debate (BBC World)

intelligence squared  

On the 7th of November, I had the honour of debating with the likes of Julian Burnside, Uthman Badar and Thomas Keneally on a pretty interesting topic: whether God and His Prophets should be protected against insult.

I was pretty nervous and excited about the affair, as can be seen in blog posts here prior to the event.

The debated was screened on BBC World to an audience of about 70 million on the last weekend of November, and you can check out the video here.

 

This is the transcript of the speech...

***

God / The All-Compassionate / The All-Merciful / The Source of Peace / The Creator / The Maker of Order / The Shaper of Beauty The Forgiving / The Knowing of All…

And then we have us.  Flawed, fallible, full of passion and fire, and so very…human.

How can we deign to think that we – the creatures that we are – should protect God from insult?

 

Good evening ladies and gentlemen

The topic we have before us today is ‘that God and His Prophets should be protected against insult’.

Tom Keneally and I effectively are arguing against this hypothesis.  From a definitional point of view, the topic is understood as follows:

God’, in monotheistic religions, is taken to mean ‘the creator and ruler of the universe and source of all moral authority; the supreme being’.

The word is also sometimes used for emphasis to express a particular emotion, such as “God, what happened here?!” although that is not always approved by everybody.

‘Prophet’ is ‘a person regarded as an inspired teacher or proclaimer of the will of God’.

Should’ is used to indicate obligation or duty.

Protect’ is to keep safe from harm or injury.

Insult’, in its noun form, is a disrespectful or scornful remark.

***

There are a couple of interesting questions that this topic raises.

What (or who) deserves our protection, as individuals and as society?  Should we be protected only from things that will harm or things that have the potential to cause harm?

On the other hand when it comes to insult it must be asked: Is freedom, or freedom of speech absolute?  It clearly isn’t, as the existence of laws, rules and regulations mean that there are levels of restrictions on what we can and cannot express.

What is the difference between freedom of speech and expression, and the allowance for insult or incitement of hatred? What is the difference between the two? If freedoms are not actually absolute but do come with restrictions, what limits do we have? Who upholds these limits?  How does freedom fit around the concepts of responsibility and society?

***

Tom and I will be tackling this topic from different perspectives.

I will address three arguments.

Firstly, I will posit that God, as a supreme being, does not require the protection of mere humans to protect Him from any harm or injury.  Where the damage is being inflicted is on the followers, and so protection, if any, is more about the practitioners of the religion.  Furthermore, if God is known to be above insult, then what is the anger really about? It is there something else going on?

Secondly, I will argue that freedom of expression is important to sustain a functioning, thriving, growing society and that said freedom is protected within religions.  This does however, come with important caveats if we are to live in a functioning civilisation.

Thirdly, I will wrap up by addressing violence as a response to insult.  This is unequivocally unacceptable, although perhaps unfortunately, understandable.  I will humbly suggest that the end does not justify the means, and that in any response to insult, the best examples should be followed.

Tom will then continue by talking about how the concepts of blasphemy and sacrilege, and punishments for them, are not viable in a ‘free speech’ society and how mutual respect is the only ultimate guarantee of respect for God and the Prophets.

***

The concept of ‘protection’ brings to mind a dynamic whereby the strong protect the weak and those with power protect the powerless.  Do we honestly think that we can protect God and His Prophets? For the insult to be incitement to hatred and beyond, the recipient would be harmed by it.  God and His Prophets are surely above our mere words…

So what is going on here then, beneath the anger at an insult?

When people stand against insult, mockery and derision of God and His Prophets it is unlikely due to the fact that they think the words will cause harm or injury directly.  It is more likely a reflection of the pain they have felt due to what they love and revere being treated with contempt and ridicule.

Mockery and derision are manifestations of a disrespect and a lack of sensitivity.  God and His Prophets shouldn’t necessarily be ‘protected’ themselves, rather, we should focus as a society on respecting people, as we are the ones who feel the pain and hurt.  If we are to live in a civilised society, a level of respect towards what others deem sacred is critical.

There is also the added factor of where the insult is coming from and its intent.  Reactions in the Muslim community, for example, that may seem disproportionate may be exacerbated by what some regard as worsening attitude towards Muslims by, dare I say it, the West.  That frustration may manifest itself in a grievance towards free speech.

What is it we are trying to achieve? If it is a civilised society where we all respect one another’s sacred beliefs, is the any protection truly going to be the key or will it be a band aid forcing attitudes underground?

***

My second point touches on the universal concept of freedoms, and more specifically, freedom of speech and expression.

It’s a freedom that cannot be understated, and it is enshrined in the Universal declaration of Human rights, in article 19.  It is why we are able to be here and I am able to have this debate.

There is danger is presenting religion and free speech as mutually exclusive, as incompatible.  Without freedom of expression, which is a bedrock of democracy, open discussion of ideas becomes difficult.

However, if an insult comes with an intent to incite hatred then it moves out of the realm of simple freedom of speech.   I would argue that incitement to hatred is a different beast altogether.  That’s not an insult, it is a vindictive act driven by altogether sinister motivations.

Freedom of expression comes with a level of personal responsibility.  We are all individually responsible for our intentions, choices, sayings and actions in the community that we live in.

There shouldn’t be a need for protection because individuals who practice free speech should bear the responsibilities of their expression.

 

***

With that, I come to my third point.

I believe we should follow the examples of those who lived their lives with virtue.  It may not be surprising to find that such figures, such as the Prophet Mohammed, did not demand protection from insult.

On the contrary, he was insulted and abused often in his life.

He never responded to these events with violence.  In fact, he often did the opposite.

There is one particular example that I enjoy.

God sent the Angel Gabriel to the Prophet after what we shall call a particularly bad day.

'Muhammad! Allah (The Glorified and the Exalted) has heard what your people have said to you. I am the Angel of the Mountains and my Lord has sent me to you to carry out your orders. What do you want now to be done? If you like I may crush them between the two mountains encircling the city of Makka.

The Prophet (may Allah's blessings and peace be upon him) replied with this:

(I do not want their destruction) I am still hopeful …

So those who have used violence in order to ‘protect’ the Prophet cannot say they were following the example of the very man they model their life on.

***

Ultimately, ladies and gentlemen, God and the Prophets are surely above our insults.  They, if you will, transcend the limitations of humanity and the mere concept of us being able to protect them is irrational.

Furthermore, the concepts of free speech and freedom of expression are extremely important to a functioning democracy, so that ideas can be exchanged and built upon. It should always be remembered though that with the right to freedoms does come some level of personal responsibility.

Moreover, violence is an unacceptable form of protection in any situation, particularly when it comes to religion and spirituality. So even in the face of insult, which may be hurtful and derogatory, we would do well to respond in the best way possible, not only in the interests of civilisation but in the interests of showing the best sides of what faith can provide.

***

16:125 Invite (all) to the Way of thy Lord with wisdom; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious: for thy Lord knoweth best…

 

Reflection

Check out my reflections on the event here!

What are your thoughts?

 

Cheers,

Yassmin Abdel-Magied

Guest Tweeter on Ten!!!

TGIF all! Good morning, and I have some exciting news for you all!

Network Ten is launching a new breakfast show next Monday, called "Wake Up".  It's hoping to be something a little different for your mornings...

***

...I am super honoured to be on of the regular guest tweeters on the show!!

It's going to be quite exciting inshallah. They've given me pretty much free reign to tweet as I like during the show, commenting on all sorts of issues (even if the coffee they give me isn't up to scratch, and let's face it, nothing's quite as good as Brisbane coffee).  I'll be appearing on set with the hosts three times during the morning for some talk about what's trending on twitter and the news of the day (including, as I will ensure, socially conscious topics!!).

This is a little bit awesome, right?!

So your job is to watch the show (it starts at 6.30am on Monday morning), and I will be the guest tweeter on next Thursday the 7th!!!

Tweet/FB/Instagram with me about all the issues that are important to you on that day and I will make sure they get some airtime (as best as I can!).

DEETS THAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:

My handles: @yassmin_a - facebook.com/yassminabdelmagied - http://www.youtube.com/yassm1na - and I suppose I will have to get on that instagram bandwagon ;)

Their handles:

@WakeUpOnTEN - facebook.com/wakeuponten - youtube.com/wakeuponten :)

***

This is going to be really fun inshallah, and I am honestly pretty proud of a commercial platform interesting in having a 'visibly different' voice on the show. Now, just to make sure that isn't a token voice and doing something with it (and hopefully, having this as only the start of a whole new wave of voices!).

Khair inshallah!!

Are you going to be watching? Pft, that's not even a question. You most definitely are inshallah ;)

Wake up

It's #QandA Time! (and the Burka Avenger)

QandA

We sit in front of the television every most Monday evenings, cursing and celebrating in equal measure, the opinions stated by the panellists sitting on either side of Tony Jones.

"Oh what!" we yell, out aloud and on twitter.

We all think we would have the perfect answer to the questions being asked too ;)

Well on Monday, I have the scary honour of being one of those very panellists on the firing line and by gosh, with the election just called, it's going to be a fun evening indeed!

I'll also be heading into the studio early to be talking to the Australia Network on the new animation, the Burka Avenger...

I think the idea of the Burka Avenger is fantastic, but it is a little too early to call.

Burka Avenger is a Pakistani animated television series airing on Geo Tez. Created and directed by pop star Haroon and produced at Unicorn Black production studios, the show features Jiya, a mild-mannered teacher with secret martial arts skills who uses a flowing black burka to hide her identity as she fights local thugs. The Urdu language series first aired on July 28, 2013. [wiki]

The program seems to tick the initial acceptability boxes; written by a member of the community, it is clearly coming from within and is relatable.  Programs that cultivate and encourage creativity and artistry are in dire need as well, so that is a plus.

Furthermore, the aim of the program seems to be to encourage education as the superhero uses only books and pens as her weapons.  Encouraging education, particularly in the areas this Urdu-language program is targeted to laudable and required.

What will be important is whether or not this actually works in the community.  Will it be watched by young people and change their perceptions? More importantly, will their parents allow them to watch and be educated by it?  It will most definitely create controversy: given the attire of the 'villains' (very 'traditional', even 'Taliban' looking...) and the use of the Burka as a disguise rather than as a traditional religious garment used for modesty (and in some cases, for oppression, but that's another kettle of fish).  I think the fact that this program will create conversation though is a boon in of itself...

So let's wait and see on this one. I think it is a positive, but the jury is still out on the effectiveness on the outcome - and we judge by the outcome in this world, do we not?

***

So what about you? Ever wanted to be on the panel? What would you like to talk about?  What are your thoughts on le Burka Avenger?