Links, Links, Links! 17th November 2013


Here are a few great pieces I came across on the internet this week:


"The Logic of Stupid Poor People"

Why do poor people make stupid, illogical decisions to buy status symbols? For the same reason all but only the most wealthy buy status symbols, I suppose. We want to belong. And, not just for the psychic rewards, but belonging to one group at the right time can mean the difference between unemployment and employment, a good job as opposed to a bad job, housing or a shelter, and so on. Someone mentioned on twitter that poor people can be presentable with affordable options from Kmart. But the issue is not about being presentable. Presentable is the bare minimum of social civility. It means being clean, not smelling, wearing shirts and shoes for service and the like. Presentable as a sufficient condition for gainful, dignified work or successful social interactions is a privilege. It’s the aging white hippie who can cut the ponytail of his youthful rebellion and walk into senior management while aging black panthers can never completely outrun the effects of stigmatization against which they were courting a revolution. Presentable is relative and, like life, it ain’t fair.


The not-so-secret secrets to success

We imagine ultra-successful individuals being endowed with almost superhuman talents. In so doing, we surround greatness with a certain kind of mystique and deem it somewhat inaccessible to the average person. However, success is not contingent on having extraordinary, innate ability. Nor does greatness depend upon some mysterious approach to life. There are no secrets to success—only simple truths, principles, and disciplines that have been around for thousands of years. Sadly, we obscure the reality of success by making a number of misjudgments about it.


The Lost Female Scholars of Islam

Dr Akram Nadwi is soon to publish his 40-volume collection on Muslim women scholars.  In 2007, Mehrunisha Suleman and Afaaf Rajbee analysed the lost legacy of women scholars and its impact on today's world in emel's feature on The Lost Female Scholars of Islam.


Since women today participate so little in the teaching of Hadith and the issuing of fatwas, there is a wide misconception that historically they have never played this role. As Shaykh Akram describes, “when I started, I thought there may be thirty to forty women,” but as the study progressed, the accounts of female scholars kept growing and growing, until eventually there were no less than 8,000 biographical accounts to be found. Such vast numbers truly testify to the huge role that women have played in the preservation and development of Islamic learning since the time of the blessed Prophet Muhammad. The women encountered by Shaykh Akram were far from mediocre when compared to men, indeed, some excelled far beyond their male contemporaries. There were exceptional women who not only actively participated in society but also actively reformed it. Most striking was the high calibre of their intellectual achievements and the respect that they received for this.


Senator Nova Peris's Maiden Speech

It is what it is. The past is the past and no matter how hard we try we cannot change that history.

But let’s start to undo the wrongs with what is right and just. I urge all my Parliamentary colleagues to become champions for the recognition of Australia’s first nations people in our constitution.

To Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples this has always been part of our story of struggle, injustice and heartache. But we are here today – I am here today – because of this history. Aboriginal Australians are symbolic of triumph over adversity. We represent knowledge and wisdom held in land and country.

Because in our hearts we know that we do not own Mother Earth, the Earth owns us.

As a child growing up, I dreamt big.

Most people would have looked at an Aboriginal girl from the Territory, where the statistics of alcohol abuse, youth suicide, domestic violence, imprisonment rates and sub-standard education point to every reason why you should not succeed.

But I was determined to be successful.

And yes I am a product of that history, and I continue to live in a society whereby the odds are stacked against Aboriginal people.


Abbott's new world order

As a senior executive with one of the charities says: ''I wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, worried that one day we may have to face a royal commission and have to answer for the conditions under which these people were treated and which we didn't have the guts to challenge the government on.''


Economics students demand an education that reflects post-crash world

The economic crash brought back a host of long-forgotten truths, or rather lack of truths, as academic economics closed itself away from the beauty of competing, different ideas. Classroom economics failed to adapt itself to the essence of the world and fails to search for its own failures, to seek and wrestle with new truths.

We now have an opportunity to extend economics beyond the orthodoxies, to reach out to branches of economics that do not allocate resources through simple supply and demand, but theories that directly address the issue of sustainability and aim to ensure people's decisions are born out of social responsibility.

It is essential that future financial and commercial leaders realise the direct consequence of their actions on the wider society, and the best way to do this is by expanding the range of economic thought they are able to engage with.


 The Saturday Paper is coming to town!!



Of course, there was also the pieces on this blog in case you missed them, published in the Financial Review and lamenting on what to do with our lives (fulfillment?)

What have you read that you really enjoyed or found thought provoking?

Can't wait to share!


Yassmin Abdel-Magied

We need more men like Malala's father

Malala Yousfazi's story is well known around the world now, and as a one of the nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize this year, her passion for women's education has been given an international platform.

She is clearly an inspiration for many, although there are those who would take away from her achievements by claiming she is a 'good native'; someone who can be used as an example to justify the actions of Western nations.

Looking beyond this though, the story of Malala is not about Malala herself, because as many have pointed out, there are many like her around the world.

The story is rather that of the Yousfazi family, and particularly her father Ziauddin.  This story is about the strength of fathers in a world where bucking the cultural norm not only reflects on the individual, but on the entire family and is one of the more difficult - but worthwhile - paths to tread.



I cannot speak for Pakistan or Afghanistan, but as a Sudanese born child to parents of mixed heritage in Northern Africa, our cultures have many similarities in expectation and tradition.

In Sudan, the levels of education that women attain - or allowed to attain - are often restricted by the income bracket and cultural expectation of the family.  Middle to high income bracket groups often see school education (including for women) as a given.  Those from poorer parts of the country do not always have that luxury. Unfortunately, most of the nation's wealth resides within the three central cities of Khartoum, Omdurman and Bahri and so many living in rural and remote areas miss out.

The kicker? The level of influence of the attitudes of men in the family.  Sudan, like many Middle East and North African nations, is intensely patriarchal.  No matter how much 'gumption' a woman may have, or how 'brave' she is, without the support of the family and the alpha men in the unit, some things are unlikely to be tolerated.  This is not to say 'all the women are oppressed', as media often regurgitates, but it does mean that men continue to control much of the public discourse and the public domain more generally.

It is very difficult for a woman to support herself in a house alone, for example.  One's reputation and the way they are seen by the world is the most valuable currency in a collective society.  It is a dis-empowering situation in some senses, particularly if one is used to the freedom of choice and independence women are allowed in other parts of the world to .  However, it is the lay of the land...

It is against this backdrop of patriarchy that the importance of male support begins to be clear.  I see my own father in Malala; a man who values education, opportunity, and sees his daughter not as a less capable member of society who should be married as soon as possible to produce grandchildren, but as a functioning, contributing citizen who has the ability to do so much more than the minimum expected.  My father moved across the world for these opportunities for his daughter, and supported me in every educational pursuit that he felt added value.  He encouraged my passions, even though traditionally, fields such as mechanical engineering and working in very male dominated environments is not always seen as 'appropriate' or fitting for a 'good Sudanese girl'.  I am where I am today largely because of both my parent's efforts, and the blessing of his support has allowed me to be in a role that will hopefully inspire others in some way.

My point is this.  It is unlikely that Malala would have been able to do the things she did - write for the BBC, continue her education - if it weren't for her father's support.  Without the blessings of the patriarch in Sudan, life decisions become quite fraught and difficult; I have little doubt this would be the same in Pakistan. Her father's attitude likely legitimised her actions in the area and allowed her to communicate and make a stand without ostracising her own family in the process.

It is the support of men like Malala's father which is absolutely required in the fight for women's equality, education and liberation in countries such as Sudan and Pakistan.

Without their support, it is an uphill battle that is unlikely to be overcome any time soon.

With their blessings and bolstering however, a difference can be made.

Here is to the fathers of our daughters.


Three (MEGA) Tips for Creating that AWESOME Personal Network.

"It's not what you know, it's who you know". How many times have you heard that phrase?

How many times have you felt exasperated with that phrase because you didn't feel like you 'knew' anyone?

The Malaysian Moderation Obsession

Thoughts of a young Aussie on a Malaysia cultural exchange...we made it into the paper! Check out my first reflection on the trip so far here.

The 'Global Movement of Moderation Foundation', or the GMMF for short, is symptomatic of an contradictory obsession with moderation in the Malaysian political sphere.

This contradiction has been demonstrated over the course of the Australia-Malaysia Institute's current program, an initiative pitched as a cultural exchange between the youth of the two nations. The Malaysian Government's Ministry of Foreign Affair's determination to include the GMMF along the way has led to the 'moderation' agenda dictating the terms and language around the program and it is clear that this is coming from the top. Why? What is this all achieving?

A more fundamental question to ask is 'What exactly does it mean to be part of the moderate movement?'

In essence, what does 'moderate' actually mean?

This is a question we have been asking as a group for the last few days and have yet to receive a comprehensive answer. It seems that the concept of 'moderation' is something along the lines of 'the middle path', or more boldly, the opposite of extremism. How such an amorphous concept can be a goal however - especially when so poorly defined - is difficult to understand.

What is concerning is the use of the word 'moderate' when it is a word that quite clearly comes with baggage.

It means various things to various people and as a Muslim, the use of the phrase 'moderate Muslim' is slightly...uncomfortable.

Rather than moderate, some Muslims prefer words such as 'mainstream', if we have to give ourselves a label.

'Moderate Muslims' however, to me seems to just imply a Muslim that is lukewarm, or just 'moderately' interested and engaged in the religion. It makes me think - if I am a 'moderate Muslim', does that mean I am not a 'good Muslim'?

It almost insinuates that it's neither here, nor there. Just a bit, well, meh?

Different Muslims have different preferences, but it should be recognised that the word 'moderate' does have that connotation to many.

So clearly, the use of phrases such as the 'movement of moderation' when that is so poorly defined and in fact insinuates a dilution of [religious] belief is concerning and confusing.

In addition, the second issue of note is the corresponding and contradictory moves in Malaysia to politisice Islam. This has been demonstrated by the tightening of particular laws excessively and against the principles of Islam, an attitude which flies in the face of 'moderation'.

The most recent case is naturally that of banning the use of the word 'Allah' by other religions and various cases in family court that are said to terribly disadvantage women. This disadvantage is due to procedural issues and poor implementation of the law rather than of the word of the law itself.

It would seem that even one of the most outwardly progressive Muslim majority nations in the world suffers from the deep politicisation of religion, evidenced in the adoption of the word 'moderate'. It is a word that the West love, as it is nice and not-extremist-scary. A nation that adopts this position will be internationally favoured.

Domestically however, the opposite is true. Political leaders use the religion to justify their actions in order to try gain the domestic Muslim internal support they desire.

It is an interesting situation indeed...


Politicisation of religion is difficult to fight without true, just, fair education, and that includes proper religious eduation that focuses not on the rituals of a religion but the spirit behind the words.

When Muslims are properly educated themselves as to their rights, responsibilities and duties as good Muslims, the true spirit of Islam - which is like any religion, lauding peace, mercy, forgiveness, et. al. - will shine through.

After all, Muslims are told to walk the 'middle path'...

Ironic, la?


Women in the Workforce: More to it Than Just Numbers

  I wrote this piece for, an awesome site. Check it out originally here.


The questions of women in the workforce and how that affects society’s fabric have been posed since the early days of the feminist movement.  The question of what is gained – or lost – as women assume a larger role in a country’s economic burden is not so much just about the economic aspect, but spans the issues of the political, social and cultural impacts as well.

Women on the job in Afghanistan, by United Nations Photo, on Flickr, 2012 CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Women on the job in Afghanistan, by United Nations Photo, on Flickr, 2012 CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

As a young woman growing up in a Western country with heritage and cultural influences from the East, the question of women’s role in society more broadly has been of interest. The different cultural expectations of women, and the interestingly underlying and sometimes unexpected similarities give an indication of how far women have come, but also how far we still have to go.

In terms of what is gained, there is much to be said. From a numbers point of view, between 1984 and 2009, the number of working women has increased from 44 million to 72 million (in the US).  Not only do the sheer numbers of individuals contributing to the workforce make a difference, but women are said to bring particular skills to industry that change the tone.

Women are said to be more intuitive with different values, including empathy and support.  They are also said to be better team players and are able to look at problems more holistically.  On a more extreme level, workers in traditionally male dominated industries such as oil rigs have anecdotally welcomed women as they “make it seem more like the real world” and “bring a different mentality so we even end up talking about different things”.

These are all sweeping generalisations though; can it really be said that “all women are empathetic” and that is why they are good for the marketplace?  Is it fair to pigeon hole an entire gender into an expected set of stereotyped values?

Perhaps these generalisations are more damaging than beneficial and are part of the reason women are thought of in a particular way, limiting their ability to contribute in a meaningful manner.

An interesting article on the Financial Times also questions this focus on “what women bring”, concluding that perhaps it just comes down to the skill set of the individual and this is where the focus should remain. This particularly applies to women in senior and leadership positions in companies.

Or to put it another way, the women who “make it” perhaps do so because they are far better than the men. It might mean the focus should be less on “what women bring” and more on getting them into leadership roles in the first place.  (Source)

Generalisations aside though, the increase in the number and proportion of women in the workforce does have implications on society more generally. There is no more obvious platform for this societal shift than of the oft asked question “Can women have it all”. Interestingly, it is a question posed usually by women themselves.

“Busy Mom”, by gwilmore, on Flickr, 2005, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Anne Marie Slaughter’s well read essay in the Atlantic, “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All” in 2012 was a profound example of an ambitious, accomplished female role model who argued that women weren’t able to have it all – ‘all’ meaning an ambitious career and a fulfilling family life. The article, based on Slaughter’s personal life as a senior US Department of State employee, provoked responses from around the globe and shocked many, opening up a public conversation about what the result of having women in the workforce meant for our society.

It would seem that from a purely economic point of view, having women a part of the workforce and contributing to nation building in a corporate sense does nothing but improve, gain, increase and enrich productivity and our work place environment. Where things are perhaps lost is not in the office or on site but outside that world – in homes and within families. This is not to say that having women in the workforce is purely detrimental to families, but that society needs to accommodate the fact that women spend more time away from the home and the resultant shift needs to be accounted and allowed for. Society has accepted that women are part and parcel of the working world, now the cultural change needs to follow so that the overall outcome is of one positive benefit for all.

Women collectively breastfeeding for IWD - the right to work and family, by Amadeus Sanz, on Flickr, 2008 CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Women collectively breastfeeding for IWD – the right to work and family, by Amadeus Sanz, on Flickr, 2008 CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Sometimes images like this suggest that even with women in the workforce and contributing to our society, mentalities still have a way to go.

Links, Links, Links – 4th February 2013


Illustration: Rocco Fazzari

The belief that stars are born not made is demonstrated by the portrayal of genius in the media and popular entertainment. Higher achievers such as Mozart and Michelangelo are shown in plays and movies as having prodigious abilities from their earliest years, their talent the result of possession of some mysterious in-built gift. The role of studying and working at mastering anything – art, craft, intellectual pursuits or sport – is glossed over or ignored.

The Conversation on our obsession with natural talent and whether that is harming our students.

 The WSJ on the concept of “The Guerrilla Myth".  Very America Centric but interesting points.

Unconventional wars are our most pressing national security concern. They're also the most ancient form of war in the world. Max Boot on the lessons of insurgency we seem unable to learn.

Creating Links is offering a Cert IV in Community Culture…check it out here! 

Perhaps in future, spy training and learning spy tradecraft should be part of the journalist school curriculum?

On a slightly different note:

The truth is that there will be a million people in your life who actually don’t love you, whose dismissal of your feelings or tendency to ignore what you want are rooted in genuine apathy. They are everywhere, and make navigating our emotional lives even more complicated. But there are also many people who do love us, and who want to show us, but just may not be able to do it in the way we most want to hear. And it’s important to distinguish between the two, to look at the things people are actively doing for us and take account of the things we’re lucky to have in them. Because we are lucky to have love — in any of its forms — and no way of saying “I love you” should be forgotten about.

The Thought Catalogue on The Different Types of Love.

Zakia Baig’s story… Giving Australian’s an opportunity to share their story with the Prime Minister through the SBS program 'My Community Matters’: A great story about an Afghanistani Hazara woman doing fabulous things for her community here in Australia.

The importance of a deepening of our relationship with China cannot be overstated.  Australia releases it’s National Security Statement.  In between the lines is a distinct push and pull between our traditional roles as America’s allies, and the reality of our demographics.