Guest Blog: A Matter of Being Heard

This is a guest piece by Iman Salim Ali Farrar, the young Muslim lady who is the 2015 YMCA NSW Youth Parliament Premier.  I'm honoured to have her poignant contribution to the blog. 

I was fortunate enough to be elected by the youth delegates as Youth Premier of Queensland in 2008 and it fantastic to see Iman in a similar position this year in NSW.  Chyeah! 

IMAN SALIM ALI FARRAR

IMAN SALIM ALI FARRAR

There comes a point in the hub-bub of everyday politics when the discussion on real issues which face our vast communities seems to give way to disjointed partisanship and strong-arm showmanship. Thus, this shows a neglect of the voices which often need to be heard most. Certainly, the lack of balanced and nuanced debate surrounding such issues by our nation’s leaders has heightened deep visions, sensationalized trivialities and disenfranchised many, particularly the young, from mechanisms of political institutions.

Now, it is with great humility and respect that I was provided with the opportunity to lead this year’s NSW YMCA Youth Parliament as the NSW Youth Premier for 2015. The Youth MPs I had the pleasure of working with are some of the most intelligent, outspoken, talented and politically active people I know; I could not be more honoured, and I thank them sincerely for entrusting me to lead them.

Throughout my life, I have lived across four continents and five different countries; I have traveled and I have been immersed in several different cultures, however, due to this, I was never able to fully settle and develop any deep attachment to call anywhere home. I will not deny that this gave me a realisation beyond what I was exposed to in my home and local area – it showed me the different governing systems, the different values and the inherently different lifestyles that came with that. It developed the value that I now have for the many cultures of the world, but I have never felt more at home then I do here in Sydney, Australia. I may have a British accent, I may not have been born here, but my Australian identity is as strong as anyone else’s. I am a migrant, in fact, besides the indigenous, we are all migrants to Australia, and we have all adopted this place as our home. When you see me, you wouldn’t guess that I am half English, and half Malaysian, that I speak 3 languages and can read and write in another two which I do not understand, and that I am a very, very passionate young woman who will not stand to be discriminated against, especially based on my identity as a Muslim or a woman. I may not look or fit any stereotype of anything that you may have in your mind – but against all the odds; of both a society often fearful of Islam and of a society that does not value the opinions of the youth nearly as much as they should, I am still proud to call Australia my home.

Iman with QLD's Former premier, Anna Bligh.  Reppin' QLD! 

Iman with QLD's Former premier, Anna Bligh.  Reppin' QLD! 

I preach for diversity. For it to be fully accepted in society, in managerial positions, in educational standards, and in State and Federal Parliament, and for it to not be a point of discrimination. I believe that it is about time that our Parliament reflects the diverse and multicultural nature of our population. I preach for diversity to be realised, for our true multicultural society to reflect on this notion of diversity, and for our youth and broader society to have their say on matters that affect them, on issues that they have the ability to put forward resolutions for.  As a woman, it fills me with great joy to see that 60% of the participants in this year’s NSW Youth Parliament are women. It is even more impressive that out of the Government Executive in the Legislative Assembly, 4 out of 5 of the executive positions are filled by some of the most inspirational young women I have met in my life who have such drive and passion for positive change in our society. Not only are we challenging the statusquo represented in current state and federal parliament through closing the gap of women in powerful positions, but we also encompass the multicultural nature of New South Wales that we have all come to embrace.

Through grassroots’ apolitical forums such as YMCA NSW Youth Parliament, the voices of this State’s young leaders are allowed to cut through much of the clutter and put into creating legislation and open debate regarding the issues facing their own communities as well as broader society. I believe that it is pivotal to acknowledge that this is not a matter of small significance. Rather, the Youth Parliament program kindles that political awareness and superb quality integral to the next generation of our states’ leaders – ensuring the future burns even brighter than the past.

And who said we, the youth, don’t have a voice?

It is simply a matter of being heard.

-- 

This is a guest piece by Iman Salim Ali Farrarthe young Muslim lady who is the current 2015 YMCA NSW Youth Parliament Premier.  I'm honoured to have her contribution to the blog and stoked to see more and more young Muslim women doing awesome things and leading with compassion, integrity and vision.

Iman Salim Ali Farrar

Iman Salim Ali Farrar


Him.

He sat across from me and asked.

Does Allah talk to you?

Do you hear him?

What do you pray about?

Does he answer your prayers?

I don’t even know what I said, but what a question indeed.

I didn’t know how to articulate it, and I don’t know if I ever will.

I didn’t know how to say that knowing Allah is there, all the time, that was all I ever needed to know. 

That I hear him in music that moves, see him in the outline of mountains against the sky.  

That my mortality frightens me, an intense fear that I may not be doing enough… a fear that my life is too easy, a fear that these blessings are in fact my hardships, and that I am failing the tests.

That sometimes, not very often, but sometimes...

I buckle. Doubled over, during sujood. Tears not merely from my eyes but from somewhere deeper, racking me raw because I am so humbled to be in His presence, Subhanallah. 

My heart begs Him to guide me, to forgive me, to use me, to save me from myself and my own weakness.

Because I am oh so weak, and without His blessings, I am nothing.

“And how could we not place our trust in God, seeing that it is He who has shown us the path which we are to follow?’ ‘Hence, we shall certainly bear with patience whatever hurt you may do us: for, all who have trust [in His existence] must place their trust in God [alone]!’” [14:12]


It's a little frightening, writing so publically about religious faith, particularly to an Australian audience. We are not comfortable with it, and often I think that my secular friends are surprised by how much Islam means to me, particularly on a spiritual level.  

Politics aside, Ramadan is fast approaching, and it is a time for reflection. It is time for that spiritual (and painful caffeine!) detox. It is a month to remind ourselves of our temporary nature, and what we are living for. 

What is it that we live for? 

Well, each of us has to answer that alone...

Cowboys, Kentucky and Keeping the Feels Alive

justified.png

There’s nothing quite like losing yourself in a television series.

If I’m honest with myself, it’s probably one of my guilty pleasures, one that I no doubt share with many of my fellow gen-y folk.  Watching episode on episode of a show, not noticing the hours fly by, absorbed in the story lines of fictional characters, caring more about their fate than sometimes the fates and futures of those around us.

It is how I would give my brain a rest between exams, and in some ways unfortunately, has replaced a love of fiction books.  Why, I’m not sure: the transition has been slow and insidious, until I only recently realised I had spent the same number of hours watching TV as I would previously have spent hungrily consuming the worlds of Tamora Pierce, Joe Abercrombie and Duncan Lay.

That being said, my writing this reflection was prompted by the emotional and yet fitting season finale of a favourite series of mine, Justified.

It isn’t quite a mainstream classic like Game of Thrones, which I refuse to watch on principle (the abundance of nudity and gratuitous violence grates on my soul).  Justified was introduced to me by a geologist on a rig in Western Queensland on an unsuspecting day-shift.

“It’s pretty good. It’s addictive…"

I was sceptical, but it didn’t take long. It took one episode in fact, and I was hooked.

Justified is the story of a cowboy lawman, Deputy US Marshall Raylan Givens and his long time battle with outlaw Boyd Crowder.

The world of Eastern Kentucky is foreign to me, but Justified brought it alive. Perhaps the representation of Harlan County is as accurate as The Wire’s of Baltimore, but the characters were just as complex, real and courageously human.  Boyd was a outlaw in every sense of the word yet somehow, we were given glimpses into his humanity, as much as we despised it. Raylan was a lawman who was perhaps the mirror image of Boyd, but on the right side of the tracks and we saw him grapple with his instinct, and what was ‘right'.  The various other Marshals, the villains, the well meaning town folk and of course the steel of Ava Crowder, Rayland’s original lover and Boyd’s finance - and shooter - weaved a tapestry that made us feel like a thread in the story; made us feel like we could belong.

The amazing thing about TV is that right now, moments after shedding a single tear at the season (and series) finale, my emotions are wrought and raw.  Yet, I will look back on this in days, weeks, months and think gosh! How invested was I! How was it that I spent so much time watching this when I could have been doing something productive? Why did I care so much about a world which does not even exist?

I guess that’s not the point. The beauty in well made pop culture, well made film and ultimately, well made art is that it gives us the space to feel. We are given permission to see and experience what we don’t yet have the language for through the world of someone else. It can hold up a mirror to who we are as a society, give us the opportunity to dissect human interaction, figure out who is still holding the reigns of societal power. It can be used to shape minds and expectations, introduce ideas and challenge them, entertain, embolden, embattle, envelope. It can be anything we want it to be I guess...

What I took away from Justified is this: for some, human life is cheap.

Some people are lucky, some make it through.

Others, most others, don’t fare so well, and past success is never quite a guarantee of the same in the future.

Some folk are in the wrong place at the wrong time, and some are victim of the lottery of birth.

Others make the circumstances of their birth moot through their choices, but that is a courage not many are even shown how to muster.

Trust is a beautiful, rare and incredibly fragile thing: if it were tangible it would be the film that makes up a butterfly’s wings. Pierce it and the film curls all the way back. Each piece requires painstaking, careful unfurling to even begin to resemble its original form and even then...

Ultimately, even nemesis share a common humanity.  For Boyd and Raylan, it was digging coal when they were pups. Here in the real world, it is up to us to find that binding force between each other.  For if we don’t, there is no way out.

In the deep, dark hills of Eastern Kentucky, 

That’s the place where I trace my bloodline,

And it’s there I read on hillside gravestone.

You’ll never leave Harlan alive...

Don't DIS my Appearance: On Beauty

I've been fortunate to be able to support a powerful awareness campaign being run by the Butterfly Foundation.

"Don't DIS My Appearance"

It is a cheeky campaign for a serious cause.

Check some info about it here.

On the theme of appearance, I wrote this piece for Sunday Style.

***

No matter how high performing they are, so many single awesome, high achieving young women I know have insecurities about the way they look.

It’s almost something any two women can bond over, no matter where in the world they are from.

“Oh gosh, I ate SOO much today, and it’s all going to my thighs!”

You would be forgiven for thinking it was a line out of ‘Mean Girls’ and not a regular conversation between fabulously functioning females in 2015. It breaks my heart, and I would be lying if I said that I was always the exception. I also hate that it is true, because it wrongly reinforces a stereotype that says women are obsessed with and overly concerned with their bodies.

“I exercise so that I can eat chocolate,” is not an uncommon sentiment. Sometimes it is said almost solely to fit into the expected discourse, because for some strange reason being concerned about weight is just so ‘normal’.

The ubiquitous and insidious nature of the media, and the advertising and image-saturated world we live in means there is no way to get away from a constant reinforcement of what is considered ‘beautiful’, what constitutes the ‘ideal’ and what a woman ‘should’ look like.

It takes constant reminding to disassociate from these cues and remind ourselves that there is no ‘ideal’. It is also worth remembering that these images are essentially produced art rather than a replication of a reality, but that is easier said than done. Ironically, as a covered Muslim woman, most of the time people can’t see my body to judge, but I know and that is enough to spur the internal conversation.

What is even more bizarre is Western standards of beauty being applied to people that are obviously structurally different. I’m an Arab African woman by blood so how on earth will I ever look like a J-Law or Emma Watson? I can’t, and yet somehow subconsciously I expect my body to be able to be moulded to a genetically different norm.

It is said that in Cuba, no matter what a woman looks like she has an inner sense of self confidence. How? Because apparently, growing up in a country without advertising from the nearby United States and the West, she isn’t constantly bombarded with capitalist-driven images of what ‘ideal beauty’ looks like. She grows up thinking the way she looks is beautiful, and just fine the way she is.

Isn’t that incredible?

Beauty and body image are peculiar concepts. What is considered beautiful is completely subjective, but in the world we live in there is absolutely no doubting that there is an ‘ideal’ standard of beauty and everything else is ‘exotic’.

I’m incredibly fortunate in that my parents brought me up to have confidence in my abilities as an individual, and my self worth was tied more around how I could be of service to the community rather than how I appeared.  That being said, that wasn’t always the case, and it isn’t all black and white. I grew up wanting to slice my rear-end off. All the Caucasian girls at my high school had flat bottoms and mine was round and protruding.  Awkward, right? It always making my dress hitch up when I checked myself out in the windows. What I wouldn’t have given to be the same as everyone else, the same as the models in magazines and TVs all around me…

Now though, according to Vogue, the ‘booty is back’!

Wonderful, or perhaps not so much. Because the booty is only considered beautiful if it is a particular type of booty, and accompanied with a body that is just as thin (or fit, because that’s the new thing) as any other model.

Honestly though, this commentary is a little unfair. Although the internet can be a terrible place for women, particularly in relation to body image (Twitter can resemble the Amazon: Beautiful but also full of blood-thirsty piranhas), it has also spawned an incredibly supportive movement and brought like-minded, empowered women together.

Not only are these movements about highlighting alternative forms of beauty, but they are about encouraging acceptance and celebration of difference. It is also about finding female role models who are not celebrated because of their physical beauty but because of what they do.

If there is a way for us to tackle the scourge of low self-confidence related to body image, it will be through that – through empowering young girls to realise that their self-worth is not tied to what they look like but who they are: their intelligence, their humour, their wit, their opinions, their laughs, their tears and their actions.

I look forward to living in a world where women feel comfortable in their own skin and their self-worth is not defined by a constrained and unachievable standard of beauty. Perhaps there will be some of that Cuban spirit in us all!


Don’t DIS My Appearance is a national awareness and fundraising campaign for the Butterfly Foundation, calling on all Australians to take a stand against a culture of appearance based judgement and negative body image.

Funds raised go towards better prevention, education, treatment and support services to fight eating disorders and the devastating impact they have on sufferers, families and our community.

We are asking people to paint their middle finger for May. Check out other ways you can get involved here.

 

So get amongst it!

Nepal - Donate through ChildFund

I have no words.  All I can say is that an organisation that I am closely affiliated with (as I serve on the Board of ChildFund Australia) is doing some fantastic work in the region and could use any support you want to give to the children in Nepal. What happened?

In a nutshell, this is the worst earthquake to hit Nepal in 80 years (the last major earthquake was in 1934).

  • More than 3,200 people have been killed and over 6,500 injured, with the numbers continuing to climb
  • According to UNICEF, almost a million children have been severely affected
  • ChildFund has been working in Nepal for 20 years (through our sister organisation ChildFund Japan)
  • Our emergency response is focused on Sindhupalchok district, one of the worst-affected areas
  • Initial reports from our partner staff estimate 80 per cent of mud houses in the communities where we work have been destroyed – children and families are now staying outdoors in freezing temperatures and need immediate assistance
  • Our primary concern is for the care and protection of children affected by this terrible disaster
  • Our team on the ground is conducting a rapid assessment so that our response can get underway

ChildFund are continuing to post updates on social media and would appreciate you sharing the appeal link with your networks.  Otherwise, there are a list of reputable places to send your $$ here.

There are an overwhelming number of disasters that are fighting for our attention in the news at the moment.

This is simply one...

Either way, don't let the tide of distress paralyse you from being able to interact with and support any of the movements or responses.  Make sure you play your part - however small - in making this world a little safer, in whatever way you know how.

 

Into the Middle of Things

Hello there! Well it has been a while. I read once it was bad form to apologise for not having posted for some time, but I think in this case I feel like some sort of acknowledgment of my absence is warranted.

It has been a 'busy' few months, although I do dislike using the word 'busy'.  Busy doesn't tell us very much, does it?  It is like 'fine'; an empty word that describes the status quo and adds no real value to a sentence.  It is there as a social nicety, which is something I suppose.  'What has been keeping you busy?' has been my go-to question of late, rather than 'what do you do?'.  It makes for a more interesting conversation.

Occasionally, I include a twist and amend it with 'what has been keeping you busy mentally?'

In my case, it has been a couple of months of growing up.  Mentally, I have been devoting a lot of time to issues around gender, access to opportunity and diversity across decision making places. I've also been thinking a lot about unconscious bias, how that plays a role in our society and how we can move past it...

Big issues, big questions. Too much for one blog post perhaps.

So instead, let me pepper you with some links to say hello again, and hopefully the next update will not be so far away.

***

I was recently alerted to this wonderful website: 'Into the Middle of Things', where Australians from around the country are interviewed about their life.  The first one I saw was below and it is a beautiful few minutes with Abe, a Sudanese-Brisbane lad:

Born in a Sudanese jail in the midst of a civil war, Abe escaped a possible future as a child soldier and managed to make it to Australia as a refugee with his seven brothers and sisters. The secret emotional and mental toll of this is still catching up with him today.

***

Shonda Rhimes is an awesome strong black woman and is doing some cool things with the various TV series she writes.

"I get asked a lot by reporters and tweeters why I am so invested in 'diversity' on television,"  Rhimes said, according to Medium's text of her speech. "'Why is it so important to have diversity on TV?' they say. I really hate the word 'diversity.' It suggests something other. ... As if there is something unusual about telling stories involving women and people of color and LGBTQ characters on TV."

Rhimes offered an alternative to the term "diversity," saying she'd rather describe what she's doing as "normalizing."

"I am making TV look like the world looks. Women, people of color, LGBTQ people equal way more than 50% of the population. Which means it ain't out of the ordinary. I am making the world of television look normal," she said.

***

Some awesome women learning to be engineers in remote areas in the Philippines. LOVE IT.

***

Did n bit of a run down on various topics with the Triple J Hack crew for the Friday night Shake Up. What are your thoughts on some of these issues? Listen to the podcast here.  Also did some radio in Arabic! Check it by clicking here.

***

Loving this insta: Did I ever tell you I really used to love drawing cartoons?

90s Superboy cover for DC's Convergence! :)

A photo posted by babsdraws (@babsdraws) on Jan 14, 2015 at 6:06pm PST


***

So anyway, what has been keeping YOU busy mentally?

The Aussie Long Weekend: What awaits?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=as_QgRtsSa0&feature=youtu.be I'm sitting in the Perth airport, waiting for a straight flight to Canberra. It's a little surreal really, to think one is up for something like the Young Aussie of the Year. To be honest, I don't think about it too much at all.  It is an absolute honour, but I think about these things in the pragmatic way my family and funnily enough, rig life, operate:  it is what it is.

I can't influence the result in any way, and so I look forward to the weekend with a positive pensive outlook.  I'm looking forward to meeting people who are doing inspiring things, are movers and shakers, wise beyond their years and have hearts of gold. I am looking forward to making friends who will push me to be better than I could have dreamed of being.  Khair Inshallah!  I continue to find it amazing that someone who was born in Khartoum, Sudan to find themselves repping Australia, but therein lies the magic...

(If you're interested, it'll be broadcast live on ABC at 6pm Sydney time on Sunday).

Australia Day long weekends are often deeply immersed in national introspection, and this year, given the tumultuous year we've just had, reflections on who we are as a nation is even more important.  I've written a few thoughts here and there on some different themes: keep an eye out.

Crikey's piece on the Bali Nine today ended in an interesting paragraph:

But if nationalism has any value, it is this: that for those abandoned by everyone, we will make some sort of stand for them, by virtue of nothing other than that we share a land, a set of habits, a few collective memories. That needn’t be a prerequisite for solidarity, but it sure as hell should be an occasion for it.

At the end of the day, that's what nationalism is about.

A shared land,

a set of habits,

a few collective memories.

Sometimes that's all we need.

What does Australia Day mean to you?

We must not lose faith in humanity.

It goes without saying, but should be said anyway.

The various violent events that have dominated our media over the last few days, weeks and months have been heart wrenching atrocities. Lives have senselessly been lost, bringing the precarious nature of our comfortable lives into sharp relief.  It is almost exhausting in its relentlessness, and bizarre to step back and realise that we live in a world where violence has taken on a gross normalcy; terrible, yet no longer completely out of the ordinary.

After the Sydney Siege, there was little I felt I could add to the public lament.

Yet after Sydney, 2014 didn't let up.  It was followed by the slaughter of innocent children in Peshawar, the grinding, endless deaths in Congo, the murders in Paris and an unimaginable massacre in Nigeria, only a few days ago.

The easy option in dealing with this barrage, this constant reminder of the cruelty of humans, is to switch off.

Stop reading the commentary.

Stop engaging in the debate.

Stop critically analysing and regress to black and white, to binary thinking, to 'us' and 'them', 'them' being whoever you deem as broadly evil or uncivilised, depending on your colour and place of birth.

That cannot be our response.

Yes, in the midst of the mourning, there has been a troublesome vein of hatred that has bubbled beneath the surface.   Glints of these perspectives and attitudes are epitomised in the language and expectations surrounding the media and commentary around the violence.

Listening to my favourite news podcasts for example, or even to our own Tony Abbott, there was a constant reminded that 'they hated 'our' freedoms', our 'civilisation', our 'liberty'.

Who are 'they'?

'We' have to stand against the extremists, people say. We can't let 'them' win...

The problem being that entire groups are demonised, dangerously so.  The framing makes someone like me - thoroughly, visibly Muslim and fervently Aussie because well, this is home - almost ask myself the question: am I us, or them?

Of course I know...right? Yet, there is a constant implied expectation for justification. The is a whisper of accusation in all the tones, forming seeds of doubt fertilised by ignorance and lack of exposure to anything but the dominant discourse...

The nuances are oh-so-subtle.

The language polarises, forces us to choose sides without realising what we are doing.  It frames our conversations in ways that moulds our thinking: classical grade 10 critical literacy stuff.  Obvious to those paying attention, but how many of us truly are?

It has been explained very well by writers more impressive than I, and there are links below to some very interesting and thought provoking reading around how the media reporting is clearly biased, how blaming all Muslims isn't going to help as expecting constant apologies is damaging in itself and how providing context is not the same as justifying an action.  In ruminating on our collective (i.e. humanity's) current situation, the following became clear:

ONE.

The language we use to refer to those who commit violent acts must change.  'Islamists', 'radicals', 'fundamentalists', 'extremists' and the like simply suggest that well, these actions are at the fundamental core of what it is to be Muslim. It legitimises their actions as Islamic, when scholars worldwide have time and time again, said that they are not.

Rather, they should be referred to as what they are: Violent criminals.

We don't often refer to criminals by their perceived or claimed motivation: A bank robber is a bank robber, not a greedy-capitalist. A murder is a murder, not a politically-motivated-youth-claiming-Islam-backs-him.

TWO.

If we turn on each other, we are playing into the hands of these violent criminals.

Juan Cole puts it brilliantly:

"Al-Qaeda wants to mentally colonize French Muslims [and this can apply to all nationalities], but faces a wall of disinterest. But if it can get non-Muslim French to be beastly to ethnic Muslims on the grounds that they are Muslims, it can start creating a common political identity around grievance against discrimination."

Acts of violence that are so obvious and politically motivated are aimed at sharpening contradictions.  They are aimed at forcing open those slivers of cracks in our multicultural societies.  They feed on distrust in communities, spreading insidious doubts and roots that breach the foundations of compassion a society has built.

We have to choose to see beyond the hatred and have faith in humanity, regardless of what we are being drip fed to believe by the hype around us.

Oh, it's not going to be easy, and it doesn't mean blind positivity. It means belief that humanity can prevail.  'Humanity' isn't owned by a civilisation either; it isn't 'secular' or 'traditional', it lies in understanding that each of us are fundamentally human, and we all deserve protection, compassion, opportunity, love.

It means understanding grief and mourning, and not choosing to mourn one life as more important than another.  It means respecting that every life is valuable and its barbaric and unfair extinguishing is inhumane, regardless of the motivation.

It means choosing to treat each and every person individually, not judging them by the actions of others.

It means, as Imam Zaid Khair puts it, not being hasty in dismissing others, but being patient in inviting them to understand your lense.

We have to work together to constantly, tirelessly and consciously choose to value our common humanity.  

If we choose to hate, to despair, to lament, to be so overwhelmed by the seeming tidal wave of conflict, nothing will change.

But if we stay resolute in the belief that humanity will prevail and that each and every single of us has a part to play in making this happen, then surely, we can have something to look forward to.

***

5 pieces of food for thought:

 

If nothing else, read this: 9 Points to Ponder on the Paris Shooting and Charlie Hebdo. Much of my writing was inspired by this piece.

 

Unmournable bodies

"And even when we rightly condemn criminals who claim to act in the name of Islam, little of our grief is extended to the numerous Muslim victims of their attacks, whether in Yemen or Nigeria—in both of which there were deadly massacres this week—or in Saudi Arabia, where, among many violations of human rights, the punishment for journalists who “insult Islam” is flogging. We may not be able to attend to each outrage in every corner of the world, but we should at least pause to consider how it is that mainstream opinion so quickly decides that certain violent deaths are more meaningful, and more worthy of commemoration, than others."

 

Sharpening Contradictions

"Al-Qaeda wants to mentally colonize French Muslims, but faces a wall of disinterest. But if it can get non-Muslim French to be beastly to ethnic Muslims on the grounds that they are Muslims, it can start creating a common political identity around grievance against discrimination."

 

Mourning the Parisian Journalists Yet Noticing the Hypocrisy

"But then again, I had to wonder about the way the massacre in Paris is being depicted and framed by the Western media as a horrendous threat to Western civilization, freedom of speech and freedom of the press, I wondered about the over-heated nature of this description. It didn't take me long to understand how problematic that framing really is."

So don't be surprised if people around the world, while condemning the despicable acts of the murderers in Paris and grieving for their families and friends, remain a bit cynical about the media-circus surrounding this particular outrage while the Western media quickly forgets the equally despicable acts of systematic murder and torture that Western countries have been involved in. Or perhaps a bit less convinced that Western societies are really the best hope for civilization when they condone this kind of hypocrisy, rather than responding equally forcefully to all such actions repressing free speech or freedom of assembly. I could easily imagine (and regret) how some Islamist fundamentalists will already be making these points about the ethical inconsistencies of Western societies with their pomposity about human rights that never seem to constrain the self-described "enlightened democracies" from violating those rights when it is they who perceive themselves as under attack."

 

Charlie Hebdo: Understanding is the least we owe the dead

"Take your pick, whichever one suits your politics, whatever tin drum you want to bang on.

Just don’t bang it near me. I don’t want to read about how “we’re all” anything, because wishing away complexity is inadequate and juvenile. I want to hear no talk about cracking down on anyone or tightening anything up. We have cracked and tightened for a decade and a half and all we have to show for it is a bloated, unaccountable security state that is eroding the cherished freedoms we claim to be so eager to protect."

 

A Cartoonist's Response on the Guardian

 Khartoon

Page 1 of 365

Subhanallah, another year has past.

Change, that was the overwhelming theme of 2014.

New city, new job, new focus...

Change brought many a new beginning.

It was also a year of lots of movement.

150 flights, all over the world. Humbling, really.

All blurred into one long cassette tape of memory.

New people, new perspectives.

What did I learn?

I learnt that the older I get, the greyer things become.

That we cannot judge what is in another person's heart, and it is not our place to do so. What should be of concern with is getting our own heart in order.  Controlling our reactions and responses to events is the only choice we have;  a powerful choice and realisation.

I learnt silence is okay, and sometimes time-out is okay too, even though the adrenalin junkee inside may shout otherwise.

"GET UP!"

"Keep moving..."

"Keep doing..."

These things are important, for idleness can always been a poison.

However, thinking, real, deep, critical thinking doesn't happen when we're on the go.  It didn't happen when I was binge watching The Good Wife or dancing in my bedroom when I got up in the morning.

It happens when I find silence and let my thoughts wander.  When I choose to reflect consciously...

I realised my way of thinking is through writing.   All the silence in the world is futile for my clarity without a way to record it, have it played back to me and be able to reflect on it again and again, until it makes some sense.  The very act of writing, of seeing the words articulated on a page or screen gives them a legitimacy that the fleeting nature of my thoughts lack.  The fact that I didn't write enough this year perhaps contributed to the feeling of not-being-present... and so I resolve to return to the habit of writing in 2015 inshallah.

Every new year brings the opportunity for reflection, refocus and recalibration of who we want to be and where we want to be at.

I cannot say with any certainty where I want to be at the end of this 365 day chapter inshallah.

What I do know is that I hope, with the grace of Allah, I find humility, the space to think and write critically, the ability to impact, influence and hopefully, inspire towards a world of greater equality of opportunity and diversity of voices in the public domain. 

Who knows what 2015 brings.  All we can try to do is be truly present for it.

Bless.

Salams,

 

PS.

Every year I start with a song.  2014 was started with Pharrell's Happy, before it got overplayed on the radio. This year, I chose Bluejuice's 'Work'.

Enjoy! http://youtu.be/pjchHtygrNo?t=1m8s

That Speech: Obama in the House!

“How much time did you get with him?”

The message was insistent.

“Oh I duno, maybe 10 seconds? Five?"

“Take me through every single second…"

I grinned, cast my mind back to the brief moment of the handshake and let my thumbs fly...

#obama

A photo posted by Yassmin Abdel-Magied (@yassmin_a) on

 

The News

 ...the coolest kid/leader in town - President Barack Obama - was coming to visit my alma mater was everywhere.  Fan girls and boys extolled their excitement with exclamation marks and witty status updates, an exuberance tempered only by the ire of the UQ (University of Queensland) students who realised that ‘day kids’ (students who didn’t stay at college) wouldn’t get a chance to attend. Understandably, it was an unpopular decision, to say the least.  The news that only 40 or so students from every residential college was able to secure one of the sought after tickets rubbed a lot of people up the wrong way.

I have it on good authority that it was the University’s decision, and may have been due to the fact that they had to get RSVPs and confirmations with only a few days notice. The US Consulate/White House (as far as I have been led to believe) was keen to get as wide a demographic as possible but left it in the hands of the Universities and schools.  Make of that what you will...

I was fortunate to snare a spot in the crowd, thank you US Consulate!  Awkwardly though, I didn’t realise the tickets had to be picked up a couple of days before the event (at UQ!) until I was called up by the staff on the collection day!  Sitting in my office in Perth, I scrambled to get a family member to pick up the invite for me. Predictably, no-one in my family picked up the phone! A friend came to my rescue and operation “Ticket Collection” was a success. (Shout out to my saviour Romy!)

I arrived in Brisbane on the morning of the event, rushing home from the airport with my little brother at the wheel and hurriedly deciding what to wear. It had to be comfortable, I thought, in order to be able to handle the incredibly sticky Brisbane heat.  Not too crazy I told myself, but also with just enough ‘Yassmin-ness’ (read: flamboyance) to be appropriate.  Smart Casual, the invite said, but since when did anyone pay attention to what the invite says? I went high waisted pants (*cough* cue *cough) and killer high heels (modest, of course!), so that I wasn’t just tall but towering. Ha, nothing like height to demand presence right?

Securing the Seat

Doors opened at 10.45am: I strolled in and secured a spot three rows from the front.  I hadn't realised the President wasn't arriving for hours, so couldn't understand why the place wasn't immediately full.  As I looked quizzically around the center, the guy next to me explained:

"Well, this is what happens when you rock up two hours early..."

Ah, indeed.  Fortunately though, there was plenty of entertainment. 

Politics of the young people in the crowd aside, the invite list was fascinating.  Once the room began to fill up, there were a few hundred students in the risers complemented by hundreds of the men and women who help shape Australia.  In the far right hand corner of the room sat the ‘heavy hitters’, and boy were there a few! Ex-Governor Generals, Premiers, former Premiers, business men and women and stalwarts of the Australian political scene.  Wayne Swan, Qunnie Bryce, John Story, Sam Walsh, Bronwyn Bishop, Colin Barnett, Campbell Newman and Tanya Plibersek to name a few. It was daunting, but honestly? An awesome opportunity to make some new friends, I thought.  The worst part was not recognising someone I really should have, particularly when they clearly think you know how important they are (sorry Colin Barnett).  Something I am working on…

 Funnily enough, one such 'High Net Worth Individual' commented on the number of heavy hitters in the room.

“The thing is,” he said. “I am not sure they are used to being made to wait!" …and yes, waiting is what they were doing.

Doors opened at 10.45am, but the President didn’t make his entrance until after 1pm. That is a lot of time for someone who deems their time critically important, but alas, if not for Obama, then who for?

The Entrance

The Vice Chancellor of UQ stood up to make a speech.

"This is a once in a lifetime opportunity... but I'm going to get off this stage because I know no-one is interested in what I have to say! I'm like the warm up act for the Rolling Stones!"

People chuckled, but it was true. There was a buzz in the air. Everyone was excited to be there, and even the loftiest figures a little bit groupie-like.  The background music would occasionally fade out between songs, and every time there was a moment of silence, the room would instantly hush in anticipation.  This is the moment, we were all be thinking, and then a note of the next song would ring out and the building erupt in (slightly nervous) laughter.  The tension was palpable...

Then, the moment we had all been waiting for.

A booming voice over the loud speaker: "Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome the President of the United States of America..." The rest of the statement was drowned out as everyone leapt to their feet, cameras in hand, half cheering, half taking selfies.  It was a little bit hilarious...
(Obviously, I was not immune. Here is my video of the entrance...)

The announcement of #Obama # universityofqueensland   A video posted by Yassmin Abdel-Magied (@yassmin_a) on

The Big O

I am not a massive fan of Obama's policies, and anyone who has had a discussion with me knows my opinions on his legacy.  That being said, there is no denying his power as an orator.  He came out and instantly the masses swooned, laughing uproariously at his aussie jokes and comments about "Fawr X".

His charisma is undeniable, and he used it to good effect: starting out bolstering the Aussie pride and subtly reinforcing our status as allies.

"As the world's only super power..." he would say, a silent barb towards China.

"These are our choices, oppression or liberty."

The real clincher however, came after he mentioned Indonesia, Japan, South Korea and the Philippines.   The real surprise was what dominated the headlines; Obama's commitment to an International Climate Fund, aiding developing countries tackle the effects of climate change.

This is a fascinating development, particularly as I am personally interested in the effects of energy poverty and the dilemma around setting up countries to gain equal access to clean, cheap and sustainable energy.  More on this at a later date...

The Handshake

It happened like this:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nopWOC4SRm4

(All jokes aside...)

Speech was made, and he moved to the side of the stage. We had no idea if he was going to meet anyone, but the moment he started descending via the stairs, the crowds surged towards the barricade. There must have been ten secret service / body guard guys on each side, warning people not to shove cameras in his face as he walked along the black fence and greeted individuals.

I was aided by my enormous heels and wide hips.  As I swung my way to the front, a former colleague from the Queensland Museum smiled at me.

"Get in there Yas!"

I grinned back. Oh yes indeed!

As the President turned towards me, my mind raced. What do I say? This wasn't the time for a foreign policy barb I supposed...

The handshake was firm, and his eyes fixed on my face, seemingly like an uncle I hadn't seen in a while.

"Thank you sir" was all I managed.

"How are you," he said (I think. It is a bit of a blur).  He looked right at me (slightly up, I was really tall), perhaps slightly surprised to see someone who looked like me in the Australian crowd.

"Good, thanks..."

The lack of inspiration in my answers is slightly embarrassing in hindsight, as was the fact that I didn't go for the fist bump instead.

The aftermath

Lots of squealing. From everyone involved...

Solid handshake with the President of the United States. #auspol #thishappened #obama

A photo posted by Yassmin Abdel-Magied (@yassmin_a) on

Sajjeling: #WISH: a step in the door

This piece was originally posted for the fantastic blog Sajjeling. Check it out! 

This was a hard piece to write, mostly because critiquing movements that are helping the community can be construed as unconstructive and vindictive.  However, I repost it in order to hopefully air alternative perspectives. I do not want any critique to de-legitimise what women have felt the campaign has done, but use it as an opportunity to reflect and then ask ourselves: what is next?

***

Perhaps not surprisingly, a campaign that calls for women of all stripes to don the hijab, take a photo and post it online has garnered mixed reviews over the past few weeks.

#WISH, or Women in Solidarity with Hijabis, came about with the idea of show support and solidarity for Muslims, and, particularly, Muslim women, around the country.

With hundreds and thousands of views, digital interactions and imprints, and almost 30,000 likes on Facebook, it is certainly making an impression in the wider Australian community. Women have used it as an entry point for discussion, posting their photo in a hijab and usually accompanying it with a message of hope or solidarity.  On the surface, it all seems very positive and very encouraging, as it provides a space for those who support Muslim women and sisters to very visually ,and publicly, make a stand.

However, responses from other parts of the Muslim community have rejected the premise of the campaign entirely as belittling and disrespectful of the religious nature of the hijab. Not only does the campaign minimise the religious nature of the hijab, but it can allow people to engage without the difficulty of taking on the identity per se; the privilege to be able to remove the hijab and rejoin society as an accepted member of the mass group is one that doesn’t exist for many Muslim women as an option at all. Therefore, women who feel like they have ‘joined’ the group or, after wearing it for a week, realised how ‘difficult’ it may be or how ‘perceptions change’ when you are wearing a hijab are simply Orientalising the garment rather than engaging with its true meaning.

 

Nevertheless, in spite of commentary about the effectiveness and impact of the campaign, it is worth noting at the outset that it was begun by a Muslim woman in Australia. Therefore, it should be treated as reflective of the wishes of some members in the community.  Some may argue that the campaign is a reactionary way of dealing with the superficial manner in which the public engages with religious belief, however that argument, again, becomes an assumption around a Muslim woman’s capacity for autonomy and choice. Rather than re-emphasise the perception that Muslim women are oppressed and helpless, especially in the face of adversity, this prime example shows that those very women are capable of taking matters into their own hands and finding new ways to change the narrative.

Another campaign in Australia, “Racism, Hatred, Bigotry – #NotInMyName”, is also pushed by a Muslim Australian woman, further defying stereotypes of men being the only leaders in the community.Objectively, there is no denying that the campaign is not the answer to all the Australian Muslim community’s problem, nor does it engage in critical policy creation or find solutions to the increasing incidences of racial and bigoted acts.However, perhaps this is a case of not throwing out the baby with the bathwater?

What the campaign has been successful at doing is allowing many women to engage with the Muslim community in a way they may not have done previously, perhaps because they are drawn to the superficial beauty of the hijab, however ironic that may be.

Most of the women who do engage are doing so in an effort to learn and to demonstrate their solidarity.  Although some may fall under the ‘well intentioned but possibly misguided’ banner that volunteer activists sometimes do, there is still a positive intention that is worth recognising and working with.

Who are we to decide or determine how people learn about Islam?  The Muslim communities expend immense amounts of carbon dioxide talking about how there is little knowledge or information about Islam in the wider community. Should we shoot down one of the most successful campaigns that has allowed positive information to be shared with thousands?

#WISH is not the whole answer, but it is not none of the answer either. What it does is open the doors to a conversation about what the religion means, what the reasoning behind its wearing is based on, and ultimately, what Islam is all about.  It is a non threatening, low-barrier-to-entry way of engaging, and although it may make us as Muslim women feel insecure, frustrated, culturally appropriated and exploited even, no change is made without sacrifice and change is certainly not made if we continuously refuse to engage with the initiatives that have been positive and ultimately, successful.  Right?

Honestly and personally speaking, the campaign can be uncomfortable for some Muslim women, although I speak for myself here. It takes a religious act that for some means daily struggle and constant judgment, and allows it to be worn by many others as a simple ornament, like any other item of jewellery.  The significance of the hijab can be lost in that transaction, and not only is that sad, but it is a misrepresentation of its meaning.  It should be noted that the concept of ‘hijab’ itself isn’t even only just about the headscarf, it includes modestly dressing across the board, and modesty in our actions as well.  #WISH does not communicate that larger message.

But it doesn’t pretend to, either.

Yes, it may be uncomfortable; but is rejecting it the only answer?

Perhaps it should be thought of in this way: #WISH can be the foot in the door.  It may only be a little bit of foot in the door, and perhaps it’s only in the door frame to test the waters.  Nonetheless, if we are serious about changing the narrative and engaging and educating the wider public, the door at least has to be a little bit open. Will we continue to squabble about how the foot got there, holding our post-colonial grudges in our hearts, or will we try to forgive the lack of knowledge and work to ensure that the vacuum is filled?

The choice is ours.  Next move, hijabis.

Defence Australia wants to know what we think. Help me tell them.

Ladies and Gents, occasionally we have to use the tools the system has given us to agitate some change. That time may be now...

Defence Australia is calling for submissions from the community to inform the Defence White Paper, which will guide Australia's Defence spending for the next 20 years. 

They want the community to send in thoughts - and if you have ever wished you could change the way Defence spends their money or thinks about things, this is the opportunity you have been looking for.

It is so important for marginalised and minority voices to be heard in this sort of forum.  I'd like to make sure, in whatever way I can, that these voices are heard.

Therefore, if you want to write a submission (or a short paragraph showing your feelings!), check out the links below:

WHITE PAPER (What on earth a 'white paper' is...)

COMMUNITY CONSULTATION (Some info about the consultation process)

PUBLIC SUBMISSIONS (Where you make a submission)

2014 PAPER (What the 2014 paper said).

If you don't want to write your own submission but want your voice heard, email me: yassmin@youthwithoutborders.com.au and tell me what you think, or we can have a chat in some other way.

Make sure your voice gets heard.