2018: A year of learning to move beyond anger.

I originally published this piece on Medium.

Photo by Sally Ryan

Photo by Sally Ryan

Charlotte Wood recently published an incredible essay about the anger of women.

It got me thinking about my anger, my rage, how I processed trauma; of recent experiences, and of simply existing as a Muslim woman of colour living in the West.

I must be clear. I do not think less of anyone for being angry. Often, almost always, the anger is justified. The world is not fair, trauma is real, and anger is an incredibly valid response to the pain the world, society and individuals, inflicts on us. Anger can drive change, and often does. It catalyses action in ways many other emotions do not. It is the fuel behind many an engine of transformation. It has it’s place, and is so deeply part of the human experience that to deny it completely would be folly, and perhaps, dangerous.

But like fire, anger can be the candle that lights a room, or a burning inferno that destroys a home. For the first time in my life, this year, I felt my anger spiralling out of control. I felt it consume the oxygen in the room, slowly creep under the doors. The flames of my fury licked at my window frames and threatened to engulf the safe house I had built myself to survive.

I frightened myself.

Charlotte Wood’s piece refers to this:

I won’t forget the look I’d seen on her face. It was fear, of drowning in her own rage.

My housemate, incredibly thoughtfully, bought a gift for my birthday. ‘It’ll help you get the anger out’, she said. It was a session at The Break Room, where you can break things, and feel good.

It was a wonderful sentiment, but I was strangely and involuntarily repulsed. My housemates were confused; they felt my rage. Surely smashing crockery was the perfect way of unleashing it. ‘I’m afraid of my own anger,’ I told them. ‘I don’t like the person I become.’ They didn’t understand, but how can they understand that sometimes we are most afraid of ourselves, of the darkness only we know exists?

We went anyway, despite my sullen mood and protestations. It was a wet Melbourne morning, the weather matching my demeanour. I watched the others take baseball bats to mugs, throw plates against the walls, hurl glasses with pure abandon. Loud metal music drowned the sound of chaos.

I felt sick.

Housemates 1 & 2 insisted that I have a go. I smashed a few mugs. I felt a tendril of satisfaction. Then, I felt sick.

Allowing myself to be violent in response to anger felt like opening the door to the room on fire, the room which once held a candle. The fire was hungry for the rest of the oxygen in the house, and once that door was open — even just a crack — well, that was all the invitation it needed to consume the building.

Maybe I was wrong. Perhaps breaking things would starve the fire, remove the oxygen.

I still felt sick.

My anger was justified, I felt. I had been treated unfairly, I felt.The world was systemically set up against me, I felt. My anger felt safe.

I found allies in the anger, other women and people of colour who were also deeply enraged. Rightly so, because my feelings weren’t off base: the world was set up against people like us. My anger alienated some, but drew in others. I found community, in anger.

Anger, for a brief moment, was liberating.

And then, it wasn’t.

The fire had consumed all the oxygen.

I couldn’t breath.


I don’t like being angry, certainly not when it is without restraint.

I don’t like the person I become.

But anger is an energy, a fuel, and perhaps like energy, it is neither created nor destroyed, but only transformed into something different. Petrol engines transform chemical energy into mechanical energy. Perhaps there was a way for me to transform my anger into another form of constructive energy, into an emotion that does not consume the very essence of who I am.


I’m occasionally reluctant to talk about how faith plays a role in my life. Having grown up in quite an anti-religious society, I know how faith based discussions are received. Religion, like Islam, is often mocked and ridiculed, sometimes by the very same progressives who fight for the rights of those who practice the religion. Irony aside, it is obvious that we all have our own framework for understanding the world. Fabulous; the plurality of experiences makes our world the wonder that it is and coexistence is divine. Mine is, and has always been, faith.

My faith allowed me to believe there was nothing I could not handle. That every obstacle was an opportunity for growth. That I could use the fire of anger; contain it, tame it, channel it. It taught me how to use the fire to light 100 candles, rather than let it run free. It didn’t work alone — faith worked in conjunction with therapy, a strong support network and moving countries. But it gave me the fortitude to ask myself how I wanted to use my anger, and what I was going to do about it. I am an engineer, after all. Energy is only useful if it can be channelled constructively.

So yes, I have anger. But I am no longer angry, Alhamdulilah.

I am not so frightened of myself anymore, and god, how that helps me breathe.


The first day of the year often brings with it an opportunity to rest, reflect, restart. As corny and passe as that might be, I revel in and enjoy the chance to stop, pause and think. To give myself the time to listen; to myself, to others, to what the world is telling me beyond the conscious, perhaps.

Here’s to a 2018 where I learn to live beyond a destructive anger. A year of directing that energy to raising others up, to building, to maturing. A period of time to be treasured, as all time deserves to be.

Ameen, Inshallah.

What being a public outrage taught me about fighting inequality

What does being a woman on an oil rig have in common with being a Muslim in Australia? Watch Yassmin Abdel-Magied give an impassioned speech about what it means to be misunderstood and misrepresented in the press and culture. What is it like when you show up and don't look like anyone else?


So I was quite nervous about this talk. Everything about it: writing it, memorising it, delivering it. And this is from someone who talks, well, for a living now.  

When Andrew Hyde from TEDx Boulder asked me to be a part of the program this year, I jumped at the chance. I loved the idea of the Boulder community, and the opportunity to flesh out a new idea. My initial draft for a talk was on a wildly different topic - one that I was looking forward to sharing because I thought it was new and innovative.

And yet...

Writing the speech felt like pulling teeth. It simply didn't want to happen. Although I was intellectually committed to the concept, my heart wasn't in it. 

So a few days before the event, I threw in the towel and wrote a new speech. This is it.  Some of you may be familiar with some of the stories; I wrote about it in my TeenVogue piece a few weeks ago.  This, however, was the first time I spoke publicly about in a formal setting - and to a completely unfamiliar audience.

They were kind, rewarding me with a standing ovation. This certainly helped the nerves. But ultimately, this talk is not about what happened to me in Australia. This is about sharing the lesson that so many of us have learnt the hard way - the need for structural and systemic change.

Alas, a 12 minute talk isn't enough to do the topic justice. But here's to being a part of the conversation.

To those who have been trying to tell me this for some time... sorry it took me so long to get it. I guess I always learn things the hard way! *bemused face*

Seeing yourself reflected...

It was my first night settling in. I wiggled into a comfortable nook in the couch, put my feet up on the edge of the coffee table and switched on the TV. 

...only to release a high pitched squeal.

Fatima Manji

There was a hijabi lady reading the news, in Britain! THERE WAS SOMEONE WHO KINDA LOOKED LIKE ME! And she wasn't even talking about terrorism, or women's oppression! 

My first instinct was to send a pic to my insta story, the next to tweet about it. I had to share my excitement, after all. 

That's honestly been the most remarkable thing thus far about this move. Seeing myself, reflected.

I can't quite explain what it is like to walk around a city - an English speaking city at that, which, for better or for worse, feels more like 'home' - and see myself in the faces of those around me. London is (visually, at least) truly multicultural in a way no other place I have been is. To think of myself as becoming part of that is something that feels remarkable, subhanallah.

It's delicious. I'm walking around and seeing hijabi women - of all the colours - wearing all the styles wander past me. I am yelling 'Al-Salamu Alaikum!!' to every single one of them, my toothy grin in their face.  They look at me with bewilderment, but that's fine. Their confusion increases my joy. Because who they are isn't unusual here, and I guess that means I am not unusual either. Who would have thought it would feel so good to be 'not-unusual'? I mean sure, I've only been here for a few days, so it might be hubris, and sure, I am proud of who I am wherever I am, and sure, I love standing out...

...but for the first time, I know what it's like to be one of the crowd.

To have people say 'oh you're from Sudan? I love Sudanese people!' instead of being the first Sudanese person they know.

To walk around and see my aunt, uncle, brother...

...to hear my aunt, uncle, brother, grandmother.

And to see them right alongside my neighbour, my boss, my colleagues.

What a gift. 

Subhanallah. 

London!

So, I've arrived, Alhamdulilah. Two suitcases, my social media accounts and a smile - that's what I bring with me to this new adventure. 

I'm based in Shoreditch for the next three months at least, inshallah. If you're around and would love to hang, let me know. I'm up for all the recommends, all the meet ups, all the things. If you'd asked me a year ago where I would be, I would most certainly have not said 'setting up a new home in a new city halfway across the world', but subhanallah, here we are. 

The weather is a little cooler, and I think the cloud cover will take some getting used to... but the bubble of anticipation and childlike excitement in my stomach is hard to contain. Yallah! 

The End of the Road: Leaving Youth Without Borders.

…the end came without fanfare.

Today, the 31st of October 2016, I chaired my final Board meeting at the helm of the organisation I founded in 2007, Youth Without Borders.

I was 16. 16! It was a time of dial up internet, Nokia 3210s, and my traditional hijabi look. I had no idea what I was doing, no idea what journey I had just begun. I also had no idea why people thought it was such a big deal, starting something at 16. I just had a lot of energy and wanted to change the world! My parents wouldn’t let me do drugs, so I started an organisation instead. Seemed like a fun thing to do. Why not, right?

The Asia Pacific Cities Summit — where the idea for Youth Without Borders was formed

The Asia Pacific Cities Summit — where the idea for Youth Without Borders was formed

This end has arrived without fanfare. It has crept up on me, not unexpectedly, but with a finality that leaves me unmoored, bobbing in the current of an uncharted future. I’m left with sense that one should be celebrating, but I mostly just want a long afternoon lying on the grass, starting at the sun, reminiscing at times that will never be experienced in the same way again.

‘My baby’ is all grown up. It walks and talks, it lives and breaths. It is different to what I wanted it to be, what I hoped for it when it was born, but then — aren’t all children like that? Like I assume it is with kids, I did my best to provide a solid set of morals and values that will guide it through the world, and the rest, well. It’s not my choice anymore, really. Isn’t that scarily beautiful?

Honestly, one of the main reasons why we still exist almost a decade later, as one of the oldest true youth-led organisations in the country, is the fact that we stuck with it. Boring, right? We just didn’t quit. We almost did, many a time… but importantly, we didn’t.

‘We’ was quite often myself and a few of the engineering boys I corralled into doing a fundraising BBQ. ‘We’ was whoever I could convince to stick with it for a little while. ‘We’, was sometimes just me.… but ‘we’ made it. Teenagers and young people wanting to change things, before being a ‘youth-led organisation’ was part of a government’s plan to reinvigorate the economy. Subhanallah.

First conference we attended as YWB members in 2008

First conference we attended as YWB members in 2008

There are many stories to share. For now, I just take this moment to acknowledge and thank every single one of the people who were a part of the Youth Without Borders journey. Without you, we would have never existed. Really, YOU are what makes this organisation great. Lucy, Anthony — the OG’s — thank you for believing in me at the very beginning. I may have inadvertently made your life difficult at times, and for that, I apologise. To all who may have had a less than optimal experience: for what it is worth, we always tried to do our work in good faith. I hope you will forgive me having to learn critical lessons at your expense.

I am who I am because of Youth Without Borders. But Youth Without Borders is not what it is because of me. It is thanks to the collective sweat equity of hundreds of young people who gave the organisation life, and in doing so believed in their capacity to make a positive impact on the world around them.

In a time when things seem to be falling apart, it’s nice to remember that all over the world, there are young people determined not to let that happen. Have faith in that. Have faith in the fact that the good stuff doesn’t make it in the news, but the good is happening all around you, all the time.

But it does its work and leaves. Its touch is light, imperceptible. Good happens without fanfare.

Fanfare.

Fanfare.

Alhamdulilah for the strength to lead, for the capacity to be heard, for the fortitude to forge on. Alhamdulilah, always.

This was originally posted on Medium.

Why We Must Listen to Hanson, Trump and Leave supporters.

So a couple of things have happened in the last few weeks that have caused my Facebook feed to lose its collective mind.

The first was Brexit.  The media post the vote (which apparently, no-one took seriously) bordered on openly derisive towards Leave voters.  

I love Trevor Noah as much as the next third-culture-kid, but he was just one of the many whose commentary post-vote was essentially, 'how could they do this, don't they know what is good for them?'

Now hold onto that thought, and how the tone might play out.

The second thing that happened was Pauline Hanson's election to the Senate. If you haven't heard of Pauline before, here is a taste of her world view.

Again, her supporters have been labelled as xenophobic, ignorant, racist, etc etc. 

She's tapping into the populism that has fed the Brexit, and the same that is supporting Trump! On this, the general commentariat is agreed.  

Now check out this video... and I want you to listen to what Pauline has to say about 'grass roots Australia'.

Hold on a minute... Start listening to grass roots Australians! ...I know what the people are thinking and how they’re feeling... Let’s get the kids jobs and pull it together as one!
— Pauline Hanson

Now I don't share the world views or policy platforms of Pauline Hanson, Drumpf or Leave voters in any way, shape or form.  However, I think it is incredibly dangerous to ignore and deride those we disagree with. When has derision ever worked to persuade someone to your perspective? 

The question then becomes - well, if we are not to deride and ignore, what to do? How do we deal with these vast feelings of frustration, hurt and exasperation? 

Honestly, I think what we *must* do is start by truly listening. 

Pauline is right on one thing. Leaders haven't been listening to what sections of the population have been trying to say, and so the 'unheard' have taken to yelling in the only way that seems to get the attention of progressives and intellectual elite (a social segment for the purposes of this argument) - by voting in ways that will hurt them - despite what said elite say is 'logical' and 'rational' and 'good'.   

Listening doesn't mean agreeing. But what it might help us to do is *understand* why populism is taking on the hold is has, and understand what needs to be done to tackle it.  

Who is this group? Well on that I don't have a definitive answer, and smarter people than me are working on nailing down the exact demographics. There are some interesting leads though... Check this graph out. 

Note the blue line; inequality within country groups.  It is relatively flat (although increasing slightly) during the industrial revolution, but takes a definite dive during the early 20th century. it gets pretty flat again during the period following the second world war... and then it starts rising in recent decades. The world starts seeing an increase in inequality within countries from about the 1970's. Globalisation has been around for a while by this point, but an interesting reflection is the change in the cost of flying.

According to the Atlantic, 'in 1965, no more than 20 percent of Americans had ever flown in an airplane. By 2000, 50 percent of the country...the number of air passengers tripled between the 1970s and 2011.'

So the crudest way of looking at this is that in the last 40 or 50 years, people have started to increasingly look different in countries (because it was just easier to access different places on planes and thus the link to the anti-immigration sentiment), and coincidentally inequality within countries increased, yet everyone was being told that what was happening in the world was good for them.

What was happening in the world was good for the world, yes. The graphs above demonstrate that on the whole, the world is less unequal (there are less people at the super poor end of the spectrum). 

What hasn't changed though, is the fortune of the poorer people in the richest nations.  The people who globalisation (in the modern, airplane driven sense) hasn't really helped. The ones who have lost positions of privilege and power due to the improving status of the world but who have not been swept up with the tide. The ones who in some sense, feel like the world is forgetting them and leaving them behind. The ones who were once proud of their identity and place in the world, and are searching for that feeling once again. 

Their vote is equal to everyone else's, and they are some of the people that aren't being heard.

Being unheard - silenced even - is not a fun place for anyone to be.  


Inequality is frightening. I truly believe it is one of the most toxic ailments that can afflict a society and so much of what is at the root of the current wave of populism is due to the increasing levels of inequality within nations. Watch the video below (click through) to hear some of the reasons why I think we must keep talking about this deep disease. 

Why inequality is not okay.

Why inequality is not okay.

So what does this have to do with not laughing at Pauline Hanson's voters?  

It's about reminding us to think about the long game. To think about why people are at the stage they are at, and realising that rather than derision, they deserve - like anyone else - to be listened to and heard. That is the minimum we owe. We may disagree, but what is more important is then to tap into that and dig deeper - why are you feeling the pain you are feeling? What in our systems is causing this entrenched and divisive societal ailment? What can we change?

Our societies are meant to be built to protect the lower income ends of society.  It is not supposed to exploit them until they have no way of speaking out and thus turn to being societally destructive.

The world is being served some timely reminders. It is also worth noting that the relative peace and harmony we have been working on and have enjoyed for the past few decades has only occurred because people worked at it.  Harmony doesn't just happen; social cohesion is a constant project and we all need to roll up our sleeves and get stuck into it, on the daily. A socially cohesive society starts with understanding and respect, and a vision that is about the greater good and systems that reinforce that belief. 

We've got some work to do. Khair inshallah... 

 

Fear must not divide us.

I haven't written for a while as I have been run off my feet with a few projects - keep up to date via my FB here.

However, the attacks in Paris have given me cause to write a quick note.

We cannot let fear divide us.  

Whatever your foreign policy agenda, no matter how badly the immigration officers may treat you, or how uncomfortable life becomes on public transport, let us not turn that into hatred. Because then, who wins? 

I am just about to jump on a plane to the U.S. where I imagine borders will be tight.  This is what I will be reminding myself of.  

There is no 'us' versus 'them', we cannot afford to think that way. Life is not that easy and straightforward. In some cases though, there is clearly and 'wrong' and a 'right', and there is no 'right' that includes killing of the innocent. 

Islam does not allow for killing innocents.  Ever. Full stop.

Our Prophet Mohammed (SAW) did not turn to violence unless it was in self defence and even *then*, he constantly chose to forgive rather than inflict further pain.  

Even the colonisers, when invading Muslim countries back in the day, thought Muslims were 'too lenient'.  Governor Hastings, along with his Governor-General of India Charles Cornwallis, felt like Islamic law allowed people to escape punishment too easily, complaining that Sharia was “founded on the most lenient principles and on an abhorrence of bloodshed”.

Why bring that up?  To remind us that we do not have to be steeped in blood to be strong.

The world we live in can sometimes feel like it is more unstable, more violent and that the violence is becoming more indiscriminate.  We cannot let that feeling override us, because that is what causes further division and allows the space for vitriol and hatred to occur.  Acts of prejudice are at the bottom of the Pyramid of Hate, and we cannot afford for our society to make it's way back up that ladder.  

We have to find it within ourselves to be kind. We have to find it within ourselves to forgive those who may look at others with fear and see it as an opportunity to build bonds of compassion, to find what unites us rather than what divides.  We owe it to our ancestors and to society to ensure we play a part in making the world a safer place and not sit in the ease and comfort of hate.

If we all try to find a way to unite, particularly in a way which is inclusive, in the words of Kendrick:

"We gon be alright!" (inshallah) 

#ParisAttacks


Take this moment to also remember those in other nations who suffer from being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Khair inshallah. #Lebanon #Syria #Beirut #Sudan #Iraq #DRC 

On Sabrina & Blasts from the Past

When I was 13, I read a book that changed my life (so dramatic!)

"It was a book about Sabrina the Teenage Witch..." the tale always begins.  

Sabrina, in her infinite wisdom, had erased herself from existence, but could see what life was like without her. Her aunts didn't talk to each other because she wasn't there to broker peace, her boyfriend was in jail because he had gone off the tracks without her guidance and her best friend was dating an abusive guy because Sabrina wasn't around to help show her she was worth more.

In short, Sabrina understood that even though she might recognise the impact she had on the people around her, every interaction she had - her very existence - changed the world around her, for the better.  

I decided, at 13, to make that my mantra. Life was to become about making every interaction one that would have a positive impact on the world around me.

Easier said than done, of course.

Sure, it is the ideal framework to have in mind, but it can often fall to the wayside while going through #life, or simply struggling through life's challenges.  When things are busy or challenging, it become much more difficult to consciously be thinking about the impact we are having on those around us.  Instead, we are focused on how to take the next step, how to get through every moment.


After graduating from University, I spent near-half a year with my family in Sudan, attending the International University of Africa to learn formal Arabic.  It was a crazy experience and was actually the inspiration to start this blog - many of my early blog pieces were about trying to understand what was going on around me.  

The classes I attended were made up of young women from various parts of Africa, often mothers who brought their kids to class and who lived incredibly different lives to mine. It was eye opening, enriching, enlightening - but also, incredibly tough. I tried to be myself in a world that had a very strong view on what I 'should be' - and I wasn't playing by the rules.  I had to learn how to navigate a new system I didn't quite fit in, and so often disconnected.

I made friends, some of whom I still occasionally talk to today, but unfortunately, I lost contact with most of my new friends and colleagues. That is why a recent email in my inbox caused me an unreasonable amount of joy:

Salam alaikum dear Yassmin...welll I really don’t know where to start from coz I’m excited. I thought I should share my excitement with you coz you are someone I have always been convinced is of great intellect and life touching potentials, even though I only met you for a short time and we got to talk a few times.

Oh! Interesting, I thought. My curiosity was piqued. 

Yes! we’ve met before and that’s the more reason why I’m excited...sometimes in early to mid 2012 we were at the same institute of Arabic language (ma’ad lugha al arabiyyah) at International University of Africa, Khartoum, Sudan.

We weren’t actually classmates but we’ve had the opportunity to study together at one of those instances where the teachers have to merge students together for some classes. It was on one of those occasions we met and we talked not so extensively, but heartily. You might not remember who I am, but I do vividly remember you, such that when I randomly watched your TED talk on YouTube while just surfing the internet, I knew it was you even without remembering your name, I just knew it was you...that’s how people with infectious personality, high intellect and extremely inspiring leave me feeling even if we’ve only known each other for a few seconds.

You might be wondering why I’m excited. I’m excited because since I stopped seeing you around at ma’ad lugha, it would cross my mind once in a while what you are up to where ever you are. Seeing you on TED and reading a few other things about you, and realizing that you’re doing great for yourself, and not just that, you’re also inspiring others to bring out the best in themselves is just amazing.

I’m really proud and greatly inspired by you. Keep up the good work and Allah is your strength.

We might not have so many things in common, but like you said in one of your talks, “you want to do so many things, that at the end of the day, you just want to be useful”.

I think we share that in common, and you are one of my inspirations to work even better at achieving that goal. I also have a few things going on in my life, if you do not mind, I could share them with you.

Take care.

That is what makes it all worth it. 

That, ladies and gentlemen, is the spice of life. To know that our actions are having an impact on others in ways we cannot even imagine, is incredibly humbling. To know that a conversation that you have - a single conversation - can be remembered, is powerful, because it reminds us of the potential of every.single.interaction.

We must never forget that.

I recently met a guy who left his high paying job as a lawyer to start his dream company. When I asked him why he studied law, his response was further proof of the impact of small moments.

Well, at my speech night someone - an important someone - asked me what I was planning to do with my life. I told him, and he said “No son, you’re going to study law and commerce and do this, this and this...” and that’s what I did!

Now that 'important guy' may not even remember the conversation he had with a young graduating student, but his comments shaped this man's life.  


What keeps me going? Knowing that any of the conversations I have, the smiles I share and the paths I cross has the potential to be life changing - for me, or for those around me.  

The same applies to you! Without realising it, you could be giving confidence to the next Mohammed Ali, helping out the next Malala or giving the nudge needed for the next Elon Musk.

How exciting is that?!

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!

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