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The Arabisation of Islam
By Tahmina R. Have you ever felt like you’re not Muslim enough because you’re not from an Arabic-speaking community? No matter who I spoke to, be it my Indonesian, Pakistani, Afghan or Turkish friends, they would all agree that at some point, they had been in spaces in mosques, school or even in their own communities, where they had questioned the way they practiced because of how it compared to Arabic speaking communities. There is an emerging culture within my community that in order to become more religious, one would begin to dress, act and socialise in a way that would make it clear that they had now adopted another culture. They had diminished the importance of their own culture under an assumption that it was contrary or in opposition to the way that they should practice. These choices were often the result of having internalised the idea that Arabic-speaking communities knew how to practice in better ways than their own community did. Much Needed Context Before we launch into the piece here is some much needed context to give you a sense of how dense this area of study is and how far removed we are from it. Bear with me - you’ll see how this all ties together at the end. Islamic law was malleable to suit the needs of the communities it governed – so that a Muslim living in China would never be subject to the same law as a Muslim living in West Africa. It’s existence is a question of human interpretation of the religious sources. The Shari’a is the religious law (it is unchanging) and the Islamic law (fiqh) is always changing (tailor-made to the problems of the society). Historically, religious scholars needed to complete years of rigorous study over decades to then be granted the authority to write law and when they did it was fundamentally designed to and encouraged to change over time. This is why in the hierarchy of a Muslim society, the scholar was the most honoured. The laws they followed would be drawn from the Qur’an and the Sunnah but the specific ‘precedents’ or fatwas would be contextualised for the community they sought to govern and there were always incredibly highly educated jurists that would be there to perform the rule of developing the law that held those Islamic societies to the standards that were decreed – with the full range of issues to cover an entire spectrum of human experience for almost a millennium. This system was disbanded very actively and very recently during the processes of shifts in power during colonisation. Where did our scholars go? The nature of conquest is to destroy, but no one ever talks about the role of this in taking religion away from a society by breaking the systems that would allow them to learn it. Under the umbrella of government, there were a number of clear roles, with each having distinct responsibilities and limitations. For example there are the interpreters of Qur’an (mufassir), authenticators of Hadith (muhaddith), linguists (lughawiyy), logicians (mutakallim), ethicists (mutasawwif/ sufis), jurists (faqih), jurist-consults (mufti), jurist-authors (mu’allif), judges (qadi) and professors (ustadh). This seems complex because in our system of law we just have politicians writing law who have no unified system of training to do so. The population of people that were qualified in these areas is now very small compared to what it once was. In the aftermath of the 1857 Sepoy Rebellion, the strongest rebellion during British rule in India, the British authorities came down hardest on the ulema (Muslim scholars) because by eliminating the scholars they were also eliminating the leaders of the time. It was in this single event that tens of thousands of Muslim scholars were killed and the communities of this region are still feeling the effects of this loss. This is the modern day equivalent of if we lost every professor in every university and then the institutions they taught in were also dismantled. This is just one example of a practice which happened across the globe in many colonised lands. “The Right Way to Practice” There is no single, codified system of law that prescribes how every society should practice Islam. The closest thing to a streamlined system of law that exists are the schools of thought (madhabs). These schools of thought were developed by complete scholars (mujtahid mutlaq) who were capable of understanding and interpreting the sources this and it was through their legal writing and consensus over the years that the dominant schools of thought in Islamic Law were developed. Looking at this history, we can see that it has left a vacuum where instead of many diverse scholars from different regions guiding us, there is now a small minority of people largely from the Middle East that has the spotlight and is able to reach all of us. This has meant that we have all heard the teachings of very controversial revivalist, reformist or modernist schools of thought (for example, Wahhabism and Salafism). The orthodox tradition of scholarship has been weakened and many Muslims would have heard people saying that they “only follow the Qur’an and the Sunnah”. Historically, this was an extremely controversial thing to say but it has been largely normalised today. This is a reflection of the idea that imams and individuals without the proper scholarly training are capable of interpreting the sources better than the greatest scholars (mujtahid mutlaq) and place a lot of emphasis on their own ability to exercise individual reason (ijtihad) in line with Western Enlightenment ideals of the power of individual intellect. What does this mean for us? The reason it’s so important to create space in this conversation is because it prevents us from falling into the same slippage of conflating Arab identity with all-Muslim identities in a way that is done in the West, specifically in a colonial context. Merging ethnic and religious identity allows the politicians of Australia, the USA and the UK to chalk up cultural problems as ones that plague the entire Muslim population in one fell swoop - like any of the commonplace complaint or stereotypes you might have heard in the popular media. Muslims are synonymous with Arabs in the West. This is an association that the last twenty years of foreign policy has been built to explain and justify crimes in the Middle East. The vast majority of Australians would not know that our closest neighbour, Indonesia, is the biggest Muslim country in the world by population, and that India is second to that. Projecting Islam and Muslim identity as Arab is colonial and sidelines some of the centres of Islamic scholarship, art and culture like the countries in North Africa and Asia. For example, in many regions in South Asia the practice of learning and listening to qawwali (Sufi devotional music) has slowed down or stopped in the last few decades because it was seen as deviant due to a fatwa issued by certain scholars from very far away from where this tradition had been practiced for centuries. This may seem like a minor example, but it is reflective of the trend of asking for religious guidance from scholars that historically would never have developed law for that region. There is nothing wrong with learning from other scholars, it is simply a product of local knowledge being erased that people have to look far for it. Culture or Religion? Arab identity is seen as superior within the Muslim community and it is seen as the figurehead of Islam outside the Muslim community. These are both problematic. I have been in many spaces where I have felt less Muslim because I am Desi and not Arab. Everyone asserts their closeness to it, if they can. Either by being from a country “close to the Middle East” or speaking a language that has its “roots in Arabic” as if to legitimise their identities by virtue of their closeness to the region which gave rise to religion. But distinguishing race or ethnicity as a marker of religion is all but prohibited in Islam and every language is considered sacred because it is believed that at some point in time revelation would have been sent through that language. But these are just two examples of a culture of ranking religiousness, it is a mentality that we have all internalised and I myself have reproduced without even questioning it time and time again. It is inhabiting markers of the Arab identity in the West in order to appear more Muslim. It’s in the smaller choices of how I wear an abaya to taraweeh (prayer), but it is also in my confusion in how a Sheikh that performed the nikah (wedding rites) of a family member asked only the husband and then her father – even though there are centuries of practice and law around this in Bengal that both parties give verbal consent (qabool). Everyone at that wedding, especially the elders, had something to say about this because they had never seen this practice in a Bengali wedding before. What I am trying to illustrate here is not that this practice in itself is wrong but it is another example of how our practices have become homogenised and we are bringing on aspects of other communities that are inconsistent with the way we have practiced in the past. So why are you bringing this all up? The first time that I was exposed to most of this knowledge was when I took an Islamic Law elective two years ago at my extremely conservative, at times Islamophobic, law school. And honestly, the fact that as a young Muslimah I was learning the history and basics of Islamic Law in a secular environment through biweekly tutorials next to an Irish man on exchange and a lot of staunch Scandinavian atheists who took the class because they thought it would be easy marks is probably just the most painful reminder of how much has been lost – but it’s also testament to all the academics working tirelessly to make this knowledge more known. It was a privilege to have my eyes opened to just how much I don’t know and it motivated me to learn more. On a final note, the intention for this piece is not to be divisive, but to recognise this history and create space in a conversation before we judge one another in our practice because unity does not mean uniformity. Also, the simple reminder that there is no distinction between us except in imaan (faith), there is no culture or tribe that is superior and it is these politics that hold us back. Editor: Irisa R. References Hussein, Shakira, and Scott Poynting. “‘We’re Not Multicultural, but...’.” Journal of Intercultural Studies 38.3 (2017): 333–348. Web. Hallaq, Wael (2009), An Introduction to Islamic Law, 1-13. Modarressi Tabataba’i, Hossein, ‘General Structure of Shīʻī Law (Pp. 2-22)’ in An introduction to Shīʻī law: a bibliographical study (Ithaca Press, 1984). Murad, Abdal Hakim, Understanding the Four Madhhabs: The Problem with Anti-Madhhabism (20 February 2018) masud.co.uk. Al-Shafi’i’s, Al-Imam Muhammad ibn Idris, “Al-Risala fi Usul al-Fiqh: Treatise on the Foundations of Islamic Jurisprudence” (trans. Majid Khadduri), 2nd edition (1997), Islamic Texts Society, pp 123-145. An-Na’im., Abdullahi Ahmed (1990), Toward an Islamic Reformation: Civil Liberties, Human Rights, and International Law, Syracuse University Press, 19-21, 52-68. Siddiqi, Muhammad Zubayr, Hadith Literature: Its Origin, Development, & Special Features (Islamic Texts Society: Cambridge: 2010), chapters 2-4. Al-Shafi’i (trans. Majid Khadduri), op. cit.,pp 285-287, 333-352.
Get A Muslim Woman In The Writer’s Room, Please.
Irisa R. and Palwasha A. Ramy, the first of its kind, is a show about Muslims written by an actual Muslim. It’s goal was ambitious - to explore the experiences of a young man trying to move closer to his faith when his worldly desires won’t let him. Ramy Youssef, the writer and star of the show, addressed some of it’s more common critiques-that it was deeply disrespectful to speak about Islamic practices with such little acknowledgement of their purpose and spirituality. However, we already know, like most of you, that this show was not meant to inspire or move the audience, it was meant to explore the difficulty of being a Muslim man in a Western country. Just like anything, the first step can be a stumble. It won’t always be perfect, and we respect the fact that a show like this could even be green-lit. However, as young Muslims we are so starved for relatable content that sometimes we are willing to consume media that, to put it nicely, is really, really disappointing. We All Just Want Them White Let’s discuss the never-ending respect for and chase of white women that is explored in almost every big-budget movie or show (Namesake, Master of None and The Big Sick). Ramy is the same. He is constantly, constantly trying to win the approval of white women and repeatedly shuns women of his own faith and culture to do this. Through the first season Ramy has many, many one-night-stands with different women, and while in most scenes he treats them as people with their own agency and can engage with them respectfully, there is a deeply problematic subtext to his interactions with the Muslim female characters in the show. These women are shown to be struggling with their faith, battling with the stigma that comes with pre-marital sex and stifled by a lack of agency that shadows every decision they seem to make. Yet at every step along the way they are sexualised, objectified and undermined. This is so apparent when Ramy tells his parents that he wants a Muslim woman his mother eagerly replies, “we’ll find you any type of girl you want.” Let’s unpack this. Firstly, for a self - proclaimed progressive show, this falls into one of the most gendered, misogynistic ideals. A tale as old as time. It rests on the assumption that essentially, a man can do whatever he wants, live how he wants and take part in whatever he desires, and then one day (when he’s ready to settle down) he will still attract any woman he wants, without a second thought. As if there are hundreds of women, sitting around waiting for men that do not share the same values or experiences as them. This scene mirrors closely a scene in Kumail Nanjiani’s “The Big Sick”, where he was secretly dating a white non-Muslim woman named Emily, while his parents were still looking into an arranged marriage for him, inviting Muslim women to the house to meet him. Though arranged marriage is a legitimate way to meet a life partner, Kumail wrote the scenes in an unrealistic and disappointing manner, where a strew of unmarried Muslim women, one after the other, would show up to his house (completely unwanted by him) and sit with him and his parents to prove how dedicated and interested they were in marrying him. This is not an insight into our culture, because shockingly, we don’t just knock on unmarried men’s doors, invite ourselves in and try to prove for an awkward hour how we could be a good wife. It’s really more an insight into how the men writing these shows, and the men that support these shows, view the women in their own community. It was interesting because Nanjiani wrote about Emily with respect. She was multifaceted, she was intelligent, interesting and flirtatious. By contrast every brown woman was just shown as desperate, lonely and boring. It painted a very clear picture, where white women were seen as this unattainable dream and brown women were seen as the unfortunate but must-be-endured obstacles to achieving this dream. Yet this movie was nominated for an Oscar, and heralded as a big step towards diversity and showcasing young Muslims stories. Whose story? In episode six of Ramy, he is set up with a Muslim woman from his community, and they show that she’s quite observant from the fact that she wears the hijab and that she wants to meet him for the purpose of marriage. However, what’s really strange is that during this scene Ramy is scared, and then disinterested while she is again painted as desperate to attract him. He then delivers the most absurd monologue about how he is “just trying to be a better Muslim”, and somehow, somehow, she is seen to react to this with adoration and respect, despite the fact that he fits none of the qualities she has listed on a sheet of paper before her that she said she is looking for. Again, they don’t mind; they’ll settle because they just want to be married, because no matter how they have chosen to live their lives, the guy who falls short is still somehow worth it. What About The Women? The women. My god. Ramy’s mother is portrayed as nothing but a caricature, a lonely house-wife with a borderline love-less marriage. Ramy’s sister, Dena, is denigrated to the role of the bitchy, frustrated woman who just wants to stay out late with her friends or have sex without the stigma. Nothing else. No nuance. No grey area. Both episodes that were dedicated to the women in the show, tried but failed to explore female sexuality, or create opportunities for character development beyond their sexuality. When Ramy’s sister Dena is about to have sex for the first time, the man she is with asks her what position and she just says ‘anything.’ This in itself shows such a deep fracture between what Ramy, and his writers, understand about female sexuality and abstinence. While Ramy is characterised as having been watching porn so intensely from the age of thirteen that his friends said that he had a problem, for some reason his sister, who grew up in the same household, hasn’t had sex and therefore must have absolutely no sexual literacy. Interestingly, this entire plot line aligns with the very palatable, consumable sexual liberation argument, which is that if you are not having sex, you must be sexually repressed and also ready and willing to be sexualised by any man. The Moderate Muslim Myth In one of the first big turning points for the show, Ramy goes up to his parents, and, trying to finally be a ‘good Muslim boy,’ asks them to help him find a wife. His mother’s immediate, joyous question is “covered or uncovered?” Ramy replies “uncovered”. This may seem like a funny, relatable interaction (“oh of course he wants a more relaxed wife”) but this scene is indicative of a very serious issue with the representation of hijabi women on the show. In an appearance on Seth Myers, Ramy Youssef condemned the use of the term “moderate Muslim”, explaining to Myers that it’s notion of a Muslim having not to practice to be seen as palatable or acceptable is offensive and incorrect. Yet his show, at every turn, promotes the idea of the moderate Muslim, as the desirable one, as the palatable one, as the one you can still have fun with. Ramy’s desire for an “uncovered” woman (which, oh my God, the objectification of it all, like picking a melon at the market) is a desire to keep himself happily seperate from what he perceives as the Muslims who are too “hardcore,” which apparently includes anyone who wears hijab. The undercurrent that this show really plays into is the most secular, obvious, whitewashed nonsense that having a religion is a constant, constant struggle. It’s only about sticking to arbitrary rules that get you nowhere but feeling sexually frustrated. What we do appreciate about the show is that it’s honest. It's a truthful and vulnerable semi-autobiographical account of Ramy’s life that has allowed us to have discussions like these. Also, we can’t say we didn’t laugh. Some scenes were hilarious. Like, ‘‘throw a prayer down for my mother right now.” But one or two laughs can’t counteract the catastrophe that was nearly every episode. What’s really unfortunate about all of this, is that we really, really wanted to enjoy this. But we left feeling more alienated from the experiences explored than most other shows we watch that aren’t even slightly targeted to us. The only good thing to come from something like this, is that it will be the first of many. Hopefully, this will inspire and encourage more young Muslims and BIPOC to pick up a pen, write some witty dialogue and maybe a female character (or two) with just a bit of respect. Editor: Tahmina R. *This is based on our review of the first season.
An Actual Afghan Goes to Afghanistan
By Palwasha A. “You guys remember Afghanistan? From war?” - Hasan Minhaj, Patriot Act A Word. The 21st century narrative of Afghanistan is relevant to the lives of every Australian. Stereotypes and misperceptions plague the public discourse and have stifled positive, and even wholly truthful, accounts from reaching the mainstream. The war directly correlates to the displacement of over three million people and the ongoing theft of natural resources and culturally significant artefacts. It is difficult to empathise with facts and figures so here is a collection of stories and insights from our writer, who visited Afghanistan for three months with an Australian not-for-profit two years ago. افغانستان /Ahf-ghaa-ni-stan/ Afghanistan Vivid red juice stains through the skin of my palms as I focus on navigating the tiny knife’s blade through the hard shell of the pomegranate. As the conversation moves around me, I finally rip it open, little red pearls cascade onto the sticky glass plate at my knees and bounce off the dastarkhwan spread haphazardly on the ground beneath us. We are sitting in a scraggly garden with threadbare pomegranate trees growing a metre apart from each other in every direction. The garden is in a small village off Panjshir valley, with mountain ranges stretching into the sky all around us. The ground rises and falls, causing our hosts to step carefully. They bring us chai sabz in a metal teapot as the high sun filters through the leaves and glances off the glass of our plates. The lady I have been travelling with sighs happily as she picks up a pomegranate. “Eat up girls!” she exclaims to her niece, Masooma, and I as we attempt to section the fruit. “These are fresh, organic pomegranates without any of the chemical stuff they put on them in Australia, picked straight from the tree. You couldn’t be eating anything better for you!” Masooma considers this as I notice a hashish plant growing behind me and do a double take. “Wee, neh” she exclaims, “actually anything grown in Afghan soil is really bad for you. It’s because of all the decades of bombing, so there’s not much nutritional value in anything grown here.” We pause. I finish every last seed and examine the empty husk in my hand. Everyone looks away for a second and then, as with every bit of bleak news about our country, we do what we can to brush it off and keep talking. Yak/ One/ یکی To attempt to write about my experience in Afghanistan, as a child of the diaspora, started off with the intention of salvaging Her from lifelong attacks and thinly veiled racism. Afghanistan hasn’t felt the quiet that comes with peace in the past four decades. As an Afghan girl growing up in Sydney I had internalised a lot of the rhetoric justifying the invasion of my country and distanced myself from my heritage. As I grew older and did the work to dig these thoughts out of my head and nurture seedlings of acceptance, I steadfastly protected the grounding talisman of my heritage from further attack. If I had to write this piece, I didn’t want to put any more into the world about a country that’s been desecrated and stripped in every possible way. The beauty Afghanistan emits is born from pain so excruciating that legions of Her inhabitants were forced to break their hold on Her and escape before they lost everything. They tore their roots out of the ground and planted themselves across the world, but I’ve never met an Afghan who could scrub Her from his heart. The time I spent there is the most treasured of my life. While I hope to return soon, three months is long enough to get a true well-rounded taste of something but not at all a full experience. My experience of Afghanistan was of a land that does not follow the system I had grown to understand as lawful and correct. A country where right can be very wrong and what cannot be real in any logical sense is, without question, existing in the very same present as you. Do/ Two/ دو A family gathering. That’s the only way to describe the atmosphere inside the small plane heading to Kabul. The tray tables around me are tested immediately with huge containers of kabuli, the cardamom smell of chai cutting through the conversations of people who were strangers, but are already trying to figure out which aunt they have in common, and do they know Hamid? The situation is a far cry from the plane rides I’m used to, where I once stressed my bladder to the point of explosion because the woman seated next to me didn’t return my smile when she sat down. This is my first true experience of “real” Afghans. Growing up, my mother would joke that we weren’t true Afghans because an Afghan living in a country other than Afghanistan has been stripped of the most quintessential aspect of their Afghan-ness; the land. Because an Afghan not on Afghan soil is devoid of the very thing that has been stressed by ancients to feed their beings and fan the flame that at any moment may erupt into a raging fire. It is in a distracted moment that I look out of the small plane window and my eyes first fall upon the mountain ranges of Afghanistan. Below me, where before there were clouds, is now a never ending expanse of jagged rock that stretches into the horizon as far as I can see. A landscape so aggressive and breath-taking that I had never before seen anything it's measure. A zinging starts up in my blood, charging through my veins. This is wholly unexpected for me, because I’d never had any desire to go to Afghanistan. All I had ever known of it were the wasteland images that had been paraded on screens as far back as I could remember, the only thing resisting their message being my parents’ stories of the country that had raised them. I’d never really craved to see the place where my family came from, nor imagined what it would look like. I’d anticipated connecting to the people of course, and was excited about it. But recognising the land, it’s bones and its soil, was inexplicable. Se/ Three/ سه When we stumble out of the airport and into the dry sun, it’s a stark difference to the ridiculous and somewhat endearing contrast of everyone’s extremely polite manners as they mercilessly pushed at every shoulder and squeezed through every tiny gap in the crowd at Baggage Claim. As the man who’s offered to help us starts off with our bags, I notice that the ground is the exact colour of my skin. In the same moment I realise that I had never seen anything that was the colour of my skin. Except for the dirt on the ground of the country that had grown me and my people for centuries. Dirt that was a brown that was not really brown and yellow that was not really yellow covered the ground everywhere in Kabul. And no matter how much the sun changed my skin over those months, the land always matched. Chaar/ Four/ چهار Every time I picked an apple off a tree in the garden of the orphanage I was working in, the kids would pull it out of my hand and rush it to the tap to wash the griminess off before I took a bite. When I’d take them out to buy street food (there was only so much eggplant my privileged stomach could take) they took me to vendors that they knew were clean and nowhere else. Over the course of my time there, without maybe consciously meaning to, I became riskier and riskier with what I would consume, not wanting to eat the food that had been sanitised to within an inch of its life. I did this because I didn’t want to feel like an outsider in my own country anymore. The fact that I couldn’t fully understand what people were saying to me in my own tongue bothered me, not just because of the communication issue but because it used to be my first language. Why had I let myself forget so much of it? Walking in Kabul, I saw things that have stayed in my head two years on. I crossed paths with a little boy in the Bazaar once who didn’t have a face; when he looked at me, he looked with eyes rounder than they should have been because they didn’t have eyelids to normalise the size of them. I looked for a second at what the acid or fire or whatever had done it had replaced before I was pulled away. No one else turned. I remember seeing children in the arms of mothers in blue burqas, beseeching people for money and for three months wondering to myself why the children were always asleep. At the end of the trip I found out that instead of being placated, they were sedated. When I realised this, I understood that I could never conceive the struggle a mother has to experience to knowingly drug her child. The brutality of war has no gender, no politics or religion, it preys indiscriminately and the trauma borne from it lasts lifetimes and generations. Paynj/ Five/ پنج I had my first glimpse of the Panjshir valley from the boot of a black SUV with several children crowded around me, all our hands pressed against the back window, staring out for over an hour at a sight that was making our hearts sing. The music playing in the car blared out of the rolled-down windows, our fellow passengers clapping loudly to Ahmad Zahir as we sped down dirt roads, our energy rising as we passed schoolgirls running home in groups with stark white chaadars, young boys leading laden-down donkeys and men working fields. I looked out at something I hadn’t known existed in Afghanistan. The valley we were driving through was lush and fertile, green overcoming brown and with a wide, sparkling green river crashing through the valley, as though in a race with the kids. Everything glowed because, I think, the place was so clearly embedded with the spirit of its people. When we exited the car we had to walk through a forest to get to a graveyard to pay our respects to a relative who’d passed on. On the walk through I strayed from the group, as I did at every semi- safe opportunity in Afghanistan, trying to take in fully what I was experiencing, to ensure that my memories of it would be seared into my brain forever. I was walking through greenery that seemed untouched, beauty that hadn’t been pulverised by the decades of bombing. Everything was quiet, and still and beautiful. I turned my head quickly when I heard clanging behind me to see an annoyed cow trying to get past. Behind him a herd was lumbering forwards, shepherded by a young boy who was guiding them with a stick. I smiled at him but he didn’t have time for my reshkhandi, a tiny professional somehow navigating this group of huge beasts through this delicate mountain forest, the cows slipping and sliding on the rocks as they went. While I lived in Afghanistan, I would climb to the roof of my building almost every morning to watch the sunrise behind the mountains. I’d heard talk of the mountains all my life but honestly nothing could have prepared me for their presence. Sydney, though beautiful in a different way, has a significantly mountain-less landscape, but at every turn in Kabul, the cliffs would overwhelm me. The building I was standing on was four stories high, and looking out on ragged peaks that rose above valleys of green trees. Over the course of my time in Afghanistan I came across many more areas that were green and beautiful and unexpected. I drew enormous strength from the resilience of the land itself, the absolute refusal to give in to anything that tried to force Her to Her knees. I remember how strong this feeling was one day as we sped across desert, night falling around us, me leaning out the window of the car with the wind stinging my cheeks, thanking God with my whole heart. My pride in who I am was cemented forever into my being and I understand now why when people leave her, they can never forget. A Note. One more story comes to mind, from May 2018. Two friends and I were travelling through Greece, standing atop of a beautiful vantage point overlooking Athens when an elderly couple approaches us for a photo. They ask where we were from and we tell them we are Australian. The man proudly tells us that he’s a photographer, angling his camera towards us, naming all the places he’s shot as they come up. He comes to a photo and stops. “Now this is my favourite I’ve ever taken,” he says softly. It’s of a man praying in a mosque in Jordan with a shaft of sunlight illuminating his face. I get excited and ask if he’d like to see my favourite photograph. I pull out my most beloved photo from Kabul, featuring five children from the orphanage grinning at the camera, holding a stray kitten. “Where is this?” the man asks, examining the photo. “Afghanistan” I reply. His and his wife's faces harden. “When were you there?” he demands, with an air as though they were suddenly dealing with a dangerous object. “Oh, for three months last year,” I say. Silence. “Okay well, we’d better get going then.” They hurried away as though I were going to pull off my face and expose a bearded Talib underneath. I can traverse the world and somehow with the mention of my country, people feel they have a right to insert themselves into a space they don’t belong. They were Americans, they were delegates to the US Embassy in Pakistan and in 2001, their President, the vanguard of democracy, the so-called Leader of the Free World, began this ‘War on Terror’ with a declaration of ‘crusade.’ Lead editor: Irisa R.
We Saw Jerusalem
By Irisa R. and Tahmina R. 'Since when has Jerusalem been a city like any other city?’ you ask me and I answer, ‘since the soldiers in it came to outnumber its holy sites a thousand times over’ - Mourid Barghouti. In January of this year, two of our writers went to Jerusalem to visit the Al Aqsa mosque. As Australian citizens, they were allowed to enter Jerusalem, a liberty not afforded to millions of Palestinians living in exile and unable to return to their homeland. The atrocities of the occupation are countless and the writers cannot speak for Palestinians or for their resistance, but they seek to answer the question that so many people were too hesitant to ask: how was Palestine? Here is a collection of anecdotes written to honour and thank the people we met. The Border We are constantly reminded how every Palestinian’s experience at the border is unique in its humiliation. Usually when we pack for a trip, we’re packing and unpacking, trying to fit all the things we probably won’t need into a suitcase until we choose a larger one. But packing for Palestine is strange because we aren’t sure if we will even be allowed to enter. It’ll be up to the Israeli soldiers who control the border on whether they feel like interrogating us and then rejecting us, or interrogating us and then granting us a visa. We are warned that as two young, Muslim law students, who had been to refugee camps three times in one year that the odds may not be in our favour. The wait is four hours long. Surrounding us are strangers from many different countries with one thing in common - our last names all identify us as Muslim. We talk between ourselves, eat two-minute noodles, play backgammon, and all the while we are acutely aware of the gaze of the soldiers sitting back and watching us. At one point a young lady with a clipboard walks over to the waiting area and calls our name. Mum instinctively stands up to go with us when the lady gestures for her to sit down and says, “oh no you don’t need to come...we won’t hurt them.’ We are granted visas after answering a few questions about where we live and what we study in Australia. Later in the trip we speak to an elderly woman who recounts her experience trying to enter, ‘They held me there for hours and hours asking me why, why, why.’ Exasperated at even repeating these questions she exclaims, ‘Why? This is my home, this is my land and you ask me why,' and she chuckles. She eventually quietens and says, ‘I came to spend some time with my brother, he was very, very sick’ and ends with, ‘I could only stay long enough to bury him.’ We are constantly reminded of how every Palestinian’s experience at the border is unique in its humiliation. The very few Palestinians who are allowed to enter Israeli occupied territories must first prove their ancestry three generations back, including the details of the area their family is originally from and if they intend to travel there. The Exiled An estimated six million exiled Palestinians make up the global diaspora. For us, as tourists and non - Palestinians, seeing Palestine was as simple as booking a tour. We planned to fly to Jordan, drive from Amman to Allenby Bridge crossing and enter occupied Palestine, also known as the ‘West Bank.’ Amman is grand in all the ways that tie up a cosmopolitan city, but further down south, tucked between ancient rock formations, lies the Lost City of Petra. It’s so mesmerising that we imagine a paintbrush following every contour with a violet and orange wash. We stand marvelling at the colours when our guide, Ibrahim, interjects our sightseeing with his gentle voice. On hearing that we were leaving for Jerusalem, he shares that he’s Palestinian, born in a town that was once a twenty minute drive from where we plan to stay and that his wife is from Ramallah. He continues on by sharing that he doesn’t feel he is Palestinian enough because he has lived most of his life in Jordan and that he doesn’t know how to speak to his children about it. “Should I tell them that they are Palestinian or Jordanian?” He pauses briefly, then finishes with, “how can I tell my children that they have another home when they may never see it?” The conversation dies but what he shares plays over in our minds. How can it be that we’re able to enter Ibrahim’s land, when he has spent fifteen years dropping people off at the border to his home, unable to go back himself. The Israeli government does not recognise Palestinian refugees’ right to return and prevents Palestinians from returning to their ancestral homes because this is seen to be a threat to the growing Israeli majority in annexed lands. The Mosque Al-Quds, known as Jerusalem in English, is a city as ancient as it is holy and at its centre lies a mosque. The monotonous thudding of our boots hitting the stone floor sounds too sharp for a place like this. We had grown accustomed to the ambience of a mosque at Maghreb, the sun casting its last few rays of golden daylight, corn cobs crackling on grills and juice vendors languidly crushing pomegranates at their stalls. The call to prayer can be heard booming from speakers atop every mosque, rising in a crescendo that echoes through an entire city. This sound can no longer be heard in Jerusalem. Three years ago Israel banned mosques from amplifying the adhan in all of the occupied territories, including from the Al Aqsa mosque. Al-Quds, known as Jerusalem in English, is a city as ancient as it is holy and at its centre lies a mosque. The mosque is an octagonal masterpiece covered inch by inch with veined marble and blue tile, with dolomite pathways that have been smoothed by the footfalls of centuries of Palestinians and pilgrims, that spill out into a vast compound of gardens, fountains and several smaller mosques. Tonight, we are amongst the millions that have come before us to pray. The Silence “It wasn’t always like this, you know” As we approach one of the towering stone entryways, we are met with a group of stoic Israeli Defence Force (IDF) soldiers. We are asked to present our papers and after a few cursory glances over our passports, visas and some back-and-forth between the soldiers, we are allowed to enter. There are always at least thirty-two fully armed soldiers stationed at Al-Aqsa. When our media attempts to dilute the last seventy years of conflict into one universal “truth” that 'this land has always been contested so it's a complex problem without a clear solution’ they create a narrative that is as dangerous as it is untrue. Some of the holiest sites in Islam, Judaism and Christianity have stood within five hundred metres of each other. These religions have co-existed in Palestine for a thousand years. Only in the Muslim quarter do you see soldiers dressed in camouflage and military boots, wearing bulletproof vests, with IWI Tavor Assault Rifles slung across their chests and handguns holstered to their hips as they check the identity cards of every person, young and old, entering the compound to pray. The guards outside the Holy Sepulchre Church and the Wailing Wall, by contrast, are unarmed and appear harmless, chatting with tourists that pass by. In a compound vast enough to hold thousands, we should be seeing hundreds of people rushing in through all five gates, removing their shoes, and moving to stand shoulder to shoulder at the call of the adhan. Instead, the complex is eerily silent. Our guide, Abdul, turns to us and says, ‘it wasn’t always like this, you know, but... Anyway let’s go have a look inside.’ This silence is the combined effect of millions of exiled Palestinians and the six hundred checkpoints littering the roads between Jerusalem and all the other cities in the occupied West Bank. Looking around, the men are dressed in black blazers and elegant keffiyehs and the women wear coloured abayas and scarves. As our mother finishes praying, a lady dressed in a pale blue abaya and white hijab turns toward her with a beaming smile, clasps her hands and whispers, “Welcome to Palestine, thank you for coming, and I hope you enjoy it here.” After learning where our family is from she asks, “is Australia beautiful?” To which our mother replies, “yes, but this is much more beautiful.” The lady laughs, “oh if only you saw it before - one day, InshaAllah!” On the 2nd of June this year, exactly six months after we stood in Al Aqsa, Israeli soldiers forcibly entered the mosque in the last three days of Ramadan and released tear gas grenades, sprayed rubber bullets and arrested a number of Palestinians. The Soldiers Teenagers holding guns like toys. Everywhere we went we saw soldiers. They are stationed at every checkpoint and every street corner. They stand around in groups, laughing and talking - all while fully armed. Israeli conscription laws require all Jewish and non-Arab citizens over the age of eighteen to serve in the military for at least two years. So the vast majority of IDF soldiers littered throughout checkpoints and the West Bank are young. Younger than us - most are eighteen, nineteen, twenty with threadbare beards and lanky arms wielding larger-than-life rifles. They appear trigger happy, drunk on power, teenagers holding guns like toys. Their carelessness in this moment is a stark contrast to our concern. This moment encapsulates so many of our encounters with the IDF soldiers. Inconsistency, callousness; a juxtaposition of things that should and should not be. The only place we didn’t see soldiers, was in Jericho. This is one of the few places still under Palestinian control. The Blue ID Unsurprisingly, a GPS’s estimation of the time to a destination is redundant here. The car comes to an abrupt stop on the outskirts of Jericho, commonly called “the oldest city in the world.” Peeking through the bushes are the arches of a mosque, nestled between unfinished construction work and a dirt road, with a few camels grazing. Our driver, Abdul, encourages us to pray here and he warns us that the drive to Jerusalem may take longer than expected. Unsurprisingly, a GPS’s estimation of the time to a destination is redundant here. As we wait for our family to finish praying, we ask, 'so, where do you and your family live?’ He meets our awkward enthusiasm with a knowing smile and points to his blue I.D. He explains that as a Palestinian living in Jerusalem, he is required to carry this I.D wherever he goes and if for some reason he loses it, he could be jailed, deported or killed. Once he starts speaking, he can’t stop. The words pour out, each sentence detailing the occupation in more excruciating ways. He barely breathes between words and we scatter “oh God” and “that is horrific” like loose change throughout the conversation. Anything we intend to say loses all its meaning before it’s said. He emphasises that living under the occupation is a constant battle with his own sabr (patience) and that every time a new camera is installed on a light pole near his house, a street name is changed from Arabic to Hebrew, or he is expected to be warm to the soldiers at the checkpoint - that he needs to remain patient. He says, “what is right will always be, Palestine is and will always be for Palestinians and there is no fight for the dignified.” What we did not know then was that all Palestinians in occupied Jerusalem have Blue IDs whilst Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have Green IDs. We saw this ID system being used throughout the trip; at checkpoints, at the border, on major roads leading to Jerusalem and, of course, at the entrance to Al Aqsa. Israel touts this Blue ID as a privilege, but Palestinians face regular humiliation and invasive searching at checkpoints. As we drive towards the city we see settlements loom on the hilltops. They look like European-style houses with white walls and gardens that have been watered until they are bright green against the arid backdrop. These clusters of houses are surrounded by high concrete walls, fenced and signed. Abdul explains that we couldn’t enter the settlements even if we wanted to, saying ‘we are on the Palestinian lane, and the road going there is only for Israelis.’ There are ninety-nine fixed checkpoints in the West Bank protected by fencing and advanced surveillance, with fully armed soldiers guarding each one. We have to pass through three on our way into Jerusalem. On arrival we were told that the city is split into Muslim, Jewish, Christian and Armenian quarters. The unofficial curfew in the Muslim quarter means that after sunset, the streets are silent. The Lawyer It’s easy to dismiss the cruelty of the occupation when you’ve never seen it. Damascus Gate is one of the grand entryways to the Old City in Jerusalem and the name honours the Syrians who would make the journey from Damascus to Jerusalem by the millions. As we enter we pass a plaza with fruit vendors and then the streets narrow into alleyways. As Mohammed, our guide, trails a path toward Ja’far Sweets (because we asked him to take us to the best Knafeh in Jerusalem) every turn we take opens up to more souks with small shops selling fruits, bags and rugs. Mohammad kindly asks us to buy from Palestinian businesses as their stalls are rarely visited by tourists. Street markets are usually filled with the sounds of bargaining and banter. Yet here, it’s just us. The only other tourists we see are looking at their maps and appear to be lost, frantically trying to find their way back to the other quarters. Israeli run tour companies purposefully avoid the Arab quarter so their guests can leave the city without ever having to speak to a Palestinian, taking with them a clear conscience. It’s easy to dismiss the cruelty of the occupation when you’ve never seen it. We are making our way through the markets when an elderly man dressed in black trousers and a blazer ushers us into his stall. As we step inside, the man lifts his hand to his heart and gives us a resounding, ‘Assalamualaikum!’ When he learns we are from Australia he becomes incredibly exuberant with his gestures and whispers, ‘Please don't leave the Palestinians alone, we need you here. The Israelis want us to leave, but we can't- this isn't just our land to give away. Al-Quds is not for Palestinians, it's for everyone and they have to come, but people aren’t coming. Thank you for coming!’' When he asks us what we do, we mention that we are both studying law. He breaks into laughter and with the ease of a child, kneels behind his small cabinet, pulls out a photograph and flips it around so we can see. In the photograph a young man stands with a medal around his neck and a graduation cap. We squint to see that the young man in the photo resembles the man in front of us - they share the same smile, just fifty five years on. He exclaims, pointing to the photograph, ‘It’s me! I was a lawyer, I studied in Damascus, and I came back here, and I practiced but…” He trails off, and tries a few different ways of saying it before settling for, ‘after it... I wasn’t allowed to practice anymore.’ When we are about to leave, he asks us to wait. He pulls open his first drawer and lays out four velcro bracelets, each with the Palestinian flag printed onto them. He lets out a small chuckle and shares, ‘I shouldn’t be giving you these but I want to.’ The New Law “The law is introduced as of this moment.” On our exit we have to cross the Allenby Bridge checkpoint. The occupation distorts the usual time it takes to travel somewhere and again, a five minute drive is extended to one hour. Three IDF soldiers stop us at the checkpoint and say there is a new law that has been enacted that says no private cars can pass through the checkpoint. He elaborates by saying, ‘the law is introduced as of this moment.’ As we wait on the side of the checkpoint, our parents grow more and more anxious by the minute - we see at least ten cars filled with tourists pass through. Abdul later explains that the vans are owned by Israeli tourism companies so, ‘the law will never apply to them, only ever to us.’ While we're waiting, they check an ambulance (and every vehicle that follows) for arms with a metal detector. The soldier doing this looks barely eighteen. His skin is flushed, his limbs are lanky with youth and he has round glasses perched atop his nose. Abdul keeps repeating, “this isn’t you, it’s because of me they just want to make my life harder.” After a few phone calls, Abdul explains, “they will let you go in taxis, so you need to split into two groups.’ Our dad goes quiet, becoming quite stressed as we see our grandparents and mum drive through the exit while we sit and wait for the taxi to return. In these fifteen minutes, Abdul explains that, “the only reason they are harassing our group is because they are trying to make it harder for Palestinians, like me, to run businesses, and probably also because they are bored.” A five minute drive becomes an hour long. The Children I had never truly understood the concept of صبر (the best english translation is patience or endurance) before but I've witnessed it now. We enter Al-Aqsa for Maghreb as the sun is dipping. The IDF soldier gives us “salaam” at the gate. Before we can stop ourselves, out of habit we return his salaam and instantly regret it as he raises both his hands as though making du’a and murmuring, while the others laugh at his mockery. As we pass through the tall stone archway, we hear some young boys run up to the gateway after us. The four guards we just passed, armed to the teeth, demand the young Palestinian boys show their papers. They each pull out a blue sheet from their coat pockets, the guards concede, and the children laugh as they walk into the complex. As they climb the stairs, taking them two, three at a time their boyish voices yell ‘Allahu Akbar’ (“God is Great”) into the sky as they run away to play. It’s grey-blue outside and their laughter mingles with the sound of the birds chirping and circling above the golden dome. *Every name has been changed to protect the identity of those we met. *Everything in quotation marks is written exactly as it was told to us. Lead Editor: Palwasha A.
The Whitewashing of Rumi
By Palwasha A. “I see a type of spiritual colonialism here: bypassing, erasing and occupying a spiritual landscape that has been lived…by Muslims from Bosnia and Istanbul to Konya and Iran to Central and South Asia” - Omid Safi A few weeks ago, I came across a thread about Rumi by Persian Poetics on Twitter that confirmed something I’d long suspected; that the translation of his works had largely been sanitised in their distribution and consumption in the West. The post was being shared to reveal how much everything we know and admire has been twisted to fit the narrative of the world today, where we operate globally under colonial structures and make do with being the inferior non-white other. When reading the translations of Rumi for the first time, I noticed the omission of mentions of God and Islamic religious terminology, and categorised him in my head as subscribing to the vague notion of a religion of “love”, rather than Islam. But it was confusing, given his context, how a 13th century Persian Muslim poet could write such seemingly vague and untethered sentences. Recently I found out that what we know today as his most popular “translations” here in the West are actually paraphases of other people’s previous English translations, with careful and purposeful ommissions of Muslim terminology. The person mostly responsible for Rumi’s celebrity-status in the West is a guy named Coleman Barks, who has produced over a dozen books of Rumi translations, the ones everyone has on their coffee table today. Here’s the insane catch. This guy doesn’t speak Farsi, has never studied Rumi or Islam and has actively removed Rumi from his very thirteenth century Muslim context on purpose, despite claiming to Rozina Ali, the writer of an excellent New Yorker article about Rumi’s whitewashing (linked here if you’d like to read) that he has no memory of whether or not he did it on purpose, even though he left in references to Jesus and Joseph because he was “raised Presbyterian”. Interestingly, Barks is not solely responsible for this. This kind of separation of mystical poetry from it’s Islamic roots dates back to the Victorian period, writes Rozina, by (white) academics wanting to create the illusion “that these people are mystical not because of Islam but in spite of it” she quotes from esteemed professor of Asian and Middle Eastern studies and Rumi enthusiast, Omid Safi. They refused to acknowledge or promote the fact that the works they so admired were created by devout “Moslems” (I always thought this spelling was to mock the way Americans pronounced Muslim, but in fact it was the predominant spelling of the time). It was from the translations of these folks (already incredibly inaccurate and problematic) that our bumbling, non-Farsi speaking boy Coleman spun his interpretations. His purpose in doing so, was not just to get filthy rich off his clumsy whitewashing of Rumi, but to “make him palatable to an American audience”. Hmm. What is the Point of erasing Rumi's Muslim-ness? Rumi’s wisdom is incredible and many people in the West can and have benefited from it, but a version of it that he would, as a devout Muslim and scholar, have rebelled against. One can easily see how Coleman could reach the conclusion that all the Islam needed to be removed from Rumi’s poetry, because the West’s demonising of the religion, its followers and any association with it has been so thorough and complete. This also pushes the enforced idea, as Omid points out, that non-white people have not contributed to civilisation, either in academia, invention or philosophical thought. There is alarmingly little outcry or criticism of Barks’s interpretations, and even less widespread awareness of what has been done to Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Balkhi. As an Afghan for whom Rumi is one of essentially only two Afghan thinkers given any credit in the West it is genuinely upsetting that he has been removed from us and our history. His acclaim is by having torn his work from the context that would allow him to be in any way associated with us, rather than a figure who transcended the pitiful backwardness of a religion that Afghans (and much of the Muslim world) today are imagined to be held back by. Why does it matter? The misrepresentation of Rumi opens up the wider discussion of; if they did it to him, who else in our history has been whitewashed, sanitised and removed from a rich, non-Euro context. Which others of our heroes have been purposefully twisted to uphold a colonial narrative that takes the benefit of their work without paying homage to the religious and historical context within which they were writing. This whitewashing of non-white historical figures is necessary in upholding a white supremacist and Islamophobic narrative. Even further, by removing Rumi from his context, readers are deprived from learning about the beautiful spirituality of Islam. It also deprives the person thinking they are reading Rumi from feeling the strength any text gets from its context, from being written about what the writer knows, has experienced, and has love for. His evolution from devoted worshipper of the God and religion he believed in and devoted his life to, into vague and wholesome affirmations in English translations, means that the reader is not exposed to his actual work and only experiences Rumi through a game of Chinese Whispers with an agenda. Rozina writes: “Even if Rumi was heterodox, it’s important to recognize that he was heterodox in a Muslim context—and that Islamic culture, centuries ago, had room for such heterodoxy. Rumi’s works are not just layered with religion; they represent the historical dynamism within Islamic scholarship.” Final Thoughts Frustratingly, in researching this piece and Rumi’s whitewashing, I found that even among those who have been most vocal in their writing about this topic have failed to engage with why. When we don’t engage with the why, we’re left “fixing” one problem without addressing the root of the problem - which is the whitewashing and islamophobia that permeates Western academic traditions and the retelling of Muslim history. The sanitisation of Rumi, along with the erasure of countless other revolutionary, non-white scholars and inventors and leaders comes from the need to uphold the Eurocentric narrative that white is supreme which has been systematically spread throughout the Muslim world through the processes of colonisation. For those of you who are seeking a genuine translation, free of all the euro-shapeshifting, check out Jawid Mojaddedi (an Afghan researcher) whose works translating the ‘Masnavi’, are out in several volumes already. Also, check out the powerful ‘Rumi Was Muslim’ platform, created by the people who inspired the writing of this piece with their attempts to give Rumi back his true legacy. Edited by Tahmina R.
Do You Like My Body?
Mariam H. When I was a little girl, I had this bright yellow dress with tiny colourful flowers scattered all over it. It had a big full skirt. Flowers would be floating all around me. Red, pink, magenta and blue. I loved that dress. My mother used to have to hide it from me because when she would wash it and hang it up to dry, I would grab it wet off the line, hurriedly put it on and then twirl around in it. Our bodies are the unique cross-section between the physical, social, and our subjective internal, which is the way we ourselves experience our body, and how it exists in our society. Our bodies are the first point of contact between our inner and outer selves and in many ways, we are built from what we hear and see. So, in a sense, our bodies are not truly our own. As I grew older and the dress no longer fit, I decided to only wear dark colours and dull prints. Shades that blended me into my own surroundings. Somewhere along the line I began to realise that I didn’t want to be seen as (what I thought it meant to be) a girl. The idea of femininity as irrational, frivolous and shallow had taken root. TO BE BEAUTIFUL, OR TO BE SMART. The brainy versus the beautiful, the maiden versus the witch and the blonde versus brunette. In my mind, women only existed as opposing binaries. When I first came across the idea that beauty was performed for the benefit of men, everything within me revolted against this notion. You could be beautiful and therefore passively content, or intelligent and driven. To me, one was clearly the better investment, even if the path was lonelier. As time went on, I became a staunch feminist. You know, the poster waving, sassy slogan wearing and bra-burning kind (well theoretically - they are damn expensive and also great for back support). Femininity continues to be overly sexualised, mysticised and commodified. It is held to unattainable standards, while at the same time dismissed as trivial. To be feminine is to be beautiful. However, beauty is more than just appearance; it is a behaviour. It is the correct way to be a woman. It’s the rom-com transformation of having your hair straightened, smile widened, posture fixed, voice mellowed, and vocabulary sweetened. I understood that beauty was a performative chore with an expensive price tag and a quick expiration. This helped to confirm my own bias and began to internalise an age-old dichotomy of looks versus substance as the only options for identity. WAS IT ALL A LIE? I never considered that the energy and emotional labour I invested in opposing beauty was in itself performing this false dichotomy. I continued to parrot perceptions that beauty is meaningless and redundant to the modern woman and throughout it all, I used my self-righteous zeal to mask the fear that if I did try, I could never be pretty. You see, I often don't like my body but I can’t say that. When I do, it is met with a barrage of aggressive and quite disdainful ‘positive’ affirmations. Inherently embedded in that flood of supposed uplifting onslaught is a current of betrayal, pity and the occasional dash of disgust because the modern woman cannot be self-conscious. She certainly cannot avoid her reflections or be uncomfortable in her own body. No, the empowered, 21st century female is a queen. She is effortlessly assured and confident in her appeal. She is coveted and desired, though she neither cares nor notices. Interestingly, the phenomena of shaming women for their preoccupation with their appearance and weight is not new. Women are socialised to view themselves as the object of the male gaze. It’s not as though there’s a patriarchal omnipresent overseer cackling away in a room, forcing down nefarious body standards. It’s a spiderweb where women are both the fly trapped and the one spinning the web. A LOSE, LOSE. At my lowest weight, I was still not skinny. My lack of expression and utter exhaustion meant my usually rounded cheeks were hollowed, allowing my cheekbones to show. My eyes were sunken in and dark from the lack of sleep, providing the illusion of contours. A thigh gap remained elusive but if I sat next to you, you would barely know I was there. My usually healthy curls were limp and dry, as I desperately brushed them out and burnt them flat. Yet by all accounts that was the best I have ever looked. It was also among my most depressive episodes. Most things were hard: school, talking, getting up, sleeping but at least I could wear a size eight. You try to convince yourself that your value is not derived from your beauty while simultaneously doing everything in your power to ensure that you are perceived as beautiful, and then you hate yourself for trying. After working on my mental health, reaching academic goals and accomplishing personal ones, all these achievements became hollow cut-outs of success. The remarks were always, ‘I see you’ve gained a lot of weight’ or ‘you really need to be careful’ or ‘if you gain anymore it’s really going to get out of control.’ In order words, the art of staying thicc without actually being thick. REARRANGING THE PICTURE. I don’t want a manufactured sense of body positivity. I don’t think that with my embodied existence it would ever be authentic to who I am. But what I am moving towards is neutrality. In essence, I want to be ok with not always being ok. My body is my faith, it is my history. The way my eyes slant is just like my grandmother’s. The way my hands are shaped is like my father’s. The way my face moves when I concentrate is like my mother’s. My hands have scars and it’s all a part of my story. If your body is the way you communicate with the world and it doesn’t just belong to you, then it needs to make statements about who you are. I want my physical presence to reflect values that are important to me. I want a clear connectedness of the body and spirit, in line with my faith. To acknowledge that my body is the material, corporeal home for my ruh (soul). That it exists to reflect and express my values. The body is more than just a vessel, the sum of all of its component parts. I want mine to tell the story of my faith, my heritage, my history and my beliefs. A body that shows who I am and what I believe. It is all still a process but at least it’s progress. Lead Editor: Irisa R. Bibliography: Bartky, S.L, Foucault, femininity, and The Modernization of Patriarchal Power (1997), 92-111. Berger, J, Ways of Seeing, (London: British Broadcasting Corporation, 1st ed, 1977). Blood, Sylvia K, Body work the social construction of women’s body image, (Routledge, 1st ed, 2005). Orbach, S, Fat is a Feminist Issue: The Anti-diet Guide for Women+ Fat is a Feminist (Random House, 2nd Ed, 1998). Smolak, L., Murnen S.K, Feminism and Body Image, (Palgrave Macmillan, 1st Ed, 2005). Wolf, N, The beauty myth: How images of beauty are used against women (Random House, 1st ed, 1991).
By Tahmina R. “We have declared that the fate of Kashmir is ultimately to be decided by the people. We will not, and cannot back out of it.” - Jawharlal Nehru, India’s First Prime Minister, 2 November 1947. They say the closest you’ll ever get to paradise on Earth is Kashmir. Situated at the foothills of the Himalaya, its magnificence and beauty is renowned. With the current news cycle fixating on the roles of India and Pakistan in the ‘fight for Kashmir,’ the Kashmiri voice is being silenced. The details of India’s oppression and repression have been swept aside in favour of Bollywood drama and dangerous dialogue focused on what it means to be ‘pro-Indian,’ ‘pro - Pakistani’ or ‘patriotic.’ Every one of these arguments contributes to the white noise complicit in further silencing the Kashmiri people in their fight for self-determination and quashes any hope for a free and fair election in Kashmir. ON THE GROUND The current crisis is occurring in Indian-Administered Kashmir. On August 5th of this year, the Kashmiris were forced into a lockdown after Article 370 and Article 35A were repealed from the Indian Constitution. A curfew was imposed. All mobile phones, landlines, televisions and internet connections were cut to ensure a total communication blackout. Kashmir usually has 180 daily newspapers, but only five are currently publishing. On Eid Al-Adha, the streets were silent. Strung with barbed wire and anti-missile netting, it has been one of the most densely militarised places in the world for almost forty years. With the most recent deployment of soldiers there is now one soldier for every 17 people. People who had been visiting Kashmir before the lockdown have been taking to social media to share their stories. On the first day of the lockdown, they woke up to an announcement that all tourists and ex-pats must leave immediately. When checking for flights they found that all the wifi and phone lines had been cut. One Australian-Kashmiri tourist, who prefers to remain anonymous, shared, ‘my family is used to this, they stock up on all supplies, because everyone is under house arrest and they can’t leave the house in case they get killed.’ She finished by saying, ‘all of us stood together and cried for hours, silently, because we didn’t know what could happen.’ As of one week ago, there have been 2000 Muslims arrested without warrants, in one of the biggest mass arrests of civilians by India in decades. With Narendra Modi in power, India executed what is effectively an annexation of Jammu and Kashmir. Article 370 gave Kashmiris the right to a state flag, the right to a government and the freedom of movement. Along with with it, 150 state laws were also repealed. This arbitrarily placed Kashmir under the Indian Prime Minister’s rule and erased any, albeit slim, legal possibility of self-determination for the people in India-Administered Kashmir. SOME CONTEXT Understanding Kashmir's history is important in being able to understand what's happening now. It would be impossible to accurately summarise 72 years of complex post-colonial history, so we will highlight some major developments that have played a part in creating the current crisis. There have been three Indo-Pakistani wars, and two have been fought over Kashmir. When the British drew their careless border through the subcontinent in 1947, they acted on the assumption that there was a ‘whole’ that they could divide. In drawing this border two countries were created - India and Pakistan. Pakistan would later split to create an independent Bangladesh. The British failed to come to an agreement with the Kashmiris so their fate was left undecided. In a strategic move, the British appointed the Hindu ruler, Maharaja Hari Singh, in Muslim - majority Kashmir. He was to decide whether Kashmir would join India, Pakistan or remain independent. In the first two years of Maharaja Singh’s reign there was significant internal conflict, resulting in an estimated 20-100 000 Kashmiris being killed in civilian violence. This statistic has such a large margin of error that it’s practically useless, but we‘ve mentioned it because it’s reflective of the traceless bloodletting that occurred after decolonisation. Wanting India’s assistance in subduing the population, Maharaja Singh signed the 'Instrument of Accession,' indicating his willingness to accede and become a part of India. In fear of losing Kashmir, the Pakistani armed forces were subsequently sent in to protect their claim to those territories. A UN resolution was passed on 13 August 1948, asking both India and Pakistan to withdraw their forces, but neither did. The armistice line became a de-facto border, splitting Kashmir in two. MODI, WHO? Narendra Modi is the head of the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party and the recently elected Prime Minister of India. He recently described Kashmir as a part of the “new India” he hopes to build. Giving a public address on the 15th August, he said, “the work that was not done in the last 70 years has been accomplished within 70 days after this new government came to power.” He also pledged to “free” Jammu and Kashmir of “terrorism.” Note, this same man oversaw religious riots as Chief Minister of Gujarat, where almost 2000 Muslims were killed in a three day massacre in 2002. The current crisis must not be written off as another of a long list of conquests to consolidate the elusive vision of a more powerful India. There has not been a single year since Independence that the Indian Army has not been deployed within the Indian borders against its own citizens, crushing rebellion against the government. The list is long: Assam, Nagaland, Manipur and Hyderabad, to name a few. Article 370 preserved the Kashmiri territories for the Kashmiri people, but its repeal last week, means that this land is no longer ‘off-limits’ and that Indian citizens can now buy and settle in Jammu and Kashmir. This is the strongest way to change the demographic makeup of Kashmir and weaken their fight for independence. India’s richest Industrialist, Mukesh Ambani of Reliance Industries, has already promised investments in Kashmir. But the argument of economic development has never, and could never, legitimise such a violation of rights in a democratic state. If that is what India claims to be, then promises of elusive economic benefits come off as insincere efforts to justify the occupation of Kashmir which is first and foremost, an unjustifiable abuse of power. In writing about Kashmir, prize winning author-journalist, Arundhati Roy, wrote, “Eventually the dead will begin to speak. And it will not just be dead human beings, it will be the dead land, dead rivers, dead mountains and dead creatures in dead forests that will insist on a hearing.” Note We have chosen not to discuss the situation in Pakistan-Administered Kashmir, although there have been significant restrictions on civil and political rights there for several decades now. This piece focuses on recent events in Indian-Administered Kashmir. We have also decided not to focus on Jammu and Ladakh because the Kashmiri Valley is currently the only area under complete lockdown. This article only scratches the surface of the disturbing details that plague the history of Kashmir’s fight for independence. We cannot attempt to summarise their history in one article. This piece exists to further our understanding of the plight of Kashmir’s people, to inspire empathy, raise awareness and encourage us to check our own assumptions. Lead editor: Irisa R. Bibliography Aljazeera.com. (2019). Pakistan army says Indian firing across LoC kills another soldier. [online] Available at: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/08/kashmir-fire-loc-kills-3-pakistani-5-indian-troops-190815125820838.html [Accessed 27 Aug. 2019]. Aljazeera.com. (2019). India's Narendra Modi gets top UAE honour amid Kashmir crisis. [online] Available at: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/08/india-narendra-modi-top-uae-honour-kashmir-crisis-190824102342849.html [Accessed 27 Aug. 2019]. Slater, J. (2019). In Modi’s move on Kashmir, a roadmap for his ‘new India’. Washington Post, 15 August. [online] Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/in-modis-move-on-kashmir-a-road-map-for-his-new-india/2019/08/15/1fff923a-beab-11e9-a8b0-7ed8a0d5dc5d_story.html [Accessed 27 Aug. 2019]. Masih, N. (2019). ‘A Dormant Volcano’: Kashmir’s Streets are Quiet, but Residents Seethe with Resentment, Washington Post. [online] Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/kashmirs-streets-are-quiet-during-indias-crackdown-but-residents-seethe-with-resentment/2019/08/14/f9fb22dc-be9d-11e9-a8b0-7ed8a0d5dc5d_story.html?noredirect=on [Accessed 27 Aug. 2019]. BBC News. (2019). Why India and Pakistan fight over Kashmir. 8 August [online] Available at: https://www.bbc.com/news/10537286 [Accessed 27 Aug. 2019]. Datta, A. (2016). On Uncertain Ground. Oxford Scholarship Online. Gettleman, J. Shultz, K. Yasir, S. Raj, S. (2019). India’s Move in Kashmir: More Than 2,000 Rounded Up With No Recourse. New York Times. 23 August. [online] Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/23/world/asia/kashmir-arrests-india.html [Accessed 27 Aug. 2019]. Ghoshal, D. (2019). Kashmir Journalists Frustrated by Communications Blockade, MSN News. 9 August. [online] Available at: https://www.msn.com/en-au/news/world/kashmir-journalists-frustrated-by-communications-blockade/ar-AAFzRUI?li=AAgfIYZ&%2525252525253BOCID=ansmsnnews11 [Accessed 27 Aug. 2019]. Harsh V. Pant, Kartik Bommakanti, India's national security: challenges and dilemmas, International Affairs, Volume 95, Issue 4, July 2019, Pages 835–857. India Today (2019). Kashmir Live: Got a taste of draconian administration in J-K yesterday, tweets Rahul Gandhi. 25 August. [online] Available at: https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/jammu-kashmir-ladakh-article-370-congress-modi-live-news-updates-1591294-2019-08-25 [Accessed 27 Aug. 2019]. India Today (2019). Mukesh Ambani promises investment in Jammu & Kashmir, says Reliance will set up special team. [online] 12 August. Available at: https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/mukesh-ambani-promises-investment-jammu-kashmir-reliance-set-up-special-team-1579993-2019-08-12 [Accessed 27 Aug. 2019]. Noorani, A.G. (2011). Article 370. Oxford Scholarship Online. Pant, H.V. and Bommakanti, K. (2019). India’s national security: challenges and dilemmas. International Affairs, 95(4), pp.835–857. Ramdani, N. (2019). Opinion: Modi’s brutal annexation of Kashmir follows the Israel-Palestine script to the letter. The Independent, 23 August. [online] Available at: https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/modi-kashmir-crisis-india-pakistan-israel-palestine-netanyahu-a9074501.html [Accessed 27 Aug. 2019]. Reinl, J. (2019). Pakistan and India trade barbs after rare UN Kashmir talks. Aljazeera.com. 17 August. [online] Available at: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/08/190816174341755.html. [Accessed 27 Aug. 2019]. Roy, A. (2011). The dead begin to speak up in India. The Guardian. 30 September. [online] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/libertycentral/2011/sep/30/kashmir-india-unmarked-graves [Accessed 27 Aug. 2019]. Scott-Clark, C. (2017). The mass graves of Kashmir. The Guardian. 10 July [online] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/jul/09/mass-graves-of-kashmir [Accessed 27 Aug. 2019]. Sowmiya Ashok (2018). Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel’s views on Kashmir problem: What the record says. The Indian Express. 12 February. [online] Available at: https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/sardar-vallabhbhai-patels-views-on-kashmir-problem-what-the-record-says-5060077/ [Accessed 27 Aug. 2019].
An Ungrateful Silence
By Jessica L. “I speak two tongues; my coloniser’s better than my mother’s. This is the first problem” - Anne Teriba. Losing After the White Australia Policy was lifted in 1973, the vast majority of non-European immigrants coming in were professionals or skilled workers and were required to pass a language test. Yet their accents continue to be associated with poorer education and generally correlate with a lack of respect in interactions with the white-majority. “Don’t you want to speak to them?” Mum holds her phone up, raising it to the ceiling to catch the signal of the incoming call. Her ringtone brings forth painfully awkward memories of aunties and uncles jokes you didn’t get and the fast chatter that escaped your understanding. It’s not that you don’t want to speak to them, it’s just that you don’t know how. Your parents faces fit perfectly inside the frame of the screen and the picture feels complete without you. As you leave the room, you hear them exchanging stories, their boisterous laughter and the natural ease of their conversation. For first generation immigrants, learning English was a bright sticker pressed to their shirt, displaying their Australian-ness and willingness to integrate. For second and third generation Australians, it has morphed into a greater loss. Fighting for acceptance in Australia is now achieved by eroding the foundations of who we are. How did our language, the orchestral swelling of voices fade into a haunting echo in our minds and silence from our own tongues? “Learn English” a Translation: 1. Higher Education. 2. More Opportunity. 3. Greater Success. It is never explicit, but you know that if you learn to speak the right language in the right way, it is an investment that will grant you a lifetime of credibility. At school, everyone is dressed like you. They are learning their ABCs, their 123s, and you’re learning with them. Every year, come March 21st you find walls plastered with orange posters. Funnily enough though, ‘Harmony Day’ fails to teach us that assimilation is not a practice of the past but a process that continues to dilute non-English speakers within the white middle-class majority. “Diversity” is one of many multicoloured toppings on a perfect vanilla cupcake. A sweet treat to pacify, but unfulfilling and insubstantial. Questions of language are always determined by questions of power. There is no such thing as an apolitical classroom, and so personal beliefs and biases are introduced and reproduced. It is necessary to learn English here, but it does not have to be taught to us as the language of wealth, of opportunity and of success. Foreignness is a punchline and you don’t want to be a joke. At work you see the grimace on your manager’s face as she whispers, “ugh they can’t speak English” gesturing toward certain customers. You just nod, restock shelves and give “that” smile. To be offended is to compromise your position, to admit your foreignness. If you’re (un)lucky you will hear, “you’re one of the good ones, at least you can speak English.” “Speak English” a Translation: 1. Be Intelligent 2. Be Eloquent 3. Be more like “us” The plane begins its descent and a gentle tap wakes you. Your parents are wide awake, excited at the prospect of walking down familiar streets, past buildings that fill their childhood memories and of holding people that linger in their thoughts of home. As you land, sepia coloured family photographs come to life. Your aunties and uncles all comment on how much you’ve grown. Their tongues bear the burden of their own broken English, but they persevere with full interest in hearing your response. Not being able to speak English is a sign of foreignness here and not being able to speak Indonesian is a sign of foreignness there. Then a pair of hands pull you close and you see your grandfather’s smile. He showers you with terms of endearment, offering a sweet and flowing symphony. They all pause, waiting for your reply. Your mouth opens only to feel the tight grip of English spiralling itself around your throat, catching your breath. They wait for you to reciprocate but your tongue has been tied for so long. Tired by the many knots that you have neglected to undo. A mind furiously thinking in English cannot find the loose threads of it’s ‘mother tongue.’ Their excited smiles begin to dim and they look around at each other. Your parents whisper in your ears, urging you to speak. The words creep out before your can catch them, “I can’t.” “I can’t” a Translation: 1. I can’t respond. 2. I can’t fit myself in here. 3. I can’t remember how I lost this. Gaining Somehow language, a tool for communication has become the great silencer. This silence is what lies between my grandfather and I, when all my thoughts can’t be expressed in the same exuberance I can offer in English. It leaves a gap between my Aunt and I, when I ask her to slow down so I can join in on the punchline. It is my parents asking me a question, but me responding in English without a second thought. It is self-inflicted amnesia, the uprooting of my own roots, the burying of unceasing shame that comes from the knowledge that deep down I have truly forgotten. “Ungrateful Silence” a Translation 1. The experience of denying your own heritage because of the discrimination tied to it. 2. The experience of being unable to speak your mother tongue because you unintentionally, intentionally assimilated. 3. The experience of realising all you have lost. The undeniable reason why I neglected Indonesian - a vibrant, sarcastic and wonderful language - was shame. I knew that I would have to come to terms with the fact that regardless of my ethnicity I didn’t know how it felt to be Indonesian. I didn’t know enough about my culture, my history and my family. Whilst face-timing my grandma, I felt the rough, static noise fill up my bedroom, and I realised we didn’t utter more than two sentences to each other. The conversation was over before it began. The silence of her eyes staring into mine was the mirror to my shame and my ingratitude towards my first language, fragmented and broken. The pain of realising that you have forgotten is hard to face but it is better than numbing the pain with self-denial. It’s a bitter reality to face, it is easier to hide in the silence, that way you can just respond with “I only speak english” and be blameless. The weight of the shame will numb you, trying to convince you that you are innocent and that you are faultless. It whispers that it is protecting you, until the forgetting turns to the forgotten. Right now, I’m slowly letting go of my dependency on English and starting to pick up the pieces of my Indonesian. Even if it’s just a mouthful of words or even if there's nothing, it’s an invitation to start afresh. There is a sadness in realising that you have forgotten, but it can be the start of something more. If you know nothing you can learn everything. Language can be relearned with enough time and patience. Whoever is reading this I hope you will learn to understand the beauty of your mother tongue. The way it can shape meaning in ways that English cannot. If you have forgotten that’s okay because we can learn together. Without loneliness or shame we can find a grateful voice. Saya akan membina jiwa kedua saya (I will nurture my second soul). Writer’s Acknowledgments: At The Pvblication we collectively research, write and review each other’s work to the best of our abilities. Creating this piece required an incredible amount of dedication and effort. For such tiresome efforts those involved deserve recognition. Thank you to the team.
How to Turn Slacktivism into True Activism
Palwasha A. In June, during the Sudan blackout crisis, a page called @sudanmealproject went viral on Instagram. The page promised that for every user who reposted their photo and followed their account, they would donate one meal to someone affected by the crisis in Sudan. Their bio promised to donate up to 100,000 meals. The account garnered over 400,000 followers and it seemed that the Instagram story of every person I followed was sharing their message. But an instagram follow has no monetary gain and if an organisation were capable of delivering such an immense amount of aid, why would they withhold it? Indeed when I went on their page, looked through their story highlight, and for any associated links there was nothing to be found about how they would fulfil their promise. How would they deliver the food, which location, what was the name of the organisation responsible? It became clear that this account that hundreds of thousands of people had used to “do their part” with was nothing but a ploy to leverage a crisis in which human lives were being lost to gain followers and a platform. What is Slacktivism? Slacktivism can be defined as supporting a cause by performing simple measures but not being truly engaged or devoted to making a change. It’s also known as flash activism, social media activism and armchair activism. Despite its many names, the actual question of when we’re performing slacktivism as opposed to true activism remains difficult to navigate and so many of us have fallen into the trap of slacktivism in the past. The vast majority of people, while they may agree with an idea or acknowledge that something is unjust, will not take action to change it. The standard is passivity. In November 2008, a small Facebook group called 'World Aids Day 2008' urged their followers to change their profile pictures to a red ribbon to spread awareness about the HIV epidemic. Almost a quarter of a million supporters changed their profile picture in solidarity. This was arguably one of the first instances of social media activism, or slacktivism. People were able to engage in a cause from the comfort of their own home and act publicly in a way that took them a few seconds and cost them nothing. There is no single act that can always be called slacktivism. It is what the cause necessitates that determines whether something fits the definition or not. Online activism does play a part in the political process and has the ability to garner mass attention in one of the fastest ways possible, but only if this awareness can then be harnessed into actionable goals that have been set by the organisers of a movement. The goal of activism is social change. This is the real key to grassroots social change which requires flexibility on how the engagement occurs. The usefulness of more “comfortable” forms of protest lies in the fact that they engage people who would otherwise have done nothing. Why Should We Care? Since activism seeks to change the status quo, slacktivism generates noise and can be complicit in silencing true activism. This noise can give the impression of successful change without necessarily delivering tangible results. Sharing content online is an incredible way to amplify voices that go unheard, but when these calls to action are made without practical and sustainable methods, it adds to the white noise and reduces the legitimacy of those championing true change. Also, dangerously, it allows people to capitalise on the facade of pro-activity while actually doing very little or nothing at all to make a tangible difference. This is not to say that everyone partaking in slacktivism is unmotivated or unwilling to act; the issue can often lie in a misunderstanding of the most impactful actions in initiating change. Social media activism has the potential to win elections across the world but public spectacles alone will not force elected representatives to do anything. Slacktivism can mobilise people and create opportunities for reform. Does Slacktivism Play a Role in Affecting Genuine Change? Condemnation of acts of slacktivism can foster a righteous mentality of “if you’re not doing enough, you’re not doing anything at all,” which can dissuade small-step people from decades of potential involvement. We need this noise. Slacktivism plays a role in affecting genuine change because it can be a show of solidarity as well as spreading awareness that assists in making an impact. Turning your profile picture a certain colour could be seen as a slacktivist trend if there is no further action after this flood of social media activism. For example, the move for people to change their profile picture blue for Sudan was hugely impactful because the nature of the crisis in Sudan was in part an internet blackout, orchestrated in an effort to prevent the spread of information. So is the noise that slacktivism generates effective? The Black Lives Matter movement was able to mobilise people all over the world and is credited as being one of the most effective and influential activist campaigns. Its momentum was gained by people sharing videos, images and information of the police brutality against black Americans online. This kind of abuse of power thrives when it is not questioned or brought to light, so the act of spreading it online was hugely impactful. Similarly, the online activism involved in the Me Too movement cannot be categorised as slacktivism. The sacrifice of people sharing their personal stories of sexual assault and harassment propelled change that reverberated around the world and set new standards for conduct in many industries. For the Climate March, spreading awareness online was imperative to ensuring the commitment of more than four million people globally to the protests two weeks ago. Although, the fact that the protestors themselves stand to be affected by the change in climate needs to be considered in how people were mobilised. There are so many variables in each of these movements that need to be considered in understanding exactly how the otherwise would-be instances of slacktivism mentioned have been skill-fully harnessed by online activists to affected massive change, often on a global scale. It is clear that every cause differs depending on what the desired outcome calls for. Activism that may be considered unproductive in one instance, feeds the fire in another. How Can You Turn Your Slacktivism into True Activism? There are several steps every person can take to ensure that when they act in support of a cause, they are doing so in a way that aids actual change. The first step in turning our slacktivism into true activism is understanding that every person, including ourselves, has their limitations, and not to let our potential past involvement in slacktivism dissuade us from working to make genuine change in our world. The second step is to be honest with ourselves about our intentions. Slacktivist acts of re-sharing activist content online can often allow a person to walk away from a cause with a clear conscience. Ask yourself if, in performing this act, you seek to absolve yourself of any further responsibility towards the cause and if so, hold yourself accountable. The third step in ensuring there are actual steps to follow. These are steps that an individual can take, which, with the power of numbers can lead to such high-level change as putting forth candidates and winning elections. This is the greatest lesson Micah White learned from his perceived failure of the Occupy Wall Street protest that he co-founded and recommends setting actionable goals to track how a campaign will reach its desired outcome. Ultimately, the real meat of the movement and the push behind the change comes from rallying the community, from hours of calls to your local MP, petitioning to the right people, donating money to credible sources and from discussions with your friends and family. You’ll notice that what all these acts have in common are some element of sacrifice, whether it be your time, effort, money or plans. It’s important to recognise that online activism, or small-step activism, is a good start, but just that - a start. Lead Editor: Tahmina R. Bibliography
UNAIDS Outlook report. (2010). Geneva: World Health Organization.
ABC News. (2019). Activism is broken: Here's how we fix it. [online] Available at: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-10-25/activism-is-broken-heres-how-we-fix-it/9077372 [Accessed 1 Oct. 2019].
The Conversation. (2019). 'Slacktivism' that works: 'Small changes' matter. [online] Available at: https://theconversation.com/slacktivism-that-works-small-changes-matter-69271 [Accessed 1 Oct. 2019].
The Huffington Post. (2016), Challenging “slacktivism”: activism on social media is not enough. [online] Available at: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/challenging-slacktivism-activism-on-social-media_b_5817c2dbe4b09b190529c8ae [Accessed 1 Oct. 2019].
How Grief Carries
Tahmina R. and Irisa R. At some point in their lives, three quarters of the world will inevitably go through a traumatic event. Which means in all the ways that count the experiences that usually make us feel most alone are the ones that tie us together. We lost someone we loved very much at a very young age and then someone else we held very close to us a few years later and this meant two things for us: it meant that everyone in our life changed quite drastically and it meant that a serious journey with our faith began when we were just six and eight years old. Losing someone at an age where we could understand what had happened but not why meant that we had to believe in something more than this world. We’ve had an enormous amount of time to think over the last year, as we are sure all of you have and we hope that sharing this will make us a little more fearless and that in reading it - you will be able to share in some of that too. How does trauma affect the brain? Grief is defined as a “reaction to bereavement, involving both psychological and bodily experiences.” It is usually shown as a short-term emotion but there is a lot of research to prove that it can change the brain and alter the way you perceive many things. The reason grief can create such a drastic change is because it requires a person to reorder their worldview. The death of a loved one has been proven to be one of the greatest life stressors that we can face. On top of this, the effects of this loss are often magnified if the death is unexpected, or particularly tragic. Basically, schemas - the framework in which you absorb and understand information - significantly influences your thoughts, actions and the way you perceive behaviour. They are the filter through which you see and interpret nearly everything. For example, something as simple as “good things happen to good people” is a schema. After a traumatic event, these schemas are usually broken and you are required to rebuild new ways of seeing the world, understanding people around you and understanding yourself. What is loss? It is empty words, passing moments, quiet celebrations, people refusing to acknowledge the feeling of absence and jokes to release the tension but they never land. It is just so much love that is left unsaid. Asking to hear stories and being met with silence. In movies, the most common cliche about loss is that a person needs to be reminded of the loss. In our own life we’ve seen how it has affected everyone we know: the parents, the young adults, the teenagers and the children - us. No one ever needs a reminder. Leigh Sales writes in her bestseller Any Ordinary Day, “[For a tragedy] to spur growth, it must be seismic; it must shake you to your core and cause you to fundamentally rethink everything you believe. The higher the level of stress caused by the event, the greater the potential for change.” For us, the biggest thing that came from what happened was that it meant that we had to think about our mortality in a meaningful way at a very young age. We always grew up hearing others joke about how when they were taught their religion it often felt forced on them as a set of arbitrary rules of what to do and not to do, and how difficult that felt. Which is an experience we always struggled to understand because when we think about our faith, we think of reprieve - the absence of pain. We think about how most of our community came over to pray with us every night for forty nights. And for a long time after that, the safest moments were moments of release in the midst of prayer. We were children when it happened which meant that many assumed that we would be protected from the more extreme feelings because we wouldn't entirely understand them. In all honesty, as children we were probably protected from some but we absorbed a lot from seeing so many of our family members grieve. It became painfully obvious at points that some were struggling with their mental health. The stigma that comes with mental health is now slowly going away, and we are so grateful for this because we sometimes imagine how so much of what we saw would have been better dealt with if those around us were given the space and opportunity to seek help. Does it ever change? Interestingly, research in the past three decades has started to ask a new question: What if people don’t return to normal, what if they develop enhanced functioning instead? The term ‘post-traumatic growth’ was coined by two American academics, Lawrence Calhoun and Richard Tedeschi, who defined it as the aspects of positive, personal change a person may experience alongside intense suffering after a major life trauma. This growth cannot be promised and it’s not a positive side-effect of trauma - it’s just a byproduct. We can’t really say that we are beneficiaries of this sort of growth. What we do know is that we both struggled to understand people our age for most of our teenage years, always feeling alienated in our experiences compared to those around us. Where we found ourselves struggling to understand others unless their problems seemed to be life-altering or catastrophic in difficulty. But we slowly outgrew that. Now we find it almost too easy to be moved by things. We also know that growing up we refused to give ourselves any sort of leeway to struggle or to feel like we were failing, for a very long time, always reminding ourselves that it “could be worse” - because it was for so long. Even as young adults we found it comfortable criticising ourselves for ever “giving up” but now we know it was just us compensating for any feeling of powerlessness that we experienced in the past. We have learned to exercise more sabr in our thoughts and actions, with ourselves, our parents and our friends. What we also know is that we don't need to spend our days and nights rationalising why we believe in Allah (swt). Now we just accept that we believe because we believe. We have created space in our mind to let things be a bit simpler. We can’t give this a gentle ending because sometimes it’s really difficult to not let our minds wander to what's been lost, and how much it has affected those that are close to us, but we also know that we have also tried to see things a little differently. The prayer that we perform at a funeral is the shortest. The sentiment carries that we shouldn’t mourn, and that the act of dwelling, or wailing or grieving for too long is not inherently necessary to the process because we should accept what is given to us. This can sometimes look like we are suppressing by refusing to dwell in the sadness. But it’s just a different way of experiencing the loss, where we accept it, feel it, and continue to live. Hearing tragic news is difficult for us, but now we allow it to move us, instead of resisting - and this helps build a constant state of acceptance. From the outside you can never see grief because most people are able to oscillate between focusing on loss-related stress (e.g. the pain of living without the person) and restoration-related stressors (engaging in new activities) and at other times are simply engaged in mundane activities. When we first read this we definitely understood that in all practical ways this is true. But from our own experience we’ve found we can definitely sense when someone has experienced grief. It’s something that they carry that’s always visible to us - as ours probably is to them - before we even share with one another. What we know about love So many of our friends have mentioned to us that they have never met people who so freely and openly say - I love you. A product of living in this society is that we think that love can only be shared by a few in a lifetime or that it’s finite, not infinite - which it is. We try not to use the word sparingly. Saying it often, and to many, doesn’t make it mean any less, it’s just a way of honouring the people who take up space in our mind, who we worry about and who we want good things for. It feels like the least we can do because we know that the only reason we are who we are is because so many people took the time to love us - and to make it known. In the aftermath we saw many people close to us struggle and continue to struggle with their mental health. We haven’t been tested in this way, but it’s given us an enormous amount of compassion for those who do. And made us infinitely grateful to have people around us who have meant that, at the end of the day, we never felt alone in our experiences. References: Grief: A Brief History of Research on How Body, Mind, and Brain by Mary-Frances O’Connor. Grief as an extended emotion by Svend Brinkmann & Ester Holte Kofod Any Ordinary Day by Leigh Sales The Body Keeps Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk
Changing the Game: Aid with Dignity
By Irisa R. “To acknowledge privilege is the first step in making it available for wider use. Each of us is blessed in some particular way, whether we recognise our blessings or not. And each one of us, somewhere in our lives, must clear a space within that blessing where she can call upon whatever resources are available to her in the name of something that must be done.” – Audre Lorde. International aid can be harmful when exploitative practices dehumanise refugees, and place their needs second to an NGO’s desire to promote their own agenda. To combat this dangerous power dynamic, Refugee Support Europe (RSE) has created a system that successfully shifts the power away from the volunteers and to the refugees. The Pvblication was given the incredible opportunity to interview RSE co-founder Paul Hutchings who, along with John Sloan, built RSE from the ground up as a grassroots NGO, operating in the larger playing field of international aid. Find out how RSE, amongst the growing clamour of international organisations and state governments, found their voice and learned to contribute in a meaningful and sustainable way, keeping ‘Aid with Dignity’ at their core. Re-Writing the Rules What is ‘Aid with Dignity’? Paul: I quickly realised that there was no dignity in lining up in a queue. [When I worked in] Calais they would load up a van with jackets, then drive into the camp and distribute them along with food to people who were standing in queues for hours. It was a freezing winter; some people were injured and others were old or very young and they struggled to stay on their feet. There was such a high demand for resources that it would usually break into a fight. So ‘Aid with Dignity’ grew from that, we wanted everyone to feel like they had choice and control. When I walked through the large, grating doors of the old WWII army warehouse that had been repurposed for RSE’s services, I found myself standing in front of a small shop, where fresh fruit and vegetables filled plastic crates and the shelves were stacked with staple ingredients, from flour and sugar to biscuits and tea. The market wasn’t large by any means, but it was comforting that even in the corner of this rusty metallic shed in the outskirts of a small rural town, was a brightly painted and warmly decorated shop where refugees could come in from the cold, shop in peace and let their children play. Can you explain the ‘points system?’ Paul: When we first came to the camp, it [the need] felt urgent. The shop meant that volunteers became gatekeepers, and it gave the volunteers a lot of power. What we always struggled with as a volunteer organisation was the white saviour complex, which is when people go in feeling like they are doing good just because they have the power. When you give a volunteer in a shop the right to say no, it gives them the power. What we want is to give the power to the people we are serving. The point system [opposed to the rations system] gives people choice, and we don’t want any arguments with the refugees saying, ‘well you can only have one litre of oil because your ration is also one box of tea,’ and they [the residents] respond, ‘well I don't want tea, I want two litres of oil.’ The system stops the volunteers from being a powerful person in that relationship. Tokens are handed out to each resident over the week so that they can shop. These slips of paper may look like Monopoly money, but they are the gateway to choice. The food is not rationed; the residents can choose their own groceries and walk away with change if they please. What was it like when you started? Paul: The first camp we operated in was in Alexandreia. They were in tents with very little resources. A lot of other agencies came to help, so we had to focus. We realised that we are about food and clothing and distributing it in the most dignified way. Then the UNHCR told us about Katsikas and asked us whether we could set up there as well. John and I asked ourselves, do we have the capacity to do this? If we do, how can we best serve these people? Will it be sustainable? Can we do it consistently? Are we able to do it with dignity? So as long as we are able to tick these boxes we will go. We have never gone to a camp and tried to set up and been like, ‘Oh shit, we've run out of money or volunteers.’ We plan so that we know we will be there for at least a few months. We commit to the people there, they have had enough loss and we don’t want to add to that. What is your recruitment process? Paul: There have been 700 volunteers from 40 different countries. We always knew we needed a process. In Calais, you say you need volunteers and people just turn up. The problem was that they turned up with their own agendas, and they did all kinds of crazy shit which they thought was helping. It all came from a baptism of fire where some of the volunteer’s behaviour was low level and humorous but others were abusive and difficult. RSE’s recruitment process was the reason I stopped scrolling through aid organisations and decided to investigate further. My sister and I had spent months trying to find an organisation that didn’t ask us to pay to volunteer, a la 'voluntourism,' which is when you pay large sums to an organisation that absorbs most of the payment in so-called administration and very little would make it to people on the ground. I would see overzealous offers promising that you could 'make an undeniable impact.' RSE simply offered us with an opportunity to serve the residents at the shop, sort boxes at the warehouse and help with distributing clothes. TEAMWORK MAKES THE DREAM WORK Greece has seen thousands of refugees and asylum seekers flow in from mostly Syria, Afghanistan, Sudan and Iraq. The Greek government has refused to create a strong, national framework that can support this influx of refugees, and instead chooses to deter them through violence and detention. Over twenty one thousand refugees are stranded on offshore islands around Greece and the camps on these islands have been described by one refugee as a ‘living hell.' Another said ‘it's as if I never left [the conflict] in Syria.’ Once they have been processed, they are sent to onshore long term settlement camps, one of these being Katsikas. When I first arrived at this camp a refugee said to me, ‘this isn’t heaven but it's heaven compared to Lesbos’ and he pointed to his daughter and explained that now she can sleep through the night. Katsikas camp is located in Ioannina, a holiday home for Greeks, a University town for others and a quaint, rural town for the locals. Most people don’t know that if they take a twenty - minute bus ride north there is a refugee camp enclosed within a wiry fence, where almost 1200 refugees live in four by two metre cabins that can be filled with up to 12 people at any one time. What makes John and yourself such a great team? Paul: John and I, we are different people. We both came together united in the idea of helping people and that's what has kept us together. There were moments where we would be shouting at each other over the phone, disagreeing, and it was pretty rocky. One of the reasons was that John is very impulsive and a risk-taker, while I'm cautious and a ‘let's think about this first’ person. Once we managed to resolve the personality differences we made a good team. John has really great ideas and I make sure they are followed through. In 2013, Paul and John were working in the Calais Refugee Camp in France. The horror of seeing the refugees’ experiences acted as a catalyst to confront the enormity of the Global Refugee Crisis and motivated them to leave behind their long, illustrious careers in their respective fields. Paul had spent years running his own business whilst John had spent the last three years working for UNICEF, so together they had the necessary skills and experience to make sure they could build a sustainable NGO, one that could be fast moving and reliable. What were you afraid of in the beginning? Paul: If you spoke to John, he would say he wasn’t fearful. He always believed we were going to get bigger, better and do more. I’m much more skeptical, more doubtful and more concerned about that kind of thing. There’s that feeling of the money drying up, of the volunteers drying up, of us getting bored or it just falling apart. It never goes away. It keeps you on your toes. You know, in the first 6 months, [the fear] was much more existential as we were just in one camp, we were still trying to get systems in place, it was always possible that the government would come along and say, ‘you’re leaving.’ LARGER FORCES AT PLAY There isn’t anything heroic in the actions of the co-founders and volunteers who run RSE and its success is a reflection of pure intentions to distribute aid without compromising the dignity of those receiving it. This aid isn't conditional or affiliated with a certain country or religion. They don’t attempt to imprint or enforce their own values on the refugees. They simply deliver food and clothing. They have also pushed for a community centre where people can congregate for Friday prayers, petitioned so the children could go to Greek schools, fostered connections with local businesses and established an empowerment fund to support businesses inside the camp. Still, a refugee camp isn’t a home. There are areas in Eastern Europe that over the decades have turned from post-war refugee camps, to long-term settlement camps to ghettos. Dependency on aid can prevent healthier integration into the broader communities until the refugees become disenfranchised groups living on the outskirts of regional towns, where their standard of living, education and literacy levels always lag behind the national or state average. Of course, any kind of integration and independence occurs at the behest of host countries where refugees often spend years in limbo waiting for their papers to be processed so they can settle permanently abroad. Just last Friday, on September 6th, RSE was forced out of Katsikas due to the Government’s unflinching stance. The cruelty of operating in camps is that the Government can choose to force any agency or aid organisation out, with no plan to replace their services. The refugees relied on RSE’s market to supplement their otherwise meagre welfare payments, that couldn’t even cover a week of meals. What has been the government response? Paul: Rather than recognising that refugees are an asset that need to be invested in, the Greek Government created a very hostile environment. They rarely make the argument that it's a moral obligation, and even though there’s an economic and cultural benefit from assisting refugees, they are mostly just fulfilling legal obligations very reluctantly. How did you take on this global issue? Paul: The problem is enormous and one of the first things that happens in a refugee camp is that there is a long list of needs and you can't solve them all. It’s really difficult to say ‘I can’t help’ to people who plead, I need medical help because my teeth are falling out, I need to fix my son's application, I need to travel to Germany, I need to be reunited with my family or I need an extra pair of shoes. You have to say, I understand your need, but I can't help you with it because right now I just don't have the resources to do it. How do you combat the lack of awareness that comes with the Global Refugee Crisis? Paul: There’s this phrase, ‘one death is a tragedy, 100 deaths is a statistic.’ People need to know individuals. Numbers just don't do it. You say 70 million people displaced, and they respond with, ‘wow that’s a lot of people!’ But what they will remember is Noor. Her husband died in the war and she had to grab her four kids and now she’s stuck in a refugee camp. It's that sort of individual story that hooks people, so it’s quite difficult, you need to have both. You need to really focus on the micro, and show what’s going on for the individuals, and how you can help. The thing with numbers is that it can paralyse people. It comes back to how all refugees need help but we can’t help them all. We can help the ones at the camp and hope we do the best we can for those lives. What factors shape your decision to leave a camp? Paul: When you are working in aid you have to recognise you bring benefits, but there is also a downside. As a philosophy, I don't think refugee camps are a good place for people to live in. They are a good temporary solution, but they are not a long term solution. There's a whole range of examples of refugee camps around the world that were set up to give people somewhere to live, but some of them have been going on for 30 years and have become ghettos. I could see in Alexandreia, it was becoming a ghetto on the edge of town. We had to ask ourselves; to what extent does our presence legitimise the presence of those refugee camps? To what extent do our services act as a buffer and stop the government from providing integration, housing, jobs and education? When you reflect on the last few years, is there a particular refugee that comes to mind? Paul: When we first started I collected some of these stories but they are upsetting and I became quite disheartened by listening to them and I've stopped wanting to hear those tragedies. Every single person on that camp has a similar story, and they're all tragic and they’re all awful, and part of being a refugee is friends and family who have either been lost or scattered around the world. Everyone has these unbelievable tragedies and we can’t do anything by hearing them so now, we focus more on our impact and it’s about smiles in the shop, banter with someone outside the shop, hearing from volunteers having a particular experience serving someone or playing with their kids. EXPANDING HORIZONS Paul calls it agile business planning, we call it resourcefulness. Even after weeks of negotiations and support from the UNHCR behind the scenes, RSE was asked to leave Katsikas by the 6th of September, 2019. Moving out of Katsikas was devastating, but RSE have been very quick to adapt and have transferred their resources and energy to the new Cyprus 'Dignity Centre.' Setting up operations in a new city, building new networks, organising resources, renting a new premises and sourcing new volunteers. Real, grassroots, on the ground activism. What has been your greatest lesson? Paul: Mostly it's about this wider message that if you set your mind to something, put your heart into it and really think hard about how to help other people, there will be people who want to come with you on that journey. I find it hard to talk about volunteers without sounding like some weird, old man but I feel tremendous love and affection for all of our volunteers. We spend time doing a difficult job together, but it’s also heartwarming. I feel incredibly grateful, it looks like a kind of really crappy world out there and there’s this national conversation that can be quite frustrating and depressing. What we’ve created is a bit of a bubble, like an insulator and I see that now; I get frustrated but at least we have a community of really good people who really care. How did RSE aid the Rohingya Crisis and Tijuana’s Migrant Caravan? Paul: The Rohingya Crisis in August 2017 was a dreadful global humanitarian crisis. We were there for four months and we did find a way to help and I was very pleased with it but it was a kind of crisis where it was for the big guys. The Bangladeshi government was incredibly unhelpful, it was about four months and we wish we could've stayed longer but the barriers made it too difficult. With Tijuana [the migrant caravan] it was different, that was more of a solidarity mission. You know [Trump] was bragging about criminals invading America and we knew that that was a lie. You have every right to migrate because you are fleeing extreme violence and horrific poverty and we wanted to stand with them and say we support you. What advice would you give to future aid workers? Paul: Lower your expectations. People who passionately care want to solve everyone's problems. There’s a quote by Sadako Ogata, the Former UN High Commissioner for Refugees, where he says, ‘there are no humanitarian solutions to humanitarian problems.’ If we are going to be humanitarians, we have to tackle climate change, prevent conflict, improve employment rates, provide adequate housing and process paperwork quickly. Some of that is beyond a humanitarian organisation. They require political solutions. So lower your expectations, accept that you’re going to help but you’re not going to solve everyone’s problems and that you might come away realising that it’s a much bigger problem than you thought. Most importantly, remember, you’re doing the best you can. These are two people who wanted to make an impact and did. Not by talent or luck but by rising to the challenge. RSE provided food and clothing at the Katsikas Refugee Camp for 20 months and last Friday was their last day after a long conflict with the Greek government. This news was gut-wrenching. Many of us who have volunteered there know how the residents relied on the shop to supplement their otherwise meagre welfare payments. During their time at Katsikas, they distributed over €95k fresh fruit and vegetables (thanks to Help Refugees UK), 180 000 nappies (thanks to Carry The Future) and 50 000 sanitary pads. The Pvblication would like to give a HUGE thank you to Paul Hutchings for sharing his thoughts and experiences. We would also like to sincerely thank everyone who has donated! Together we have raised over AUD$10 000. If you would like to donate or are interested in volunteering please follow this link. *This interview has been condensed for clarity. *All photographs were taken with the consent of the minor's parents. Lead Editor: Palwasha A.
Adopting a Growth Mindset
By Lamisa H. I grew up around a lot of smart kids. Children who were placed in gifted and talented classes and who seemed to comfortably move onto selective schools and succeed in everything they tried. In my school I was the only brown person, so being “smart” was the only category I could fit myself into. I tried to live up to it by carefully curating an identity of self-assured intelligence that I never let slip. I pretended to finish books that I wasn’t even halfway through. I stole the Pre-Uni answer booklets from my parents because I could not confidently answer the questions on my own. I grew up feeling like a fraud. I’M SMART, I'M SMART, I’M SMART I sought out validation of my intelligence from my peers, instead of actually trying to better myself in my studies, and this mindset followed me into university. What this looked like was hiding my work from my peers and not trying in tasks in the first place, for fear that my subsequent failure would be my fault. Hearing my friends say “I didn’t even study for this” before acing a test re - affirmed my belief that intelligence was gifted and effort wasn’t necessary for the talented to succeed. I thought my passion for teaching would carry me through university with flying colours, so naturally, when it didn’t, I stopped trying altogether. Dr Carol Dweck was the first to coin the term ‘fixed mindset,’ which is the belief that talent, rather than effort, generates success — that you are either good or bad at something and there is no changing that. Many of us still innately believe that while you can learn new things, the intelligence you were born with can never grow. In a ‘growth mindset’, people realise that they are capable of changing and growing their most basic abilities, like intelligence and talent, through effort and dedication. A growth mindset is imperative in achieving what a fixed mindset would never allow us to believe that we are capable of attaining. The view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life and the successes you are capable of achieving. PRACTICE WHAT YOU TEACH I’m a new teacher. It is essential for me as an educator to cultivate my own growth mindset before trying to teach others. Recently, I got hired for my dream job at a not - for - profit called Story Factory - an innovative “school” that upturns traditional teaching methods, focusing on growing confidence and creativity. When I first met Bilal Hafda, the StoryTeller-in-Chief, I knew that I wanted to be him when I grew up. His empathetic teaching methods (giving students prompts rather than orders, refusing to correct their spelling and building off any ideas that may seem untraditional) became the teaching method I wanted to emulate. A school is a difficult place to run. Most of the time you get the feeling that you are making work so that students behave, and it’s a battle trying to figure out how your tasks are meant to be meaningful each step of the way. The rigidity of the syllabus does not allow for creativity in the classroom, which can lead to neglecting to teach real-life skills that students can carry into their lives, leading to disillusionment with the education system. In trying to grow my own knowledge, I asked Bilal what he wishes he could teach: “I’m going to cheat and say that there are two skills that I don’t think gets enough attention - confidence and creativity. You need [people] to feel comfortable enough to try new things and meet them at the point they are at. Creativity is a bit like that too, with more emphasis on play. I believe the two are interwoven, and that the right [learning] environment allows [people] to work on both skills.” RE - LEARNING There is no better way to witness the success of a growth mindset than in a classroom. As educators, we learn from our students every single day. They teach us resilience, they show us new perspectives and they surprise us when they resonate with content we didn't expect them to. They break down our preconceived notions of them - the barrier between teacher and student. They make us work harder because that hard work pays off. They remind us that our lives are all about growth. Trying to adopt a growth mindset in my everyday life is something I continue to struggle with, but now I know that the most important step is recognising that effort always overrides talent. Even in writing this piece and allowing others to read this work is a step in the right direction. Now, when I receive feedback from the team I can take the response at face value and not as a critique on my intelligence. I am now closer to achieving greater things than the high schooler who once believed her intelligence was pre - determined and forever stagnant. Lead Editor: Palwasha A.