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- How the World Betrayed Afghanistan
By Mariam. H In conversations about Afghanistan, happening now and for the last 20 years, Afghan lives and needs have been all but ignored in favour of perpetuating false narratives about the invasion. The current propaganda around the ‘Forever War’ and withdrawal of US troops in Afghanistan is infuriating in its attribution of heroism to the real instigators and perpetrators of Afghanistan’s situation today. The damage to the image of Afghanistan is such that the current situation is viewed by many in the West as “just another day in a country that is perpetually at war”. A lot of what we know about Afghanistan has been completely constructed by imperial forces to distract the conversation away from Afghans and what’s actually happening. Many of us don’t know that the Taliban was actually defeated and ousted from power 20 years ago, three months after the US initially invaded, or that our tax dollars have directly funded the oppression of Afghan civilians. We too easily first bought the narrative that we were there to get the terrorists, and then there to help their army, and then there (somehow) to give women rights. Now it has become all too apparent that we can no longer swallow these lies anymore. So why did the US stay in Afghanistan for 20 years? The Taliban have once again established themselves as the dominant power in Afghanistan, this time with even more of the country in their grasp. So here’s the truth about how we got here. The events of the last week have been reported as incredulous, unexpected and an overnight overthrow of one government into the unruly hands of the Taliban. However, it was not a taking of power, but a transfer of one. The plan for the US was to fully withdraw troops from Afghanistan by this year; that was not the surprise. As reiterated by NATO General Jens Stoltenberg it was the speed at which the Taliban took control that surprised them, not that they did take control. Was the US and its allies nation building? The short answer is: no, they were not. US President Biden confirmed as in his August 16th press conference stating: “the war in Afghanistan was never about nation-building”. Essentially backtracking on 20 years worth of lies, to rearrange the narrative to one only about protecting US national interest through the prevention of terrorist attacks on their homeland. But here’s why that doesn’t make sense. So what actually happened? How you create a war. What most people don’t know is that when the US invaded Afghanistan, they actually defeated the Taliban within three months and al-Qaeda not long after. A key reason this was so easy for them was because sentiment in Afghanistan at the time, even in its most rural areas, was very much against the Taliban. So the Taliban surrendered very early on, and fled. “In the aftermath of the 2001 ousting of the Taliban ... you had American special forces on the ground, with a mandate to fight a war against terror, but they had no enemies to fight.” - Anand Gopal, Pulitzer prize finalist and well-renowned journalist states in ‘No Good Men Among The Living’ So what do you do when you have to fight an enemy, but there isn't an enemy to fight? You create one. This is when US troops started incentivising Afghans to turn against each other. The US troops allied with warlords, who were known to have committed crimes against Afghans, and had been expelled from the country as a result. The US then paid these people to bring them Afghan civilians. They went on a rampage in which they arrested thousands of people, and committed crimes that are considered torture under both domestic and international law. Similarly, the US arrested and detained prisoners (many of whom were arrested on false grounds) in Guantanamo Bay Prison, which is infamous worldwide as one of the cruelest prisons on earth. . Kenneth G. Eade, a leading US Attorney and activist, described Guantanamo Bay as “the equivalent of any concentration camp in Nazi Germany, the most shameful example of the cruel and complete abolition of all human rights by the Government, all in the name of the war on terrorism.” Therefore what resulted for a few years was essentially a one-sided war as the US and its allies fought against innocent Afghan civilians and made their lives a living hell. Something imperative to understand is that 75% of Afghanistan is rural and this is where the majority of the war has been waged for 20 years. We are hearing primarily of what’s happening in metropolitan cities, specifically Kabul, but for most of the war you could visit the capital city and be unaware of the reality of the violence being waged in it’s countryside. Much of the carnage of this time, and the sheer number of deaths went unrecorded as they happened within an active warzone, where it’s near impossible to get a clear idea of the sheer size of these numbers. “It’s going to take us generations to truly understand what the real toll of this conflict was”, says Anand. The magnitude of this period of aggression lives in the memory and lived realities of Afghans who endured it. Why we need to care about war crimes The Human Rights Watch, an international body that tracks crimes committed during war, found that the coalition forces (made up primarily of the US, the UK and Australia) were committing war crimes from 2002. Even in the last few years, between late 2017 and mid 2019 there were 14 documented cases of CIA-backed Afghan strikes which committed serious injuries and deaths to civilians. I just want to reiterate that these are the 14 documented cases, they are not the actual number of human rights abuses committed. Historically, we know the US and their allies will go to extraordinary lengths to cover these incidents up and protect their public image. A well-documented example of this is the atrocities committed by US soldiers at Abu-Ghraib during the Iraqi war, in which obscene photos of the torture drew international outrage before the US government gave (laughably minimal) punishment to only the head soldiers involved. They found that across the board from Afghan officials, activists, health workers, journalists to community elders all stated that indiscriminate airstrikes were a reality of their daily lives. Many of the houses that were targeted for night raids were chosen based on inaccurate intelligence advice that was related to local rivalries and false accusations. In August 2020 evidence was brought forward that proved how the British Military Unit in Afghanistan exercised a “deliberate policy” where they would “kill Afghans even if they did not pose a threat.” The UK responded to these allegations by making it harder to prosecute war crimes perpetrated by its troops overseas. How have we bought for so long that they were there to help people? Furthermore, the Afghan forces backed by the CIA and US special forces on the ground and with air support from the US military conducted continual clandestine operations, described as paramilitary resistance against Al-Qaeda and ISIS. These US-backed (physically and tactically) and ordered troops were responsible for “extrajudicial executions and enforced disappearances, indiscriminate airstrikes, attacks on medical facilities, and other violations of international humanitarian law or the laws of war.” The coalition forces are known to use the law as a shield to protect their military from being prosecuted for crimes they commit overseas. Thus, only a few of these war crimes and human rights abuses were ever investigated. An example of this was in March 2020 when Australia’s defence department suspended an Australian Special Air service regiment soldier (SAS) “Soldier C” from service, due to an enormous amount of evidence that proved that they were responsible for killing Afghan civilians in 2001. Essentially, the US and their allies went on a rampage of human rights abuses which ultimately turned Afghan sentiment (specifically in rural and remote areas) in favour of the Taliban to protect them from external forces. Anand Gopal reiterates, “It was in the context of that that many people who had rejected the Taliban began to accept them back into their communities as a form of protection against what many Afghans have described to me as a form of terrorism. Breaking into people’s homes in the middle of the night, taking their loved ones away, sometimes never to be seen again.” This fostered the right environment for the Taliban to reform and reignite in a more powerful way, because this time, they were popular. This is the Taliban that we know and are in power now, a much stronger Taliban than what existed pre-US intervention. In the end, a twenty-year chapter of a country’s history was punctuated by President Biden "American troops cannot and should not be fighting in a war and dying in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves.” Who are the “new” Taliban? We’ve established that the Taliban did not come into power again by sheer force and happenstance. The Taliban originally emerged in the mid-90s, as a conservative group of student-warriors from the remaining Afghan mujahideen fighters and religious seminaries in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Their original promises of order and security (similar to the propaganda they are putting out now) quickly devolved into a violent regime that resulted in the brutalisation and persecution of much of the Afghan population. Most notably Afghan women, religious and ethnic minorities (primarily Hazara Shiites), LGBTQI+, and people with disabilities. Understandably in time their support wavered and dropped because of their viciousness and fanatic zealotry. They are able to sustain their efforts through ongoing economic and diplomatic support from Pakistan; with the Human Rights Watch declaring that “of all the foreign powers involved in efforts to sustain and manipulate the ongoing fighting, Pakistan is distinguished both by the sweep of its objectives and the scale of its efforts.” In these past 20 years, the Taliban have been consistently supported, funded, housed and trained by the Pakistani government. Pakistan’s role in furthering the Taliban’s objectives goes far beyond this, but is too convoluted to go into detail in this piece. If you want to learn specifically about that, Human Rights Watch is a good place to start. Anyway, the Taliban insist that, this time around, they have changed, with spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid asserting to national and international audiences, “Nobody will be harmed in Afghanistan. Of course, there is a huge difference between us now and 20 years ago”. This is not the first time the Taliban have pulled this move, they attempted to present a similarly reassuring face during the 1996 accession to power and their violent actions in the years and months before the takeover do not back this sentiment. What we can be certain of is the Taliban should not be underestimated. Contrary to popular belief, and among the most dangerous myths perpetuated about the Taliban is that they are cavemen who got lucky. The Taliban, as of March 2020, was an almost 2 billion dollar organisation. The reason this is important to note, is to understand why they’re essential business partners, and exactly how much of Afghanistan’s precious natural resources they control. An economic policy analyst for the Centre for Afghanistan Studies, Hanif Sufizada, broke down the Taliban’s revenue: The biggest contributor to their coffers is illicit drug revenue. Afghanistan is responsible for 84% of global opium production, with many Afghan farmers not being allowed to farm anything else to ensure this money continues to be funneled into the Taliban’s pockets. The irony of music and women working being “too sinful” but having no qualms with global drug trafficking appears to be lost only on the Taliban themselves. The next big money maker is mining, with the Taliban taking a portion of the selling off of Afghanistan’s bountiful natural resources like iron ore, marble, and copper by mining companies. They do this by demanding payment under threat of death. Other funds are rounded up through extortion, imposition of taxes, among which in characteristic sick fashion they’ve included a “Zakat” tax on Afghans. They are also sent charitable donations from unnamed terrorist sympathisers around the world. They also earn around $80 million from real estate investments. In summary, while the US has been “nation-building” through illicit airstrikes the Taliban have been diversifying their investment portfolio. The US profited so much off this war and what is important to understand is that this was absolutely not a failed war for them. Fourteen years ago the United States Geological Service discovered nearly $1 trillion in mineral deposits in Afghanistan. At the time an internal Pentagon memo stated that Afghanistan could become the “Saudi Arabia of lithium.” Since then, US, British and Chinese-based mining and exploration companies have signed million dollar, and at times, billion dollar agreements to explore these untapped reserves. Northropp Gumman, General Dynamics, Raytheon Acres and Virginia are just a few companies that made millions, and close to billions. Centar Limited is a US-based mining and exploration company which signed contracts with the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to develop two sites in Balkhab and Badakhshan with potentially significant copper and gold deposits. Together, these contracts represent the largest mining exploration effort in the history of Afghanistan. Similarly, National Petroleum Corporation, a China based mining and investment company, has a significant share in the extraction of iron ore and copper. How come this information is so difficult to find? It should not take hours to pull together a list of the military and mining companies that are profiting off Afghanistan, every second of every day. As perfectly described by journalist Anand Gopal, “Most of our money went into the coffers of warlords or defence contractors in America. There’s barely a paved road in the Afghan countryside. The invasion actually made life worse for Afghan women.” Why does this matter? Afghanistan's fate is often dismissed by stuffy political commentators as “the graveyard of empires”, making it seem like never-ending conflict is the country’s birthright. This kind of passive language and lack of attribution to the instigators and perpetrators of conflict allow us all to wash our hands clean of the injustice we allow to thrive there. The Taliban propagandise that they aim to foster a return to normal life after decades of war. The United States and allies (Australia among them) insist they still have leverage to utilise if need be. American military officials remain worried that Afghanistan may become a base for other extremist groups, and as we’ve established it’s never good for civilians anywhere when the US expresses their worry. In the northeastern part of the country, the last anti-Taliban outpost continues to stand in the Panjshir valley as of writing this article, headed by Ahmad Massoud, son of notable anti-Soviet resistance fighter Ahmad Shah Massoud. It remains to be seen if active fighting will break out in the region. The fact remains that many Afghans are rightfully distrustful and there is a strong fear that the Taliban’s regime will be oppressive and violent. There are also fears of security and potential revenge killings by the Taliban. Afghan women fear a severe rollback of the strides in women’s advancement that Afghan women have made in recent years. Past events and actions by the Taliban cannot be discounted no matter how many times they parrot their best intentions. They have a long and sordid history of targeting marginalised and minority groups within Afghanistan, and it is the people now that stand at significant risk. Afghan activists and voices who have been doing the work for decades need to be prioritised now moving forward. Though not an easy endeavour, we have to become more critical of the narratives we internalise surrounding intervention and more aware of what we are co-signing by remaining silent on where our tax dollars go, and what our elected governments do. Moving forward now it is important to understand that the Afghans who are trying to leave are doing so because of the failures of our policies. We cannot encourage sanctions on the new government that emerges, as it will only further disenfranchise Afghanistan’s people while their “leaders” remain unaffected. We cannot allow our leaders to allow the country’s limited infrastructure to completely collapse, as a final betrayal of the Afghan people. In conclusion, the events of the last few weeks are one more betrayal of the Afghan people, just like the events of the past 20 years have been an ongoing betrayal. We cannot shy away from the fact that we all directly benefit from the same western capitalist systems that have plunged Afghanistan into its current state. Though the conversation of whether or not refugees should be accepted is unbelievable in it’s ignorance of how we continue to create refugees, this is where our effort needs to be channeled now. The biggest thing we can do now to help, is to shift our attention to the protection of Afghan asylum seekers who need refuge now and many years ahead. This is where our concentrated, collective effort needs to go, as the cause of their displacement is something that we have directly benefited from. This should be a cause we are all committed to Editor: Palwasha.A, Irisa. R, Lamisa.H References: Baldwin, C. 2020. “UK War Crime Revelations in Afghanistan Expose Justice Failings ‘Overseas Operations” Bill Risks Entrenching Impunity”. HRW.org. accessed at : https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/08/05/uk-war-crime-revelations-afghanistan-expose-justice-failings Bloch, H. 2021. “A Look At Afghanistan's 40 Years Of Crisis — From The Soviet War To Taliban Recapture”. NPR. Accessed at: https://www.npr.org/2021/08/19/1028472005/afghanistan-conflict-timeline Bowman, T & Evstatieva, M. 2021. “The Afghan Army Collapsed In Days. Here Are The Reasons Why”. NPR. Accessed at: https://www.npr.org/2021/08/20/1029451594/the-afghan-army-collapsed-in-days-here-are-the-reasons-why Doucet, L. 2020. “Afghan conflict: US and Taliban sign deal to end 18-year war”. BBC news. Accessed at: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-51689443 Gossman, P. 2020. “They’ve Shot Many Like This” Abusive Night Raids by CIA-Backed Afghan Strike Forces”. Hrw.org. accessed at: https://www.hrw.org/report/2019/10/31/theyve-shot-many/abusive-night-raids-cia-backed-afghan-strike-forces Human Rights Watch [HRW]. 2020. “Afghanistan Events of 2020”. HRW.org. accessed at: https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2021/country-chapters/afghanistan Krauss, J. 2021. “Taliban take over Afghanistan: What we know and what’s next”. AP news. Accessed at: https://apnews.com/article/taliban-takeover-afghanistan-what-to-know-1a74c9cd866866f196c478aba21b60b6 Luce, D. 2021. “U.S. envoy's years of peace negotiations go up in flames in Afghanistan. What went wrong?” NBC news. Accessed at: https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/u-s-envoy-touted-peace-afghanistan-18-months-later-peace-n1276811 Myre, G. 2021. “How Valuable Are The U.S. Weapons The Taliban Just Captured?” NPR. Accessed at: https://www.npr.org/2021/08/21/1029449432/taliban-afghanistan-us-weapons-captured Schwartz, M. 2020. “Afghanistan-Taliban Talks Begin In Attempt To End 19 Years Of Bloodshed”. NPR. Accessed at: https://www.npr.org/2020/09/12/912294791/afghan-taliban-talks-begin-as-long-warring-sides-seek-end-to-decades-of-bloodshe Seir, A., Faiez, R., Gannon, K., & Baldor, L.C. 2021. “IS threat forces US changes to evacuations at Kabul airport” Sufizadah, H. 2020. “The Taliban are megarich – here’s where they get the money they use to wage war in Afghanistan”. The conversation. Accessed at: https://theconversation.com/the-taliban-are-megarich-heres-where-they-get-the-money-they-use-to-wage-war-in-afghanistan-147411
- What is Religious Trauma?
Palwasha A. The topic of religious trauma is newly being explored, and there is not yet a lot of research on it’s effects, besides in extreme cases of victims of cults or sexual abuse within religious institutions. While we can get an idea of what extreme religious trauma looks like, it’s much harder to find discussion surrounding it’s quieter consequences. What we haven’t seen spoken about as much is trauma experienced by young people trying to find themselves in their religion with faulty teachers, who can go on to experience ostracism, anxiety and disillusionment with their faith. For context, I am a young Muslim woman who loves her faith but had many factors drive me away from it growing up, that negatively impacted my perception of my own religion. My experience is similar to so many young Muslim girls raised in environments where their individuality is constantly compromised for the sake of conforming, in the name of religion. The effects of religious trauma have been compared to Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder ( C-PTSD), a kind of trauma characterised by long-term exposure to a traumatic circumstance such as prolonged abuse. This is not how I would characterise my experience, and it’s very worth noting that in many of the cases I’ll be discussing, the trauma doesn’t necessarily stem from religion so much as religion used as a front to promote personal agenda, a distinction that is difficult for a young person to recognise and navigate in their religious upbringing. What is Religious Trauma? Religious Trauma Syndrome (RTS) was coined by psychologist Dr Marlene Winell and is categorised as a “...condition experienced by people who are struggling with leaving an authoritarian, dogmatic religion and coping with the damage of indoctrination.” Dr Winell’s idea of RTS is predominantly built from the context of Evangelical Christian backgrounds and seeks to help those who have left those communities come to terms with their experiences of spiritual & emotional abuse. This definition does not encompass all experiences with religious trauma and we want to explore this from a more intersectional lens. The argument we put forth here is not necessarily that a person’s religion is always the cause of their religious trauma, but that figures in authority positions teaching the faith can do so in harmful and inaccurate, often repressive ways. Over time this can have the impact of alienating, ostracising and traumatising a person, causing them to distance themselves from their faith or in extreme cases, to leave it completely, if they find no other recourse. It is also not reasonable to compare a Muslim’s experience with religious trauma with an Evangelical Christian’s, for example, because the core beliefs, values, and institutions of the religions are so different. Yet one commonality between them is the impact and influence of a religious community itself. In that within religious communities there is the power to validate an individual’s sense of spirituality as well as dismiss and weaken it, should they prove to be below the expectations of the community or authority figures within it. What Can Religious Trauma Look Like? For myself, and many of the young Muslims that I grew up with, our biggest struggle was with the way that we were taught about punishment, death and consequence. Despite having an incredibly educated and well-informed mother, I was still exposed to religious figures that oftentimes relied on fear-mongering and unquestioned rigidity to keep us in line. They constantly reinforced the level at which Hell should be feared, while neglecting the all-important teachings of God’s mercy, kindness, compassion and encouraged repentance. The emphasis on Hell and ultimate and eternal punishment led to my believing, as a child, that I was a bad person because I couldn’t be a good Muslim in the way that I was taught that it mattered. Because I had too many questions, and couldn’t accept things as easily. Because we couldn’t measure up to the one-size-fits-all standard that was set, we believed that we were failures and feared eternal punishment. So much of our ensuing doubts as young people could have been avoided if we had been taught how messy the journey to one’s faith actually often is. Especially because for us as young Muslim women, the margin for error was much smaller, as it is in non-Muslim society, than it was for our male counterparts. The experience of Muslim women who wear hijab is also incredibly noteworthy in speaking about this kind of trauma because the policing of hijab is often so intense that it’s a constant battle for a Muslimah to maintain her own identity as her individuality is constantly attacked and critiqued. With hindsight, and greater understanding of my religion now as an adult, it’s incredibly clear that these teachings were less to do with religion (often outright contradicting it) and more so deeply misogynistic cultural traditions and personal agendas. These were fulfilled by men, women and institutions who sought to justify their bigotry with a smokescreen of adherence to religious teachings, giving verses without context and cherry-picking stories to suit their intentions. This kind of trauma often looks like a demand for a person to be just one way, with the threat of God’s punishment over their heads if they do not meet the ideal. Why Do We Need To Talk About This? Sometimes, when you can't meet the ideal, it's easier to distance yourself from it. Minority groups, such as the LGBTQ+ community, experience far greater and more consistent religious trauma than their cisgendered, heterosexual counterparts, not in the least due to the blinders of bigotry that are an ongoing issue when teaching religion. The potential for religious trauma to drive people from their faith is significant. It can lead to associating negativity and often backwardness with faith, which is an incredibly damaging outcome for all. Ex- Muslims tend to become some of the most outspoken opponents to the religion, so understanding religious trauma can promote empathy and constructive pathways to discussion. Struggling with your religion and the act of leaving a religion can in itself be a significant trauma. Such experiences come with life-altering consequences that affect the emotional, psychological and social stability of one's own self. It’s important for us to talk about this also because there is so little out there addressing religious trauma within the context of young people, especially young women, being misguided on their faith, at an impressionable age. My experience was in constantly being made small, told my limits and forced into a role that I knew I couldn’t fit. The negative associations with religion take years to unlearn and work through, which is in itself rewarding, but difficult and lonely. The driving factor in my battle with religion in my early years was what I saw promoted as the ideal one-size-fits-all mold that was presented to us as what women needed to be, and grow into, that always seemed to put us beneath men and always was just out of our reach. Education on this topic would have helped me and people like me when I was younger, to see God’s mercy and kindness and endless love, to avoid distancing themselves from their faith, or ongoing mental self-flagellation. Encouraging discussion about religious trauma and how it can occur separate from religion itself would have endless capacity to heal. Edited by: Jessica L.
- Yes, All Men
written by Hebah A. (Contributor) TW: mentions of rape, assault, harrassment and rape culture. Yes, all men Disclaimer; when this piece mentions ‘women’ it is referring to anyone who has had lived experience as a woman, presently, or in the past. When this piece mentions ‘all men’ it is referring to all cisgendered men. I originally wrote this piece in March during a worldwide conversation about the safety of women, as a way to process what I was feeling at the time. However, every time I return to it, it only feels more pertinent. On March 10th, Sarah Everard had been missing for about a week until her remains were found and a London police officer was arrested for murdering her. I was finding it really hard to stay focused on anything, especially with the conversations Sarah’s case unearthed globally about sexual assault and violence perpetrated by men, towards women. Naturally my first reaction was to voice my thoughts on my thirty follower Tik Tok account. I spoke about ‘not all men’, why the phrase was being used and why it was incorrect. The video was thrust into Tik Tok’s unpredictable algorithm; it kept growing and now has 250 thousand views and a thousand-ish comments worth of discourse from people who agree and disagree. Of course, a sixty second tik tok is not nearly enough to unpack a topic as dense as sexual violence, so the following piece will attempt to do so with a focus on why the phrase ‘not all men’ is simply incorrect. The idea that a woman must be killed before we can believe that there is something deeply wrong with how society is conditioned to view women has not left my mind. I write ‘society’ and not ‘men’ because I’ve been reflecting on my own experiences with harassment and assault, and I haven’t been able to register some of these experiences as such until others came forward with stories similar to mine. Casting my mind back to primary school, I can think of moments where I was physically assaulted or groped by boys in my school, and how I excused their behaviour by blaming myself for causing it. Even as a child, I had already begun to assume the responsibility of ‘not being assaulted’ rather than understanding that assault should never happen in any context. My child brain would excuse assault as ‘boys being boys’, ‘I was getting on their nerves’, ‘they’re just having fun’, ‘I shouldn’t have worn that’- a victim-blaming sentiment I have seen carry through to sexual assault cases that have made the news. How did we get here? How did we excuse sexual harassment and violence- even in its most extreme manifestations? Violence against women and girls manifests so insidiously that we often seperate explicit acts of violence like murder, rape, and battery from implicit micro-aggressions like catcalls, ‘locker-room talk’, and slut-shaming. We treat the two as if they are independent of each other, when they are all interlocking pieces of a much larger problem. These ‘smaller’ issues that we have been socialised to view as normal, desensitise us to gender based violence, and so hearing of rape and murder in our own communities is received as an anomaly. If we were to unpack that thought; do you think that a man who has raped or murdered a woman has done so without feeling comfortable making ‘locker-room talk’ and rape jokes? The gap between how acts of violence are addressed is so apparent when we unpack the phrase ‘not all men’. It’s often used to derail and redirect conversations back to men, when women come forward with their stories of assault. When someone uses ‘not all men’ as a line of defence; they might mean “Not all men rape women,” which is largely true, but would they also comfortably say “Not all men have made (or laughed at) rape jokes,” or “Not all men have made women feel unsafe,”? That’s where we fall short as a society. We fail to recognise that rape culture runs so much deeper than just rape; it’s in the jokes we make, the unwarranted non-sexual touching, the catcalls, the stalking, the conversations that are had when it’s ‘just the boys’, it’s in the movies, music, and porn we consume, and it’s in the upbringings of young children when they see how women are treated. Young boys are inheriting the license to disrespect and hurt girls and women because of the culture they’re born and socialised into. All the while, young girls are learning that they must endure mistreatment because they ‘have it better’ than the more unfortunate girls and women who have been killed at the hands of rape culture. The truth is, it is all men. Because men do not get to decide if they have never made a woman feel unsafe or uncomfortable. The phrase ‘Not All Men’ is speaking on behalf of men; when it is women we should be listening to. How are we going to see a stat like 97% (of women in the UK experiencing sexual harassment/assault) and continue to say ‘Not all men’, when it is nearly every woman? Other flawed discussions surrounding gender based violence include the passive language we use to discuss it. Jackson Katz addresses this in his Ted Talk; ‘Violence against Women - It’s a Men’s Issue’. “Even the term violence against women is problematic. It’s a passive construction. There’s no active agent in the sentence…it’s a bad thing that happens to women…nobody’s doing it to them. It just happens. Men aren’t even a part of it!” (Katz, 2012) We’re all familiar with stats about how many women go missing, experience sexual assault, or are murdered; but we never get a stat on how many men kidnapped, raped or murdered women. In an aim to get men not to rape; we are always having to humanise women as ‘someone’s mother/sister/daughter etc. Yet when we discuss rape and assault, we hardly talk about the perpetrators often being the people closest to us; dads, uncles, brothers, friends. This is the surreptitious nature of rape culture. The passive voice which anonymises abusers, allows for a chorus of ‘not all men!’ when women speak about their experiences, making it impossible to imagine the reality of rape culture that is upheld by every man. I know that saying all men are responsible for perpetuating rape culture can be interpreted as inflammatory, and if you feel upset or angered by that statement, take the time to analyse why you personally feel attacked by it. Ultimately, we must understand that all men uphold systems that hurt and oppress women, just like all white people uphold systems that hurt and oppress POC. All men benefit from the systems set up for them, that simultaneously harm women. If you are a man who has never cat-called, spiked, groped, raped (etc) a woman- or even laughed at a rape joke- then you have just achieved the bare minimum of what is required in being an average human being. Your ‘good behaviour’ does not absolve you of the crimes your gender commits against women. Not being a part of the problem does not mean you are already part of the solution. Women have been shouting about their experiences for years and it continues to fall on deaf ears. Even in the age of social media, I see women bearing the brunt of educating men, sharing their own stories, and amplifying survivors’ stories. The men that exhibit the behaviour we need to eradicate, will only listen to other men. Talk to your boys, your brothers, your dads, your sons. If a woman is brave enough to tell her story; listen to her, support her, believe her, and do not silence her. All men can work towards the liberation of women. References: Katz, J. (2012, November). ‘Violence against Women - It’s a Men’s Issue’ [Video]. TED Conferences. APPG, 2021, Prevalence and reporting of sexual harassment in UK public spaces, viewed: 30/07/21, Header reference; @slay_wid_slaw
- 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
- Take Off Your Clothes, Let Me Liberate You
By Irisa R. and Lamisa H. In our community when women choose to wear less they are called “modern” (one side) or they are shamed (the other side). It is a lose-lose. Irisa: My friend in high school once turned to me and asked me if I had burn injuries on my legs. I looked at her in horror, “No, why would you ask that?” She responded, “Well, why else would you cover your legs?” She assumed that I had life-altering burn injuries as the secret reason for why I chose to wear pants instead of a skirt to school. When I explained that out of respect for my religious beliefs I chose to cover my body, she responded with, “That’s really sad my Grandma said to flaunt it while I have it.” What is “freedom”? It has been found that our current social media platforms have skilfully created a connection between the concept of being, “empowered”, “sexy” and “liberated” with women wearing less. Three years ago Instagram’s algorithm was exposed for having a secret inbuilt process where it was 54% more likely for a post of a woman in a “state of undress” to show up on your feed. This might seem harmless. But what this algorithm did was it normalised these images, and then rebranded them as a digestible and exciting form of feminism. Confusing feminism with wearing less can’t just be boiled down to social media and traditional advertising. It comes from a very specific context. In the 1950s during the suffragette movements in both America and Australia, white women were protesting for the right to dress as they please, without being subject to the stigma that comes with wearing less. What we would now call slut-shaming was common for that time. Therefore, the act of wearing less was considered an act of defiance against a conservative state, where women were fighting for their ability to choose how they dress. It is understandable that in countries such as ours, with this history, that wearing less can be symbolic of fighting for choice, and this is valid in its own right. But it is most definitely not the only way to exercise agency over our bodies. Our choice to dress modestly, is usually questioned and definitely not celebrated in a culture that correlates being progressive with wearing less. Why you so obsessed with [my hair?] Essentially in Islam, to be modest is to cover oneself. This is given the reasoning and intent that in covering your body you are both respecting the sanctity of the body, where it’s seen as a home for the ruuh (soul). This is a simplification but it captures the essence of modesty and what it means to us. Covering our body is our way of honouring the idea that our purpose is beyond being seen. That is where the liberation of the hijab comes from. Just last week, the EU Court of Justice, the highest Court in the European Union, agreed that any employer in any EU company could ban the hijab in their workplace. Practically, this means that an employer could turn to a staff member that wears the hijab and simply say you can no longer work here unless you remove the hijab. If this sounds extreme, France, Belgium and the Netherlands already have laws that prohibit the hijab in either schools or places of work. In this decision, the court maintains that this is for the purpose of maintaining a “neutral image” or to prevent “social disputes.” “Neutrality” is a loaded word. What does it mean kind sir when you say ‘neutrality’? By definition, it means to be impartial. In another definition, it is the absence of a view, expression or strong feeling. We don’t know about you, but banning a piece of clothing seems pretty partial to us. It seems like a violent act that is most definitely, taking a side. Can you imagine taking off your clothes because a white man asked you to? So in this case, what is “neutral” code for? Its code for erasure, code for assimilation and code for upholding and maintaining a colonial state. Lamisa: If wearing the hijab is my version of neutral, who are you to contest that? If by neutral, you mean secular (which you do), at what point does being neutral impede on a woman’s choice and agency? You might ask, what’s the difference between enforcing a uniform and enforcing a no-hijab policy? Is it really discrimination if all forms of political, philosophical or religious beliefs are prohibited? The court also clarified that this expression must be visible. It is unlikely that they would see a Sikh woman wearing a kara, and suspend her for not removing it; it isn’t visible enough, and doesn’t defy dominant cultural hegemony. This recent court decision is a roundabout way of the policing Muslims, and it is being done through the most visible indicator of ‘Muslim-ness’ -- the hijab. This begs the next question - Is it just because the hijab is a visible marker of Islam that makes it problematic, impartial and subjective? Or is there a whole colonial history to all of this? Let’s take France as an example. Why was it the first to ban the hijab in schools? Why has it been so busy, busy with policing Muslim women? What’s its history? The Hatred of the Hijab We know how colonisation worked, it was an exploitation of land and people but it was also psychological warfare. The French led the way when it came to convincing the world that their colonialism was for the “greater good”. France spent one hundred and thirty two years colonising Algeria, where the Algerian people spent the last five years of French rule fighting for their independence. The French needed to systematically undermine the agency and autonomy of both Arab and Berber women, and they could see that Algerian women were becoming the face of the liberation movement. Therefore in 1957, France’s Psychological Warfare Unit designed and executed a propaganda campaign that would showcase their colonial rule as “saving Muslim woman” from a “barbaric Islam” and therefore, would be used to justify why the French colonised Algeria in the first place, and why they were refusing to leave. An official order shared between French army officials read that for: “Muslim woman to [become] a modern, civilised woman...like the French woman...each Muslim woman must remove the veil...that smothers her, that impedes her in her work, or during her education...and which above all else deprives her of her liberty and imprisons her between four walls.” The French occupying army started with the disturbing practice of unclothing Algerian women publicly and broadcasting this to the French public in what was called “unveiling ceremonies”. It was as crude and disturbing as the name suggests. It was a practice where Algerian women would be forced into unveiling themselves and then burning their veil before the French officials. These photographs were then shared across local and international press platforms to prove that Algerian women wanted to be “free of Islam” and that the French were there to “liberate” them. Surprise! The idea of tying liberation to the state of unveiling had officially taken root. The French army enlisted European women to attend and run these “unveiling ceremonies,” where they would respond with shrill ululations (essentially a modern day woo-hoo) in support of this undressing. This solidified the idea that European women were “modern” and “free” in comparison to Muslim women who were “oppressed by the veil”. Similar forced unveiling violence was used by Russian forces as a part of their colonial rule over parts of Central Asia and by the French in Egypt. The French army officials in Algeria touted that ‘only the hand of a European woman could lift the veil of a Muslim woman’. This is why European women would attend these ‘ceremonies’ - it is a particularly violent part of the history of white feminism where women served the colonial state under the pretense of universal women’s rights. White feminist much? When we say white feminism, we mean women in the Global North dictating what they consider freeing or limiting and then imposing those ideals on women in the Global South under the blanket term of “liberation”. It’s the reason that Michelle Obama can export her program “Let Girls Learn” to Afghanistan under the claim of feminism without ever being questioned on whether that feminism was to serve the girls of Afghanistan, or to serve the American empire. The Algerian women refused to fit into this whitewashed narrative, and remained absolutely steadfast in their decision to observe the veil. This defiance can be seen in the famous war photographs taken by a French national, Marc Garranger. This man was asked by the French army to photograph Berber women and when the women refused to remove their veil the French officials forced them to. The photographer later described this as a, “Terrible humiliation for these women, to appear with uncovered hair in front of the French and most of them expressed an incredible distress...The response of the women to the act of aggression against them is visible in each of their expressions.” These photos can still be found with a quick Google search. Yet, these photographs are visceral and when we first saw them we almost had a guttural reaction. It is so clear that they did not want to be photographed without the veil and yet these are some of the most popular images found on the Algerian liberation effort. To be humiliated not once but every time those photographs are seen (which by the way, the Times published). So we have taken this opportunity to respect their wishes. Asking someone to undress, even if it might not seem like undressing to you, is the most aggressive and humiliating use of power. The women are still immortalised as serving at the forefront of the liberation movement and shaping the nation’s vision of independence in a brutal campaign by the French military that targeted not only their freedom and independence - but also their bodies. It’s Not Always Her Choice Let’s get into this - even though neither of us had the experience of having a father, or husband, or a man in our life tell us how to dress, or what to wear, we know that this happens. There is also the quiet assumption that when we decide to dress modestly we are doing it to obey our parents or the men in our lives, or that we’ve been conditioned to doing so. If this were the case, why would so many women be posting on instagram with the hashtag #handsoffmyhijab? Obviously, ‘Muslim women’ are not a homogenous group, and we do not all share the same experiences. We may be two Muslim women but we could never speak on behalf of all. The way that Muslim woman can sometimes be policed within our own communities can fall into the colonial trope that “Muslim men decide how Muslim woman should dress,” and also shows the lack of awareness about the fact that choice is at the centre of how we practice. There are so many aspects of our religion that are obligatory, for example, to fast and to pray. However, we would never force a stranger into praying or fasting. This analogy can be drawn out to show how nonsensical it is for strangers to decide whether a woman should cover her body, or whether she should show more. But here we are, where strangers on a court bench made the decision on behalf of many Muslim woman that wearing the hijab to work may no longer be a choice that they can make for themselves. Therefore, the fact that women are often at the forefront of any modest dress debate is precisely the problem. So many might ask - how about when we visit a Muslim country and we are expected to cover? A tourist is expected to wear a veil when they visit a mosque in Dubai and although this might be uncomfortable it cannot be considered equal to a German employer requiring a woman to take off her hijab before she goes to work. One is putting on an extra jacket and the other one is being asked to take off your pants. Editor: Tahmina R. Further Reading Neil Macmaster, Burning the veil The Algerian war and the ‘emancipation’ of Muslim women 1954–62, 2020. Sara Heshmati, Saba Rasheed Ali & Sneha Pitre, Transnational Feminism and the Policing of Muslim Women’s Bodies: Implications for Therapy, 2021. Raissa Killoran, Gendered Secularization and the Body Policing of Muslim Women, 2011
- How Time Poverty Hurts Women
Palwasha. A “Feminist researchers have argued that women have often had, at most, “invisible leisure” – enjoyable, but productive and socially sanctioned. Yet pure leisure, making time just for oneself, is nothing short of a courageous act of radical and subversive resistance.” - Brigid Schulte The Australian Bureau of Statistics defines unpaid work as “fulfilling many important functions that directly affect the well-being and quality of people’s lives and covers a variety of activities such as voluntary work, domestic work, and caring for others.” In this article we dive into primarily unpaid carer work, which includes domestic care, parenting duties, etc. that allow society to function smoothly and it’s cogs to turn well-oiled and unquestioned. I wrote this piece initially as a love letter to mothers, but after honing in on what I was truly attempting to say, it is addressed to all generations of women. Throughout my life, I’ve grown up seeing examples of women doing the work that no one else wanted to do, but never getting the acknowledgement or reward it merited. As a wide-eyed child aunties would tell their stories to me, of who they were before they got married. When they’d had dreams of becoming famous painters, of pursuing their education further, of travelling, of how much they loved writing. I remember I would always say that they could still be those things, why don’t they do them now? But they would laugh, I understand now, because time for themselves had by that point become a laughable concept. I read an article a couple of years ago about how many of the most spectacular scholars, thinkers and creators in Western history were able to achieve their historical contributions to the world due to their unfettered allowance to use their time as they wished, often at the expense and sacrifice of the women supporting them. Most shocking of these were the stories of the wives, mothers and housekeepers who were of equal or greater genius, who had to pursue their own passions in the latest hours of the night, after everyone else had been taken care of. This put into perspective how many generations of women had been robbed of their own time, for their entire lives. This is not to say that the tasks of child rearing, and home-making are not worthy and essential for our collective social betterment, but that the unequal and undervalued loading of unpaid labour onto women for most of western history has resulted in women being stripped of their individual time, dreams and agency. Even in my own life, free of dependents, I think about all the times I’ve sat down to do something and been called upon to serve tea, to clean up after everyone has eaten or to look after some random person’s kid. It actually happened every few minutes that I sat down to write this article. This interrupts the necessary conditions to enter “flow”, which is a state categorised by uninterrupted time, and deemed essential for a person to create anything of value. As you become aware of the concept of uninterrupted time, you start noticing it in your own life, and of those around you. As we were finalising this piece, one of our editors said that she was always frustrated by the concept of flow, because she sees her little brother pursuing his career in music, and can recall how freely he was always able to practice his instruments, which was encouraged. She couldn’t remember ever having uninterrupted time like that, as she was always helping her mum and her grandma. Everyone is not able to own their time in the same way, which is a concept called “time poverty”. This occurs when most of a person’s time is spent working, and completing tasks and obligations, without the ability to spend time for themselves. A crucial element of time poverty is having no choice in regards to the way that your time is spent, and we are examining this in relation to expectation, duty and social norm. Why Does It Matter That The Work Is Unpaid? As we don’t exist in a vacuum, we cannot ignore the realities of living in a world that is run by capitalism. While doing work that is unpaid is a selfless and necessary task to build strong families, communities, etc. it is not acknowledged as such under capitalism. In the pursuit and growth of material wealth, unpaid work has been defined as such because it is not work that directly brings in monetary gain. For this reason, it is undervalued, unacknowledged and causes real harm to those members of society who undertake it. Marilyn Waring is a former NZ politician, and current activist and academic, as well as principal founder of feminist economics, who uncovered hard realities behind our GDP. Marilyn found herself consistently shocked by the stories of women being forced to work further than their own paid jobs, and found that this actually stemmed from the reality of the GDP. “The rules were drawn up by Western-educated men in 1953”, she explains, and they established a “boundary of production.” On one side of the boundary, everything that was a market exchange was counted, regardless of how unethical it was. To put this into simpler terms, activities such as human trafficking and gambling are on one side of this boundary, because regardless of how unethical they are, they make money. On the other side is work that is deemed “of little or no value”, which includes all unpaid work. This is doing laundry, looking after children- as far as economics is concerned, when a woman is giving birth, she is being unproductive. Marilyn’s proposed solution to this gaping and harmful gap is implementation of the “time-use survey”, to have the largest sector in most economies recognised. In Australia (and hold your breath for this one) “the monetary value of unpaid care work has been estimated to be $650.1 billion, the equivalent of 50.6% of GDP. However, unpaid care work is not included in the calculation of the GDP.” Okay yes, this is shocking, but why do we care? Because this leads to the undervaluing of certain roles, such as that of homemakers and carers, and this in turn means that unpaid work is largely unprotected. Policy surrounding care work and other forms of unpaid labour does not accurately take in the sheer amount of unpaid work that is done in Australia, because it is dismissed as “non-productive”. This makes it therefore unworthy of the consideration and protection it merits, which hurts those in society who must undertake it, which are statistically, low-income women and their families, who then continue to be crushed by the unending cycle of time poverty. Also, just because it’s interesting, Marilyn wrote about a solution to this problem thirty years ago, then after the 2008 global financial crisis, the president of France tasked three male Nobel Prize winners with finding a solution, only for them to discover the exact thing she’d written about thirty years before. So what do we take from all this? Marilyn’s solution is sensible and by and far what we should be lobbying for, but large-scale change takes time. Without detracting from the absolute value that unpaid care work has in allowing our societies to progress and function smoothly, it is also not a covenant we automatically enter when we are born into the world as women. We need to understand these realities so that we can allow and urge ourselves to resist the calls from every side to fall into an endless line of duty that lasts until we die, at the cost of our own dreams and ideas and untapped potential and impact. At a breakfast for Palestine, activist Dalya Ayoub gave her audience- primarily a room full of mothers- the permission to focus on causes bigger than their family. She spoke about how she had sat her kids down and told them that for the foreseeable future, she would not be as available to them, as she was fighting for the Palestinian cause. She called Palestine her purpose. It was her duty Islamically, she said, to actively seek justice, not just for her family, but for others. When she said this, one of our writers who was attending the breakfast suddenly felt that she would actually be able to allow herself to one day become a mother, something that she had always seen as having to give up her whole self to do. We can do other things, it is our duty to do other things. That is justice for ourselves. “My life is my own life, and I’m working to make sure that no one can take that from me.” Editors: Lamisa. H and Jessica. L
- Why Nationalism is Toxic
By Irisa R. and Lamisa H. “Nationalism is a colonial concept: it has to do with divide and conquer, strict ownership of land and the idea that some nations are superior to others.” We started this piece with a simple conversation, “why do we feel the need to assert that we are Bengali?” And why growing up we noticed that regardless of what space we were in there would always be someone who would assert where they were from. In some of our most formative years we noticed that either people within our community, or people outside of our community, would assert that their country was better; be it the food, the culture, the language, wealth or even religion. This is a tricky one. Why would we care about nationalism in a country like Australia - where we don’t even particularly subscribe to being Australian. Neither of us are ever intending to fight on behalf of Australia and to put it plainly we understand enough of our history to know that we don’t believe in how this nation was created. But this conversation about nationalism matters to us because nearly every single person we know is nationalistic. No one usually asserts their Australian-ness but they often identify through their parent’s nationalities. This is so easy to do when we also are taught to glorify their struggle. We are comfortable with asserting our heritage because in a hyper-globalised environment our identities are always at question. It is a way of trying to validate an experience through one another that will never be validated by the white majority here. We use these identities to over-compensate for the fact that we sometimes feel very unheard and misunderstood in our wider society. It is a way for us to understand how and why we relate to one another. How Nationalism is a Colonial Construct The idea of nationalism, put simply, is when there is an “Us” and “Them”. This is often built on the assumption of the superiority of one nation as against other nations and that those within its fold are better while those outside are inferior. If this seems extreme just turn your mind to any one of these commonly heard phrases, “we are better than __", “our language is more beautiful because__", “our people are more powerful because ___", or “we are more advanced because__.” These subtle micro-aggressions are what we are critiquing. The concept of a nation state is a European invention; it was used as a weapon during the process of colonisation. Nationalism knows no compromise; it seeks to sweep aside the many complications that always are part of life as it actually is. It is a systematic, uncompromising, and unrealistic view of the world and yet the ideology of nationalism continues to thrive. Nationalism is a Product of ‘Divide and Conquer’ Nationalism was used as a tool in South Asia to divide and conquer. It is a distinctly European way of thinking about social structures and ownership of land. To understand why it is problematic we can turn to our own history, which witnessed colonial rule rupture social ties, and sow division between ethnocultural and religious groups in order to create hatred between one another. In 1947 the largest mass migration in history took place with one million lives lost and fifteen million people displaced. To speak about Partition as a product of competing nationalism is not to simplify what has taken place. However, we can see that nationalism is a by-product of everyday conversation. Where we ourselves have at times fallen into orientalising our own experiences. It’s the need to rewrite history in a way that paints a very clear picture of right and wrong, or superior or lesser of good and bad. Do we feel offended because of the lives that were lost? Or does it come from a place of ignorance, where we ourselves feed into the desire to orientalise and homogenise our own experiences. Edward Said who invented the term orientalism described this dynamic very well. He explained that it is where Western scholars at the time of French, Dutch and British colonial rule would position themselves as experts on the “Orient” which was usually any nation they were intending to colonise. Then these “experts” would act to “uncover” and “translate” previously unknown facts, monuments or scripts to establish that there was always conflict between certain tribes or religions. This made it easier to assert their dominance and influence over the local people, where the colonisers were considered to be more “civilised” and bringing goodness to a nation that was already in struggle. We can see this in our own history. In pre-colonial India there were a number of territories under the Mughal Empire, where they were ruled by different customary law, observed different religions and spoke different languages. However, they were never a unified “nation,” it was not considered particularly important to create a homogenous culture or a place with a codified system of law. The reason for this is quite simple, it was not important for an individual to define themselves by the boundaries of their territory. Instead, it was by their social relation, so which region they were from, or which language they spoke, or their ethnicity. Only in 1947, when the British drew their careless borders did the modern day India and Pakistan emerge, only to be closely followed by Bangladesh in 1971. The people of this land were divided once, then divided again. The result is us feeling more different than we should otherwise feel. The processes of nation-building in these countries in the decades since have only emphasised these divides. Therefore, even trying to assert our differences through this lens can leave us feeding our colonial past. We can state our nationalities, but we are trying to be more conscious that we don’t do this when we’re feeling vulnerable or as a marker of difference. Nationality without Nationalism There can be nationality without nationalism. Palestine’s history is a living testament to this. Palestinian has existed for four thousand years. To say that Palestine did not exist is a colonial statement because it is assuming that if it was not an independent state it means that it did not exist. In Jimmy Carter’s Peace Not Apartheid he noted like many others that Christian and Arab Muslims “continued to live [on the] same land [but] they had no real commitment to establish a separate and independent nation.” This was a way to undermine the legitimacy of their existence. However, it is deeply flawed to say that Palestine was a land without people because it was not a nation as per the British construct of nationhood. Its people, language, land and culture pre-dated any concept of the word nation. Now, the only way to self-determination is to assert their nationality. Prior to the Isr**li occupation, Palestine existed as a nation. In Nur Masalha’s Palestine; A Four Thousand Year History, he brings to light how Palestine now has to use the language of nationhood to effectively resist against the occupation. The assertion of nationality in this case is to fight against dispossession because it is the only way to self-determination in a post-colonial landscape. Embracing the Pre-Colonial To learn a better language when we speak about our history, ourselves in relation to it and to the places in which we are descended from we should borrow from First Nation people. First we need to recognise that the concept of ownership is Western. It specifically derives from English law, where there is an assumption that a person can possess land, property or even a person. This concept did not exist in Aboriginal Australia. In Aboriginal Australia there was no concept of nationalism, or a unified, singular and homogenous group of people. There was no concept of ownership because as we know Aboriginal customary law emphasises the importance of recognising that the land does not belong to them, but that they belong to the land. Although this seems abstract, it points to a very beautiful and important idea that we do not need to feel ownership over a place, or people, or a culture or a language to be a part of it. We can just exist in that space. Without ownership, there can be no otherness, there can be no “us” and “them”. A Note: We know that now Aboriginal identity has to be unified in order to resist against a settler-colonial state that dispossessed them of their land. This relationship with their land has to be communicated through the use of the word ownership so that in our modern day legal system their rights can be recognised. Editor: Tahmina R. Further reading: Jimmy Carter, Peace Not Apartheid Nur Masalha, Palestine Four Thousand Year History Azmeary Ferdoush, Symbolic spaces: Nationalism and compromise in the former border enclaves of Bangladesh and India Steven Grosby, Nationalism: A very short introduction
- How Bias Media Reflects Our Own Biases
Jessica L. and Mariam H The expulsion of Palestinian residents from their homes in East Jerusalem to create more space for Israeli settlers on May 2, 2021 created widespread civil demonstrations in protest of our Governments silence. Palestinian homes destroyed, families torn apart and lives unalterably changed. It was a continuation of almost a century of violent dispossession, colonial conquest and discrimination. Social media was spilling over with images and videos on the ground documenting the situation as it unfolded. They showed civilians brutalised by armed IDF soldiers, Palestinian children chased and terrorised and homes destroyed. Yet, the Australian news media when they finally did begin reporting produced long-winded and convoluted think pieces breaking down the conflict between Israel and Hamas. An Australian news media broadcast showed images of missiles hitting buildings, and called it the “ongoing arm wrestle of the middle east”. More and more titles springing up that seem to suggest that there is a “conflict” in the name of objective journalism. The divide between what the public was being told by authorised sources of information and what was being shared across our screens from on the ground sources was jarring. We were seeing live footage of destruction perpetrated and still we were being told that the situation was too nuanced to grasp without a masters in geopolitics and international relations. This clear disparity highlighted that the public was being told one specific overarching narrative. Subtle Propaganda Propaganda is easy to identify when it's retrospectively spotting a 20th century socialist dictator using vintage photoshop to insert himself into a photo with a revolutionary leader. For many of us we consider propaganda to be presented with the jarring shades of red or the smiling faces of soldiers saturated with nationalistic fervour. Maybe even some catchy slogans posted all over the place in a san serif font a lá 1984’s the Party. But propaganda no longer looks like this, mainly because that would be worth as much as putting up a neon sign above with an arrow that says “propaganda do not trust”. No, to retain its usefulness as means of spreading and promoting a very particular narrative suited to discrediting an institution, cause or persons, propaganda today has adapted to fit contemporary cultural and social tastes. In this age of overabundant information propaganda is able to spread comfortably across platforms without the ominous 1984-esque presence, instead becoming shareable content for everyone to access in the form of memes or twitter posts. We can find it on our social media pages as much as news sites, the information that constructs a certain desired narrative of reality. In the present moment Israel’s occupation is being defended by young teens on social media, influencers, celebrities , PragerU “educational” videos and more. Presenting a story that spotlights terrorism and anti-semitism as being the primary cause behind everything rather than the ethnic cleansing of an indigenous people. To the audience seeing all of this it gives an opportunity to separate themselves from the messiness of these issues, fearing the possibility of being called an anti-semite or a terrorist sympathiser because “you did not know enough about this issue”. This kind of propaganda works to stop people from engaging with the voices of Palestinian activists and journalists by subconsciously suggesting that this “conflict” is on the basis of factors that are beyond the audience’s understanding and that Palestinian voices are the defaulted “bad guy”. Platforms are also a means to further propaganda in the form of subtle censorship of certain content creators. During the surge of Palestinian voices being shared across multiple social media platforms there was a sudden disappearance of content relating to Al Aqsa mosque and anything involving Palestine. Videos, photos, hashtags and live-streams were all blocked from view. According to Marwa Fatafta of the human-rights advocacy group Access Now, censorship of activist voices on social media has been happening for a long time with many activists and journalists actively calling out platforms for suppressing information. The absence of information from Palestinian activists, educators and journalists allows Israel’s political agendas to influence the dominant narrative, giving very little room to find any information that would contradict or reject the Israeli Occupation. Eerily echoing Bourdieu’s ideas, that censorship is most effective when it is purposefully eluding the voices of vulnerable groups from spaces or platforms of authority. Language as a weapon The way we talk about conflict, wars, violence and other atrocities uses language that attempts to be objective. Creating a story that incorporates elements from one side into another as though within the middle ground of both experiences there is a universal truth. Yet this is not entirely possible when reporting about violence, for such acts require a clear perpetrator and a victim to be identified. Annabelle Lukin, Associate Professor of Linguistics, argues that objective reporting of violence in the media allows the act to be perceived under a detached and dehumanised light. It allows such violence to be treated as an object that “just happens” on its own detached from the orders of political figures and fails to acknowledge the victims’ trauma and grief as a consequence of such violence. The fear that without objective journalism, there would be no rational truth does not adequately justify the pragmatic use of objective language. Relying heavily on such language can be a form of violence within itself, because it misrepresents the reality of the victims caught in the violence, it downplays the brutality of the perpetrators and it convinces the audiences to be the complicit overseer of tragedies rather than become active responders to injustices. Whether you love it or hate it, the news shapes the way we see and interpret the world. The news itself is not without the biases and presumptions of the people and organisations that produce it. This inherent bias and in-built subjectivity itself is not the problem, it is the posturing of news media as the "truth" and "the objective" where the harm really begins. French and literature professor, Dr Alain Lescart identified that “language reflects the way people think,” but it is more than a reflection, language shapes the way people perceive and think. Language is a mechanism of power, it creates, perpetuates and asserts realities. Understanding this we can see how language can and routinely is weaponised by a dominating power to bring into existence justifications and rationalisation for actions and policies. In his famous quote, revolutionary leader Malcom X puts it best “If you're not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.” Contextualising this within the current situation in Palestine, the power of words and language is undeniable. Traditional reporting demands “objectivity” but as already identified that is thinly disguised myth, in choosing to report as “impartial” and “neutral” a side has already been chosen. Take even the labelling of the situation as the Israel-Palestine or the Israeli-Arab conflict, it positions two equal forces, two equal participants, but even a cursory understanding of the situation makes it clear this is not the case. Israel has the second largest and most robust military, it is allies with the world's largest military power and it has a nuclear arsenal at its disposal. Palestine does not have any of these. In using a neutral tone a clear choice is made and it unequivocally favours one side. Beyond posturing of objectivity we have the contrast between the active and passive voice, and the way this creates humanised victims and collateral casualties. Think of the way Israelis are “murdered”and Palestinians "died”, one has a perpetrator and is caused while the other just happened. This reporting only acknowledges the pain and humanity of one side. Going further, the scale of destruction itself is unmatched in a way that makes the use of this language a blatant assertion of whose lives are valued. It does not stop there, in news segments you would be pressed to hear the word Palestine used to refer to the land on which the violence was occurring. Palestine was referred to as the “occupied territories”, Gaza or Israel indicating blatant attempts at erasure by omission. The Palestinians would be referred to as Arabs, while the Israelis remained Israelis, and yes technically this is not an incorrect labelling as Palestinians are Arabs but the devil is in the details and this identification subtly undermines Palestinian nationhood and citizenship by not even recognising it. The manipulation of language as a means of power and the creation of one dominating narrative are not limited to the few examples provided here. Language has been the primary weapon on the battlefield of public opinion for decades now, to find out more refer to the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network, on the ground activists and journalists like Mohammed El Kurd, and community activists like Assala Sayara and Sara Saleh. Language matters because it has the power to shift the existing paradigms and mobilise collective action. Public opinion matters. It has the power to force the hand of governments and to push action by creating a situation that makes continuing their existing actions unpalatable. We know this because history has already proven it to be the case. A toolbox We can see the insidious way language can be used to propagandise and promote specific narratives by even the most trustworthy and seemingly balanced of sources. I mean we expect Murdoch media to lie to us but when it is the bourgeois supposedly liberal New York Times it stings just that little extra. So here is our definitely not foolproof non-exhaustive list of identifying subtle propaganda: Who are the authors? What is their background? (e.g. life experience, occupation, gender, religion and political affiliation) How is the media outlet you are reading from funded? What is the vested interest of the funders? Who benefits from this piece you are writing? Is it the author or the organisation? Analyse the language used; Why was that phrasing used? Remember that most articles go through several rounds of editing so every word is purposeful. Is the article/piece/media trying to convince you of something? If so, does it benefit anyone? This one is obvious and the most important, cross reference. Always refer to more than one source, try and have those sources be different from each other. Consistently challenge your own thoughts, and be open to being wrong. Fisher, A. 2020, Manufacturing Dissent: The Subtle Ways International Propaganda Shapes Our Politics, The George Washington University. Bourdieu, P., 1991, Language and symbolic power, Harvard University Press p.g. 138. .
- The Emptiness of Self-Help
By Jessica L. In bookstores the display tables are stacked high with an aggressive amount of self-help books. Tidy towers of titles confronting you with their bold statements. Everything illuminated with a positive platitude or very inoffensive graphic design. “How To Win Friends And Influence People”, “The Power of Now”, “The Secret”, and more abstracted or psychologically charged titles to remind us of our inadequacies. Flaws and faults that can be transformed into something more in just 300 pages for $29.99. Under the umbrella of self-development is an interesting Frankensteinian cocktail of several genres. Philosophy, Psychology and Spirituality converge to bring many variations of self-help literature, bleeding into one another to the point that they become hard to distinguish. In a New Yorker article by Alexandra Schwartz on the promotion of lifestyle habits in personal development books, she writes that “Self-help advice tends to reflect the beliefs and priorities of the era that spawns it.” Illuminating a very important point to consider. In the current era that we are living in, what do we find to be valuable, important and optimal in our lives? How do we as a collective promote those values of the ideal self? If such books are the answers to cultivating a better life, what are the current anxieties that we find ourselves trying so desperately to unburden? And in the end, is that enough to truly satisfy us? Why Do We Care So Much? “May you live in interesting times” seems to be the recurring theme of our present era, where it seems as though with every passing year we are becoming more dissatisfied with the state of the world and ourselves. At present we are very much living in the accursed “interesting times” in that news of war, economic insecurity, suffering, and unhappiness seem so incredibly commonplace. Self-development books offer a means of coping with the instability of the world by giving back an element of control to the individual. Consuming self-development content reinforces the notion that things can change IF you put in the effort, reform the bad habits and force yourself to transform into something new or better either through “hard work” or by “letting go”. From partially reading two self-help books myself, I found that these sentiments offered two perspectives to frame self-development in a manner that contradicts itself. Raising the question of whether to”‘cultivate the self” or “abandon the self” in order to make sense of the world. Cultivation of The Self One part of self-development literature is focused on the refinement and cultivation of the individual self. This can be done in several ways, to improve one’s self through refining social status, social skills, career development, adopting different values or developing better/healthier habits. What is reinforced is the notion of the “untapped potential” residing in you, the individual, that is not being fully accessed to your benefit. The problem and the solution resides in you, the text is merely offering the tools or knowledge to access that potential. Said potential once it is harnessed to the fullest will eventually lead you to the successful life you desire. In Jordan Peterson’s ‘12 Rules for Life’, he offers, as the title suggests, his take on rules that one should adopt to cultivate order in their individual life. Developing a perspective of the world within the binary of Order vs Chaos, his rules are supposed to be the medicine for disorder in one’s life. Peterson’s advice in the book is achievable and so simplistically straight to the point. It is actionable almost immediately, that it literally leaves you with a “no excuses” sense of motivation. In offering this, Peterson’s work is attempting to reinforce a meritocratic notion of the self. That you are only successful if you work hard for that success, or if you don’t put in the effort that you end up getting “ what you deserve”. Allowing the reader to shift focus away from the greater systems of power at work, and instead concentrating all their energy on becoming their desired self. Or The ABANDONMENT of the Self The other side of the self-help coin is the perspective that the individual is the issue in the world, therefore the self needs to be abandoned in order to live properly. At the most it attempts to encourage humility within yourself or mindfulness about human life and purpose. Regardless both outcomes function in the hopes that it would inspire more goodwill towards others. It’s philosophy centres on the idea that the problems of the world are the direct result of us becoming too selfish, pushing forward the instruction to “let go” of the negativity you harbour and strive for a higher sense of “Being”. Whether it be through “awakening” of the consciousness or practising forgiveness onto others you will eventually find a higher level of self. Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth encourages this philosophy as it delves into the idea of the “ego” being the main drive of misery in our world. Tolle suggests that the state of the world is the result of our collective “ego” needing to dominate everything. As a solution he calls for a new “consciousness” to awaken in order to solve our individual and collective problems. Tolle argues for the abandonment of “ego” in individuals, instead actively encouraging a state of “Being” that is formless and beyond the limitations of human pride and identity. What is being encouraged by A New Earth is a world where everyone has tapped into the consciousness that is bigger than their ego, hoping that all the “isms” of the world that divide us will eventually cease to exist because we achieve a higher state of being. What we are offered are two conflicting philosophies for our selection. For whatever problem seems to plague our lives, we are asked what type of solution we want to adopt. The path of self-cultivation to encourage more direction or the path of self-abandonment for the sake of the world. One has to remember that self-help books are the by-product of capitalism and they in turn support the myth of capitalism’s promises. To be valued as the best, to be rewarded, to have direction into the right kind of life and the belief in meritocracy. In that, self-development philosophy reinforces an idea of the self as dictated by capitalism’s standards of success, wealth and knowledge. But on the other side they are books that offer a blanketed understanding of spirituality, giving vague and positive platitudes to convince the individual that their vices could disappear solely through “reflection” without any responsive action. When the self becomes more “awake”, only then will the problems of the world begin to change. It’s as though the abandonment of the self asks you to dismiss the reality of historically oppressive systems of thought and institutions that remain standing by prioritising one’s self-obliteration. In both instances the “self” becomes the vehicle to distract us from the world. Spirituality, but Commodify It When it comes to cultivating virtues, we have most often relied on wisdom from religious and cultural practices. In different ways, religious practices offer a perspective on how to cultivate a spiritual self, one that is wholly separate from the physical world. What has been developed is a body of knowledge that describes such spiritual experiences, sometimes providing actions on how to achieve such a state. This appears as the seemingly universal blueprint for how we experience religion, but when appropriated by self-help platitudes the philosophies behind such practices become diluted or completely abandoned. Self-development books have found a way to channel the universal ideas of spirituality to create a philosophy that serves capitalism rather than an individual’s faith. Working in a manner that disconnects the practice from it’s deeply cultural and spiritual meaning. In some instances, such books change the language used in spiritual practices to present them in a more consumable light for a secular audience or in other cases philosophies outside of the Euro-centric context are adopted into the Western mainstream culture. Think about Marie Kondo’s ‘Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up’, both the book and the Netflix show. When her KonMari philosophy blew up into the mainstream consciousness we all found ourselves decluttering our lives and actively purging out the things that we found did not “spark joy”. What’s interesting was how her methods and philosophy were adopted so easily into the secular community. People bought her books, watched her show and bought storage supplies to “declutter” their lives, all the while perhaps not realising that her methods were not only for physical/material satisfaction but also part of a bigger spiritual experience. We adopted her practice with such ease, forgetting the importance of the religious Shinto foundation of her methods, because as consumers we had no use for it. What can be found in self-development books are snippets of New Age Philosophical ideas of spirituality. These being an amalgamation of different spiritual practices that are oftentimes contrasting and distinct from one another. Religious studies researcher Michael York suggests that New Age philosophy “endorses a spiritualised counterpart of capitalism”, where spiritual practice is treated as a commodity within a competitive market. Meaning that mindfulness companies or self-identifying “gurus” are able to sell yoga and meditation techniques without the need to explain the spiritual knowledge behind the practice. It also means that Indigenous spiritual practices, that were once outlawed because of colonisation, are often appropriated now for consumption. Consequently continuing the cycle of exploitation and cultural theft of First Nations People. Who Do We Give Permission To Teach Us Self-Help? As a genre self-development has attracted writers of many different occupations, from psychologists, spiritual teachers, influencers and even your average celebrity. The notion is that advice can be given by anyone who has expertise in the field they are in, yet when it comes to personal-development, who do we find ourselves willing to listen to? Who are the people we think are capable of “changing our lives”? Shonda Rhimes, Lilly Singh and many more public figures have written books that express similar sentiments of personal development. The author’s evident success in their world makes us feel as though we should accept their advice. They are successful therefore it feels natural for us to presume their advice would be valuable. Rhimes’ “Year of Yes” was a reflection of her experience saying “yes” to every opportunity she had with the blurb encouraging this philosophy to the reader. Singh’s “How To Be a Bawse” presents itself to the reader as a comprehensive guide to becoming successful like her through hard work and effort. Reading advice from celebrities who have “made it'' asserts their authority, that they are the ones competent enough to suggest what life should be like. The self-help category gives its author an incredible amount of authority for selling the idea that whatever it is the reader is looking for, they will find in the author’s words and experiences. With that in mind, it makes sense that we would only find the advice worthwhile if it was given by certain types of people. The people who have what we want. There is an aspirational quality about self-help when it is written by prominent public figures. As though by reading their advice on life we are able to emulate them, whilst reminding ourselves that they were once ordinary people before they became something more. They become mentor-like figures that echo in the back of your mind, whose advice becomes almost an authoritative rule that must be obeyed in order to achieve their kind of success. Giving readers a framework of guidance for them to apply in their day-to-day life by asking the question “what would (insert public figure’s name ) do in this situation?”. Final Thoughts The buzz that comes from consuming self-development content feels very intoxicating at first only to follow through with an often depressing outcome. When you first read a self-help book, many of your troubles suddenly have actionable solutions, you are told to fix yourself up or change your mindset and in the beginning, it feels like you are finally succeeding in the direction you want to move in. Yet when that buzz starts to feel less intense you find yourself returning to your old ways and finding old thoughts resurfacing. Often to curb this, you find another self-help medium to dedicate yourself to, to kickstart the cycle again. The transformation montage moment in movies never seems to fully come through for you because it keeps restarting over and over again. Self development exists as a means of coping with capitalism and fulfilling its demands. It reminds us of how inadequate we are in order to sell us another product to fulfil our more abstract desires. In the end, solely relying on self-development to answer our emotional, mental and spiritual concerns will never lead us to anywhere with substantial answers. It’s important to see self-help books in a different light compared to the way they’re sold to us. You can always reject the advice they have given, there isn't a requirement for you to follow through everything they suggest. Rather than relying on them to provide answers and guidance for one’s life, it might benefit us to view them almost through a biographical lens. Looking at the author’s words as a way to see how they as a person learned to cope with the world around them. I never got around to finishing Tolle’s or Peterson’s books, for multiple reasons. They required a lot of stamina in terms of dealing with the preachiness of the content, but it was interesting to see how they structured their understanding of the world. Rather than adopt every rule spouted by Peterson into my life I found myself listening attentively to stories of his hometown life and trying to earnestly understand why his life experiences formulated his rules. In Tolle’s dissection of the many layers of “ego”, I found an inkling of how we identify defensive responses in one another and why his ideas of the universal ego were so important to his understanding of the world. I didn’t find myself metamorphosing into a new and better version of myself. Maybe because I didn’t feel the need to or maybe because I know change is going to happen gradually. I am a firm believer that change will happen at the right time, with the right conditions set out to help your growth. That will take time, effort, and probably the will of God for me, I don’t think I’m inclined to find it in self-development literature. So if you still love or hate self-help, that’s fine. In the end, it’s all about remembering that change doesn’t need to happen the moment you finish a self-development book. Sometimes you just need to close the book, put it back on your shelf, just tell yourself “that was an interesting read” and understand that you’re already enough. Edited by Palwasha A. References Clark, M., 2021. The Religion of Marie Kondo and her KonMari Method of Tidying. [online] Religion Unplugged. Available at: [Accessed 25 April 2021]. PETERSON, J. B., DOIDGE, N., & VAN SCIVER, E. (2018). 12 rules for life: an antidote to chaos. TOLLE, E. (2005). A new earth: awakening to your life's purpose. New York, N.Y., Dutton/Penguin Group. Schwartz, A., 2021. Improving Ourselves to Death. [online] The New Yorker. Available at: [Accessed 25 April 2021]. Sinclair, M., 2021. Why the Self-Help Industry Is Dominating the U.S.. [online] Medium. Available at: [Accessed 25 April 2021]. York, M., 2001. New Age Commodification and Appropriation of Spirituality. Journal of Contemporary Religion, 16(3), pp.361-372.
- How Islam’s Concept of Fasting Is An Antidote to My Self
written by Lamisa. H When we explain to younger children or people who are not Muslim, our first go to explanation as to why we fast is - to be able to empathise with the needy or people who do not have food to eat. To make us more aware and more grateful of the blessings that we have. But it actually doesn’t have much to do with that, and although it is a byproduct of fasting, it is definitely not the main reason why we were asked to fast. Taqwa - The Reason We Fast The main reason for fasting can be found in the Quran: “... fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to to those before you, so perhaps you *become mindful of Allah” (2:183) Taqwa is the word used in this verse and it means to have consciousness of Allah and to practice self-restraint in any thoughts, words and actions that may displease Him. It is the discipline in mindset that we practice for a month long with the intention that it will last throughout the year. So, when we control our desire for food, we also practice the very simple but powerful act of sabr (patience). Fasting is not just about the food, it is not just about not eating and drinking, it requires that we practice a very specific lifestyle in order to please Allah (swt), and in order to build habits that are good for ourselves and each other. Some simple examples include using less foul language, gossiping less and consuming more clean media. It is so much easier to practice taqwa for a novice Muslim (such as myself) when I am fasting. No matter how much we talk about the benefits fasting brings you, Taqwa should be the most important one to cultivate (this is a reminder for myself). Making Ourselves Fit the Mould We have been nurtured in a society that values material, tangible gain over internal improvement and spiritual growth. Last week, Tahmina reflected on the “Arabisation of Islam” and the reaction we had from fellow Muslims was quite visceral. Everyone had an experience to share, where they felt that they had to adopt Arab culture in some form in order to be or appear more Muslim. This is the product of us still viewing ourselves through a “Western” dominant lens, subconsciously internalising modernity- rationalisation, secularisation, industrialisation and capitalism. I have to remind myself that we may be a minority here in Australia (or whatever other Western country), but there are roughly 1.8 billion of us in the world - 24% of world population. We are by no means, a minority. The reason I am bringing this up, that for me, living in a space where remembrance of God is not widely accepted or prioritised has deeply injured the way I practice Islam. No matter how much I talk, learn and write about the process of “decolonisation”, the concept seems to slip away from actually being practiced in meaningful ways. But Ramadan offers an olive branch to us if we choose to take it. If as Muslims we have centred Western knowledge structures all our lives, then Ramadan would be a time where we have the opportunity to re-centre Islam. What it Actually Means to Let Go of Dunya Western knowledge structures have defined religion for us to be only a part in our lives, separating our body and soul. I have been so conditioned to believe that these two things are separate, but this duality does not exist in Islamic worldview: there is no such thing as separating your religion and your life. This is only an overwhelming concept because we are conditioned to be so enamoured with this dunya, that we place its importance over everything that is seemingly intangible. There is nothing on this Earth that you can label the Western dichotomous, dualist perspective as ‘material’: everything has a spiritual reality. So, I’m sure many of us could agree that Ramadan is a reset. Every day starts with the intention and awareness that I will be fasting as an act of ibaadat and this God-consciousness translates throughout the day into the way we spend our time, the things we choose to say/ do (or rather, not say/ do) and our commitment to the other pillars of our faith. Ramadan re-aligns our purpose and corrects our attachment to this dunya. Keeping the Balance I realised I had been theorising my faith instead of practising it, hoping that that would somehow increase my imaan. I was looking to find spirituality through spending my time listening to lectures, reading books, looking into the politics to do with faith and all the while: ignoring the space where I should’ve started in the first place - myself and my prayer mat. For me, theory should not have come before my acts of worship. Rationalising my religion does not substitute my practice, it is only an addition to it. I was really lucky this year that I got a break from work this Ramadan so that I can place a lot more time and energy into my imaan (faith) and it's paying off. Many of us don't have that luxury, and fasting can quickly become extremely draining, in a society where spirituality isn’t prioritised in any sense. May Allah (swt) reward everyone in this position who perseveres in some way to make taraweeh prayer, or read Quran, learn a new surah or just get through their daily prayers on time. We are performing radical acts of love, belief and optimism when we do so. Editor: Tahmina. R
- 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.
- How The Patriarchy Is Breaking Our Men
By Irisa R. and Mariam H. “So what we learned was masculinity is the ‘one size fits all’ that seems to fit no one.” In the past few weeks we interviewed some of our male readers, both friends and strangers. The patriarchy is framed as a system that oppresses women, and protects men. It creates a simple narrative of good versus bad, where men are always benefiting and women are always suffering. It depicts a story where our experiences are separated, or in direct opposition to one another, where their struggles are theirs and ours are ours. But this story doesn’t exist; the reality is far more intertwined. Most of our interviewees highlighted that at some point in their adolescence they had either aspired to or been rejected by the traditional confines of being a man. Only upon failing to fit the mould did they start to unpack their own relationship with masculinity. I’ll make a man out of you We asked all the men “what does masculinity mean to you?”Such an enormous question and at that point, three minutes into meeting most of them, it was a big ask. Most listed characteristics that they thought were more generally accepted; strong, dominant, authoritative and rational. But this answer shifted when we asked, what does being a man mean to you? They all changed their responses. Most identified a greater purpose, being able to serve society and the responsibility they feel towards their family. Some shared their thoughts on gender fluidity and how the term masculinity has lost meaning. Most of the men didn’t identify with one or more of these characteristics and at first, they saw that as a fault within themselves. They described how after high school they learned to accept that maybe they just weren’t “manly men” because they weren’t the loudest in a room or the most authoritative. One interviewee said that in his past relationship his partner would be disappointed in him for not being assertive enough. He said, “I don’t mind making decisions but if I had to do it all the time it would become mentally draining.” He identified a really interesting dynamic - where being assertive was seen as masculine, while being soft - spoken or sharing decisions was seen as being less so. One interviewee concluded that by defining masculinity you are defining what it is not, and ended with this, “[to me masculinity] is a system that reinforces heteronormativity, patriarchy, all these conservative ideas about what being a man is and in doing so reinforces what it means to be a woman, or queer or straight.” Two of the men that we interviewed spoke on how their understanding of masculinity is informed by their religion. One of the interviewees is a devout Catholic and explained that when he looked to Saintly figures, most of the male Saints had what we would consider to be feminine traits, and that these traits were respected and admired. Similarly, one of our interviewees who described himself as a practicing Muslim explained that he would often turn to the Hadith where he learned that Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) would be vulnerable with those around him and that it was seen as sign of a strong heart. Yet, they both felt that many of the ideals they were taught in their religion were in contradiction to what they internalised from growing up in a secular society. Most men explained that masculinity existed when it was performed for an audience, so it needed to be seen. It was in the breadth of shoulders, in how tall they were or in the timbre of their voice. One interviewee described it as the amount of space a man could take up in a room to make an impact. Contrary to the body standards present for women, which is tied to ideals of attractiveness or beauty, men’s body image is tied more closely to whether it shows strength and dominance. Most of the men identified that they had to perform their manhood, not just in how they were perceived but in what they did - so the career they chose. How do we value men? Bell Hooks wrote that “[the value of males] is always determined by what they do. In an anti-patriarchal culture males do not have to prove their value and worth.” It reminds us of how growing up, we would always see all the men in our community sacrifice so much to make sure that they could care for their families. Usually, at the expense of their mental or physical health, which meant that they would raise daughters and sons seeing the role of the provider taken to an extreme. Where instead of having present fathers, who were emotionally available or able to give time, we would have fathers who gave all their time to earning and providing, which created family dynamics that were hard to change. It meant that the women had to give immensely when it came to emotional support and the men had to give immensely as providers. There are countless stories of how men in our communities after losing their jobs would stop socialising because they felt their worth had been diminished. Which begs the question - why aren’t we valuing men for their emotional maturity, for their ability to compromise, to be kind, to actively serve others and their communities, to be confident in how they show affection, to dress how they please, and to be able to speak how they want to, without feeling like it would affect how others perceive them? Man Up! One of our interviewees said that, “your masculinity does not have to be defined by how you withhold your emotions.” This isn’t surprising but most men are taught to feel less of a “man” if they cry, or if they communicate hurt or tenderness. One of our interviewees explained that growing up, anger was always an acceptable emotion, he was always given the space to be angry. However, he wasn’t allowed or encouraged at any point to cry or to share how he felt. On the contrary, another interviewee expressed that by learning from his father, and how available and open he was with his emotions, he learned to cry comfortably and often. This was a very singular response, because most men said they didn’t feel like there was space for this with either their family or friends. One interviewee explained that, “[my friends and I] now have really emotionally intimate conversations about how much we love each other, and I could never do anything like that with my previous friends.” This would usually lead to other mental health struggles. It was interesting because most of the men shared at some point that they felt the pressure to fulfil certain responsibilities without complaining about them. One person shared that he felt he was allowed to be angry as long as he still did what was expected of him. Colonialism back at it again! One of the interviewees spoke at length about how the traditional traits we associate with masculinity like strength and rationality are a colonial legacy. The research concluded that European colonialists would further their agenda by degrading and feminising the Indigenous values of the land they colonised. Thus, anything suggestive of an indigenous identity, for example displaying soft-spoken gentility, spirituality, sophisticated traditional dress, or a cooperative attitude, was seen as representing a lack of virility, irrationality, backwardness, fragility and other characteristics associated with inferiority (Gouda 2007). For example, in Indonesia it was common for men to share household obligations with women, and the Dutch demoted this behaviour in both their propaganda, and their teachings as a form of weakness, so that Indonesian men would learn to take on more aggressive characteristics (or at least aspire to them). Similarly, in pre-colonial modern day India, Bangladesh and Pakistan it was common for men to wear traditional attire in the workplace, however, the British introduced the idea that educated men should wear suits because traditional wear was ‘delicate’ and ‘womanly.’ These are just two minor examples of how colonisation positioned the non-white man as inferior or lacking and how these ideas have persisted. Two of the interviewees also expressed that as Queer men they had to actively reject many of the ideals that came with heteronormative masculinity. Similarly one said that he didn’t find a lot of comfort in the LGBTQ space because he saw it as inherently white supremacist. He explained that because Western societies are one of the most heteronormative societies that have ever existed that it gives us a model of masculinity which intertwines gender and sex, many Eastern and Indigenous perspectives on gender are far less binary. He argued that his sexuality shouldn’t be an identifier because historically in the region he is from, a person’s sexuality is seen as a social practice and not as a way to define oneself. Some said they didn’t feel athletic enough, others felt they weren’t loud enough and the rest felt that they were in spaces where they were expected to make decisions they were not equipped for. One of our interviewees laughed while he explained that he was told that as the man in the family he was expected to protect his sister at all costs, and that he would have a say in who she marries. He laughed and exclaimed, “she was five years older than me I could never tell her who to marry!” Another interviewee amusingly said, “I can’t serve and protect. If there was a war I would be discharged. Of course I wouldn’t participate in imperialism, but because of my moral objections I would be seen as effeminate.” Final Thoughts: So what we learned was masculinity is the ‘one size fits all’ that seems to fit no one. The experiences of the men we spoke to highlighted that when choosing to define their own manhood the interpretations were far more fluid and individualised, straying from the rigid ideals of Western masculinity to include attributes such as soft-spokenness, patience and tolerance. Earlier this year we wrote about the need women feel to take care of the emotional needs of those around them, the caretaker complex, even if it was detrimental to their own wellbeing it was something they often persisted in. In writing this piece a strange parallel emerged: all of the men spoke of an expectation to provide. Some actively rejected it, others saw it as a duty, and others still felt burdened by a future of it. Yet for most of the interviewees it had shaped some of the bigger decisions they made in their lives and this meant that they were so busy fulfilling one role they couldn’t even begin to entertain or have the space to think about the others. We hope that we can collectively move toward a culture where the burden of these ideals are not shouldered as silently as they have been. __ Reference List: Hasan, M.K., Aggleton, P. and Persson, A., 2018. The makings of a man: Social generational masculinities in Bangladesh. Journal of Gender Studies, 27(3), pp.347-361. Kyler-Yano, J.Z. and Mankowski, E.S., 2020. What does it mean to be a real man? Asian American college men’s masculinity ideology. Psychology of Men & Masculinities, 21(4), p.643. O. de Visser, R., Mushtaq, M. and Naz, F., 2020. Masculinity beliefs and willingness to seek help among young men in the United Kingdom and Pakistan. Psychology, Health & Medicine, pp.1-11. Prianti, D.D., 2019. The Identity Politics of Masculinity as a Colonial Legacy. Journal of Intercultural Studies, 40(6), pp.700-719. To Note: We interviewed men that were culturally and linguistically diverse from a variety of professions, religious backgrounds and sexual orientations. We tried our best to include people from a diverse range of communities but due to certain time constraints we couldn't interview as many people as we wanted but hey there is always the possibility of part two!