Saturday, 31 January 2009

the afar peoples of africa

today i went to a meeting to establish the afar nz friendship society. needless to say, i'd never heard of the afar people until i got the invitation, hence the links to help you out if you're in the same situation. the afar people come from africa, a nomadic tribe that lives in ethiopia, djibouti & eritrea.

there are 8 afar families living in hamilton, so a pretty small community. they are all refugees. they are concerned about their families back in africa, many of whom are living on the edge of starvation due to drought. this is often an issue in refugee resettlement: that it is very hard to settle when you have family or friends living in extremely difficult conditions that you can do little to alleviate. it's very difficult to enjoy the good things in life, when you know those good things are absent for the ones you love.

the other thing that struck me was the fact that so little is known about this tribe. like the western sahara, this is a part of the world that gets little coverage. there are parts of the world that get continous coverage when a disaster happens, but in areas like this where the devastation is slow but sure, we get very little news. but even if we did get news, would we really care? as moz pointed out in his comment here, there are only so many things that the human mind can cope with, only so many tragedies we can process.

which makes me wonder, who gets to decide which crisis or which tragedy should be brought to worldwide attention? based on what criteria? and for a people like the afar, how can you get some of that attention for yourself, when your people are dying too and there seems to be little hope for improvement?

i guess a friendship society is a good way to raise awareness. at least there were a bunch of people there today who now know some things that they didn't know before. i hope the thing takes off here in hamilton, and that these people are able to do some effective fundraising (which appears to be one of their main aims) for the people back in africa.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

being indian in fiji

i'm thinking that it's going to be pretty sad preparing financial statements and tax returns for the 2009 financial year. on the bright side, there will be 1 october 2008 tax cuts to reduce the tax bill. but offset against this is:

- much lower interest income, particularly for senior citizens, as interest rates have fallen
- significant loss of capital due the closure of so many finance companies
- significant loss of capital due to the fall in share prices
- loss of income in the retail and service sectors due to a slowing economy
- significantly reduced income from the much lower dairy payout

it won't be a very pretty picture, and many people will be getting tax refunds. this is not a good thing, despite what people might tell you. tax refunds only happen when your income is low or non-existent, and while they provide a little bit of cash relief, it's not anywhere near the relief of earning a decent income.

so, workwise, it's not looking like a very happy year.

these posts at kiwipolitico on the situation in fiji got me thinking. almost every fijian indian i come across in nz is a firm support of mr bainimarama, and extremely angry at the response of the labour-led government to the latest coup. the best conversation i had about the whole issue was with one of our district court judges of fijian indian heritage, soon after the latest coup.

he covered some of the issues that kiwipolitico raises, and in particular the fact that prior to the coup, fijian democracy was not a "one person, one vote" system. as far as he was concerned this was not a true democracy, so why had the nz government failed to take action in demanding a move to true democracy prior to the coup? he saw it as a completely hypocritical stance.

i think what the fijian indian community would like to see from nz is some support in helping the country move to a true democracy, rather than the rather than the pushy, demanding stance that we see at present. as an aside, i wonder how this community is feeling, after watching john key follow exactly the same line as helen clark & winston peters. this was a community that voted for a change, but there hasn't been any.

one of the interesting issues about fiji is the tension between the indigenous population and a migrant population - well, migrant from 100 years or so back. the current generation are all locally born and bred, as were their parents and grandparents. the difference with this migrant population is that they were never colonisers. in fact, they were almost as much victim of the colonial empire as the indigenous population were.

and so the fijian indian population, it seems to me, feel hard done by in being made to suffer as if they are outsiders. especially when they have been there for several generations, and when they didn't go about stealing land or siphoning off major resources to the home country. in fact, most of them have now pretty much lost touch with the home country.

it reminds a little of the situation in pakistan (of which i don't know much, really, other than at the most superficial level). a lot of the population of pakistan are of indian origin, having migrated at or around the time of partition. but even to this day, even though it's now a couple of generations since then, this part of the population are called "muhajirun" ie migrants, and as far as i know, are discriminated against on that basis.

it raises the question: at what point do migrants become accepted as part of the country they're living in? at what point can you demand to have the same rights and recognition as everyone else in the country, given that you have worked hard and paid your taxes and contributed to the country?

it's a difficult question, to be balanced against the issue of indigenous rights, and redress for what the indigenous population have lost. i find it especially difficult when i fully support the waitangi tribunal and crown settlements; when i fully support the apology given by kevin rudd and think it's about time they followed it up with serious money; and when i've argued with lebanese australians that the current government should pay up even though neither they nor their ancestors had anything to do with the actions that required an apology. i support indigenous people's rights, but i can't find it in myself to support what was happening in fiji prior to this latest coup.

not that a military coup and dictatorship is the answer. but i'll go back to the conclusions over at kiwipolitico: there are some serious issues to be dealt with here, and there is no point in pushing for a quick solution. especially if that solution will only lead to another coup in a few years time.

Monday, 26 January 2009

republic day

today is republic day in india. until today, i really had no idea what that meant. i mean i knew it happened, but had no idea of the significance. but i had to give a speech at a republic day event here in hamilton, so i thought i'd better find out.

yes, i was born in india, so technically i should know this stuff. but i left when i was less than two, and the first time i went back, i was 12. since then i've been back plenty of times, but i can never think of the place as home. home will always be the rolling green hills of the waikato, the meandering river that's 5 minutes from my front door, and the quiet suburb where i live. home is here, and india is just a place i visit every now and then because i happened to have been born there.

hence no particular interest from me in indian politics or history. i didn't identify with it, and some of it is pretty gruesome, particularly the bits that left half of my extended family living in pakistan since the 40s (or maybe 50s). so my lack of knowledge has never bothered me, particularly since i studied nz history in both 5th & 7th form so feel like i know about the place where i belong.

as an aside, it was the strangest feeling visiting waitangi earlier this year. as our guide retold the history that i'd studied all those years ago, i really felt like it was my history, my heritage, even though actually my ancestry is so very far away from here. i felt so disconnected, belonging yet not belonging; but knowing in my heart that this soil is where my roots are even if my ancestors lie somewhere else.

but i digress. back to indian republic day. this is not independence day, which is the day that india was finally free of colonial rule. that happened on 15 august 1947 (i actually knew that one!). republic day is a celebration of the day, three years later, when india became a sovereign democratic republic. the day the indian constitution came into force. not a bad achievement after 3 years of independence. nz hasn't managed to achieve it after, well, closing in fast on two centuries.

i liked this explanation of the significance of the event (from the link above) even though it does tend to be a bit jingoistic:

... the constitution whose promulgation is celebrated is highly symbolic of the aspirations which ‘we the people of India’ cherish. It ushered in a social revolution silently by changing the status of the individual from a subject of a colonial empire to a citizen of a free country. It laid down the method of governance and established the relationship of the citizen to the state. It endeavours to secure justice, liberty, equality and fraternity and assures the dignity of the individual by conferring fundamental rights upon the citizen. With one stroke, it abolished all distinctions of status, rank, creed, colour and sex. It outlawed untouchability, an abominable social practice that had created discrimination and tensions in society.

which is all very good. it's a worthwhile thing to celebrate and commemorate. the birth of nationhood, the establishment of ideals, the shaking off of the yoke of colonialism. yes, these are things that should be remembered.

and yet, i feel a certain degree of discomfort in nationalism and overt manifestations of national pride. not just because such feelings can be used as tools for division and excuses for war. it seems to me to be much deeper than that.

i think it comes down to context. india's independence came at a time when the world was just recovering from a catastrophic global conflict. it was a time when many nations were gaining independence, when the UN was busy creating new nations and drawing random boundaries that would lead to some extremely bloody and painful conflicts. it was a time when, having gotten rid of their colonial masters, peoples could finally be proud of their own culture, heritage and identity. when they were free from rulers that looked down on them as native savages who were an inconvenient obstruction to the pursuit of even more wealth and power.

in that context, a sense of national pride was justified and in fact essential to bring a people together towards the common cause of rebuilding their country and creating a new identity.

but we live in a much different world today. a much more global world, where global-community-building is much more important than nation-building. it's time for us to feel more connected to each other across nations and continents, if we are truly going to solve problems like poverty, global warming and the like. it's time for nations to think of the common good of the planet and not just their individual good. because the common good will actually lead to individual good.

and i wonder how you can get that message across, without discounting the struggle for independence and without cheapening the value of the many lives lost in that struggle. i'm not sure i have an answer to that.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

bad jokes

i've posted over at the hand mirror, about how fed up i am with sexist comedy.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

more than words

i didn't get up to watch the inauguration live this morning. felt a bit naughty in missing a most historical moment. but it was mostly due to the fact that i couldn't get to sleep til about 1.30am, and there was no way i'd be able to get a full day's work done if i was up again by 6. besides, i had the comfort of knowing it would all be up on youtube, so i'd catch up on everything later.

which i've duly done, and duly had tears in my eyes.

as readers will know, i haven't been a huge fan of mr obama. which is not to say that i'd prefer the alternative, not in a million years. but i don't forget that it was under a democrat administration that iraqi children were dying because of sanctions, that southern iraq was being bombed constantly, that the massacres and gang rapes were happening in bosnia while an arms embargo prevented bosnians from getting the weapons to defend themselves, that... well, i could go on, but i think you get the point.

so i think of this new administration and wonder whether anything significant will change. and the answer is yes, of course some things will be better. guantanamo will close. it's likely that some serious action will happen on climate change. there will definitely be a huge reduction in the dog-whistling bigoted rhetoric that we had become accustomed to from the previous administration. some things will definitely change, and some things won't. but that's the point of hope over fear, isn't it. he's asking us to give him a chance, and that i'm prepared to do.

the best bit of the speech for me was:

...that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our gross domestic product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart -- not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.

yup, it's the sense of community, of caring for those who are least fortunate and being active about it rather than expecting the market to provide (when we very well know that it doesn't); that's the bit that resonates with me most. even more than peace, because peace is much more likely when everyone has a fair share of the pie.

and sweeter still was the fact that mr obama didn't show concern only for the prosperity of his own nation:

To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.

how desperately i hope that these are more than just words. that they will lead to actions around international trade and fair prices, around greater international co-operation for the regulation of global capital and pressure for fair labour laws, and also around commitment to the international court of justice. i hope that that he'll have the courage to see it through, and that his people support him while he makes those most difficult decisions in a time of economic hardship.

yes, today is a day to hope and dream of a better world. who knows, at least some of it might really come true.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009


in case you haven't been across to the hand mirror over the weekend, my piece in the daily telegraph went up on saturday, and there is some discussion here at the hand mirror.

those who belong to the aotearoa ethnic network will be aware that there has been a lot (and i mean a lot) of debate and information posted about the situation in gaza. it's a lot to keep up with, and many valid points have been made with good links, as well as some nonsense. however this part of a message emailed to the list today has occupied my mind:

Just a couple of observations. I just came back from Malaysia, where the government and media are blatantly anti-Israel.Everyday without fail, national papers called for the withdrawal of Israel. I was shocked to see pictures of bloody Palestinian kids and corpses of Palestinian babies on the front pages of national dailies. Of course, that was the intention of the editors, to shock and polarise the population.

when i read this, the very first response that came to my head was: "the fact that children are being killed does not offend you? just the fact that pictures of them are being broadcast?"

i don't really know much about malaysia or the media there, though i've visited several times. the coverage there may well not be balanced, in terms of equal coverage of every point of view. the pictures may well be there only to sell more papers, as most front page pictures are. i heard a similar report sometime early last week complaining about the coverage in some countries, with the same complaint that they are showing pictures of children corpses, children who are the innocent victims of this awful conflict.

as if it's wrong. i say it's not wrong. i say that the media here is wrong to sanitise coverage of war, any war. i say it's wrong to protect people from the actual awfulness of killing; to save them the gory pictures so that they can somehow pretend it's not real or it's not happening. it's wrong to save their sensibilities and to save them from the pain, when the sensibilities of these children no longer exist, when their pain was not relieved.

it's only when we see the full extent of people's suffering that we begin to care, that we move to act. and yes, in this current conflict, they (and i mean all countries around the world) should also show the dead israeli children. there should be balance, in that equal time should be given to every child's death.

not only should they show the deaths of those who die from bombs and sniper fire, but also those who died from lack of medicines getting through the blockade. and those who died from lack of food, because the food wasn't allowed to get through. and those who succumbed to preventable illnesses due to weakness cause from lack of sleep - the lack of sleep that comes from constant shelling, of the kind that was a deliberate strategy used in baghdad at the beginning of that war. and those who died in their mothers wombs while waiting at checkpoints, just ready to be born into a world of misery and pain. and those who were killed for throwing stones.

why should we be protected? they weren't.

there is the danger that viewing so much violence will desensitise us. will make us immune. and if that is the case, then imagine what it's like to live in such conditions, where the violence is not just on tv or on the front page of the paper, but right there in front of your eyes. every day. and the people dying are your family, and your neighbours, and your school mates, and your work mates.

shocking people so that they demand a stop to all this mess is a bad thing? not to me. more balance so that all deaths are covered? yes, absolutely. let us all feel everyone's pain.

Friday, 16 January 2009


i've posted at the hand mirror again today, about a piece i've written for the sydney daily telegraph.

Thursday, 15 January 2009


i've posted over at the hand mirror, on tangled family relations.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009


i'm way too tired to post anything coherent tonight. i have lots of things in my head, but no energy to sort them all out.

so i recorded the interview today about the gaza crisis. they did an interview with dave moskovitz yesterday and will be doing a couple of others before pulling it all together into a coherent whole. they picked the two of us because of our articles for the first aen journal back in 2006. the interview is to air next thursday, will let you know the exact time once i find out.

so i spent last night wading through the many emails i'd received from various groups. there have just been too many to keep up with them. i've been thinking about doing a substantive post about it all, but so many people have been writing on the subject and so eloquently that there hardly seems to be much left to say.

while looking around, i found this:

We call upon everybody inclined to act, to participate in one way or another in the organisation of a humanitarian convoy that will leave Amman to go to Gaza via Sderot on 18 January 2009.

Several representatives of the Congress, Imams and Rabbis together with Christian leaders, will join the convoy to express our unconditional support for the Israeli and Palestinian civilian populations.

i just hope that they all get through to their intended destination safely, and that they are actually allowed to enter israel and gaza. if they make it, i wonder how many news organisations will cover this. not many, if any.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

teachers wanted

we're starting up a new project at shama that i'm quite excited about. it's a project for children rather than women, so a new area of work for us. we're setting up a homework project for refugee kids, particularly at the high school level. some of these children are struggling and sometimes going of the rails. the project seeks to provide them with support in the areas of english, maths, science and english.

we've just advertised for positions. it's a 3 hour a week job for registered teachers at secondary school level. so if you know of anyone in or around hamilton that you think might be interested, please do ask them to send an email to to get more details.

in other news, i have an interview coming up with bFM tomorrow which will be broadcast some time next week. will let you know more soon. right now, i'm off to do some background reading!

Monday, 12 January 2009

ignorance and enlightenment

well, it's finally happened. my 10 year old (ok, she'll be 11 in just over 3 months) is now taller than me. the older daughter is already a half a foot taller. it's so not fair. as a teenager, i waited desperately for the day that i'd be taller than my mum. that day has yet to arrive. and now it looks like i'll have two girls that tower over me. rats.

we sat and watched "hello dolly" tonight. it's a film i first watched when i was 5 years old, and i'm sure i've seen it a couple of times since, but many years ago. somehow it has a magical quality in my head, that my memories as a five-year-old just won't give up. it's a different matter watching it with children growing up in another era - things do date, the pace is slow & the music not what they'd prefer. still, they enjoyed the dancing, the comedy, the sets, the costumes, the colours. and we were giggling so much at the corniness of it all, but then that's part of the fun.

i've been thinking over why i jump into situations like the meeting with mr s, after che said he's "long since given up the "trying to change people's ways". buddhist principles helped. some people just are what they are. ignorance is a **far** easier road than enlightenment."

what on earth drives me into these kinds of situations that are apparently hopeless? there are a couple of stories i could share with you from the life of Muhammad, but then you'd think i was preaching at you and you probably wouldn't be that interested. so instead, i thought i'd share this more comtemporary little story i found three years ago, while researching a speech for massey's (albany) spirituality week:

Some of the first efforts to sponsor reconciliation in Northern Ireland through religious engagement and dialogue occurred in the mid-1970. One such effort took place in December 1974, when the IRA met a group of Protestants — mostly clergymen — for discussions. The talks did not bring any immediate fruits, but they planted seeds for a process that was to become reality 20 years later. Reconciliation takes a long time.

Most significantly for the peace process, a strong friendship arose and deepened from the early 1980s onwards between Rev. Ken Newell, a moderator at the Fitzroy Presbytarian Church, and Fr. Gerry Reynolds of Clonard Monastery, a Roman Catholic community in west Belfast. The friendship led to the formation of the Fitzroy Clonard Group, a fellowship which has allowed Catholics and Protestants to experience their shared faith together while candidly but respectfully exploring areas of religious differences. It has also had an important impact on political reconciliation.

This reconciliation between the two denominations began with a theological dialogue. Reverend Newell recalls:
We began meeting together, getting to know and understand one another better, to study the Bible in relation to Northern Ireland and to pray and worship as a group. By emphasizing what we had in common, a community has developed which values the support and help we can give to one another as fellow Christians and which I hope has been an example to others of a better way of living together rather that the division and sectarianism many experience.

The Clonard-Fitzroy Fellowship began with Bible study, which made everyone feel comfortable with each other. Then, the Fellowship responded to the larger political scene together, and Gerry Reynolds and Ken Newell were unafraid to discuss and pursue any political concerns. Indeed, Reynolds and Newell went even further, engaging in secret discussions with the leaders of both IRA and Loyalist paramilitary organizations. These meetings, organized by Fr. Alec Reid, a colleague of Fr. Reynolds at Clonard Monastery, had to be secret because the bombing campaign of the IRA was continuing, and the doctrine from the British Government was that there could be no talks with terrorists unless there was first a ceasefire. In this context, Newell, Reynolds and Reid took great risks in that they would have lost credibility in their own communities if their discussions had been found out.

it's a story that inspires me, and there are others i've read of collaborations between israelis and palestinians which show that despite all the ugliness in the world, there are those that have the courage to try to create something beautiful. and sometimes they succeed.

but it's not the success that is important, it's the effort. muslims believe that it's our job to make the effort, but that the end result is up to a Greater Power. and it's not by our successes that we will be judged but by our intentions and our struggles in the face of adversity. that is the true meaning of jihad - to carry on the struggle, even when in your own heart, you feel that it is hopeless and worthless. to speak the word of truth, even though you think no-one is listening. to continue making the effort, in the hope that one day you will succeed. and even if you don't, you'll have the satisfaction of knowing that you did the best you could with what you were given.

a conversation at work today brought home to me the fact that it's not people like mr s who are the greatest danger to the world. i have to give credit where credit is due: when we talked face-to-face, he was always courteous and never raised his voice nor used abusive language. he did show me respect and hospitality, and had a willingness to engage with me and to let me into his home. that is something. in fact, that is a lot.

the more dangerous people are those like my colleague who said she just didn't want to know the details about what was happening in the occupied territories. it was all too dreadful, and she preferred ignorance. oh, that's a far greater crime. to refuse to know, to carry on with your own life impervious to the sufferings of others because it makes you uncomfortable, to give up to feelings of helplessness, to raise up your hands and say "nothing we do here will make a difference anyway" as if this somehow absolves you of all responsibility. that is the attitude that really allows all the ugliness to carry on happening.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

on not giving up

i guess i'd better report back on my trip yesterday. i'd love to report that it all went wonderfully well, and that i've found a new friend and ally. but real life doesn't much work like that, does it. at least i can report that i didn't make an enemy, that the discussion was calm and that i'm sure i didn't make the situation any worse.

i had a long chat with mr s, in which he did manage to concede that all terrorists were not muslim. but he concluded that i just wasn't working hard enough, first in letting non-muslims know about the muslim positions and second in changing muslims so they wouldn't be so backward and conditioned to a midieval mindset. hmm. i suppose i could work harder, if i decided i could do without leisure time and if i gave up sleeping at night. sure i could.

he concluded this, even after i told him about all the public speaking i do, all the opinion pieces i've had published in various media. it wasn't just me, of course, the muslim community is also supposed to be working harder. even though i told him about the work that fianz had done to protect nz trade to the middle east after the danish cartoons were published here, amongst other things. of course, he hadn't heard about that which was our fault, because we weren't letting people know about our position. this, despite the fact that it was covered by pretty much all local news media at the time.

still, he wasn't all negative. he condemned fundamentalism in india from all religious groups, he condemned the publication of the danish cartoons and the destruction of the babri mosque. he talked about religious intolerance and hatred existing amongst all religious groups, and the need for more interaction between the different communities to try to overcome that. and i kept my patience, put forward my own views in as calm a way as i could.

i thought it had ended in a positive note. through our discussions, we came to a conclusion that it would probably be a good idea to develop an indian interfaith forum, which could bring together muslims, sikhs, hindus and christians. we talked about various forms and objectives such a forum might have, but didn't come to any firm conclusions. i asked him to think about it further, and to think about any of his contacts who would be interested in working on such a project.

i then had to rush off to my next engagement. i kept thinking about it during the day, and couldn't make up my mind as to whether i had totally wasted my time or not. i didn't feel, in my heart, that i'd made any kind of impact really, although the interfaith idea did interest me.

then i checked my emails last night, and sure enough, there was one from mr s headed "arab-jews amazing statistics". well this looks promising, i thought to myself. but no, it was a list of nobel prizewinners of the muslim and jewish faiths, and pointed out that there were 1.2 billion muslims in the world, they had won 7 nobel prizes (and the researchers were good, they broke down the prizes in the various categories showing zero prizes in the fields of economics and physics). then there were the list of jewish winners, all nicely categorised, who had received 129 prizes from a world population of 14 million.

it was just like a kick in the guts. was the mesage that muslims are just ignorant savages; that we deserve to be hated? or what? i felt like i had totally wasted my time, and the enthusiasm for the interfaith idea just ebbed away. mostly, i think that i just don't have the intestinal fortitude to deal with this stuff. i don't have the strenght to do this, and to do it again and again, until i win over those who want to hate me. i don't have the diplomatic skills to negotiate these waters. i don't, i can't, it's too much, it's too hard.

well, i've continued to think over this, and decided that there is a more charitable explanation of mr s's behaviour. his message to me, above the list of nobel prize winners, was:

I think that is the best way to win the world,by spreading knowledge and by default,ignorance will vanish and so will may of our prejudices. That goes for all the religions and it is something to mull over by the so-called sentries of all the religions. Let us stop finding faults in others and try to grow all our communities.

i think maybe what he was trying to say was that there is need to put more efforts into education at all levels in the muslim world, and who am i to argue that. it's a definite need, when there's so much poverty in so many muslim countries, and especially for those under occupation, attack or civil war.

i still don't know whether my visit made a difference or not, whether it was worth the effort or not. but i do know that doing nothing is not an option. there's enough of that happening already.

so i'll think more about the indian interfaith group. i'll talk to people i know over the coming weeks and months, i'll see if i can generate any interest. the trick is to get the hardliners involved, i'm not interested in creating more of the type of interfaith activity we have in this country where it's like-minded people continually talking to each other. there must be a way to get those with extreme positions to the table and talking to each other.

i don't know if it'll come to anything, and a lot will depend on my own energy levels which rise and fall, and my ability to bring others on board. i'll let you know if anything develops.

my next engagement that day was the "very angry" gaza protest in auckland. yes, i took part in the march, no i did not take a lead in the protest and i didn't throw any shoes or burn any flags. i can't say i agree with everything that happened there but it was the only protest happening nearby, and as i say, doing nothing is not an option. i really didn't know the shoe-throwing thing was going to happen until i got there.

anyway, the real positive bit of the whole thing was when john minto thanked the members of the jewish community who had come to take part in the protest, for their stand in protesting against the actions of the israeli government. and the funniest bit was seeing the back of national party hoardings being used for protest slogans. while mr mccully has been stumbling and hesitating in getting out a firm national party position, ms judith collins has actively helped to protest against what's happening in gaza - without her knowledge i'm sure, but really, how did the protesters come to have national party hoardings?

and a positive note to end with, i got to finally meet wriggly who is now a 1 year old. he's totally gorgeous & adorable, and we got to spend some quality time together. in fact i might go so far as to say we became good friends, at least for an hour or so. he'll have forgotten me by now but i must say, there is nothing like a happy, gurgling baby to make you forget about all the troubles in the world.

Friday, 9 January 2009

one little step

in case you missed it, i posted again yesterday at the hand mirror.

tomorrow i have a pretty busy day. in the morning, i'll be making a visit that has an interesting history. as i mentioned a few days ago, i received a rather nasty viral email from 2 sources that ended up being a bunch of lies. once i found out the truth, i decided to send it out to every single address i could find in each of the two emails. which i did, painstakingly cutting and copying all the addresses, and expressing my extreme disappointment that this had been forwarded to so many people without anyone bothering to check the facts.

well, in a roundabout way, i ended up getting an email from the very fellow who had written something not so nice, which had upset me at the end of last year. quite a coincidence. and his email to me was full of lovely things like "One question that is often raised is 'Agreed that all muslims are not terrorists but then why all the terrorists are muslims?' That is a very valid question..."

i've decided that the best way to tackle it is to go and visit this man personally, and see if i can't build some bridges. it may be like pushing water uphill, but i'm going to at least try. a hindu friend of mine asked me tonight why i wasting my time on this. i don't see it as a waste of time, but rather as teaspoons. as taking one step at a time to try and reduce misconceptions, antagonism, hatred, whatever.

the danger is, of course, that i'll lose my temper or say the wrong thing and that i'll make the situation worse rather than better. a distinct possibility, but not enough to deter me from trying. the world is not going to become a better place unless each of us makes an individual effort to change it.

so, wish me luck.

another step that looks pretty promising is the new muslim-jewish journal. now this is the kind of collaboration that has the potential to lead to wonderful things.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

why wait two years?

i've posted today at the hand mirror (and about time too!).

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

condemning violence (yet again)

as promised yesterday, below is my response to the following letter sent to indian newslink:

Muslims in New Zealand go on demonstration and protest march when there is an attack on Palestine by the Israelis. There was a major terrorist attack in India’s financial capital, with about 200 people dead and several hundred people injured. Yet, none of the so-called Muslim leaders have uttered a word. Anjum Rahman, who takes a lead in protests, has been silent. Is this because she does not consider the lives of non-Muslims important? What hypocrisy!

i could have responded that i've never taken a lead in any protest other than one in february 2003, against the iraq war. or i could have questioned whether the writer had been vocal when muslims were being slaughtered in gujrat in 2002, or anywhere else for that matter. or whether he made similar demands of other religious groups when violence was perpetrated by them.

but of course there is nothing to be gained by replying in kind, and i know in my heart that this is not the kind of person i want to be. remembering the quranic injunction to return good for evil and gandhi's dictum that an eye-for-an-eye will make the world go blind (as well as the good advice of my friends), good sense ruled in the end and this is the piece that finally got published:

Every time there is an attack by people calling themselves Muslims in any part of the world, calls are made for condemnation from individual Muslims and Muslim organisations. From a multitude of associations, mosques, theological groups and academia, the condemnation is quick and almost universal, yet somehow rarely reported in the media. No matter how often or how loudly we condemn the killing of innocents, the impression remains amongst some that Muslims have remained silent.

Whenever I have the opportunity, I strongly reject violence as a solution to any dispute. I have done so many times in the past, and will continue to do so in the future. I’m outraged by the recent attacks in Mumbai killing Indians and foreigners, Hindus and Muslims, Christians and Jews amongst others, as I am by attacks in any part of the world.

The tragedy has a personal aspect for me, as I have both close and distant relatives living in various parts of the city. If I were to add them up, they would number in the hundreds. One distant relative lives in Colaba, just a five minute walk away from the Taj.

I offer my condolences to those who have suffered in this latest attack, and to those living in New Zealand who have been personally affected by it. I understand your fear for your loved ones and your anger, because I share it.

I’m proud of my Indian heritage, and of India as one of the great democracies in the world. It’s time that we Indians in this country unite to address the communal violence that has blotted India ’s copybook. It’s essential that all of us condemn all acts of violence against any section of society, and take steps no matter where we live, to work together against the forces that seek to divide us.

I try to play a small part by putting my energies into various interfaith activities in New Zealand at the national and local level. I was a key organiser of the 4th National Interfaith Forum in 2007. Last month, I was on a panel with members of the Baha’i and Hindu faiths (amongst others) at the centenary of the Theosophical Society in Hamilton . I have worked with a prominent Jewish leader to explore the Palestinian question, in a respectful but honest manner. I make every attempt to build bridges with other communities, as it is my firm belief that hostility can only be reduced through positive interaction.

There is a major commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Hamilton on 10 December. As part of a silent march that day, I will be specifically acknowledging the victims of the tragedy in Mumbai, as will many others.

However, I’d like to go further than this, and ask others of Indian origin to join with me in seeking ways to resolve issues in a positive manner. Please contact me via this newspaper if you wish to pursue this goal.

Monday, 5 January 2009

spreading lies & hate

so it's like this. i come from my holiday to the screeds of emails in my inbox, which i sat and cleared through last night. in amongst these, two different people forwarded me a set of photographs, purporting to show an eight year old iranian child having his arm crushed by a car, for the crime of having stolen bread. preceding the awful photographs are two slides which read thus:

An 8 years old child was caught in a market in Iran for stealing bread.

In the name of Islam he is being punished, his arm will be crushed by a car. He will lose forever the possibility to use his arm again.

Is this a religion of peace and love?

underneath, is a translation in a script i don't recognise (it's definitely not arabic, farsi, urdu, hindi, tamil, greek or russian). then follow the graphic photographs of a young boy having his arm run over by a car. it really is gruesome. the first person to forward this had the courtesy to send it only to me and to ask:

I felt sick at heart to receive this. Please look at it and let me know what you think. Does this actually happen in Iran? It surely can't be a mock-up.

the second person to send it to me was an acquaintance who had included me in a long list of others and had merely forwarded on the email. in both emails, i could see the lists of people to whom the photographs had been forwarded. all in all, counting up the addresses in both emails, there were 178 people who had received this message.

last night i wrote to the first person questioning the authenticity of the photographs, and in my mind the following questions arose:

1. are the photographs real or could they have been photoshopped?
2. if we assume they are real, is there any proof from the photographs that this happened in iran?
3. if it did happen in iran, is there any proof provided that this activity was in any way state-sanctioned?
4. is there any proof that the people in the photographs are muslims?
5. is there any proof provided that muslims around the world would agree with such an abomination, and that this is somehow representative of islam?

but none of the people who had forwarded the photographs had bothered to ask such questions (except of course the first person to send it to me). i also forwarded the photographs to a couple of muslim friends, one of whom sent me this reply today:

The pictures are real, but the description is FALSE. They are actually street performers who do this for a show. Both and websites confirm this is the case. (Snoops and Truthorfiction are both excellent sites that independently check all types of rumours). You can see the boy with his arm intact and in good condition sitting after the performance.

The descriptions can be accessed here (Please read the explanations that are included after pictures):

It is unfortunate that this is circulating again. It started in 2005 and gets brought up time and time again where there is some conflict or issue with Muslims in the world.

Would you please send this back to your friend and provide the information, and also ask that she send the information on to the person who forwarded it to her and that she ask that person to do the same etc so that this sad rumour that is spread to cause turmoil and distrust is put to an end.

so there you go. the whole thing is a fake. some nasty person decided to malign iran and all muslims by creating this message and sending it around. but what sickened me was that so many, many people were receiving this, and not only accepting it without question but forwarding it on to scores of their friends. in just 2 emails, there were 178 names.

which means that the people who forwarded this hated muslims enough to believe it was true, without even questioning the authenticity or accuracy of the message.

needless to say, i got very little sleep last night thinking about it all. i received a similar hate email doing the rounds towards the end of last year, which left me crying most of the day. prior to that, i had an email from the editor of indian newslink, telling me he had received letters to the editor complaining that local muslims leaders had been silent about the attacks in mumbai. one of these letters mentioned me by name, so i was given a right of reply. i'm truly grateful to venkat raman, not only for giving me the opportunity to reply, but for allowing me the luxury of 500 words to do so. i'll post that piece up tomorrow.

but this stuff affects me, and it affects me badly. i find it increasingly difficult to deal with all the hate in the world directed towards muslims. i find myself frustrated and feeling powerless and helpless to fight it all. i hate having to bite down on my anger and to continue to be diplomatic when all i want to do is scream in rage and frustration. it's so much easier to respond in kind, and i could have done it, but i'm lucky that i have some very good friends who gave me excellent advice and helped me to control my temper. i know it's all for the greater good, but every time i have to swallow my anger, i feel like i lose a little piece of my soul.

added to that was the death of my good friend raewyn and the depressingly bad policies being put in place without consultation by the new government, and i found that i just didn't want to face the world. hence the withdrawal from blogging, and from every social interaction that wasn't completely necessary.

the holiday has done me a world of good, but to come back to the crap above and to the mess in gaza is just disheartening. still, i'll do my best to keep on fighting (metaphorically speaking, for you suspicious types), if not for myself then for the sake of my children. in the hope that one day the world really will be a better place.

Sunday, 4 January 2009

i'm back!

i'm sorry for such a long absence. i may explain myself further in later days, but i did get into a pretty bad headspace in december for various reasons. however, since then, i've been away for a 10-day holiday with my kids in the far north. i've had a project over the last couple of summers to show my girls the country of their birth, which i have neglected to do. i've shown them europe, asia and australia but they had never been to the south island. i rectified that last summer, and this year decided we should explore the far north.

and what fun we had! i deliberately kept away from the internet, from phones and from any kind of news, whether it was papers or television. it was so nice to drop out of everything for a while, to have no demands on my time and no requests for information or assistance, no complaints or negativity. truly bliss. but i'm back, back to my normal life and the real world but feeling much more ready to face it.

before i get into any serious topics (like gaza, for instance), i thought i'd post today about things i've learnt from the holiday.

one is that you shouldn't go from paihia to russell by road on a rainy day. in fact it's probably not good to do so on a fine day. but on a winding, mountainous, gravel and clay road that is about one & a half lanes, and if you suffer from vertigo, it is definitely not a good idea. take the ferry. i was, of course, given the same advice but ignored it. so we had quite an adventure, with me driving at about 30km with my hand on the horn most of the way (the latter was just in case there was a driver coming the other way around a hairpin bend, but i can report that no-one else was stupid enough to use the road that day!)

two is that matauri bay is one of the most beautiful beaches in the country. bayly's beach is not at all bad either, but a lot more challenging. there is absolutely nothing more frightening but exhilerating than seeing a hugh wall of water coming at you, and managing to jump over it. i totally love swimming at the sea. and we are totally a sight on the beach, i swear we get more people looking at us in our full sleeved t-shirts, trousers and headscarves than all the bikini-clad babes showing off their curves! if you want to get noticed, it's definitely worth a try... but i make sure that we never go to deep with all that clothing, and we do swim between the flags, so don't worry, we were totally conscious of being safe.

three is that kauri are totally cool, and it's such a pity that our native forests were so badly pillaged by early settlers. we saw tane mahuta, and took a walk through trounson park, and it was beautiful. i've now become very enamoured of trees, and now think that the cutting down of a large tree is murder. and kauri are definitely the jewel of the forest. i wonder if one would survive in my back yard...

four is that sand surfing is definitely not for me. the coming down is fun, but climbing up a steep sandy hill is pure torture when you're totally unfit like moi. but at least i can say i gave it a go.

five is that the shops in whangarei all close by 5pm on christmas eve. so if you think that you might buy some late christmas presents, you're only option (i'm not kidding) is the warehouse. the town centre was totally dead at 5.30, except for a couple of pubs spilling out on to the pavement. even subway was winding down by 7pm. us hamiltonians were feeling like metropolitan city-dwellers in a provincial country town, and that's saying something!

six is that history is very different depending on whose telling it. we had one version (the maori version) from our guide vern at waitangi, bless his soul. and we had another version altogether from the woman at the mission in kerikeri. no guesses for which version i preferred! in fact, you can see the proof next to my name in the visitors book at kemp house, if you're passing by that way in the near future. we visited the kauri museum at matakohe (?) which is also very settler focussed. i actually was really sad that there was so much settler history preserved yet comparatively little maori history preserved in a similar way. maybe i just didn't go to the right places, but then there were no brochures promoting maori historical sites in any of the motels we stayed at.

i know that there are cultural differences, that maori history is much more of an oral history, that the buildings weren't made out of stone but of more temporary materials so were possibly not likely to last for hundreds of years. or maybe they've decided their history is not for sale, so they don't do that kind of tourist activity. who knows. i know that there were signposts for marae on almost every country road, something we don't see here in the waikato. maybe i should have just driven to some of them and talked to the locals, except that i don't know if that's an appropriate thing to do or even whether there would have been anyone there to talk to. they might have all been down at the beach!

and finally, i'm so glad i don't live in auckland. the traffic coming back yesterday from dargaville to auckland was pretty awful. i guess we're sheltered from those kinds of jams here in hamilton, which is why i love living here. not too big, not too small. as you might guess, i really am glad to be back home.