Tuesday, 31 May 2011

campaigning for MMP in print

i have a very busy week this week, with meetings on almost every night, sometimes two in one night. i expect the next month to be extremely busy - things are starting to catch up with me. it doesn't help that hamilton is the venue for some exciting events in the coming year ie the diversity forum and the next national interfaith forum. it also doesn't help that there's an election.

last night i was busy writing up a piece on MMP, to be published by indian newslink. i always appreciate their support - they have been willing to publish anything i send them. i'm also adding the website for the campaign for MMP onto my blogroll, though it's not strictly a blog. but given the big money is behind the campaign to ditch MMP, we have to do everything we can to form a strong opposition to them. if you can, please also join the facebook page to keep up with the latest updates & press releases.

i've also got a couple of posts up at the hand mirror: one on some dogwhistling racism by sky city casinos, one on the pressure being put on whitcoulls employees to sign away their employment rights, and another on the impact of breach of suppression orders via twitter on victims of sexual assault.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

glorification of the empire

i've been listening to bits and pieces from barack obama's visit to england. and i have to say it's been making me extremely angry. most of it has been two imperial powers gloating on the hold they have over the rest of the world. the language is arrogant and based on some pretty large misconceptions.

just as an example, in the queen's speech at the formal dinner, ms windsor expressed her thanks for america stepping in twice last century to "save the free & democratic world". let us think about the context of those two events, namely world wars I & II. at the time the americans stepped in (& i include both wars here), britain might have been free and democratic but its colonies most definitely were not.

this was a country that was happy to be a coloniser, happy to deny indigenous peoples the right to govern their own lands and to benefit their own natural & human resources. many of these colonies have faced extreme poverty as result of colonisation, some of the indigenous peoples have become minorities in their own lands with extremely poor statistics in terms of income, health & life expectancy. no-one in britain, let alone the unelected monarch, has the right to describe that country at the time of the world wars as free & democratic. it's an outright lie, and if i'd had any respect for the royal family before, i'd certainly have lost it all now. of course i can't possibly have any respect for an institution that played a key role in the process of colonisation across the world anyway, so yeah.

mr obama continued the performance today with his speech to the english parliament. here's the text, you can read it for yourself. if you don't want to wade through the whole thing, here's a taste:

And yet, as this rapid change has taken place, it's become fashionable in some quarters to question whether the rise of these nations will accompany the decline of American and European influence around the world. Perhaps, the argument goes, these nations represent the future, and the time for our leadership has passed.

That argument is wrong. The time for our leadership is now. It was the United States and the United Kingdom and our democratic allies that shaped a world in which new nations could emerge and individuals could thrive. And even as more nations take on the responsibilities of global leadership, our alliance will remain indispensable to the goal of a century that is more peaceful, more prosperous and more just.

yes, i know that he's there to suck up to britain & the british public, to strengthen the alliance & be all diplomatic. even so, it's hard to read the speech & not feel angry at what has been missed out. the countries invaded and occupied, the numbers killed or dispossessed, the actions taken to promote strategic interests rather than any high-minded values of the kinds he speaks about. no recognition of the aspirations that have been suppressed, the nations that have been split arbitrarily and torn apart (refer, the indian subcontinent, africa, the middle east ie most of the world).

ok, i'm going to have to stop, or i'll go on all night. i am so totally over "empire". which is why i should definitely be queen of nz. goodness me, if y'all will put up with that lot, you should be equally happy to fund me.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

negotiating differences

so i spent the day in bed yesterday, nursing a sore throat. managed to get through work today. after work, i'm starting to feel paralysed by the number of things i have to do. there's so much that i don't know where to start.

i went with a couple of waikato interfaith council members to talk to a university class. they were 4th year students studying communications, and it was more of a conversation than a lecture, around issues of working across faiths and cultures.

one interesting question was around the fact that people from different religions will invariably have differences, and that will always be a barrier to getting along. but this is the beauty of diversity: it teaches you to live with difference. my closest friend in my childhood was of the hindu faith (there weren't any muslims of my age around to be friends with anyway), and so i learnt how to negotiate that path very early on.

it's a matter of respecting and valuing the person, and accepting them as a whole package. we never had religious debates, though we would explain bits and pieces about our respective faiths with each other. you just learn to get along, really. it's very similar to the situation i'm in with one of the NGOs i volunteer with. i'm on the board with a sitting national MP, and though i hate absolutely everything he stands for, on this particular board we end up on the same side of every issue. i have to respect his experience and what he brings to the table, even if i can't respect his politics!

some links: i posted at the hand mirror yesterday on some parenting research reported in the fairfax papers, and today about some developments in saudi arabia. also, here are some links to a couple of muslim women's blogs that i've been directed to.

Monday, 23 May 2011

awkward moments in prayer

i've been a bad blogger again over the last week, although i did put up a couple of posts at the hand mirror: one filled with links to budget-related stuff and another on the campaign by carers to get a better deal from the government. there was a good interview on this topic this morning, on radio nz (nine to noon, 9.25am).

i loved this article by wajahat ali (who i last quoted when i wrote about SATC 2), mostly because it's so familiar. most muslims living in the west would have similar experiences of trying to find a place to pray when you're away from home & away from the mosque. i too have prayed in a dressing room, in sylvia park, when caught short of time & space. i've found a special place at westfield shopping centre (hamilton) away from prying eyes, which i've used more than once. then there are the parking lots, the landings on staircases, the rest areas on public highways, between the trees outside seddon park or at the hamilton gardens, the parents' room at wellington airport, the back seat of the car if i'm really desperate, and sometimes just out in plain public because there is no other choice.

unlike mr ali, i don't try to keep out of the public gaze because i'm afraid of hostility - i've never felt unsafe because i pray. it's more that i don't like to be stared at, or to have someone ask me questions when i know i can't reply. it's the fact that i'll find it harder to concentrate on my prayer and fulfill the main reason behind it ie that spiritual connection and inner peace that is at the heart of prayer. and also, i don't really want to feel like an exhibit at the circus or to look like i'm showing off. so yeah, privacy tends to be an important requirement for prayer.

oh, and i love the BIP (before iPhone) acronym - even though i don't have an iphone & don't intend to get one any time soon. and as usual, avoid comments on the piece, some of them aren't pretty.

also in my travels through the e-world, i found this piece co-authored by sahar ghumkhor. it's an intelligent & challenging look at the death of osama bin laden and the rise of islamophobia:

What is ignored in the rush to step over the dead body of bin Laden for the hope of a new beginning in the Islam-West relationship is the way his death has been seen as a sacrifice for reconciliation. Should thinking people be so quick to accept that the tensions Muslims have faced since the appearance of bin Laden was entirely as a result of one man’s actions? Or are the discourses emerging about his death more about what prominent Australian anthropologist Ghassan Hage elsewhere has described as ‘colonial necrophilia’ - a pathology involving a type of relation with those killed socially or politically. In other words, those who resist the imposed narrative must be killed, pacified, their voice silenced, in order for an ‘acceptable’ historical account to emerge. Whatever the case, now that Osama is dead, what does it mean for the fractured relationship between Muslims and the broader West?


The erroneous assumption that Osama’s death marks the decline in Islamophobia and its’ battering of Islam and marginalisation of Muslims throughout the West, needs to be revised. Reports continue to show anti-Muslim incidents in the U.S. Two Muslim clerics were escorted off a plane recently, and the vandalism of a Muslim community centre spray-painted with the words “Osama today, Islam tomorrow”.

Furthermore, Islamophobia existed before the events of 11 September 2001. In the year that saw the assassination of bin Laden, we have also witnessed a feverish rise in Islamophobia: the banning of veils and minarets in Europe, violent acts against Muslims around the world, and an incessant demand for Muslims to condemn any acts of terrorism involving Muslims.

i'd really recommend the whole thing.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

waiting for the budget

it turns out that the man haranguing me at the meeting on monday is an ex-waikato times reporter who wasn't even a member of the group i was speaking to. he'd gate-crashed the meeting and come especially prepared to have a go at me. nice. it really bothers me that people like this have been part of our media, but what can you do. i mean, garth george. need i say more?

i've put up a couple of posts at the hand mirror: one about the rural sector centred around tax, prices & the unethical behaviour of the banking industry, and another about media treatment of the woman allegedly assaulted by the IMF head.

i see the federated farmers are trying to defend their members who have been paying very little tax over the last couple of years. funnily enough, they make no mention of farmers changing the livestock valuation method they use in order to get a pretty favourable tax position. many farmers have done this, so that they are showing losses when they have a significant level of earnings. and even with the drought in 2008, the rise in the fonterra payout that year meant that farmers didn't suffer too much financially.

budget day tomorrow, and i'm not looking forward to it. it's unlikely that we'll see any measures to increase government revenue. just more cuts to be rammed through, with very little thought to the long-term consequences. we can haz nu guvmint plz?

Monday, 16 May 2011

mission accomplished

i've had a bit of a break from posting, parting forced due to blogger being down last week. i found that really frustrating, but i'm sure i'm not the only one.

today i gave a speech to a "sea of faith" group in hamilton. it was during work hours, so included mostly senior citizens. i expected it to be challenging, as these things often are, but there was one fellow who came prepared to harangue me. he gave quite a little rant, full of the usual nonsense about islam being incompatible with freedom. but then he went off on a tangent, and blamed muslims for forcing halal meat on the general population, and forcing everyone to pay for halal certification which funds are then apparently used to build mosques and propagate the faith.

i listened to him quite calmly, because i knew once he finally shut up, i could give him a very good response. but the group of people there were quite insulted on my behalf and made some attempts to shut him down. i did advocate for him to be able to say his piece, mostly because i wanted the chance to respond to it all, and to show the ignorance and bigotry for what it was. i guess it's a strategy called giving a person enough rope to hang themselves (oops, a violence metaphor, just proves all of us are terrorists, right?!).

on the subject of freedom, i gave him a little history lesson of the plurality of islamic society under many rulers, and the refuge sought by communities fleeing from persecution in europe and managing to live peaceful life under muslim rule.

as for the halal issue, i had to ask him who was forcing our meat producers to sell to malaysia, kuwait and other muslim countries? it's not like anyone has held a gun to the heads of sheep & beef farmer or the meat industry organisations and forced them to sell. nz as a country was forced to divesify because mother england turned her back on us in order to enter the EEC.

it's not like these countries need nz meat - the australians and south americans would love to take over our halal meat trade & the only people who would suffer are nz'ers. i told him that if he were to tell any farmer that they should no longer sell to a muslim market, he was likely to get a slap on the face (oops, second violence metaphor, this is looking bad). in any case, i don't think he'd get a consensus from nz'ers to reduce our standard of living because he personally objects to eating halal meat.

in order to sell to these markets, plants needed certification. the buying countries insist on certification, which includes spot checks on the halal plants throughout the country amongst other things. this is a service that costs money to provide. it requires an infrastructure in terms of a functioning business premisis, management and organisation. the meat industry is being charged for a vital service, and as a private business, i can't see the problem with there being a profit component. we don't complain when any other private enterprise makes a profit, but somehow a muslim enterprise is supposed to take none?

i should have told him that if he wanted to be sure he wasn't eating halal meat, he should stick to eating pork. but that would have been facetious.

actually, i can understand the thing about not wanting to eat meat that has had some kind of religious process or ritual involved with it. but to blame the muslim community for somehow forcing this on everyone? not so much. the solution is simple: demand the meat industry to provide adequate and accurate labelling on their meat. i don't think that would be too difficult, though i bet the industry would complain. and i know there are plants that don't do halal slaughter, becasue they also process pork at the same plant. i can't imagine it would be too difficult for those plants to provide labelling on their meat.

the problem would be that the plants who do halal slaughter wouldn't want to be losing out on the local market. and i think we all know that there are plenty of people who would avoid meat they knew was halal, not because of their personal religious beliefs, but out of sheer bigotry.

in any case, i don't know if i convinced this particular person that his view of the world was a little skewed. but i did get a lot of positive feedback from the other people who had attended. at least they all got to hear answers to the stuff they probably hear in discussions every day and accept without question. at least they were presented with a different view of the world and challenged out of their comfort zones. in which, i can say "mission accomplished" (oops, does that count as a violent metaphor...?)

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

in which i link to stuff

i've had a particularly difficult couple of days dealing with some issues, as well as trying to support other people in relation to the same. so not much to say for today. i wrote a post yesterday at the hand mirror about how difficult it is to take the step of invoking the justice system even when you have been wronged. there will be another post up in the morning about the photograph of the white house situation room, with hilary clinton and another woman being erased. well, it isn't exactly about that, but... it's hard to explain. you'll just have to read it!

some other links my facebook friends have alerted me to:
that's enough depressing stuff for one day. hope you have a good night's sleep!

Sunday, 8 May 2011

learning more about the treaty

is it time for another mother's day post already? i can't believe the year has gone by so fast!

while i'm tempted to wax lyrical on the subject of motherhood, i've been constrained by this guest post over at the hand mirror, by someone with fertility problems. it has given me such a lot to think about. how casually we can ignore the suffering of others, or not even think to question what impact our actions might have in a wider context. it's one thing for my children to show their appreciation when we're at home, but another thing to have this whole public & very commercial blitz that values some women, devalues others, and hurts plenty more.

in other news, i attended a treaty of waitangi workshop on saturday. i'd already done some treaty training as part of the taku manawa programme, but it certainly didn't feel like enough. i've also been lucky enough to study 7th form history, which included a 6-week component on nz history focusing on the 19th century. so i have more education than the majority of nz'ers just through my choices in school education.

i remember being appalled at the time, as we went through the betrayals and injustices, all done legally of course, as is the tradition of colonisers. my teenage self had trouble dealing with the reality of our history, and the ignorance of our own people in regards to it. that ignorance fuelling the unwillingness to set things right, or to even accept that they benefitted from the injustices which have enduring long-term implications.

it saddens me that i didn't know about the treatment of dutch migrants till about 2006, and nothing about the chinese poll tax until the apology by helen clark. these are critical parts of our history, and yet were so hidden from popular discourse. that 30,000 dutch migrants were made to change their names, not allowed to gather together in numbers, and prevented from teaching their children their native language in an attempt at forced integration is just so appalling to hear. and i heard it from a child of these migrants, who spoke about the impact it had on him, and his community. that dutch nz'ers are now reclaiming their heritage and culture is hardly a surprise, and surely there is a lesson in this for all of us.

of course there was the person who was of the view that nz would, in the fullness of time, develop a single culture through interbreeding and intermingling. this would not need any action by the state, but was simply a natural progression. he's right of course, if we leave things to their natural progression, the minority culture will be subsumed by the majority culture. that's why i think there's a place for state support of a culture that may otherwise die out, particularly one that is native to this land and nowhere else. the treaty is the document that creates an obligation on the crown to do so.

so yes, it was a very useful if frustrating (but only a couple of times) session. mostly i did it because i needed a refresher but also because, with the return of don brash, i suspect there are going to be a lot more political discussions based around the treaty in the coming few months. for which i want to make sure i am as informed as i can be, particularly from the perspective from the side that has been wronged in this partnership.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

this isn't right

first a couple of links to my latest posts at the hand mirror. yesterday i talked about the awful body-shaming programmes that are on tv these days, and today i have a post about a friend of mine who has received a national award for being an exceptional international student.

second, i'd like to agree with this post at the standard about the latest furore over hone harawira. i really recommend you read the whole thing. it's appalling the way he has been misquoted by media and bloggers alike. i'm looking at you trevor mallard & shane jones: surely you can take the trouble to go to the original source and make sure that the man has been correctly quoted. but having failed to do that, i'd at least expect a correction on your blog and an admission that the reporting has been mischievous and incorrect. but failing even that, you could at least delete the lie from the herald from the post.

i understand the need to not support the mana party, just in the same way that labour never supported the maori party in 2005 and 2008. supporting these parties means betrayal of your own maori candidates in the maori electorates, and it gives people another reason not to give labour maori candidates their electorate vote. realistically, as long as labour is competing in the maori electorates, they will be at loggerheads with other parties who also compete.

the national party doesn't even bother to stand electorate candidates in these seats, so can afford to be more conciliatory towards both the maori & the mana party - if their core voting base would allow them to be so. with the return of dr brash and his particular style of nastiness, that core voting base will be a lot more divisive.

however, even though i understand the politics at play here, i can't support the promotion of deliberate misinformation. if you're going to attack mr harawira, at least attack him for what he actually said. i expect better from my team.

it's still a long way out from the election, and as i've said in posts earlier this year, i'm apprehensive about the consequences of political rhetoric on minority groups. right now, it's looking a lot worse than i imagined, and it's certainly not going to be getting better any time soon. especially when almost all parties on the political spectrum are willing to be part of the hate.

even the greens are conspicuously silent today - they can't afford to speak out because the mana party is in direct competition with the same set of voters. to support mana is to support their core opposition.

so who is left to speak for truth, reason and reasonableness? anyone? anyone at all?

Monday, 2 May 2011

on security matters

i'm incredibly exhausted today. i had a board meeting after work for one of my NGO's & then went to vist a co-board member of another NGO who has just lost her husband. it was a sudden death, and of course she is shattered and yet remarkably resilient. she has good support around her, and of course i wish i could do more to help.

so yes, not really in the mood for getting into the main news of the day, being the killing of one osama bin laden. i'm not one of those who are celebrating, and not because i'm any kind of supporter for mr bin laden. rather, it saddens me that we should celebrate anyone's death. regardless of what it was, it is still a human life that was taken. taken without due process of law, without presentation of evidence in the public sphere, without any semblance of justice. when we dispense with justice, no matter how wicked we think the defendant is, we give up a core part of our humanity.

we are seeing an increasing tendency towards targetted assassinations, something that has been practiced by the israeli government for many years, and it isn't right. i know most people will write me off as a either a terrorist-sympathiser or a painty-waisted pinko communist, but i simply can not agree with summary executions of this nature. everyone knows it's not going to end terrorism nor make the world the slightest bit safer, and is nothing but an act of vengeance. so why all the celebrations?

but even if there were a capture and a trial, i expect it would be the farce that was saddam hussein's trial. a trial where key evidence that would be damning for certain governments is kept hidden, when justice isn't used to shine a light but to suppress the truth. a lose-lose situation for all concerned.

on saturday, i went to a security forum organised by the office of ethnic affairs, in conjunction with the federation of islamic associations of nz. it was attended by some pretty high level public servants from customs, immigration (border control), police, the nz defence force & the SIS.

first of all, kudos to these people for turning up and taking the heat. the questions and experiences that were put to them were forthright, the frustration and anger felt by the community was clearly visible. i think it was really important for these managers to understand the impact the behaviour of their staff has on communities. i can say that all of them were receptive, only one was overtly defensive, and they were really willing to engage and take action based on what they heard.

the SIS man faced questions regarding the recent sunday star times article regarding someone they had paid to infiltrate the muslim community. that they were as frustrated by that piece as our community were is pretty understandable. the community was absolutely clear in terms of our position: our mosques are open, we welcome anyone. if any agency wants to send people in under cover to gather intelligence information, then we have no problem with that. but we would have a major problem if said person was indulging in entrapment, to try to create a situation where none existed.

of course we were assured that no such entrapment had occurred, and that it was against the law. the thing is that a security strategy is going to be that much more successful if you have key community leaders and the majority of the community on-side. that way, if there is any suspicious stuff happening, community members are much more likely to report. going on overseas experiences in western countries, they do report when there is a good relationship with government agencies.

the department that got the most questioning was customs, and there is no doubt in my mind that there is some shoddy treatment happening by some customs staff. it was really useful to have discussion around the basis on which people are likely to be stopped, and i think everyone understands the need for stringent security measures. but no-one accepts that people who are detained at the airport should be treated rudely, especially when there is no evidence of wrong-doing.

all in all, i think it was an extremely useful session. i can imagine how gruelling it must be for the public servants in the hot seat, but they not only sat there and responded reasonably, they also stayed back and talked to indivduals after the meeting was over. full marks to OEA for their part in organising this event. from their responses to various questions, ours was not the only community they have been to, as they assured us that they have faced similar questions from other communities.