Monday, 12 November 2012

thank you

so it's been a couple of days since i wrote my complaint, and i've sent it on to some of my networks.  while i was personally convinced about how awful mr cox's piece was, i wasn't as certain that everyone else would see it that way.

i have to say though, that i have been humbled by the support i've received on this.  so many people have contacted me to let me know that they are completely appalled by the piece and by the decision to publish it.  i've been copied into various responses to the paper, and yes, i have to say that i had tears in my eyes as i've read some of the emails.

it's hard to describe how it feels to be the target of an attack like mr cox's, which on the surface appears to be supporting muslim women, but in substance lumps them in with the violence perpetrated against them.  how to describe how awful it feels to be the subject of another's contempt, and such public contempt in a medium that reaches far and wide into the community of people with whom i must interact on a daily basis.  how can i explain the powerlessness to know that mr cox has the freedom to regularly express himself in my local paper with little apparent restraint, while i will have to go to the editor and plead for that same privilege, and hope i am able to get it for just one week.  how can i put across the rage and frustration, the turmoil inside me, when i read a perspective about me that is so patently untrue and falsely argued?

for me this stuff is triggering.  not so much of violence against me but of the emotional devastation that i & my contemporaries lived through in the aftermath of 9/11, the bali bombings and the attacks in london.  while feeling outrage and incredible sadness at the loss of innocent life and the destruction of property, i felt a real and present danger to my physical safety.  there were days when i felt afraid to go outside of my own house, and only the fact that i needed to turn up to work in order to earn my pay forced me to crawl out from under the blankets.  i felt ashamed to face the people i would come across that day, thinking that they would link me and my beliefs to these awful events overseas, because that was the primary narrative coming across various media outlets across the country.

i think the years between 2002 & 2004 were the worst, the most emotionally draining, the most terrifying.  i was fortified at that time by a group of people who were determined to take action and work on changing the media narrative.  i don't know that we were successful, but we tried in various ways: by making complaints (the most successful i remember were against radio nz for linda clark's series of interviews with jim vietch), by visiting media leaders and trying to explain the effect this kind of coverage was having on our community, by seeking spaces in the media to have our voices heard.

and to their credit, people in the media did respond.  opinion pieces began to be published in major newspapers like the herald, the christchurch press, the sunday star times.  we began to see the leadership of the muslim community being asked to comment on issues that related to the muslim community.  there was more balance and less hate, more attempts at accuracy and less crass generalisation.  not all the time, for sure.  there was still a lot of crap.  but certainly in the last few years, i have personally felt a little less like i belong to a community under siege.

it couldn't have happened without the support of some key people in the media.  i'd like to name some of them now.  simon collins of the herald has always been excellent and very supportive.  ali ikram, formerly of tvnz but now with tv3, again opened doors for us and is always willing to engage.  bryce johns, previously editor of the waikato times and now the editor of the herald on sunday, has never once turned me down when i've asked for an opinion piece to be published and was incredibly positive last year in covering the activities of young musim women in the waikato.  the team at afternoons at radio nz were receptive when i contacted them many years ago, highlighting the lack of diversity on "the panel", and they allowed me to appear on that show.  the team at pacific crews, who chose me to be the first person to appear on their "my God" series, and who have been incredibly supportive ever since. to willie jackson and the eye-to-eye team who gave me the chance to explain the effects of hate speech on one of their shows, and who were always so encouraging and supportive.

and russell brown, who was responsible for my first ever media appearance.  i'd been following his blog regularly, and wrote to him with a link that i thought he might put up in one of his pieces.  and for some unknown reason, i told this total stranger about my experiences of being part of the march up queen st by the muslim community, protesting against the danish cartoons.  he ignored the link (probably a good idea in hindsight!), but put up my description of the march & the reasons why i joined it.  which then lead to a call from tvnz and a request to appear on close up (to be interviewed by paul henry of all people).  since then, russell has been supportive in various ways, including putting up guests posts from me, and today he has written in support of my complaint.

i've also had support from other organisations that has been incredibly important and dear to me.  the people on the waikato interfaith council, every one of them with a heart of gold and actions to match.  mervyn singham and the office of ethnic affairs, not just for the work they do in the community, but the active support they provided by organising media training and contact with key media people.  the race relations commissioner, joris de bres, and a whole heap of amazing staff at the commission (and of course i have to especially mention you, rohan), who have always stepped in and helped us find solutions.  the decisive actions taken by mr de bres after the publishing of the danish cartoons, in organising a mediation meeting with the editor of the dom post, is only one of a number of crucial acts that have helped eased the burden on myself and my community.  today i have felt incredibly supported by mr de bres, and again that support brought tears to my eyes.  ruth desouza, who set up the aotearoa ethnic network to provide connections and an ability for people in ethnic communities to share their concerns.  and who works tirelessly through social media and her own professional career to fight discrimination in all its forms.

i know there are plenty of other people who deserve a mention and who i haven't managed to personally thank.  but i do thank you, every one of you for each word of support, each act of solidarity, each gesture of friendship.  today i feel so much less alone when an attack like this happens.  while the hurt, the frustration, the triggering are all still there, i also know that there are whole groups of people that have my back and will not let me stand alone.  i wish that i could do even half as much for all of you as you do for me.

so tomorrow i go to meet the editor of the waikato times.  i'm incredibly nervous about this, to the point of being afraid.  because the power lies with him and not with me.  in the end, he gets the final say and i can only ask for fair treatment.  i'm afraid that i won't have the right words to persuade him.  but i'm also hopeful, because of all the positive responses i've received.  i'm hopeful that he might also be one of those people who is prepared to listen and to understand.  i'm hopeful that he will want a positive resolution to this particular issue just as much as i do.

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