Thursday, 23 August 2012

celebrate good times, come on!

it's certainly been a week of celebrations.  sunday was eid, celebrating the end of a month of fasting, and i had a lovely day with friends and family.  everything just seemed to go right, and there was a lot of joy and laughter being shared.  i can't believe another ramadan is over already, though it did seem to last forever while it was going.  i guess it's because the shorter days means a lot of rushing around.

monday i went to auckland to celebrate the human rights commission diversity awards.  at the link, you'll find a word document giving details of the recipients.  there's a lot of good work being done by so many organisations, but the one that really resonated with me was migrante aotearoa nz, so i've included part of the background information below:

Migrate Aotearoa is an organisation of Filipino workers and their families with membership around the country. It was formed in 2009 in Auckland in response to cases of agents being unscrupulous in their dealings with migrant workers and reports of unfair labour practices. Migrante Aotearoa is part of Migrante International which has affiliates around the world. Migrante International was formed in 1996.

The group’s programmes are:

Organising and Education which is focussed on empowering Filipino migrants and their families by providing information about settling in New Zealand but also keeping our Filipino heritage alive.

Their Campaigns are focussed on building awareness and concern about the plight of poor and marginalised Filipinos asserting their welfare and promoting their holistic development. In 2010, they gathered in Christchurch to speak out against proposed employment law changes. Migrante also opposed the changes including 90 day trial extended to all employees in new jobs; limiting access to union representatives; and weakening rights if dismissed or disadvantaged.

of course i can't forget to mention that the waikato interfaith council (wifco) received an award for the work done by it's members over the last year.  i was lucky enough to be part of the group present to accept the award.  wifco has some great events coming up in the next couple of months, which you can check out at the link above.  the next event coming us is an interfaith treeplanting, happening on 1 september as part of the islam awareness week activities.  if you live in or around hamilton, i'd really encourage you to come.  details are at the website.

the final celebration this week was the 10th anniversary celebration tonight.  i can't believe it's been 10 years already.  it's certainly not been an easy 10 years - it's a lot of work, tension, and time.  but we've not only survived the 10 years, we've thrived.  that vision that was in our minds when we started this journey has really come to life - a centre that provides support for ethnic minority women, that provides a range of programmes and most importantly, provides services for victims of domestic violence.  i can only hope that we continue to stay strong and be there for the women of our communities, and their families.

in light of the issue of domestic violence, and brought to my mind because of this post by LJ at the handmirror, i'm posting a rather sad song by toni child, which i love:

Monday, 13 August 2012

black & british

how great it was to watch a black british person by the name of mohamed farah win the 5000m at the olympics this morning.  for several reasons.  first, because it was a great peformance.  but second, because in that moment, he was completely accepted as british by the whole of the british-supporting crowd.  it was a moment where he got to belong.

mr farah was not born in britain - he is somali by birth.  he is the kind of person that the anti-immigration crowd complains about.  one of those "mooslems" that are let into the country to steal jobs and ruin the uniquely british way of life.  a potential terrorist even?  but i haven't seen any noise from that lot today.  i haven't seen any implication that this particular gold medal (or the one he won for the 2000 metres) are any less british gold medals that any of the others.  in this moment of victory, he is completely embraced as british, without any hint of the foreign.

i have no idea if mr farah identifies as muslim or if faith plays a large part in his life.  but one thing i've found when googling the correct spelling of his first name is that it isn't that easy to find.  he is known across all the papers, and on his wikipedia page as "mo".  i only managed to find the "mohamed" in a footnote on wikepedia.  on the face of it, it seems quite erasing of his muslim heritage.

what would be interesting is how this came about.  it is quite possibly a firm decision by mr farah, made for any number of reasons.  it could be that by erasing his identity made his own life easier, made acceptance that much less difficult.  it could be that his cultural and/or religious identity just doesn't matter to him, and he prefers the snappy one syllable moniker.  it could be that "mo" sounds that much more anglicised, and helped him fit.  or it could be that it's a name that has been foisted on him by the media, in much the same way as "brangelina" or "posh & becks". of course i can only speculate, and i certainly am not going to be judging him for his choices.

maybe there is some conclusion to be drawn here about sports & sporting events being able to overcome things like racism & bigotry.  but then, given the recent behaviour of certain sports fans in europe, and the testimony of various players of colour about how they are treated on a sports field, that certainly isn't universally true.  no, i think it's more about appreciating this one particular moment when a somali british person is embraced and celebrated by all his compatriots, and wishing this was how it is in all contexts.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

muslim women at the olympics

i've just watched the first saudi women run at the olympics, in the 800 metres.  in the previous heat, there was a palestinian woman.  both women with their heads covered and fully clothed.  they both came last, by a very long margin.  but they were there, they took part, they were different, and it was ok.  more than ok - the saudi woman really did get more cheers and support as she came in than the women who qualified for the next round.  it brought tears to my eyes.

it's not that i don't see the flaws in the olympics.  the fact that the most medals are won by the countries that have the most money to spend on sports.  the fact that so many sports are inaccessible to so many different types of people - see this story about american gymnist gabby douglas & the struggle she faced (warning about the almost obligatory crotch shot in any story about young women gymnists).  there are issues about vast sums of money spent on stadiums and venues - money that could used for relief of poverty.  issues about corporates taking over the olympics, and the accessibility of being able to view all the sports - i would have loved to watch all the tennis, but i refuse to subscribe to pay tv, so i wasn't able to watch much of it.  video of various events should absolutely be available on-line, especially given that so much public funding is put in to support athletes to attend.

but despite all of these problems, it still meant something to see these muslim women, on a public stage as it were, just being part of the event.  it provides a narrative about us that is something different to the oppressed victims that permeates so much of the portrayal of muslim women.  but more than that, it's so inspirational and motivational for muslim women around the world - inspiring us to achieve but on our own terms.

my favourite athlete so far at the olympics is the russian gymnist aliya mustafina, who won the bronze medal for the individual all-round competition, a gold for the uneven bars and another bronze today for her floor routine.  i don't have a particular reason for this.  also impressive was seeing oscar pistorius compete, doing for people with disabilities what the young saudi woman has done for muslim women.

i've also been impressed by the good nature of the competition - the hand shaking & hugs, the support competitors have shown each other.  it looks pretty genuine, and isn't something i recall in previous olympics.  but i think it's really healthy.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

oak creek

i've been caught up in the activities of ramadan, amongst other things, and blogging has been way down on the list.  with the days being so short in winter, everything is a big rush in the evenings, and then we're off to the mosque for extra prayers.  i have to say that i have rarely felt such a high level of serenity that when praying at the mosque this ramadan.  at peace with myself and the world, it's a kind of fulfilment that i can't imagine obtaining in any other way.

however, my serenity has been rather shattered today with news of the shooting at a sikh gurdwara in america.  the second mass shooting in a month, and this one seems to be a hate crime.  while a killing at any venue is a horrific and tragic event, shooting people at there place of worship at a time that is of particular significance to them? well that just seems to me to need a special degree of callousness.

the names of the dead, which have been posted on twitter, are Bhai Seeta Singh, Bhai Parkash Singh, Bhai Rangeet Singh, Satwant Singh Kaleka, Subegh Singh, Parmjeet Kaur Toor.  these are people belonging to families, with many & varied connections.  i can't begin to imagine the grief felt by this whole community.  i'd also like to acknowledge the police officer who was injured during the incident.

there's been much said at various places about the possibility that this sikh community was mistaken for muslims.  yes, that's possible, but it's not relevant to anything.  it would have been a terrible tragedy had it happened to a muslim community, or to any community.  there is no group of people who somehow are "more deserving" of a tragedy like this.  to set up groups targeted by hate crime against each other, in some kind of competition, is pretty nasty.

if anything, the fact that the sikh community has been targetted since 9/11 shows that all communities need better protection from hate-filled rhetoric.  this particular community has previous complained about harassment (link also from twitter), and i hope that some journalist in that community starts asking questions about what concrete steps were taken by law enforcement authorities to ensure the safety and security of this community.

here is a particularly touching piece written by a sikh american.  i strongly recommend you read the whole piece, but i thought this point was particularly well made:

Obviously, the Sikh community realized very quickly that fall that it wouldn't do to simply say, "Don't hate me, I'm not a Muslim." And by and large people have avoided that particular phrasing and rhetoric. The Sikh advocacy organizations that were organized shortly after 9/11, chief among them the Sikh Coalition, were very emphatic on the point that they were opposed to hate crimes directed against any group based on religious hostility.

the twitter hashtag which has some useful information is #templeshooting.  my condolences to the sikh community of oak creek.