Wednesday, 29 September 2010

the government just wants you to stay at home

i've just put up a post at the hand mirror about funding of community law centres.

also in my local news today, we've found out that the local buses will be more expensive & there will be fewer runs. this is because of reduced government funding for public transport. public transport in hamilton is already sub-standard. one of the main problems we face at shama (hamilton ethnic women's centre) is the fact that women find it really difficult to get to the centre if they don't have a car. and many of the women we provide services for don't have a license let alone access to a vehicle. it can take up to one & a half hours to get to the centre using public transport, and it's so frustrating that it might not only take longer but will also be more expensive.

yes, i'm getting a tax cut from this week. but what's the use of that, when people who really need support are getting so much less in so many areas.

Monday, 27 September 2010

yay, sanity!

this is just a short post linking to stuff i've been writing over at the hand mirror lately. there's a post on the organisers of the rugby world cup calling for volunteers when they should be paying people fair wages for that work; another about the notion of collective responsibility, or more like collective guilt; and one today about the difficulties of being an activist within a minority community.

while i'm here, i did mean to note that i'm really happy that there is going to be another rally in america, in response to the glenn beck/sarah palin thing a few weeks back. and who else would be more appropriate to organise the rally to restore sanity than john stewart, with support from stephen colbert. wish i could be there.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

celebrating eid, again

i went to wellington for dinner last night. i know, it sounds pretty extravagant, but i thought it was a good cause. last night was the formal eid celebration in parliament, hosted by the minister of ethnic affairs. it was a tradition started by hon chris carter, and i'm glad it has been continued by this government. even if it's just a PR exercise, it has a lot of meaning in terms of recognition of our community.

the prime minister chose to attend, full cold and all. he's certainly not the most polished of public speakers, and there were a couple of gaffe's - not anything major. the one thing i took exception to (and i would!) was his description of the muslim community as a migrant community. i think that we've gone way past that now, as has the chinese community, the indian community & many others. given that the first muslims came to nz in the nineteenth century, the first prayer house was bought in the 1960s and mosques were built in the 1980s, i would have thought we could be thought of as locals now.

i was sitting at a table with a grandmother who is an english convert, along with her daughter & grand-daughter both of whom were born in nz. her great-grandchildren weren't present, but they are born in nz as well. we were later joined by a samoan convert, who has been in this country for decades. the friend i stayed with has a mixed dutch & fijian heritage, and is also born in nz.

yes, i know that many in the community are most recent migrants, but i would still maintain that we are an established community. we are locals, and it's time to stop calling us migrants and to start calling us what we really are: kiwi muslims. we belong here, we're a part of this country, and it's time for that to be acknowledged.

there was plenty of acknowledgement by the PM of the importance of trade ties, particular the halal trade market & the free trade agreement with malaysia. i guess that's to be expected. and i have to say that i haven't seen hon pansy wong looking so happy, ever. she was the host for the evening, and seemed to be really enjoying her role. and even though i disagree with almost everything she stands for, it was really nice to see that and it was nice to be welcomed and hosted so warmly.

so yes, it was definitely worth the trip. even though these events are symbolic, they speak volumes about the celebration of diversity in this country.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

might lead to something sensible

i'll just put up some links today. i've had some posts up at the hand mirror: one on the child support review, another on the teachers strike (which unfortunately has a troll descending in the comments), and the last one on the government's response to the report of the task force for action on sexual violence.

also, here is an excellent interview with my friend rehanna on nine to noon this morning (radio nz, 9.35am). she deals with the issue of islamophobia in an extremely eloquent way.

and just a quick thought for the day. with all the stuff happening around david garrett & his troubles with the law, it looks like there may be a positive. it's that his and the sensible sentencing trust's hard line on justice issues may finally lose some steam. it opens the opportunity to have a better, more intelligent debate on justice. especially when this lot have started talking about forgiveness, rehabilitation and the like. i'm certainly hopeful.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

stop this madness

well, i've got some of my energy back or at least enough to tackle another post. while i've had a lovely eid and really enjoyed meeting up with friends across the city, global events have left me feeling, well i'm not sure how to describe it really. empty, a little sick, hopeless & helpless. i'm talking, of course, about the situation in US with the islamic cultural centre in new york (& no, i won't use the deliberately provocative and patently untrue language widely used to describe that project) & the proposed qur'an burning which thankfully didn't happen.

i know i shouldn't feel so bad, given that even sarah palin managed to come out with a statement against the qur'an burning, as did so many other well-known americans. and there has been a lot of support from many quarters denouncing the bigotry involved. but it's so hard to take those as positives, when there are daily reports of vandalism, violence & harassment faced by muslims across the US, and by people percieved to be muslims (sikhs usually get the worst of this, given that they tend to be visible with their turbans & about the "right" skin colour).

i feel for these communities, and how difficult the times must be for them. it feels like the hate just grows & grows, and that there is no stopping those elements that are fanning the flames of bigotry. let's not forget the latin americans, who are getting their share of negative attention fueled by the controversial laws in arizona.

i watch glenn beck & sarah palin amass a pretty large crowd in washington, and i wonder where the opposing rally is. where are the people who are outraged by what is happening in their country, and why aren't their voices as loud as the haters and the bigots. i know they're there, i know they've had candle-lit vigils and other gatherings, but as yet they don't seem to have the same strength and power, the same ability to influence as the other side does.

still, it's easy for me to sit & criticise from afar. i don't know how much i'd be able to achieve if i was over there. it's just that there is something inside me screaming "stop this madness" & i don't really know what to do with it right now. because it's not just in america, it's all across europe & australia, with talk of or actual burqa bans, banning of minarets and the like. matched by the angry and often violent response across asia & the middle east. i can't see any end in sight, at least not in the immediate future.

however, i did want to explore a little further the role of the media in creating some of the present conditions. mostly in response to the second half pablo's post, where he posits that the media have failed in their duty to the public. i did make a comment there, but i had more things to say than would fit in a comment so i've decided to explore the issue further on my own blog.

pablo's main point is that the media should not have reported the proposed qur'an burning:

That is where they fail their obligations to the public. As with any democratic entity, the press has responsibilities along with rights. Those responsibilities include not inflaming or otherwise causing small events to bocome international incidents that have the potential to cause great harm to US interests and its citizens. It has an obligation not to stoke the fires of religious and ethnic hatred. And yet the right-wing media in the US has done exactly that, aided and abetted by conservative politicians like Newt Gingrich who see political gain being made off of the scapegoating of Muslims and (with regards to immigration and future demographics) Hispanics.

which i largely agree with. some commentors thought that the media does have a responsibility to report this incident because it is in itself newsworthy. lew went on to make the point thus:

I think framing the imperative for the media to forbear as ‘duty’ is problematic. I think the teabag media in this case were wrong to beat the story up, but don’t agree they had a duty to ignore it: that would have been disloyal to their audience base and core principles. Which only goes to emphasise how far removed they are from their stated principles: those enshrined in the Constitution &c. That being so, while the whole affair might be stupid and wrong in the international/trans-cultural context, it is an important internal debate within American and wider liberal-democratic culture. If it needs to be had, then the media have a duty to facilitate it.

he then goes on to list 3 criteria which should be satisfied before any news should be suppressed. i get his point too, and agree that you'd have to have an extremely high thresh-hold before deciding that a particular item shouldn't appear in the news, and you'd have to be sure that all other media would similarly not report it.

the issue for me, and even for lew i think, is not that they reported it, but the way they reported it. who had the most attention and the most speaking time? how much coverage was reportage & how much was opinion?

it would be stating the damn obvious to say that fox news is more opinion than news, which is why they have to keep reminding everyone that they are "fair & balanced". if they actually were, they wouldn't have to tell us. the most damage is done by the commentary they provide, the justifications and support for positions that they clearly know to be unsupported & often straight out wrong.

damage is also done by giving speaking time to the pastor who was in charge of the whole qur'an burning thing. ok, report he's going to do it, but why give him air time to spread his message of hate? or if you're going to give him air time, why not give 10 times as much air time to someone who has something more sensible to say ie give him as much air time as he is due. given that it's a small church that seems to be on the fringes, he's not an important figure at all, so i'd say he's due about 15 seconds.

it would also be nice if reporting in other countries followed that pattern ie why make this big news in asia & the middle east? and if you are going to make it news at all, how about it gets the attention it deserves (which is not much), and put into context to show that many people in america were very much opposed to this event? i've not watched any of the eastern media on this, but i'm willing to bet that a few of them were doing just what their western counterparts were doing, but with the opposite angle.

it's all very well to say that this is a debate that needs to happen in america. but is this the best manner, and is the cost really worth it? i don't see how any kind of useful or sensible debate can happen in the current atmosphere with the current players. and the cost is the daily harassment & vandalism that i mentioned above. the thing is that the people who have to pay the price in order for this debate to happen, they should really get to have a choice as to whether they want to pay it. which is not in any way practical i know, but i'm just pointing out the unfairness of the situation.

this is where the parallel to the clayton weatherston trial falls down a bit (as brought up in a subsequent comment over at kiwipolitico). while mr weatherston being given a daily platform on the evening news was offensive, it didn't cause damage. but the coverage of the proposed qur'an burnings & the islamic cultural centre, and especially the kind of coverage we're seeing by irresponsible media outlets like fox & their eastern counterparts, are causing direct damage. they are creating an atmosphere that incites violence, even though the messages may be coded (though sometimes they are actually pretty direct).

one of the main problems is that there is no accountability here. the people who are putting out this kind of coverage do not have to face the consequences of their words. it's the groups they target who have to face the consequences, but they don't seem to care about that.

the question, then, is how to fight back (in a non-violent way of course, unfortunately i seem to keep having to make that point regularly). how to counter the voices in the media that are causing harm, not just to US interests & citizens as pablo puts it, but actually to everyone across the world.

i had a call from a friend last night, who asked me to put my mind to this very topic. unfortunately i haven't come up with anything yet. i know what the outcome should be: that alternative voices should be stronger and more powerful than the ones spreading hate & bigotry. but getting there seems to be an impossible task, especially because the media corporations who are putting out this stuff are so big & so well funded. and as for me, i'm pretty low on energy and motivation just now.

i hate to end on a negative note. so i'll keep remembering the fact that sarah palin, hilary clinton, barack obama & so many others have spoken out about what's happening. i'll remember matthew & john who took the trouble to visit our mosque, to offer their friendship. and deep down, i know for a fact that there are plenty of decent people who are unhappy with this current state of affairs, and they are doing what they can to fight against it in their own way.

Friday, 10 September 2010

eid mubarak

i was all geared up to write my post for day 30 last night, regardless of the fact that the moon was sighted & it was eid. but unfortunately i just felt too yukky from my cold to even think about turning on the computer. so instead, here is an eid post and first of all i'd like to wish all my friends & readers eid mubarak. i hope the day has gone well for you, that the month went well for you (well, maybe not so much for our friends in christchurch), and that the future holds even better things for you.

the day started off early for me. got up at 6am to do the food preparations that i didn't have energy for the night before. then shower & get dressed in my brand new clothes. it's a tradition that we wear new and nice clothes for eid, to add to the atmosphere of celebration. the girls also had henna on their hands done the night before & had all their jewellery sorted out. then we went to the hamilton gardens for the eid prayer. it's a short prayer with a sermon, but we start our celebration remembering the month gone by & the spiritual journey we have just been through.

then the fun part begins. we visit our friends and share food, and then later in the day they visit us and share our food. because the community is varied, we get to sample a variety of yummy snacks. the trick is to pace yourself and only try one or two things from each place, otherwise you get full really quick.

because eid fell on a friday, we had the weekly congregational prayer at the mosque as well. today's sermon focused on the earthquake in christchurch as well as other recent disasters around the world. but the best part of my day would have to be just after the prayer. we had two guests from a hamilton church, whose names were matthew & john. they came to offer a hand of friendship as christians, and to share with us their concern about the proposed qur'an burning in the US (now apparently called off). they told us how much they disagreed with this act, how they felt strongly that it was against the teachings of Christ, and that they hoped our community would not judge theirs on the basis of something like this.

it was so very touching, and they were extremely warmly received. really, when there is so much shit happening in the world just now, it is so sweet & heartwarming when people offer a hand of friendship. it was something they didn't need to do, but it really meant a lot to me personally. i didn't get to meet matthew & john, but i hope that our community leaders were effusive in their personal responses to these two.

it recalls to mind a visit to the mosque by women from the society of friends (quakers), who came to give us flowers as a show of support, just a week or so before the invasion of iraq early this decade. at that time, we (as a community) had been facing a similarly difficult environment, and it was one of the most uplifting experiences of my life.

i really wish that these small episodes would make the front pages of our newspapers, and headline the television bulletins. these gestures that promote a sense of community are huge in the impact they have, and if we had more publicity for acts of peace, what a different world we might live in. i truly believe that highlighting events such as these in our news bulletins would sell as much advertising as the negative stuff does, but i guess we won't get to test that theory any time soon.

it's been a lovely day. i've had to sleep in the afternoon, and came home reasonably early tonight becuse i'm still not quite well. but looking forward to another day of visiting & feasting tomorrow. and i'll finish off by briefly covering the topic i had planned for day 30.

today i would like to express my gratitude for the gift of life. to be here, to exist, breathe, feel, think, struggle, it is a gift and a supreme blessing. i know i don't appreciate this gift anywhere near as much as i should. i know that i often waste the gift, as the days rush past with little achieved. i know i don't make the most of every precious moment. that's just part of being human, and i can safely say that every human being is guilty of these things.

but i think it is important every now and then to stop and appreciate our being. to appreciate ourselves and what we have to offer to the world. and every single person has something (many things in fact) of value to offer. even if we aren't always able to do so, the potential is there within us when we are ready and able. some of us make huge and public contributions, many others make humble and quiet ones. who's to say which is more important?

this, then, is the essence of ramadan - a month when we try to take time to appreciate life and everything that goes with it. i'm really happy that i've managed to complete the project i set out at the beginning of the month. it's been an incredibly rewarding one for me. i hope that you have also got something from it. i'd like to thank people for the positive feedback they've given me - those who have commented here & those who have told me in person. i'll be taking a break from blogging for a few days - i definitely need to replenish the supply of words in my head!

i'll finish where i started: eid mubarak everyone. peace be with you.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

day 29: emotions

unfortunately my cold took hold last night, and i've spent most of the day in bed. the headache has been my constant companion. still, i made it to the mosque tonight, and managed to last through the prayers. tonight may be the last night of ramadan, because if the moon is sighted tomorrow evening, the new month begins after sunset. the chances of seeing the moon are reasonably good - it will be out for an hour after sunset, and will be over 17 hours old. if the moon isn't sighted, we fast for another day and eid will be on saturday.

today's topic is the ability to feel emotions, i guess another one related to the power of the brain or the mind. although we tend to say that emotions come from the heart, i don't know why. it is after all just an organ that pumps blood around our body, but maybe because it is the centre of our being and this seems to be where our emotions come from.

i'm thankful for being able to feel joy, love, sadness, anger, passion, worry - that whole
range of emotional responses that enrich the human experience. i can't imagine life without the love i feel for my children, my family, my friends, my community, my country & my planet.

the theme for islam awareness week this year was "cultivating positive emotions", which is a commendable thing. research shows that those who have a positive outlook have a longer life expectancy, and better health during that longer life.

however, i think that negative emotions have benefits as well. so much of activism, for example, is a result of anger with the status quo. if we didn't feel that anger combined with sadness & outrage, we would be much less motivated to act. these emotions act as a fuel, and so are just as important as the positive ones.

our negative emotions help us to appreciate the positive ones. how would we appreciate the feelign of joy if we had never felt sadness? or the feeling of calm if we had never known worry? having said that, emotions can be scary especially when they are out of control. excessive anger can lead to violence. excess in other emotions can hinder our ability to function properly. the thing is to find a balance between the positive and the negative, hopefully tilted a little more towards the positive side for that longer & healthier life!

if i had to pick the most important emotion, it would have to be hope. life without hope is pretty meaningless, and unless we have hope of better things in the future, it's very hard to carry on. hope inspires us to strive for better things.

this is another topic that it's hard to think of causes to support - i think the sources of our positive & negative emotions lie in so many of the topics i've already covered. for those who are currently suffering unduly from negative emotions, whatever the cause, or who are having to deal with the negative emotions of others, my thoughts & prayers are with you.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

day 28: addiction

oh boy, i've come down with a cold today & have a pretty bad headache. hopefully the flu jab i had earlier in the year will mean that it's not too severe. i've had a couple of sleepless nights, which have probably led to this. but only a few days to go. the end of ramadan will either be on friday or saturday, depending on when the moon is sighted.

in other news, i've just put up a post at the hand mirror re the australian elections finally being resolved & julia gillard being confirmed as the new prime minister. given that it's been a pretty sad week in nz, what with earthquakes, flooding & a major plane crash, it's nice to have some positive news.

the topic for today is another one of those where i'm thankful for the absence of something. in this case, i'm extremely thankful that i've never been addicted to anything. it helps that i follow a religion that prohibits substances which lead to intoxication. so i've never been drunk, never smoked cigarettes, nor taken any other stronger substance. i've never gambled - i don't even buy raffle tickets. i don't have a serious addiction to food. i'm lucky that i've never even felt the slightest bit of temptation to do any of these things.

i'm grateful for all the things that this has protected me from. it means that i save heaps of money, and haven't been in the position of using money needed for essentials to feed my addiction. it means that my family hasn't had to suffer as a result, by going without. it means that i haven't given birth to a child suffering from fetal alchohol syndrome nor any other type of addiction. i've avoided any number of health issues that arise from addictions, although it's more true that health issues cause addictions.

which is why i'm not meaning to judge people who do suffer from addictions, which can arise from any number of reasons - perhaps a response to childhood sexual abuse, trauma, or peer pressure as teen. whatever the reason, addictions require a supportive response from society rather than condemnation. many addictions leave people weak and vulnerable to exploitation, and it's sad to see so many who are ready to exploit that vulnerability. pokies for example, especially placed in large numbers in poor neighbourhoods.

causes to support in this area are the problem gambling foundation, alchoholics anonymous, the life education trust, and smokefree. in amongst the cuts made by our (not so) wonderful government, funding for anti-smoking initiatives has been cut by $12 million, even though the tax take from cigarettes has gone up. really clever, people.

for those who suffer from addictions that hamper their ability to lead a full life, and for the families of those who struggle to deal with a person suffering from a serious addiction, my thoughts & prayers are with you.

Monday, 6 September 2010

day 27: memory

the 27th night of ramadan is most likely (but not at all certain) to be the night of power. as i mentioned a few days back, muslims spend the last 10 nights in extra prayer, searching for that special night. so really, i shouldn't be here online. except that this month of reflective posts are an act of worship for me. they are a significant reminder to me of the Glory of God, though for my readers who don't believe what i believe, i hope they have been reminders of the everyday blessings we live with, acknowledging that some of us having more than others.

today's topic is an extension of my post on intellect, but focuses on that part of our brain which allows us to recall things. not only does this mean that we have the ability to store knowledge and experiences for future use, but it also means that we have a store of memories of our time here on the planet.

i've used a lot of memories in my posts, many of them i hadn't thought about for some time, others that i recall often. my memories are precious to me. the good ones of times spent with friends and family, of special occasions and events, of exciting times. and also the bad ones, which may be painful to bring up, but still make up the sum of who i am.

in fact, i often find the painful memories a source of strength. especially at times when i'm feeling low or struggling with something, i can look back at those difficult times and think "well, i survived that, so i can definitely survive this!" every bad memory has provided me with a learning experience, or has been a means to strengthen my own character and resilience.

it's so important to me that i recognise the people who are close to me, that i can bring back to my mind so many little things that i know about them. unfortunately i'm pretty bad at recalling people that i don't see often or have met in a group. i'm terrible with names and faces, and what makes it worse is that i stand out, because of my hijab and my skin colour. this means that people will remember me much more easily than i can remember them.

i've been told that i have a mind like a sieve, and it's true that there are so many details that seem to slip through and get lost. but thankfully, i remember the important things & the meaningful things.

memories are funny things. they pop up at the most unexpected moments - things that i had completely forgotten are triggered by a phrase or an event or an encounter. but until that trigger happens, it's as if that memory was never in my brain at all. that's where things like photographs, letters and even something like this blog are great at capturing and preserving memories. unfortunately i'm terrible at taking photographs, and am probably one of the least photographed people around. so i'm going to have to rely a lot more on my brain.

there may come a day when i lose my memories. it's not uncommon after all. there may come a time when i won't recognise my own children, or things that happened the day before. it's certainly a scary prospect, so for now i'm thankful for each and every memory.

causes to support in this area are pretty much the same as the ones i've put in my post on intellect. for those who have difficulties with short and long-term memory, and for any of their family and friends who struggle in dealing with this, my thoughts and prayers are with you.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

day 26: fear

just a quick post today. today's topic is about those who live in fear. i've covered the issue in various ways, for example for those living in a war zone, or living in fear in their own home, or afraid to practice their religion, or fear from loss of privacy. but i think there are some aspects of fear that i'd like to highlight.

fears can be internal or external. there are those who live in constant fear from a stalker - say an ex-partner or some other person who has decided to make it their life's mission to make another personal miserable. there are those who live in fear of harassment, made more easy via txt, email & facebook. they might fear organised harassment such as from groups like neo-nazis, the KKK or various militias that make it their job to intimidate minorities. they may have to fear their own government, and there are too many around the world who use abuse & torture as a tactic to silence opposition.

then there are fears that are internal, caused by various phobias that can be debilitating. fear of leaving your home, fear of having to interact with strangers. i have a fear of heights that isn't major, just makes me pause and take a breath before i can go down a flight of stairs. i know that there are activities that i'm going to miss because of this - abseiling, rock climbing, bungy jumping and sky diving. but that doesn't seem to be much of a loss! how much more difficult it must be for those whose fears prevent them from participating in every day activities.

sometimes even the fear of humiliation will stop us from doing or saying the right thing. the need for approval from our peers is a pretty strong one after all.

fear is also a tactic used in democratic states, to distract populations from issues that directly effect them. so we see politicians using fear of immigrants and fear of jobs being taken from locals as a way to direct attention away from economic and structural issues. fear of terrorism is used to chip away at civil liberties. fear is a powerful political tool, and combined with hatred, is incredibly difficult to counteract.

even within a more personal sphere, fear can be a way to limit our movements and choices. many women live with the constant fear of sexual violence, which will limit the type of jobs they will do, the places they will go and the times they will be able to be out of their homes. fears for our children will often limit their activities in ways that are hardly healthy.

i'm thankful that i live a life mostly free from fear. i think we all have some level of fear of something constantly with us. but if we can make our decisions based on more positive things, i think we'll make better decisions.

if you're looking for a cause to support in this area, there is the phobic trust. i'd also recommend neighbourhood support, to increase safety in local communities.

for those who live with fear in their lives, and find that fear hampers their ability to achieve their dreams, my thoughts and prayers are with you.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

day 25: community

as with the rest of the country, i woke up this morning with the news of the big earthquake in christchurch. i'm extremely thankful that no-one was killed, but as with everyone else, am hoping that people are going to get through the next few very difficult days ok. i was in chch earlier this year, and am thinking of all the lovely women i met and the islamic women's council conference, hoping that they & their families aren't suffering.

the earthquake has made think again about
some of things i've been writing about over the past few weeks, especially around water, sanitation, a safe roof overhead. i really feel for the people who are facing the cold tonight, and wishing we here were able to help. and if this wasn't sad enough, news of a tragic plane crash at fox glacier. condolences to the families of those who lost their lives.

today's topic is an extension of an earlier post i did on
family. i want to take time to be thankful for all my friends and the various connections that form my community, or rather the various communities i interact with.

friendships are extremely precious, though i often don't devote as much time to them as i should. as with family, we often take our friends for granted and don't tell them often enough how much they mean to us. friendship involves caring, support, sharing of joys and sorrows, and often just time together having fun. they develop in the most unlikely places, and between people who can be extremely different.

i'd like to take time to acknowledge those people who have given me their friendship, who have stood by me in difficult times, who have been happy for me when things have gone well, who have defended me and protected me, who gave me shelter, who have invited me over to share food and celebrations, who have provided me with brilliant conversation, who have listened to me as i let off steam, who have given me their time and attention. i'd like to thank each and every one of you for each and every act of friendship.

i'd like to acknowledge the people i meet only through my volunteer activities and who give their time & effort to a common cause. these are people who i've worked with, argued & debated with, sometimes straight-out fought with, but we always work through the issues and remain on good terms because we know that we are working together for a cause that is greater than each of us.

i'd also like to appreciate the connections i've made with people who i have come across in various walks of life, people i don't see often and couldn't call friends as such. some of them i've met only once but that experience has enriched my life. like
this person, whom i only met for a few hours one evening when she visited hamilton, but whose advocacy & strength was an inspiration to me. there are so many others like that, it would be impossible to name them all.

other connections are even more remote. i remember an experience i had at hajj. we had been staying in the tent city of mina, and had gone to mecca for the morning. when we got back to mina, we had to wait an hour or so to complete one of the rites at the stone pillars. it was so extremely crowded, but we managed to find a space to sit down. a short while later, a lebanese family came and sat next to us. i ended up having a conversation with a lovley lebanese woman. i learned a little about her history & her family. she was from southern lebanon, and we talked sporadically for maybe half an hour.

later, we tried to complete the rite, but we couldn't manage it because of the extreme crowding. it was incredibly scary, so our family decided to do the 1 hour walk back to our tent & come back later in the evening. during the day, we heard that over 200 people were trampled to death, and i thought about the lebanese woman, wondering if she was safe. i didn't even get her name so there was no way to find out, but because we had been on the lower level, it was highly likely that she was safe. later that year, israel bombed southern lebanon, causing massive damage and loss of life. again i wondered about her, whether she or her family had been affected, whether or not she was safe. of course i can never know, i can only hope that all is well with her. i don't think i could even recognise her face anymore, and yet that connection remains in my mind, that memory of her and the time we spent together doesn't fade.

some connections i've made are purely electronic. i haven't met most of my blogging buddies at the hand mirror, for example, but i still feel that we form a community. we share quite a reasonable number of things via email, and via our thoughts as posted on the blog. i love belonging to such a wonderful group of women, & am so thankful they invited me to join them.

all these human connections are what makes life worthwhile. it's these connections that build communities, and when communities are strong, it is much more likely that the individuals within those communities will be doing well. the collective is essential to individual wellbeing, and i'm thankful to all the people who take the time to create a collective, a community.

i think today of those who feel disconnected from their communities, for whatever reason. perhaps because the community shuns them, or because they can't to seem to find their place in structures that aren't suited to them. it could be because the community doesn't take care of them and their needs, or because they are exploited. it could be because of social isolation caused by physical or emotional barriers. something simple like not knowing english or the inability to drive.

ok, it's seriously late so i'm not going to look for action points or organisations to support at 1am! perhaps i'll update this bit on another day. in the meantime, for all those who feel disconnected and isolated from their communities, who feel lonely or angry or depressed or all of those things together, my thoughts and prayers are with you.

Friday, 3 September 2010

day 24: privacy

i think i'm running out of words. not ideas mind you, but the words seem to be drying up, not flowing as easily as they were last week. it may be that i need a bit of time out to replenish the stock of words in my head, because i've used up most of the ones that were there. but there are only 6 more days to go, and i hate to give up now!

i've added a paragraph to yesterday's post, which was written in haste so i didn't manage to think it all through as well as i would have liked. let's see if i can manage better today.

the topic for today is privacy, something which i tend to guard reasonably jealously. i've chosen not to blog anonymously, which means that i tend to be a lot more careful about what i say. i try to be particularly careful about revealing aspects of my past, try not to reveal anything personal about my children or other family members. this is because i think everyone has a right to privacy and has the right to choose what information about them should be in the public domain.

the internet world sees an increasing loss of privacy. things we say or put are there forever, and can be easily connected back to us - this piece in werewolf magazine covers that somewhat. often we don't realise how, when and where our words or other information about us will be used.

email is particularly bad in terms of privacy, because you are entirely dependent on the person you've sent it to keeping it to themselves. i've had any number of occasions where my emails were forwarded to others without my consent, or the reply (which included my original email) included others in the cc line whom the message was never intended for. each instance this has happened to me felt like a kick in the guts. in one series of instances, it was because i knew a particular person was doing this to deliberately to undermine me. in other cases, it still feels extremely unfair that my permission wasn't asked. in one instance, someone decided to send an email of mine to the herald, and the first i heard about it was when i got a call from a reporter. again, not a nice experience. this is why i'm extremely careful not to forward or otherwise disseminate emails without permission of the author.

i've also had my email account hacked into and personal emails misinterpreted and used against me in rather nasty ways. i've had a personal word document, which was password protected, hacked and also used against me. i can't even begin to explain how much of a violation this was and how much heartache resulted from it all. i feel sick just remembering it all. it was obviously my own naivete that i didn't realise such things could happen, and boy, don't i know better now. now i treat even the most personal email sent by me as if it was a public service broadcast. i find it sad that i have to be so careful, but i guess that's how the world works for me & i just have to adjust to it.

there are so many privacy issues with things like facebook and google. i'm too tired to look up the links and all the issues, but here's just one example from over at hoydens. i didn't even know such a function existed on facebook until i read the post, and then i rushed to my facebook account and turned off everything i could. i tend to avoid any personal information on my facebook account as well. you may call me paranoid, but i know how such information can be used to wound. it's just not worth the trouble.

when i think of privacy, it also calls to mind people who are on watchlists, sometimes unbeknownst to themselves. their phone calls are tapped, their movements monitored. it's worse for those who know this is happening to them, who know it's a tactic used to silence any political dissent or any activism. lack of privacy can ensure a lack of organised resistance to oppression.

you might think these things don't happen in our lovely little corner of the world. i would point you to the abominable behaviour of our minister of social development, the hon paula bennett, who used the private information of two beneficiaries against them most effectively, in order to silence dissent. the women were subject to intense harassment, simply for speaking out against the scrapping of the training incentive allowance. the case is still not resolved but until it is, it can only act as a deterrent to others who suffer from injustice.

i think of privacy as a precious thing and am grateful that the bulk of my life remains private. even though there are a lot things that would be useful to share, i'm not sure i'd like my life to be exposed to public scrutiny & judgement. so i'm thankful for having the choice of being able to reveal what i wish, and to conceal what i wish.

the organisation to support in the area of privacy would of course be the nz council of civil liberties. i think internet nz also have done stuff on internet privacy issues.

so if you're one of those who have had their privacy invaded with detrimental consequences of any kind, even if it's only mild discomfort, my thoughts and prayers are with you.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

day 23: time

ironic that today's topic is something i'm pretty short on just at the moment. mostly because, as i mentioned in an earlier post, it's the end of ramadan & i've been spending my time on other things. also the energy is running quite low at the moment, so this is going to be a shorter post.

time is something that many of us take for granted, but having time to do the things we want to do is a huge privilege. leisure time is often related to wealth. those who are time-poor will often be cash poor. i remember a somalian woman i know, with three kids. she would work from 9-5pm as an interpreter, then as soon as that job was finished she would be picking mushrooms until midnight. her kids were basically brought up by her mother, and i'm not sure when she ever got to spend any substantial time with them. when i'd see her, she looked extremely tired with bags under her eyes, but it was the only way she could earn enough to feed her family. (yeah, i'm definitely feeling sheepish complaining about tiredness - i really don't know how she managed)

that's how it is for many people in our society, forget about developing countries with extremely poor labour laws. people working 2 or 3 jobs just to make ends meet, plus having the responsibility of managing a household. many may not have extended families available for support and won't be able to afford childcare. for them, leisure time is non-existant.

in this regard, i'm extremely lucky. i work part time, for 25 hours a week and this means i have the time to do other things. this is why i can contribute to other organisations that are important to me, why i get time to blog, why i can be with my children, why i can read books or go to movies or even go on holiday. if i'm busy, it's because i choose to be that way, and could quite easily choose not to be.

many people i know run small businesses - dairies, petrol stations and the like. these people are usually working from 6 in the morning til 8 at night, 7 days a week. they get christmas day off, easter sunday & maybe half of anzac day. sometimes not even that, because they are providing essentials so can remain open even on those days. they struggle to find family time, and have very little by way of a social life.

we hear similar stories of sweatshops overseas, where workers spend 14 hours a day, often on their feet, at mundane jobs. they are working these hours 6 days a week. exhaustion can and often does lead to despair.

lack of time is often a gendered issue. i often see women struggling to manage households with young children as well as elderly people depending on them. the expectations on their performance can be pretty high and therefore stressful. time for themselves is something that no-one around them considers a need, so they just don't get any.

[ETA: i did forget to consider the issue of those with too much time, time which passes slowly and hangs heavily as a burden. it could be because of unemployment, ill health, chronic pain, loneliness or other reasons. it's all very well to look down on people with too much time on their hands, and tell them to get off their backsides. but if it was so easy, i'm sure those people would have done it. lack of motivation or ability to get things done can be a result of depression or any number of other things.]

because many issues around time are actually issues around labour rights, i'd advocate the same causes as i did in my post on employment. certainly, increasing the minimum wage is crucial, so that low-paid workers can work fewer hours to survive.

for those who struggle to with unfriendly hours of work (paid or unpaid), and who don't find time for themselves, my thoughts & prayers are with you.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

day 22: diversity

i wrote the bulk of this post last night, because i knew i'd be extra tired today. it didn't quite come together the way i wanted, and of course i'm now zonked out having hosted about 10 people for dinner tonight (though i loved having them over). so it is what it is, and i hope conveys something of what i wanted to get across.

today's topic is not seen as a plus by a significant section of the community. there are many people who don't like difference, who can't seem to cope with a group of people who don't look and/or behave in ways that they themselves feel comfortable with. it's a natural human tendency to be resistant to change and to be suspicious of the unknown.

but diversity has brought enrichment to my life. i feel like i have gained so much from my interaction with people of various colours and cultures. a large part of the diversity in my life is a result of belonging to a religious minority in a small city. i've written about this before, so i'm going to cheat a little and copy a bit of that post:

our mosque is special. it's special because of the mix of colours and races you find there. from the white europeans, to the ivory of the arabs, to the golden bronze of the malays and indonesians, to the darker brown of the south asians and maori and right across the spectrum to the various shades of black that make up africa. it's all there in one room, particularly noticeable in ramadan because more people come to the mosque for prayer.

this not something you see in many countries. mosques in muslim countries will be dominated by the ethnicity of the people native to the land. you may get a bit of diversity, but not so much. mosques in other western countries tend to get drawn along ethnic lines. as an example, i remember attending a RISEAP conference in sydney back in 1989. it lasted 7 days, and each evening, dinner for delegates was hosted by a different mosque. so, we went to the lebanese mosque in lakemba, to the yugoslav (as it was back then) mosque, to the south african mosque, and so on. you get the picture....

so we all come together in the one mosque, and it's a pretty amazing feeling to be in that bunch. it's amazing because race and colour truly don't matter, and not being able to understand one another really doesn't matter much either. we understand enough, we understand that we belong together in that place. i wish that was how the rest of the world could be.

i wrote that in ramadan last year. and while the point i was making then is that race and colour aren't barriers in the mosque, the point i want to make now is that our differences are a positive thing. they bring a richness of experiences, and help me to think of things in ways that i haven't thought of before. they bring a different interpretation to similar experiences, they show me different ways of dealing with similar situations.

i don't just experience diversity in the mosque, but also through things like the interfaith council, the ethnic women's centre and political activities. i get to meet people of different ages, different political persuasions, different occupations.

being able to interact with such a variety of people with a variety of ideas and ways of doing things has taught how to be aware of and recognise discrimination, particularly within myself. i think it gives me humility, in that it helps me to move away from the arrogance that can come from being part of a closed homogenous group. sharing the experiences of a range of people helps me to recognise my privilege, and therefore to make more of an effort to not be an a**hole (what i mean is "to be more sensitive").

and yet, because many human experiences are common, and many of our dreams & desires are so similar, meeting a diverse group of people tends to help me realise that we aren't quite as different as we like to think we are.

so i'm thankful for the diversity in my life. i'm glad i don't live in a country where there are predominantly one type of people. even in the country i live in, i'm glad to have the opportunity to meet a range of interesting people.

the best way to increase the diversity within your own life is basically to get out more. i can't say it more simply than that! but diversity will only come from seeking it, and from choosing to interact with a range of people. i'd recommend interfaith councils, multi-cultural councils, refugee services. taking advantage of the diversity within your local community isn't difficult, sometimes it takes a conscious effort but often it doesn't.

it may be facetious to say that that my thoughts and prayers are with those who don't appreciate or value diversity, but i do feel that way: i think such people are missing out on one of life's great blessings.