Thursday, 30 December 2010

caught up in wikileaks

another thing i've been doing over the holidays is a course on basic arabic. it's a difficult language to grasp, particularly because of its complicated grammar. not that we have much of a grounding in grammar here in nz. most of the grammar i did learn was because i learnt french in high school. but even most of that is hazy now. i've forgotten simple stuff like the difference between the subject of a sentence and the object (yeah, caught up on that now). but i'm really struggling with the nominative, accusative & genitive cases. and there is no way i can remember what a passive participle is.

still, despite the grammatical shortcomings, some progress is being made. i'm getting through some of the vocab, not so difficult because some of the words are quite similar to urdu, and because i recognise other words from reading the Qur'an. i'm also starting to grasp basic sentences, even though the grammar is difficult. but what floors me is the different forms for nouns. not only is there a singular and plural as in english, but also a dual version of the word. then you have the 3 cases, and two genders. so this leads to 18 different words to learn for a noun. aaagh! and i used to think conjugating verbs in french was painful.

i've been wondering over the last couple of days whether or not to mention this, but what the heck. it turns out that i have been named in a wikileaks cable (para 5) & included by codename in another cable (para 13). these are the only two i'm aware of that include me, though it's possible there may be others considering the contacts i've had with embassy staff over the years. actually, this sentence from my post of two years ago strikes me when i read back on it today:

since then, i've tried to keep a distant but friendly relationship with the embassy. i'm wary of getting too involved, cos i'm still suspicious of ulterior motives.

it seems i was right to be suspicious. the first cable is pretty harmless - it just mentions that i spoke at an interfaith function. it's the second that bothers me more, being the reporting of conversations at a private dinner. i suppose i should have expected it, that having someone from the diplomatic staff in attendance means that everything anyone says is on record.

but still, it's not particularly nice, especially when they were the ones who contacted me and wanted me to help them develop a relationship with the muslim community. relationships are based on trust, and i hate the fact that i may have exposed people i know to this kind of scrutiny & reporting. if i had been more aware, or probably just less naive, then i probably wouldn't have introduced staff to anyone in the community.

i'm not sure what to do with this. there's no point in complaining to their staff locally, because i'm sure they were doing (and are no doubt continuing to do) exactly what they are employed to do. it's more a matter of being much more guarded in my own interactions, and more careful about who i introduce people to. i'm not yet sufficiently annoyed to cut off all contact, given that i still believe what i believed when these people first asked to meet with me:

if you really believe in peace, then you have to be prepared to dialogue with people who you fundamentally disagree with. and you have to be prepared to not only raise the difficult issues, but to discuss them in some kind of sane and rational manner. it's the only way.

i'm not impressed with the quality of the cables eg "The imam wore traditional Arabic garb, sometimes indicative of Wahhabi leanings". o rly? news to me, as i haven't yet met an imam who doesn't wear that kind of clothing quite often, regardless of country of origin. in fact, many muslim men will wear "traditional Arabic garb" on eid or other functions, even ones from my own family. it isn't indicative of anything. and the whole wahhabi thing is also nonsensical in that it's not indicative of anything other a conservative interpretation of religion, largely popular in saudi. last i heard, the united states of american was not at war with the kingdom of saudi arabia. au contraire, they appear to be best of friends.

it seems like staff were stretching to provide news from a country where there is very little news to be had. possibly they were trying to justify their salaries. in any case, there's nothing startling in the cables. not even the breathless headline from the herald announcing that nz mosques were "spied on" is really news. the staff member who went to the mosque was an afghani muslim by the name of kaweem koshaan*, posted to dubai after his 2 year stint here, and he would have been happily welcomed to any mosque in the country.

i actually have given a lot of thought before outing myself regarding the second cable. although i think people who know me well would have worked it out anyway. but i decided to do so because i think people should be aware of how things work (if they aren't already). no doubt interactions with staff from any embassy or high commission will have the same result ie anything you say can and will be taken down and relayed to head office in the home country. also, i needed an outlet to express my displeasure and this is it!

just for the record (since i have chosen to out myself), the people at my workplace have been absolutely wonderful and supportive of me & my decision to wear hijab, after the first week. initially, i think they were taken aback and weren't sure how to respond. but once they got use to the fact that this was how i was going to be, they've been great. i wish that had been added that to the cable, because i'm sure i would have said it.

so. i'm caught up in this wikileaks thing in a way i never expected. and i'm really hoping that there aren't more cables with more detailed information about me or anything i've said - not because i have anything to be ashamed of, but because it's nobody's damn business what private events i attend nor what i say there. but there's really nothing i can do about it if there are.

*since ali ikram has already named him publicly in the herald, i have no qualms in doing the same here.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

holiday update

i'm slowly getting through the list of things i hope to achieve during the holidays. but very slowly! i managed to get some spring-cleaning done, as well as do the round of the boxing day sales. the latter was rather painful, i hate shopping at the best of times & this certainly wasn't the best of times. the crowds, the heat, the parking issues, ugh. still, i got a couple of bargains so it wasn't all a loss.

today we went for a day trip to the prawn farm near taupo. we managed to catch one prawn between 7 people, and i think the whole place knew when we caught it, what with all the squealing & screaming. it was a pretty big one, and none of us wanted to touch the thing.

it was a lovely day out though, and the waikato river was looking absolutely beautiful near its source. it was a gorgeous aquamarine colour, and crystal clear when you get close. the tragedy is that the thing is such a disgusting murky brown by the time it reaches hamilton, and totally unsafe for swimming. there is something seriously wrong with a world where we do this to our natural resources, with very little complaint.

on another note, i did finally manage to finish captain correlli's mandolin a couple of weeks ago. i can't say that i enjoyed the book, nor that i'll ever read it again. and i'm not exactly recommending it, except that it is a book people should read. much as i think people should be made to watch films like fast food nation and blood diamond. they aren't pleasant experiences but important for us to be aware of the realities of the world we live in.

i'm now trying to read margaret atwood's cat's eye, but find i'm really struggling with that as well. maybe i've just gotten used to novel's with much more pace & plot, which this doesn't seem to have much of even though i'm a quarter of the way through. or maybe it's just the psychological effect of reading a book that i think i should read rather than one i actually want to read. time for a visit to the second hand bookshop, methinks.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

the forgotten people

my campaign of becoming queen of nz and getting taxpayers to fund a lavish lifestyle for my family and i, well it's not going so well. i haven't yet convinced the kids to join me in this very worthwhile cause, which means my persuasive skills aren't so hot!

in other news, i'm eagerly looking forward to the last day of work, which will be thursday for me. my volunteer work has been taking up a substantial amount of time of late & i feel that i'm working 3 jobs but getting paid for only 1. but then there will be a whole chunk of the world who actually does live that way, so yes, i'm still happy to be me and happy to be doing what i'm doing.

this is the first holiday break in many years where i'm not headed off overseas nor am i having overseas visitors. and i'm not travelling around the country either, other than a short trip away. i plan to stay at home and rest, clean, catch up & generally try to live a stress-free life. that's what holidays are for, after all.

this means that i may have energy to blog a bit more than i have over previous holiday periods, but i don't guarantee it. once i get out of the routine of writing, it's hard to get back.

in the meantime, there's been a lot of news in hamilton regarding the cost of the v8 races. expected to cost just over $7 million when the city decided to take them on, and ended up costing 27 million. with something like 4 more years to go. our new mayor, julie hardaker, has done a wonderful job in opening up the books and letting people see the actual figures. no excuses of "commercial sensitivity" to hide information from the public. let's hope she carries on in this vein when it comes to decisions made under her leadership.

but it's hardly surprising that mr redman got out while he could. he's threatening to sue anyone who dares to suggest that he might have withheld information, and councillors are starting to back down from that claim. but as far as i'm concerned, he is ultimately responsible for this mess, along with bob simcock who replaced him as mayor. unfortunately it's likely that both of them will escape any kind of accountability - unless you count the fact that mr simcock very unexpectedly lost the last election, which was really the voters holding him accountable for this & other decisions.

and finally, a thought for the 30 asylum-seekers who died at the christmas islands. it must have been someone on facebook who said that had these 30 had been "australian", it would have filled the front-pages of the papers for weeks, there would have been national mourning, and not so quickly forgotten. but these were the forgotten people, the unimportant fleeing from the incomprehensible. irfan yusuf puts it so much better than i could, here:

To secure our borders, we go to faraway places and take part in wars against enemies, many of whom have never heard of us. What we don't seem to realise is that when we take part in wars, we have obligations. We have an obligation that is triggered as soon as hostilities cease and our leaders feel triumphant enough to declare ''mission accomplished''. It's an obligation in international law to restore and maintain basic law and order for the lucky citizens not ripped to pieces by our weapons.

Now let's look at the record in Iraq and Afghanistan. Basically it can be summarised like this: we came, we saw, we conquered, we unconquered and we lost control. Any MP or pundit who thinks Iraq and Afghanistan are bastions of stability should spend Christmas with their family in a "holiday house" in Kandahar or Basra.

Many Iraqis don't celebrate Christmas. One of the most important religious festivals in Iraq is Ashura. It isn't easy celebrating when suicide bombers are out to blow themselves, you and your family to pieces on a holy day.

And if you do happen to celebrate Christmas, things aren't much better. A siege of the Our Lady of Deliverance church on October 31 left 52 worshippers dead. In such an environment, is it any wonder so many Iraqis and Afghans are fleeing?

Monday, 13 December 2010

the spirit of competition

whew, i didn't mean to have such a long break between posts, but i've been hectic with other things. and just taking a break too.

we had the visit with farrah pandith on thursday night, which was interesting. she reports directly to hilary clinton & visits muslim communities around the world. her main goal seems to be to consult with communities, with a particular focus on youth, to find out what their main issues are. she then goes back to her bureau to debrief & to report to the secretary of state.

there was some lively discussions at her meeting here in hamilton. the question is, what happens next? to which the answer is that we will wait & see. if nothing else, i hope that she has gone back with a positive impression of the muslim community here.

friday night i had to attend an AGM, which was supposed to take 1 hour but ended up taking 3. not the most fun way to spend a friday night, but there you go. at least the weekend was a lot more quiet, which i really needed. the next two weeks before the holidays are going to be incredibly hectic, so it's nice to have a break going in to it.

as i've written about before, i'm a fan of master chef so i'm looking forward to the final of the australian series tomorrow night. they aren't the 2 finalists i supported (i really wanted to see marion get through), but still should be fun. i'm hoping adam will win - and australian readers, please no comments until after 10.30pm tomorrow night (nz time)!

the thing i love most about the australian series is the diversity on the show. both last year & this year, they made an effort to ensure a wide range of ethnicities as well as other aspects of diversity. not only that, but they treat everyone as a fair-dinkum aussie, regardless of accent or whatever. i think it's such a nice change to see the definition of what is australian being expanded in this way, on a popular tv show.

not only that, but i also like the way the competitors behave towards one another. they are competitive without being nasty either in their tactics or in their behaviour towards each other. i love how they seem to genuinely wish other competitors well, even though each person desperately wants to win. i know that some other shows probably do this as well, and i think it's great.

the behaviour of the judges is pretty good - they have moments when they are a little harsh (especially george losing it several times, the night they were cooking at his restaurant), but generally they are never nasty. and on the whole, they tend to be quite supportive. the australian judges are way better than the nz judges in that regard, as are the UK judges. at the very least, they are never abusive or petty. as i've said before, it just illustrates that programmes like this can be extremely successful without the "simon cowell" factor.

or the "gordon ramsay" factor. which is why i can't bear to watch the US version of the show. i did try, but one episode of mr ramsay screaming at a contestant, centimetres away from his face, was quite enough for me. i should have known better than to watch it at all really, given that i generally can't stand mr ramsay's style, but i thought that this particular franchise might have had him toning down. no such luck. really, jamie oliver would have been a much better fit for this show, but no doubt he was busy with his various other projects.

so yes, i'll be busy tomorrow night :)

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

alternative report on welfare

i spent some time putting up a few posts at the hand mirror yesterday, one about a human rights facilitator's course i'm doing next year with the human rights commission; another linking to a post at kiwipolitico on the way men are represented in advertising; and a third about a conviction of a man filming his wife without her consent.

i've been reading some interesting stuff here & there. this long article about foster parenting is well worth a read, and really looks at some of those privilege issues i've been arguing about at the hand mirror (hat tip to blue milk, and a strong trigger warning for the article). for all the ugliness there is in the world, it is the work of this woman in doing the best she can to give back to society that continues to be an inspiration. i wish i had the kind of ability that she does.

there's also lots of good stuff on the wikileaks/julain assange stuff. i've not been keeping up with it as much as i would have liked, but here is a pretty good piece by giovanni (hat tip to the wonderful helen keviom). i may have some more to say about this another day.

i'm going to have a pretty hectic day tomorrow. the american special representative to muslim communities is in the country & she will be visiting hamilton. she reports directly to hilary clinton, so is in an important position. the current american ambassador has a post about her here. it'll be interesting to hear what she has to say, & to discuss some local issues with her.

also looking forward to the launch of the alternative welfare group's report on welfare issues. after the nastiness of the government group's report, it will be good to see some decent policy recommendations. it's due to be released at the catholic cathedral in wellington, at 12.30pm.

the one thing i don't get about the government's position is the lack of respect for parenting. either you believe that parenting is a vitally important task & support parents to be there for their kids, or you throw the future of both parent & child(ren) away by forcing parents on the DPB into work. we all know the jobs aren't there, that any jobs available aren't usually limted to or during school hours (and what if the kids aren't even school age?), and that if someone has to be paid to mind the kids while the DPB parent is in work, then we should rather be paying the parent to be with their own children. it just makes no sense. so yes, i'm hoping for some much better solutions from the alternative group.

and i'm still waiting for the party that will campaign on raising benefit levels so that people who have ended up in difficult circumstances at least have a decent income. it's unfortunately not a populist policy, not one that will win votes. which says something quite sad about our country really, that this is a policy that the majority wouldn't support and that political parties are not even willing to try to sell. sigh.

Monday, 6 December 2010

domestic what??

i had a busy weekend, starting with the community radio hamilton end of year function on friday night, then a fundraiser for another organisation.

saturday, i ended up doing a couple of unexpected things, one of which was an in-depth digipoll survey for the hamilton city council. took over 20 minutes & they asked all sorts of questions about what i thought of council services, staff & councillors. i was pretty happy with most things, except for the exceptional amount of money being spent on big projects like the stadium at claudlands, upgrades in hood st, and of course the v8s. the staff i've generally found quite helpful & willing to listen. the basic services around water supply, rubbish collection, and parks & gardens are also very good. the city roundabouts are really looking lovely at this time of the year, & i especially love the one outside clarence st pak'n'save, with its bright marigolds.

saturday night was our end of year work dinner, and our boss hired a bus & took us all up to spookers in auckland. it was really a lot of fun, & some quite scary bits. a good night out. my secret santa present was a pair of these:
whoever it was also bought a big pink ring and put it on one finger. obviously someone is having fun with the fact that i have a total aversion to housework, and i love them. i wore them most of the evening.

sunday was busy from morning to evening, and yet again, i feel like i go to work to have a break from my weekends! still, i have a resful one coming up (i hope) & the chance to catch up on the things i was supposed to get done this weekend.

for a more serious post, i've put up some suggestions on policy priorities for the new minister of women's affairs, over at the hand mirror.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

raising taxes

i had a busy evening last night. i attended a meeting on the campaign to retain MMP, which i've written about here at the hand mirror. i think the vote next year on MMP will have a very negative impact on our democracy if it goes the wrong way.

after that meeting, i went to a celebration held by shama which was very well attended. it was great to see families there, supporting the organisation & one of it's many successful programmes: the parenting classes. there was a wide range of ethnicities present, as well as different religious groups. great to see a bunch of muslim women attending, enjoying the performances & other activities. my favourite was the henna, and the back of my hand is now very nicely decorated.

i've been watching the mass protests across europe with interest - and sadness. as the recession & credit crisis hits hard & governments try to make massive cuts to social expenditure, the public is doing their best to resist. go them. it's a nonsense to say that these cuts are necessary. they totally aren't. there is another solution to raising the money necessary to ensure decent education for all, and a minimum level of financial security in old age.

the answer is to raise taxes, particularly for high-income earners & for corporates - especially large corporates. i'd put massive taxes on anyone whose salary is more than $1 million per year, something akin to the 66% that was nz's top tax rate in the 70s. of course, these people will threaten flight, taking large amounts of capital with them, but realistically, europe is a huge market & large corporates need to have a presence there. it would be nice if the tax rises could be co-ordinated not just across europe, but across the world.

i just don't see why those at the bottom should have to pay the price for the actions of the financial sector. i don't see why there is money for corporate bailouts but not for social expenditure. but mostly, i don't see why tax rises are so off the agenda that they are barely being raised as an option.

i guess the most silly thing is that the populations who are protesting are themselves the ones who voted in conservative leaders - particularly in france & england. it's not like they didn't know what they were getting. even so, i hope that the fightback is successful.