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.


Deborah said...

I've been meaning to get back to you about this - sorry for not doing so.

I think you're right to 'out' yourself: it's a way of defusing the wikileaks stuff. And it's a protest, a way of telling embassy staff that you are not impressed, at all, with the way they used a personal contact. I would be feeling ikcy about it, and very wary of re-engaging with them.

stargazer said...

thanx deborah. as someone said to me, they are employed to look after the national interests of the country that's paying their wages. it's up to me to look after my own personal interest. any future interactions will definitely be with that understanding in my own mind.