Wednesday, 26 September 2012

not indigenous

i was reading this post at mellow yellow regarding indigenous people, which raises some really interesting issues re colonisers and indigenous people in the asian context.  and it led me to start thinking about my own place in the world.  is there any place where i could consider myself "indigenous"?

i was born in india, and am clearly not indigenous to new zealand.  only maori fit that description in this country.  when it comes to india, i'm certain that i don't belong to one of the indigenous tribes - not many indians do, something like 8% of the population are indigenous.  india has been colonised and ruled by so many different foreign forces, and i don't know that my family tree goes back enough centuries to tell exactly where my ancestry lies.  could be with the persians, could go back to the arabs, unlikely to be from the countries to the north of india.  and who knows what intermarriage might have added to the mix.

i'm certainly not aware of any british ancestry & very much doubt that could have been hidden.  and given the way marriage works in my district of india, where family connections, geographical location, social status, and economic status tended to be strong determinants in the choice of marriage partners, i'd say that there's not likely to have been much intermarriage, at least not in the last couple of hundred years.

the greatest likelihood is that by race/ethnicity, i could trace my roots back eventually to somewhere in the middle east or persia. but it would seem to be a nonsense to say that i'm indigenous to that part of the world, especially when i have no connection to it - neither by language, culture, family connections or anything really.

i'm finally left with the conclusion that i'm not really indigenous to anywhere, not in a way that is meaningful.  which feels a little sad, because it makes me feel like i don't really belong anywhere. somehow the notion of indigeneity invokes such a strong connection to place and tradition, to history and to the land.  it also invokes a strong sense of oppression and dispossession, because so many indigenous peoples have suffered from colonisation.

if i'm not indigenous to anywhere, then i guess any place can be home.  and while i can support the struggles of indigenous peoples, it will never really be my struggle.  which is ok.  there are plenty of other things to be advocating for.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

a suffrage day post

suffrage day is almost over, but i'll sneak in a post.  while it's a day we celebrate nz women achieving the vote, it's also a time to think of women around the world who don't get to vote, and all that this means to them.  the lack of political participation and the lack of voice.

there's not many countries where men can vote but women can't - mostly it's that both can't vote.  those are countries without democracy, some them embroiled in civil war.  for some women, voting is not so much important as is trying to stay alive, and keeping their children alive. the right to vote is much lower down on their list of needs.

there are women who live in democracies but are afraid to vote.  they live in countries which see a significant amount of violence around election time.  or because it's too much of a risk to vote for any but the ruling party.

there are women who live in democracies but won't vote because they believe that casting their vote won't make the slightest bit of difference to their lives.  who are we to say they are wrong, particularly in countries where political parties of both the left and the right are appealing to the middle class voter, and it's not politically expedient to improve the lot of the poor.  and because single mothers are easily the most denigrated of beneficiary groups, the so-called welfare queens who struggle to manage, who are working hard but whose work is not acknoweldged because it is unpaid.

there are women who live in democracies who won't vote because they can't read or write.  they've missed out basic education, maybe because the system didn't work for them or because of issues at home, or because of learning difficulties.  some won't vote because the voting system isn't accessible to them. they might be working 2 or 3 jobs, or living in countries where voter registration laws are being used to disenfranchise them.

they might not vote because no-one they know has ever voted, they don't listen to the news, and election day comes and goes without them paying the slightest bit of attention.  they are rarely involved in political debates, not in a way that politics, parties and policies can be translated into the minutae of their daily struggles.

it's not enough to just have the right to vote.  that vote has to mean something: until women see the potential to engage and to cause meaningful change through the electoral system, they won't be voting.  we're lucky here to have retained the MMP system, which means fewer wasted votes and a greater ability for women to get into parliament.  but there are still so many who don't vote, who won't vote.  and it isn't because they are lazy, it's because they are disengaged.

we won the right to vote many years back.  but the question of how to translate that vote into wins for all women, and for society as a whole, is one that still needs to be addressed.

Sunday, 16 September 2012


a quick couple of links tonight.  first, i was interviewed for this piece in the human rights commission newsletter to the media & diversity network.  the piece is about the dom post coverage of the exhibit at the dowse museum - one part of which included a video of no more than a few minutes which was not available for viewing by men.  i posted my thoughts on the whole thing at the hand mirror.

i've probably written this before many times, but one thing i notice most about the people who use the "freedom of speech" argument to support hateful, bigotted or discriminatory speech are usually the people who are not going to face any significant consequences as a result of the particular piece of "speech" they are so defending.  it's not going to be their kids bullied at school, it's not going to be them harassed at the supermarket or on the street, it's not them who is going to have to feel fear & anguish as the wider community is inflamed by that particular piece of speech.

for those people it's a theoretical argument about principles, but one that has no real and immediate impact on their daily lives.  because they don't live the reality of the consequences, they don't even consider the possibility of those consequences, and when someone points it all out to them, they either disbelieve or dismiss it because it's not part of their direct experience.  i wonder how much they would be prepared to use freedom of speech as a defense after they had been subjected to this:

An unnecessarily large police force – many of them very heavily‐armed – was sent to conduct the raids at the break of dawn. From the outset, it was quite obvious that a significant part of their role was merely to intimidate and frighten. In one example, up to thirty police officers, many of whom looked like military commandos with their heavy armour, barged into the house of a local family, shouting orders and intimidating the occupants. The family inside this house consisted of six young children, aged between three and fourteen, and their frightened and confused mother; the father was overseas, and the police were aware of this fact....

Carpets were torn out of the floor in the house of another family and ceilings damaged; cash – not belonging to the suspect – confiscated in yet another; a woman was denied the right to leave her house; children were forced to dress and undress in the presence of police; some women whose houses were raided were asked to become spies for ASIO; and general degrading treatment and language was experienced throughout. Importantly, most of the houses raided contained children, who, having been violently awoken at dawn by gun‐wielding police – armed with semi automatic military style weapons – were obviously traumatised as a result. Many of the other family members also reported feelings of shock, anxiety and trauma, and are too scared to even seek professional help. One mother, whose house was raided, suffered a stroke and was taken to hospital for treatment.

this happened in australia, a democratic country where there is supposed to be a protection against human rights abuses by the state.  i'd strongly recommend you read the full release by al-furqan which gives further details of these events, asks some pretty important questions about the lack of evidence & pre-judgement by the australian attorney general, and makes this point which i strongly agree with:

We have little doubt that these raids are directly connected to the problem of Islamophobia, and this is evidenced by the fact that, had any other group been exclusively targeted by the police as the Muslim community has been, there would have been much outrage and backlash – and rightly so.

this is not the first time i've heard of this kind of incident happening in australia.  there was one incident i heard of in perth some years back which was very similar: a woman whose husband was overseas had her house raided, property damaged to the extent that she was unable to even lock her front door, all while her children were watching on with her.  the authorities showed no interest in paying for the damage nor even any concern about where she might spend the night when her home was no longer secure.  and they found no evidence of anything whatsoever to justify the raid.

as the al-furqan press release states, many of the people subjected to this kind of treatment have little knowledge of their rights and are too afraid to go to the media for fear of further backlash.  when the state & its institutions are your enemy and are exercising their power against you without cause, then where do you turn?  who is there to go to for help?  how do you begin to fight back?  and where is the "freedom of speech" for these people - how does their story reach the public when the mainstream media are refusing to put it forward?

Thursday, 13 September 2012

US embassy deaths

it's all very well keeping a positive frame of mind, and making a conscious decision to be happy.  which has been working quite well for me thus far.  but then you listen to the news and somehow it seems unfair to be happy when so many people are struggling.

there's the continuing news of job losses, the research coming out about child poverty, the constant nasty beneficiary-bashing policies being put out by the government, school closures in canterbury.  and overseas, workers being killed in factory fires in pakistan, and embassy staff under threat & some killed as protest rages in various countries in response to some stupid film produced by some random idiot in america.

i'm not sure i even have the energy to respond to the latter.  the protests in themselves i don't have a problem.  someone produces something stupid and offensive, then fine, gather a group of people and protest about how stupid and offensive that thing was.  make your point, express yourself.  don't have a problem with burning flags either, mostly because i don't attach a whole lot of emotional symbolism or meaning to flags.  they're just a piece of cloth after all.

but hurting people, and specifically, people who have taken no part in the financing, production or distribution of the film concerned makes no sense whatsoever.  in fact, it seems that many of the people who did take part were conned & had no idea what they were actually participating in.  not that i'm saying that it's ok to hurt the people who did know what they were doing and who deliberately set out to hurt and inflame.  of course it's not.  there are plenty of ways to protest against them without causing them physical harm.

i know we're talking about environments where violence is already a huge part of the mix.  the arab spring started in many countries with peaceful protest, but has led to violence by the state, which in turn has caused rebellion and further violence.  it gets to a stage where violence becomes the only response, an emotional gut response to a "we hate you" message from abroad.

i can't say i'm impressed with hilary clinton's response, though mr obama's was somewhat better (& mr romney's reaction is purely appalling - please US voters, do not let this man be your president).  and i hated the coverage i saw on the tv news - which i know, i mostly try to avoid, and for good reason - which was all about these countries which the US has been so generous in helping turning around and doing this terrible stuff.  yes, it's terrible, but as to the latter, let us not forget the wholesale destruction of infrastructure, the death of civilians and the huge decrease in the standard of living that were the result of NATO bombing in libya (in which the US played a large part).  we can show sympathy towards those killed and currently living in fear and condemn violence, without the rewriting of history.

i can't even begin to understand the mentality of the people who made the film.  it was such a strong, clear "i hate you" message, and what they hoped to gain from it i'm not sure.  other than to hurt others and to inflame emotions.  as if there isn't already enough hatred and violence in the world.  what makes a person want to pile more on?  no, i really can't understand it.

still, i can do nothing by sitting around being miserable here in this country.  the answer is to keep on keeping on.  a positive bit of news was an article in the community newspaper - the hamilton press - about the diversity award given to the waikato interfaith council (online version here if you register - pg 14, 12/9/12 edition).  if anything, the events above clearly reinforce just how important interfaith work is, and how much it is needed to provide an alternative model to the ones we've seen above.

and finally, my sincere condolences to the families of those embassy staff who have died, and my sympathy to those who are currently living in fear of attack & to their friends and family anxiously waiting and hoping for their safety.  i know this is a difficult time for you and i'm sorry that you have to deal with this.

Monday, 10 September 2012

catching up

so i haven't been posting much here because i was posting at the hand mirror last week, here, here and here.  i've also been feeling much more relaxed since i resigned from the position that caused me so much angst.  suddenly i feel like i'm getting done the things i need to do, and that i'm actually on top of things rather than feeling guilty about all the things that should already have been done last week, or last month.  which means that other people now have those problems to deal with, but i'm finding not the slightest need to feel guilty about that.

with the relief has also come a determination to be thankful for the things i have and to enjoy life a lot more.  which doesn't mean i'm doing a lot of different things as such, but more that i'm being positive in my mind about the things i am doing.  it takes a little effort now and then, but mostly not.  it just generally means a happier me.

one of the things i've been doing over the last few weeks is catching up on sports stuff.  youtube is great for those of us who don't think we should have to pay for the privilege to watch quality sport, and thankfully we now have access to the olympics events on you tube.  so i've been catching up on the men's & women's 10m diving, the all-round men's & women's gymnastics, and various track events like the men's 4 x100; the men's & women's 100 & 200.  i'm still looking forward to watching some table tennis & badminton, as well as some of the long-distance running.

and of course i couldn't resist this 23 minute clip of roger federer winning wimbledon:

pity that he lost in the semi-finals at the US open, and hoping some clips of that should be up soon.  but yay serena williams for managing to take out the women's title.

on a more serious note, a couple of pieces worth reading:  this op-ed at al-jazeera about white supremacy in the US is really well written; and this is a must read post about zeena & zainab al-hilli, the young iraqi girls whose parents were shot recently in france, with zeena not being found until 7 hours later.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

a lovely day

after my post of yesterday at the hand mirror, we've now had the last of the islam awareness week events.  and what a great day it was.  we had the mosque open day in the morning, and while it would have been nice to see more people there, i was still happy to meet and greet our visitors.

in the afternoon we went to the interfaith tree planting at Waiwhakareke Natural Heritage Park.  it's an amazing project of reclamation and restoration by the hamilton city council, and we would have had at least 100 people turn up to plant 500 trees.  there were people of all faiths: jewish, hindu, christian & muslim all working together to get the trees planted in the space of an hour or so.

i'm definitely not a gardener, and planting 2 trees was about as much as i could cope with.  they were pretty crooked, and i really hope they survive!  one was a kahikatea & i don't know what the other one was.  but it was an incredible event to be part of, and it just showed us what a wonderful place this planet could be if people worked on projects like this together instead of wasting time hating on each other.

in the evening i was invited to a wedding, where one half of the couple was of lebanese heritage and the other was of european heritage, born in nz.  the guests were a lovely mix of arab, african, south asian and european.  it was a segregated event, which meant the women took off their headscarves and abayas, & shone in their beautiful clothes.  the room was alive with colour, music, dance, laughter, and a freedom that comes from escaping the male gaze.  the men were no doubt having fun in their own part of the building, but we weren't interested, and for any one of them to enter at that time would indeed have been a violation.

the men did come in later, after we'd been giving enough warning to put our headscarves back on.  and then in lebanese tradition, they danced for the women.  and it struck me how nice it was for the women to get to be the gazers and the men to be the entertainers for once.  but it was sweetly done, and some of the wives later joined in with their husbands.  it was a much different experience from an indian muslim wedding, and a lovely end to a wonderful day.