A (Feminist) Dream

I was asked a few days ago what my dream was. My genuine, unrehearsed answer was: ‘My dream is to make a difference’ -and I stand by it. I don’t believe I have achieved that dream just yet, but I do believe I am on the right track to someday doing so or getting as close as I can to doing so -by continuing with my studies, writing, doing voluntary work, trying to spread awareness about humanitarian causes, doing my bit for animal welfare, and just trying to help wherever I can.
I am by no means implying that I am an example to be followed or anything like that. I have known many inspiring women in my life, who have worked so hard to get to where they are, and who continue to work hard to make a difference in their own and others’ lives, in whose footsteps I hope to gradually follow.
I know that not everyone’s dream is equivalent to my own, and I understand that. And I also admit that it is not becoming of anyone to be judgmental, but having said that, I can’t help but feel a little disappointed when I see other women, with so much potential to do good in this world, just getting by on their looks. Those whose dreams can be summed up in putting on makeup and fancy dresses, with the end goal being just lavishness and fame.
I am aware that today’s feminism is about choice – it is a woman’s own choice whether to use her mind or her body or both, as long as the choice remains hers. And I do agree that it is our choice to do whatever we want with our bodies – but it is when we start relying on it as an end goal, when I begin to feel that that choice has become devoid of value. That is when I feel the body has won over the mind and when  I see so much wasted talent in many young women today.
This is also the same reason I feel there is genuine hypocrisy on the part of ‘liberal’ feminists who claim that women who cover up are necessarily oppressed and need to be rescued by ‘our values’. It is a sad day for feminism when the integrity of a woman’s choice is determined primarily by what she ‘chooses’ to wear – and let’s be honest, even that choice belongs more to the fashion industry than it does to us.

Malcolm EvansCartoon by Malcolm Evans

Let me clarify, I am not declaring a war against fashion or makeup here, I am no stranger to either myself. I just wish that more women knew that they are worth more than that, that their dreams can go beyond wanting to be in the spotlight for the wrong reasons or to be showered with vacant admiration by the wrong people. I won’t lie, I am also taken in by the empty flattering from time to time, but I do know one thing and it is that I don’t want to be the kind of woman who looks back in a couple of years from now, wishing she had done more with her life, wishing she had dreamed a bigger dream, or that she had more to show of her achievements than just youth. Sometimes I fear that is all I have so far, but I’m trying to rectify by using my mind in all that I do – and I will continue to do so as best I can – and I hope to one day inspire other girls to do the same, just as other strong, inspirational female role models have done for me.

Traditions die hard

Yesterday evening, on the 12th October 2015, the expat Spanish community of Indonesia celebrated the Spanish national day (or what they call Columbus day in the US) at the Kempinski hotel near Grand Indonesia, Jakarta.FullSizeRender (2)

As I walked into the hotel, the sheer lavishness of the place struck me immediately. The formal dress code was something that had escaped me, it was mere coincidence that I had gone somewhat decently dressed to work that day, since I would have never imagined it would’ve been so exclusive. The event was held in a vast ballroom with sparkling chandeliers dangling from the ceiling, a five-foot-long, wooden relief on the wall, and a central stage. As we walked through the gates onto the carpeted hall and were greeted by a line of supposedly important people with handshakes and the occasional ‘hola’, ‘que tal’, ‘bienvenidos’, it was also hard to miss the glistening ice sculpture displayed right before us.

And the reason why people were really there – the free food and drinks- did not disappoint at all. We were spoiled with a wide range of appetizers and meals galore, from the more traditional Spanish paella and jamon iberico, to the exotic fruits of the tropical island of Java, and a selection of red or white wine to wash down all the extravagance.

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The Spanish ambassador to Indonesia then gave his opening speech about the importance of this Fiesta Nacional Española that we celebrate every year, which commemorates the day that Christopher Columbus first ‘discovered’ the Americas in 1492. The ambassador did not fail to mention the significance of this day for Spaniards, and how crucial it is that we have left traces of our culture and language behind and as such have created as connection between Hispanic people across continents.

He did fail to mention, however, the mass murder and oppression that came with the ‘discovery’ and appropriation of already inhabited lands. Nor did he refer to the hypocrisy of having alarm bells go off nowadays over ‘illegal immigration’, while failing to acknowledge how imperialists were themselves the first of these illegal migrants as little as less than a century ago. What is worse is that this was a speech delivered in a country that has seen its fair share of European colonialism as well. And there I was, eating, drinking and mingling in the midst of the sad irony of it all.

It makes me wonder when exactly  these kind of traditions should become a concern for our more liberalised and supposedly enlightened world?

Should traditions outlive history, just because they are that, a supposedly harmless celebration whose origin should no longer be relevant? After all, every tradition is rooted in history, and our history is admittedly a dark one.

But I would still say no, it’s not okay. And you may say I’m being a little too politically correct here, and maybe I am. But if we are as enlightened as we claim to be, if we really have overcome the wrongs of our dark past, then we need to make strides to account for it. We need to let go of traditions which, in any way, glorify this history. We need to promote instead the celebration of the positive things we’ve done in history – or make new traditions for future generations to look back on and feel proud, rather than conflicted, to be a part of.

Then again, this is also not too different to the hypocrisy of discussing issues like poverty  in luxury hotels with lavish foods and drinks to fuel our thoughts, while still having the audacity to talk about being ‘inclusive’ in our development approach, which I also partake in more often than not.

These are all challenges which lie ahead for us, if we are to become truly more enlightened.  I do sometimes wonder, however, whether people actually realize this or whether they’d rather just turn a blind eye and carry on eating and drinking thoughtlessly, much as I myself did last night.

The Shadow of 9/11

Wrote this on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, still holds true today.

Miscellaneous Thoughts

Originally published: September 16, 2011

The end of an era, and the beginning of a new one – Maryam Elika Ansari on the 10th Annivesary of the tragedy to end all tragedies

The shadow of 911

Image Credit: http://www.nationalpost.com/news/world/911/index.html

As I looked at my mobile phone and realised that today was the 11th of September, a distant, yet overpowering memory gripped me. I saw the smouldering flames blazing once again before me, I heard the heartbreaking screams of despair, felt the fear seize my entire self, and smelled the stench that comes with death and destruction. I wondered how many others across the world shared this memory with me today.

I do not even feel the need to specify what I am talking about, because I know you knew the minute I mentioned ‘September 11th’.

If you haven’t caught a glimpse of the calendar in some time, that’s okay, because every…

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Misconceptions about the Current Refugee Crisis

 

Img credit: The Independent

As the on-the-clock reporting of the refugee crisis in Europe becomes more intense, so does the cleft between opinions among Europeans, with those welcoming refugees to EU member states at one end of the pole, and those demanding they stop coming at the other.

And of course, with the safe haven the Internet has to offer, no one is afraid of being as blunt as possible about their opinions and even present them as facts. As such, I keep stumbling upon the same myths about the refugee crisis, which many have started to take at face value.

So here are what I think are some of the gravest misconceived statements about the current crisis and my attempt at clearing them up.

  1. “They are migrants, not refugees”.

Img credit: Al Jazeera

First of all, there is a fundamental problem when it comes to using the term ‘migrant’ to refer to what is in actual fact a refugee.

The word ‘migrant’ is infused with choice – the choice to leave one’s city or country for work, study, or better living conditions is something which makes a large number of us migrants. A ‘refugee’, on the other hand, is determined by a lack of choice – dire circumstances of war, oppression, or disaster, which forces someone out of their place of residence.

While some news outlets like Al Jazeera have consciously dropped the term ‘migrant’ to describe the current plight of those leaving their homes behind, others like the BBC still employ the term to remain more neutral in their stance.

The reason why the BBC is criticised for sticking to the word ‘migrant’ when describing the current crisis is indeed because it subtly posits that these refugees have a choice when they risk their lives cross over to Europe. This kind of rhetoric is counterproductive when it comes to the defence of refugees’ rights, and needs to be dismantled. And that is also part of the reason why people continue asking why these refugees do not take up residence in neighbouring Arab countries instead of coming to Europe.

  1. “Arab migrants should go to Muslim countries where they’d fit in more, instead of coming to Europe”.

https://i1.wp.com/migrantreport.org/wp-content/uploads/Screen-Shot-2015-07-01-at-12.35.22-PM.png

Img credit: UNHCR

The short rebuttal to this is that they do, in fact, go to neighbouring Muslim majority countries, and they do so in large numbers.

If we are talking about refugees in general, the four countries which act as host to the largest number of refugees in the world; Pakistan, Jordan, Syria and Iran, are indeed, Muslim majority countries, whose total number of recorded refugee populations stands at around 20 million. This overshadows by a milestone the 1.5 million total refugee populations currently registered in all 28 EU member states.

With regard to Syrian refugees in particular, of the 12 million who are currently displaced, approximately 8 million are internal refugees and 4 million have entered neighbouring countries like Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey. That leaves only about a quarter of a million Syrians who have made it into the EU, which means less than 2 per cent of the total Syrian refugee population.

If these figures prove anything, it is that refugees do tend to choose the closest, safest, and arguably, culturally ‘similar’ countries to settle down in, though of course these figures don’t make it into the news as much.

Some commentators have mentioned other Gulf States like Saudi Arabia, UAE or Oman as potential ‘peaceful’ destinations for refugees as well. The problem here is that these countries, as non-signatories of the international convention on refugee rights, do not grant asylum or refugee status.

Another thing to keep in mind when talking about ‘similar cultures’ is that culture is not singularly defined in terms of just religion, especially one whose distinct interpretations has become the source of so much tension and conflict in the Middle East. Divisive aspects still prevail among and between Arab countries, not least religious disparities, which often combine with political and ethnic divisions making it more difficult for refugees to go to Gulf States, despite our outsider and largely inaccurate perception of a ‘similar culture’.

Other reasons might be purely tactical. It is much easier for refugees from Syria to reach Turkey or Greece by sea, than it would be to reach Oman or the UAE, for example.

  1. “Refugees should not get to pick and choose where to stay. They should just apply for asylum in their country of entry, as decreed by the Dublin Convention”.

Again, they do. But understandably, it is irrational to expect only a few countries with limited resources to take on all the burden of providing for thousands of people. As such, the Dublin convention is currently under revision, and some member states like Germany have outright suspended this regulation in an attempt to grant asylum to more refugee populations.

A refugee holds a picture of German Chancellor Angela Merkel after the arrival of refugees at the main train station in Munich. Photo: AFP

A refugee holding Chancellor Merkel’s picture upon arrival at Munich. Img credit: AFP.

From the refugees’ perspective, it is also understandable for them to try to go to a country where they are more likely to get a positive response in their petition for asylum, as it is to go to one with a more thriving economy where they would be more likely to work and provide fairly for themselves and their families, rather than further burden that country’s unemployment benefits.

  1. “These refugees were sent here by Daesh to disseminate Islamic doctrine in Europe”.

This one is so ridiculous that I am tempted to just skip it. But I’ll say one thing – how widespread and deeply ingrained has anti-Muslim propaganda become for some people to actually believe that refugees risk their own lives and that of their children to set out to Europe on some kind of Islamic crusade?

  1. “The only way to eliminate the current refugee crisis is to eliminate Daesh”.

Wrong. Daesh is only part of the problem, and much more a result of a deeper rooted conflict than a direct cause of it. Let us not forget the pro-democracy uprisings which started four years ago, were explicitly against Assad’s regime. At that time, Daesh had no significant presence in Syria at all, but people were still being displaced by the thousands. Things became more complicated when Daesh seized turf in Syria, of course, but they did so as well when the US started its air strikes against Daesh, with civilian areas serving as occasional collateral damage.

To go to the actual root of the current conflict would mean to acknowledge the fragility of a nation like Syria, which has, since the end of a series of foreign occupations, only emerged a few decades ago under the dictatorship of the Assad family. Current borders drawn by former colonialists and the meshing together of different ethnic and religious groups continue to pose a problem resulting in conflict.

I know people get edgy about bringing up colonialism over and over again, but the fact of the matter is, it has left an on-going impact, which cannot be overlooked when talking about ‘solutions’ to conflicts in the Middle East.

Image retrieved from AsiaNews.it

 

  1. “The media’s focus has shifted entirely onto the refugees in Europe, undermining the significance of war in the Middle East and refugees elsewhere”.

452 MILLION REFUGEES INTERNALLY DISPLACED

Refugee Camp in Iraq, 2013. Credit: Getty images.

This one is not a misconception. But it should come as no surprise as far the media goes.

In news reporting in general, there is a clear conflict of interest when it comes to selling a story and being objective. To have a story at all, one needs certain elements – a plot, for starters, then a hero, a victim, and a villain.

In the refugee crisis we seem to have it all. The plot revolves around the refugees’ plight to reach safe land in Europe, and plot twist, the challenges they continue to face upon their arrival.

The villain for some is the Hungarian government – the whole crisis began in the media with the latter’s construction of a wall to keep refugees out and then intensified with their closing of train stations to impede refugees’ quest for asylum in other EU countries.

We have heroes in the European people who are at odds with their governments and are going out to help the refugees.

And unfortunately, now we even have a face for the victims as tragic images of Aylan, the drowned toddler, circulate the web demanding that people take a stand against the current situation.

But the truth is, this refugee crisis is much more dated than the news would have us believe. For the media though, it seemed only to became a crisis worthy of on-the-clock reporting when all the elements of the story fell into place, and since we just got our villain recently, that seems to be now.

And finally, why does Western media not engage as deeply with the war and its casualties as it does with the refugee crisis in Europe? Because we only become interested in putting a face to a news story when it concerns Europe or the US in some way. If it does not, it is reduced to mere statistics.

The Afghans of the Béguinage Church, Brussels

Protesters gathering outside Béguinage Church

About seven months ago, I decided to look for voluntary work in Brussels where I had moved to study a Master’s degree recently. In my online search, I came across a very intriguing project; a befriending voluntary activity with Afghan refugees, living in the Béguinage Church near St Catherine. Now, I was sure I had caught a distant glimpse of that church at some point, but I had no idea that there were people actually living inside it.

So I decided to go and meet these people. And now that I’ve been going for a couple of months, I can say that I am really glad I did.

‘Volunteering’ doesn’t even feel like the right word to use here anymore. Why? Because I love spending time with them. It has been such an enriching, learning experience for me, to see these guys so determined to fight for their rights; to see them face every challenge head on, and keep moving forward despite all the hardship, has been beyond inspiring.

I have loved talking to them, learning more about their lives, going to protests with them, and taking a minimal part in their struggles. I have loved teaching English to those who have shown so much passion for studying, despite or perhaps because of everything they have been through.

It still amazes me to see the level of optimism and hope these people still manage to maintain, in spite of their heartbreaking stories of anguish, loss and estrangement. I have come to consider some of them as very close friends of mine, and feel truly sad whenever I see life throwing more challenges in their faces. Like receiving a negative response in their petition for asylum. Or, more recently, like being asked to leave the church, rendering many of them homeless.

Even so, they keep showing determination to keep going. Recently, in fact, they held an event which demonstrates just that.

On Sunday 26th of July 2015, the Afghans held a public event in the Béguinage Church, where they formerly resided – and as side note, I am truly sorry to have missed it, being out of the country and all. The event was to publicly exhibit a group project these guys had been working on with a psychologist for the past couple of weeks, namely to construct a model Afghan villa by using a combination of all their skills – be it wood-work, lighting, painting, polishing and so on, as a way to show off their abilities to the public and, more importantly, to themselves. This project was also a way to keep their minds busy through these difficult times and get them to help one another through them.

Below are fragments of a moving speech, which the Afghan refugees wrote and delivered together at this event last Sunday.

“We live in constant insecurity. We don’t dare to submit a new asylum application or even go out on the street for fear that the police will pick us up, lock us up and repatriate us…. Every minute of the day we are confronted with our desperate and undignified situation. In addition, there is the continuous flood of bad news from our homeland. We cringe with every attack, with every public reprisal …Perhaps someone we know is concerned? Is this the situation we are supposed to go back to? We walk around with photos and movies on our cell phones of dismembered, decapitated and soulless bodies …”

“It’s quite ironic … the only place that gave us relief the last couple of months and years can cost our lives in Afghanistan. People over there don’t know the situation here and they will not understand our despair. In their eyes, our presence in the church is a sign of apostasy, as if we deny everything of our own faith and tradition.”

We are here in self-preservation and our values, hopes and prayers are kept alive in our discussions and in our hearts. Some of us have slept on the ground for the last 12 years… believe us, if we could have, we would already have returned a long time ago to our country and our loved ones.” 

“We don’t ask for pity or charity of Europeans, of the Belgians. We ask for a fair chance to a dignified and safe existence. We are not criminals but people like you who wish for a normal life. We are not freeloaders, but hard workers who want to take their lives into their own hands.”

Like everyone else, we want to feel useful in this world and contribute to society. Right now it looks like we don’t belong to it. If you don’t have papers, you’re invisible… People walk past us without knowing what we have in us and without seeing the potential in us that we’d like to develop so eagerly. That makes us sad and we don’t know how we can show ourselves to others. We have however many talents, skills and knowledge we would like to use… we want to make a difference, do something important, create something. It is sometimes hard to remind ourselves of this when we look at ourselves through their eyes. The feeling of being useless and unworthy sometimes sneaks into our hearts. But we know that it is a consequence of circumstances and we must continue to believe in ourselves.”

Click here : The-Afghans-of-the-Beguinage-church for the full text.

A final word from me.

In the light of countries in the EU demanding an end to the migration ‘crisis’ (clearly a misuse of the term ‘crisis’ as it refers merely to the sheer possibility of having to pay slightly higher taxes to help people escape death and devastation), I think it is all the more necessary to help bring refugees’ stories to light. We are experiencing a crisis, for sure, but it is not a crisis of human migration. It is a crisis of humanitarianism. Lack of empathy and selflessness is overriding our Europe, and this, in my mind, is the biggest challenge to overcome. And that is why it is all the more pressing to hear it straight from the refugees’ mouths, and then decide whether we’d still have the guts to look them in the eyes and say ‘There is no room for you here’.

So please help me share this text – distribute it online, send it to friends, and so on. Help bring visibility to this cause and help others see why it is necessary, now, more than ever, to stop treating refugees like a burden and start giving them the welcome they deserve.

blogpostImage credit: extracted from document: The-Afghans-of-the-Beguinage-church

 

We Are Animals Too…

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If you do not understand that we humans should not see ourselves as uncritically superior to other animals, please do me a favour, and give this article a miss. I am not in the mood to get into a debate about how, as much as we’d like to believe, we humans are not the centre of this universe and that, frankly, the world would be a much better place without us bringing the earth to its destruction as we do every single day of our lives.

We build highways through everything, pollute the environment, cause wars, meltdowns and disasters on an all-too-frequent basis. But somehow, most of us still believe that we are superior, don’t we? That animals and nature alike were just put on this earth to be our food, our play things, and our day-to-day objects.

Having said that, I feel ambiguous about having pets. I have had many pets myself, in fact, but can’t help but ask myself, why are we so obsessed with them? Is it because of ownership? Asserting our superiority by practising our power every day on our pets? Or is it because we are addicted to intensified emotion? The love and joy that comes with getting attached to a pet, and the grief that comes with losing them. That feeling of loss is overpowering me as I write this post. I speak from experience when I say dealing with a pet’s loss is like dealing with the loss of a family member. When my cat Pishi passed away over six years ago in my first year of university, I was heartbroken. I grew up with her and loved her beyond words.

My brother has gotten a new cat since then, but I never got as close to him. Maybe I just never let myself get as close to him. Maybe I was afraid of getting hurt again.

Before continuing, let me ask you for another favour; if you do not understand how there could ever be a strong bond between humans and other animals, please just keep it to yourself. I realize we as people are different and I respect that, but again, I am in no mood to defend my right to love an animal at present.

Anyway, my brother also got two pet turtles since then, yellow-bellied sliders species, about four years ago, and I, somehow, unknowingly, fell in love with them. Let me tell you a few things about the yellow-bellied slider. They are originally from the south eastern U.S. regions where the climate is often humid and tropical. They have a life span of up to thirty years, forty in captivity. However, in captivity, we must try to artificially simulate their natural environment as much as possible, with the right amount of water, anti-chlorine neutralizers, UVA heat lamps, and extra calcium pills. We must also filter their tanks and clean them once every week / two weeks, as turtles living in captivity develop different kinds of sensitivity than those living in the wild.

aquarium

Now, all of this is by no means easy to do, and many people are very much misinformed about how to properly take care of their pet turtles. Neither do pet store owners go out of their way to explain the details of turtle care, nor do parents often go out of their way to properly seek out information, as they often believe they are buying their kids just another toy, a live one at that. It is then that these turtles don’t survive past a few years at most.

Ours had no such problem though. My brother took great care of the turtles, cleaning their tank, feeding them twice a day, making sure everything was running just fine. And so did I, whenever I was back for holidays. I would even take them out for walks and let them examine every corner of the living room, or even out to the garden, whenever the weather was permitting. That is also when their different personalities really came out; one was quite an adventurer, choosing to go long distances and explore under twigs and branches, while the other mostly, but not always, preferred the intimacy of tight spaces. But then I was always sad whenever I had to put them back into their aquarium, and was met with their frantic clawed resistance.

turtleneck  twigs

I remember the days I sat at the dining room table, just watching them, and feeling I never wanted to stop looking at them. But with love comes a certain selflessness, the realization that they deserve much more than to be cooped up in that little glass box. This realization grew the time I saw the bigger turtle trying continuously to bite the little one, something I learned after some research was actually a mating call, which, either way, would have failed because,

  1. The turtles lacked the right conditions to lay and incubate eggs in the aquarium, and
  2. They both seemed to be of the same gender (though that still remains to be confirmed).

So I started looking for a better place for them, one where they could walk around the garden all they wanted, one with more space to swim around in, and more of their own kind to bask in the sun with. I knew I could not just release them into the wild, after being domesticated animals, they wouldn’t stand a chance out there. So I found a place, a kind lady with a garden and a beautful koi pond full of other turtles and all kinds of fish agreed to take them.

pond

Giving them away was one of the hardest things I have had to do, but I kept telling myself it was for the best, and that they would be happier there. I knew in my heart no one would take care of them as well as I did, but I also knew that that did not exactly matter. They didn’t need my love, they needed their freedom.

I stayed in touch with the lady and tried to visit the turtles at times. I never saw the little one again since the day I released him in the pond, but last time I went the big one stuck his head out of the water and looked up at me. 🙂

I often remember the day I was sitting in the living room and looking at them while they were sleeping in the aquarium, and was gripped with a sudden worry that something might one day happen to them. And well, it seems that day has come. I just found out the little one died last month, less than a year after giving them away.

The cause of death is unknown. Perhaps it was the weather. He was always was the weaker of the two, so maybe it was too much for him to handle. But then again, there were quite a few others that survived so it is still unclear.

Needless to say, I was sad when I heard the news. But then, I was a little angry too. With the world and with myself. With the world, because it is perfectly okay for us to take animals away from their natural habitats only to give humans a reason to indulge themselves until they get tired of the animal or it dies. At myself, for ever having believed I could give these turtles a better life. Their lives were taken the day they were forced out of their swamp or marsh or river in Florida or Virginia and sent thousands of kilometres away to Spain to become someone’s pet.

I am still not sure which is better, a long healthy life in captivity or a few months of freedom. Of course, the most romantic of us would opt for the latter, but who knows what freedom really meant to these turtles. My actions in giving away my turtles came out of my good intentions. But if the world could run on well-intentioned mistakes, it would be a much better place than it is now.

All I can do now is to learn and move on. I’ll think of him/her often, and it will be painful at first, but I’ll try to better myself every time I do. I have been trying do myself right by animals this past year or so. I am an animal rights activist, even if only online, I donate to animal-related causes frequently, and I am now a novice vegan. I have vowed to only adopt animals from now on, rather than keep giving pet stores excuses to force animals out of their natural habitats.

I am vehemently against the inhumane treatment of all animals, and will make an even bigger effort from henceforth to be vocal about it. That the horrific conditions under which factory farmed animals live, for example, with no space to even turn around, should even be legal in this world makes me look at humanity with a new-found affliction. That we allow this to go on and choose to just turn a blind eye makes me think we are not as evolved as we would like to think, not mentally, and certainly not ethically.

I keep telling myself, people would not stand for all this if they only knew, but then again, many people do know but lack the strength to boycott what needs to be boycotted to make this world a better place.

I have my moments when I dream of the day that humanity will look back at our time and think how backward we were when we treated other living creatures like dirt. They will look back and laugh at our ignorance and grieve for our lack of empathy.

I just hope that when that day comes, I will be able to look back with them and mark humanity’s long overdue progress.

The Shadow of 9/11

Originally published: September 16, 2011

The end of an era, and the beginning of a new one – Maryam Elika Ansari on the 10th Annivesary of the tragedy to end all tragedies

The shadow of 911

Image Credit: http://www.nationalpost.com/news/world/911/index.html

As I looked at my mobile phone and realised that today was the 11th of September, a distant, yet overpowering memory gripped me. I saw the smouldering flames blazing once again before me, I heard the heartbreaking screams of despair, felt the fear seize my entire self, and smelled the stench that comes with death and destruction. I wondered how many others across the world shared this memory with me today.

I do not even feel the need to specify what I am talking about, because I know you knew the minute I mentioned ‘September 11th’.

If you haven’t caught a glimpse of the calendar in some time, that’s okay, because every newspaper headline, national and international, will remind you, and then you will feel a pang of guilt for ever having forgotten.

I was halfway across the world when it happened. I had never seen the towers, nor have I ever in my life set foot on US territory. Why, then, has this memory excavated its way deep into the inner core of my mind, as it has in so many others’?

This memory is not my own, yet it somehow feels too familiar. It belongs to all of us. The video footages, images, and sounds, made available by the media, would not have it any other way. They made it mine, yours, and the entire world’s.

I am moved by videos of this year’s ceremony, particularly the interviews with the grieving spouses and children, the victims of 9/11 . ‘The 9/11 Children’ they are called, each of which now, having entered adulthood, shares their story and that of their lost loved ones with the rest of the world. With repeated recordings of the fatal news of the day, not to mention, the loving family portraits and tender music playing in the background, it is hard not to give myself over once again, and feel an overwhelming sense of empathy towards the victims, which seem suddenly so close to me.

Death is no longer mere numbers. Death has been given a name, a face, a family, a story.

Then I can’t help but glimpse back at other headlines over the past years and months: ‘Scores dead in Syrian attacks’, ‘More Palestinians dead in Palestine’, ‘Iraq death toll “over one million’’’, ‘Civilian deaths in Afghan War hit record high’. Here, death remains just death. It is detached, commonplace, even; as there is no doubt in our minds that we will encounter another such headline in the papers tomorrow, or the day after. Numeric figures, deprived from their narrative – evoking shock only due to the monumental size of the numbers, which persistently rise by the minute, but never elicit a further, more involved emotional response.

Human life is equal, we are taught, yet the media’s approach suggests otherwise. Some of the dead have been given a voice, while others are forgotten the very next day. Some live on, while others are gone forever.

A tragedy occurred on September 11th, there is no doubt about it. One we should not, and will not forget. But tragedies have not stopped poisoning our societies ever since, nor were there any lack of them before.

The War on Terror continues, as thousands of others die day after day, nameless and faceless, and we are still caught up in an emotional journey back to the past.

Ten years past, and their stories are still with us, while millions have been swept away by a gust of neglect and forgetfulness, and more still will remain untold.

‘9/11’ has become ours. The songs, the narratives, the repeated images, even the catchiness of the term ‘9/11’ itself.  It has marked our history and our calendars, it has made its bed in the depths of our minds. 9/11 is us, we are 9/11.

This memory is not my own, but it will remain with me forever. These 3,000 I will keep, but the millions of others are already fading away.

Maryam Elika Ansari 

I Am Thousands of Victims Who Are Never Talked About

I-am-the-thousands-img On Saturday 10th January 2015, a militant terrorist group stormed into the town of Baga armed with grenades and assault rifles. This town in Northern Nigeria was left ravaged, with almost 2,000 people killed, most of whom were children, women and elderly people. Amnesty International deemed this tragedy Boko Haram’s ‘deadliest massacre’ yet. Meanwhile, the internet was still exploding with stories of the shooting at the Charlie Hebdo premises in Paris, and tweets of #JeSuisCharlie continued to trend up to the point where they became one of the most popular in twitter’s history. Even the Nigerian President, Goodluck Jonathan publicly declared his sympathies for the attacks on Charlie Hebdo but stayed silent in the light of the massacre of his own civilians. This attack on Charlie Hebdo, which left 12 people dead took place over six days ago, and has turned into a symbolic ideological warfare ever since; Freedom of speech vs. the Islamists. Meanwhile, other massacres are not really talked about, at least not with the same vigour that defines the #JeSuisCharlie campaign. What we are facing is a crisis of representation of unimaginable dimensions, when the lives of 12 seem to outweigh those of the 2,000 in Baga, or more than 10,000 Muslim civilians killed by ISIS last year alone, or the 93,000 killed in Syria over the past years – I could go on. When some massacres are taken so to heart by the entire world, while others are coldly glossed over in the news as yet another instance of Muslims killing each other. By all this I do not mean to say we should not stand in solidarity with the victims of Charlie Hebdo and the subsequent hostage situations in France. Far from it – to kill another human being for any reason whatsoever is despicable. I condemn the attack and I feel much sorrow and sympathy for the victims’ families and friends. But I do not believe that immortalizing these cartoonists’ work is the best way to express sympathy – not only because it will prove alienating to people once the 3 million copies of CH featuring the prophet Muhammad on the cover will hit the stacks tomorrow, but also because we would hardly be doing any justice to the victims themselves by turning them into a pretext for this ‘ideological’ vendetta. After all, they were much more than just cartoonists. All these double standards just scream one word to me: irony. It is sadly ironic that provocative satire should be staunchly defended under the banner of ‘freedom of expression’, while bans on wearing the hijab or yarmulke in public schools and the face veil in all public spaces remain actively in place in France. It is sadly ironic that Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, should appear in Paris’s solidarity peace march, while parading the blood of more than 2,000 Gazans from this past summer alone on his hands. The word ‘terrorism’ is only reserved for sub-state Islamists, it seems. It is sadly ironic that we, as a global community, should rally around this one cause, while ignoring all other struggles for freedom out there. For when the recent Egyptian uprisings and Iran’s Green Movement were at their height, I saw no one defiantly displaying ‘I am Khaled Mohammed’ or ‘I am Neda’ on their Facebook profiles, other than other Arabs and other Iranians. I saw no peace marches or worldwide tributes to these causes or any other ensuing struggles for freedom in the Middle East, Africa, Asia or Latin America. Colonialism might have ended on the surface, but its deafening echoes still resonate in the Media; every time we are deceived into believing that some lives or struggles matter more than others. Every time we are told that if we don’t take part in the #jesuischarlie ‘ideological’ vendetta (even though it might prove offensive to many, and not just Muslims), that the terrorists ‘win’ or that we are with the terrorists. Every time it paints the whole matter in simple brushstrokes of black and white. Every time it tells us this vendetta should mean more to us than future threats of violence, than the polarizations that are already ensuing between minority and majority populations. It is sadly ironic that donations for the publication of Charlie Hebdo surpassed $2 million, while millions of the world’s refugee community live in meagre camps and cannot even afford to buy a bag of rice to feed themselves and their families.

That our ideals should be so, so misplaced in this world is just the saddest kind of irony.

Maryam Elika Ansari

Ben Affleck stands up for Islam

Yes, this is my drawing of Ben Affleck

  
Having watched the cringeworthy depiction of Iran in Affleck’s oscar-winning movie, Argo, where he paints a picture of Iranians as a bunch of savage fanatics who can only be stopped by the kind of  American heroism which only he himself could embody, I thought I had the director-actor all figured out. But lo and behold, it seems I was deeply mistaken.

I just watched Affleck come down rather hard on a bunch of Islamophobic bigots on Real Time, and I must say, was rather impressed.

Author Sam Harris and his somewhat less intelligent side-kick, Bill Maher proceeded to describe Islam and Muslim people in a fashion only a ten-year-old could ever dream of surpassing. Maher kicked things off by calling Islam ‘the motherload of bad ideas’ (met with much applause and even ‘woos’), while Harris came to his rescue with his well-researched statistics (which he just conjured out of thin air, cos he is that awesome), claiming at least 20% of Muslims in the world are Islamists and/or Jihadists. That is when Affleck decided enough was enough, and took a stand for both Islam and Muslim. He called out the bigots for being, well, bigots, and their statements as being grossly stereotypical.

‘How about more than a billion people who aren’t fanatical, who don’t punish women, who just want to go to school…?’ said the enraged Affleck.

As the discussion got heated, the so-called liberals decided to speak up for those who clearly cannot speak for themselves, and with that, women, of course became the hot topic, with Harris claiming that all Muslim women are immiserated in the Muslim world, leaving us wondering when exactly all Muslim women died and named him their official spokesperson.

Again, Affleck stepped in, rightly stating that ‘We’ve killed more Muslims than they’ve killed us, we’ve invaded more Muslims than they’ve invaded us…’, shedding light on the historical complexity of the so-called ‘Muslim world’, where colonialism played and continues to play a large role in existing conflicts (INCLUDING the IS).

Having seen the actor-director so enfuriated about the bigoted depictions of Muslims, I must say I felt almost compelled to forgive him for the car-crash that was his god-awful film. But I still can’t help but wonder, does he really not see that in the end, he himself has contributed to the perpetuation of these Islamophobic ideas which he claims to oppose so fervently?

Welcome to Miscellaneous Thoughts!

Hello, hey, hi there! Welcome to Miscellaneous Thoughts!

I’ve been wanting to become part of the blogging community for ages now, but I was never sure what to focus on. You see, I have far too many random interests to want to commit to one particular topic at a time (kind of a problem, I admit). My varied academic record is proof of this (degree in International Relations and Classical Studies; my Master’s in cultural narratives, and I might potentially be doing another master in development studies next year :S).  Therefore, given that I clearly can’t make up my mind about what to commit to, this blog is the best I could come up with – combining my two main characteristics, indecision and love for variety, into one writing forum: Miscellaneous Views.

Generally speaking, what I want to write about in this blog is my random – or miscellaneous- views on different day-to-day topics (and boy am I glad the domain name wasn’t taken!). It could be something from the news, social media or something I’ve recently encountered myself in my life. Topics will be, as you’ve guessed it, quite varied – from political and cultural commentary to even personal ‘philosophical’ dilemmas. Most of the time though I’ll be keeping to more accessible topics, to try to engage more readers than just myself. Which brings me to my next point.

The reason I’m doing all this? Aside from a major procrastination tactic from writing my dissertation, you mean? Well, I generally love writing, and sharing my (far too many!) miscellaneous views. But what I most want to get out of this blog is to engage readers in constructive discussions. I want to know what you all think.

Please also know, that these are just my own views, and I welcome, encourage and embrace all others (given subtlety of language and all that ^^). After all, if we all thought in the same way, the world would be extremely dull and there would be no room for growth or change at all.

So that’s all for now. Looking forward reading everyone’s input on Miscellaneous Thoughts!

And here’s a random picture of a cat I sometimes feed to get your attention 😀