Wednesday, 13 June 2018

History cannot remain masculine

Women are mostly kept out of history books, and if they are marvellous enough to have made it into them their images most likely did not 

History is a past retold, a series of events that have been documented by those who have witnessed their occurrence. It is human nature to write of that which interests us, of facts that are deemed essential at the time of inscription and that is why history as is documented, is as much an interpretation, as it is a collection of facts. The names and events that have made it into history books have changed the world one way or the other, their existence and our knowledge of it is essential, but what of those names that were never uttered by history teachers, are their world-altering actions erased? Or do their trials and tribulations factor into the shaping of the future whether they are remembered or not?

If we casually flick through the history books we are most likely to see pages filled with iconic figures that have left their imprint on the world, most of which are men. Great and not-so-great men have both maimed and healed our world simultaneously and from their experiences we have much to learn. Even those of us who are not prolific in politics, sports or technology are instantaneously able to recognise an image of such men as Che Guevara, Maradona and Steve Jobs. Though just as it may be, to have such figures made iconic and embraced by pop-culture how many of those faces we see on posters, T-shirts and spray-painted on walls are of women? Does that mean that throughout history no woman has ever been iconic enough? Or is it that the telling of her story was not deemed essential to those documenting at the time of inscription? No female face would be so widely and easily identified except maybe those of whom who made it to the silver screen. Could you point out Florence Nightingale in a series of photos like you would Marilyn Monroe? Would you know the great Fatima al-Fihri’s contribution to the world just as you would Umm Kulthum’s?

Throughout the world and specifically throughout the Middle-Eastern one, much to do with women is concealed. Women are mostly kept out of history books, and if they are marvellous enough to have made it into them their images most likely did not. This makes it impossible for people to know of them and for those searching for them it makes for an absolutely exhausting task, in turn their accomplishments and impact on the world are rendered obsolete and the chance of people learning from them non-existent. Just as is the way of the world, change is inevitable and for women’s struggle with history, change is coming. 

Recently Muslim women have become more visible than they ever were, standing up to oppression and advocating the plight of minorities around the world. In a visual world where icons are required their images have helped immortalise their work. Malala Yousafzai’s survival and perseverance has become a representation of all women facing the horrors of extremism and the plight for female education. Young girls today have forces such as seventeen-year-old Ahed Tamimi, whose brave defiance in the face of Zionist settlers landed her in prison, catapulting her to icon-status for resistance against occupation around the world. Women have become revolutionary icons, Iranian Neda Agha-Soltan, a student, who died from a fatal shot to the head during protests in Tehran has become a symbol of an entire revolution. Along with Egypt’s Ghada Kamal Abdul Khaleq, known to the Western press as the Girl in the Blue Bra and affectionately dubbed Sitt el Banat (Leader of the Girls) in Egypt, whose image being dragged half-naked by police has become a source of artistic representation of oppression. 

During the Women’s March against the Trump administration in the United States an image of Munira Ahmed wearing the American flag as a Hijab (headdress) became the representation of American tolerance and pro-immigration ideals. And the latest brave soul who was unfortunately taken too soon is Palestinian Razan Najjar, a twenty-one-year-old paramedic, who spent her days saving the lives of fellow countrymen and women peacefully protesting the Israeli occupation. She was killed in cold blood by an Israeli sniper while attending to the injured, she will forever be a symbol of humanity amidst bloodshed.

Because we have borne witness to those women who have shattered glass ceilings and died for their rights we have the obligation to correct the errors of the past, to not let their work go unnoticed, to broadcast, interview, write and teach about those women who are changing our world. In the near future the images in history will differ and the faces who changed the world would no longer be reserved for the masculine. We always knew history to be a story told by him but the future will have one that is written by her as well.

This article was first published in The Gulf Today newspaper 10 June, 2018  
Arabic version of the article appeared on the same day  in Al Khaleej newspaper

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Barricaded in Ideological Bunkers

The world has shrunk. The vastness that our ancestors experienced is no longer. We have paved roads, built bridges, rode the waves and flew among the clouds to make sure that no place was beyond our reach, we aimed for the moon and touched it. As a generation we are today the most connected we have ever been, the most exposed and yet our social and intellectual disconnect is ever so prevalent. Information is abundant, it flows through so many sources that what once was a river one waded through is now a flood we struggle to keep afloat in. How difficult it has become to decipher the truth from the fictitious, to trust one’s own eyes over the art of image distortion. Information is power and if readings have taught us anything, it is that power inevitably corrupts. 

Realising that the information torrent is not to be restrained we built dams, cyber dams that attempted to identify us and according to our online actions, categorised and sorted information based on what the algorithms concluded our interests were. At the onset it seemed a logical solution to an impending problem, one is fed the information he/she is interested in and the rest is filtered out, but just like any experiment the long-term results tend to vary from immediate ones. In this case the negative effects have surpassed those of the initial problem for by altering the way we consume information we have altered the way we differentiate, analyse and digest it.

Bewildered by the sheer amount of information we have devised a way that has made us the most sorted culture we have ever been, categorised by apps and search engines we are no longer hiding from the other, we are blind to it. We have the choice to follow the news that is important to us, categorised into subjects of interest of course, we choose the images we would like to see and the people we have conversations with based on criteria that appeal to us, we have unconsciously placed ourselves in the information comfort zone. It is common knowledge that surrendering to the comfort zone limits one’s experiences and keeps them from mental and emotional growth yet people have found a way to sort themselves into these comfortable ideological bunkers in which only the familiar is available. 

Many of us no longer expose or surround ourselves with people who disagree with us politically or ideologically, we have the ability through a click of a button to silence those whose beliefs we find culturally offensive or merely different, and while this might be both convenient and comfortable it is also dangerous. 

The walls we build around us to keep the noise out only reverberate the same ideas, notions and beliefs we enforce, leaving no room for debate. When we opt out of an argument we are choosing to ignore opposing views thereby failing to understand the other. Humans are social creatures that thrive through connections, ones that cannot be made if we willingly close our minds henceforth closing our hearts to that which is different. As we seek out our preferred social settings we are contributing to the segregation of nations. There is great benefit in the variety of opinions and the outcomes of intellectual debates, a fostering of a more tolerant society one that is all the more enlightened for it. 

It is fear that reinforces the walls we build, people are afraid to be swayed from their convictions, afraid to question their moral instincts and expose themselves to ideas that may challenge the fabric of their entire existence, but what are we if we are not seeking to better ourselves? 

Change is nothing to be afraid of and if one’s curiosity changes them then they will be all the wiser for it. So read outside your preferred genre, expose your eyes to art that provokes you and engage in conversations with people who hail from worlds alien to your own, only then will you pave intellectual roads, build emotional bridges, ride diverse journeys, and fly among ideas that liberate. Aim for that which you fear and touch it for the closer we get to that which scares us the less afraid we become.

This article was first published in The Gulf Today newspaper 20 February, 2018
Arabic version of the article appeared on the same day  in Al Khaleej newspaper

2017, The Year of Female Reckoning

As a year comes to a close we tend to look back in reflection at its most memorable moments and although this year had many it remains distinguishable from the rest, for it is not often that we witness a tangible shift in perspective happen in the span of 12 months. 2017 has been the year of female reckoning whose path was paved by the electing of a man with sexual harassment cases filed against him and who was filmed speaking abhorrently about what ‘powerful men’ are allowed to do to women. The election of the 45th President to the land of the free ignited all kinds of protests but none as massive as the Women’s March that took place on January 21st, a day after the presidential oath was sworn, it was the largest single-day protest recorded in US history. 

Like it or not, Trump was the best thing to happen to women’s solidarity since the Suffragettes.

From that moment onwards the world got a sense of something stirring within the female community, suddenly more women began identifying with feminism a word that until recently was viewed as derogatory, and more men were finally recognising that gender-equality is not a demand to be made solely by women, it was a human right everyone should be advocating. The news during 2017 was peppered with issues such as gender-pay gap, violence against women, and sex discrimination in the workplace, terminology that has been deemed unfashionable and lost its potency in the US since the explosion of feminism in the 1970s. We saw the year end with two words and a hashtag placed in front of them that have been retweeted, shared and worn as a badge of honour by women around the world, the hashtag #MeToo, used by women to indicate their exposure to sexual harassment, was in the millions only a few days after the actress Alyssa Milano used it as a call for action against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. No one could predict the number of personal stories from all around the world that came pouring in via this hashtag and all of a sudden it was clear that sexual harassment is a worldwide pandemic that no woman or girl is immune to. The sheer magnitude of the #MeToo hashtag did not allow for any more excuses to be made, no longer was shaming the victim a possibility and brushing off sexual harassment as anything other than the predatory behaviour that it really is, was not a viable option anymore. 

This year saw great names fall and a lifetime of careers extinguished. Power, the one aspiration such men dream of, no longer legitimised their bullying and unwelcome advances. 2017 is the year that redefined what it means to be a ‘man of power’. Time magazine has chosen its person of the year for 2017 to be the ‘Silence Breakers’, the women who spoke out about their abusers, it listed women from different races, professions and age-groups whose voices helped push a stagnant female movement to a point of no return. 

The age-old patriarchy that has enforced its power on women since the dawn of time never changed, it had just assimilated into the new age and camouflaged its way into civil society creeping through the alleyways all the way up to the boardrooms of international conglomerates. It wears many masks and hides behind so many reasons but women recognise it wherever it appears. Girls feel it when they walk to school every day; women are haunted by it in places that are meant to be safe havens. For years women believed that because a man can never truly understand that icky feeling one gets as she is paid an unsolicited compliment or told a sexist joke or worse, that there was no use of trying to explain, that this was just how the world went. But even if it did, it shouldn’t, and there is no better time to change it. The shaming culture that has kept women’s mouths shut for so long is on its way towards extinction for the door to proclamation has been kicked open with the force of a thousand years of restraint and the injustices have been shouted out with the shrill of a thousand years of shamed silence. 

2017 was the year of female reckoning and women have everything to look forward to.

This article was first published in The Gulf Today newspaper 26 December, 2017
Arabic version of the article appeared on the same day in Al Khaleej newspaper

Saturday, 1 July 2017

Society between Fake News and WhatsApp knowledge

Donald Trump’s inauguration brought with it the term most used by this president and his office yet. The term ‘Fake News’ has been used by Trump and his team to oppose, debunk or slam any question they do not wish to answer. For the sake of clarification, this term means the spreading of false information that is manipulated to look like credible journalism mostly made possible and aided by social media. We have witnessed the leader of the Free World accuse prominent news agencies of falsifying information yet while viewers gawked at Trump’s administration the truth remains that most people around the world cannot distinguish between what is real news and what is fake. 

Recent studies have shown that people tend to deem a piece of news false if its content stands in opposition to their ideological views and beliefs. Today the line between what is real and what is fake in the world of news has been well and truly blurred. The rapidity with which great quantities of information are dumped on people has created a silent infectious disease of mass confusion. This bombardment has left consumers of information exhausted, no longer having the energy to sift through the murk to discover the truth in a world of falsity and this is where the ailment of our society lies. People worldwide are receiving millions of fragmented stories, headlines and manipulated images on an hourly basis ranging from politics to health and even religion. 

Message applications such as WhatsApp allow for the circulation of such information to the masses relying on a snowball effect starting from a single person’s contact list. The forwarding hysteria knows no time constraints for one could receive said message at any time of the day or night as if the fate of humanity depended on it. These ‘news/informative’ pieces whose origins are unknown and writers almost always anonymous are taken as truths thereby making their way into day to day conversations and even used as advice for self-medication remedies. The result is a culture that is guided by questionable information offering a shallow and debatable knowledge of the world.  

As a direct consequence of this ‘surface-scratching’ culture we are witnessing the professional journalistic, scientific and educational institutions suffer for if readers no longer care about fact-checking, credibility or references where does that leave the entities that dedicate their entire resources towards their procurement? 

It is indeed a sorrowful state that even in highly educated societies this affliction seems to be taking hold, a state that demands the valuing and aiding of credible sources. People must refuse to be a cog in the ‘Fake News’ churning machine by putting a halt to their instinctive forwarding habits for it is one thing to learn something false and another thing entirely to aid in teaching it as truth. 

If a topic intrigues you, learn more about it, if a news piece moves you then find out the details and when approaching a conversation please do not make WhatsApp knowledge your only point of reference. 

A society is but a sum of its parts and if its most crucial one, its knowledge, is although not lacking but has become tainted then a society’s future will be too. The stream of information that cuts through a society is ever-flowing; at times even flooding the world, much of it needs to be filtered because just like the rest of our planet we have managed to dump our waste in that too.

This article was first published in The Gulf Today newspaper on 26 Feb, 2017
Arabic version of this article was published in Al Khaleej newspaper

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Off Arab screens millions marched for women

HE position of Arab women is very much still fragile in many countries in the region. We are witnessing more and more young Arab girls lost in translation between what they are told are the ideas of a foreign culture and that of fundamental rights. Much of the atrocities that are committed towards Arab women occur partly because the victim does not know that she has a basic right for her body to be hers, for her privacy to be respected and for her education to be a necessity not a privilege she receives if it is financially possible after her brother has been educated. The education system is neglecting feminist teachings and has failed to highlight the importance of gender equality and the issues that need to be discussed and rectified with regard to achieving a harmonious culture where both sexes are perceived equal. This is when the media must pick up where schooling left off yet it is evident that the Arab media too is casting a blind eye on the issues pertaining to women’s rights and gender equality in the Arab world.

On a day when a massive number of women and men around the world rallied to bring forth these essential issues that not only affect people but entire countries’ moral and economic conditions most Arab news channels failed to broadcast the event. Now, if it were a small crowd in some part of the world one would give these channels the benefit of the doubt and assume that on this first day of Trump’s presidency eyes would be projected elsewhere. But how can a rally like the Women’s March that saw numbers exceeding projected expectations, backed up by powerful female celebrity names and infecting countries all over the world be ignored? The sheer magnitude of the march that closed roads and delayed transportation in major cities across the globe only reaffirmed the idea that Arab news channels intentionally ignored this movement. This rally for female solidarity that happened only once before in modern history, when the Suffragettes moved for the right to vote, and nothing like it has been seen since, did not register as important for these news stations to highlight. 

Our Arab mothers and sisters are suffering from injustices like domestic violence, sexual harassment, child marriages and honour killings, some are still fighting for their right to drive or travel without male custody therefore our powerful Arab media was not only expected to broadcast this particular one of a kind Women’s march it should have held panels to dissect the issues being brought forth in order for the Arab world to better understand that gender equality is not an idea that one believes in, it is a planned movement that requires an enormous effort on the part of both men and women to reach. This march was not about American women it was about all women, it portrayed an image of solidarity on a massive scale. It was a peaceful march that flowed like a sea of pink and it was glorious. For a woman like myself who at an early age was attuned to the injustices that the patriarchy had enforced on women and had spent many a sleepless night worried about the ways of this unbalanced world, watching the march, I could only wish my young eyes had witnessed something like this unfold, even if only to reassure me that I was not alone in my thoughts, that the actions my young mind deemed unfair were in fact so, and that the world as I knew it could in fact evolve. The more feminist readings one delves through the more you come to see that the movements have spread out and lost touch with one another, soon they had even started to fight amongst each other and it is at those times that one loses hope that a united front will ever be recovered from this wreckage of feminist ideas. The Women’s March had restored my faith as I am sure it has introduced the young generation to the new wave of feminism. A feminist movement that was made up of both sexes and all ages and creeds, one that did away with the arguments and stood arm in arm for a greater cause, a cause which the Arab media did not wish to project.

During the Egyptian revolution, it was quite evident that the women who organized and rallied against corrupt governments played a pivotal role in the future of Egypt, it was an example of the power of the female movement. The Women’s March did what it set out to do and that is to show the sheer magnitude of passion that the female voice can project and most importantly, for our future generations, it has shattered the falsity of the patriarch myth that women do not support other women. The Women’s March showed that women in fact do support their sisters and that men do too. This is an image that should be projected to the entire world so that all those who have had their rights taken away just because they were born of the opposite sex do not remain silent and so that all those who believe they have a right to deny someone their equal existence realise they are gravely mistaken. It is shameful that Arab television channels denied the Arab world from joining in the celebratory essence of this historic march for the Arab world has nothing to fear from the empowered Arab woman, it has everything to gain. 

This article was first published in The Gulf Today newspaper on 25 January, 2017
Arabic version appeared in Al Khaleej newspaper 

Obama’s win gave young America hope, Hillary’s loss gave it a voice

here are moments in history that one remembers not only as fact independent of circumstance but as moments that are whole inclusive of all their surroundings. In these moments one will recall not only the historical fact they had lived through but the exact place they were at when they heard it. I think it is safe to say that for most of the modern world Donald Trump’s scalding victory is one of those moments we will not soon forget. The reactions around the world differed, some laughed sarcastically, others uttered concern but there was one distinct sound heard by all, it was the sound the United States made as it gasped at the blow dealt by its own democracy. America had shot itself in the foot, shell-shocked it was frantically trying to assess the amount of damage its choices had caused. 

The American people woke up to a disquieting realisation, one that hit the young generation harder than it had the rest. Trump’s victory meant that his rhetoric of hate and racism was one that echoed harder and farther than many imagined, it reiterated that America now stands not for freedom or liberty but for segregation and constraint. This was the generation that grew up listening to a rhetoric of hope galvanised by the Obama campaign, this is the generation that had hoped and was now witnessing the embodiment of all they hoped against materialising. The images broadcast the sheer pain and disappointment in their young faces, as they stood in shock, after the election results were announced. It was incredibly moving because one could see through their expressions that it was not Hillary’s victory they sought, it was the triumph over Trump’s ideals they longed for.

This massive blind-side was a result of many factors still being analysed and discussed weeks after Trump took to the stage and in a somewhat subdued demeanour recited the words he had never uttered during his two-year campaign. The world watched a softer Trump, a more gracious and docile Trump who seemed overwhelmed and more surprised than the rest of us at this favourable result. 

The failure of the media to portray the darker side of America has led to the underestimation of the impact Trump’s hate-filled campaign would have. The Trump campaign capitalised on a misunderstood, somewhat forgotten America that the younger generation had no idea existed and, if they did, not in such a vast majority. Identity politics geared towards this materially deprived and culturally isolated America, which has grown substantially under the radar as a result of economic instability and lack of educational funding, gave them a label and certain admirable traits factoring in an ethnic heritage and in turn succeeding in creating a single crushing entity aimed at the prior government. They were fed up with the hyperbole of the Obama administration that promised economic stability and better employment opportunities, and saw Hillary as an extension of the same arm. 

Witnessing the results of the US presidential elections was reminiscent of Egypt’s 2012 elections when an exhausted and angry Egyptian people chose to either abstain or vote against the old regime resulting in the victory of the Muslim Brotherhood representative, Mohamed Mursi. The shock culminated in an immense rally that saw hundreds of thousands of, mostly young, Egyptians rallying for his impeachment. Today we are witnessing a sight, that has not been seen in the United States since citizens rallied to impeach Richard Nixon some forty years ago. People rallying across the country to impeach Trump, their chants reaffirming that Trump is not their president.

Young Americans who saw their country as a symbol of cultural and religious diversity and truly believed it to be the land of the free are now dealing with a different reality. A reality that has chosen hate, misogyny and racism as its core values and that has spoken loud and clear for the rest of the world to hear, albeit considering America’s foreign policies its image to the rest of the world is one that is not far from that. Nevertheless, it has now, with Trump at the helm, become outspoken about it. It seems that after 8 years of the Obama administration preaching unity and inclusion for all a backlash was brewing under the fires of wars thousands of miles away and a highly globalised world moving at hyper-speed, leaving most of America reeling and finding solace in a sense of warped nationalism. 

The long-term effect of Hillary’s loss could be more beneficial to the future of America than one might think. For if Obama’s reign placed hope in the hearts of the young and instilled in them a belief that differences must be embraced then Hillary’s crushing defeat has awakened them to the harsh realities of a hopeful indifference and raised their voices in opposition of all those ideals that would not only darken their future but the future of the entire world.

This article was first published in The Gulf Today newspaper on 22 November, 2016
Arabic version of this article appears in Al Khaleej newspaper

Friday, 21 October 2016

The curious case of a Syrian refugee solved by the UAE

Time and time again the UAE has proved that there are no borders to the humanity of its leaders who at the mere knowledge of Sinjab’s case moved to offer him a safer life with no petitions or pleas needed 

n a daily basis the media is saturated with news about refugees escaping imminent death, heading towards unknown borders in hopes of finding a semblance of what their lives used to be. We read reports on the unfathomable numbers who will never reach the refuge they sought instead are drowned by the very waves they hoped would lead them to it. At times it seems as if the whole world has become a refugee and the few of us, who are privileged enough to wake up to the sound of an alarm clock instead of a siren, those of us who are enveloped by a veil of safety many of us fail to appreciate, have become desensitised to the migrating numbers, to the images of the dead, shrugging them away as a collective misery that this ailing part of the world must endure. 

In a sea of human beings, it is difficult, at times even impossible, to see the human as being. This is where the obligation of the media lies, where it must shed light on the afflicted person and bring them to light as an individual and not a statistic. In a report done by the United Arab Emirates’ Al Khaleej Newspaper one such case was brought to the forefront. The story of Khaldoun Sinjab, a Syrian refugee residing in Lebanon, who at the age of 17 was rendered quadriplegic by a diving accident. Sinjab was not always bed-ridden for prior to this debilitating accident he graduated top of his class in Damascus and was a champion swimmer on the Syrian national team. Yet while the accident paralysed his body it did not halt his spirit for Sinjab continued to study, with books propped up on a glass table he managed to master the English language and become proficient in computer programming. He later found a job and married, persevering through every curveball life threw at him. Sinjab continued to live life as one should, one day at a time and to the fullest of his abilities. As the war in Syria began to rage Sinjab was uprooted, like many, from his home and sought refuge in neighbouring Lebanon and while he continues to work he is continuously fearful for his life for in Lebanon electricity can shut down for almost 12 hours a day and with his complete dependence on a ventilator the threat of death by suffocation is very much an everyday reality. 

There are many petitions online for Sinjab’s relocation, he has applied for refuge to Canada and the UK but his case has been rejected on the grounds that if he is employed then he is not in dire need of relocation. Such is life now, a person becomes a figure on a chart and falls victim to a technicality. For years Sinjab’s endless pleas to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) have gone unanswered until his salvation came from a place he never sought. 

After the report on Sinjab was published in the United Arab Emirates his case was immediately taken up by the government who has followed up on his condition and has taken no more than a few months to relocate him and his family to Abu Dhabi where he is currently being overseen at the Cleveland Clinic. The efforts of His Highness Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed and the immediacy in response of the UAE’s diligent Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed has shown that the UAE media’s voice is not only heard but also heeded. Time and time again the UAE has proved that there are no borders to the humanity of its leaders who at the mere knowledge of Sinjab’s case moved to offer him a safer life with no petitions or pleas needed.

Upon landing, although exhausted from the flight and overwhelmed by the number of medical crew there to assist him, photographers were moved to see the wide-eyed smile that was drawn on Sinjab’s face.

It is at times like these that this writer does not only consider herself lucky but immensely proud to be a daughter of this greatly humane nation. 

This article first appeared in The Gulf Today newspaper on 21, October, 2016
Arabic version of this article appeared in Al Khaleej newspaper

History cannot remain masculine

Women are mostly kept out of history books, and if they are marvellous enough to have made it into them their images most likely did not  ...