I awoke from a terrible nightmare just past 2am this morning. I dreamt that I was in a car with my nieces, and that we were stopped at some kind of security 'check point' in Johannesburg, and detained for no other reason but being Muslim.
I live in South Africa, a country ridden by crime, fear and everyday failings and winnings of ordinary people. Religious intolerance doesn't feature high on this list. Only when the trauma had made itself vivid from my subconscious in this way, did I realize just how affected I was by someones status on facebook and the subsequent thread of comments.
And so these facebook 'friends' claimed triumphantly that they 'knew' the bombers would be Muslim. They seemed to purport that 'being Muslim' predisposes one to one day waking up and deciding to bomb some inconvenient place.
The memo I got in my madressa years left that out; in fact, it clearly stated that to harm a fellow human being or form of life would be to harm all humanity, and that the soul would be answerable on the final day. That death would be tortuous even, if harm has been brought to another. What Islam are you talking about? My Islam is peace and tolerance. My Quran is Love. The struggle is to overcome nafs/ego for the reward of higher self. This is the only jihad I was taught. This is the only jihad I know.
I've been reading the horrific spate of bombings just this week, and recounting with terror, the images of bombings that have penetrated our consciousness through much of the past two decades at least, some in recollecting Hiroshima, but most notably in recent times, the never ending images from 07/07, 9/11, and in the drone attacks, the attacks on Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, bringing us to the bombings at the Boston Marathon just two days ago. I was in London two weeks before the July bombs rocked the city. Everything changed soon after that, in how we viewed media capitalization of violations, and in how the media wrote up the analysis. And in a second, we're engaging in a social media warfare of depravity pretending to take the moral high road. Do all we care about is the who? Who's right vs who's wrong? Really?
Having relabeled these incidences as Acts of Terror, and quite rightly so, is to affirm that bombings, as any seasoned drone striker/ mass murderer or architect of genocide might know, intend to do more than just commit the crime of killing. The greater and more enduring effect of a bomb placed in the midst of an unassuming civilian locale is to render that space uninhabitable. The psyche is so deeply marred, so violated and so terrorized that the impact of the bomb on the collective conscious will continue to be felt for immeasurable time. Locals will redirect their routes to avoid it, or make stops only to place wreaths of grief. Visitors to the affected area will continue to hear tales regaled with more horror, tears, pain.
The numbers, to the designer of such evil, are insignificant. Two or three in Boston, fifty in Iraq, or 33 in Afghanistan or elsewhere. Limbs blown off children's bodies? Collateral damage. The real deal is the echo of terror and fear. Evil has no colour, no spirit, no creed. But it will make the political personal with a trendy label, and call itself some or other god or godlessness, choosing one or other, wherever the market chips might fall.
The collective trauma of violence, continuing violations that fail to reach resolute end, that are used as mechanisms to foster terror and violence amongst citizens, creating further divisions on the basis of whatever might divide us, superficially, structurally, politically, pseudo ideologically. The post colonies make legacy of the divide and rule rhetoric, and we continue to fuel and feed the self terrorizing.
Violence begets violence. Was the human race designed to self-destruct or have we stopped seeing ourselves as sum of parts? We're all to blame. We're all in this. The ones keeping silent, and the complaining, chattering bunch of slaving taxpayers. We're all the victim, the violator. We feed and are fuelled by terror. We drink in media and cluck tongues like babies suckling off a surrogate goat. We retell this weeks tale, forgetting last weeks headlines. We feed off it. We fuel its malaise. We're essentially part of the problem. As if that validates the collective trauma? It does nothing to change the tide. We violate, whilst insisting that we are being violated. What a shameful bunch we've become. Alas.
A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of engaging with fellow writers at the 16th Time of the Writer festival in Durban, SA for a week of brilliant debate, book reviews and conversations about 'what makes writing work'. I returned from the festival with renewed vigor and passion to continue this brand of activism. But also, I returned with the realization that as much as I'd like to use my writing to create the conversations that will affect shifts, bit by bit, in personal and political consciousness, it takes great strength and energy to continue to write. All the writer really wants to do, is to write, but with writing comes this demand to be more than the creative mixer or words. If anything, the first demand is clarity. No mixing of words here. And more so, is the reflective process that comes with writing, creating. Intentions clearly defined, one might often be put to the test by encountering fellow creatives whose objectives might either clash or be aligned with ones own. Alignment is superb. It reminds that this whole deal of writing, extending ones self and breaking the zombie consciousness is not such a dreary, lonely thing after all. These are the real creatives; the ones who spur you on and remind you that there were no guarantees of eternal pleasure, but that the rewards will reveal themselves in good time. That to write is to give birth; the joy, the pain and the pride of being part of something potentially amazing is what it's all about. The real challenge, is the not so odd encounter of persons who become more addicted to the pseudo celebrity focus upon them, and then guard their perceived space with childish recklessness. It is these that I hope to avoid. Every so often. More so, than not.
Beyond that, this life will demand more writing. I'm quite certain of it.
Purpose is a promise. May the intention for common good and the humility to understand creativity as an ocean bigger than individual self, never evade us.
I wrote this book for the children in your life. SoPhia charts the story of an abusive marriage, but it also takes a view from the eyes of children. Abuse leaves an imprint. It stains an otherwise clean canvas. And they can never be the same again.
This is a certain record for me: over three months since I blogged here. I blame it on the immediacy and quick access, bite size content demand of twitter and Facebook. And the fact that much has happened, despite the freezing winter.
I've just begun the undergrad course at Sociology, linking social media studies to the globalization component and will figure out whether this is to be tedious conceptual material spoon fed to students or a way to bring context alive. If I am to live through most of it, I'm betting on the latter!
I have managed to arrange 'hunting' parking as is reserved for staffers. That's the good news. That and the fact that my lecture hall is decked with the latest equipment, makes me feel all warm and not too fuzzy.
True elation stems from the fact that my long-awaited novel, SoPhia, will be launched in a few weeks. I began writing the manuscript as a spin off from research undertakings in 'Daughters are Diamonds' (2007) and it was originally titled: 'The Silence of a Hundred Tongues'. The new title focusses on the transformation experienced by the characters, rather than the voicelessness highlighted by the former, in reference to the theme of domestic violence.
And so. We await the debates and dialogue that will no doubt come of launches, reviews, and reads.
Perhaps I shall blog more about these over the rest of the year!
[I wrote this article for The Thinker (TNA Media) about two years ago.]
How far have we come?
Regulating sexualities and the emancipation of women.
By Shafinaaz Hassim
“It is not enough to inquire into how women might become more fully represented in language and politics. Feminist critique ought also to understand how the category of ‘women’, the subject of feminism, is produced and restrained by the very structures of power through which emancipation is sought.” Judith Butler: Gender Trouble.
Is a notion of emancipation to be seen as an attack on religious structures, and capitalism? It is on the unfair balance that patriarchy presupposes, and on any such readings of structures that order behaviour in a primarily gendered way. Further, one may ask if the structure of society and the construction of the state is in any way threatened by the equal defining of women’s place in the economic and political sphere. Historic presupposition affirms that both in exclusion and bondage to the forces of production is to be found the basis of all forms of oppression.
Let us first begin by taking into consideration that contemporary readings of gender identity might be a self-ascribed label. Notions of masculinity and femininity are regarded with far more fluidity in the post-modern social sphere. Gender in its traditional sense is a reflection of a cultural explication of sexuality and what it is deemed to mean within a given context. Simone de Beavoir in The Second Sex, suggests that gender is constructed, albeit within the conditions set out by a culture, i.e. a compulsion to culture. It is significant to make note, then, that the identification with particular modes of thought regarding how we construct gender and take meaning from this construction, and how this might define a sense of abject difference in the overlapping versions of its cultural construction makes for what can be seen as the basis of exclusivism that easily borders on social intolerance.
The advent of the Sarkozy lament on the headscarf in recent weeks has brought about debate regarding the choice to express religion by way of a particular dress code, and the structures that may or may not enforce or restrict such behavioural codes and fashions. But whether or not this is a stylistic statement or an act of legality, what can be seen to emerge from these dialogues is an increased display of gross social resentment and hostility between the amalgamation of cultures that exist in the post-modern social landscape. We are made to ask whether it is the imposition of a code or the banning of it, that is in fact two sides of the same coin of patriarchal domination and a toppling of anything that might even remotely suggest women’s autonomy in the decision-making process, in the forms of expression that they may engage with.
These contemporary challenges raise important questions about the underpinnings of a progressive demarcation of women’s place in society. The post-World War II socio-political landscape is riddled with indiscriminate labour security of women who were newly displaced on the factory floor, being paid less than male counterparts and enticed to once again remain at home where they belonged. Adding to that, against capitalist forces, Marxism saw the notion of a feminist position as reactionary and a way of separating male and female labour forces. On average, women around the world are still being paid less than their male counterparts. This is a central and pressing issue. Domestic labour in SA continues to be low bargaining – a primary example of the exploitation of women in low paid jobs. The feminization of poverty is compounded by the increase of HIV/Aids orphans relying on older generation caregivers who are women on below the breadline subsidiary grants. The rhetoric of a gender bias in structural poverty occurs as ample evidence to suggest that our readings of the gender dynamic are impoverished and leave much work to be done.
The battle for equality has a long history and is likely to rage on, especially in the developing world where resource and other structural inequalities already present a dynamic that challenges the articulation of pendulums of change.
At the roots of inequality are still to be found the insistence on affirmative regard that resorts to nothing more than ways of overlooking the underlying features of discrimination, be it racial or gender or any other. For example, establishing quotas serves as a form of eventual tokenism rather than digging at the roots of the problem. All it serves is a show of effort but it doesn’t solve anything.
A big resounding question remains as to whether representation of women in the body politic is in fact a holistic one that is both empowering and sustainable in its momentum to further encourage the demand for skilled women professionals, academics in all walks of socio-political and economic life as we know it.
After a full two weeks of watching the South African media chasing after the story of our Presidents genitalia, I've decided to sit at my desk and write, admittedly after hopeful denial, about Freud's place in this whole saga. I have no doubt that the corpse of Freud must be gloating at such a promising case study as South Africa has turned into.
It's one thing to debate - in a thriving democracy as ours - the pro's and cons of freedom of expression versus the individual right to dignity. I say this with gratitude, that we might have the space to debate on such a vivid spectrum of ideological colour. That it may have been reduced to glib racialised banter in most instances is another rather problematic issue altogether.
Mike van Graan's report in the Cape Times clarified the data; the who is Brett Murray and what the greater body of his work stands for. It also outlined the dangers of the ruling party using a racial reading of the satire to enrage potential voters of the basis of colour. The City Press boasted pieces by Zakes Mda and even Julius Malema. Phylicia Opelt's Op-ed in the Times stayed close to the ground. Ferial Haffajee got braai'ed with the stakes for her bravery. Oom Max du Preez's definitive conjecture has been painted with a brush of 'the potential racist'. And the Goodman Gallery made good on standing by their Art. But as Verashni Pillay of M&G said on twitter, in response to an accusation that she might be more of an artist than a journalist, that 'Artist' has become a bad word.
What have we become?
A country of sex-crazy, race-card throwing, spear-envious (I'd rather leave Freud's classifications to the textbooks) fear-mongering bigots. Yes. Freud would have been so proud. We've just taken the penis envy to another level. And we've uncovered a whole new can of worms for race discourse in SA. Rainbow nation just got smoked on - puff and pass- and we're left holding up the mirror to ourselves. Can you see what I see? It's a damning vision for you and for me.
Decidedly, the Honourable President Zuma is certainly no despot. A true autocrat would have called a spade a spade, or not, erm, re-named the famed Hillbrow tower #Zumaspeare and gone on with business as usual. So we have much to be thankful for regarding good democratic practice and all that. Be assured, oh fellow South Africans.
Shafinaaz is an artist who dabbles in words and colours. She lectures in Sociology and is the author of Daughters are Diamonds (2007), Memoirs For Kimya (2009), Belly of Fire (ed,2011) & SoPhia: a novel (2012)
I write. As I must. Words are my paints of expression on an otherwise bland canvas, my rollercoasters of delight on otherwise dreary roads. Entertainment or derision, they manifest in my varied states of being. Until theres silence. Even then, theres a dialogue of sorts that continues... in spirit? Who knows..