Friday, January 26, 2007

Voices of Resistance: Muslim women on war, faith and sexuality

Sarah just wrote to say the book we are all in got reviewed in JordanTimes.Here it is:

‘Authoring change’

Voices of Resistance: Muslim Women on War, Faith and Sexuality
Edited by Sarah Husain
US: Seal Press, 2006
Pp. 284

What brings together the 39 women — and one man — who contributed to this volume is not only their Muslim background, but a shared conviction that something is seriously wrong across the globe.
In essays, poems and artworks, all 40 are crying out for a better world.
This is a cross disciplinary group: writers, visual and performance artists, professors, graduate students, lawyers and community activists. A number of them hold multiple degrees. One, Maryum Saifee, was formerly a Peace Corps volunteer in Jordan, teaching English in a rural school.
They are also transnational. While most live in North America, their roots curl back to Asia: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Iran, Malaysia, Pakistan, Palestine, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. Many of them include autobiographical elements in their essays, and the sheer cultural diversity which finds expression in their writing is fascinating.
Besides being of mixed origins, most of them refuse to be pinned down in a single static identity, as expressed by the title of Mansha Parven Mirza’s piece: “My Kaleidoscopic Identity.” (p. 206)
While the essays are intensely personal, they cover issues of great political and social import. These women are on a mission, engaged in a multi-pronged struggle to resist war and other forms of violence — from the Israeli soldier threatening to rape a Palestinian teenager, to the Koran teacher taking advantage of his position to sexually abuse a female student.
Editor Sarah Husain calls it “authoring change”. (p. 273)
“Connecting the wars ‘back’ home — the ones stored in our memory and in/on our bodies — to the wars being carried out today under the dictates of democracy and security, our work seeks to create the disturbances necessary to build peaceful futures.” (p. 7)
An important component of this is struggling to reclaim the essence of their Muslim faith, casting off customs which subordinate women in the name of Islam.
September 11 complicated their mission greatly. As Muslims and women of colour, they faced misunderstanding and harassment, and were deeply affected by the ensuing “war on terrorism”.
As Jawahara K. Saidullah writes, “This current American war machine, chewing up resources, truth, money and people, terrifies me. I am angry there is a war that my tax dollars are paying for. A war that is killing Muslims…. I am enraged at the complacency of the people of the United States who are so na├»ve as to allow themselves to be willfully mislead.” (p. 194)
Pondering the situation in Palestine, Iraq and other sites of wars and atrocities, as well as the state of the poor and homeless in America, Nuzhat Abbas notes: “There are many ways to kill a people.” (p. 60)
On the other hand, the post-September 11 atmosphere made it more difficult to raise problems within the Muslim community.
Azza Basarudin queries: “Dare I bring gender into the frontier when my community is being harassed, humiliated, denied its freedom of worship, and detained without proper trials, in the name of national security? … People who advocate for gender reform in Muslim societies are, more often than not, accused of being ‘agents’ of the corrupt ‘Western’ world.”
Yet, while “mosques across American scrambled to open their doors to non-Muslims” in the wake of September 11, “in the hope of salvaging the image of Islam,” Muslim women were still hindered from praying alongside men. (pp. 144-5)
In one of the most lively pieces, Aisha Sattar recounts her experience of going on the Hajj to Mecca. Shocked to find that women had less access to the holy places than men, she also resented being constantly reminded not to have a hair showing by the “purity police”, but all the while “they were silent on the obscene presence of malls and McDonald’s lingering outside the gates of the Ka’aba”.
To her, the “focus on technical improvements, rather than on the spiritual dimension of Hajj, undermines the beauty and power of the pilgrimage”. (pp. 164-5)
Most of the authors have kept their transnational links to their country of origin and their essays express a strong sense of family. Despite having broken out of the mould family and society set for them, they value the lessons learned from their parents.
One example is what Bushra Rehman learned by watching her parents telephone networking in New Jersey, to organise relief for her grandmother’s remote mountain village in Pakistan, when it was hit by an earthquake.
“It is from my parents that I learned my first lesson of community organising: You must first have a community, one that you share joy with as well as suffering.” (p. 81)
“Voices of Resistance” is an effort to generate the discussion and commitment needed to form such a community, or series of communities, of people brave enough to resist violence and take control of their own bodily and spiritual lives.
This book may be found at ARAMEX media stores.

Sally Bland
Monday, January 22, 2007

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Sharon's Creative Writing Workshop

Those who missed, here's sharing one of those nice little tricks Sharon did with us on Saturday.If you dream of being a writer but do not know where to begin try this exercise:

1.Think of something and write it down for each of the following items:

a colour
an animal
a food
a texture
someone's name
something someone said to you today
a feeling

a colour: light green
an animal: a goat
a food: rebung
a texture: soft
someone's name: Ali
stg someone said to you today: you're early!
a feeling: calm

2.Write the first sentence of your story, using any three of the above.


"You're early, Ali, " said the goat, calmly.

Ali looked up to the light green sky.

"It looks like it's going to rain, " he said.

"You say that every day but it is not the monsoon season yet," answered the goat as it tried to eat some of the young rebung Ali brought with him for lunch.

"It's my mom, again. She wants me to go to Kampong Ulu Banggol to sell these young bamboo shoots, "said Ali unhappily.

"They are called 'rebung' in your language, " chipped in the goat.

"Oh shut up!" Ali was mad. He had no time for language politics that light green morning.

His mother refused to understand or accept the fact that the people of Kampong Ulu Banggol were no longer 'ulu'. They no longer ate rebung. They were into fastfoods and frizzy drinks because of the Free Trade Agreement.

(at this point Sharon said time's up)

Ha ha..we had fun writing crazy things..structureless, plotless stories.We were 'merdeka!'Free!
And this is why writers are so dangerous to the nation. Ha ha.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Birthday Treat 2007

It was 2 days late (cos' I had been busy with the Folk Theatre and this morning's Creative Writing Workshop with Sharon Bakar so Jan 11 went by quietly.Nik and Z gave me a very sweet bday card.They didn't forget but I was too busy to go out)

Before I give you an account of my bday celebration at the Chalet, Equatorial Hotel, KL, I must record my appreciation of the wonderful creative writing w/shop Sharon did with my students today.It was truly fun...and I think the students learnt much. I'd share with you some of the stuffs which I wrote in class in a while (great job, Sharon! Thanks for inspiring us all)

But for now, I must tell you what a great place the Chalet is for bday and anniversary celebrations.

It's Swiss cuisine for a change. And they have nice Filipino trio playing on strings, serenading you for whatever occasion you want.Since it's my bday, they played me not only a bday song but a Beatles fav. Oh wow! Then came in the bday cake and a staff took a pic of me cutting the cake. Enclosed is the pic they gave me (and some roses as we were leaving!) You guys must mark this place (it's ranked 3rd best restaurant in Msia by the Tatlers..I don't know what the two others are) for your bday/'s worth the money!

I have never felt like a Princess before...but this place made me one (thanks to my wonderful husband, Nik)

Friday, January 12, 2007

Folk Theatre: Behind the scene

I am very certain that the students who were involved in the folk theatre had learnt much.I certainly did. In looking out for diff people/groups of different cultures, I had bumped into so many selfless, non money-oriented people.The Lion Dance Group of the Persatuan Memanching Sungai Buloh is one good example. Some of my kids and I went to rehearse the lion dance scene at Sg Buloh. The kids (age ranging from 9 to 16) were trained to do acrobatic stuffs, played the Chinese drums etc (very2 young boys). I think this early exposure of culture (skills!) is very important and I am so impressed by the organisation of the Persatuan Memanching Sg. Buloh.They really take care of their young lot! (cute little boys who have a sense of direction so early in life)

I must not forget to thank my neighbour, Tim, who introduced me to these wonderful people.They are my brothers too! :)

Then there's this group of Iranians who are professional musicians (they have a rock band, actually).But I told them my concept of folk theatre and they were willing to come in, play for my kids FOC. One chap travelled all the way from Serdang to rehearse with the group. Apparently for the Iranians (Iranians in general), music is part of their daily lives. They play it at home, at weddings, at any gatherings. Music is not for the rich (like it is in Msia where music lessons can be really expensive). Hosein and his friends had to play classic/traditional Persian pieces at the folk theatre to blend in with Shahrul's folk tale of the 40 thieves. The crowd loved the melancholy tunes played by H and his group. H has cut an album actually, so, we were very lucky to have him as a performer last night. According to Anahita (who had introduced H to me via Amir, another Iranian musician), most Persian songs are love songs: love for God, love for the nation, love for the land, culture and peace. She translated one of the songs sang by H and friends: it's about the flame burning only to burn wings of the butterflies circling it.The singer asks why does the flame keep burning if there is no butterfly (wings of the butterflies) to burn. A colleague said how sufi!
I think it's so poetic.I wish I know what the rest of the songs say.I took Persian for one semester some years back but I could never go beyond salam! (now)

The Turks: the Turkish boys were also very giving. At one point they got me worried because there's a nice protest over Nasruddin Hoja's role.The Director ( a Malaysian young woman) could not find any male actor to play Hoja.So she got a female to play him.The Turkish students (dancer and musician) advised that they could not let this be...I think it's culturally offensive.But we have no male, said the Director.They offered their friend (from another discipline) to play Hoja. And language/acting training took place for the new guy who initially spoke very little English and had never acted before. :)

I think he did well (given the fact that he only had a couple of days to train).

The Africans and the Arabs: wonderful2 kids. I love them all.They had exams, assignments but they told me, worry not.We will help you. I think it's because in Islam, we are taught we should be brothers and sisters to one another (regardless of race and religion actually).You see one in need, you drop all your things and assist.It's so touching.

The Malaysians: excellent2 kids! They made the backbone of this whole thing. At a short notice (with budget constraints) they managed to put everything together and in order. They put in 200% of their time and effort.They will do well in their lives after uni cos' they are committed, creative, responsible, hard working, determined and selfless.

Thank you all! Semoga dirahmati Allah!

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Jan 6 seminar

Phew, it's done!!

I think it went well.We had a good range of speakers.Everyone loved Dato Prof Khoo Kay Kim. He highlighted how important it was to study History and Geography in order to understand the world we live in. We gotta be careful with legal terms and terminologies.Terms like 'nation' 'states', 'negeri', 'kerajaan' are often confused for other things. :)

It was fun listening to him. He is one consistent scholar (my father in law was with him in the 60s and he said this was the Khoo that he knew way back then)

Kee Thuan Chye was also consistent. :)) Rohani had a 'nice' exchange with him over 'privileged citizens'. If we believed in dialogues, it would be like this.We just need to learn how to cope with lots of shouting, interrupting one another, etc.

Chong didn't turn up (messaged me from Hong Kong to say he could not get on an earlier flight!) Krishanan or Sababathy were out of touch. :(

Oh well...

Will need to worry about the plays now.We'll rehearse again tmrw and Monday evening.