Sunday, 30 October 2011

'The' Palestinians

Note: Palestinians as a collective people are Palestinians, not 'the Palestinians'.

The 'the' only reinforces Otherness.

Al Nakba: Palestinians expelled from their homes and land

Al Nakba: Palestinians expelled from their homes and land

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Kolena, eid wahda! From Cairo to California. Egypt stands in solidarity with Occupy Oakland

What's the scene like at Occupy Oakland? Tear gas, rubber bullets, riot squads, police brutality. Sounds like the Arab Spring and protests in Palestine minus all the slaughter.

In response to the violence, the Twittersphere reports that Egyptian revolutionaries have planned to take to the streets and protest in Tahrir Square in solidarity with Occupy Oakland protestors on October 28. Isn't that amazing? I'm afraid I'm going to go all cliched on you, but it's a move that speaks volumes. You know you're receiving an extraordinary act of solidarity when the people responsible for ousting a ruthless dictator in a matter of months are going down to vocalise their support for you in the Liberation Square.

Speaking of Egypt's revolución, this song sung by protesters in Tahrir has been on my lips since I first heard it. Revolutionary and catchy! Walk and talk like an Egyptian:

Kolena eid wahda talabna haga wahda - erhal! erhal! erhal! erhal!
We all, with one hand, have requested one thing - leave! leave! leave! leave!

Yaskot yaskot Hosni Mubarak! Yaskot yaskot Hosni Mubarak!
Down, down, Hosni Mubarak! Down, down, Hosni Mubarak!

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Sex Slavery Happening Right Beneath Our Noses

When I think of slavery, the images that come to mind are black and white. They are images of the past, images of African Americans before emancipation, a concept and a thing that is dead, gone and buried in the sheets of history (in its physicality at least, disregarding its effects). I fleetingly acknowledge it as a once-was and an is-no-more.

A human enslaving another, in any shape or form, is the ultimate act of dehumanisation. Of all the ways a human can mistreat another, slavery is one of the cruellest. A slave is afforded no freedoms, no choices, no freewill. They are property. Their purpose – as they are made to believe and live out – is to serve others. Their ‘master’ essentially controls their destiny and dictates their every move.

Unfortunately, however, slavery has not stayed in the past as I had myself believe or wanting to believe. Nor does enslavement necessarily mean serving a ‘master’ by performing household duties as typically thought to be case (a notion perpetuated by popular books and films – house elves in Harry Potter come to mind, and even willing maids and butlers who pop up onscreen occasionally). I know slavery still happens, I know people are exploited to the extent of being practically owned, but I never thought of it in the context of today. Or in its many forms, sex slavery included.

The inhumanity of it, combined with the detachment of my world and the world of slavery, is exactly why the ABC’s recent Four Corners episode shocked me. The episode covered an investigation into sex trafficking in Australia, and, more specifically, sex trafficking rings operating in Melbourne, Victoria.

The tales are haunting. In some cases, women – predominantly from Asia – move to Australia voluntarily to learn English (at least that’s what they are made to believe by their organising ‘travel agents’), however, upon arrival to Australia, their passports are seized and destroyed by sex traffickers and they are thrown into brothels, forced to work for hours on end 'servicing clients' to pay off a ‘debt bondage’. Can you even begin to imagine their suffering and trauma...? The shock they must feel? The pain of the sexual abuse? It's unfathomable. The testimonies of two women, read by actresses in the program, are tragic. They live in constant fear, they despise themselves and they say they feel dirty. Their stories, their voices, are two of the many enslaved and exploited female voices that are trapped, forced and sold into prostitution across the globe. Not only is sex slavery dehumanising in a general sense – it degrades and objectifies a woman’s body. It reflects the broader acts of violence against women that we, as a society, silently deem acceptable. It reflects the deeply seated view that women are inferior to men and that they are objects of male control. Even the way the sex workers were 'presented' to the client in one Melbourne brothel was insanely degrading. The secretly filmed footage shows sex workers walking out one by one, each leaving before the next presented herself. They are numbered, as though they are nameless non-humans.

Why do we let this go on? It goes on partly because sex work has a strong stigma attached to it, so anything to do with it, no matter how mind-blowingly harmful it is to the workers, to the enslaved, is swept beneath the rug. Sex slavery is 'taboo' because sex and women are involved in the equation. And law enforcement won't eliminate the dark face of the sex trade. We must redefine our values and perceptions as a society first to see sex slavery dwindle and vanish. We need to collectively and loudly say: Women are not sex objects.

#%$& mandatory detention

A Sri Lankan (reportedly Tamil) detainee committed suicide in Villawood detention centre last night after living in captivity for over two years. Enough is enough. Mandatory detention must end. Locking up asylum seekers for the so-called crime of seeking asylum, a fundamental, inalienable, indivisible human right, is cruel beyond words. Innocent people are being held in prison (that's exactly what it is) so why do we, as a nation, allow it?

How dare they act on their right to seek asylum, right? Who do they think they are leaving behind everything they've ever known in an attempt to secure a safer future in Australia?

What a joke. Why don't we go right ahead and detain anyone and everyone who has rights and seeks those rights and enjoys those rights - rights that belong to them by virtue of being born human? Let's 'process' anyone who even thinks about living in dignity. Let's 'process' all of humankind.

This is a national shame (among many) Australia. Shame.

Al Nahda wins first-ever democratic elections in Tunisia

Preliminary information has indicated that Islamic party Al Nahda has won the first democratic elections in Tunisia. The official results will come out on Tuesday.

The new government plans to model itself on Turkey's democracy.

The Islamic party has emphasised that it won't be "radical" and it will not enforce Sharia laws considered restrictive. It has received strong support in several regions. Twitter user @ from Tunisia tells me that Al Nahda won 76% of votes in his village of Yahya. He also says that the Tataouine region voted for Al Nahda (80.04%). Both these areas are close to the recently liberated Libya.

I can only hope that Western media outlets and governments don't launch a scare campaign against Tunisia's new Islamic government. But who am I kidding? The US et al must miss their puppet, Ben Ali.

While I personally support secularism - the separation of state and religion, I do believe in the people's choice. Most of Tunisia's population is Muslim so it shouldn't come as any surprise that there is overwhelming support for an Islamic government. Particularly after Ben Ali's reign. 

Friday, 14 October 2011

Occupy Sydney 15.10.2011


"Migrant sex worker, debt bonded to the banks" via @antloewenstein
lol jk we're here to occupy Sydney via @kateausburn

Crowd growing via @Dr_Tad

Che in the breeze via @LeftCoastParty

"Stop Coal Seam Gas" via @kateausburn

Libya and Egypt being repped via @dooolism

"Corporatocrazy is killing our democracy" via @antloewenstein

Guy Fawkes showed up via @dooolism

"There is no left or right, just tyranny or liberty" via @antloewenstein 
via @reneevk

Rage faces at #occupysydney via @KristianStupid

via @antloewenstein

Outside the Reserve Bank via @kateausburn
"Human need, not corporate greed" via @JackEHeron
"We Support Occupy Wall St" via @JackEHeron
"Danger: Workers Above" via @kateausburn
Monopoly via @bdvz
The revolution is being televised via @OccupySydMedia
"Direct action not political factions" via @kateausburn
We are the 99% via @antloewenstein

Sydney is occupied via @antloewenstein
Newscorpse via @kateausburn
"Australian supporters of democracy in Iran" via @antloewenstein

Palestine in Vogue Magazine

Tilda Swinton wears a Palestine scarf in Vogue's November 2011 edition.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011


The Women Die Waiting campaign reminds me of the short Palestinian animation film Fatenah. It is Palestine's first 3D animation and tells the story of a Palestinian woman in Gaza struggling with breast cancer. It is moving and beautifully done.

Women Die Waiting


The majority of breast cancers in the Gaza Strip are not detected until it is too late for surgery alone to be effective. Chemotherapy and radiotherapy are not available in Gaza, however, and women must navigate a lengthy and unpredictable permits process to access treatment in the surrounding countries. As a result, many women die waiting for treatment. Learn more


The women in Gaza are doing wonders with the little that they have. You can do wonders too by joining our campaign and assisting us to raise funds to improve their access to appropriate breast cancer treatment.

By funding breast clinics through the Al Ahli hospital in Gaza, Anglicord will help women to detect their cancers earlier so that they can access appropriate surgical treatment. These clinics will also promote education so that women will understand the need for self examination and early detection, and they will know to seek immediate attention for any suspicious lumps. Learn more



There are a number of ways you can help us to help the women of the Gaza Strip:

The Women Die Waiting campaign is run by Anglicord - Anglican Overseas aid. It received mainstream coverage last night on Channel 10's The 7pm Project.

If you're on Twitter, follow @WomenDieWaiting.

One Israeli Soldier for 1000 Palestinian Political Prisoners

So Hamas and Israel brokered a deal. One Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, will be handed over in return for a 1027 Palestinian political prisoners. One for a thousand. One thousand of the many thousands of Palestinians detained in Israeli prisons. Indeed, this is a victory for Palestine and Palestinians - innocent captives will be set free to return to their families. But the deal also reeks of a terrible, colonialist stench. It quantifies just how inferior Palestinians are seen in Israel's eyes. Palestinians are treated and viewed as third-class citizens. To Israel, they are sub-human. The freedom of an Israeli military captive far outweighs the freedom of a Palestinian. Palestinians aren't even afforded the title of "Palestinian". There is collective denial in Israel that Palestinians even exist. They are known as the generic "Arab". To call a Palestinian what they are - a Palestinian - would mean recognising their history, their culture, their land, their ancestry, their customs, their food. Lack of recognition also highlights how easily expendable Palestinian life is. No-names with nothing to really lose.

Why does the Zionist state of Israel throw Palestinians into confinement? Because to exist is to resist. As long as there are Palestinians, there is Palestine. 

The political prisoner situation is dire. New Jersey Solidarity writes:

The Zionist state has waged a war of imprisonment against Palestinian society. Thousands upon thousands of Palestinians, activists, leaders, freedom fighters, have been held as political prisoners, detained, tortured, separated from their families and loved ones, at the mercy of a racist state dedicated to their eradication as a nation. Nevertheless, Palestinian political prisoners have been a backbone of the Palestinian national movement, persevering and remaining steadfast and firm in their commitment to the Palestinian struggle for liberation and return, and persevering despite the worst tortures and persecution to remain fighters, leaders, and activists. The valiant struggle of Palestine's political prisoners is central to the Palestinian movement for national liberation; it is the struggle of the Palestinian people.

NJS also writes:

There are, today, approximately 11,000 Palestinian political prisoners held in the jails of the “Israeli” state. Palestinians, living under occupation and oppression for nearly sixty years, have been targeted relentlessly for imprisonment and detention for that time. Since the extension of the occupation of Palestine to the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967, over 650,000 Palestinians have been taken prisoner - one out of every four Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza. Forty percent of male Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have spent time in jail as a political prisoner, or held under administrative detention - arbitrary detention without charge. The effects of political imprisonment on Palestinian society have, thus, been massive and vast.

Broken down:
  • There are currently 11,000 Palestinian political prisoners
  • Since the 1967 occupation, 650,000 Palestinians have been detained as prisoners i.e. 1 in every 4 Palestinians from occupied West Bank and Gaza
  • 40% of Palestinian males have been imprisoned as political prisoners or arbitrarily detained

In its 2009 study, which concluded that Israel is an apartheid state, The Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa discussed incarceration:

Military courts
  • From 2002 to 2006, Israel’s military courts filed more than 43,000 indictments against Palestinians of which only one third were security related and only 1 per cent involved defendants charged with causing intentional deaths.
  • Israel’s military courts do not comply with international standards of due process.
  • There is no ‘presumption of innocence,’ placing burden of proof on the defense.
  • A Palestinian defendant and attorney are not informed of charges against him or her until the first hearing (after the indictment has already been filed). The defendant is expected to respond immediately with no time to study the indictment. 
  • Indictments are written and presented in Hebrew—a language the defendant does not understand. 
  • Court decisions can be based on “secret evidence” not provided to a detainee or his or her lawyer. 
  • Decisions of the court are not published. 
  • All judges are Israeli military officers, many without legal background or education. 
  • If a defendant refuses to plea-bargain, the result is a far more severe penalty. 
  • 95% to 97% of convictions are the result of plea-bargains. 
  • The average hearing lasts just 3 minutes and 4 seconds. 
  • In 2006, acquittals were obtained in only 0.29% of cases. 

Mass incarceration 
  • Over 40% of the Palestinian male population has been imprisoned at some time, many without charges in repeating 6-month administrative detention terms that can go on for years.
  • By April 2009, 45 members of the Palestinian Legislative Council, over one third of the democratically elected parliament, were imprisoned, most convicted of belonging to a political party Israel deems a “threat,” and eight administratively detained without any charges or trial.

Prosecuting children
  • Palestinian children are prosecuted as adults at age 12. Jewish settler children are not prosecuted as adults until age 18.
  • Over 700 Palestinian children are prosecuted by Israeli military courts each year, mostly for throwing stones including throwing stones at the wall. Throwing stones carries a prison term of six months to twenty years.

Israeli apartheid has always operated in full swing. In any and in every way possible, Palestinians are subjected to oppressive treatment. Israel has made it its obligation to make daily life an excruciating burden for Palestinian. If Palestinians aren't already feeling claustrophobic because of the restricted freedom of movement brought on by the West Bank apartheid barrier and checkpoints, the constant sieges and tight blockade against Gaza, or the severe discrimination that Palestinians face in historic Palestine/now Israel, then there is always political detention, which awaits them like the Grim Reaper hungry for death whenever they try to protest and resist their conditions.

Hunger strike: 
As of September 27, Palestinian political prisoners in an Israeli German colony in Haifa have been on hunger strike. The BDS National Council released a statement, including demands.

  1. Ending the policy of solitary confinement
  2. Ending the ban on college education for prisoners
  3. Ending the policy of collective punishment, including the denial of visits, and imposing financial penalties on prisoners
  4. Ending the policy of provocative incursions and invasions of prisoners’ cells
  5. Stopping the policy of shackling the hands and legs of prisoners during visits by family members and lawyers
  6. Improving the health conditions of hundreds of sick and injured prisoners and providing them with the needed treatments
  7. Allowing books, newspapers and clothes to enter prisons
  8. Allowing the broadcast of satellite TV channels that have been banned by Israeli Prison Service (IPS)
  9. Ending the policy of restricting visits to 30 minutes every month, and the arbitrary denial of visits
The BNC is asking for us to step up Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaigns and particularly strengthen the boycott movement against Israeli educational institutions, since Palestinian prisoners' are denied the basic right to education. It also asks that campaigns target companies that provide for and have contracts with the IPS, and that the Israeli Medical Association (IMA) is boycotted and expelled from the World Medical Association (WMA) as a "result of the systematic collusion of its members with torture" (the Electronic Intifada).

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Is Occupy Wall Street Too Broad?

There has been some debate about the Occupy Wall Street movement and its seemingly broad nature. But what some skeptics forget is that the OWS movement is intentionally broad. This, of course, has its pros and cons, and one outweighs the other depending on how you view it and what you're informed by, obviously. It's important to keep in mind that the OWS movement itself was conceived online, on Reddit, and the original demands were basic and very general. The aim was (and still fundamentally is) to protest the comfortable and happy marriage between governments, political parties and corporations. Leaders pander to corporate agendas in favour of their own wallets (how sloganeering of me) and at the expense of the people they were elected to govern and ensure the well-being of. The original memo also stated (and I'm paraphrasing here, this is when I first read the promo a few months ago): "we will figure it out as we go".

Really, the movement is taking advantage of the Arab Spring euphoria (and horror) and trying to recreate a revolution of some sort in the US. And that's not a bad thing at all, but unlike OWS, the Arab Spring had a distinct goal and that was, and is, to install democracy and receive greater rights and freedoms via removing tyrants and ditching regimes and making huge legal and political reformations to secure rights, safety and a good standard of living. 

As aforementioned, the nature of the OWS demands are constructed in such a way whereby the people participating 'find their direction' as the protests roll on. In terms of getting 'somewhere', creating some sort of unprecedented change, directly challenging and confronting the powers that be and heavily altering the status quo, I believe the lack of solid direction is unhelpful to the cause. The protesters are united by generalities (but this is not to say there isn't any truth to their assertions). 

In saying that, I do believe that the 'non-specific' nature of the protests has done the anti-corporate OWS cause some good in terms of raising national and global awareness, reviving interest and passion about social justice, and bringing taboo questions and demands to the forefront. It is like a national treasure hunt and people are trying to determine and pinpoint exactly the sort of changes they want. I would not dismiss the movement simply because it is "too broad" and "unfocused". 

Perhaps it is general, but I believe this is the kind of movement suited to America. No protest movement is the same. The US needs to 'wake up', the people need to question the ruling elite, they need to be more skeptical, politically astute, and most importantly, less apathetic. After all, apathy is complicity. There are US citizens who are aware of the state of affairs but are unconcerned by any political conundrum in general to act. The Arab world, on the other hand, did not need to 'wake up'. The masses knew of and were constantly reminded of their predicament. The Arab world has long brimmed with discontentment, but the people never had the means to change things around. The Arab people's choices and freedoms have always been a lot more constrained, a lot more silenced, compared to the US. The Arab world did not need any waking up - it needed to launch an awakening, an uprising. And it finally has. The US needs to 'rise and shine' before it tries to rise up.

Monday, 10 October 2011

No To Shark Fin Soup

I haven't blogged about it here at all (yet) but animal torture should concern us all. Animals are sentient creatures. They are not inferior because they don't speak or look or act or function like a  human. How can we be silent about certain slaughtering practices (see cattle exports from Oz to Indonesia, for example), the extraction of bear bile, or the little known shark fin industry?

Watch a snippet of Gordon Ramsay's documentary about the shark fin soup industry. Shark fin soup is a Chinese delicacy reserved for special occasions. It's an old popular dish passed down throughout generations and is hailed for its unique texture. In Chinese society, shark fin soup is a symbol of affluence and high status. Unfortunately, there are heinous practices involved in the sea to soup process. It's a real eye-opener and I applaud Ramsay.

I Wish I Could Speak The Languages of the World

Yesterday morning involved the usual public transport routine. Bus, train, walk. I paid my bus fare, sat at the far back and played around with my phone, generally unobservant. A lady in her fifties boarded the bus several stops later. I looked up afterwards to realise that she was asking people around her for change. Her English was broken. Embarrassed, she held up a fifty dollar note and politely asked commuters if they had change for fifty. They all said no. One woman rudely snapped at her. She continued to ask because she needed to pay the bus fare before she arrived at her stop - but people seemed indifferent and shrugged her off. They avoided her eyes by focusing on the traffic. I really felt for her and moved to the front, asked her how much her ticket was and gave her the amount. She insisted on paying me back, trying to find out when I would be catching the bus again, but I refused. I was a little frustrated that the bus driver didn't let her on for free to begin with. He humiliated an older woman. Both her and I (I never caught her name) sat at the front of the bus and talked during the whole trip. There was some silence, but it was never uncomfortable. She told me she was Persian and had moved to Australia only a few years ago. And she hardly knew anybody here. It was her first time catching the bus. She looked very vulnerable - like a child lost in a big city, looking for her parents. I tried to understand as much as I could of what she was saying, and she too. There was definitely a language barrier - I spoke with a sharp Australian accent and she spoke with Farsi-coloured English - but we somehow managed to happily talk about family, university, life - that kinda curious chitchat. When I asked her what part of Iran she originated from, she teared up and said something about her husband, which I couldn't quite make out. I didn't ask again because it clearly upset her. I had no way of consoling her properly.

We got off at the same bus stop and walked together for a bit. I asked if she knew where to go. She tugged at my sleeve, telling me to come with her to a nearby shop. She wanted to break her fifty-dollar note so she could pay me, but I couldn't accept. Before departing ways, I said: "I only know how to say one thing in Farsi. It's khodafez (bye)." And to my delight, her face lit up and she laughed. She looked genuinely happy for a moment. Not so lost. Maybe I gave her a bit of familiarity. She wasn't used to her surroundings and she struggled with the language. I guess she found home in my farewell. And it's why I wish, and could only ever dream, to speak every language. Each language has its own character, its own style, flair, roots. It would be incredible to hear stories the way they are spoken first-hand. I could have heard hers. Imagine the kind of conversations you could have with strangers or neighbours from foreign lands? Imagine the sort of connections you could make with Indigenous people who live in remote areas (be they from Australia or South America) - many who speak a dying language? There would be more understanding. And to those who are lost, it would be comforting...

Rad Weekend, Dude

I was buying a mocha (yeah, I'm one of those people - we can debate about it all day) today before class started. A soy mocha. Soy mochas are fabulous. Soy-anything is fabulous. I converted to soy milk earlier this year purely because I prefer its deliciously nutty flavour. I strongly urge you to try soy milk in your coffee, mocha, hot chocolate, cereal or smoothie one day soon. And by one day soon, I mean tomorrow. You will thank me for it. Or hate me for it.

Anyway. While waiting for my takeaway soy-coffee-chocolate concoction, the barista initiated conversation with me. It's not every day the coffeemaker pops their head around the coffee machine to converse with the customer. How nice of him to act like he's interested in what I got up to this weekend when he probably does not give a flying firetruck, I cynically thought.

Barista: "So how was your weekend? What did you get up to?"

My weekend was a really lazy one. Monday to Friday burnt me out. Saturday and Sunday involved sleeping in, reading Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions by Omar Barghouti, briefly skimming Ilan Pappe's A History of Modern Palestine (highly recommend both), a friend's party, seeing family, downing a few million cups of tea and cracking up at lame YouTube videos. But my short-term memory is terrible and I was unable to recount the humdrum of the past two days when suddenly inquired about it.

Me: "What I got up to? Well, hmm, if I can even remember..." I started.

Suddenly, the barista's head jolted in surprise. He looked positively taken aback. I was perplexed for a moment. Does he have a tic? He had a look of both horror and admiration plastered on his face. Before allowing me to find my thoughts and finish my sentence, he said: "Woah, wow! If you can't remember what you did on the weekend then it must have been a really great weekend!"

I laughed. Slightly awkwardly. And I stood there, waiting, internally panicking, thinking: "Oh my gosh, oh my gosh - crap, crap, crap. He probably thinks I have no recollection of my weekend because I spent it inebriated doing all sorts of ungodly stuff, when really, I can't bloody remember."

He began stirring the mocha with a funny look on his face, so I quickly returned the question and asked about his.

"Ah, it was standard," he replied.

Standard, I thought. I will definitely use that one when my memory fails me.

Walking out after what felt like a very long while, I couldn't help but think about some of the social, cultural and personal differences between us. I concluded that university or tertiary life, for him, was a little different to mine. My poor memory and his interpretation unintentionally cast me in a different light. 

Perhaps I'm naive, but I would have never interpreted a response along the lines of "I can't remember" like that. He probably thought I was partying it up like Paris Hilton, hustling like a diva or setting the roof on fire, when in reality, I was unbearably tired, had my head stuck in a book and ate breakfast at 3pm both days. How uncool would it have been if I interjected with: "Ho hum! I spent most of it sleeping and reading, actually!"...? So I said nothing. 

He should have known that really wild children never order soy mochas, anyway. They buy affogatos on the go or something. 

Friday, 7 October 2011

Women in Black at Sydney Town Hall

Last evening, I ventured across a group of women standing on the steps of Sydney Town Hall who were holding signs calling for justice in Palestine. They are the Sydney branch of the global Women in Black movement. I had heard about them previously.

This dedicated group of women stand on the steps of town hall every single Thursday between 5.30pm and 6.30pm to raise awareness about the plight and suffering of Palestinians. They make "injustices visible" - words of Gandhi they follow. And they have been doing it for four years now.

They were certainly capturing the attention of passers-by. People caught a glance, slowed down or stopped to read the signs being held. Their effort, cause and commitment is incredibly admirable. They encourage women - dressed in black - to join their vigil and "stand on the right side of history" whenever they can. 

Thursday, 6 October 2011

The Death of Steve Jobs and Famous People

Steve Jobs, a man who was a brilliant innovator and a tech revolutionary, has left the building at age 56.

I have read several Facebook and Twitter updates that celebrate his death. They suggest that Jobs is something of an evil monster. Yes, I am appalled by the abysmal working conditions of Apple factories in China where a stressful working environment has provoked several employees to commit suicide. And workers are now being forced to sign a pledge promising not to commit suicide. But sweatshops are not uniquely Apple. Nor is that kind of corporate suffering. He was not an evil man - he was an inventor who made excellent and positive contributions. And if people think that poor working conditions will vanish with Jobs, they are wrong.

Steve Jobs' death caught the world's attention because he was a public figure. People felt or feel an affinity to him because they are familiar with him and his products. There is a lot of moral high-horsing in response to his death. In the aftermath of a celebrity death, people often ask: "Why do others care about the death of a famous person while there are thousands of people out there dying?" This is a flawed line of thought because it works under the assumption that paying tribute to a household name means that death and destruction  experienced by non-famous and non-wealthy people is intentionally forgotten about or thought inferior.

It is tragic that the 3,000 people slaughtered in Syria have not received the same international attention among individuals everywhere. That the hundreds and thousands of Iraqi and Afghan civilians are shrugged off. That the deaths of unknown and faceless people in every corner of this world, especially as a result oppression and torture, is overlooked. Stalin (I am not endorsing him) said this very well: The death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic. The plain matter of the fact is that it is easier for people to feel empathetic when they are already familiar with the face and the story of one man or woman. People are not malicious nor do they necessarily have their back turned to the world when they feel sadness or want to publicly acknowledge a famous person's passing. The person who died most probably brought joy to them.

And trying to measure the international response of the oppressed and the celebrity against each other is like comparing apples and oranges. The death of a celebrity is news - it is not an issue per se. State murder on the other hand, is not only news, but a complex issue of rights, power and justice. It is not a one-time incident that is reported and subsequently over. The 'expected' response to death by oppression is not a Facebook status update saying 'RIP' - it needs an active response dedicated to hopefully, ultimately, holding those oppressors accountable and bringing about freedom and security. The dynamics are completely different. And combined with the strong propaganda campaigns in the background of, say, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, a lot of people - put bluntly - just do not have any interest in or passion about human rights and politics. 

There is always a sort of begrudging, a kind of bitterness, that surrounds the death of a famous person (particularly in the music or film industry). When Amy Winehouse died, people were fast to take the moral high ground and say that she abused drugs, therefore she 'deserved what she had coming' (I will not begin about the callousness of those comments). Her personal fame and fortune is not some kind of 'enemy' that undermines the death of the common person as some people see it. She was a singer. Most general news outlets reported her death and fans responded accordingly. Celebrities are well-known humans, but human nonetheless.

Fundamentally, whether a person mourns, rejoices or gives little thought about a person's death - the reality is that death is inevitable and all life will perish.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

To Survive, We Need To Eat

I have written about food a fair bit, and I would like to say that I am incredibly grateful to be able to eat and receive sustenance without much thought or struggle. There are people who do not eat well or who do not eat at all. If I’m running late in the morning and I can’t spare a minute to grab something to eat from a full fridge or a full pantry, I think of it as no big deal – I can easily buy breakfast on the way to wherever I’m going. This is not a universal privilege. At the moment, East Africa is suffering from a severe famine. The UN has predicted that almost 750,000 people will die of starvation in the next six months if we don’t respond quickly enough. There are people everywhere, in underdeveloped and developed parts of the world, who do not have enough to eat. Here in Australia, in our very own back yard, people struggle to eat and find shelter. Approximately 15,000 Australians sleep rough on the streets according to ActNow.

There are a few everyday things we can do to feed others. For example, if you're at Subway and plan on buying a six-inch sub – consider paying a few extra dollars for a footlong and offer it to someone who needs it. Sharing is caring. If you know any honest charities and food-sharing tips, please comment and share.

Middle Eastern Food: Three Peculiar Names

I like food a lot. I think about it often. Before I drift off to sleep, I think about what I want to eat for breakfast. After I’ve had breakfast, I think about what I want for lunch. Sometimes during tutorials, my mind wanders off to Foodland and my tutor’s head transforms into a Subway cookie or a falafel patty. Food hallucinations are not limited to animated cartoons, that’s for sure. I often consult Google too, with: “What should I have for lunch?” or “What do I feel like eating?”

I’ve spent a lot of my life eating Middle Eastern food. I’ve also spent a lot of my life pondering really mundane and trivial things. Including the names of several Levant foods. 

1. Fattoush: The Salad With a Redundant Name
What is it? A green salad mixed with fried or toasted pita bread.

Fattoush is simply a garden salad with toasted pita bread pieces tossed in it, with, perhaps, a few other spices. There isn’t much that distinguishes it from a typical garden salad, which is why I have never understood why it has its own name. We already have a name for garden salad - 'salata'. If chicken was added to a plain garden salad, it would still be called 'salata'. No fancy name.

But salata is no longer salata when pita bread is involved. It’s fattoush. La dee da. Call me crazy, but whenever I see a bowl of fattoush, I can’t help but think “You pretentious salad, you”. 

Deep down inside, 'fattoush' is just salata m3 khubz (garden salad with bread) to me. But to avoid weird looks from older relatives and family friends (who would have a field day and poke at my generation if I ever asked someone to pass me 'salata with bread') I just play along and call it fattoush.

2. Znoud El Sit: The Lebanese Sweet With a Metaphoric and Somewhat Cannibalistic Name
What is it? Fried phyllo pastry dough filled with clotted cream.

Znoud El Sit is mouthwateringly delicious. Pair it with mint tea and prepare to have your mind blown by a foodgasm of epic proportions. Perhaps I am hyperbolising a little over here, but it's hard to stop at one. Whoever came up with the name is a food poet. Znoud El Sit literally means lady’s arms in Arabic. The imagery is a bit morbid (tucking into human arms and such), but when you are a lover of words, the metaphor is refreshing and makes the clotted cream experience all the more lovely. We should have metaphorical names for all foods. I patiently await the day 'spaghetti bolognaise' is scrapped and we go with 'intestinal worms'.

3. Makloubi: The Palestinian Rice Dish With a Literal Name
What is it? A rice, eggplant and lamb casserole.

Makloubi is my number one favourite food of all time. Of all time. It is amazingly good. Makloubi literally means ‘upside down’ in Arabic. Once the rice and ingredients are cooked in the pot, it is flipped over onto a dish for serving. It's a loopy name, no doubt. It'd be a little like calling soup ‘stir’. Or lasagne ‘layer’. Naming the dish after one part of the preparation process is a bit hipster. Food minimalism taken to another level?

Methinks makloubi is representative of Palestine's state of affairs. Palestine was invaded and dispossessed sixty-three years ago and three-quarters of the population was expelled. Add military occupation, apartheid and no right of return to the equation and hell yeah, things are upside down. Upside down and topped with pine nuts.

Monday, 3 October 2011

My Reactions in GIF

The response to 4 Australian Arab Men You Should Never Date has been quite tremendous. But unfortunately, several people don't seem to understand that I am poking fun of and playing on well-known stereotypes. It might not be everybody's cup of tea - understandably - but I have received messages from a couple of out-of-touch (is how I will describe them here) people. It's disappointing to see this kind of defensiveness and lunacy.

At first, I was receiving positive feedback.

But after reading several comments, I realised a few people legitimately thought I was attacking Arabs.

 Loser? Worthless? Come on now, I'm just-

Woah. Damn. I really hit a few nerves.

For the love of Thor, where is your sense of humour?!

Somebody then directed me to a Facebook status of some stranger raging about me. Cool.

And then I got a few angry messages. Am I'm being trolled or...?


I cannot help the fact that you are humourless.

Not one iota.