Tuesday, 14 February 2012

"My Valentine is Palestine"

I saw this floating around as a status on Facebook on Valentine's Day. Very cute. 

Death sentence for a tweet? Seriously, Saudi Arabia?

I would say the world has lost its mind, but really, it's always been a place full of nutters and ideologies and governments and corporations that never fail to make me raise my eyebrows.

Hamza Kashgari
If you haven't already heard, Saudi journalist and blogger Hamza Kashgari has been extradited from Malaysia to Saudi Arabia and may face execution. Why so, you ask? Did he commit a massacre? Was he caught up in oil corruption? Did he embezzle millions and millions of dollars? Was he responsible for dropping white phosphorous bombs on civilians? Nope. 

None of that. 

Hamza's crime was expressing himself on Twitter. He tweeted several things last week that riled up Islamic conservatives and clerics. Hamza was accused of blasphemy and insulting Islam's Prophet Muhammad, at the time of the prophet's birthday. He has been proclaimed a heretic and may have his life cut short because of three tweets - each under 140 characters. 

One of the three tweets he wrote read:
"I have loved things about you and I have hated things about you and there is a lot I don’t understand about you...I will not pray for you."

A Facebook page (Arabic), “Saudi people want punishment for Hamza Kashgari,” has garnered over 20,000 members. Are people really that insecure? Do those calling for his execution really feel destabilised and threatened over several tweets? Over somebody else's views - views he is entitled to have? Is their world so shaken that only blood, and silence, can restore everything? 

Why is anything punishable by death anyway, particularly nowadays? Capital punishment, whether taking place in Saudi Arabia or the US, has no place in any justice system. You would think humanity has long gotten over these barbarian and draconian acts of 'justice'. We're still the same, except we have smart phones and loads of trash television (...I mean, really, T-shirt time? More like time to get off my television). 

Hamza deleted his tweets shortly afterwards and apologised. But no mercy is being shown. Corrupt regimes get their knickers tied in a knot whenever someone speaks what's on their mind. Or in this instance, tweets what's on their mind.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Where are you really from?

Remember when I wrote about the frustration non-white people from the West feel when asked by others where they're from? And how I said that I, personally, didn't find it all that frustrating? Well, I still don't find it frustrating. But I was forced to reflect on it a little more during a recent visit to Indonesia. I was with a group of cousins and friends, all of us visibly not Anglo-Celtic, and we were constantly asked by locals where we were from. We, of course, told them that we were Australian. But not a single local accepted 'Australian' as an answer. We were met with baffled and confused faces, followed by: "What?! Where are you really from?"

After a bit of talking back and forth, some locals finally reconciled with the fact that it was possible to be not white and Australian. 

But the probing was frustrating several in the group, who started to lie about their ethnic backgrounds to throw locals off a bit. Instead of tiredly explaining their Arab heritage, a few of my cousins were saying "Well, my parents are Chinese..." and "I'm really from India", which had some locals laughing and some scratching their heads. 

I had finally understood and sympathised with the irritation that non-white Westerners harboured toward being asked about where they were really from. But though I felt for the others, I was the only person who actually enjoyed the inquiries and I was more than happy to share with locals my ethnic background. I came to several conclusions as to why I wasn't affected by such questioning. Firstly, I accepted that, for most locals, an 'Australian-looking' person would be a Caucasian one, since they came across white Australians more often than they did Arab Australians. 

But more importantly, it dawned on me that when given the opportunity, I emphasise my Palestinianness because I try to dissociate myself with being Australian, or rather, just Australian. Don't get me wrong. I'm grateful to have been born and raised in Australia - it's who I am and it's all I've ever known. But the term, and the very concept of 'Australian' is associated with, and rooted in, colonialism and ethnic cleansing. There is pain and normalisation of Indigenous suffering attached to it. I feel that adding that I'm Palestinian, and making it clear that I'm Palestinian-Australian, somehow counteracts the negative connotations of the term Australian and Australia's tragic past and present, given that there are many similarities between the Palestinian plight and the plight of Indigenous Australians.

Australia is also a land abound with nationalism, xenophobia and a bogan culture. There are plenty of racists here - working class bogans, elite bogans, those who don Aussie flag thongs, those who are members of Parliament - that believe non-white immigrants can never, and will never, attain 'true' Australian status. The Cronulla riots said something. Our asylum seeker policies say something.

I also realised I elaborate on my nationality and ethnicity to keep Palestine well and alive. The 64th anniversary of the Nakba is approaching soon. The Nakba, which means The Catastrophe, marks the dispossession of Palestine and the establishment of the state of Israel. By saying that I am Palestinian, I am making our presence louder. I am declaring that my ancestors are Palestinian, that I am Palestinian, and that we are not going anywhere.

Your geographical origins, where you were born - for some of us, that's only part of the story we wish to tell.

Putting this into words has made me realise the complexities of cultural and national identy. I find that many young Arab, South East Asian and African Australians, walk a tricky path. We're children of immigrants, we're native Westerners and our communities are often demonised. It's not a tragedy, and to cry 'identity crisis' is far-fetched, however it is confusing when it comes to decision-making. About lots of things. There are more boxes to tick and there are more people around you with different expectations. It's a juggling act and the balls are different sizes.