30 September 2013

While it is true that security is a constant issue, I wonder if the real reason behind it is that feeling of uncertainty or a lack of confidence and anxiety about ourselves.

SINCE we are all worried about security these days, I decided to look up the meaning of “insecurity”.
Besides the feeling of being constantly in danger or under threat, insecurity also means “a feeling of uncertainty, or a lack of confidence and anxiety about yourself”.
While we worry daily about the many crimes being committed in our neighbourhoods with no real solution in sight, sometimes I wonder if we have a security crisis or an insecurity crisis.
While it is true that security is a constant issue, I wonder if the real reason behind it is that feeling of uncertainty or a lack of confidence and anxiety about ourselves.
These feelings of security and insecurity are of course related.
On the one hand, the very people who should make us feel secure are in fact making us insecure.
How certain do we feel about our future when we see hesitant and sometimes absent leadership at times when we most need it?
How can we not feel anxious when the leadership is silent on the things that matter to the citizenry?
As a citizen, I want a decent life for my family, my fellow citizens and myself. This, anyone would think, is quite basic and common to everyone.
I want to be able to have a roof over my head, education for my kids, the opportunity to earn a decent living and affordable healthcare when I need it.
When a human being is unable to have these basics, then they start to feel that most normal of human instincts, insecurity.
If enough people feel that way, then that’s a recipe for instability and mass insecurity.
It is not possible for any country to be stable if many of its people feel hungry or deprived of the most essential ingredients to lead a normal life.
Countries rise and fall based on these simple facts. Once inequalities start to spread, then it is only normal that insecurity, in the sense of danger, follows.
I was talking to a friend who has been working abroad a lot about a situation that he found very stark since he’s been back.
There are people who seem to be caught in a quagmire of debt that they simply cannot get out of.
The vicious cycle of inability to access what a person needs which leads to overuse of credit, which leads to an inability to pay, which then leads to getting loans at high interest rates from unscrupulous persons, seems never ending.
It leads to insecurity not just for the original borrower but also for all those within his or her family circle.
Recently, two leading religious figures have spoken about this terrible crisis that many face, of easy credit and crushing debt.
The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, warned that the ease at which money, in its virtual form, not in exchange for actual goods and services, is available has led to much misery among people.
Most recently, Pope Francis talked about the same thing, how the pursuit of money for its own sake has brought with it “a culture where the weakest in society suffer the most” and often, those on the fringes “fall away”, including the elderly, who he said were victims of a “hidden euthanasia” caused by “neglect of those no longer considered productive”.
I have yet to hear the Muslim equivalent of this, of concern for a global system that is increasing insecurity of people everywhere.
Instead, I hear a different insecurity, of one where there are constant so-called moral attacks, usually by imagined assailants. Where limited interpretations of religion are to be enforced because otherwise the religion will disappear, despite evidence to the contrary.
In some ways, these self-appointed guardians of religion have reason to worry.
Every action of theirs is self-defeating. For every cruelty they inflict on those who are weak, they lose more adherents.
For every injustice they perpetuate, there are people who leave disgusted. For every justification they give to inequality, people baulk and root for equality.
When we look at the most unstable countries in the world, inevitably they are also the ones with masses of poor people.
Economic injustice breeds problems not just within countries, but externally as well.
It leads to mass migration of people to look for work, and sometimes it brings violence.
It thus makes sense to prioritise dealing with such injustice.
Instead, we see our leaders behaving like people anxious about protecting their own comforts rather than anyone else’s.
This they do by distracting us from real issues, by telling us that some small groups of people, even dead ones, are a threat, by refusing to let some people speak or even be seen in our media.
So I have to ask: Who’s the insecure one?
> The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.

14 September 2013

The importance of respecting a person’s dignity is also tied to respecting their bodily integrity.

ONE of the things that we try to impart to our children is the value of human dignity, where we try and teach them to respect others, never to shame others in public and to always conduct ourselves with decorum.
Our pity is often cast on those whose lives have fallen apart and who have to bear the indignities that society can wreak on the indigent and the ill.
We know that the importance of respecting a person’s dignity is also tied to respecting their bodily integrity. Hence our concern – some would say, obsession – with the way people, especially women, are dressed.
The ostensible reason is that it protects a person’s physical integrity.
A dignified person is therefore a whole person, respected and respectful.
Imagine therefore my horror and shock at a story of an ustazah in a school who, disbelieving her female students who said they could not pray because they had their period, decided to check their underwear to see if they were telling the truth.
It must be a special kind of sick sadist that thinks that checking another person’s underwear is a viable way of carrying out their duties. It is a blatant abuse of power over those who are unable to refuse the command.
Mothers rarely ask to look at their young daughters’ underwear except with very good reason, such as if they suspect they are ill. Why then does a teacher who otherwise has no business to touch the bodies of our children feel she can do this with impunity?
Imagine the effect it will have on the students. It is bad enough not to be believed but to be violated in this way must surely have an effect on their self-esteem.
Do we not care if we bring up children with low self-esteem or is that the idea, to create a whole generation of subservient girls?
More insultingly, it is done in the name of religion.
It just points to the sheer ludicrousness of public ritual as an indicator of piety.
I don’t know what KPI the ustazah had that she had to ensure that every single girl under her charge prayed every day.
Yet for all the praying, which presumably she does too, she still could not trust her own charges. If they say they cannot pray that day, then really she should just trust them and leave it in the hands of the Almighty.
Apparently this sort of thing is not uncommon in our schools and even in Muslim schools elsewhere. A friend told of how when she was in school, girls had to indicate on a chart when they had their period. If their period lasted more than 15 days, then this was cause for speculation that they were lying and therefore liable to be subject to punishment for not praying.
I have to wonder what punishment is reserved for boys who try to excuse themselves from prayers since there are no similar indicators for them. Should girls be punished merely because of biology?
The reaction of most of my friends who heard this story is that the parents of the girls should sue the teacher and the school.
Schools are after all meant to be spaces that are safe for our children.
Safety does not just mean physical safety but safety from the sort of mental abuse that this sort of physical “inspection” causes.
But the chances are that the parents won’t. Firstly, they are likely to feel embarrassed about the whole thing and secondly, who are they to dispute a teacher, and a religious teacher at that, who has power over their child for most of the day? They are also likely to be shamed for not keeping tabs on their daughters’ prayer schedules themselves.
In other words, such abusive teachers are likely to carry on this behaviour knowing that nothing much will happen to them.
What do we teach our children when we behave like this? We teach them that power over someone weaker is everything, that the powerful can do anything, especially humiliate a powerless person.
We teach our children that their bodies are not theirs, and yet at the same time we scold and punish them if they allow the “wrong” people to touch them. Is an ustazah, even if she is of the same sex, the right person? Some people will say she was only looking and not touching. That’s splitting hairs really.
It is things like these that make parents lose trust in our schools and our teachers. Schools are where our children should be able to grow as human beings, to fulfil their potential to be contributing members of society.
Instead, we are turning them into humiliated people who may well turn into future abusers themselves.