Sunday, 14 September 2008

this is my home

i had this request from my post a couple of days ago:

Thanks for your post.

I am interested in this comment:"it's hard not to feel that you're siding with the bigots and giving them more cannon-fodder to attack a community that is already feeling beseiged"

This isn't an area I know a whole lot about, how do you see that bigotry manifested in the NZ context??

Genuinely interested and keen to learn more, cheers.

i thought i'd share my response as a separate post, as it was getting a bit too long for the comments section.

i did a speech at the diversity forum this year regarding discrimination faced by muslim women in nz. it took me 10 minutes to tell it, and would take several pages of writing if i were to share it with you. they were stories i'd accumulated from talking to several muslim women about their day to day experiences of life in nz.

it would be hard to summarise the hate we face so often, just going out shopping or walking in the street. the insults hurled out by strangers, the unfriendliness of shop assistants, the careless comments. add to that the absolute nastiness of talkback radio, many very harsh letters to the editors, a lot of negative press centred on overseas bombings, and politicians who are happy to play up people's prejudices in order to drum up votes (remember that "end of tolerance speech" in 2005?).

the very worst experience would have to be a talk i attended by one jacob prasch, an overseas speaker. it was 90 minutes of pure venom, about how evil muslims were, how our religion preaches violence and murder, how we have no conscience or ethics or mercy. how there backward all muslims are, how resistant to change and totally irredeemable. this speech was delivered to a room full of over 100 people. by the end of his talk, even i hated myself and i can only imagine how the others would have thought of us. this speaker had been up and down the country, invited here by ariel ministries, hosted in hamilton by the calvary tabernacle church.

i could only think of how this group of people would go out into their communities, thinking they knew us, and spreading what they knew to their friends, their families and their workmates. i could imagine how they would react if they had to teach muslim students or make a decision to employ a muslim. i felt so sick in my stomach, so very helpless, because we had no right of reply to that audience. we never had the opportunity to provide an alternative view.

that was about 4 years ago. since then i've had plenty of experiences that have been nowhere near as antagonising, but nonetheless they create an environment where it becomes almost impossible for our community to be self-critical. this is because the vast majority of our efforts are spent on trying to counter the misinformation and to establish our humanity and our right to be treated with dignity and respect.

of course, i must also point out that there are many wonderful people in this country who don't buy in to the bigotry. people who are warm and friendly. and due to a lot of efforts by the muslim community (eg islam awareness week) and others (eg RAM who organised the george galloway visit last year; the office of ethnic affairs with the building bridges programme and the efforts of the race relations commissioner), things are getting better.

and of course there are places like the hand mirror, where i've found i have a voice that really is treated with respect. i can't even begin to tell you how much that means to me.


Marianne said...

thanks for taking the time to respond to that comment. when i worked with the race relations commissioner i came to understand just how much hatred and cruelty there is in nz. i find the word "intolerance" far too tame to describe it. but when Muslim women (like you) are willing to stand up in the face of that, and are generous enough to still acknowledge the good when you find it, i am very grateful to you.

Azlemed said...

HI startgazer, I like reading your blogs, as they give insight into a community that I know very little about. thank you for doing that.

love D

strawbrie.jam said...

Thanks for that response, it was great. I'm not Muslim but I spend quite a bit of time working with the Muslim community and often go to the women's class at the mosque. I love interacting with the community, everyone is so kind and caring and peaceful and it really pains me when I see such negative attitudes in the media and wider society.

stargazer said...

thanx everyone for all the lovely comments. must admit that writing this post brought back some not-so-nice memories, but you have cheered me right up again!