Friday, 10 April 2009

reflections on a holy day

easter friday and i was expecting a nice, relaxing day. but it didn't quite work out that way. even though we don't observe the christian tradition of easter (muslims don't believe in the whole crucifiction/resurrection thing), friday is our day of congregation so has spiritual significance. normally i don't get to the mosque on fridays because i'm working, but on public holidays i make an effort to attend.

so we're walking into the grounds, when some guy driving past puts his head out of the window and shouts at the top of his lungs "the airport is that way". once is not enough for this moron, he keeps yelling it aggressively several times: "go on, the airport is that way". not sure that this was directed at us in particular or just generally at all the people who were walking towards the mosque at that time. regardless, thanx for trying to ruin a moment of peace and spirituality, dude. hope it made you feel really strong and proud.

the incident reminded me of another one related by a muslim woman at a gathering i attended last week. this woman told of how she had just come out of a supermarket the weekend before, to have some idiot ask her aggressively where she was from. given her style of dress and her white skin, i suppose he was expecting that she would give the name of a middle eastern country, but she gave him the name of the western country where she was born (not nz). he then proceeded to tell her that we didn't any f***king ****ans in this country & she should go back home.

the woman related this incident to us because she was disappointed in her own response. she yelled back at him, and part of her response was that when all the f***king nz'ers got out of her country, she'd be quite prepared to go back home. off she went to her car, and as she was pulling out, said moron was waiting with a bottle, which he threatened to throw at her car. she blew him a kiss, and he never actually threw the bottle.

but later, when she thought about the incident, she realised two things. first was that this is not how we've been taught to deal with abuse. in terms to adhering to our own standards of behaviour, we are asked to be patient in the face of abuse, not to respond in kind but instead to respond with kindness. she felt that she hadn't lived up to that standard, and i could totally relate to that, because it's exactly the guilt i'm feeling every time i react in anger.

but the second concern was that she had deliberately put herself in danger by talking back. this guy could have damaged her car, he could have followed her home to hurt her or perpetrated some other kind of nastiness. we've just seen an elderly gentleman beaten to death in act of road rage, and the message is clear. if you piss the wrong person off, you risk your life.

and the people who mete out this kind of stuff (ie the abuse at the supermarket, the yelling outside the mosque) tend to be quite the wrong kind of person. they tend to be male, young or middle aged and confident in their relative strength. another one of the women at this particular gathering told us how no-one had ever yelled at her if she was with her husband. it only happened when she was alone or with her children.

i've heard of "reclaiming the night" marches, but some of us still need to reclaim the days. we need to reclaim the shopping malls and the parks, and the roads we drive on. there are times when nowhere feels safe, no matter how public nor how many people are around. mr jasmatbhai patel was beaten to death in daylight hours, in full public view. there were plenty of people around.

i try to keep reminding myself that there is so much to be grateful for, and that i'm lucky to be living in a country of relative peace. there's no place in the world that is perfectly safe, after all. but in my heart i know that life shouldn't have to be like this. it's just not right. more than that, i know that there is a lot of anger, a whole lot of anger, in ethnic minority communities about race-based violence. as the recession deepens and "migrants"* are blamed for taking nz jobs, there is a good chance that violence against ethnic minorities will increase. and there is an increasingly likely chance that those minorities will return violence for violence.

cronulla is really not that far away from here. not physically, not metaphorically.

*by which of course, people usually mean migrants of colour. and they mean people of colour, born and/or bred in nz, but who are never seen as belonging here and are forever described as foreigners


Kimberley said...

I hate the idea that you "deliberately" (or otherwise) put yourself in danger by talking back. Being as submissive as the aggressor wants you to be is not a guarantee of safety. And even if safety is gained, it's not necessarily good for you.

(Please tell me if I read it wrong.)

stargazer said...

no you didn't read me wrong. i don't think that responding to aggression with aggression is a good thing in most instances. all it does is reinforce that kind of behaviour, it brings you down to the level of the aggressor and i'm always left feeling a little sick by that. i don't want to lose my standards just because someone else has lower ones, and in the normal course of business, i wouldn't be screaming and swearing at someone. so why should i do it because someone is screaming and swearing at me?

given that, i believe a friendly response would actually be more appropriate. i've just never managed to control my own temper in such a situation to see how it might work!

Redbaiter said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Alison said...

I think I could write a whole PhD on the previous comment! It loops back to the point where it's satirising itself.

AWicken said...

While I'm not a member of any socio-cultural group that is a typical target for abuse in my neck of the woods, my job does entail receiving a certain level of hostility on a semi-regular basis (myself and colleagues has been sworn at, spat at, assaulted and the occasional bottle thrown in our direction).

Sometimes they're just venting, sometimes they think they're being smart, sometimes they really want to damage. How you react should depend on the situation at the time (both their situation and your situation - are you able to physically remove yourself from the situation if it goes pear-shaped? Are there kiddies present? etc).

Every so often one jerk or another will score a "hit" with an insult or whatever - it happens. But the fact is that these guys are bullies and/or jerks, so the more one gets baited by them, the more one will probably regret it when the situation is over (particularly if it looks like their post will be deleted as soon as a moderator logs on :)

BTW, reacting to them doesn't "put yourself in danger". A stranger has taken the opportunity to violate standard social convention and personally abuse you. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to identify this as a pre-assault indicator. If you want to score points for the good side with a witty/outraged/intellectually converting response, that's all good - but bear in mind you're already in danger. Take 2s and assess what the best course of action is before diving headlong into any instinctive response (and that includes ignoring it, staring straight ahead and moving on).

Redbaiter said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anna said...

Redbaiter, I've deleted your comments because they were idiotic. Condoning racism isn't what we do around here.

Redbaiter said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
stargazer said...

your comment has been deleted as requested redbaiter. and best you don't waste your time around here too much. kiwiblog is definitely the place for you.

Redbaiter said...

Anna said...

Anjum, I appreciate you posting on this. As today's comments have shown, there are some pitiful people out there who just get their kicks from being hurtful to other people. Aroha and solidarity.

I'd never fully appreciated how behaviour like this could make a person feel unwelcome in their own home, or how that must feel - so your post has made the penny drop, so to speak.

For what it's worth, I thought your friend's response of blowing a kiss was the perfect blend of dignity and 'no, I'm not here to fill your racist stereotypes and be a verbal punching bag'. I have a feeling that some people assume Muslim women are helpless, and attack them for that reason (as well as the fact that the hajib identifies women's religious beliefs, and seems to provoke kneejerk feelings of aggression from some people).

This sort of behaviour puts the Muslim community in the can't win position you point out, and I don't think much is gained by returning an aggressive response. That's all the more reason why the non-Muslim community needs to stand by Muslim kiwis and strongly oppose this sort of stupidity. That's the conclusion I've taken from the conversation Julie started about trolls on THM - an injury to one is an injury to all, etc. :-)

Deborah said...

What a wretched, nasty man.

moz said...

What an ugly little troll. Who says trolls only live on the internet?

Does thinking up clever replies after the event help? Experience suggests it often provokes violence if you use them on the spot, so perhaps don't get into the habit.

I keep feeling we should have a "hug a weirdo"[1] day or something so those of us that are a bit over the whole violence thing can have a go too. For whatever definition of weirdo makes you happy.

[1] the weirdness of English spelling never ceases to annoy me.

stargazer said...

yeah moz, it's that balance of keeping yourself safe but not being meekly submissive which just seems to invite worse stuff, if not towards yourself then towards the next similar person that comes along.

the "hug a wierdo" day is a nice concept but won't work in practice. basically, a hug in that circumstance would be just a wee bit of an insult! i think the existing "random act of kindness" day is lovely though.

Anonymous said...

I am sad and angry and frustrated that people have been so horrible and stupid at you and the woman you talked to. I can't imagine what it must be like to have those kinds of attitudes directed at you. :-(

As an aside, I'm also saddened that your day of congregation isn't accommodated by the arbitrary structure we give our weeks. I don't know what the answer is, but that, too, seems unfair.

Anonymous said...

P.S. I realised after I logged off last night that "arbitrary" was the wrong word, since obviously there's a long history behind how we structure our weeks. But I think the rigidity of it (and our public holidays) reinforces the status of some religions over others, and maybe that encourages the us/them attitudes some people have.

Random lurker said...

Re: Kimberley's post above.

I've never had to use this advice, but I hope I remember to. When confronted by an aggressor you want to be assertive (don't show intimidation), calm (let it show in your voice and gestures), and you want to give your aggressor every opportunity to leave you alone.

That was advice I first heard given by an ex-SAS guy on a TV show called 'how not to die' in an episode dealing with home burglaries.

Brenda said...

none of the blame rests on her for this.

I particularly like her response of blowing a kiss.