Saying f**k it to goals

My goal, ahem, for what’s left of 2016 is to try and put up all my publications online.

This article for Together magazine focused on goals. Is it good to set goals? Yes, they give you direction, a target, and a sense of achievement once you’ve reached them. On the other hand, no it’s not good, as you can become goal crazy, putting your health, self or others at risk just to achieve them.

Sometimes, it’s really nice not to have a goal. It’s great to just drift along and see where life takes you. You may be pleasantly surprised. I’m quite partial to the “go with the flow” attitude, but once and a while, I check in with myself and stay conscious of where I’m going. When it no longer feels like the right direction, I pull over and get my map out (or ask someone)!

So I hope you enjoy the article.

Finally, you may have noticed that the citizens of the US did something quite spectacular on Tuesday. There’s been a lot of fear mongering since and it’s true, we really don’t know what’s going to happen. But just with Brexit, maybe the best thing is to focus on today, rather than on what might be, and on what is beyond our control. Let’s do what we can: protest peacefully, hold our politicians to account and be part of the citizenry.

P.S I’m with Dilbert.

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Sisters in Islam

You must be responsible for what you do, as well as for what you don’t do.

– Seyran Ates, muslim feminist

During a visit to Malaysia last year, I was very fortunate to spend some time volunteering at Sisters In Islam, an NGO that advocates the rights of muslim women predominantly in Malaysia, with many networks across the muslim world.

I came across them through an article on Facebook that a friend had posted. I can’t quite remember its content but I remember feeling particularly heartened by what they were saying. They were muslim women who believed in reform in Islam, as well as the application of critical thinking and common sense when it comes to the practice of Islam. They appeared open, liberal, spiritual and erudite. I knew that I had to contact them.

It was through my voluntary work that I met and got to know Ratna Osman, the then Executive Director of SIS. My first proper occasion with her was going to Australia Day celebrations just beside the Petronas twin towers, right in the heart of Kuala Lumpur. It was during the car journey that she told me a little bit about her life story, that she had gone from a path of extremism to one of reform. Those few minutes of listening to her encouraged me to later interview her for Together magazine.

If you have followed my blog over the years, you probably know that I am very much an admirer of Irshad Manji, whose work in trying to prevent Islam from being hijacked by extremists has put her life at risk. Thus through SIS, I learnt about other incredible muslim feminists, like the American Amina Wadud, who led Friday prayers of a mixed gender congregation, and the Iranian Ziba Mir-Hosseini, who writes and teaches extensively on gender equality in Islam. These women, Ratna Osman, and Sisters In Islam give me hope. Their voice, intellect and courage are much needed in this time when we are asking, what does it mean to be muslim?

Perhaps my tardiness at uploading my articles comes at an opportune time. This week I met Seyran Ates, a German lawyer of Turkish decent, at a debate on the integration of migrants. She has written books on Islamic reform, one notably called ‘Islam needs a sexual revolution‘. At 21 years of age, she was shot in the neck because of her work at a womens’ shelter. Today, she lives under police protection. Her devotion to show the moderate, tolerant, peaceful side of Islam is worth more than her own life. She believes that she has to take on the responsibility of being a role model, not only to young muslims (and in particularly female ones) but also to the rest of society. Next year, she will open a mosque in Berlin.

This week’s blog post is dedicated to the sisters in Islam: the women like Ratna, like Seyran, who despite the rise in extremism, don’t give up on their faith, and work even harder to understand it and tell us about it.

The interview with Ratna Osman is my first ever interview for the magazine. Of all my articles, it is the one I am most proud of. Read the article in full online, or it is also on p. 44 of the magazine. Below is a short extract to get you started.

Until next week, happy reading!

Sisters in Islam: In search of peace – Gemma Rose learns about Ratna Osman’s journey from extremism to reformism

The first thing I notice about Ratna Osman – the Executive Director of Sisters in Islam (SIS), a Muslim women’s NGO based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – is her hijab, or tudung in Malay. It’s not quite a hijab in the traditional sense where only her face is left uncovered. Rather, her hair is covered in a wrap leaving her whole neck visible. Ratna has worn the headscarf since the age of 15. “I used to say that once I reach 50, I’ll take it off because then I would be considered an old woman,” she recalls to me, “but now that I’m approaching 50, I still think I’m quite young!” she giggles. Her beaming smile is the second thing I notice. It’s broad, complemented by dimples, on a face that exhibits much warmth and hospitality. “I’m not sure if I’ll ever take it off,” she reflects. “It’s become part of my identity.”

The headscarf remains a controversial issue in Muslim majority Malaysia, where it is not compulsory. In her youth, Ratna felt ostracized from her peers, both Muslim and non-Muslim, for covering her hair. “I was part of a small minority wearing it at that time,” she explained. “I was laughed at, jeered at, made uncomfortable. A teacher told me to take it off because it was an obstruction. Most of my close friends stayed away from me. It was quite a lonely world,” she says. “Now, it’s the other way around.” She refers to cases where Muslim girls at school have been harassed for exposing their hair. “And I feel for those who are not covered. They have the right to dress as they are because I believe in the freedom of choice, and that nobody needs to dictate to another human being. Only God can do that.”

Read more…

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Ratna Osman’s beaming smile. Photo from Malaysia Tatler magazine.

 

Living room Legend: Marcia Clark

“I could feel justice being subverted long before we started picking a jury. I could feel the trial turning into a circus.”

– Marcia Clark

One of the things I’ve been meaning to do for a while on the blog is write a short hommage to the people who have really impressed me: dead or alive, real or fictional. There has been something so extraordinary about who they are, what they have done, or even the circumstances that have happened to them, that they are worthy of being a “legend” in my eyes.  One definition of ‘legend’ in the urban dictionary is this: “A legend is someone or something whose coolness extends beyond all space and time”. I’ll go with that.

This month’s living room legend is Marcia Clark, the lead prosecutor of what was considered the trial of the 20th century, the People of the State of California v O.J. Simpson. Twenty years later, the trial has been serialised into ten episodes, The People v O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story. Marcia Clark is portrayed excellently by Sarah Paulson. As an aside, there were many notable actors in this series including Courtney B. Vance, Sterling K. Brown and John Travolta (!).

Marcia Clark was relentlessly criticised during the trial. If it wasn’t her perm, then it was her dress sense (she wore sombre, straigh-cut suits), or the fact that she seemed to come across as a bitch in the court room. Her private life was laid open to bare: old pictures of her being topless on the beach re-surfaced, her custody battle with her ex-husband. She faced sexism in the court: Johnny Cochrane quipped about the fact that she could not stay late in court because of child care. I recommend you read this good New York magazine article which encapsulates the mockery, sexism, misogyny, retorts she endured not just in the press, but in court too.

Yet, she carried on. She worked hard on the case to persuade the jury that it was the overwhelming evidence that mattered, not the racism of the LAPD. In the series, after the verdict was given, Gil Carcetti, the District Attorney, tells Marcia how much he admired her. She fought with integrity, even when the defence  were pulling every trick in the book to undermine her professionally and personally.

Gil Carcetti stated that the no guilty verdict was based on emotion, not reason. Unfortunately, in the heated aftermath of the Rodney King riots, African Americans in Los Angeles were still reeling from police racism and brutality. Only from the distance of twenty years does one realise that this case wasn’t really about the murders of two people, it was about the fallout of America’s ugly and complicated history with race.

For Marcia, not only did she have this to struggle with, but also the sexism thrown at her. Seeing the blatant misogyny twenty years later is shamefully laughable. The New York magazine article highlights the time of the 80s and 90s where feminism was on pause, that calling oneself a feminist was viewed negatively. With no internet, no social media, the tabloids ruled and columnists, newscasters, and chatshow hosts could ridicule and criticise and the public would just swallow it. Unlike today, there was very little room for dissent, or for female solidarity.

Things appeared to have moved on a bit since then. Being chastised for child care, or labelled as “hysterical” or a bitch for doing your job would be unacceptable in the workplace today. Yet, it still saddens me when a female news anchor’s flowing locks garner more attention than the actual news, as happened to Anne Claire Coudray on French telly, or when female newsreaders or presenters are dropped from their shows for being too old.

Looks like gender equality has a long way to go and Marcia Clark bore the brunt of sexism. But she was committed to her job and fought the good fight. For this, Marcia Clark, you are a living room legend.

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Photo from The Guardian.

Late bloomers

“The fashion in recent times has been for the young to hold centre stage as if they were the only important form of human being.”
– A.C. Grayling, The Meaning of Things

For the February 2015 issue of Together magazine, I wrote about “Late Bloomers”.

I consider myself a bit of a late bloomer. My love of writing, reading and philosophy only came to me later in life. I certainly recall hating reading as a child and the only writing I enjoyed was doodling a few poems here and there on the back cover of my exercise books. As for philosophy, well that involved reading so enough said. I did, however, have an inquisitive mind.

I was (and am) particularly struck by very talented people who also happen to be very young. Unfortunately, it is more out of envy rather than awe or admiration. To appease my jealousy and reassure me that it’s ok to be one, I embarked upon a quest to discover late bloomers. I learnt about many a late bloomer, some to my surprise and perhaps to yours.

Although it’s wonderful to marvel at the great, late bloomers, we should just as well welcome the lesser known ones: those who flourished in adversity; or those that found joy in finally finding something they enjoy doing and became good at, e.g. cooking, aromatherapy, mentoring, DIY.

Here’s a short excerpt to entice you with the link to the magazine. It’s on page 29 of the magazine (p. 15 of the Pdf). Alternatively you can read a shortened online version. But to get a good sense of what I’m talking about, read the full magazine version.

Enjoy and do leave me a comment. Are you a late bloomer? I would love to hear from you.

Late bloomers : Gemma Rose writes in praise of those whose talent bloomed later in life

At last year’s TEDxBrussels, I was particularly struck by one of the speakers, Lina Colucci, who spoke about health hackathons. Health hackathons bring together specialists from different disciplines as well as consumer groups to respond innovatively to medical problems. At the age of 16, Lina began redesigning the ballet shoe so as to limit the pain and deformity done to the ballerina’s foot. This award-winning idea led her towards collaborating with Nike in updating the pointe shoe. Currently, she is a PhD student on a joint MIT and Harvard programme, dances ballet with the Harvard Ballet company and is an accomplished clarinetist. Judging by her CV and her appearance, she could not have been any older than 25.

Society tends to place a lot of value on youth. We often hear of the meteoric rise of actors, musicians, entrepreneurs, CEOs and inspirational leaders in their twenties, sometimes even in their teens. Forbes magazine does an annual “30 under 30” with movers and shakers in several domains including law and policy, education, entertainment and social entrepreneurship. This phenomenon is nothing new. Some of the greatest artists, composers, writers and scientists were so notable in part due to their youth – Picasso became well-known at 26, Mozart at 21, Orson Welles at 25 and Einstein at 26.

Read more… (pp. 15 – 16 on the Pdf)

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Gardanne (1885 – 86) by Paul Cézanne, a late bloomer.

References

Late Bloomers, Malcolm Gladwell for The New Yorker

Interview with Uncle Yee, Lite FM

The Meaning of Things, A.C. Grayling

Why we should all hack medicine, Lina Colucci, Tedx Brussels 2014

It’s not too late to make a difference, Jonathan Sackner-Bernstein, Tedx Brussels 2014

Freedom to write

“I won’t put down my pen, I won’t lay down my camera, I won’t shut up and I won’t be blinkered or turn a deaf ear to what goes on in Malaysia and the world. And I urge all of you to do the same.”

– Jahabar Sadiq, editor of the now closed The Malaysian Insider

It was with great sadness to read the other day about the closure of The Malaysian Insider. It was a news portal that was independent, written in both Malay and English, informing the Malaysian public and the world of the realities of Malaysia.

The official line was that it was closing down because of lack of funds, which is true. But the reason why it was losing funding was because the Malaysian Government had put pressure on companies not to advertise with the organisation. The Government also blocked the site. The reasons for the pressure and block were due to the reporting on the 1 Malaysia Development Berhad scandal, a Malaysian state fund, which money from it has been allegedly embezzled. The Prime Minister Najib Razak is the head of its advisory board and was caught up in investigations as to how US$681m ended up in his bank account and where it came from. The Prime Minister has been cleared in Malaysia of any wrongdoing. Many investigators including the FBI, Swizerland, Hong Kong and Singapore are examining the misappropriation of 1MDB funds.

The Malaysian Insider reported that there was evidence of a criminal charge against the Prime Minister. Shortly after, its site was blocked. Three weeks later, it shut down.

I came across the editor’s obituary of the Malaysian Insider in the Guardian. The site had 59 staffers, representing 1 Malaysia in its true form: the Malay, Chinese and Indian peoples of Malaysia. “We were becoming too free,” he writes, “as the government side of the news became the object of derision and ridicule.” The press has become too free in Malaysia, thanks to the internet. But blocking and arrests “make people shut up,” and shut down, to borrow his sentiment.

Whether it is writing to uncover the truth, or to question convention, it is incredible how the pen, or the keyboard can upset Governments, fanatics and the status quo. But as Sadiq fears, we cannot be prisoners in our minds because of repression. He urges us not to put down the pen or shut down the laptop.

The photo below comes from The Malaysian Insider’s site. You see the 59 or so staffers smiling and vivacious, even though an organisation that is so dear to them comes to a close. The top of photo lies the caption in bold capital letters: Thank you Malaysia.

I hope that Malaysia, in return, thanks you.

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