Sunday, July 24, 2016

Modest Fashion is Everywhere! But Where Are Its Roots?

When tracing the roots of modest fashion, it becomes clear that its history has been long lost and forgotten. From the early eighth century, which was dominated by the Islamic Empire, to the Ottoman Turks in the fourteenth century, modest clothing has been designed and worn by women from many different cultures and backgrounds. The definition of what was to be worn was not homogenous either, but had a varying degree.

The ‘modest’ woman however, should not be reduced down to her dress sense. The attire we choose to astonish and captivate the world’s heart with is merely one part of the identity. Modesty is a concept that delves into a long deep dialogue, with contrasting opinions and thoughts but nonetheless, we must not magnify our differences. After all, time has sequentially proved that the definition of modest clothing has adjusted, accordingly with social customs.

Saudi Arabia –  Pre-Islamic Arabia
In pre-Islamic Arabia, women were already wearing long robes and shawls that would drape over the shoulders and ensured a loose effect.

Saudi Arabia – Abbasid Islamic Period
During the Abbasid Islamic Period in the eighth century, Muslim women continued the legacy of colorful clothing. Although, this was not too long after the emergence of the mystic and elegant black abaya appeared. It is the same black abaya that is symbolic and present in the Muslim world today. Yet this unraveling transformation has a story behind it.

Some time in the eighth century, in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a poor merchant began selling cloaks: one in every color. One day, the merchant ran out of his colorful cloaks and was left with only black ones that were not wanted by anyone.

He felt despair, but the merchant recalled that he had noble poet as a friend and decided to make a visit to ask for help. The poet then composed a poem that praised the beauty and blessings of the woman who was seen dressed in a ‘mysterious’ black garment, mentioning that black was the color worn by the rich and the noble.

The story ends there. Moments after the poem was written, women flocked to the cloak seller leaving him rich and the women leaving the shop feeling richer.

Ottoman Empire – Fourteenth Century
Dating back to fourteenth century, where the Ottoman Empire ruled the borders of the Mediterranean Sea, women’s clothing had an interesting, yet magnificent aura that would simultaneously convey elegance and royalty. The enatri, otherwise known as kaftan,was the primary garment of choice. It was worn with a gömlek (under tunic), a hirka (cardigan) , salvar (ankle-length trousers) and a ferace (overmantle).

As Aise Asli Sancar, a renowned writer on Ottoman women, once said that the Ottoman women are much more complex and multifaceted than usually portrayed. And indeed this is true. There is a plethora of knowledge to learn about the fashion that was prevalent during the reign of this empire.    

Headdresses at the time of the Ottoman Empire were prevalent. The Seljuk women wore embroidered cloths on their heads, or were seen wearing a dazzling diadem dressed with a gem in the shape of a crop at the center of the forehead. A couple of centuries later, starting from the early seventeenth century, women’s headdresses began to transform into lighter caps, manifested by the hotoz, as shown below. But of course, like any other form of clothing, these headdresses were ornate and diversely unique.

The modest kaftan style of women’s clothing was once the stamp of female attire in the arabesque world of Morocco. Its potent effect as a fashion statement and as an illustration of boldness and beauty is still alive in modern fashion, as we see young women across the globe wearing these long flowing robes and colorful headscarves. The influence of the kaftan has stretched far to reach even the high end fashion shows in recent times.

So, modest fashion has transformed through history, yet kept its primitive essence of elegance, length, and style. The root of it is what built the modest industry today. The trends and items that we are now exposed to, usually found online, have been influenced and shaped by what women wore far back in eighth century. Alas, it would be nice to see modest fashion having the larger scale influence that it deserves. Maybe one day we’ll live to see fashion week London, Milan, Paris, and New York implementing a separate runway dedicated to modest fashion!


Friday, July 8, 2016

The Matriarchy Is Real and It Has Been Working for Centuries...

Mainstream society has by and large been dominated by men for at least the past few millennia. But under-the-radar communities where women are at the center of the culture have long existed. Prevalent mostly in rural areas, matriarchal societies differ from the mainstream in many ways — some surprising, some less so. 

Matriarchy is defined in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as a family, group, or state governed by a woman; or a system of social organization in which descent and inheritance are traced through the female line. Contrary to popular misgivings, the matriarchy is not a system where women lord over men; rather, as founder of the International Academy HAGIA for Modern Matriarchal Studies Heidi Goettner-Abendroth put it to Dame magazine: The aim is not to have power over others and over nature, but to follow maternal values, i.e. to nurture the natural, social and cultural life based on mutual respect. However, things are certainly different when gender power structures are flipped around. Many societal issues that exist today seem to be absent in matriarchal societies, and both men and women are happier when the society holds different values, at least according to Argentinian writer Ricardo Coler, who spent two months with the famous women-led Mosuo tribe in China. Here are some that stand out the most:

Family Structure
Many matriarchal societies are matrilineal, where the line of descent is through a female ancestor. Heritage is passed from the woman; children often get family titles and names from their mother, and land is typically handed down from mother to daughter.

Khasi tribe in India is matrilineal and matrilocal, which means that children live with the mother's side of the family or clan. Marriage in matriarchal societies are typically non-binding, and various types of romantic relationships are embraced. In the mostly matrilocal tribe of Khasi in India, because children live with the mother's family side of the family or clan, there is little to no stigma and hardship when women divorce and have to move. "No matter how many times the woman marries, her children will always remain with her," editor of The Shillong Times and a Khasi, Patricia Mukhim, told Dame magazine. "And even if a man abandons a woman he has impregnated, the children are never 'illegitimate.' "

A woman from Umoja, Kenya, a village established by a group of women who abandoned their husbands after being raped by them. In mainstream society, men overwhelmingly commit more crimes — and more serious ones at that — than women. Jennifer Schwartz of Washington State University's Department of Sociology told Dame magazine: In more gender-egalitarian societies, there is much less crime by both women and men. And in those societies, the crime gap between women and men is somewhat larger, that is, women participate even less in crime.

Generally, people who live in matriarchal societies have much more sex and face much less stigma. In the Mosuo tribe, for example, men and women can take as many sexual partners as they please and bearing children with different people is accepted. 

Domestic Violence
Domestic abuse is an epidemic in mainstream society; an estimated 3-4 million women are battered each year in the U.S. alone. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are indications that domestic violence is close to absent in matrilineal societies.

By standard definition, a matriarchy is a “family, group or state governed by a matriarch (a woman who is head of a family or tribe).” Anthropologists and feminists have since created more specific classifications for female societies, including the matrilineal system. Matrilineality refers not only to tracing one’s lineage through maternal ancestry, it can also refer to a civil system in which one inherits property through the female line. While the legendary Amazons (probably the most widely known matriarchy) are relegated to mythology, there are a handful of female-led societies that thrive in the real world today.

Living near the border of Tibet in the Yunnan and Sichuan provinces, the Mosuo are perhaps the most famous matrilineal society. The Chinese government officially classifies them as part of another ethnic minority known as the Naxi, but the two are distinct in both culture and language.

The Mosuo live with extended family in large households; at the head of each is a matriarch. Lineage is traced through the female side of the family, and property is passed down along the same matriline. Mosuo women typically handle business decisions and men handle politics. Children are raised in the mother's households and take her name.

The Mosuo have what's called “walking marriages." There is no institution of marriage; rather, women choose their partners by literally walking to the man’s home and the couples never live together. Since children always remains in the mother’s care, sometimes the father plays little role in the upbringing. In some cases, the father's identity is not even known. Instead, the male’s childrearing responsibilities remain in his own matrilineal household.

At four million people, the Minangkabau of West Sumatra, Indonesia, (pictured above, during a harvest season celebratino) are the largest known matrilineal society today. In addition to tribal law requiring all clan property to be held and bequeathed from mother to daughter, the Minangkabau firmly believe the mother to be the most important person in society.

In Minangkabau society, women usually rule the domestic realm while the men take the political and spiritual leadership roles. However, both genders feel the separation of powers keeps them on an equal footing. Upon marriage, every woman acquires her own sleeping quarters. The husband may sleep with her, but must leave early in the morning to have breakfast at his mother’s home. At age 10, boys leave their mother’s home to stay in men's quarters and learn practical skills and religious teachings. While the clan chief is always male, women select the chief and can remove him from office should they feel he failed to fulfill his duties. 

The Akan people are a majority in Ghana, where they predominantly reside. The Akan social organization is fundamentally built around the matriclan, wherein one's identity, inheritance, wealth, and politics are all determined. All matriclan founders are female, but men traditionally hold leadership positions within the society. These inherited roles, however, are passed down matrilineally—meaning through a man's mothers and sisters (and their children). Often, the man is expected to not only support his own family, but those of his female relatives.

The Bribri are a small indigenous group of just over 13,000 people living on a reserve in the Talamanca canton in the Limón province of Costa Rica. Like many other matrilineal societies, the Bribri are organized into clans. Each clan is made up of extended family, and the clan is determined through the mother/females. Women are the only ones who traditionally can inherit land. Women are also endowed with the right to prep the cacao used in sacred Bribri rituals.

Much like their Khasi neighbors in the North-East Indian state of Meghalaya, the Tibeto-Burman-speaking Garos pass property and political succession from mother to daughter—typically, he youngest daughter inherits her mother's property. Much like the Akan, however, the societiy is matrilineal but not matriarchal: the men govern the society and manage property.

Oftentimes, the youngest daughter's marriage is arranged for her. But for non-inheriting daughters, the process can be much more complex. In Garo tradition, the groom-to-be is expected to run away from a proposal of marriage, requiring the bride-to-be's family to "capture" him and return him to his potential bride's villiage. This back-and-forth is repeated until the bride either gives up, or the groom accepts her proposal (often after she has made many promises to serve and obey him). Once married, the husband lives in his wife’s house. Should it not work out, the union is dissolved without social stigma, as marriage is not a binding contract.

The Nagovisi live in South Bougainville, an island west of New Guinea. Anthropologist Jill Nash reported Nagovisi society was divided into two matrilineal moieties, which are then divided into matriclans. Nagovisi women are involved in leadership and ceremonies, but take the most pride in working the land entitled to them. Nash observed that when it comes to marriage, the Nagovisi woman held gardening and shared sexuality at equal importance. Marriage is not institutionalized. If a couple is seen together, sleeps together, and the man assists the woman in her garden, for all intents and purposes they are considered married. 

Saturday, July 2, 2016

You, Me, And Colonial Standards Of Beauty...

I was seven years old the when I was gifted my first Barbie. I was visiting my grandfather in Cairo, Egypt, and he took me to a toy store to buy a birthday gift. Having been denied a blonde-haired, blue-eyed Barbie doll by my parents, I knew what I wanted. I chose “Dentist Barbie,” because she came with a chair, dental tools and a white lab coat. I justified it by telling my parents the woman has multiple degrees — she must have her life together.
My parents tried to explain their thinking to me.
“Sumayya,” they said,”You’re never going to have blue eyes or long blonde hair. Your waist will never be that tiny, your chest and hips will never be that perfectly formed, and your knees will bend. We don’t want you saddled with unrealistic expectations of what your body will look like, or what should be considered beautiful. You are beautiful the way God made so, so long as you are clean, healthy and happy.”
Okay, I said. Can I have my Barbie now?
Obviously as I got older, I became more acutely aware of what they were talking about. It can’t come as a surprise that body image is always near the surface of a teenage girl’s mind. I was lucky enough to get through my formative years without some kind of destructive eating disorder, but I can easily count on my fingers the number of girls I know personally who did. It’s a scary thing.
But when it comes to women of colour, it’s more than that. We’re consistently told that if you don’t fit into Western (or as I’m going to refer to it from now on, Colonial) standards of beauty, you’re not beautiful at all. Light skinned, light eyes, straight hair — I think we all know what I’m talking about. This standard of beauty has been internalized by our communities. We see it when our grandmothers tell us not to stay in the sun too long or we’ll “get dark.” We see it when our light eyed friends are fetishized by the older aunties. And we see it when expecting mothers pray for their daughters to be born with straight hair and light skin rather than strong hearts and quick minds.
Women of colour also come in colonial flavours, mind you. We are also fetishized if we are found to be nonthreatening and apolitical. If our eyes are the right shape, we have a cute accent and our hips can be described in a Shakira song, we get called “exotic.” Let’s get one thing straight right now; it’s never okay to refer to a human being as exotic. That word should be reserved for parrots and mangoes.
When it comes to standards of beauty, many of us remain internally colonized. In fact, in general, many of us are internally colonized. We don’t notice because we’ve known no other way of life, but our lives have been irreversibly marked with Western fingerprints.
And not that I’m an expert on how to remove these metaphorical shackles, but I’ve come to a couple of conclusions as to how to at least get by.
Firstly, know your roots. My family is mostly Egyptian, and that accounts for my almond shaped eyes and how quickly I tan in the afternoon sun. I have been told my entire life that I have my grandfather’s nose — not exactly the compliment every young girl wants to hear. But it wasn’t until I learned about the struggles my grandfather went through after leaving his little Egyptian village, until I visited mosques in Cairo with my unbreakable grandmother, until I began to see my own people through a lens untainted by Western penmanship, that I began to see myself as beautiful. These eyes and this skin have survived too much to be brought down by my low self esteem. I am beautiful because of my story and how I came to be is beautiful.
I once had a woman tell me that I would be so much prettier if I “relaxed my hair.” I told her, my hair descended from fighters, it doesn’t want to relax.
I may have been going through an Alex Haley phase at the time, but the sentiment still stands. I have no doubt in my mind that we, as people of colour, as colonized peoples, all have incredibly stories nestled in our family trees. Once you know them, it’s difficult to see yourself as anything less than astounding.
Secondly, surround yourself with narratives and perspectives of other people of colour. A few years ago, I made the decision to only read books by people of colour. I had just graduated from an English undergraduate program and was a little sick of having an all-white, all-male syllabus be hailed as the best that literature has to offer. I began reading more books by women, books translated from different languages, books about history written from alternate perspectives and viewpoints. Not only did it change how I saw the world, it really changed how I saw myself. Writers like Zora Neale Hurston, Louis de Bernieres, Elif Shafak, Isabel Allende — these voices add such colour to a bland literary landscape and should be celebrated for the magic they create.
I took it one step further this year and started buying magazines with only women of colour featured on the cover. This wasn’t even a conscious decision though, it just sort of happened. I suddenly found myself uninterested in reading about women who had very little in common with me. Not that I have tons in common with Kerry Washington or Nicki Minaj, but still. When these women talk about tackling discrimination in the workplace or facing white privilege on a day-to-day basis, I find myself subconsciously nodding along.
Finally, (and this one might make you a little unpopular) when you notice these colonial, destructive tendencies in someone else, say something. I’m not saying disrespect your elders because they want you to come in from the sun; these cultural tendencies might be a little harder to shake. So let’s start with our peers — compliment their differences, their imperfections, their beauty in it’s natural state. But let’s take it one step further. Compliment their goodness, their resilience, their courage and strength. After all, those are the qualities that survived decades of imperialism and oppressive colonization.
These are the qualities that last. Well, and my grandfather’s nose

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Syrian Refugees In Greece 'Put Their Tent On Airbnb', Promising Scorpions, Dehydration And 'Broken Promises'...

A group of Syrians has advertised the tent they are living in on Airbnb, in an ironic dig against the miserable conditions they are experiencing in a camp in Greece.
In the advertisement, the Syrians say they have been living for three months in a tent in a refugee camp in Ritsona, north of Athens, and invite visitors to come and live with them, promising scorpions, dehydration and poor sanitation. 
“This is a real opportunity to experience life as a Syrian refugee,” the advertisement said. “While EU politicians talk about refugees, you can have an authentic refugee experience – tents, wood-fire cooking, 41 degree heat, marginal sanitary situation, friendly scorpions, broken promises, even dehydration.”
The post, which appears to be heavily ironic, promises that “long-term stays always receive a generous discount – please inquire!”
Prospective visitors are advised that they can access “free parking” as well as portable toilets, which are used by 600 refugees. 
“If you are lucky you might get one of the two hot showers. There is a large vacant lot where the toilets are, which the children use as a playground. Please join in the games.”
Schooling and medical help is available “rarely”, the post says, “but for a short-term stay you will be fine; just imagine if you had to stay here for the past four months.”
The refugee camp, an hour’s drive north of the Greek capital, is described as “the most unique neighbourhood in Greece”.
It was not clear who posted the ad, which was written in good English.  It was later removed from the home rental website.
In a statement, Airbnb said it had removed the listing because it was "not permitted under our terms of service".
The company said that it appreciated that the listing was an attempt to highlight "the heartbreaking refugee crisis" and said that it had raised "hundreds of thousands of dollars" for UNHCR in an attempt to deal with the situation.
The firm said that relief workers with organisations like the International Rescue Committee and Mercy Corps were entitled to book free accommodation in the areas they are working.
More than 800,000 refugees and migrants, many of them Syrians and Iraqis, arrived in Greece last year after crossing in small boats and dinghies from the coast of Turkey.
The majority of them reached northern Europe after trekking along the so-called Balkan Route from Greece into Macedonia and through Serbia and Hungary to Austria and Germany. But the route was closed in March, stranding more than 50,000 refugees and migrants inside Greece. 
For months around 11,000 camped rough near a railway line at Idomeni in northern Greece, hoping to cross the Macedonian border.
Heavy rain turned the makeshift camp into a swamp, with small children wading through giant puddles and women breast-feeding babies amid camp fires and piles of rubbish.
In recent weeks the refugees were moved to registered camps set up by the Greek military and civilian authorities.
Aid groups and the UNHCR have criticised the camps as being unhygienic, poorly-equipped and inappropriate for a long stay. 
The EU came up with a plan to resettle 160,000 asylum seekers stuck in Greece and Italy but progress has been painfully slow and so far only 2,400 people have been relocated in other EU countries.
An EU-Ankara deal to return refugees and migrants to Turkey has also stalled, with migrants challenging their expulsions in the Greek courts and NGOs denouncing the plan as inhumane and illegal.  Since the deal came into force in March, only 460 people have been sent back to Turkey.
Earlier this month the medical aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres announced it would no longer accept funding from the EU in protest at its "shameful" migration policies, including the Turkey deal. 
Founded in 2008, Airbnb is based in San Francisco. Millions of people use the service to find shared accommodation around the world. 
“Whether an apartment for a night, a castle for a week, or a villa for a month, Airbnb connects people to unique travel experiences, at any price point, in more than 34,000 cities and 191 countries,” Airbnb says on its website.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Rohingya — The Palestinians Of Asia...

Are the Myanmarese generals learning the art of collective oppression from the Israelis? This is hardly a far-fetched question, considering that Israel had quite an eventful history of cooperating with past South American military dictatorships, while working closely with South Africa’s past apartheid government.
It is no surprise that Palestinians find numerous similarities between South Africa’s apartheid regime and Israel’s unmistakable apartheid practices. But the Myanmarese-Israeli connection is rarely discussed. In Tablet magazine, Joe Freeman, wrote the article: ‘In Israel’s earliest days, the place its leaders felt compelled to visit was Burma.’
High-profile Israeli visitors, who began making their pilgrimage to Myanmar decades ago, included Shimon Peres, Moshe Dayan, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, David Ben-Gurion and Golda Meir. At the time, the Myanmarese government was convinced that “Israel was the quintessential example of the egalitarian social and economic order that he wished to establish”.
The truth, however, lies in how both countries treated, and continue to treat, their minorities. Following the ethnic cleansing of the original inhabitants of Palestine, Israel immediately went on to fashion an alternative and particularly biased narrative about how it was established, and to deny Palestinians any historical link to their homeland. The Myanmarese did just that too.
Both countries became independent in 1948. Resistance in Palestine was mostly confined around border areas. “While the Israelis fought the Palestinians,” wrote Freeman, “[Myanmar’s] leaders faced ethnic insurgencies that immediately sprang up all over the country, while fighting in China spilled over the border.”
The myth that the 1962 military coup in Myanmar (when Ne Win took the reins of power from Israel’s best friend in Asia, U Nu) ended the cooperation between both countries, was just that — a myth. While the new dictator had less interest in Israel than his predecessor, military and intelligence cooperation never truly ceased. Instead, it merely took on a more sinister, secretive form. Even Ben-Gurion himself acknowledged that the new Myanmarese regime had “more loyalty and sympathy to Israel” than any other in the whole of Asia.
This is a truly sordid and secretive history, which is really not too different from Israel’s shady relations with the vilest of dictatorships anywhere. This is why Israel has historically served as a conduit between the West and the least reputable regimes. But what is truly interesting is how these links evolved, over the course of decades, beyond political, military and economic interests, into other fields of ‘cooperation’.
While Myanmar is being congratulated for its latest ‘democratic’ elections, much of that sinful history and equally dismal reality is being swept under the rug. But, the country’s supposed democratic triumph should not blind us to the dark forces that are still at work in Myanmar, nor to why its sham democracy is being rebranded to appear real and sincere.
As well-wishers continued to praise Myanmar’s elections in early November as fair and transparent, Myanmarese authorities arrested five men and declared that “a sixth is still on the run” for simply printing a calendar that referred to the Rohingya minority by their actual name — the Rohingya. This oppressed minority has been savagely persecuted by Myanmar’s majority for many years. In 1982, a citizenship law stripped them of their title and rights altogether and declared them ‘Bengalis’ instead.
The opening up of Myanmarese politics in recent years spelled the doom for the Rohingya, because the burgeoning ‘freedom of speech’ within the region empowered Buddhist nationalist factions that promoted genocide against the defenceless Rohingya. This incitement resulted in the killing of hundreds, the burning of entire villages and the ‘ethnic cleansing’ of the Rohingya Muslims in jungles and refugee camps. Hundreds perished at sea as they tried to seek salvation in countries that had no sympathy for poor, stateless people.
The calendar episode, although minor in the greater scheme of things, serves to highlight the insincerity and farcical nature of Myanmarese democracy. A 2014 Printing and Publishing Law was established specifically to silence dissent and to criminalise any recognition of the Rohingya, thus abolishing their collective rights altogether.
All arrested men were charged with “fear or alarm to the public”, encouraging offences against the state and endangering national security.
“We’ve been unable to arrest him yet and he remains on the run,” said a government spokesperson in reference to the publisher of the calendar, 700 copies of which were printed. The ‘criminal phrase’ was featured in Myanmarese, Arabic and English and read: “Rohingya is an ethnic group.”
Those familiar with the onslaught of the Israeli government on Palestinian memory, can fully understand the despicable similarities between the Myanmarese attempts at copying existing Israeli policies. In Israel, not only are peaceful resistance to Israel’s military occupation and discrimination against Palestinians outlawed, but also the mere act of commemorating the Nakba of 1947-48 — the year in which Palestinians were ethnically cleansed. This is just one of numerous laws that were ratified in the past and even recently, including the changing of many street names from Arabic to Hebrew, or the removing of Arabic references to street names altogether.
Few are paying much heed to the Israeli-Myanmarese connection, which was sustained even during the time that the Myanmarese junta was deservingly shunned for crippling democracy and crushing the opposition. But the fact is that the new democratic elections were merely designed to validate the generals — for it fully reserved their power — while presenting an illusion of democracy to enable the economic exploitation of Myanmar for its many natural treasures.
The sweeping, although predictable victory for the National League for Democracy (NLD), under the leadership of Aung San Suu Kyi, is unlikely to change the scenario much as far as the dominance of the military goes. Even if the revered democracy icon has, in fact, some serious influence over the country’s affairs, she has proven spineless in defending the rights of the Rohingya and other persecuted minorities, including Christians. Her deafening silence has prompted the Tibetan leader, the Dalai Lama, more than once to urge her to take a stance in defence of the Rohingya. Yet, she has failed to do so.
But this is not simply a matter of intellectual exercise. The consequences of this silence are truly dire. Writing in the Ecologist, Nafeez Ahmad cited alarming new findings. A study conducted last October by the International State Crime Initiative (ISCI) at Queen Mary University in London “found that the Rohingya face ‘the final stages of a genocidal process’”. “Leaked government documents show that plans to inflict ‘mass annihilation’ have been prepared at the highest levels,” he wrote.
Not only did the elections disempower and further alienate the Rohingya, but it has also empowered political groups that have openly sought the ‘mass annihilation’ of the defenceless minority community. They include the Arakan National Party (ANP), which has incited and enacted violent pogroms against the Rohingya for years.
The question is then, why is there all this excitement about Myanmarese democracy? The answer is rather simple: The rivalry between China and the United States, and their respective allies, has reached a point where the massive amount of untapped wealth of oil and natural gas in Myanmar can no longer be ignored.
The US, United Kingdom and other countries are salivating at the limitless potential of economic opportunities in that country, estimated at “3.2 billion barrels of oil and 18 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves”. According to a UK government report under the theme, a ‘hotspot for exploration,” Myanmar’s “unproven resources may be vastly greater”.
With Myanmar climbing among the world’s top five countries in terms of proven oil-and-gas reserves, terms such as genocide, military junta and human rights violations are deliberately and largely omitted from the new discourse.
Indeed, Myanmar is setting the stage to be another Israel, in its ability to label itself democratic, despite every proof to the contrary; in its continued oppression of its minorities and in attempting to whitewash its history — and rebrand its grim reality.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The Right Way to Observe Ramadan...

ISTANBUL — THE Islamic holy month of Ramadan begins today and with it the long hours of fasting by hundreds of millions of Muslims. The daylong fast during the lunar month in which we Muslims believe that the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad is one of the five pillars of Islam. It is a way for Muslims to show their devotion to God, and, some say, to understand the suffering of those who have no choice but to go without food.
The Ramadan fast is not easy. From sunrise to sunset, Muslims are not supposed to eat, drink or smoke, and abstain from sex. For hours, they dream about a sip of water or a bite of bread. Then comes the iftar, which means “breakfast,” but which is often a heavy dinner with family and friends. Then come a few hours of freedom from deprivation, until the sunrise, when the next day’s fast begins.
Muslims around the world observe this 1,400-year-old practice, from the deserts of the Arabian Peninsula, where it originated, to Scandinavia, where the latitude has forced some scholars to issue fatwas to accommodate the Quran’s prescription to fast from dawn until dusk.
But no matter where they are, Muslims should be able to fast according to the dictates of their conscience. Unfortunately, some authoritarian governments violate this fundamental freedom. Some ban the Ramadan fast, while others impose it.
The former problem is acute in China, especially in the northwestern region of Xinjiang, which is heavily populated by Uighurs, a Muslim people of Turkic origin. In the past few years, the Communist government there has forbidden civil servants, students and teachers to fast. The government has said it institutes the ban for health reasons and says that it faces threats from Muslim extremists. But the ban only makes Uighurs feel persecuted and alienated from their government, helping, if anything, the small strain of extremists among them who call for armed resistance.
On the other side of the authoritarian coin, various Muslim governments, from Saudi Arabia and Persian Gulf states to Iran and Pakistan, impose the Ramadan fast by law. Under these rules, eating or drinking in public during the holy month may mean deportation, a fine or even jail. In many other countries, even if fasting is not enforced by law it is compelled by social pressure. So people — both religious minorities and Muslims who choose not to fast — must appear as if they are fasting, even if they are not.
This religious authoritarianism is senseless and self-defeating. Fasting during Ramadan is an act of worship intended for God. It is meaningful only when it is driven by a genuine will to obey God’s commandments — not the laws of the state or the vigilantism of society. The latter does not nurture true piety, it only nurtures fakeness and hypocrisy. That is why the Quran says there should be “no compulsion in religion” — and no compulsion in fasting, either.
Moreover, according to Islamic jurisprudence, not everybody is supposed to fast. Non-Muslims are not obliged at all. Even among Muslims, the Quran exempts those “who are ill, or on a journey.” It even exempts those “who can fast only with extreme difficulty,” and tells them to feed a needy person instead. “God wants ease for you, not hardship,” the scripture says.
Yet many Muslims choose hardship. During Ramadan last year, more than a thousand people died in Pakistan from dehydration under extreme heat, despite calls from some more flexible clerics to cease fasting. Even those who did decide to give up the fast because they were in danger still could drink water only in private because of the social pressure they faced — a big problem for people who lived on the street.
Even the most rigid Muslim clerics accept that not everybody is obliged to fast during Ramadan. Yet many still support laws that ban public eating and drinking in order to respect the holy month and people who observe it. They should reconsider, though, whether they are really bringing any respect to Islam by imposing its practices. Would we Muslims feel respected if others imposed their proscriptions on us? Should Muslims in India be required to stop eating beef because it offends the sensibilities of Hindus, as a senior member of the country’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party argued last year? Should the Uighurs respect the Chinese Communist Party’s distaste for “superstition,” and stop practicing their faith?
Respect is an admirable trait, but it cannot be imposed by law. It also should not be the basis for dictating the norms of a majority on minorities or individuals.
What is the ideal Muslim approach to Ramadan? My city, Istanbul, offers a good model. Here, we have no laws governing Ramadan. Many people decide to fast, many people decide not to fast. The latter can enjoy restaurants and cafes during the day, and some perhaps even enjoy bars at night, even though Islamic law prohibits alcohol. The pious, meanwhile, fast for the right reason: They are not forced to stay thirsty and hungry by the government. They freely decide to do so out of their sincere faith in God.

Sunday, June 5, 2016


“this is the 21st century and we need to redefine r/evolution. this planet needs a people’s r/evolution. a humanist r/evolution. r/evolution is not about bloodshed or about going to the mountains and fighting. we will fight if we are forced to but the fundamental goal of r/evolution must be peace.

we need a r/evolution of the mind. we need a r/evolution of the heart. we need a r/evolution of the spirit. the power of the people is stronger than any weapon. a people’s r/evolution can’t be stopped. we need to be weapons of mass construction. weapons of mass love. it’s not enough just to change the system. we need to change ourselves. we have got to make this world user friendly. user friendly.

are you ready to sacrifice to end world hunger. to sacrifice to end colonialism. to end neo-colonialism. to end racism. to end sexism.

r/evolution means the end of exploitation. r/evolution means respecting people from other cultures. r/evolution is creative.

r/evolution means treating your mate as a friend and an equal. r/evolution is sexy.

r/evolution means respecting and learning from your children. r/evolution is beautiful.

r/evolution means protecting the people. the plants. the animals. the air. the water. r/evolution means saving this planet.

r/evolution is love.” 

Assata Shakur