Many years back when I thought politics and political parties had some relevence to everyday life, one of the policies that I always thought would be hugely beneficial for our small nation would have been for government to invest in their people by paying for young New Zealanders to travel overseas for maybe 6 months to experience life and cultures greatly different to their own.
Because when you don’t know that hugely different things exist in the world, or why they exist, or how they operate, then it is possible for many people to grow old without ever really knowing much about their neighbours on this little planet of ours. And if people have no experience of “others” then sometimes what “others” do – according to the source relied upon by most of us, the Media – may seem strange or perhaps even not very nice. But often, (always?) our ignorance is based upon lack of understanding. The media, I’ve discovered are not usually interested in fostering understanding.
For almost seven years I lived in Asia, closely amongst many different ethnic and religious groups. I got to experience real world private family ceremonies, rituals and events that are simply not available to tourists or casual friends. It was a fascinating experience which has only become more valuable to me as troubles continue in various parts of the world, and for various reasons.
Asia is somewhere I never thought I would actually see much of – I had done many trips to USA, UK and around Europe, but travelling to another “coloured” continent entirely highlighted just how similar the world’s other white christian cultures are to my own in New Zealand. When kiwis travel to the UK or USA, they aren’t really seeing anything very different I now realize.
My time in Asia has given me an expanded outlook on things, including on the affairs of my own nation. So you see – my previous government policy idea of sending all young people overseas for 6 months worked on me! How great it would be if all young people got this chance before they settle into life’s grooves. If they settle….
Imagine how much better it would have been to have lived amongst other races and cultures as a young person. Imagine if everybody in New Zealand had similar positive experiences to share when they returned, if they returned. Many times a nation’s people only have sad or negative experiences to share communally. By sending young people overseas for free, not only would they prosper as individuals but also as a community. It would be a wise investment.
Getting back to today’s post – my experiences in Asia included living amongst all types of Muslim populations, rubbing shoulders with “slackers”, (lol, not strong followers) the majority who were mostly mainstream moderates, right up to the far more conservative followers. And guess what?
It was easy to get along with everyone, even the conservatives. One commodity is essential though – Respect. That is often forgotten when people interact. And leave your baggage, judgements and preconceptions at home.
What westerners might call conservative “hardline” muslims were taking active part in government election campaigns, setting up stands near our residence and handing out their brochures just like all the other candidates. And with a smile.
Yes, these people would probably want to introduce aspects of hudud law if they ever came to power but that is highly unlikely – they never gather more than about 10-15% of the vote. And if there is one thing I have learnt in life, it is that there are ALWAYS two sides to any story, no matter how difficult it might be to see it.
So my experiences in asia living amongst all types of religions came to my mind recently as we saw the Taliban take power in Afghanistan.
Whilst I am not supporting or condoning the atrocities previously carried out by the Taliban, or any other organization, one must remember that predominantly white, christian based western governments have terrorized and killed enormously more innocent people than all of these organizations put together. I think this fact often gets forgotten. Deliberately so.
Terror attacks by “extremists” that kill five people get hugely more sensational media attention than do the unprovoked attacks on muslims by western nations that kill 10,000x more people. Not only do “terror attacks” get hugely and disproportionately larger coverage than state terrorism, but more importantly, terror attacks are framed in an entirely different way to state terrorism, which isn’t called that at all, if it is our governments engaged in it.
Let’s keep a level playing field. If you have watched John Pilger’s excellent documentary, “The War You Don’t See” which is listed in the “Must See Documentaries” section here, this will explain this concept further.
“If people knew the truth about war, it would all be over tomorrow. But they don’t know the truth and they can’t know.”
UK Prime Minister
The other aspect of how Islamophobia is treated by the mainstream western media is that very little or nothing of the positive aspects of Islam are ever shown. I don’t think it is an exaggeration to claim that before 9/11 most westerners new nothing about Islam or its adherents, many perhaps not even knowing that it existed. Since that fateful day in 2001, it seems to me that the western world has been shown a consistently one sided, negative view of the Muslim world. Again, deliberately so.
Living in asia, I saw “women’s rights” in action from a decidedly non-western point of view. Yes, wives from even moderate muslim families often do ask their husbands’ permission to attend a social event on their own with girlfriends, and often the man is thought of as head of the household. But I also heard muslim ladies talk about how they feel protected and secure by their “modest” dressing and lifestyle in a way that western ladies might not. And I heard ladies speak of how their husbands, tasked with the responsibilty of being head of the family, show great respect when seeking their wife’s opinions. In other words, the muslims I interacted with, from both asia and the middle east, were the complete opposite of the negative images we constantly see in our media.
And don’t think Muslim ladies are prudish, just because they dress modestly in public. In the seemingly opposite fashion to western ladies, who dress in trendy and sexy clothing in public, for the eyes of all to see, including other men, Muslim ladies only dress this way for their husband’s eyes in the privacy of their own homes. They dress for their husband’s pleasure and no-one elses. Islam places great emphasis on the family and having children, and so plenty of “child making” goes on …. it is just all done much more discretely than in the west.
Westerners tend to see life as individuals. “My” rights, “my” choice, “my” life etc. Non-westerners often talk more about family, community and think more as a group. Funnily enough, individuals and their rights are nowhere more prominent than in the United States, whereas one of most prominent examples of community thinking is China. Won’t that be interesting to see play out…..
Anyway, the recent statement by the Taliban that women’s rights to education and freedom of movement in Afghanistan will be protected “in accordance with the framework of Islam” is something that I can now better appreciate having seen the framework of Islam at work personally. There will always be very conservative elements in any society. Remember the American hardline christian anti-abortionists who have murdered doctors performing abortions in their country because their religious beliefs forbade such acts? That is pretty extreme right?
It doesn’t mean everything in Afghanistan will be just fine by next week. It might not ever be like “we” expected. But I for one think the new leaders of Afghanistan should be given time to rebuild their shattered country, without foreign medding and without one sided propaganda through our media. Credit must be given to CNN for having a female reporter on the ground there, reporting what she saw. She was mocked for saying the Taliban seemed friendly.
Al-Jazeera have a female reporter on the ground in Afghanistan too – who is from New Zealand actually. Here is an article by Charlotte Bellis from a local NZ website called Stuff. It sheds quite a different light on events in Afghanistan. Please share it.