Entries Tagged 'Society' ↓

World Press Photo 08

Rural school girls, Eastern Turkey, Vanessa Winship, UK, Agence Vu

For those residing in (or passing through) Sydney, it is well worth a visit to the NSW State Library for the World Press Photo exhibition before it closes on June 5. Entry is free and the exhibition displays a collection of award-winning photographs from around the globe. They are exceptional photos and viewing them should prove satisfying not only for those with an interest in photography but also for those who can appreciate the power of a single image.

It is a decidedly sombre collection which, I suppose, can be put down to the fact that our world is drowning more in sorrow than in joy. There are many memorable photographs, but I lingered at the Benazir Bhutto assassination photographs: you won’t see her after the attack, but the image of the dead — innocent onlookers, naked and charred from the explosion — will capture your attention like little else. It is incredibly moving.

Of course, the beauty of these photographs is that they are so educational without needing words and hours of reading time. It will remind you of how many varied stories there are to be heard, and just how fragile life is. From the 14-year-old victim of rape to the US soldier collapsing from exhaustion after a mission in Afghanistan. It’s easy to think, from a distance, that we understand what’s going on. Yet life is never so simple.

Truth is a revolutionary act

A while back, I was an editorial assistant on a remarkable website called The Electronic Intifada. It focuses on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, shedding light on what life is really like for those living under occupation. It’s professional, well-presented and has been around for years. The founders have worked tirelessly, attempting to restore the balance in media coverage. One of those founders is Nigel Parry, a multi-talented activist, who covered his experiences in Palestine in a compelling personal diary.

Nigel’s latest journal series is even more grim. In From Ramallah to Rikers, he shares with readers his agonising period of incarceration at Rikers Island, highlighting the devastating deficiencies in the US criminal justice system. It’s shocking and crushing to read — but it’s important.

Tariq Ramadan’s Silent Revolution

When I first arrived at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre, I must confess that I was somewhat disappointed. Given the customary brouhaha preceding a Muslim academic’s (or scholar’s) arrival, I’d expected at the very least a picket (even if it consisted solely of the distinguished Ameer Ali).

You can imagine my further disappointment when the most controversial things Tariq Ramadan, the source of the controversy, said, would be more likely to offend some Muslim sensibilities than the non-Muslims in attendance. In fact, Ramadan, who is an incredibly engaging and charismatic speaker, presented his very sensible points softly but with clear conviction. There was absolutely nothing that might require monitoring by authorities.

Admittedly, the Brisbane conference on the “challenges and opportunities” of Islam in Australia was my first true introduction to Ramadan and his thesis. I understood the following: he is a “reformist”; he believes Muslims need to try harder to reconcile their beliefs with those surrounding them in their particular Western nation; he is dubbed Islam’s Martin Luther; he lacks mainstream appeal; he is more successful in Europe than Australia and the US.

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Should marriage be privatised?

Reason, Cato’s David Boaz, and the Austrian Economists all link to a fascinating article in the New York Times about the privatisation of marriage. The article’s author — a historian — asks why people need the permission of the state to marry.

For most of Western history, they didn’t, because marriage was a private contract between two families. The parents’ agreement to the match, not the approval of church or state, was what confirmed its validity.

For 16 centuries, Christianity also defined the validity of a marriage on the basis of a couple’s wishes. If two people claimed they had exchanged marital vows — even out alone by the haystack — the Catholic Church accepted that they were validly married.

The view of marriage as a private contract between individuals is very similar to the Islamic conception of marriage which, like a conventional contract, consists of an offer, acceptance and, I suppose, consideration (in the form of mahr etc).

The privatisation of marriage is usually discussed in the context of same-sex marriage but it also has ramifications for Muslims. If marriage was simply a contract, the parties could define whatever terms and conditions they wished — describing, for example, how divorce would be handled, how property would be split, how disputes would be judged, and so forth. In the case of Muslims, this might be in accordance to the shariah rulings on these matters; or, in the case of others, it might be based upon pre-nuptial negotiation with the conditions individually tailored.

“We don’t want no (Islamic) education”

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that residents of Camden (an area in Sydney’s south-west) are fiercely opposing a proposed Islamic school in the area. Apparently, census figures have the local population at 69% Christian and another 13% as “no religion”, so there would certainly be a question as to whether those wishing to build the school can justify the need for it.
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Let Nalliah speak

The greatest enemy of absurdity is its own voice. It is essential therefore that those with extreme and absurd views be encouraged to speak them as often as possible. Rather than seek to stifle their voice or to remove a platform for their views, one should be provided:

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Another prescient example of this is Danny Nalliah, pastor of the fringe church “Catch the Fire Ministries“. Nalliah has previously been alleged to have expressed the desire for God to burn down mosques. For this and other comments Nalliah was taken to VCAT by the Islamic Council of Victoria for inciting religious hatred. The ICV action was a failure both legally and in the wider court of public opinion. It allowed Nalliah to portray himself as the victim of a secretive religion which was furiously trying to avoid scrutiny as it infiltrated the nation. Money, sympathy and support flooded into Catch the Fire Ministries and Nalliah became a celebrity in the Evangelical community. The federal treasurer Peter Costello appeared on stage with Nalliah and embraced him, as did the then deputy Prime Minister John Anderson.

The case was finally settled earlier this year, with a points victory to Nalliah. This has allowed him the confidence to discover his voice once more and to bless us with the profound insights that can come to those whom God speaks to directly.

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Friday Follies: The best of Melbourne’s Masjids

At the Friday sermon today, the Imam exhorted the congregation to conserve water when performing wudu’. He advised us to perform only one repetition instead of the recommended three, and to wipe over our socks instead of washing our feet, citing Stage 3 Water Restrictions.

Stage 3 Water Restrictions!

You know what, this is actually commendable on the imam’s part. I didn’t realise our imams were becoming so green. But I don’t see why we should stop there. Our religion gives us license to perform tayyammum when water is scarce, which allows us to purify ourselves with pure sand or dust. Taking the imam’s advice to its logical conclusion, we should disconnect the water from our wudu’ areas, and just have buckets of sand with which to prepare for the prayer.

What do you think?

Note: feel free to send us your own Friday Follies. We’ll post the more interesting ones for you to comment, kind of like a peer review for the community.

On Libraries of Unread Books

The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb is one of the most thought-provoking books I’ve read this year and follows on from his equally excellent Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets in that it challenges the way we interact with an increasingly complex world. If time permits, I will write a proper review and summary of some of his more salient points (and there are many) but, in the interim, I just wanted to post a passage from The Black Swan.

The writer Umberto Eco belongs to that small class of scholars who are encyclopedic, insightful, and nondull. He is the owner of a large personal library (containing thirty thousand books), and separates visitors into two categories: those who react with “Wow! Signore professore dottore Eco, what a library you have! How many of these books have you read?” and the others — a very small minority — who get the point that a private library is not an ego-boosting appendage but a research tool. Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight real-estate market will allow you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call this collection of unread books an antilibrary.

In other words, the majority of people see Umberto Eco’s books as a status symbol of sorts and make the assumption that all have been read. On the other hand, a minority of people realise that a library is simply a tool for discovering things and therefore regardless of what one has already acquired in knowledge (the read books), there remains much more to be learned (the unread books). Whereas the shelves of read books may lead a person to become conceited and sure of themselves, the unread books help to keep the person humble.

Paul Johnson on Intellectuals

Paul Johnson, the British polymath and author, is one of my favourite writers and Intellectuals is one of his most fascinating books. I had reason to revisit it today and the opening paragraphs caught my attention:

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Paying our Imams

The daughter of an imam writes in the comments:

We want people to go learn and become scholars but then we get no benefit from it as people have families to support. If they are working 5-6 days a week where is the time left for teaching or studying? Many graduates for that reason have ended up just working normal jobs because their knowledge is not valued and the community is not going to support them. So whilst we lament the lack of knowledge in our community we also are generally not prepared to use money to support those with knowledge.

I believe Muslims are very cheap when it comes to knowledge. People will complain about paying $100 for a course but will not blink an eye buying a $5000 plasma TV.

Being the daughter of an Imam I really saw how undervalued people of knowledge are. Don’t you think it is sad that when you have an Imam for one of the richest communities in the Muslims that his family used to get a lot of things from the salvation army and church groups? That he never bought new clothes or shoes for himself for over 10 years and used to get them second hand? My mum used to say to my dad to go become a taxi driver because at least it paid to support his family.

This is an excellent point and one of the more pressing issues that our community needs to tackle. If we accept that religious knowledge is important — and some of us would argue it is the highest form of human knowledge — then how do we ensure the best people acquire this knowledge and then ensure that they can benefit the community with it.

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