“They were things for which it was impossible to prepare but which one spent a lifetime looking back at, trying to accept, interpret, comprehend. Things that should never have happened, that seemed out of place and wrong, these were what prevailed, what endured, in the end.”

Jhumpa Lahiri, The Namesake

This #MuslimRage Business

Newsweek‘s controversial cover this week features an article written by “well-known atheist activist” Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who asserts that this “rage” presented by Muslims in the Middle East and North Africa over the past two weeks “represent the mainstream of contemporary Islam.” Naturally, I have deep problems with this statement, being the product of non-raging Muslim immigrants in America who has worked pretty hard to stop people from making outlandish generalizations (read: this blog).

Newsweek took me back to senior year at Wellesley when, for my Sociology seminar, I wrote about the deep Muslim immigrant divide from mainstream Netherlands, in relation to the murder of Theo Van Gogh.  I disucssed Hirsi Ali who, a Somalian parliament member with van Gogh had created a controversial film, Submission, criticizing the representation of women in Islam.

To backtrack: Submission was about a Muslim woman who is forced to marry an abusive man, then raped by her uncle, and then punished brutally for adultery. In one image, her body was shown naked through her transparent gown, with verses of the Qur’an painted across. Ali explained that the women chosen to act in the film were purposefully attractive so that the audience saw their beauty and vulnerability, and at the same time their dark body which signified race and sexual tension. Submission took advantage of the freedom of speech as a way to expose social taboos, the place of women in Islam, and the war on terror.

I have some fundamental problems with Hirsi Ali, as well as others who like to categorize the experience of Muslims in a region to represent Muslims across the globe. The fact is, the brutal and sad story of Hirsi Ali is much rooted to her particular home and how Islam was interpreted within her culture and importantly, her family. Furthermore, the experience of Muslims in Egypt, Yemen, to Muslims in Somalia to Bangladesh, Turkey, London, to my current New York State is just, very, very different. The pockets of Muslim populations are large enough in New York to Arizona to the Netherlands and South Africa that indeed, we cannot categorize. We are talking about people who identify with a common religion implanted in very different cultures and histories. 

On the other hand, we are still, scared to talk about it. Let’s think about this: There are still many Americans who thinks that President Obama is Muslim. But we don’t think about, nor do we we dare ask, “so what?”

Suppose that we take this article’s title into value and assert that yes, all Muslims are just full of rage. I have found it particularly interesting that since its publication, it has succeeded in mockery. Yes, Muslims also know how to be funny (and yes, I just made a generalization). 

According to The Associated Press, “MuslimRage” was the sixth-most trending topic among U.S. Twitter users early Monday. It was at the top of that list in Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates. 

Some of my favorites:

 “I’m having such a good hair day. No one even knows. #MuslimRage.”

“On a plane and people mishearing me when I say I’m a ‘tourist’. #MuslimRage.”

“Lost your kid Jihad at the airport. Can’t yell for him. 

“After a long night at the bar, when there’s only pork in your one-night-stand’s fridge 

“Ramadan in Iceland when days are 23 hours long. 

“iPhone5 released. Not available in Egypt yet. 

We keep saying let’s have a dialogue, let’s talk, let’s have a debate. Sure, that works. And then you have social media and a huge mockery of the whole “rage” that “Muslims”, supposedly, “everywhere” has, by the same Muslims that have been categorized to be raging. As much as these anti-American slogans and chants s by Egyptians, for example, could give readers the shock value that they want and further convince them of the story of  hypersensitive Muslims, what this shows is also a not-so-convincing admission that not all Muslims actually think like this.

No one bothers to ask, though, what other Muslims are thinking. Here is the thing–Muslims are raging. They are and have been raging and for the past decade, and no one has done anything about it. 

Sunday NYT: Apartheid Exposed

Image

Inspired by the American magazines Life and Look, Drum’s documentary portrayals of black urban life, arts, politics and culture were revolutionary. Some of those images will be part of a major exhibition that opens at the International Center of Photography this month called ‘‘Rise and Fall of Apartheid: Photography and the Bureaucracy of Everyday Life.’’ 

Women Make a Splash.

I have been a bit quiet since my last post, mainly due to obsessively watching the Olympics combined with preparing to move back to the East Coast, this time to upstate New York, in a ‘city’ I am slowly getting my hands on. Hello, Ithaca.

Going back to the Olympics– This summer, I was quite pleased to see Phelps break more records, the female American Gymnastics Team light up the games (and media), and the emergence of a new star, Missy Franklin. Those are just a few of the stories of a very record-breaking-heartfelt-stories-filled Olympics.

What I was particularly pleased about was the obvious observation of women making a big splash on the sports world.  A simple fact: women won more (and I mean, way more) medals than their male counterparts in the US, China, and Russia, the leading countries in the London Olympics. These three large delegates also brought more women than men. Two thirds of the gold medals won by Team USA were won by women. Every national delegation had a female athlete on its team. In many of the sporting events, women fared better then the men (US Women’s soccer, anyone?). Female athletes helped Britain achieve its best medal tally since 1908. Women simply won disproportionately more medals then men. There were no female competitors when the modern Olympics started in 1896.

When Saina Nehwal returned to her home, India, after winning the bronze medal in badminton, the ovation and euphoria received from fans was comparable to the kind usually reserved for their all-male cricket team.

The statistics and facts go on.

While women’s professional sports still get less media attention, let alone viewers and audience interest, in an event like the Olympics, it does not take a lot of analysis to see that they are not doing so bad these days. Of course, some things still come later than they should when we talk about gender equality. Saudi Arabia, Brunei and Qatar (finally) let women compete on their Olympic teams for the first time. And speaking of sports, the Augusta National Golf Club has decided to “stop embarrassing itself and move into the mid-20th century” by admitting two women as members (New York Times). The members are no other than former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore, a business executive.

As Andrew Rosenthal of NYT put it, there is not excuse for the right thing to take place a few generations too late.

With this dramatic London Olympics, I really cannot wait to see what’s next for women, and for underrepresented women in Rio.

Getting dressed up.

 

Recently, I received an email from the career services at Cornell instructing me to bring formal, ‘business’ clothing to campus for graduate school. A graduate of a liberal arts college, let alone an all-women’s New England institution, you are likely to have a few business clothing here and there. We did get J. Crew to name a cardigan after us.

I have never been completely comfortable wearing formal, business-y clothing. I have never worn a suit. I don’t like suits on women, except Jennifer Aniston. I love blazers, and I consider pairing dark skinny jeans with a nice top as formal (…as I will go). This time, I have been specifically instructed to purchase proper business clothing and this particular message has been in my head for two weeks now. A specific email from a specific department not asking, but telling me to do something non-academic-financial aid-housing-orientation related. I am actually going to be wearing formal clothing in a space that is all too natural to be formal. It will matter what I look like, but more will be judged on how professional I look rather than if I actually look good (which can happen, formal or no formal clothing).

Perhaps I am making this into a bigger deal than it is because it feels like a wake up call to adulthood or perhaps a reminder of my reality–grow up, and get a suit, wear it and embrace it, and no, you can’t get away with things that are imaginary-formal.

Things are happening, way, way too fast.

Also, I did purchase a suit and cannot wait to wear the coat-blazer part without the head to toe one color deal that suits force me to do.

Published: Dinner not Going to be Cheap Anytime Soon

My latest publication on food security worldwide and how agriculture is “in” again. A lot of my information has been taken from my interest in IFPRI’s latest publication on the issue, released just a few months ago. The following was published in the Forum magazine, click here to read. 

Dinner not Going to be Cheap Anytime Soon

OLINDA HASSAN finds out the looming food crisis both at national and international levels.

Today’s global food crisis is no longer just about the very poor. It is affecting the cracks and corners of the chain of wealth and access, primarily because so much of our economies are interlinked, thanks to globalisation. Agriculture has strong ties to water, nutrition, land, energy, and climate change, all of which center economic development in countries like Bangladesh. Once upon a time, development specialists thought agriculture is something that needs to be limited so as to make industrialisation a top priority. Agriculture was a thing of the past. This thought is still common for many researchers in Bangladesh.

The interesting news is that according to International Food Policy Research Institute’s latest Global Food Policy Report, agriculture is back on the development agenda. Agricultural development is important — the World Bank and USAID agree, as they expand their agriculture — related projects throughout the world, especially in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. The World Bank just increased their funds dedicated to food and agricultural sectors to reach around $6 billion. Statistics are telling: food security matters and agriculture-dependent countries like Bangladesh need to and will do better.

No longer are we seeing prices from our grandmother or our parents’ time, let alone this generation’s childhood.

Food has taken center stage in many political issues worldwide — if not centered on food, food has definitely triggered some revolutions and protests. And food is a rich people problem too. The spikes in food prices also undermine development gains especially for the urban poor. The Economist declared the “end of cheap food” in 2007 after oil-rich nations like Venenzuela and Russia put control on food prices. In Bangladesh, where more than two thirds of its consumer-price index is accounted by food, higher food prices have a greater than imagined impact.

Bread, rice, tortilla, pasta & democracy

Food has taken centre and backstage in many of the world’s revolutions throughout history. Consider the French Revolution, where bread — an essential component of the French diet, especially for the poor — was at the heart of the conflict. France is after all, the home of Marie Antoinette, who reacted to the news that her subjects had no bread to eat with the popular phrase “Let them eat cake.” “Bread was considered a public service necessary to keep the people from rioting,” wrote Linda Civitello, author of Culture: A History of Food and People. As taxes increased and droughts affected agricultural gains, the lack of bread became a reason for the poor to have a rising anger towards the wealthier French citizens. The birth of France led to the opening of some of the first restaurants in the world; it was a bouillon seller named Boulanger who sold clear soup that was considered restorative.

The decrease to the eventual collapse of grain production in the Soviet Union during the 1980s resulted in anger that eventually led to the collapse of the entire Communist system. Fast forward to the 21st Century where food-related issues have left half a million people dead in Darfur, while generating two million environmental refugees. Mexico saw riots over rise in the price of tortillas. Haiti’s government collapsed in 2008 after many violent rice riots. Italy threatened to boycott pasta around the same time.

Forward further to the past year and a half: the Arab Spring has deep links to food. The once upon a time ‘Fertile Crescent’ is high on the list for dependency on imported grain; in 2010, almost half of the top 20 wheat importers were from the Middle East, with Egypt taking first place, Algeria 4th, Yemen 13th, Libya 16th, and Tunisia 17th. Furthermore, youth unemployment in the region made things worse: households had more stomachs to feed with less money and no guarantees. The effect of high price hikes especially affected Tunisia where the poor spend almost 70% of their income on food, notably bread. Demand for democracy and lower food prices began in December 2010, and even though President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali promised to lower food prices, he was gone by January. Following Tunisia’s rapid changes, the Washington Post remarked how the uprising has “economists worried that we may be seeing the beginning of a second wave of global food riots.” North Korea, a country that has been a receiver of food aid for decades, could see potential problems with recent leadership changes. Predictions of revolutions in 2012 persist for Sub-Saharan Africa with their continuous drought problems.

The food-linked revolutions observed in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and also in Yemen, Bahrain and currently, Syria calls for more inclusive policy measures to tackle youth unemployment as well as targeted safety nets. It begs development agencies and policy makers to revisit their research and include basic food staples high on their agendas. Food can fuel violence — this has been proven. What has yet to be proven is how far the recognition will take effect on actual governance.

Reaching millennium development goals won’t matter if you don’t have rice in the pantry

Reaching the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) has been going positively worldwide for participating countries. Bangladesh in particular has seen much progress, especially in areas such as primary education and maternal health, among others. The key goal of reducing poverty by half by 2015 was reached globally in 2010, according to the World Bank’s recent Global Monitoring Report (note: the individual country statistics may be different).

The hike in food prices in 2011 however undermines many of these gains in developing nations. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN’s food price index reached a record high in February, 2011. The food price hike has been attributed to high oil prices, biofuel policies, and natural disasters worldwide. This was bad news for nations like Cambodia and Bangladesh where a large part of the food consumed is imported. Kenya, which continues to experience extreme droughts, saw food inflation at 22% in 2011. In Zambia, the price of bread increased 75% between 2010 and 2011.

The World Bank reports that 3 billion people live in rural areas in developing countries; 2.5 billion of them are involved in farming. 75% of the world’s poorest people are included in that figure. When food prices increase, farmers are expected to increase production to take advantage of the effect, which should, in turn, ease prices. However, agriculture depends on seasons and nature: simply put, it takes time to grow food. And while that happens in the backyard, people must eat. It becomes difficult for farmers in developing nations to budget for everyday food as well as production. Such short term needs must be met, thus disturbing the system (Postmedia News).

2011 also witnessed some of the worst natural disasters ever recorded worldwide. The severe droughts in Kenya, Mali, Sierra Leon, to other agriculture-dependent countries in Africa led to severe economic losses. Floods in Thailand, the Philippines, Brazil, and Pakistan also led to economic losses and sudden poverty for many families. The tsunami and earthquakes in Japan marked the year’s largest natural disaster and biggest economic effect. According to insurance experts, in 2011, natural disasters recorded an economic loss of US$380 billion, double the figure from 2010 (Reuters).

The price hike of basic food necessities combined with poor people’s day to day food survival needs puts family nutrition at a huge risk. Temporary price hikes in turn leave long term effects on a child’s development. Child malnutrition is responsible for more than a third of the under-five years of age mortality. Even if food security issues are short term, they leave long term effects for poor families in developing countries. Moreover, long-term trends in farming are unpredictable, especially with technological innovation that can change courses in an instant. Most forecasters conclude however that prices will stay high since supplies will not match growing demands. MDGs related to education, health, and poverty for many countries well on their way to progress have already been severely threatened.

Food’s price hike is a north-south issue

The price hike on food affects the developed nations as well, many of which also depend on importing food, mainly from developing countries being devastated by price hikes and natural disasters. Moreover, the global economic recovery will be driven by emerging markets like Brazil, India, and China, where agriculture continues to be a staple. In China, food inflation ran over 13% last year. For countries like the United States and the United Kingdom, rapidly increasing food prices represent a huge threat to the economic health of developing, emerging, and developed countries.

However, China and India have also been at the forefront of investing in food policies. They have also increased their efforts in forging South-South relations, according to IFPRI. For example, the Indian Parliament introduced the National Food Security Bill which would provide rice, wheat, and coarse grains at low prices to more than half of the country’s 1.2 billion people — according to IFPRI, it is the world’s largest anti-hunger programme. Furthermore, China’s investment in water to boost agricultural activity will total around US$630 billion in the next decade.

Of course, India and China have been able to create such promises through its overall increasing and expanding economies. This can be illustrated using food, again. The demand for meat is tied to economic growth , and this is especially true for China where the average consumer now eats more than 50 kilograms of meat in a year, up from 40 kilograms back in 1985 (The Economist). Many developing countries’ demand for meat has also increased in recent years. The production of these animal proteins however requires large quantities of cereals for feeding the livestock. If the demand for cereals increases, it will make edible grains (e.g. wheat, rice, etc.) too expensive for many poor countries.

Those living in poverty have been hit the hardest with food price hikes in Bangladesh, but the middle and upper class are complaining as well. This is also combined with increasing allegations of poisoning our food, whether its exploited fish markets to enhanced bananas and apples, people do not trust their local markets. The bird flu has caused hundreds of poultry farms shutting down throughout Bangladesh, and increased pressure for imported eggs and chickens is taking place. Prices of “rich” food are increasing: the price of butter is up by 40%, chocolate biscuits 50%, coffee 20%, and pasta 29% (The Observer). In 2011, Unilever expected a 14-16% increase, Nestlé 8-10% for their food products due to international price increases on basic staples. Food prices in Britain are rising at nearly double the level in the United States and the euro zone or any other rich country worldwide (The Observer).

Keep an eye on emerging markets – conclusion

The staples of our diet have the power to incite violent riots to revolutions. Food policies will become central among development work worldwide. And as the interdependence among countries continues to increase with globalisation, attention to agricultural activities and in turn, food security will be urgent.

While food price increase will affect the rich and the poor, it is inevitable that it will affect the latter in more devastating ways. Countries like Japan and Saudi Arabia will have to continue importing large quantities of food, but they can afford that. According to IFPRI, the expansion of bio-fuels could decrease calorie intake further by 4-8% in Africa and 2-5% in Asia by the end of this decade.

Population is increasing, rural to urban migration is escalating, and adequate food for all is in serious danger. Hunger will continue to be a problem, and policy makers will have a harder time coping with it. Agriculture will once again return to the table of policy makers: there is no choice. Something is different though: people’s daily meals worldwide will depend largely on the economic activities and policies created by India and China, the big emerging markets. On a positive note, both countries are taking notice with their policies, as discussed previously. India and China will have to continue developing a taste for meat and chocolates along with the basic staples to get markets worldwide going.

Olinda Hasan writes on various social issues and is keen on discussing various musings in her blog at olindahassan. wordpress.com.

Inkhosikati LaMbikiza doing it right.

I had to share this photo of Inkhosikati LaMbikiza, the Queen of Swaziland, or at least the ‘queen’ that comes to public light the mos tout of King Mswati III’s wives. She has some serious style, and as someone who loves bright colors, I was excited to wake up and see this on the front page of the Huffington Post. Queen Elizabeth II is not bad herself, but at the  Armed Forces Parade and Muster in Home Park (May 19, 2012 in Windsor, England), Inkhosikati LaMbikiza’s “teal confection with layers of 3-D flowers, a matching fascinator and some baller cat eye sunglasses” is, respect.

I am continuously surprised by the things I write

I just found this in the Tucson Citizen archives. It is a letter I had written to the Editor and I didn’t even know that it was published. This was me, a month after I turned 18 years old. It was published on February 11, 2006, which means I was done with college applications and just waiting to hear back while finishing my last semester in high school. I was fiery back then, full of opinions, and rightfully so, i expressed them. It was also when I was known as Tasneem in the publication world. Great times, I guess. Click to read or see below.

Tense times easily ignite emotions

 

The newspapers that published cartoons against our prophet should not be punished, let alone their editors beheaded, as some Muslims suggested. History repeatedly has proven that a free press is the best defense against oppression.

 

But as a Muslim, I was offended by these cartoons not only for insulting my religion, but also because they are discriminatory and racist.

 

One depicts Muhammad with a bomb-shaped head about to explode, suggesting all Muslims are terrorists. The purpose of political cartoons is to reveal truth. Bluntly linking the Muslim faith to brutality is ignorant.

 

Every religion has extremists, and actions of a few do not give the right to label all unfairly. The Quran explicitly states disapproval of violence.

 

The Western world’s treatment of Muslims in recent years has pushed tensions so high that any remark or small action can trigger emotions to burst.

 

Many Americans believe the war in Iraq is for democracy, but the Muslim world sees us as invading their lands, murdering civilians and imposing tactics foreign to their ancient culture.

 

Violence is not the way to peace, but when you feel you have no control, it is a natural reaction.

 

These cartoons are another way of telling us we are barbarians with false values. The European press is telling us we are not wanted in “their land.”

 

The cartoons represent the gap between the West and the Muslim world, and it is not closing. The catastrophe taking place should force us to see that – press freedom or not – democracy is intended for tolerance and understanding of every individual for the benefit of society.

 

TASNEEM OLINDA HASSAN

senior, Catalina Foothills High

rest in peace Mr. Dorson

My favorite teacher in high school, Mr. Dorson died a few days ago. I really can’t talk about this in elaboration because it feels strange and simply, sad. Mr. Dorson was my history teacher and I was part of the last class he had at Catalina Foothills High School. That year when I was a junior, he left CFHS after a controversy over a student whom he believed had cheated, and the student was up for a big scholarship and on his way to Northwestern University. I was outraged at the time. I in fact wrote about it in the Tucson Citizen, which ironically I posted a few weeks ago in this blog.  In that article for the Tucson Citizen, I wrote:

He has resigned because he stood up for what he believed in and received no support from the school board. He knows how much many of us want him to stay. He knows he will leave a big hole in this school, as his impact is enormous.

Every school has that one who stands out, that teacher everyone knows about and wants to have, the teacher who makes his class exciting and changes lives forever.

Mr. Dorson was energetic and simply put, amazing. The last time I saw him was at the airport, on one of my visits home from Wellesley College. He saw me from far, and in his quirky mannerism, dropped his bag tot he floor, opened his mouth wide and wobbled over to me to give me a big hug. He asked me how I was and said that he was proud of me.

To read about Mr. Dorson, click here.