Thursday, 14 August 2014

An Outsider Look Deep Within

For the past week or so I have been researching nuances in Judaism, Islam and other Abrahamic faiths to counter an article written by Pakistani-Canadian writer Ali A. Rizvi on the dangers of associating with being pro-Israeli or pro-Palestine. I was geared up and ready to take apart every single argument he presented against the simple view that what Israel is doing in Gaza is wrong, it is, and that Palestinians are victims, they are, but I read through it again. I had to, after all my research I read through this piece of writing that six days ago I called “a mechanism of distraction” on social media.

But this time I read through it without the attachments of a subjective stance of being an anti-Zionist Jew working at a community radio station whose primary audience is Capetonian Muslims. I started reading this as a journalist, and I realized that as a commentator I was moving in the right direction, but as a reporter, or journalist, pick your poison; I’d been swayed over to the side of allowing my feelings to affect my reporting.

Let me explain; to me reporting is a sacred, and ancient profession. In the earliest of human civilizations messengers were expected to travel great distances to convey reports from one area to another; and the most important aspect of all this was the fact that from the get-go, the messenger’s own personal ideas could not cloud, mar or influence the message. After all: wars have been started based on just a few misinterpreted syllables or words.

And here I am, centuries, millennia later, doing the same, but my marathon is through electronic means, my letterhead is my voice and these pixelated letters you see before you. And it is my duty to ensure that whatever report I find it is represented and conveyed without influence by my own beliefs and/or that of whoever has tasked me to do so, of course this is the radio station I work for. And as part of this, I find myself in a unique position, I’m now part of a marginal sphere of the media world, that responds to and caters to a specific demographic, one that believes it is misrepresented in the mainstream. I agree; but with the reasons, much of the time, I do not agree with.

And just there I assume that whoever has read this far’s interest just piqued. Come, let’s have a look at Palestine, and the last month. Let us look at how I myself have reported on the Israeli-Gaza conflict, and I have already written about the use of language when reporting and the dangers thereof, I’ve stumbled upon a few revelations.

Recently, I was reprimanded for the use of the word “militant” when referring to Hamas, who is currently engaging in the ongoing conflict in Gaza. I explained, and contextualized my use of the word within the space of grammar and proper use of language, but bent to the sensitivities of the Muslim community I serve. And as a journalist, this is what you do, it is what you are supposed to do: your publication’s rules are law.

But, you see, as much as non-Zionist Jews carry a self shame on the topic of Israel, its actions and Zionism itself [with many self professed Zionists within and without Israel even now reacting towards Israel with something to the effect of ‘woah, there, slow your roll!’] I’ve observed a complete lack of us, the Muslim media treating entities such as ISIS and others the way we treat the Zionist movements and Israel itself. 

This is where anyone who believes I am ignorant to the faith of Islam may challenge me; but this relates to my disagreement with the reasons for this community being sidelined in mainstream media. I am going to include myself here, not as a Muslim but as someone that has paid attention to the nuances and flow of the Muslim media.

On the topic of Palestine and Israel, this weekend, according to most optimistic estimates more than 200 000 Capetonian pro-Palestinian supporters came out to urge our South African government to do more. Fine, that’s a huge amount of people, but let us compare this with other marches, and let us bear in mind that traditionally the most vocal opponents of the Israeli occupation have always been Muslims [and once again, and this will be the last time I make a disclaimer, I am completely against the state of Israel and its very existence stands against my own religious beliefs, but let us continue].

As Rizvi says in his article, over the last two years Syrian president Bashar al-Assad's forces have killed nearly 200 000 people, civilians and mostly Muslim, during his ongoing crackdown on rebel forces [this is according to the UK based Observatory for Human Rights]. Through this conflict a new player has come to the fore, the Islamic State, who is right now terrorizing Iraqi Muslim, Christian and Kurdish populations in its endeavour to establish a Muslim homeland. Of course this group reportedly led by Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi as its supposed Caliph is not representative of the beliefs of most Muslims across the world. But as someone asked me on Wednesday morning, “hoekom is julle dan so still oor die mense?”

Last year, the Muslim Judicial Council held a march in Cape Town in aid of people suffering under Bashar Al Assad. I counted 150 heads; the MJC also then held a rally for Egypt during the ousting of rightful president Mohammed Morsi, I was underwhelmed by the amount of participants.

Why is the Muslim media in South Africa, supposedly hailed across the world as champions of marginal views untouched by political or economic influence, so wary of acknowledging these areas of conflict? After all, is it not Muslims dying, or can we only focus on one conflict at a time? Or is it difficult to acknowledge these groups who openly defy international laws and flagrantly disregard human lives in much the same manner as Israel does? This is not me reprimanding anyone other than myself, this whole piece is an internal monologue I have been having for the last two days. Why are we, the Muslim media, afraid of assigning the role of antagonist on humans who perpetrate horrid crimes and who happen to be Muslim? The answer: when we admit that this is true, the ones who champion the idea of the marginalized Islamic world must become even further marginalized. Just as I struggle each day with being associated by religion with Zionists, so will others who must point out those wrongs.

Nothing I said above is an attempt to distract you, the reader, from caring for whatever cause you choose to; and it does not mean I believe what Israel is doing is not wrong; what I insist we do is, at least as the media representing a certain demographic, to not shy away from the ugly truths and sugar coat them with distracting words, we must always be sensitive, but I came into this game of journalism to show people the world, not continue painting them a picture of what they think the world looks like.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Random found document. Hindsight.

*This one is not a letter to Rian. It's just a random document I found on my hard drive, completely forgot I even wrote this. Wrote it two weeks before I got on a plane to come back to Cape Town from Johannesburg, reflecting on the huge culture shock I encountered when I moved there.

14 March 2012

I’ve been here a month and I still don’t get it. Sitting on a balcony overlooking the street at number 4 Biermann Avenue in Rosebank, the lit tobacco in the pipe I’m smoking is busy dying out. Flashy, expensive cars stop and drive by, each and every one of their drivers probably on their way somewhere, somewhere important very likely.

Everyone in this constantly fidgety town is always on their way somewhere.

Perhaps in Rosebank where I live it’s not as bad, this is where the retired and those newly acquainted with big money reside after all. Hence the fancy cars and the consciously in-tune fashionable attire of people in the street, though from what I’ve seen, I’ve never seen the well dressed Rosebankians walking. Only the posers walk, the dressed up middle class kids that visit Liquid Chefs on a Friday night, spending daddy’s money in the hopes of finding a sugar daddy on the floor of some sparkly, overly expensive club.

Everyone here is always busy and I don’t get why.

Among my group of interns at Avusa, I’ve been dubbed the Leisure Co-ordinator, because of my love of the chill, the hang-out and the I’m-not-doing-anything. The title is just a superfluous one: Poppy is Liquor Administrator and Bianca Office Administrator. But I suppose they reflect a characteristic innate to each of us.

More cars go by, and Lonely People by Dub ‘n Run has its turn in a mix I made.

Jo’burg has lots of those: lonely people. I don’t mean lonely as in longing for company, or wanting affection. No, I just think Jo’burg is a lonely city. It’s so individual-driven. Each and every person on the street, the curator of the Everard Read gallery down the street; the small lady sitting on her recycled beer crate selling cheap cigarettes at over-the-top prices around the corner, she only ever smiles when you buy something from her. Aren’t they all a bit lonely? Aren’t they all trying to make it here? As any fan of American rap music could tell you, they’re hustling.

And that’s exactly it. I feel alien here, I’m not a hustler but I have dreams, and I am determined. 

But I’m not willing to sacrifice my interpersonal interactions for what I want to achieve. I know what I want but I’m not willing to become an island just to achieve success when I could take hold of bliss in a collective.

A 23 year old Capetonian cynic I am, I just can’t connect here. Perhaps it’s the lack of a large body of water, the skyline missing a mountain. But something is off here. This town makes me feel uncomfortable. I’ve made friends, and people are friendly: a smile will be returned with a smile, and a hello with a how-are-you but somehow I miss my socially unbalanced home city.

Where race is a determining factor in how people respond to you, where we still live segregated unless you’re from the middle class, only then do we mix, and only then as far as our interest in the exoticness of the other stretches.

I miss it.

It’s a paradox I’m willing to overlook. I don’t deny at all the opportunity that landed me here is a huge one, working for one of the biggest media houses in the country and being chosen as one of only ten interns: heavy.

Two days before I left for Jo’burg my best friends and girlfriend took me to Simonstown to catch some beach side chilling.

“You’re not going to have this in Jo’burg,” Wilton, one of my three best friends told me, “so get as much of this as you can.”

And he was on the money with that. I miss the ocean, and before I turn into one of these damn lonely people, some fresh ocean air is indeed needed.

Only after that, only after will I resign myself to the hustle, the over achieving drug that fuels this town.

I’m going back home in ten days, and I suppose the ocean had better be there waiting for me.

It's been nearly six months since I left Jo'burg now.

And I work right under the mountain. 

Thursday, 23 August 2012

A Blatantly Open Letter to You, Rian

Having begun reading My Traitor's Heart again after a long time, I've decided to share some of my thoughts with you, Rian. Ideas and ideals sparked by little thngs in the things you say.

You must understand, you've changed the way I observe this place I find myself in: an incessant struggle and everlasting tired wrestling match with race, class, gender and the frustrating duplicity that is Cape Town, South Africa, eighteen years after democracy.

These letters are personal, or as personal as posting them on the internet can be. But I want them to see, where you failed. Where your generation, your people, still have a grip on the eternal cyclic disaster that is this: a post-apartheid Cape Colony.

For me to explain this, I need to explore my own history, and in doing so explore the history and continuous present of Cape Town. But to explore this fair city's past, I need to dig deep into my own experience: a cyclic disaster of race, class, gender, and the inheemse foreigner on our stoeps.

Die Swart Gevaar

Perhaps during the '80s, when you were a liberal, when you had the dirty blond hair you still wear, when you were in that blues band you told me you still play in, perhaps then maybe you thought come Madiba's release, the world would come right, the Afs and the Kleurlinge and the Afrikanervolk and the Rooinekke would live along happily, peacefully even. Wrong, here, my non-responsive recipient, nothing much has changed. The locations still thrive, die wit man is nogsteeds baas and the people on top, they serve the people who can pay. Your great uncle Daniel Francois Malan's plan was a resounding success in the colony. The blacks are with the blacks, the whites with the whites, and the "coloured" folk so named for their inability to be, sometimes, distinguished from your own.

A sprawling city, a beautiful, clean, spotless, cultured city this is. I don't know when last you were here but have you seen how our people, and by "our" I mean South Africans, live? Here we say, come to Cape Town!, we love all shapes, colours and creeds. Nothing, my friend, could be any further from the truth. Here, the Other isn't the black man, the savage the Voortrekkers thought they saw, here He is anyone. Of course this depends on which neighbourhood you decide to trek through.

It has been eighteen years since the "fall" of Apartheid, and I may slip into cliché, perhaps even closely veer towards the dangerous abyss that is modern African National Congress rhetoric by saying: we now have a new divide. I wouldn't dare to call it an apartheid, nee wat, dis 'n ander soort dier hierdie, this is a wholly different beast. Or perhaps not, it could be just the sum of all the leftover pieces of the Apartheid mirror that crashed and splintered all over the Castle's front door the day Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was sworn in as the first black president of the Republic of South Africa. It could be a derelict attempt by the societal norm that apartheid was, trying to keep itself together, desperately holding on to the last bits of its mollified skin and bones.

But, no, it's been almost two decades. You must understand, I write this not as an attack on you, only because at once I love and despise you and yours: love for the brutal honesty that you opened up on yourself, an honesty that caused me to explore my own bits of ugly history, my own denialist present; and it is that that I despise, the hopeful denial you trekked through, the shakes and nods of the head and the "it's going to be okay"s. You must understand, Rian, I too am a recipient of a present shaped by past atrocities, the Sharpeville massacre, the 1976 Youth uprising, shaped to believe in all that is equal and right, that all should be equal and fair, that black is not black but black can be white and green, that when asked what I am I should answer "I'm african", or "Ek is swart, juffrou". 

That was how my mother raised me, to see in anti-colour shades, to see the joy. But now I see the shades, the creeping, ever creeping closer thunderclouds that some time in the near future will erupt and disrupt the menial mainstream flow of Cape Town life. Perhaps my story far seems too dark, too macabre, too generalised. Perhaps. After all, in Long Street interracial couples can walk freely, without second glances. Maybe in Gardens too. Maybe even in Observatory, Salt River, Woodstock. But The truth is, that bastion of keeping the blacks with the blacks and the whites with their fellows and the kleurlinge away from one another is still in full swing. The fear of a dark skin, so ingrained in the Afrikaner mind, that same mind that you explained to me in writing, regulates the unconscious thoughts of most, if not all Capetonians.

The blacks with the blacks, the whites with their whites and the others, all others, with themselves.
In secret, hating and waiting one another out, for the day one slips up. An unknown-to-themselves hatred that runs deep among all South Africans, or perhaps a fear. A medieval fear of still not knowing what the other really is. A common mistrust that the man in the township will simply always rob you, "keep your wallets and your purse tucked away, no valuables, please"; that we all in the ghetto know "the white man with the money really runs the government", which in many cases, is still true, that that same white man will treat us here like cattle, a disposable workforce; "these boer-ooms would never give us jobs".

But, another time, perhaps tomorrow, I'll write again, this after all was only me introducing my pen-self to you. There is much more to discuss. Much much more, all of this came off the top of my head, perhaps for my next letter I'll prepare something. Because you need to know what you left behind.