Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Infidel Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Shakira Hussein has a wonderful review of Ayaan Hirsi Ali's book, Infidel. I heard Hirsi Ali speak a few years ago and was not very impressed with her analysis of Islam.

Her rejection of Islam is well known, yet her critique accepts many of the basic tenets of Islamic extremists. She says, for instance, that Islamic extremists are right: violence against women is justifiable in Islam. It does not seem to occur to her that by validating this interpretation, which is rejected by large numbers of Muslims, she is reinforcing the power of misogynist men. In contrast, Muslim women scholars who teach that domestic violence is un-Islamic seek to deprive wife-beaters of moral authority.

Hirsi Ali claims to have joined a conservative anti-immigrant party because left-wing multiculturalists had allowed Muslim men the licence to subject women to genital mutilation and honour killing. But although there have been failings on the Left, I do not accept that the shameful neglect of abused Muslim women has much to do with multiculturalism. Domestic violence is not regarded seriously by law-enforcement authorities, and domestic violence against women of immigrant background is taken less seriously still. I will never forget reporting my fear of a male Muslim relative to the British police and being told: "We prefer you people to sort these things out among yourselves." This was not misguided multiculturalism, it was old-fashioned sexism and racism.

Like the religious extremists she decries, Hirsi Ali believes there is only one Islam, and that it advocates violence and misogyny. She challenges Muslims to debate her: certainly a more appropriate response than killing her.

But it is difficult to see how far such a debate can go when she claims that all Muslim women are locked in a "mental cage". I respect her choice, but it doesn't seem as though she respects mine.

in thought

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The Colors Of Domestic Violence

Benetton, the clothing company has done a powerful set of ads, on domestic violence

Monday, May 28, 2007

The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Mohsin Hamid

I had high expectations of the book before reading it, since I had enjoyed reading Hamid's earlier book, Moth Smoke. This 200 page book was a quick, but disapointing read. The language with it's Sir this and Sir that, got irritating, and the story did not get anywhere. His attempt at love with Erica was bizzare, and the connections between his two worlds that he was trying to reconcile were not clear. At times I felt he was describing his life to Daniel Pearl before murdering him.

Sin has an interesting take on the Reluctant Fundamentalist. Sin also describes the insane violence in Karachi, with graphic images.
Salil Tripathi reviews it here, and Amitava
Kumar reviews it here.

Changez is from a family with feudal trappings but no real wealth other than an appreciation of etiquette. His place in Princeton and later in corporate America is marked by self-doubt. A woman that he falls in love with, Erica, is from a wealthy family. Erica, like the America of which she is quite literally a part, represents the allure of a more desirable future that is always threatened by loss.

This anxiety breeds resentment and confusion. Describing why he smiled when the towers fell, Changez says, "When I am approached for a donation to charity, I tend to be forthcoming, at least insofar as my modest means will permit. So when I tell you I was pleased at the slaughter of thousands of innocents, I do so with a profound sense of perplexity."

The triangulation of desire and resentment holds better in the realm of love, however, than in geopolitics—or at least it is more readily intelligible as such in the novel, and that makes the first half of the new novel more absorbing than the preachier latter half.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

rethinking childbirth

Vancouver Doula has this wonderful post from her daughter.

From the desk of Jacquie's daughter

Growing up surrounded by my mum's work in childbirth, I had a slightly different introduction to the subject of reproduction than most children. Instead of reading "Where Did I Come From?" I looked through a plethora of illustrated Sheila Kitzinger and midwifery texts. I thought it was fascinating that the egg that was fertilized to make me was in my mum's ovaries when she was born, and was thus formed inside my grandmother! Wild. When she taught prenatal classes, I would come along and play with the infant-sized dolls in her teaching materials, using the plastic pelvis as a cradle. Then, as she began to do more labour support, I would act as her secretary and run into the kitchen to intercept calls before anyone else, often to hear a flustered dad drop the phone, with his wife moaning in the background -- "Mum, it's for you."

It was only a matter of time before I felt the need to leave my role as an earnest spectator and take part in my mum's work. On New Year's Eve, 2006 -- just a few months ago -- I shadowed mum at my first birth as an apprentice doula. It brought to life everything that I had merely heard about for twenty-three years. This sealed the deal. I was sucked in and needed to learn everything I possibly could about childbirth. Or, more precisely, I needed to fill in the gaps of all the knowledge my mum had slyly been teaching me over the years. Little did I know that in giving me those midwifery texts, taking me to classes, and leaving me to chat with clients, she had been training me to one day work with her. Cheeky monkey.

So, with the advent of 2007, I began the final semester of my Master's degree in Literature at UBC and decided that I would complete my university career with a directed reading in the language of childbirth guides -- to both fill in the blanks and end my degree with a fun project. I received such a fantastic education from my mum growing up. She had given me all the right materials to read, but I wondered, what were other women reading? My guess was that most women don't pick up "Ina May Gaskin's Guide to Childbirth" during their summer breaks or watch "Homebirths in Holland" on Friday nights. I turned to popular pregnancy guides, the sort of books that you find on the shelves at Chapters or are lent by a friend. I pulled together a list of about 20 bestsellers, narrowed my focus to the hot topic of caesarean birth, and began reading with some questions in mind:

What sort of language do these books employ? What themes, messages, social beliefs, and institutions do the discourses in these books support? Are women reading from the perspective I was raised, that childbirth can be sacred, empowering, and, above all, normal? With caesarean rates reaching over 30% in parts of Canada, what are popular pregnancy guides saying about surgical births?

I won't give away my entire paper (please email my mum if you want a pdf copy,) but one conclusion I did reach after reading these popular books was that, on the whole, authors don't view birth as normal. They describe caesarean births as a medical solution to "pathological" pregnancy.

My first reaction was to get completely wound up and militant: "We've got to do something about this, mum! Our culture no longer cares about the natural processes of the body. We've turned into a fast food society that wants its babies to be 'delivered' from above. Yet all over the world women have babies at home with midwives, without medical interventions, and their births are statistically safer!"

Then I realized that there was a simple way to counter the line of thinking present in pregnancy guides. Use language as a tool to reclaim birth from degrading discourses. That's why I like the term "caesarean birth," as opposed to caesarean section, c-section, c-sec, or C, or capitalizing Caesarean. By changing the language we use, we change our mindset.

I've known my whole life that birth in hospitals or through surgery has the potential to be sacred and empowering. Mum helps make that possible with the language she uses -- clients reading this know what I mean. She translates medical terminology into something a woman and her body can understand. Using positive phrases and non-judging words, she attempts to take the fear out of birth and make it normal, relatable, possible.

Why can't pregnancy guides do this? Because in our North American culture, birth isn't normal, relatable, possible. And that's a load of bunk. Don't read them, just use them as doorstops (except those by Kitzinger, Gaskin, Gurmukh, and the Dr. Sears family -- they're a'ight). Just read books during pregnancy that shut off your thinking brain and allow you to listen to the rhythms and instincts of your body. Children's books and trashy romances work well.

Looking for literature in Tehran

AZADEH MOAVENI writes in the NYT book review about reading in Tehran. Most of the books are self help books dealing with Indian spirituality and feng Shui. After reading Lolita in Tehran, i imagined there to be a big reading culture existing there.

When I moved to Iran in 2000 to work as a journalist, I aspired to belong to a literary circle not unlike that of the engaged women of Azar Nafisi’s “Reading Lolita in Tehran,” who found relief from their authoritarian society in the imaginative world of novels. That bookstores did not exist as such — there were only bookstore/stationery stores, or bookstore/toy stores — was the first sign my plan might not work. I initially mistook Tehran’s most popular bookstore, with its windows full of weathered copper pots and other bric-a-brac, for an antique shop. Inside, the floor space dedicated to books was roughly a quarter of that taken up by kilims, cactuses and Lego sets. “I’m embarrassed to call myself a bookseller,” one store owner told me recently, gazing at the wall of Hello Kitty accessories that dominated his shop. In the hour we spent talking, customers came in to buy watch batteries, a condolence card, wrapping paper and a compass. Not a single person bought a book.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Pen World Voices

Pen has some great lectures that one can download.

flying birds

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Garhi artists at Triveni

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Crackdown on bloggers and academics in Iran

CM details the recent crackdown on Iranian bloggers Kian and Ali. Also U.S. Middle East analyst Haleh Esfandiari has been imprisoned by Iranian authorities.

Mere speech against some injustice, against some regime of intolerance or hypocrisy, for some right, for some freedom is considered dangerous, radioactive and inimical by totaliarianian agendas. Such speech normally resulted in the state condemning and imprisoning the speaker and swiftly creating an apporpriate counter-narrative for the publics [Faiz is in prison because he is a hedonistic commie who hates Allah!]. Speech silenced, injustice obscured, the machinery hummed along barely noticing the press releases or annual reports issued by the good people at Amnesty or Human Rights Watch - the world rather inattentive.

And while such speech still results in imprisonment, those times of inattention are now largely over. The crackdown on bloggers and websites in Iran, Pakistan or China is motivated by the state’s panic at the rapid rate of dissemination of facts and stories the state would rather keep locked up in high-security prisons. The web coverage catapults not only international attention by goverments and organizations - all those letters received and laborious visits to consulates - but more significantly, national attention. That quickly created counter-narrative can’t bear any scrutiny and even state-owned press would rather report on the latest dam-building effort on the River than spin the news that is now on BBC.

Friday, May 25, 2007

anti-anxiety medicine for women and big pharma

Alternet has an article on how big pharmaceutical companies are influencing healthy women to take drugs that they do not need.

Selling anxiety sells medicine. Drug companies know this and profit by it. But are women benefiting as much as the industry's bottom line?

The pharmaceutical industry spent much of its $4.2 billion direct-to-consumer advertising budget in 2005 on ads targeting healthy upper-income, middle-aged people. A common underlying message was this: you appear to be healthy, but a deadly heart attack, hip fracture, or other medical catastrophe could occur at any time. Therefore, you should take a prescription drug to prevent such problems.

For example, a long-running Merck ad featured an older woman with this message: "See how beautiful 60 can look? See how invisible osteoporosis can be?" and recommended that women ask their doctors about bone density screening. As a result, many women started taking Merck's drug Fosamax, even though the benefit may not outweigh the harm.

With such direct-to-consumer ad campaigns, which highlight risk factors and promote screening tests, drug companies move beyond promoting certain pills for treatment of diagnosed conditions to expanding their use in healthy people. And selling prevention through prescription drugs certainly does fill pharmaceutical industry coffers. Healthy people, preferably in early middle age, who can be persuaded to take a drug daily for the rest of their lives, are clearly the industry's most desirable customer base. But as a category, these people who are at low risk of having the problem the drug is meant to treat may still suffer a serious adverse reaction.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


Outlook has a good analysis of the recent Sikh on Sikh violence in Punjab.

Losing Their Religion?
There are an estimated 9,000 deras in Punjab, each headed by a baba or a sant

Dera Sacha Sauda is among the largest, with 40 lakh followers

About 80 per cent of Punjab's population patronises these deras, which are believed to corner 90 per cent of religious donations in the state today

All political parties woo the deras, which can influence large numbers of voters. In the recent assembly poll, the Congress' 12 seats in Malwa are credited to Dera Sacha Sauda

The deras sprang up in the aftermath of militancy, and their spiritual heads amassed enormous wealth when they got funds to rebuild gurudwaras

They make a special effort to woo lower-caste and illiterate Sikhs, and project an inclusive image

Deras now pose a major threat and challenge to the Sikh religious establishment

pondicherri is closing july 31 2007

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the end of an era Pondicherri is closing

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nyc rainbow

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tree trunk

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thumb nearby if needed

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Pehen taking a sip

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Guru Nanak's meher bhara hath may you always be protecting Mira

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free electricity

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Boza Aunty

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Neena Masi

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Toshi Masi

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Middle School chronicles

Middle School is a dress rehersal for life