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Shamrock, Nawalapitiya. Nawalapitiya came up in colonial times as a town built around a British railway hub, as far as I can tell.

My grandmother grew up in tough times. She was born in 1926, whence ignorance was rife and widespread. Women died of childbirth because their families did not want them exposed to doctors who were invariably ‘strange men’. Babies were delivered by midwives who would walk straight in from the tea estates, and wouldn’t really bother with washing their hands. Umbilical cords would be cut with anything handy; yes that rusty old scissors will do fine. Unsurprisingly, infant mortality was high.

My great grandmother died of childbirth; her immune system was weakened and welcomed a fatal attack of malaria, which overtook her newborn as well. They remained at home until they died. Never seeing a doctor. My great grandfather was rich, but money had nothing to do with it. She was a woman, and in those times there were certain things women weren’t eligible for. He married again and his second wife suffered the same fate. (Nonplussed, my great grandfather married for the third time, but thankfully she survived. He had altogether 18 or 20 surviving children.)

A newborn came into a wild place. For every family sporting ten healthy children, there were two or three that died; still births, disease; people just took it in their stride. My grandmother delivered seven of her six children at home, but by her time she access to qualified midwives.

Of a keen intelligence is my grandmother. And she has a PhD, in the school of life. But in those days girls were not educated. Muslim girls, especially, were not exposed to strange eyes and they were mostly kept at home; one reason why she enjoyed school so much.

Because even though her father refused to educate her, her grandmother, who was another rock a linchpin just like my grandmother would become, would not stand for it. My great-great grandmother took over the care of her son’s first flock after their mother died, and with her the rules were somewhat different.

They were sent to school; the car and by extension wealth, enabled them to remain secluded. A cloth separated the rear and front so that the driver could not see them. But in those days they used to say; ‘girls need only be educated until they have learned to sign their name’ and eventually this saying came back to haunt my grandma as it did thousands of other girls at the time, and many girls to this day. She was taken out of school when she was fourteen, and at sixteen she was married.

This is slightly unbelievable now, but back then the bride and groom really weren’t allowed to see each other before marriage. The parents would close the deal, and my grandparents only met on the day of their wedding.

My grandmother didn’t mind, marriage offered the only way out of her secluded, pampered existence. It was only after marriage that she saw the world, spoke to people at large, and took a train ride. My granddad was in the Police, and they traveled far and wide for his work. My uncles, mother and aunt were born in places as diverse as Jaffna, Kalutara, Colombo and Nawalapitiya (which is where, decades later, I was born as well).

I like hearing stories from that time. Most of it makes me nostalgic, but some of it shocks, like the denial of basic rights of education and health to women, and the acceptance of this as a part of the cultural identity of being Muslim, carried out by people with good intentions. I guess its a testament to how far corruption can spread so as to seem normal, a lesson for today perhaps.

This ignorance was a sad reality of the community back then. But it is not a reality of Islam. Ignorance started to disappear as religious knowledge spread. And cultural practices long adhered to in an age where colonial invasion had all but destroyed active religious life (many would not attend Friday prayers, let alone pray five times daily), were slowly abandoned as the community gradually modernized. Back then going against customs so set in stone would have called upon the wrath of society, today Sri Lankan Muslim society accepts most of those customs as relics of an age of ignorance.

That is not to say though, that we are completely rid of faults. Muslims continue to do things in the name of religion that would make the Prophet (may peace and blessings be upon him) raise his eyebrows at the very least. We bicker and fight among ourselves, and we fail to stand up for justice. And yes some of our women still face abuse, even though that abuse may not always be in the same form the outside world paints it out to be.

These are not the faults of Islam, but they are the faults of Muslims, and not all Muslims either. We are much better than we used to be, but there are long ways yet to go. But there is hope for me in the story of my grandmother. Let’s have patience, and persevere.

islamophobia1

In this Daily News article penned by one Shenali Waduge on Muslims in Sri Lanka and why Buddhists should be scared of their ‘encroachment’, she displays a high level of confusion, connecting disparate events in the Muslim world (fabricating where it suits her), taking them out of context and then applying them to Sri Lanka.

Particularly absurd is her apparently iron clad statistical theory of Muslim’s 4 phased strategic and collective effort to ‘take over’ the locality, wherever they are, and install an Islamic ‘theocracy’ whatever that may mean.

Ms. Waduge, I WISH the Muslim community was as united as you appear to think it is. Even if you appear to think that such unity is always used for nefarious aims. I WISH our leaders were half as focused on the problems affecting the community as you appear to allude. At least you seem to have more faith in their selflessness that I.

While she appears to think that Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Gulf States are synonymous with Muslims everywhere in the world, as if they are the ideal representation of what Sharia law and collective Muslim life is like, when it suits her, she likes to equate all of us with ‘extremist terrorists’, taking an about turn, since most of these ‘extremists’ are extremely anti-Saud. I wish she’d make up her mind.

She also doesn’t seem to have heard of a little event they call the Arab Spring where millions of Muslims stood up to depose tyrannical rulers, oppressing them since their so-called independence from the West. There’s a lot of dissent against existing rule in Gulf States too, but this writer doesn’t seem too interested in specifics, sweeping generalizations are her forte.

Around 1400 people have liked it on Facebook. And at least two of them are people I actually know. This is almost as hard to stomach as the fact that this bit of rubbish journalism was actually published in the Daily News. Which, while not exactly a journalistic stalwart, is significant in its position as the closest thing we have to a state sanctioned English language newspaper; are we to assume that this anti-Muslim vitriol is also state sanctioned? Or at the very least published with the assurance that no one up there is going to seriously mind?

The Daily News is legitimizing this garbage by publishing it. Is this is a glimpse of the next wave of erosion in Sri Lanka’s print media, heralding the advent of anti-Muslim sentiment from the underground world of pithy Facebook groups and into the edges of the mainstream? Stuff like this is dangerous, when you have a climate of growing social unrest. People susceptible to hate are not going to verify things that confirm their bias, especially when it’s published in a leading newspaper.

Conspiracy theories that gain a widespread following don’t just pop out of nowhere. If anti-Muslim sentiment finds an ever broadening audience it’s because it actually perceives what it takes to be a very real indication of ‘Muslim supremacy’ happening in society. But this can be based on misinformation and bias.

I was chatting to Indi about this, and he talks about this a little in his post as well. He thinks Muslims have increasingly appeared to distance themselves from the rest of Sri Lanka. Case in point the niqab or the veil.

While I sympathize with his argument; I do think that without the veil’s modern connotations (a misconceived notion that it symbolizes gender abuse, repression and Islamic extremism) it would have been much easier for people to accept it as a personal choice of consenting individuals in society. Indi to his credit, doesn’t think this warrants racism against Muslims.

Halal food does not mean that some secret chemical compound is inserted into all items certified Halal in some underground plant in the Empty Quarter (although admittedly this would make for excellent dystopic fiction). Halal just applies to the way food is prepared, according to certain standards of religious guidelines which include hygene and ethics.

Paying to obtain the Halal certificate is a decision purely based on choice and the profit motive. No one is compelling anyone to eat Halal. There’s plenty of non-Halal choice out there. No one is shoving Halal meat down feebly protesting throats.

Quite the contrary to what Ms. Waduge states, non-Muslims have full legal rights in Sharia courts by Islamic law. In fact, just consider that in the UK, non-Muslims are also turning to Sharia courts to settle some disputes in certain cases. If anything, it is a parallel system of law, and does not contradict the integrity of the country’s main legal system in any way.

In Sri Lanka, Sharia courts are merely a legal support structure for the Muslim community. There are no widespread plans to convert everyone to Islam and forcibly make them accept sharia law. And neither is here any such thing happening in France, England or anywhere else with a minority Muslim population.

To dissect the full scale of half truths, convolutions, blatant fabrications and outright lies in Ms Waduge’s article would take reams of text, and the question arises if it is actually worth refuting, as most of what she says in my eyes reeks of hate-speech and blatant fabrication, hardly the sign of a person looking openly for honest feedback. But if anything, it’s a good place to go for to get a gist of the prevalent misconceptions that are driving this new wave of Sri Lankan Islamophobia.

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Today at the barbershop i had an epiphany about films. An old Sinhalese film, must have been from the forties, was playing on the small TV. The barber told me that those actors are all probably dead now. The move is called ‘Geetha’, the full credits roll by in the beginning, but there’s a short intro into the whole theme with a scene before that.

The son has just come from England. He sports a little Hitler mustache. He is wearing a dress shirt, pants and tie. The father is dressed in a suit. They are rich people. The mother is absent. She has apparently gone to yet another meeting of a ‘women’s club’. It is a habit of hers to throw away money on these clubs and receive high positions in them. She has taken the good car to go for a function now. The son ridicules his mother’s behavior and questions her objectives. The father says that he has no real say in the matter, since he is a poor man and his wife owns all the money.

Soon the mother returns, bearing a heavy basket of flowers which she was gifted at the event as the chief guest. The son accurately guesses that she must have donated ten thousand rupees to this particular event judging by the weight of the basket, which weighs ten pounds, and the going rate for gifts of flower baskets in return for donations must be a thousand rupees for a pound. This angers his mother. She is dressed in an immaculate sari and sports one of those elaborate 1940s hairstyles that curve around a woman’s face. Further argument is suspended when a worker from their factory comes calling, to tell them that his daughter is getting married. The worker is dressed in an old but neat suit and sarong, his wife wears a carefully preserved white sari.

They have obviously come to ask for financial assistance. but as custom dictates, they don’t say so openly. All pretension is to the effect that the visit is merely to ‘inform’ for propriety’s sake. The father invites them in, the son asks them to sit down. The worker and his wife sit with great hesitation. The father and son then ask some random questions like “where is the groom from?”. The groom is from Kandy and works in the civil service, apparently his salary will be increased once he gets married.

Further conversation is interrupted when the wife loudly calls the husband aside.

“What are these poor people doing sitting in our living room, she asks, “who are they?”

“He is a worker in our factory with his wife”, says the husband.

The wife becomes livid, “poor people have their place and they should not be sitting around becoming pally with the likes of us, have you no shame?”

“well, what do you want me to do?”

“tell them to bloody leave!” she yells, so loudly that the worker and his wife get up, startled, and make as if to go away.

The husband though, plaintively persists “his daughter is getting married, we should give them something, how about five hundred rupees?”

“Are you mad? We already pay them salaries and bonuses. Just give the man five rupees and send him off”.

At this moment, the wife sees some of her acquaintances from her club coming to pay a visit. She becomes alarmed. “Chase those two away at once, what will my friends think of me if they realize the kind of people we welcome into our house!”

The women have come to diplomatically elicit yet another donation, in return for which they will nominate the wife for a post in the parliament. The wife is more than eager to agree. And shells out ten thousand rupees, which must have been a thumping amount at the time, on the spot. Meanwhile the son muses on the fact that his mother loses no time in throwing away ten thousand rupees to become a ‘public servant’ when she can’t stand the sight of the general public inside her own house.

Who in Sri Lanka makes films like this anymore? All i see are movies aping Bollywood. And ‘comedies’ with jokes so lame they need crutches. Some might say that good films with strong messages do get made, but either they get no exposure, or there simply isn’t a market for them.So is something wrong with the Sri Lankan film goer? Have the people no more appetite to ponder ground realities like the class and political differences that underpin the way we live today?

Many Sri Lankans today are sold on cardboard dreams built on TV reality shows and dolled up movie stars. The typical poor Sri Lankan is caught up with the glamor of the rich, and wants to own it as soon as possible. So when he sees the politician roll by in his cavalcade of Range Rovers and matt black BMWs he doesn’t see a vile rogue who owes everything he has to corruption and abuse of power, he sees the epitomization of his own dream. The only way to stop being oppressed is to become the oppressor.

I saw this eyebrow raising advertisement today trying to sell fairness cream for vaginas or, so corrects my spellchecker, vaginae. What will these ingenious Indians think of next? Was going to blog about it but seems Indi has beat me to it. Also, the topic has caused some debate among the more figuratively enlightened as well, refer this hilarious post by Jezebel*.

Anyway, this led me down a train of thought that I’ve often climbed on before, but rarely sat inside until the last stop. Which was ‘Makeup and Fashion’. I heard somewhere that lipstick is mostly red because it mimics the color of a woman’s lips when she is feeling amorous. The same with mascara. And let’s not get started on that dusky affect your eye-shadow is supposed to produce. A lot of the fashion industry is aimed at beautifying a woman’s body, making it more appealing and sexually attractive to men/other women.

Seems to me that these things have accelerated the objectification of women, sexually or otherwise. If so, many women who champion freedom from objectification have failed to recognize their attachment to the very things that chain them. Is it plausible to expect general society to respect you for your intellect and personality when the first thing thrust at them are your aesthetic credentials? The mechanism should belie logic.

If you’re a militant feminist that walks around with no shirt and copious amounts of chest hair, you’re still not proving anything. Surely, a woman can preserve her dignity and grace while still refusing to be judged predominantly by her looks alone, and still progress independently in the world?

Because otherwise, we must all only be sexually charged animals. And fairness cream for ‘vaginae’ the next item in a long line of products (presumably originating in the sex industry) that seek to transform women into socially acceptable porn stars.

Hmmm…

*if the link doesn’t work, you can access the cached page here

I think the feminist movement is fantastic. Their primary objective is to get women on an equal plain with men because women are ostracized on a daily basis. They are put down, manipulated and crushed by a system that treats them like second class citizens. The movement fights for equal rights and justice.

In doing so, they set themselves a vision, a goal. An ultimate picture of what the most liberated woman on earth would seem like. A woman who is free to wear anything she wants, work anywhere she wants, and do anything she basically wants to do, aka Superwoman. But while having a vision is commendable, this fundamental vision of the feminist movement has got its wires crossed.

The ideal that they aim for is somewhat disconnected with their core purpose. They tend to confuse ‘injustice’ with ‘values’, and what they fail to realize is that society built up some of these values to protect women in the first place, and not to limit them. If any limitation occurs at all, they are caused by the inherent socio economic nature of our environment. Values are more of a symptom of injustice than the other way around.

On the issue of clothing. Most modern clothing and ‘hipness’ is designed to accentuate beauty. It is mostly to make a woman more desirable. Whether it be form fitting apparel or make up (red lipstick and a painted face are associations to a sexually aroused woman) to ‘sexy’ outfits that reveal more than they conceal, The fashion industry is all about making a woman look attractive.

Feminists rebel against conservative society’s tendency to look down upon provocative clothing, and at the same time they demand that men ‘respect them for who they are no matter what they wear’. The inherent failure in this approach is the failure to realize that conservative society has adopted such an attitude towards such clothing in the first place only because of perversion that males could potentially direct towards women. The values exist because of perversion. Take away the values and the perversion will remain, but take away the perversion and the values may disappear.

This perversion, it is true, stems from bad morals. But to fix the problem then we have to go into the deepest roots of our socio-political-economic-moral-biological state of being. If you find the solution to the problem of male perversion in the presence of rampant skimpily dressed females then you have arguably found the solution to all the problems on earth. You’re possibly then in heaven where everyone is naked and no one has a problem with it.

But back down in Earth, most of the oppression women put up with is due to the erosion of values. It is because of the lack of equal rights and share of voice for women that the justice system discriminates against them. It is because of lack of respect and reverence for women that crimes like domestic abuse and marital rape happen. It’s because of a lack of appreciation and a bias that they are less capable that women find discrimination at the workplace etc.

So correct me if i am confused but the feminist movement shouldn’t be fighting against values but fighting for them. And the feminist movement should be fighting against the objectification of women rather than upholding it as the pinnacle of achievement. This objectified version of the independent woman is a manifestation of decades of marketing and clever branding. And the feminist movement has bought into this branded image of Superwoman so much that they’ve confused their core purpose of liberating women with the obsession of achieving this Superwoman state; blind to the direct contradiction that it represents.

It is possible that my burgeoning understanding of the whole issue is pretty basic and that there is more here than meets the eye. Perhaps certain social ‘values’ by default degrade women. And i have failed to identify them in classing all ‘values’ as being inherently good. I may be like a bleeding carp in the ocean of feminism, more than susceptible to fatal shark bites. But i stick by what I’ve said here on the issue of clothing, nevertheless.

Freakonomics points to a study which researched why the Chinese save so much. Of all the more obvious answers that subsequent commenters on the post came up with (like economic prosperity, social values of thrift etc) they link it it to China’s one child policy;

Apparently

China’s “one child” policy, which created a huge surplus of men in the country, has driven up the cost of getting married, as more and more men compete for fewer and fewer women. To keep up, families with sons have been holding off on spending to save up wealth that boosts their children’s marriage prospects.

This leads one to wonder why there are fewer women in China in the first place, and research studies have attributed this to hepatitis B (but later dispoved by the same author), sex relative wage rates and sex selective abortion as a practice.

Also as it turns out, or as i just found out, Ben Bernanke has been saying the increasing rates of saving in other countries caused the US housing collapse. He claims that increasing savings in other nations along with liberalization and the removal of capital flow barriers created a disconnect between US long term lending rates and Fed Monetary policy.

A credible argument, but it still doesn’t explain how they could just let it happen, and the myriad other inconsistencies in the actions of the fed over the few years leading to the crisis.

From China’s savings to Missing women to the Global Financial crisis; This is why i like Freakonomics.

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