Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Racism part of our heritage, Cape Times?

Heritage Day today coincides with a horrible stand-off in an upmarket mall in Kenya, where the extremist group Al-Shabaab gunned down at least 62 people, and held hostages. It begs mention that although this grouping have adopted religious rhetoric, their aims and actions are driven by distinctly political intent.

The depiction by the cartoonist in the Cape Times on the 24th September 2013 regarding this incident distresses and disappoints me deeply. The cartoon, of demonic bearded men in turbans with their murderous shopping list and their gleeful anticipation of going on a shooting spree, is replete with contextual inaccuracies, racism and cultural insensitivity.

The majority of Al-Shabaab fighters are native to Somalia. Why would they be depicted as Arab or Middle-Eastern looking? Because that is the stereotype of what an "Islamic terrorist" looks like? Because it should reinforce the profile everyone should be looking out for? Is it not concerning that similar-looking peaceful Muslim South African men also frequently don the garb depicted?

It is often argued that taking offence to satirical representations of one's culture or ethnicity is just plain oversensitive, especially in South Africa, where the diversity of these elements necessitates a slightly thicker skin. This argument, of course presupposes that these representations fall within the ambit of acceptable commentary that does not marginalise any group, does not promote hatred or violence towards a specific group or does not alienate the group from the rest of the populace. Bearing in mind that Muslims are being profiled at airports internationally based exactly on the caricature offered by your cartoonist, that there has been a hate-murder of a man in a beard in South Africa on the basis of a perverted idea of what a terrorist should look like, and that even Hashim Amla was called a terrorist by an Australian commentator based on his appearance; it becomes clear that stereotypes of this nature are wholly and completely unacceptable. If you don't think Islamophobia is a problem in South Africa, I challenge you to check on South African news websites. The vitriolic hatred spewed out there in the name of anonymity is jaw-dropping.

As previously alluded to, this incident is of a distinctly political nature. The vast majority of the millions of African Muslims, and over a billion Muslims internationally, condemn in the strongest terms such acts of indiscriminate violence. It is fully understood and appreciated that these extremists need to be opposed on all fronts. Muslims in South Africa know this, and have already officially condemned this incident in the strongest terms. We also remind the media that the fight against extremism is also a fight for the symbols of our religion. The beard and turban is a venerated symbol of piety, peace, scholarship, love, patience, forbearance and strength. When a cartoonist collaborates with terrorists in usurping our sacred symbols, we cannot be silent. We will defend our heritage.

Will the Cape Times defend this racist filth as part of their heritage? Let's wait and see.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Exposing young Cape Town boys

I was scrolling through my status update feed yesterday when I came across a bit of a rant from one of my friends about a page that had been created called ‘exposing young Cape Town girls’ (I only use the full name now because the page was removed yesterday evening). Curiosity got the better of me; I navigated towards the page. What popped up was a profile picture of a young lady in a very compromising position, completely naked. Her face was not the only thing clearly visible, and the timeline was filled with other young women in similar positions.

Of course I was surprised to find this kind of content on an openly accessible site, but my surprise quickly turned to indignation, and then anger. Who would do such a thing to young women? I thought of the parents, the siblings, the partners. I thought of their futures of professionalism and perhaps motherhood… Why would someone punish them so disproportionately for a moment of vulnerability? It seems unlikely they were adult entertainment professionals; were these women coerced, under-age, intoxicated, mentally or emotionally compromised? There is an entire litany of reasons they could have had; which the sadistic, malicious ‘exposers’ may or may not have been privy to. The point is that it was wrong. And I took to my own status update to vent my feelings on the matter.

Many people agreed with me, but I found some nasty jibes coming through as well. ‘They are probably druggies’, ‘they deserved what they got’, ‘they have no integrity’, ‘they must learn the lesson’, ‘just exposing a spade as a spade’, and one or two other scornful comments hissed through the general collective outrage. Of course, these holier-than-thou, let’s-throw-stones arguments are quite easily rubbished in the context of such time-tested principles such as proportionality, non-prejudice and empathy. But I think these poisonous opinions are symptomatic of two larger societal issues we face, and these issues are at the forefront of preventing our advancement.

Issue number one: we still have a destructive tendency to blame the victim. Make no mistake; these women are victims of slander, libel, defamation, malice, jealousy, spite, cowardice and inhumanity. Yet we will blame them without any real knowledge. After all, we like blaming the victim, whether it is in the case of domestic violence, drug addiction or sexual crimes; we are far too willing to look at how the victim should have behaved to prevent the misfortune. Perhaps she shouldn’t have complained so much, she needed to be put on her place, he tried too hard to be cool, she shouldn’t have worn such tight clothes. While preventative measures are well-advised in general, to shift blame from the criminal to the victim is absurd. As if we should all just curtail our legally sanctioned liberties because bullies and criminals can’t control themselves, we cannot be held hostage. We have just emerged from an extensive campaign to stop sexual violence against women and children. Yet it feels like we have taken a huge step back.

Issue number two: double standards on decency. I would love to know why women are expected to maintain a higher standard of integrity than men, and if they don’t, they are bullied by both men and other women. Why do the crimes against decency perpetrated by women deserve to be ‘exposed’, when equal or worse crimes perpetrated by men go unpunished, sometimes applauded? Are we na├»ve enough to believe that those pictures were not in some way solicited? By emotional blackmail, reciprocation, lies? I think a much more extensive page would result if one scornful woman decided to populate it under the title ‘exposing young men in Cape Town’. A few years ago there was a spate of local sex videos doing the rounds. The reputations of many women were irreparably ruined, yet the men remained anonymous. They were often behind the camera, they were often one half of the act, they were often the instigators. Yet their reputations remained intact.

I hear the familiar ‘that’s just how it is’, and I cannot accept that. That is what the Germans accepted as millions of Jews were slaughtered in WWII. That is what many people of colour accepted as the Apartheid regime withheld their basic human rights. That is what we are accepting now as our society drowns in oppressive patriarchy and abuse of our women and children. We have to show zero tolerance to these misogynistic chauvinists. It is not okay to degrade the dignity of another person. We must stop going backwards in our humanity. Expose the real criminals.