belonging in the world

the brisbane writers’ festival has begun & today i went to two events: first a talk by writer/illustrater shaun tan, and then a talk entitled “girls and islam”. shaun tan is best known (in australia) for his illustrations of children’s books such as the rabbits (which featured in the 070707 UpStage festival) and his latest release, “The Arrival”, a beautiful wordless graphic novel. his talk was really interesting – from his childhood in perth where he was known as “the good drawer” at school, to his development as an artist and a glimpse of his creative process. his work often addresses the theme of belonging, the migrant, finding a place in a strange/alien world. the second talk, “girls and islam” began with a young australian islamic woman, jasmine kahn, who spoke confidently about how she does not feel oppressed as an islamic woman – which is all well and good for her as an individual but somewhat dismissive of the situation of millions of oppressed women (islamic and not) around the world. next a male phd student, halim rane, gave a potted history of islam, some of which was interesting, but too concerned with painting a rosy picture. for instance, in describing the spread of islam around the world in the years after the prophet mohammad’s death (c600-700s), he talked about other cultures “accepting” islam and how the islamic societies then built on the knowledge “left behind” by these other cultures and went on to make great scientific discoveries. later i spoke with a man in the audience who happened to be the colleague of halim rane, and he did admit that these cultures “accepted” islam because the choice was that or war, payment, or exile. the final speaker, nora amath, was more balanced in her views, and acknowledged that there is no islamic state in the world that practices “true” islam, suggesting that perhaps malaysia is the closest. she talked about the numbers of female engineers in iran, and how the koran gives islamic women all the same political, educational and economic rights as men (hundreds of years before western women could own property or vote). she said that women had always been able to be leaders (although she could only cite one historic example – the queen of sheba) and that the contemporary situation that has given rise to the likes of the taliban is a misinterpretation of islam. which of course we know, just as the corruption of christian, jewish and other religions is also misinterpretation of the essential teachings of these religions and greedy power abuse. at essence, most religions are the same: common-sense guidelines for people to live together in harmony, and a structured spiritual element. what fucks it up is greedy & selfish humans (usually the male variety) who use religion as a way to gain material wealth and power over others. which brings me back to shaun tan’s migrant characters – uprooted, embarking on an epic journey for a new place to make home, to start afresh, to belong – drifting like the spores of coral to hopefully take root somewhere and grow. sometimes it feels as though everywhere is a strange & alien world, but at the same time anywhere could be home – if we’re allowed to make it home.


Feeling at home

Hi Helen, I agree. I recently heard a long lecture on Canadian TV by a controversial Islamic reformer called Tariq Ramadan. He made quite an impression on me. He called for Western peoples and politicians to be prepared to tolerate states of prolonged, unresolved, deep, moral disagreement without resorting to ultimatums, coercion or mud-slinging. Because this is the only way to prevent killing and bloodshed (i’m simplifying- he talked for two hours!). He also emphasized the responsibility of immigrant populations to make their adopted countries their homes. And that means that we all have to be active at constantly renewing the places we live as homes- not waiting for it to happen for us. We need to look at the world around us as it is and work out what will make it work as home.