On a street in Covent Garden my heart overflows with love and I stop and tell Ozy and Ely that I feel like they are my sisters. They hug me in the middle of the wintery rush hour and tell me in chorus that I am their sister.
They then look me straight in the eye and remind me that this is a serious moment, becoming part of a Persian family. At that moment I could not think of any other way of entering the future. The side-splitting and brain-melting delight of my sisters and their family and friends hold my life up in ways that shape much of my chosen family.
Hamida and I spoke about the importance of politics, faith and life all over the UWA campus over a cool decade, and I will be forever grateful for the invitation to a weekday Ramadan dinner that meant this extraordinary woman became a friend.
My head overflows with love when I see Hamida, because each time she stops to speak to me, she changes the course of my life for the better. So much of my intellectual life is stronger and better for her insight and generosity, for the changes in our own lives that we witnessed in each other.
While I was learning to be an artist activist, Marziya always had time to guide me and keep me on the path towards the intersections I needed to witness to be better. I learnt from her actions, her words, her networks, and I was safer in spaces because of her. When she takes the time to know what I have done with her wisdom, I am lost for words.
Rafeif and her trust and friendship is impossible to pin down. We live in so many different worlds together and apart, just hoping that words and intentions can get us through what needs to be done to make things better. And no matter what I could do, did do, I could not move the needle closer to safety for her, for all that it was one of the actual aims of my life.
These treasured humans, much missed when we are in different cities, beloved when on the phone or in front of me, subtle teachers in the art of knowing with empathy and intelligence, spend every day in a world that grows ever more dangerous because my peers and I cannot yet influence it enough to change that horrific trajectory.
It is an artificial trajectory, an ahistorical trajectory, manufactured by the internal fears of a few, absorbed by the many, illogical and infuriating. And always it is entirely overshadowed by the mighty hospitality and love that has been shown me by my chosen family from the great culture that keeps the light of thought and knowledge alive for me and everyone.
Today I want to thank every beloved human I know who learnt their grace and love from Islamic culture. I want to thank you for being a home for my historic heart, for being a fountain of intellectual growth, for helping me pinpoint my future plans. I am not the woman I am without your labour and love.
In 2014 I attended an exhibition in the Louvre called Medieval Morocco: An Empire from Africa to Spain. It was exquisite.
I was in Paris after a full two weeks in the great churches of York and Edinburgh (and Scotland from top to bottom) so I was a full bottle on the Celtic religious imagery, patterns and traditions stonemasons added to the invading Christian iconography of the churches they built.
I was not allowed to take photos in the Louvre exhibition, so I was diligently sketching shapes and designs from Moroccan mosques, when my eyes caught the most un-Islamic pattern I had ever seen in an exhibition of Islamic art!
In the middle of the geometry and calligraphy of Islam was the delicately rounded shapes and small flowers of northern Celtic worship, and I can assure you I had a full-body reaction to that pattern!
I felt a shiver run up and down my body, I quickly assessed every triangle in my eye line to confirm their lines and relationships, and then back to the clearly Celtic pattern in front of me. I sketched the carving, and then I just stared at it, mentally leaping back to sacked churches along Hadrian's Wall for reference.
Ever the storyteller, I was delighted with the historical possibilities presented to me - was it a stonemason from al-Andalus who had been to the cold isle to the north to learn new angles? Was it a Caledonian stonemason who had decided the mist was no longer their destiny, revelling in clear skies?
HOW DOES A CELTIC TRIANGLE WITH NORTHERN EUROPEAN FLOWERS END UP CARVED INTO THE STONES OF A MOSQUE OF THE MAGHREB?
It’s almost as if the world was full of cultures moving around in a glory of humans and thoughts, and had been forever …
The international trafficking in goods and ideas, which inspired cross-cultural art in the Age of Spices, transcended the differing ideologies of Islam and Christianity. The emphasis of Islamic aesthetics on floral and geometric motifs profoundly influenced global art forms, while Muslim artists readily adopted elements of foreign styles for local audiences.
Islam and Christendom both co-opted images of each other to support domestic narratives of cultural identity in miniature painting and engravings.
The Tampa: Defining the threat of the other
As a ‘multicultural’ country, Australia has a population of the peoples of the world, but is governed by an identifiably Christian, Capitalist, Anglo-Saxon power class. So while we should be a country that can claim fellowship with the world as we contain many representatives of that world, we instead are very clearly ruled by the ‘truths’ of our governing class.
In reading the letters to the editor I was able to identify certain prevalent themes that ran through the arguments on all sides. These themes can be directly linked to metaphors and narratives from within Australian society and especially from the governing class.
For ease of reference I will list the main themes so that I can refer to them later in the essay. The themes are ‘charity at home’, ‘White Australia Policy’, ‘invasion by others’, ‘do-gooders’, ‘legal solution’, ‘return to sender’, ‘independent nation’ and ‘political stunt’.
For this essay I have deliberated on how I am to refer to the people who seek to cross Australian borders, including of course those 450 people on the Tampa. I am what the writers in letters to the editor might call a ‘do-gooder’ and so I regard these people as refugees and asylum seekers and not as illegal immigrants with all the connotations of that label. And so I will refers to these people, genuine or not, as refugees.
The Importance of Being Earnest
At one stage during the afternoon, Adeeba was standing with Ely and Ozy and I, and she asked Ely if she was Muslim. Ely replied that she was, and when Adeeba looked at me, I asked her what I was. 'You are Christian because you are white' she replied, qualifying it a little by saying 'I have only met a few Christians with black skin.' And then Adeeba said something that made me sad. She told me that her father's car window had been smashed by white boys, but that her Dad was not hurt. And then she told me that 'a group of white boys had poked at Dad with a stick, but at least it was not a knife or he would be dead.'
"If none of us ever read a book that was 'dangerous,' nor had a friend who was 'different,' or never joined an organization that advocated 'change,' we would all be just the kind of people Joe McCarthy wants."These words are from a patriotic American to a country in the grip of a reaction to terror across the water. I would like to think that we can apply them to the global village of today, opened up by travel, communication and the media – we know that McCarthyism was a madness, we know that Hansonism was damaging, we know that Race Riots are shameful, we know that wiping out a continent of indigenous culture is genocide. These acts are a result of the ignorance of life in someone else’s shoes, a result of remaining safe in the confines of your own ideological comfort zone, of fearing to look over the wall between us and them and acknowledging that they have a right to their opinion and beliefs. I am not advocating the madness of total inclusivity that makes everyone special, which Dash in ‘The Incredibles’ points out, makes nobody special. I would like to think that just as they have a right to their opinions, so do we.
Edward R Murrow
We have an obligation, in this world of fluid media and easier travel and communication, to seek out the thoughts and ideas of the other, so we can hold our beliefs in true honesty. Continually seeking the opposition’s arguments, trying them against our own, and make the best decision we can on the validity of them prevents ideological stagnation and keeps your mind on the future. Just one ‘dangerous’ book, just one ‘different’ friend, just one idea for ‘change’ a year and you will be able to look people in the eye and state your beliefs knowing you do so in wisdom and not ignorance.
Bear with a Head Cold: Reprise
Where are the borders of rationality and emotion? Let's see; ruefully admitting 'we was wrong, evil, weak, racist and intolerant', check for emotion; all Muslims are the same, check for irrationality.
Where are the borders of rationality and emotion? Let's see; no Europeans are stupid, ignorant, religious extremists, intolerant, criminal and poor, with no family pride, the Muslims brought that into our great country, check for irrationality; all Muslims are to blame for terrorists that share their religious beliefs, check for irrationality; Europeans are being punished for the Holocaust; check for emotion.
Where are the borders of rationality and emotion? I don't know, right in front of us every day as people in every strata of life try to assert themselves with violence instead of reason perhaps.
Perhaps in the words pasted together by somebody who is using the argument that ALL of Europe was stupid, ignorant, religiously fanatic, intolerant, criminal and dismissive of familial safety to argue that ALL of Islam is likewise, coated in the inarguable emotion of the Holocaust to make it slide down a treat.
Bear with a Head Cold