Aysha Taryam's books on Goodreads
The Opposite of Indifference: A Collection of CommentariesThe Opposite of Indifference: A Collection of Commentaries
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Sunday, 24 May 2015

Judgment Before Justice

In 1973 India, a young nurse was brutally attacked, raped and left for dead at the hospital in which she worked. This monstrous attack left her in a vegetative state after being strangled by chains which cut off the oxygen supply to her brain. Her struggle began on that day and lasted 42 years. Aruna Shanbaug was 25 years old and engaged to be married, she was a bright nurse who cared for patients as if they were her own family. 

This crime was not registered as a rape by the doctors at the hospital for fear of it bringing shame to Aruna, it was a case of robbery and attempted murder as far as the courts were concerned. The monster (for no other word comes to mind) who committed this heinous attack was sentenced to seven years in prison, meanwhile, Aruna was sentenced to a lifetime of suffering. She remained in the hospital in which she used to work, cared for by the nurses who were once her colleagues. Every seven years or so the hospital would suggest freeing her bed only to back down after these nurses held a protest on Aruna’s behalf. The juxtaposition of this story reflects human nature at its best, the monsters that dwell among us and the angels who are there to ease our suffering, humanity is an ironic thing.

Aruna Shanbaug died last week. Forty-two years her fragile body lay on that bed, eyes open through the pain, silent, ageing. Those years should not be dismissed, Aruna survived to remind us that rape is not a crime like any other, rape is murder. The violation of one’s dignity and the vile inhumanity of the act leaves its victims alive yet dead inside and Aruna was the physical embodiment of that feeling. For 42 years she remained in order for us to witness that the scars these ‘crimes’ leave behind never fully heal. They never go away. 

Societies have a peculiar way of relating, or more accurately non-relating, to rape maybe because it is so vicious, they choose to live in denial about it. With no other crime do people associate shame to the victim except with rape, why is that? Forty-two years on people are still debating this question. Society’s view of rape must be altered in order for laws to be enforced and severe punishment implemented. To this day, all over the world the victim of rape is not seen as just a victim. Questions linger around how the rape victim brought it upon herself, dissection of her background and attire takes place as if to look for any evidence that will assign a shared responsibility for the crime. There is nothing being shared, there is only something being taken, forcibly and without mercy. There is no rhyme or reason for such monstrosity, such darkness. It is all around us and it must be eradicated not excused.

There is no point of relaying statistics on rape because for every figure given there are thousands missing, unreported. It is a shameful state we have created where a victim chooses to endure the pain and suffering, silenced by fear that judgment will come before justice.

For every Aruna story we hear there are hundreds of thousands that will never be heard, swept under the great rug of shame societies have so eloquently woven. It is up to us to speak up, to lift this heavy rug and reveal the ugliness it conceals. It is up to us to teach our children not to be afraid and to defend instead of condemn. Governments must be forced to take great measures in ensuring that this pandemic is wiped out through stricter laws, education and awareness campaigns. 

Viciousness is part of the world we live in, some of us choose to ignore it with the rationalisation of wanting only positivity to flow our way. How selfish we have become! That the pain of others has become a hindrance to the fulfilment of our positive selves. Turning one’s head away from the world’s darkness does not make it disappear, facing it head-on does.

This article was first published in The Gulf Today newspaper on May 24, 2015
Arabic version of this article was published in Al Khaleej Newspaper

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

The Cyber Cemetery: A virtual headstone for each one of us

IF you can imagine a world before the Internet you would picture a place where your thoughts belonged to you alone, a world that is governed solely by your physical presence. To be heard in this world you were required to prove you had something worth listening to and only if you were talented enough, well versed enough and committed enough would your thoughts garner an audience. Through this meticulous journey towards making your voice heard you must have weighed and measured every word before it was uttered, every action before it manifested. Through this examination of one’s self you would’ve eventually etched your legacy, one that will remain long after you have gone. 

If this virgin world seems more like fiction than reality, you are probably one of the many who have grown accustomed to the ease with which sharing your every passing thought with the world has become. These thoughts will never know the struggle of being caged and your voice will never feel the strain of continuous shouting. This schizophrenic world requires us to live in two separate spaces, one physical and the other cyber. Many of us fail to make the connection between the two, losing ourselves in this newly formed identity we choose to project. In this world where I sit at my desk writing these words, people die, they pass on, people are mortal. In the cyber world we inhabit they do not. The immortality of one’s social media persona is real, for we leave behind years of comments, images and interactions that can never be taken back.

According to a report recently released by the research firm Internet Monitor, dead users of the social media world will soon outnumber those of the living. It estimates that at the moment there are some 20 million Facebook profiles that belong to people who have passed on. Through social media one becomes immortal, he continues to be. 

These sobering figures are worth reflecting upon if only to reassess our online footprint. Does the social media persona you control reflect how you want to be remembered? 

The spontaneity with which we tend to share our musings with the world makes our online person more prone to spreading hasty generalisations and at times even hateful comments. The false security the glaring screen provides allows us to let our ugliness through. And the fact that this haste, hate and ugliness will remain floating through cyber space long after you are able to defend it is reason enough to make us take a step back from our keyboards and smartphones. 

After meeting many of my social media friends in the world of the tangible I can safely say that for some, their online personas do not do justice to their real life selves. I have come to realise that the most critical of the social media accounts are the least verbal in real life and I can assure you that most social media trolls have no physical troll land to dwell.

As this cyber cemetery grows bloated with people’s endless thoughts, existing in a virtual limbo, we must do ourselves justice and try as best we can to be true to who we are. We must find a balance between our real selves and our cyber ones for, like it or not, it is the legacy we will leave behind. Make it one that you wish to be remembered by, one you would be proud of for it will be the shrine your loved ones will visit when their longing for you becomes at its heaviest. 

Your words will continue to live, make them count. 

This article was first published in The Gulf Today Newspaper, March 10, 2015
Arabic version of this article was published in Al Khaleej Newspaper

Sunday, 6 July 2014

The World Cup: A weapon of mass distraction

Most of us might know Albert Camus as the French-Algerian novelist and philosopher whose arguments on existentialism transcended his time. We know him for his ability to force readers into facing the harshest questions and looking morality dead in the eye. One would find it somewhat strange to classify Camus as a sportsman as well, but that he was. Camus was a goalkeeper for his university team in Algeria who was inspired by football and the sense of responsibility it bestows on each player. Standing solitary between the goalposts Camus reflected on his absurd position of being at no fault if his team scores but fully to blame if the opposition did and is quoted to have said, “All that I know most surely about morality and obligations I owe to football.”

I can relate to Camus’s appreciation for football for I too am an avid fan of the sport who revels in the poetry and artistic intellect of the game. I find the camaraderie that football brings to people from all walks of life inspiring. But every four years, when the biggest celebration of football takes place in the form of the World Cup, the true lover of the sport is no longer necessary and the football connoisseur feels outnumbered. Because for one month every four years, regardless of your passion for the sport or even your knowledge of the game’s rules, you find yourself entranced by the events unfolding as nations compete for one title. 

It is quite frightening to be able to create an event that transcends cultural and religious barriers, speaks to all ages, and overcomes gender differences. An event, which has the ability to keep the whole world captivated, one that is designed to be a psychological weapon of mass distraction. 

As the hypnotised masses have their heads turned towards television screens and their voices raised to cheer on their favourite teams, they would like to believe that there is no world outside the borders of the cup-hosting city, yet the world still moves.

The first World Cup was held in 1930 and has been played every four years ever since. As far as the history books have recorded there has been a great political movement shaking the world while these World Cups were being held. For the sake of this argument I wish to go back thirty years or so and bring to your attention the events that have unfolded in the Middle East during these cups. 

In 1982 the World Cup was being held in Spain and in that same month the Lebanon War began. As the fires raged in Lebanon the world screamed and hollered, not at the sight of the Israeli forces invading Southern Lebanon or at the sheer injustice and agony, they cheered for Kuwait’s team appearing in the World Cup for the first time and hollered as the Algerian team was knocked out from the first round. In 1982 Lebanon was at war and Italy won the World Cup.

In 1990 the World Cup was being held in Italy and I recall this one vividly for the United Arab Emirates team was making its first appearance in the World Cup. That year Iraq invaded Kuwait and the seeds of war were planted in the Gulf, changing the way we view our region forever. West Germany won the cup and the Arab world lost the war.

In 2002 and on the first day of the World Cup being held in South Korea and Japan Israeli troops entered the West Bank through Nablus as the Arab world cheered for the Tunisian and Saudi Arabian teams and the rest of the world fixated on the excitement they have been waiting for for four years. Brazil took that cup.

In 2006 Germany hosted the World Cup and Israel launched Operation Summer Rains as it hailed attacks on the Gaza killings and injuring innocent Palestinians in its wake, Italy won.

In 2010, South Africa hosted the World Cup, meanwhile the United States was backing Iranian protests against then Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad where hundreds of protesters fell victim to military violence. Iran was being represented in the World Cup as their team wore green wristbands in solidarity with the opposition movement, the world complained about the annoying sounds of the vuvuzelas. Spain won that title.

And here we are today, 2014 and Brazil is hosting this World Cup. We find ourselves once again being held captive by the exhilarating atmosphere and the great football being played. We got caught up cheering our only Arab representative in the World Cup, Algeria, meanwhile Iraq is being swallowed up by the worst case of extremism we have seen yet and succumbing to vicious sectarianism that is ripping it to shreds. 
Israel is on the offensive once again threatening to bomb Gaza, the reasons are many, proof is optional and the result is one.

Who will take this World Cup is yet to be seen but the one thing we know for sure, if history has anything to teach us, is that some huge political plan is being hatched to be deployed four years from now as we settle in to watch the next World Cup hosted by Russia.

This article was published in The Gulf Today newspaper on 6 July, 2014
Arabic version published in Al Khaleej newspaper

Sunday, 29 June 2014

A beacon of hope amidst the hopeless

On a plane headed back to the United Arab Emirates I found myself staring at the airplane’s route map, and as the tiny plane icon inched its way across I couldn’t help but sigh at the state in which all the Arab nations we flew over are in. All the bloodshed, suffering and mindless wars, all that sectarianism, extremism and hate we were flying over.  If I closed my eyes I could almost hear the sobbing of the Iraqi mother and the sighs of the Syrian refugee, I could swear I heard the cries of help from all the helpless souls of my nation. 

Yet as my plane hurtled through their dark skies, parting the clouds above their heads and leaving behind nothing but a trail of smoke, I realised that I am the one who is truly helpless. For I cannot wipe the tears of that Iraqi mother nor can I console the Syrian refugee. I cannot bring back this woman’s child or make a promise that this man will return home once again. I can only write of their sorrow and remind you all that their grieving souls need our voices to speak for them. 

Touching down on this great land, which stands as a beacon of peace amid the chaos, I pray may God bless the UAE and all the people who have chosen to make it their home and protect the Arab world.Palestine, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Lebanon and Yemen... our Arab nation is haemorrhaging before our eyes. We continue to watch as great plans of divide and conquer are being realised and remain helpless as people of this great nation are being dismissed as collateral damage. Civilisations have been demolished and culture is being desecrated faster than I can write these words. The horror of it all is paralysing and yet we should not be still. We must act, we must shout and bring aid to those of us who suffer, for the pain of our fellow Arabs is bound to hurt us. We are one for better or worse and that should always be where we stand. 

As my plane approached its final destination and I glimpsed the flickering lights of my home I heard the words of its founder echo. The late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan was the man who believed in unity and built his country as an example that such unity can be harmonious as well as powerful. The United Arab Emirates today stands monument to his words, “We believe in National, Gulf, Arab and Islamic unity. There is no doubt that our faith in the power of unity shall not waiver.” 

Landing in the UAE fills me with hope, for this country along with its current leadership continues to heed Sheikh Zayed’s words, coming to aid all those in need. 

In 2013, the UAE has jumped 18 points to become the world’s largest donor of official humanitarian assistance, actively supporting its Arab neighbours and the rest of the world. Proving that it is not the geographical size of a nation but its intentions that dictate its place in history. While some nations in the region continue to meddle in other countries’ affairs spreading hatred and inciting holy wars, the people of the UAE and its leadership carry a message of peace and respect for all faiths at a time when such ideas seem far-fetched. The general outlook of the UAE is to fight this hatred with productivity and put out the fires of destruction with a flood of hard work and resilience. 

The UAE’s footprint has been a positive and productive one, holding on to the dream of true Arab unity that rises above corrupt political agendas and financial gains, Arab unity that stems from mutual respect for one another and the realisation that no amount of weapons or fleeting alliances can bring absolute power like the one which unity provides.

This article was published in The Gulf Today newspaper on 29th June, 2014
Appeared in Arabic in Al Khaleej newspaper here 

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Farewell my father

Forever has the pen been the crutch I leaned on, the sword I fought my battles with, today I curse it. I curse the pen that is forced to write these words too soon. The same pen you put in my hands and taught me how to use is now bidding you farewell.
I search for the words to describe my sorrow, to make meaning of the emptiness but I fail. I fail because the words are no longer within me, I search for them and find them all around me flowing from the masses that have come to pay respects to a man they once knew, a man who has at one point touched their lives and helped change them forever.

Through teary eyes I hear stories of the man you were and I realise that it was not only me who has lost a father, an entire nation did. People from all walks of life speaking in different tongues told of your generosity, your patriotism, your wisdom and love for life. Each one of them came holding within a memory, a story, a moment that will live with them forever. For that we are grateful, for it assures us that you are in the hearts of all who knew you and in the minds of those who did not have the chance to.
Throughout my childhood I heard you speak of the importance of Arab unity and witnessed your sleepless nights over its slow deterioration. During our time together you instilled in us a love for this country that shall never falter. You spoke of your time with its founders, explained how the United Arab Emirates was birthed against all odds and insisted on the grave importance of protecting this nation at all costs. You loved this nation until the day your heart gave out and I can only hope you are able to see how much the nation loved you back.

The Arab world mourns your death and feels burdened by your loss for you were one of its greatest fighters and its strongest voices.

You were the patriot who gave his entire being to the foundation and future of this great nation. You were the man who fought to give a generation of women an education. You were the man who penned the truth when our world was surrounded with lies. You were the patriot who wanted nothing more than to see the Arab world united and flourishing.

Amongst all the responsibilities you shouldered and the endless quest to uphold the media ethics you respected, you were ever present as a father. You never failed to notice the slightest grimace on our faces, coming to our aid with your witty sense of humour and warm embrace assuring us that all will be well.

You made sure that you were never absent, our daily conversations and light banter were your most cherished moments. You always said family comes first and we are forever grateful for that.

Your legacy will live on within us and through the work your beloved Dar Al Khaleej will continue to give for years to come. We will carry the torch and run with it to the ends of the earth for there is no better way to show you that our hearts grieve your loss every day but to live by your ethics and shout out your beliefs. Your words of wisdom and advice, your political and media prowess have been instilled in us and with them we shall continue on the road that you have paved.

Farewell my father, my mentor and my best friend. You are never gone for you are in our hearts and the hearts of all who knew you. You are here, heart and soul. Thank you for all that you have given us and all that you continue to give in spirit even after you have gone. 

Rest in peace my father, may you find in heaven your eternal resting place.

This article was published in The Gulf Today on 9th Feb. 2014

And Arabic version was published in Al Khaleej newspaper