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, 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

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Caught between a war and a cold place

In two years a humble revolution has turned into a raging war whose parties’ have become unrecognisable through the smoke of bombs and poisonous chemicals. For two years the world has watched and played the blame game, for two years Syria has bled.

In two years the United Nations Refugee Agency reports that over two million Syrians have been forced to flee their country, their status changing from citizen to refugee. 

Syria is now a battleground for the egotistical and the power hungry, for the religious extremist and the hired hit man. The rest has turned into rubble.

Lying in a warm bed one cannot shake off the image of the Syrian child who tries to fall asleep as the freezing wind cuts through his frail body. How can one enjoy this cool air wafting across the scorching Middle East after it has murdered children in refugee camps? 
Tattered tents are their shields against the harshness of winter, which seems to grow more ruthless as the years go on. 

In 1948, during the Jewish exodus approximately 725,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homes by Israeli forces, they tied their house keys around their necks and fled for their lives with hopes that one day they shall return, they never did. The world remained silent.

Today, two million Syrians have been driven out of their homes by the very people vowing to protect them and the world’s silence is louder than ever.

As politicians weigh courses of action against their political agendas the death toll weighs heavy on the conscience of the world. The once vibrant Syrian streets are now haunted by the souls of the innocent and the historic monuments that told of an unrivalled Arab civilisation no longer stand tall.

As refugee camps face one of the harshest winters in the region’s recent history it becomes ever clearer that international aid is an immediate answer but it is not the final one. The war in Syria must end, the people of Syria must return to their homes and begin to rebuild. 

Governments must seek a peaceful solution, for Syria has seen enough bloodshed. We have seen both the Iraqi and Libyan experiments fail as hundreds of people are still dying there every year, we have just become desensitised to the numbers. Military intervention and the injection of weapons only add to the conflict by creating more fighting factions than one can count, each with its own agenda. 
Political compromises must be made so that enemies turn into allies in order to create more pressure on the Syrian government to act. 

Until then, Syrians will continue to choose life over death. They will brave the bitter cold for the whiteness surrounding them remains gentler than the redness the artists of death chose to cover their homes with. They will continue to survive in the hope that while their winters might get colder, our hearts will not.

This article was published in The Gulf Today newspaper on 22 Dec., 2013

Arabic version of this article was published in Al Khaleej newspaper

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Broken hearts inspire minds

The creative mind is in constant search of emotion, forever on an insatiable quest to feel. If not for joy, a painter’s brush would never stroke a canvas. If not for love, musical halls would echo only silence and if not for heartache, one’s pen would never run dry. 

Of all the emotions a soul might experience it is the most painful that creativity craves. It is only when one hears his heart shattering into a thousand pieces that the urge to create seizes control. Loss, betrayal, a love that never was, all have at one point fuelled the talented, the gifted among us to create masterpieces some of which adorn the world’s museums today.  

Sylvia Plath penned her most memorable poetry, the words her entire fame rests on, only after hearing the shattering of her heart upon learning of her husband’s affair. She spoke of a burst of inspiration of which the source could only be the agonising pain of betrayal. 

The most famous of those who wallow in despair, the artist Edward Munch, painted many self-portraits but none reached the height of morbidity until he came to the realisation that he could never commit to the only woman he loved. From this suffering Self-portrait in Hell was birthed. A painting depicting Munch surrounded by flames, burning in an eternal fire of grief. 

The French author Stendhal was tormented by his unrequited love for a woman who treated him cruelly, for her he wrote his book De L’Amour (On Love) in an attempt to find logic in the illogical spirits of love. His lover’s ruthless rejection of his passion compelled him to dissect the anatomy of love. Having tired of looking for reason behind loving one who carelessly tramples over your heart, he finally wrote: “A very small degree of hope is sufficient to cause the birth of love.”

The world is strewed with monuments to loss, grief and guilt. The Taj Mahal is a wonder of our world, yet is it a wonder because it is unfathomable for us to imagine a love so great as to outlast life? Or is it so because we wish to believe that it could? Mughal emperor Shah Jahan built this magnificent tomb in memory of his wife so that she might be remembered till eternity, this monument took sixteen years to construct. The world believes it was built by love but reading Shah Jahan’s own words on the Taj, one could say it was grief that built the Taj Mahal and it was sorrow that saw it through sixteen years till completion.

Shah Jahan’s own words describe the mausoleum:

“The sight of this mansion creates sorrowing sighs; and the sun and the moon shed tears from their eyes.” 

People flock to witness this monument to love yet all that is truly there is the physical manifestation of love being overshadowed by sadness, for it is the feeling of loss that raised the walls of this world wonder.

We have reached the age of denial, we have become happiness seekers, afraid to feel. We are told to think positive, to seek only joy. Stores overflow with books selling you ways to rid yourself of ‘negative’ feelings. Assuming you could package and sell happiness and that indeed you can be taught to rid yourself of unwanted feelings, what happens to the process of creation?

What happens when we willingly diffuse the power of other emotions? It is unfair, one could even say naïve, of us to deem all emotions that do not leave us relaxed, negative. We must continue to build, paint and scribe, channelling the intensity of our pain and sorrow instead of allowing them to consume us.

Not intending to seem dark, but I am a firm believer that only when engulfed by darkness can we appreciate any source of light no matter how minute. I do wish you a lifetime of happiness but should the inevitable happen and sadness rears its head, I wish for you the strength to gather the scattered pieces of your shattered heart and a burst of creativity that shall bring you true fulfilment, who knows maybe even enrich our world.

This article was published in The Gulf Today newspaper on 8 Dec., 2013 
Arabic version of this article was published in Al Khaleej newspaper