If you think that you have just one life, think again. There's the life you think you have, the life others think you have and the life you really have- three lives!

Saturday, October 21, 2006


Congratulations to the UK for dismissing the claims of discrimination from Aisha Azmi's for unfair dismissal because she refused to remove her niqab (face veil) while employed as a techer's assistant at a Church of England school.

Read the story here

She was asked by school administrators to remove the niqab after some of her students claimed that it was difficult to understand her during English language lessons.

I used to be an English language teacher (many many moons ago) and I know that, when teaching phonetics and pronunciation, it is necessary that students are able to see your mouth movements.

Her story has sparked a huge and timely debate in the UK about the veil. What is really interesting is that she did not wear it when she had her initial job interview in front of a panel of men!

Now, I've said before that I fully support a woman's right to choose what she wants to wear- be that burqa or bikini- but I do not support the objectification of the hijab in its various forms for political purposes or personal agendas. If she can take it off for her job interview, why can't she take it off to teach her young students?

The comments by Muslims on this issue has been refreshingly reasonable with many agreeing with the court's decision and stating that the niqab is not mandated by Islam. Yay!

What really irks me though is some of the high and mighty responses from some Western women who refuse to recognise that the veil is often a woman's choice. To them the veil stands as the single, most potent symbol of gender based oppression while failing to recognise that, in the West too, many women are still fighting for equal rights.

The Western feminist discourse largely portrays Muslim women as unable to speak for themselves because of the repressive regimes under which they live. Thus the Western woman is bound to speak on behalf of her Muslim sister. This has effectively reduced Muslim female identity to an article of clothing.

The imagery is powerful. The veil is the shroud through which the muffled voices of Muslim women struggle to be heard. The emancipated Western woman seeks to symbolically, but also literally, “unveil” Muslim women as if somehow the act of “unveiling” will free them of the oppressive shackles with which they are bound.

Ironically, by focussing attention on superficial symbols such as the veil, Western feminist discourse serves to distract attention from the feminist objective of achieving fundamental social rights for women.

I welcome the open dialogue and debate on the veil but let's get away from the moral high ground that Western feminism propogates- let's keep this debate about the responsibilities that go hand in hand with rights. Women have a right to choose what they wear but a responsibility to exercise that right in the appropriate context. After all, Aisha Azmi would probably have received the same fate had she shown up to teach her class in a bikini.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

My Three Lives

Tonight I want to write about my three lives- the life everyone thinks I have, the life I think I have and the life I really have.- three lives.

Life 1- The life everyone thinks I have
This is my public life. A life where I am competent, diligent, professional, passionate, intolerant of incompetence and stupidity, prone to outbursts if work is not done properly, happy go lucky, committed to a cause. The life that people see at work, at University, at public functions.

Someone once told me that people find me intimidating because I seem to do everything so well- so perfectly. And yet- I don't feel like I do everything so well- so perfectly at all. I pond skim- that's what I do.

Life 2- The life I think I have
This is my private life. The life beyond the public gaze. Loving mother, devoted wife, dutiful daughter, caring friend, reliable sister.

It's the life of my waking day. My conscious life. My 'eyes wide shut' life. My driftwood life.

Life 3- The life I really have
This is my struggle. The life that creeps up on me in those minutes, hours, that I lie in bed at night before drifting off to sleep. The life of a thousand words, thoughts, ideas that live in the back of my head and that are screaming to get out. The life that hides in the shadows.

This life is full of self doubt, of questions I cannot answer, of memories that just won't go away and of secrets- big secrets- secrets too big for such a small life.

On my 25th birthday I cried. Not just shed a tear, I mean I really really cried. I cried because I realised that I had reached 25 and hadn't done any of the things I had hoped I would do in the heedy days of being a teenager, when I thought anything was possible. I hadn't written a book, I hadn't travelled the world, I hadn't forged a career in the literary world, I hadn't made my mark on anything. Instead I was in an abusive marraige, struggling with two young babies and emptiness.

Life happens. I know that now. And sometimes it gets in the way of all the plans you made when you didn't fully understand what life really was and how it could just happen right there in front of you and you'd never know. You'd never know until you woke up one day and thought to yourself 'how did I get here'.

I've embraced the tide of life since then and I've let the tide take me where it wants but I still struggle with a sense of urgency.

And I've started that book. The book about the life I really have.

Better late than never.