Saturday, 20 July 2013

Speaking with a Clear Conscience

"Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago." - President Obama

I must admit I wasn't one of those that was following the George Zimmerman-Trayvon Martin case or reacted when a verdict was reached because all too often the media tends to sensationalize matters.  Having lived in the United States when the O.J. Simpson trial happened in the 1990's, I've seen just the real issues can get missed out and how the media circus takes over.

In the Zimmerman-Martin case though, the media was clearing looking for a reaction from President Obama the moment a verdict was reached because this was probably the first landmark case related to race that has happened while he was President.  We've been used to seeing stalwarts like Rev. Jessie Jackson speak up over the decades but having a sitting President of African-American descent meant the stakes were higher this time.


President Obama though took this case in his own stride and let the hype die down a bit before making his own heartfelt comments on the case.  As we've seen on more than one occasion, President Obama hasn't looked to sensationalize matters when the iron has hot but has always let the dust settle before talking.  His approach has been pragmatic, often frustrating those around him.

I do appreciate the fact that when President Obama has spoken, it's been with a clear conscience.  He spoke yesterday with a handwritten statement where he spoke from his heart.  The impact of this is always greater and instead of politicizing an issue further as many others would, he put things in perspective.  I've not taken sides in the American political arena but appreciate it when a person in a position such as that of President Obama where to draw the line as to what is politics and what isn't.

If you haven't read or heard President Obama's speech, the following paragraph from the New York Times summarizes what he said in a nutshell.

But in the most expansive remarks he has made about race since becoming president, Mr. Obama offered three examples of the humiliations borne by young black men in America: being followed while shopping in a department store, hearing the click of car doors locking as they cross a street, or watching as women clutch their purses nervously when they step onto an elevator. The first two experiences, he said, had happened to him. (source: New York Times).


Thursday, 18 July 2013

Taking Pictures & Videos in the UAE - A Cultural Issue

There's been an uproar in the UAE in the last few days with regards an incident where an Emirati man was recorded on video attacking another driver.  The Emirati says he attacked the man because he drove after a minor accident and once he caught up to him, he did what he did and a lot of us saw it on YouTube with a video recorded by another motorist.

The motorist as it turns out has now been arrested for recording a video without knowledge of the Emirati man and this is against the law in the UAE.  The contention of Dubai Police is that the motorist who recorded the video shouldn't have shared it publicly, rather he should have given it directly to the police.

In this post, I'm not debate the merits of the case or passing any judgement here but rather talking about sensitivities that exist in this region with regards taking pictures or videos.  I've managed a photo studio and a business that distributed minilab equipment to other studios so I've been how culturally sensitive the topic of photo and video can be.

In the studio business that I used to manage, we used to do a lot of event photography and video recording.  When it came to doing events which were women-only, we had to ensure we used female photographers.  We also used women to do the editing and post processing of videos and pictures.  Even in our own studio where we had our own minilabs installed, we had to ensure that any screens, monitors or printers we had were positioned in such a way that no one other than our staff could view it.

Even at events where there were men or men and women, we've had to be sensitive as to which pictures were being taken as someone people are clearly not comfortable being photographed.  We have the respect the culture we're in and why this can become an issue.

For the minilab equiment business I ran, I remember we contemplated distributing photo kiosks that could be used within retail establishments or other public areas.  The problem that we could never get our head around was how do we supply this and yet protect the privacy of the person who is using the kiosk.  It is very easy for a passerby to see what was on the screen of the kiosk or what was being printed.  In short, we decided not to actively pursue this business.

I can understand why the laws state that taking pictures or videos without permission is illegal if seen from a cultural stand point.  There are though a whole host of cases where the validity of this law may be challenged as in this case.  We've all got our own opinions as to whether this is valid and while I'm not saying whether I support it or not, I just think we need to see both sides of the argument before passing judgement.

In case you're not aware of this case, this post from Alex Malouf nicely explains some of the background to this incident. 

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Malala Yousufzai: Inspiring, Courageous, Victortorious.

I remember that there was a boy in our school who was asked by a journalist, “Why are the Taliban against education?” He answered very simply. By pointing to his book he said, “A Talib doesn't know what is written inside this book.” - Malala Yousufzai

A weekend day in Ramadan can be very slow when you're living in a part of the world when most people observe the fast.  Often you end up watching TV, reading or getting your spring cleaning done (in the summer).

So on a lazy Friday afternoon, I was flipping channels on my TV when Malala Yousufzai was about to address the youth wing of the United Nations.  Sitting in to listen to her was the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon and ex-British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown who is currently a UN Special Envoy for Education.
Malala Yousufzai at the UN, wearing a shawl belong to Benazir Bhutto.
Little did I know how much I would be moved by this sixteen year-old who had just nine months survived a gun shut to her head fired by a Talib.  The maturity with which she addressed the audience would put most grown people to shame but after surviving an attack the way Malala did, she's probably reflected and pondered on what the value of her life is and what she can do with it.

There were so many great quotes from Malala's speech and I'd highly recommend you watch the video on YouTube if you can or read the speech in full.

Mother Theresa and Nelson Mandela are the humanitarians that this generation knows best but it is inspiring to know that there is another generation of humanitarians emerging.  Malala is just one shining example who managed to give a speech that tore down all the boundaries across religion, culture and other biases we keep in our minds.  No doubt she will do more than just give speeches in the future and she may be the reason we see more great humanitarians emerge.

Ramadan is a month of reflection.  No matter what your religion is, hearing words like this from Malala, makes you realize how petty we can be and how much more we could be doing.  If a sixteen year old girl from the Swat Valley in Pakistan can survive a gun shot and then come back nine months later to speak of what she can do for others who don't have access to education, why can't we make a change?

I was fortunate enough to watch Malala speak yesterday while my seven year old daughter sat at my side.  My daughter had a moment when the speech ended when she realized how lucky she is but how many more aren't quite as fortunate as her.

Malala, my blessings are with you in your cause and thank you for showing me what more we can be doing.

I've extracted below a few passages from Malala's speech yesterday but highly recommend you read or listen to the full speech.

Dear Friends, on the 9th of October 2012, the Taliban shot me on the left side of my forehead. They shot my friends too. They thought that the bullets would silence us. But they failed. And then, out of that silence came, thousands of voices. The terrorists thought that they would change our aims and stop our ambitions but nothing changed in my life except this: Weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born.  I am the same Malala. My ambitions are the same. My hopes are the same. My dreams are the same.
Dear sisters and brothers, I am not against anyone. Neither am I here to speak in terms of personal revenge against the Taliban or any other terrorists group. I am here to speak up for the right of education of every child. I want education for the sons and the daughters of all the extremists especially the Taliban.
I do not even hate the Talib who shot me. Even if there is a gun in my hand and he stands in front of me. I would not shoot him. This is the compassion that I have learnt from Muhammad-the prophet of mercy, Jesus christ and Lord Buddha. This is the legacy of change that I have inherited from Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Muhammad Ali Jinnah. This is the philosophy of non-violence that I have learnt from Gandhi Jee, Bacha Khan and Mother Teresa. And this is the forgiveness that I have learnt from my mother and father. This is what my soul is telling me, be peaceful and love everyone.
Dear sisters and brothers, we realise the importance of light when we see darkness. We realise the importance of our voice when we are silenced. In the same way, when we were in Swat, the north of Pakistan, we realised the importance of pens and books when we saw the guns.