December 30, 2007

Benazir - A Voice Silenced.

she's begotten
she's labored
she's oppressed
she's traded
she's violated

she cries
she pleads
she reveals
she debates
she protests

She isn't mute or a mutant;
Quite the intelligent being.
Why then the silence?
Not for lack of a voice
or for want of a cause.
Soundless those cries
of an identity undefined.
Who is she,
and why won't she be heard?
Does she pose a threat
as the voice of reason
in a world gone astray?

December 19, 2007

Ayan Hirsi Ali - A Controversial Voice for the Women of Islam?

Women of Islam, you have nothing to lose but your silence, and a world to enlighten!

I read Ayan Hirsi Ali's write up in the New York Times a couple of days ago, and much to my chagrin, I agreed with her on many points. Here is a woman who has lost credibility with the public because of her contradictory statements regarding her past. Despite being an ex member of parliament in Netherlands, and now a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, for most Ayan still remains under doubt. Having read her book The Infidel and knowing that she is now a part of a conservative think tank make us even more wary of her stances and her writings. Those of us in academia feel she lacks credence, as there is very little to document or prove what she says to be true. The ordinary man feels she is just a vocal minority making her claim to a few moments of fame, worried she may not get another chance. Those with Anti American feelings see her as a mouth piece for the USA, venting hatred against Islam. This list could be endless as there is so much flak against the controversial Ms Ali.

However, there is one thing that stands steadfast in her favor: that she is the one Muslim woman to have a view point about how she and other women in her community be treated. Credible or otherwise, she certainly speaks up when need be, even if it's under immense duress and fearful threats !

There have been the likes of Benazir Bhutto, Wafa Sultan, Laleh Sadigh, Shirin Ebadi, and Taslima, Nasreen, whose opinions get heard. But how is it that we only hear the voices of these few female celebrities out of our Islamic world. Where are the voices of the ordinary Islamic women? Mukhtaran Bibi's was perhaps one ordinary female voice we heard; a saddened and soulful Mukhtaran Bibi who apparently is not heard as often any more. There are some collective voices heard protesting out of Iran , but by and large the female world and its voices are unidentifiable and unheard! Are they even there, and if so why are they forever quiet? Are they mute, or muted? Do they want a voice or have they resigned to being spoken for?

We may not agree with, or believe what Ms Hirsi Ali says, but at least we know she has a voice that she makes heard when she pleases. But as for the rest of them, can we hear what they have to say? Will they please speak up for themselves. Why must we always hear them through our male counterparts? It's not that our women lack the ability or the expertise to articulate their thought; afterall, they come from the gene pool of Ai'shas, and Nurjahans! Why then the silence?

December 06, 2007

Isabel Allende's "Portrait in Sepia" - A Self-Discovery in Part (s)?

A 'sepia' portrait no doubt! Isabel Allende once again rakes up a history to bring focus to a blurry present; this time to the identity of Aurora De Valle, alias Lai Ming, the photographer protagonist of Allende's 2001 novel Portrait in Sepia, originally written in Spanish and translated into English by Margaret Sayers.

Allende's last novel that I read, My Invented Country, was an amazing journey into nostalgia, however, this time even though Allende's heroine embarks on a journey into her past, the revelations that it brings are certainly not nostalgic. It is a flagellation of sorts that tears up the protagonist in more ways than one. Does that make the novel a tragedy? Well, that's for you to read and figure out...

Aurora's journey of self realization takes her across continents: China, USA, and Chile, and it is to Allende's credit that she weaves a historical/social context around each of these settings. For instance, China Town in California, the home of Aurora's maternal grandparents, is also the setting for flesh trade and child prostitution. Chile, where Aurora grows into womanhood, is embroiled in military aggression against Peru and Bolivia; suffering and death are a permanent backdrop in Aurora's canvas.

As for the title of the novel, one which piqued me no end... 'sepia' apparently is a "brassy antique color-effect, characteristic of old photographs". It is therefore, no wonder, that Allende titled Aurora's voyage of self discovery as a Portrait in Sepia. Given Aurora's passion for photography combined with her dire need to find herself, the title becomes a perfect fit. Were it a painting instead of a novel, the yellowish brown tone, the sepia, would intensify as Aurora delved deeper into her past; after all it's our heritage, our past , that lends hue, color, and dimension to our present. Also, a sepia portrait holds a mysterious, old-world charm, and I think in this novel that was Allende's intention, "because things are so ambiguous in that sense, so delicate and so unfocused...You don't have to decide anything. Things just are, and you somehow float or ... you are just there. In a very, very delicate form", quite like a portrait in sepia.

Isabel Allende's Portrait in Sepia reads like any decent historical romance, and it will, perhaps, not make it into the category of 'Great Literature', but anyone who enjoys reading will not regret having picked this one up.