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Category Archives: inspiration

NSW Schools Spectacular – ABC TV

Every year I blog this, and every year I am amazed by this show put on by our NSW State Schools. Such talent! Such achievements! Such dedicated and brilliant teachers must be behind it!

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Those  captures from my TV give some idea, but for more go to the Schools Spectacular site.

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The inspirational Muhammad Yunus

Here is a clear case of the importance of rejecting group-think, stereotypes and prejudices about Islam and Muslim people. Andrew Denton interviewed Muhammud Yunus on Monday. See also: Meet the New Heroes and the Yunus Centre:

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ANDREW DENTON: Your dad, have I got his name right? Doula Mia?

MUHAMMAD YUNUS: Doula Mia, yes.

ANDREW DENTON: You described him as, you were what you were largely because of him. What was it he taught you?

MUHAMMAD YUNUS: Well he didn’t have much education, he went to school up to eighth grade, my mother went to school to about fourth grade. But he always wanted his children to go to school. He valued education very much, so every single child he wanted to put in school and kept them in the school. Usually in a business family of that level they always want to get their children to come and work with them, expand the business and so on, but my father never tried to do that. My father always said "No no, don’t waste your time, you stay in school and continue with your education". So that was very important. He was a very religious person.

ANDREW DENTON: He did the Hajj I think three times didn’t he? He went to Mecca three times.

MUHAMMAD YUNUS: Yeah, that’s right, he performed his Hajj.

ANDREW DENTON: What’s your memory of him going doing that?

MUHAMMAD YUNUS: Well, at that time going to Hajj was a big thing because there was no plane to take you, so you go by ship. So for them it’s a big journey to go and we, as kids, we waited for all the gifts for us, when he gets back.

ANDREW DENTON: Like kids everywhere.

MUHAMMAD YUNUS: Like kids everywhere, yeah.

ANDREW DENTON: What sort of gifts would he bring back from the Hajj?

MUHAMMAD YUNUS: From Hajj he’d bring … dates, this is a very favourite one so we would like to wait for them and lots of trinkets for kids… even the coins, we loved the coins he would bring for us, the coins of another country, so that’s another attractive thing for us.

ANDREW DENTON: So exotic.

MUHAMMAD YUNUS: Exotic, yes…

 

Zimbabwe

While we all wait here in Oz to see how the Liberal Party’s three ring circus pans out – see entry above – I thought I’d mention a story I caught on BBC World Service last night. I went straight to the relevant site this morning.

Washington, DC – President Barack Obama and Ethel Kennedy presented Magodonga Mahlangu and her organization, Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA), with the 2009 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award this evening at a ceremony in the East Room of the White House. The Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award annually honors courageous and innovative human rights defenders throughout the world who stand up against injustice, often at great personal risk.

“By her example, Magodonga has shown the women of WOZA and the people of Zimbabwe that they can undermine their oppressors’ power with their own power — that they can sap a dictator’s strength with their own. Her courage has inspired others to summon theirs. And the organization’s name, WOZA — which means “come forward” — has become its impact — its impact has been even more as people know of the violence that they face, and more people have come forward to join them,” said President Obama.

The event, sponsored by the RFK Center for Justice and Human Rights (RFK Center), also included remarks by Kerry Kennedy and a tribute to Senator Edward Kennedy, an RFK Center founding board member from 1968-2009. RFK Board Chair and former Chair of the Massachusetts Democratic Party Phil Johnston, introduced the President. Over 200 guests including First Lady Michelle Obama, Administration officials, Members of Congress and the Washington diplomatic community attended.

WOZA is a grassroots movement working to empower women from all walks of life to mobilize and take non-violent action against injustice. WOZA helps its members to stand up for human rights and speak up about the worsening economic, social and political conditions in Zimbabwe at great personal risk. Since its founding in December 2002, WOZA has staged hundreds of peaceful marches in support of democratic reform and women’s empowerment. The Government of Zimbabwe has jailed Ms. Mahlangu along with WOZA founder Jenni Williams over 30 times and thousands of WOZA members have spent time in police custody.

“Arrests do not deter us because WOZA has empowered us to believe that we deserve better. We deserve to have a roof over our head, food in our stomachs, our children in schools and the nation working”, said Ms. Mahlangu. “We deserve to live in dignity and free from fear; and it is our right to have our voices heard and respected. That is why I joined WOZA. While Mugabe boasts of having degrees in violence, I and 75,000 WOZA members who stand beside me, have degrees in non-violence.”

“We are not fighting a revolution in Zimbabwe, we are leading an evolution. And civic education is our tool to evolve the hearts and minds of Zimbabweans to build a strong, new, African democracy where respect, tolerance and accountability are key”, said Jenni Williams, who accepted the award on behalf of the organization.

Williams added, “Mr. President you know how invaluable community mobilizing can be. We have learnt that knocking on doors, talking with and listening to people is the way we can rebuild our nation. We call on you, to support community mobilizers who are organized to empower Zimbabweans to deliver change from the ground up.”…

For more inspiration go to BBC and read about the writer Petina Gappah.

 
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Posted by on December 1, 2009 in Africa, amazing, human rights, humanity, inspiration

 

Communication, Education, Respect

“Those are the only three words in my dictionary,” Aunty Beryl Van-Oploo, an Aboriginal Elder originally from Walgett told me today when I interviewed her for next month’s South Sydney Herald.

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Arriving in Sydney in 1958-9 to be a nanny to an Eastern Suburbs family she pursued her dream to achieve all three and to return her education to her community. She still has good relations with that family. “I had to learn to read, being a nanny and the kids going to Sydney Grammar…”

You’ll have to wait for the South Sydney Herald article for the rest.

Now her dream is a reality as she cofounded, through a training and employment initiative of the Redfern Waterloo Authority, Yaama Dhiyaan Hospitality Training College.

Our Name
Yaama means ‘welcome’ and Dhiyaan means ‘family and friends’ in Aunty Beryl’s Yuwaalaraay language of the Gamillaroi people of north west New South Wales.

Our Logo
The emu design was chosen as it is the totem of the Gamillaroi people. The emu design was based on an Aunty Elaine Russell design and developed by the artist Marian Aboud.

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“We can’t forget our past,” she said, reflecting on some of the hard things, “but you’ve got to move on for the sake of future generations.”

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What an inspiration she is!

 

Reading several books at once may do your head in…

… or it may set up a rather interesting and unexpected harmonic.

The three books in question are:

All three are well worth reading. 

I give Armstrong five stars more as a history than as a work that is entirely convincing theologically – it is if you agree with her, which I am inclined to do, but even so I still take the Axial Age hypothesis with a grain or two of salt. What is good in this wide-ranging work is the fresh insight it has afforded me into unexpected and often hitherto unexplored parallels in the thinkers and prophets of the ancient world in Greece, India, the Middle East and China. Armstrong is no fundamentalist; her very respectable scepticism on the historicity of much of the Bible as “fact” bears witness to that. On the other hand, her opposition of mythos and logos will not appeal to everyone, even if I think there is much to be said for it so long as one realises it has the weakness of all such dichotomies. Religion to Armstrong is not well served by being treated as logos. Paradoxically that is what fundamentalists tend to do. Mythos reminds me more than anything of John Keats and “negative capability.”

I had not a dispute but a disquisition with Dilke, on various subjects; several things dovetailed in my mind, & at once it struck me, what quality went to form a Man of Achievement especially in literature & which Shakespeare possessed so enormously – I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact & reason.

More on Armstrong: Heavy-hitter stands up for God and religion; Richard Dawkins vs. Karen Armstrong: "Where Does Evolution Leave God?"; Man vs. God – the Armstrong/Dawkins “debate” which was reprinted in The Australian this weekend: it mostly shows two contrasting sensibilities, in my opinion.

I repeat: Armstrong is an excellent historian of ideas.

D Michael Lindsay is an excellent ethnologist of religion. I very much agree with this review.

Summary: This author spoke with more than 300 leaders in politics, business, academia, media and entertainment between 2003 and 2006. All were self-identified evangelicals, a category Lindsay defines as "someone who believes (1) the Bible is the supreme authority for religious belief and practice, (2) that he or she has a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and (3) that one should take a transforming activist approach to faith." His intent was to study the historical events and social forces that have facilitated the movement of evangelicals into prominent mainstream positions and roles during the past forty or fifty years. He focuses on four broad sectors reflective of modern life in America – politics, higher education, entertainment and business. How did evangelical influences come to wield any kind of power in this democracy, given the small percentage of adherents relative to that of the greater population of more casual believers?

Lindsay’s essential answer is that evangelicals have chosen to actively apply themselves (through both their labor and their not inconsiderable resources) to the job of ensuring that their understanding of Christian behavior and values seed the future direction of American culture and government. In his view, the various groups have accomplished a tremendous amount in politics and education but have had far less impact on the media and entertainment industries. In the corporate environment, he notes that influential business executives seem to put more emphasis on leveraging their faith at levels that don’t necessarily include local churches or parishes tending instead to focus on the parachurch. [Note: I had to look this word up; it refers to bodies that operate outside of and across denominational churches to accomplish specific goals. I gather the word tends to be used chiefly in evangelical circles.]

One of the great strengths of Lindsay’s documentation is that he makes it clear that evangelicals are far from being a monolithic group. Whether talking about specific individuals or evangelical organizations, he makes clear that they are diverse and sometimes accomplish their goals by aligning with clearly different belief sectors, such as the Roman Catholic Church, when necessary to achieve an end. Such alliances don’t always last, for obvious reasons, but the evangelicals have built social relationships and networks that foster the desired end result…

It is “thick description” – far more subtle than the standard rant pro or con religion in US politics. I found it fascinating.

SONY DSC                     Timothy Clack is far younger than I thought! He is “[St Peter’s] College [Oxford] Lecturer in Archaeology and Director of Studies in Archaeology and Anthropology. Tim is an anthropological archaeologist with diverse research and teaching interests. Themes with which he is currently engaged include: archaeology of experience, archaeological mediation, syncretism and religious fusion, anthropology of conflict, and memory and cultural landscapes. He has been fortunate in being able to conduct archaeological and anthropological research in the UK, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Tanzania and Borneo. Timothy is an elected fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society, Royal Geographical Society and the Royal Anthropological Institute. He is also holds associate membership of the British Institute in Eastern Africa and the African Studies Centre, University of Oxford.”

He has, however, not been well served by proof-readers – there are quite a few clangers in Ancestral Roots. For example, I am sure Dr Clack knows that T H Huxley is not the same as Aldous Huxley, though they are related.

The book is in the evolutionary biology genre, but ranges much more widely than most. According to Alan Bilsborough in The Times Educational Supplement: “Overall, Ancestral Roots is a fluent and wide-ranging account of the human condition viewed from an evolutionary perspective, although the author’s preaching sometimes obtrudes to interrupt the flow. The text suffers from the selectivity of all such eclectic accounts, and there are sufficient errors of detail in the bits I think I know something about to make me wonder as to the accuracy of those I don’t. In other words, read this book as a stimulating and engaging survey, but don’t take it too seriously as a definitive diagnosis of our current predicament.”  I didn’t mind the preaching, personally. Loved what he says about ethnocentrism, religion, and co-operation – just to name a few areas.

 

Great player, example, Australian… and Muslim

One Daily Telegraph (our most right-wing daily) reader notes on hearing of Hazem El Mazri’s retiring from Rugby League:

I teach in China, Italy and the UK, and when my students start talking about who my sporting hero is, I always say, without hesitation… Hazem El Masri. Not the greatest player, probably the greatest goalkicker, but more importantly, one of the greatest men on or off the field. A tribute to real Muslims, immigrants, loyalty, discipline, family values and the Bulldogs. You are a legend Hazem El Masri, we will miss you!

It is fair to say such an opinion is pretty much universal here in Sydney. See for example El Masri’s army salutes its inspirational leader.

El Masri’s popularity isn’t restricted to the boys who, like him, have Muslim backgrounds. He appeals to them all. Helal is a Muslim boy, as is nine-year-old Adam Abdulwahab. Eight-year-old Andrei Bakhos and eight-year-old twins Michael and George Tabet are not Muslims, but it makes no difference. They all love El Masri.

Most of them have met the Bulldogs winger because he gives so much of his spare time to the community and they enjoy the way he kicks goals from everywhere and scores tries, but perhaps more importantly they can tell he is a good person.

“I hope he wins the comp this year,” Andrei said. “He deserves that. I follow the Bulldogs. My dad’s a member of the football club, so we go to all the home games. Hazem’s my favourite player. I play wing or fullback, but I want to be a winger when I grow up.”

In the Brisbane Courier-Mail Mike Colman writes:

… Some want him to enter politics.

When I told my wife that she said, “Well, he’s got my vote” and for my wife to say that about a rugby league player, much less a Bulldog, is saying something.

Hazem and his wife were so delightful it was hard not to feel uplifted by the experience.

One thing summed him up perfectly. After Fatty Vautin had urged league supporters to get along to ANZ Stadium this afternoon to “say thank you” for all the pleasure he had given them over the years, Hazem insisted on having the last word.

“It’s not really about people saying thank you to me,” he said, “it’s about me saying thank you to them for all the support they’ve given me.”

The label doesn’t matter – league player, Bulldog, Muslim, human – it comes down to one thing: He’s one great role model.

Football great Steve Mortimer has this to say:

“It’s an absolute privilege to be mentioned in the same sentence as Hazem El Masri,” Mortimer said.

“For me, rugby league is the greatest game of all and it just seems with all the hardships we’ve been through, Hazem has been a shining light his entire career.

“He’s a silent hero, an unsung hero, who has played the most number of games for the Bulldogs and been a wonderful servant for rugby league.

“With his religion and his faith, he’s just an absolute role model not only as a player on the football field, but as an Australian citizen as well.

“I’m proud to say I know him.

“He’s a very humble man and an absolute star.”

And again: Man of God whose greatest deeds are done off the pitch.

There will be many fine things said about Hazem by footballers, coachers, pundits and the Premier in the coming weeks, but you get the feeling it all washes over the kid from Tripoli who made Sydney his home at age 10.

He’s playing for are the kids in blonde-brick apartment blocks around Bankstown and Punchbowl, the ones who attract police attention quicker than an Everlast hoodie.

Very few people can claim to have made a real impact on their community. But when tensions between Lebanese and Anglo Sydneysiders spilled into the streets during the Cronulla riots, it was Hazem who played the crucial role in bringing his community back from the brink. Unlike some Muslim clerics who should have known better, Hazem spoke the language of respect and not revenge. With hindsight, we all recognise things could have been so much worse without people like him.

When Hazem El Magic runs out on Sunday, we’ll honour a footballer, peacemaker, teacher and philanthropist.

And here he was on Stateline in 2004:

Here at Holroyd High School in Sydney’s west — a school with a large number of students who are refugees — he’s come to draw the winning raffle for a school fundraiser.

But his visit is more than just a celebrity appearance.

In this discussion with the school football team the conversation soon turns to one of the boy’s experience of being discriminated against for being Lebanese and Muslim.

HAZEM EL MASRI: The whole community suffers because of a small minority, you know, and what upsets you sometimes is that the culture and the religion and all of that doesn’t promote such a thing but we end up copping a fair bit against it.

I always say to people, “The best way to go about it is let your actions do the talking.”

You know, around the footy and that and a lot of the guys know anything happens outside I don’t get teased about it or I don’t — because they know the type of person I am, the lifestyle I’m living.

I’m trying to lead by example and show them that’s how it’s done, basically.

Hazam El Mazri and his family

Hazam El Mazri and his family

Sydney has been fortunate in having this man, his wife Arwa, and their family in our midst. From the man himself:

Kerry Stewart: How about Hazem el Masri.

Boys: Yes, he’s footy, best kicker in the world.

Kerry Stewart: Is he impressive, do you think?

Boys: Yes, yes.

Kerry Stewart: Why?

Mohammed Nurjaman: Because if you can get religion into the way of his other play, like he’s the only Muslim in the NRL, and he’s a good player, and he’s not there to show them that he’s Muslim, he shows that he plays good football.

Kerry Stewart: But I think he brings his religion to the game.

Boy: He brings religion to the game, yes.

Mohammed Nurjaman: You never see him in punch-ups. Yes, he always keeps it to himself. That’s what Muslims learn from their religion.

Hazem el Masri: Well look, I didn’t choose to be a role model. To me, I don’t like to sort of call that as a role model, I prefer to just to go out there and let my actions do the talking. I try to live a wholesome lifestyle. Early on, I had to take that stance of making sure this is what I’m about you know, the fasting, the praying, the eating Halal food for example, not drinking alcohol, the temptation of ladies, you name it, I try to have fun as well but everything within the limits. I love socialising with my friends and I love going out and I love spending time with my family and all that. But at the end of the day I’m my own person, I try to as you say, set the right example for these kids and hope that they can follow the same footsteps. And it’s a matter of as well, because all the misleading coverage and the generalising out there especially of the Muslim and the Lebanese community, that I’ve taken that stance to show everyone pretty much, that we’re not all the same, everybody’s got their bad and good in them….

Yes, his wife wears the hijab — her choice, not his, as she saw it as marking the next step in her religion: she adopted it about a year after her marriage, very much her own choice for her own reasons. (That was in an excellent Good Weekend profile of El Masri in this Saturday’s Sydney Morning Herald — not online.)

The man — and indeed the family — is a living, breathing rebuttal of all that paranoia out there about the Muslims in our midst.

Finally, read A Winger and a Prayer – Transcript from Australian Story 2007.

 

Watching TV again: Jack Mundey; scary computer stuff

1. The good Communist

Back in Cold War days Prime Minister Robert Menzies attempted to ban the Communist Party of Australia. The Australian people rejected the idea – not that the Communists were not subjected to zealous monitoring by intelligence agencies. That went on into much more recent times, and no doubt people on the extremes both of left and right still attract attention. I remember when my Wollongong friend The Red Dragon (cordon bleu cook extraordinaire and avid Bridge player) rang me in the early 1980s to warn me that now she was General Secretary or some such of the Illawarra Branch of the party her phone was tapped. She knew this because one night there was a click on her phone and a voice cut in saying “You take this Bill, I have to go and have a leak.” Since her phone mostly was used for social – not socialist – purposes such as Bridge and recipes, she subsequently used to apologise to the tappers from time to time for boring them so much.)  Unfortunately during the Dragon’s term of office the Communist Party of Australia dissolved itself.

All that aside, Australia’s favourite Communist no doubt has been Jack Mundey – and perhaps poet Dame Mary Gilmore. Last night Talking Heads had a good interview with Mundey.

PETER THOMPSON: Jack, you’ve never been just a hardliner. You’ve always been…
JACK MUNDEY: Intelligent. My interest has always been organisation for the cause that I’m fighting, and I’ve just stuck to that.
PETER THOMPSON: Australia is pretty much a paradise, though it’s far from being the sort of workers’ paradise you had in mind.
JACK MUNDEY: I don’t know about paradise, but I hope that the future for humanity is all the things that I expect it to be.

Not a dogmatist in other words.

2. Scary computer stuff

Four Corners last night was really quite scary, especially after my recent sad experience of malware eating my Toshiba – and that Malware disabled the antivirus and deleted all the restore points before itself as well as disabling the USB ports and the CD/DVD.

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…Authorities are now working hard to keep up with the crooks. They are having trouble though. Crooks working from countries in Eastern Europe are hard to catch. Home-grown criminals are easier to bring down, but police reveal the legal system doesn’t treat cyber-theft with the seriousness it deserves. One young man stole more than 50,000 credit cards card details but received a suspended one year sentence, $2,000 good behaviour bond and court costs of $150.

Adding to the problem, most computer users don’t realise how vulnerable they are. Four Corners took an e-security expert to an ordinary city street and asked him to assess computer security. Using a basic wireless interceptor our expert found he could tap into up to 20 per cent of wireless computer networks, potentially accessing bank accounts and other personal information. Even those systems that had been encrypted took just 10 minutes to crack. No wonder police are warning we are right to have"Fear in the Fast Lane".

Whether this story in today’s Sydney Morning Herald is entirely true or not – and it may well be – it certainly highlights another concern.

AUSTRALIA’S diplomats have been warned about a fake email amid concerns it could be part of a cyber espionage attempt, possibly originating from China.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade confirmed yesterday staff had been briefed about a suspicious email sent to several staff last month. The source of the email is under investigation by the department’s communications experts. ASIO and the AFP would not comment yesterday on whether they were also investigating the email.

A report in the Canberra Times said the email was suspected to have originated from China and was headed ”Australia-China Free Trade Agreement Negotiations Update”. It reportedly targeted officials who work on China-related matters.

A spokeswoman for the department would not say whether the email was believed to have come from China.

”It is not Government practice to comment on intelligence issues,” she said.

Update

Prompted by Major Geeks I downloaded and installed a-squared Free 4.5. Yes, I have lots of other “condoms” on, including Malware Bytes, Windows Defender, Avast!, Spyware Doctor and Threatfire, but on its first test run at on demand scanning a-squared found two major threats that had thus far escaped detection: Backdoor:Win32/VB.IK and TrojanDownloader:Win32/Banload.IK! Both are rated severe threats by Microsoft.