Payback graffiti


I haven’t watched the show Homeland but apparently it is about a CIA agent who thinks that a prisoner of war who returns to America has been “turned” by Al-Qaeda and is now a spy.

It is interesting to see how a television show can be perceived as racist by a group of people, but even more cool to see how they managed to play a prank on the show. While filming for one of their recent episodes, the producers hired Arab graffiti artists to add Arab slogans and graffiti to the walls of the set to make it look more authentic.  I think they had a hard time finding Arab artists who were willing to work for the show – but they eventually did.

The artists realised that people seldom check the accuracy of their work, so they proceeded to paint phrases like “Homeland is racist” onto the walls – and this wasn’t noticed by the producers, and actually made it into the show. They also included #BlackLivesMatter.

The artists were making a point about how not only the news media, but also television shows, portray political issues.  The show is seen by some as propaganda relating to the “war on terror”.

The Guardian says that the artist’s wrote: “In their eyes, Arabic script is merely a supplementary visual that completes the horror-fantasy of the Middle East, a poster image dehumanizing an entire region to human-less figures in black burkas and moreover, this season, to refugees.”

The spin doctors of the show say that while they wish they could have caught the images before they aired, they admire this act of subversive sabotage because Homeland itself strives to be subversive.  What a load of hogwash – just some quick thinking on the part of someone caught with their pants down.

There are people arguing for and against categorising Homeland as racist, but for now, I’m just impressed that some Arab artists managed to stamp their mark of disapproval on American television.  And one of these artists was a lady!

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Getting to know Jo’burg…exploring the hill

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Have you ever been to Constitution Hill?  I was born opposite the road from the hill, at the now-defunct Florence Nightingale Hospital.  The site is a treasure trove of history – it used to be a fort, and then a prison, before eventually being converted into a heritage site after the end of Apartheid.  It is also the site of the Constitutional Court, our highest and most friendly looking court.

There are still the remnants of a lot of the old buildings, used now for historical tours and other events.  The prisoners were moved from the old prison at the hill to Diepkloof Prison (which was nicknamed Sun City because the conditions there were relatively better than the hill), but you can still walk around the buildings of Number 4 and the Women’s Gaol for a feel of the cold and stark conditions of prison life.

The tour guides are great for showing you around the main buildings, except for the court itself which for some reason they don’t really explain.  The court is quite a magnificent feat of architecture and art.  The location of the court is interesting, set between Braamfontein, Hillbrow and the start of the leafy green suburbs, sitting pretty at the convergence of these vibrantly different areas.

Using some of the bricks from the older buildings that were taken down, the court is meant to be a reminder of the past while also showcasing a better future.  The bright red sign near the “ladder of democracy” artwork proclaims ‘a luta continua’, the struggle continues, reminding us that democracy is not a destination but a continuous struggle.

Styled on the idea of justice under a tree, the foyer has an array of beautiful mosaic tiled pillars, all set at odd angles to replicate the slantiness of tree branches, with dappled light pouring in from random skylights, meant to emulate sunlight peeping through the leaves of a tree.

The cow hides at the edge of the judge’s bench, huge beaded flag and exposed brickwork are quite a welcome relief from the other formal, intimidating court rooms you usually see.  Judges sit at eye level to the advocates and the public, trying to show that they serve the people and they serve justice, and are not above the law, they are approachable.

But watching a case at this court is quite fun, since the lawyers are hardly given time to go through their written arguments before being peppered with questions from the judges (all 11 of them!).  Managing to stand your ground against this remarkable battalion of legal minds is impressive and nerve-wracking.

There are so many cool artworks around the court building, the only drawback being that a lot of them do not have any written explanations, so you either have to have some of your own knowledge about what is being portrayed, or make it up as you go along.  Even so, it’s still worth a look, to see how beauty can come from horror and how a historically dreadful place can become the home of so much hope.

I always feel that I try to pack in as many sites as I can when I travel overseas, but when it comes to South Africa, there’s very little that I know about our cool buildings and historical sites.  I’ve recently been back to the apartheid museum (which I still find kinda boring) but I’m going to at least try to be more of a tourist in my own home town.

There’s such a nice revitalisation of Braamfontein that’s been happening over the past few years, you can find tons of quirky little coffee shops and the neighbourgoods market is also a good stop.  The old town buildings still have some of their glamour, and the new weekend vibe in Braam is nice to take in.  So when you have a free morning, and you have no clue what to do, taking a drive through the area may be an idea.

Any other recommendations for places to check out in Jo’burg?

What do I really know…and akhlaaq of the golden oldies

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Why wasn’t I taught so much in Madressah, stuff that I am only learning now? Not just nice-to-know but essential-to-know stuff, Waajib stuff.

There are so many things that I am learning now, and that makes me wonder about the gaps in my learning. Information is now shared at the speed of click, and that also makes me wary about the authenticity of sources. But there are some things that just seem to have been missing from my good ‘ol afternoon after school Madressah.

Apart from the missing pieces, there’s also the fact that history, for example, was taught in such a dry and boring way. The textbook (in my hazy memory) seems to have been filled with the names and dates of wars, with the numbers of soldiers on either side, and not the colourful detail that would make the stories truly memorable.

And it’s not as if we don’t have this detail – so much has been preserved from our history, and just a few exciting tidbits would have gone a long way to spark my interest in digging deeper.

Why were we not told about the red turbans adorned with ostrich feathers that were worn to strike fear in the hearts of the enemy? The heroism, the bravery, the poetry. I recently read about one of the Sahabia who charged into battle to defend herself by grabbing a tentpole and proclaiming something along the lines of “let me rearrange your brains”.

I understand that Apas have their hands full managing an unruly pack of kids, and trying to ensure that they learn the basics and instill the need to practice. But adding some spice to the work would really help to inspire the love of learning that would encourage us to learn more even after class.

Religious teachers may not have been taught how to teach in the traditional sense, and this may be what holds us back – but there were still some who I will never forget who had that natural knack for inspiring us to want to know more.

We have so many interesting stories, some inspire, some teach, some break your heart – I just wish that these were better conveyed to elicit more feeling in learners.

Maybe times have changed and Madressahs are doing a better job now, I have no idea because it’s been more than 10 years since I’ve seen what goes on in those classes. I hope it’s gotten a bit more juicy.  Am I being too critical?  Is it up to us to figure out what we don’t know and sort it out ourselves, do some self-study and find something that interests us and gets us to look further?  Is it too much to expect everything to be taught adequately in such a short time, since there’s so much to learn?

Which reminds me…even though I’ve been out of Madressah for years, there seems to be a recent resurgence in adult Islamic education. People are signing up for online classes, or attending Tafseer and Arabic lessons, listening to Islamic podcasts and sharing updates about seminars and talks happening at the Masjids.

There also seems to be many more Hijabis (although maybe we just notice them more because there are also so many selfies) and a trend towards Islamic awareness.

This is really cool…but I wonder whether we are actually better off now. We may have more book-learning, actual knowledge about our religion, but our practices may not be up to scratch.

Those lovely oldies, the grand-folks and great-grand-folks, did not have as many books and classes and did not have access to all of the info that we have at our fingertips now. But the old ladies, with their triangle scarves draped lightly around their shoulders, grey hair sneaking through, had such great character.

They may not have been able to quote a Hadith about sincerity of intention, but they automatically lived their lives with sincerity and good morals. They had less theory but more practice. They may have known less, but they acted better.

What good is all of our knowledge when we find it so hard to practice? The world is so distracting, how do we just…be good?