Anxiety, projections and quantitative affection

Anxiety is a bitch. It’s a term that is underestimated because of how commonly it’s thrown around. At first, I was susceptible to this, but observation, listening and a lot of reflection made me realise that it anxiety is not overused – it’s a generational issue.

Things are moving faster than us. Societal norms are changing faster than we can adapt and analyse. Amateurs are more licensed to speak, giving themselves an online platform and measure their “guides” or “tips” on their own experiences and a few others around them. The way we measure their competency is through the amount of followers they have.

The way we measure our interpersonal relationships are through the amount of texts we receive from others, or how many heart emojis they send us. Through the amount of times a day they tag us in funny Facebook and Instagram posts, which, yes may have an element of truth – I personally tag my best friends in Facebook posts when I remember them, but only if your online interpersonal relationships are on par with your real life ones.

We all know this is shallow and inaccurate, but we can’t help falling into the trap. We want the buzz. We want to look at our phone screens and feel special, almost as though what we see in our notifications define what we are worth. With no textbook approach, and little guidance, we become so engulfed in socialising behind the phone screen that we forget the basic rules of human contact.

Because this is so new to us as a species, in many ways, we are the lab-rats of digital communication. Without realising, we skip fundamental steps that we need to build a strong foundation in our relationships. In the dating realm, there has been a surge of people using dating apps over the past year. When Tinder first came out, it was a subject of debate and ridicule. Now, it’s completely normal to talk to friends and co-workers about going on a “tinder-date”, or religious/ethnic alternatives to the app.

I’ve found that those who use these apps tend to forget that it takes time for friendships and relationships to blossom. Because the prospective couple showed interest through a two-dimensional swipe, they enter the date either with the intention of a quick hookup, or to see if a person is suitable for long term relationship goals or marriage.

With the latter, it’s easy to be fooled. It’s easy to be paranoid about what may happen later and compulsively quantify by measuring affection and interest through texts, emojis and tags. At the same time, it’s easy to miss red flags when you’re being showered with attention. It’s hard to admit that something may be fishy when someone texts you “miss you beautiful” after the first date within two minutes of leaving you (read about love bombing).

At the same time, it’s hard to believe a person likes you after a few days of not talking after a first date. Yes, there should be contact after a date, yes it is true that courtesy suggests we must message shortly after, but there does not need to be constant communication the following days on a daily, or hourly basis. Relax.

It’s hard, especially with anxiety. But we must remember that anxieties and over-expectations lead to self fulfilling prophecies. Document your past mistakes, document your trauma. If you have a history of failed relationships or feel like you’re “attracting one type of person”, you need to analyse your emotional habits and needs at the start of a relationship. A pattern emerges, usually.

A lot of the time, people crave that surge of emotions at the start and those who provide it are genuinely toxic people who can fulfil your wish to feel addicted to a human, but do not continue.

Sometimes, that person you’re breaking your toxic cycle with may not be “the one”, you may truly lose contact in a few weeks, but it’s not the end of the world. The buildup and anxiety towards the end is a lot more painful and scary than the end itself. We know how we feel now, we know, despite not wanting to admit, why we feel how we feel, but we will never know how we feel in the future. We will never know what facts will come forward, or how our emotions will either suddenly or gradually change.

It will be okay. Life moves slower than your megabytes. Give yourself time. Allow foundations to solidify.

Allow yourself to break out of the cycle and if you aren’t being given the amount of attention you want at the start, don’t be so quick to break it off, especially if you had a good time in real life… unless you plan on saying your wedding vows by WhatsApp using emojis, of course.

Lessons from ‘yaqeen’

يقين – yaqeen – a word which has no real translation in English.

It’s a cross between certainty and conviction. It’s like taking a blind, yet somehow calculated leap of faith. In Islam, when we pray, we pray with a sense of yaqeen, knowing that God will answer our prayers. He is there, he is listening and we will get what we want, even if it’s not in the way we imagine.

This notion can sometimes be a daunting one when coupled with a stubborn demeanour. We want something, we want it now and God will give it to us for as long as we pray for it and stop at nothing to achieve it.

We forget life doesn’t work out this way. We’re imbeciles, to say the least. We lock ourselves in our dungeon of desire, where we allow dreams to rob us from very grim realities in front of us. We use yaqeen as a shelter from the truth.

“It will happen, I know it will happen. I prayed for it to happen and I’m certain God will make it happen and God will reward me for having faith in him.”

The tides start to turn against you, everything you do in obtaining this gem of a prayer seems to be faltering, you’re finding yourself forming an uphill struggle and you even lose yourself in trying to get this prayer answered. You become someone else; even do things you never thought you’d do.

This is not yaqeen, it’s a masked addiction.

To pray with yaqeen is to be able to let go. To be able to see the bigger picture. To know when your heart is so attached to something that your ontology is drastically skewed by an air of disillusion. Yaqeen is not an excuse to hold on, it’s to give you the courage to let go.

It’s hard. It’s hard to admit that we were once wrong. It’s hard to come to the reality that our dreams may not be materialised. It’s hard to wake up and fix our mistakes.

Over the years, I learned that praying and acting with true conviction, with true yaqeen, means to face tough choices and make them. To pop your bubble and leave your comfort zone.

Be prepared to break your own heart and to realise people whom you may care about may not feel the same way.

Swallow your pride by putting yourself in a risky situation and cry as you escape what could have been a cycle of toxicity. You’ll thank yourself later.

If the risk proves that things are going right, thank yourself regardless.

Either way, rest assure. It will be okay.

Alhamdulilah.

POEM: Sepia’s haram

at ab felA
Selling dreams of sultry surroundings
Sordid coffee
Scandalous serenity
Of the silenced voices
Within the locutions that have constrained my fading Arabic tongue

Squiggles
Vowels
Seens س and sheens ش
Leave nostalgic backdrops
Oh,
To fluently embrace the outcasts of the old Middle East

Silent reconnections
Of sepia screams
Unwrapping rebellions
In old texts that mama and baba would never let us read.

Alef ا
ba ب
ta ت

Why is the Arab feminist movement so racist?

Hey everyone, this is an article I wrote for Middle East Monitor. For those who are not able to access the original, I am going to paste it on my blog. Here’s the original.

A self-proclaimed “humanitarian” and women’s rights activist from Jordan was caught recently taunting domestic workers at a recruitment agency on Snapchat. Ola Al-Fares, an award-winning journalist, lined up six workers for a photo, only to laugh at them in front of her followers. She then ruthlessly mocked the way that they dressed, saying that she has to work on their “fashion sense”, and did so with thousands watching.

Only when the condemnations of her went viral did she decide to apologise. She claimed that she did not intend to offend anyone, though was met with further criticism for her disingenuous “regret”.

Another case of racism against workers earlier this week also went viral. A woman in Kuwait was filming a domestic worker as she was hanging onto the railing of a balcony and refused to help her just before she fell from the seventh floor of an apartment block.

Video translation: Employer: oh wow, you’re crazy! Come here! Domestic worker: grab my hand! Grab my hand!

The fire brigade came to her aid, so she was then mocked on social media because, “She fell from the seventh floor and nothing happened to her.”

Thousands of people reacted furiously in defence of the victims in both cases. While many called for justice for the victims, there were few calls for an end to the structurally racist systems in place in such countries which ensure that foreign workers have to endure such situations.

It is undeniable that, more often than not, the Arab feminist movement shows an immense lack of intersectionality. In a similar way to which “White feminism” is criticised by a range of postcolonial feminist scholars for addressing women’s issues from a Eurocentric perspective, feminism in the Arab world places disproportionate emphasis on Arab women. As a result, the rights of working class non-Arab women in the Arab world are often overlooked when, in fact, they are crucial to the Arab women’s liberation project.

Months ago, I wrote about why it is dangerous for white saviours to speak over Arab women. The article was based on a video that went viral earlier this year, which opposed male guardianship in Saudi Arabia. The video was hailed as a feminist revelation in the Arab world, yet it only focused on the plight of Saudi women in Saudi Arabia. The fact that the video went viral, without it being widely criticised for focusing exclusively on the plight of middle class Saudi women further insinuates the racist flaws within the movement.

Many have claimed this argument to be a complete generalisation. However, it does not erase the fact that there are many Arab women who believe race and class must be core components of the feminist movement in the Middle East-North Africa (MENA) region, rather than it assessing the shortcomings of the growing movement. To dismiss the wide gap in intersectionality in the movement by regurgitating that “not all Arab feminists lack intersectionality” can no longer be an option, and the persisting crimes against foreign working women that occur under systems of structural racism, classism and misogyny prove this.

At this stage, to be offended by addressing flaws in the Arab feminist movement when it is rapidly growing is a blatant whitewash and denial of the systematic racism that exists in the Arab world.

Translation: we are all with Ola Al-Fares Photo: Ola Al-Fares being hugged by a worker

When race and class issues are not embedded into the Arab feminist movement, it leaves room for people like Ola Al-Fares to proclaim themselves to uphold women’s rights and to feel as though they can be publicly racist and classist. By continuing in the way it is, mainstream feminism in the Arab world is doing nothing to hold governments to account regarding the systematic abuse of poorer and non-Arab working women, and therefore risks losing its credibility as a feminist movement.

Arab female politicians also fall prey to perpetuating such double standards. Kuwaiti MP Safaa Al-Hashem feels that she is fighting sexist comments in parliament; just this week, a male colleague refused to sit next to her because she was wearing perfume. She is the subject of praise both in Kuwait and the Western world purely on the basis that she is the only female MP in the Gulf State.

However, Al-Hashem is also known for her leniency towards racist comments and anti-immigration stance. At one point, she said that expats should have to pay a tax to walk on the roads in Kuwait. She also believes that they should be banned from obtaining free medicine in hospital, regardless of how poor they are.

By holding her up as a positive role model solely because of her gender, her racism is completely whitewashed, and the victims of her racism, which include working class expat women, are quickly erased from the discussion.

While it is to be applauded that the feminist movement in the Arab world is gaining rapid momentum, it must be done with the right intentions. Working class non-Arab women must no longer be viewed as subjects of sympathy, or outsiders within the movement, but as the foci for change. If their plight is not treated as one with the plight of Arab women, the movement will continue to fall into the trap of racism, and little will be done to achieve genuine change in the Arab world.

Starving for life: Arab women open up about eating disorders

NOTE: This is re-published because there have been some difficulties in people accessing the original article on Middle East Monitor. Click here for the original.

Eating disorders have for long haunted the lives of girls and women all over the world. The thought of a girl as young as 11 scrutinising herself and starving herself is no longer seen as farfetched, but more of a sad reality that millions are forced with. In the Middle East, however, while girls and women are routinely scrutinised about their weight and the way they look in general, there is little awareness of the extreme lengths in which girls and women take to reach these standards of beauty.

The amount of studies on eating disorders in the Middle East is shockingly disproportionate to the actual effect of eating disorders within the region. Like with most mental illnesses, eating disorders are considered a taboo within Arab communities. However, the obsession with weight and scrutinisation of the appearance of girls and women are overly discussed. Girls and women are often forced to listen to vindictive comments about themselves and deal with the mental scars that follow, but are shunned when they suffer as a result of them.

 

In 2013, a study in the Zayed University in the UAE found that 75 per cent of female students were unhappy with their bodies and almost a quarter were at risk of developing disorders. The experts who conducted the studies largely blamed “Western ideals and beauty standards”.

“To be honest, I blame both Western and Arab standards of beauty,” Samira, not her name, a former eating disorder patient from Saudi Arabia told MEMO.

“Growing up, I suffered from an eating disorder that was caused by two things; one was my sudden exposure to Hollywood after having been monolingual for the first 13 years of my life. The second was my brother marrying a woman who was very Arab, not influenced by the West at all, but had an obsession with perfection.”

“She bullied and harassed me a lot about my body growing up,” she said.

“People don’t understand that eating disorders are a psychological issue, not only physical. They assume it’s a choice, which is completely sad,” Dana Al-Jawini, also from Saudi Arabia told MEMO. She recently opened up about the death of her sister at the age of 22 after battling with anorexia.

Extreme procedures

Taken to extreme forms, methods of weight loss are becoming more popular in the Arab world. More women are resorting to procedures to lose weight, such as jaw tightening to prevent women from eating, or injecting botox into the stomach to trick the individual’s brain into thinking they are full.

“It is very safe and can even be used to maintain your weight,” said Dr Nader Saab. He is one of the most famous plastic surgeons in Lebanon and among the prime instigators of the procedure. He has even said this in a video advertising the procedure, claiming injecting botox into your stomach has “zero side-effects”. Unsurprisingly, he made such claims with no scientific backing.

Still, self-starvation and bulimia remain very common, especially among teenage girls. A study conducted in Jordan in 2014 and which surveyed students between the ages of 18-27 showed that 71 per cent have skipped at least one meal and 86 per cent believe women in Jordan struggle with body image. Some 72 per cent believe eating disorders among women are a problem in Jordan, however only 18 per cent felt adequately informed about eating disorders.

Arab women fight back

Despite patriarchy and stigmas surrounding eating disorders and mental health in general, Arab women refuse to give up on fighting for their voices to be heard and for their struggles to be known.

“We definitely need to be outspoken,” Dana said. For her, it was her personal experience that encouraged her to come forward. “I couldn’t sit and keep quiet about what happened to my sister because I don’t wish it upon anyone.”

Dana is a staunch believer in women supporting other women to remedy the problem.

If someone sees a friend or a sister or even a stranger going through something like this I think it’s our duty as Arab women to speak out.

For Samira, it was making new friends that inspired her to embark on the road of body-positivity. “I met new people, made new friends who helped me change my perspective on what it means to be alive,” she explained.

“Weight loss in general in the modern Arab world is praised and no one stops to think of how and why someone lost weight,” she added. “You realise as you’re healing, there is just so much more to the human experience than all of this.”

Sara Sherbaji, a mental health campaigner from the UAE is currently working with a team to establish mental health provisions in the Arab world. She and her team are currently producing a documentary on mental health in the region and view the topic of eating disorders as a part of a larger stigma on mental health.

“We want to establish a platform that will be up at all times on all days to support people with mental illness and offer both education and links to professional services. We’re currently working with a team of professionals and an established clinic here to see this through,” she told MEMO.

Her team is also trying to initiate a year-long campaign on mental health in the UAE, which is something relatively new. “Our main concern is that we have very short campaigns in the country,” Sara said. Despite this, she spoke of the support she is receiving, and that one of the top English-language news outlets in the UAE has repeatedly featured them and their campaigns.

While there remains a long battle in destigmatising mental health and eating disorders in the Arab world, Arab women are refusing to stay silent. Their fighting spirit is ignited by a love for justice and a need to overcome cultural setbacks, which can only be done through unity. By supporting each other and listening to one another they are slowly but surely instigating change within their communities.

Can’t control your sons? No problem, shame their daughters.

It’s no secret that misogyny is within the very fabric of our societies. As women, we feel as though we are being watched over. We have to assess our surroundings and if we want respect, we act according to their norms, customs and values. We’re left confused and anxious because if we don’t calibrate our moral compasses with the norms of another individual, or society, we are unfairly targeted and shamed. It gets scarier knowing that the vast majority of the shaming happens behind our backs.

It’s even more perplexing when we find ourselves in a situation in which we are subject to the insecurity of others. For example, there could a particular person who may have a son that drinks, smokes and doesn’t believe in God. The parent of the son could be religious and would deep down condemn the actions of their son, but would not outwardly oppose him. So to compensate, the parent would focus on other girls and the daughters of others, as objects of honour and shame.

الْخَبِيثَاتُ لِلْخَبِيثِينَ وَالْخَبِيثُونَ لِلْخَبِيثَاتِ ۖ وَالطَّيِّبَاتُ لِلطَّيِّبِينَ وَالطَّيِّبُونَ لِلطَّيِّبَاتِ ۚ أُولَٰئِكَ مُبَرَّءُونَ مِمَّا يَقُولُونَ ۖ لَهُمْ مَغْفِرَةٌ وَرِزْقٌ كَرِيمٌ
Bad women are for bad men, and bad men are for bad women; and pure women are for pure men, and pure men are for pure women. They are free from the slanderer’s accusations; for them there shall be forgiveness and honorable provision from Allah.
The holy Quran – Surat An-Nur, Verse/aya 26.

The aya is crystal clear. The problem with the way it is interpreted many times is that people think it’s a flat out promise from God, implying the people we have in our lives are a reflection of God’s opinions of our actions. It isn’t; it’s a warning from God, telling us to stay around good people.

The previous verses in the chapter were defending Aisha (RA), the wife of the Prophet Mohammed (SAW) when she was accused of committing adultery and was ostracised from her community. The verse that I just quoted is a follow up of God defending her against the rumours flying against her. Ultimately, it was revealed as a form of advice for Aisha (RA) and to all humans who would then find themselves being accused and shamed the way she was.

The underlying message is we do not need to conform, nor impress. If bad people around you talk about you, stay away from them, not just if you’re innocent. Even if you slip up and make a mistake, you do not deserve to be reminded about it and punished for it constantly. We’re all human and we’ve all screwed up.

If someone has malicious intentions, there’s no need to prove yourself. Stay away and surround yourself with good people who forgive, motivate you to do good and elevate you.

The problem is, this is easier said than done and not only because we don’t always know who our real friends are. Because the shaming of women is normalised, we often subconsciously try to conform to their neurotic demands. We allow their norms to define who we are and we have been conditioned to accept their opinions of ourselves. Even if we’re doing nothing wrong, we have it ingrained that no matter how erratic or hypocritical they may be, the morals of others should define our behaviour and that they have a right to shame us accordingly.

In our culture, a man could drink, smoke and do all of the impermissible things under the sun and his mother (for the sake of embodying my point, of course fathers do this too) may not say a word to him. She may even go above not condemning him and would even full on accept his lifestyle. That’s between the mother, the son and God. No one has a right to speak about them. The problem is, however, is when the mother accepts her son’s lifestyle, but holds her daughters, or the daughters of others to account.

She would not condemn her son for having a girlfriend, or for drinking, but would condemn his girlfriend for being a girlfriend and would condemn a girl who drinks with her son. It doesn’t stop there. Usually, when this particular type of mother or auntie possess such attitudes, it’s as a result of an inferiority complex, which means her judging, double standards and hypocrisy know no limits.

She could speak to the mothers of girls who have done nothing wrong and belittle them and their parenting. She could make innocent girls or women feel disgusted by themselves, for no reason at all. How? By creating a bubble of her own scattered norms, which are derivative from her own double standards and facilitated by structural misogyny.

These attitudes must be directly resisted. We must make a conscious effort to unlearn the culture of shame that society has forced us to internalise. We must trust our own judgement and moral outlook. This doesn’t necessarily mean fighting every auntie that speaks ill of us. That gets tiring. The battle is an internal one that focuses on self love, self trust and the dismissal of nonsense. She is wrong, not you. She is wrong for talking about you, twisting your innocent actions or dwelling on your mistakes. We must refract, not reflect on the negativity of others.

Maybe at times you would want to, or even need to get into confrontations. When you feel it is right, don’t shy away. For the most part, rather than fighting everyone head on, simply ignore them. Do what you want and follow your own moral compass. Ignore and isolate those who shame you, even if it is almost everyone in your community. Don’t feel the need to justify your actions, or to impress them. Be yourself and don’t allow yourself to be a victim of the insecurity and hypocrisy of others. Only when you stop caring is when you find true contentment and peace and is when you’re secure enough to only allow those who truly wish you well and accept you for who you are to be a part of your life.

POEM: Falsifier

Falsifier

Moulding masks
of infinite terrains
evaporated clouds…
Flawless face

Meaningless pretty smiles
hide soul-less laughs.
Apathetic eyes.
Anxious remarks.

Manly beards and feminine hips
Feminine beards and manly hips.
Manly beards, and feminine hips
Feminine beards and manly hips.

Moulding masks
fake infinite terrains
evaporated clouds…
And a fucking flawless face

POEM:Half smile…

Supple half smiles…
Surround you with barbed wire during a thunderstorm
and watch you inhale peace as you electrocute your mind.

Supple half smiles…
Blind stars until they collide
Bring anarchy to the highway
And sleep in a house with a rooftop that blows away on a freezing night.

Supple half smiles…
Come with sweet words breathing down your neck
Give your heart amnesia…

And make you pledge allegiance to the very destruction you will never forget

– – by Diana Alghoul