Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Eating the mountain

[This is an address I had to give to high school students in 2003]
  1. Hi. My name is Adli Jacobs. I am a communications specialist. This morning I want to share with you some insights on choosing a career or a path that will lead us to greater fulfilment. I believe that this is a challenge for many young people but also older individuals who feel that life has become a routine or stuck in a job that is going nowhere.
  2. I begin my address with a story that inspired me many years ago (told to me by Khurram Murad). There once was a man who was very unhappy. Something was troubling him but he could not put his finger on it. At night he was restless and it took a while for him to sleep.
  3. That night he had strange dream. He dreamt that an old man approached him and said, “When you wake in the morning, eat the first thing that you see.”
  4. When he woke up that morning sweating from the vision, he opened his eyes and saw the mountain. What? How am I supposed to eat a mountain? Maybe the old man was joking.
  5. He then went about his usual tasks for the day. He still felt troubled though. That night he had the same dream. But now the old man was ranting and raving, “What are you afraid of? Eat the first thing you see.”
  6. It is not easy to choose what you should see when you wake so when he woke that morning again and saw the mountain, he thought the old man must be crazy.
  7. The third night the old man was now threatening him with a stick and promised to make the rest of his nights a living hell if he did eat what he saw when he woke.
  8. That morning he woke with determination. When he saw the mountain, he immediately packed and set out to eat it.
  9. But as he moved closer to the mountain, a strange thing happened: it started to grow smaller. The man began to panic because it seemed as the mountain was moving further away. Just my luck he thought and started to increase his pace. The closer he moved the smaller the mountain. By midday he was running.
  10. At the end of the day he reached where he thought the mountain should have been. But it had grown so small that he could stoop down, pick it up and put it in his mouth.
  11. What do we learn from this strange but interesting story? I believe 4 things:
  • We all need dreams. We need a vision and a plan to get us where we need to go. We must see the idea before us and keep it in our sight. A dream that you cannot conjure before you is not going to keep our attention.
  • A dream will remain unattainable if we make no effort to make it real. It takes slog. Sometimes the work seems impossible to absorb. But sometimes the most difficult things to learn turn out to be the most enjoyable once you get it. Sometimes, the harder a thing becomes the sooner you are reaching a breakthrough. Apartheid gave way when we thought that we should prepare ourselves for a long fight and bitter fight.
  • Besides the dream and the effort you also need belief. You must believe in yourself. You must believe that you can win. You must believe that it is worth it. Belief gives you confidence and the world cannot resist a person with confidence it will open up paths and opportunities that you never imagined.
  • Finally: sometimes the solutions we are looking for are not weird or strange. Sometimes (often) what we look for, or the solution, lies right in front of us like the mountain in my story. That mountain was in front of his window his whole life but it did not occur to the man to conquer it.
I hope you found this beneficial and useful and could see the link in my address. I hope that I have made a contribution in some way in your successful future. Thank you!

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Move forward! Don't retreat.

The article below is based on an interview I gave to the Voice of the Cape FM on Tuesday, 1 March 2011 on the Draft Muslim Marriages Bill that could go before Parliament by the end of this week.

ANALYSIS - The present debate on the Draft Bill on Muslim Marriages (MMB) is proving to be a defining moment for South African Muslims. That is the opinion of three academics VOC spoke to last week to analyse the impact of the debate on the country's ulema fraternity. According to Johannesburg-based independent researcher, Adli Jacobs, the debate may even be a "make or break" for some of the ulema in Gauteng, where things have turned decidedly ugly over the last two years.

He reports a major split in the Gauteng ulema fraternity in 2010. "There are different ulema groupings here in Gauteng. There is the Jamiatul Ulema who have the upperhand, and you also have the Sunni Jamiat which includes the Barelwi group. They are a bit milder, but also smaller than the Jamiatul Ulema. Then you also have independent groups, because the Malay and Coloured community is not really represented by the Jamiat, although of their alims are on the Jamiat."

According to Jacobs, the Jamiat - formerly known as Jamiatul Ulema Transvaal - had played a very prominent role with government on the recognition of Muslim Personal Law. But since then, there has been a "bloody" coup de tat when the so-called Jamiatul Ulema De Deur group broke from the Jamiatul Ulema Fordsburg. There is now a huge fight over even the name Jamiatul Ulema South Africa which both Jamiats wish to lay claim to.

Name confusion
"The Fordsburg Jamiat is the majority group, lead by Maulana Ebrahim Bham. They have a radio station in Radio Islam and are affilliated to the South African National Halaal Authority (Sanha) and those groupings. But the break has been so bloody, in a sense, that you can't find Maulana Bham's group anywhere, because their name was taken by the De Deur group."

Last year the Fordsburg group took the matter to court after the De Deur group registered the name for themselves. Jacobs was not sure yet what the outcome of that case has been. Meanwhile, the fight between the two groups has focused on two main areas - the halaal issues related to Sanha and the MMB.

"The De Deur group is anti-MMB. Also the Jamiatul Ulema KZN is in that camp - the only group in the United Ulema Council of South Africa (Uucsa) which is against the bill. It appears to me that they have been heavily influenced by the Eastern Cape Majlis ideas for their not to be a MMB. So they are not looking for a compromise. They are looking for no bill and not engaging in what they regard as a 'kufr' [disbelieving], secular government."

According to Jacobs, the fight had become "very dirty". "For example, Maulana Desai of the Majlis has been calling Maulana Bham 'reverend Abraham' and there has been lots of court cases at that level as well. So it's become quite a dirty battle, but it's a battle over the hearts and minds (of Muslims) over who is the top dog among the ulema bodies in the Jamiat."

Meanwhile, a new seperate ulema body has been struggling for a few years to coming into being to represent their interests. The Muslim Judicial Council (MJC) has also attempted unsuccessfully to assist in the process, Jacobs said. "What happens in the Coloured and Malay community is that because they are so small, they generally take their queue - on Eid and Ramadan for instance - from the larger Jamiat."

On the MMB issue, Jacobs said that the De Deur group had been very vociferous in their campaign, making use of the internet, email and smses among others. "That has been quite massive and ordinary people - even Indian Muslims - don't understand the splits between the different Jamiats. They just assume it is the 'Jamiat'. And people have been forwarding (these emails and smses) to each other, saying 'the Jamiat is no longer supporting the MMB, so we shouldn't either'. And because the Fordsburg Jamiat has not taken the MMB issue up effectively, the De Deur group's Majlis leaning ideas might in the end be successful."

Jacobs said what he found particularly bad about this campaign was its negativity. "It's conjuring up an 'us and them' mentality, saying 'Muslims vs kuffaar'. We have not heard that type of rhetoric since the 1980s when ulema were asking Muslims not to get involved in the struggle. In fact, it was the very same Maulana Desai who was clamouring for an apolitical position from Muslims, criticising all Muslims who were involved in the struggle."

Al Jamah
A new partner in the anti-MMB alliance, has been the Al Jamah party, said Jacobs. "In fact, they have taken Ganief Hendricks' pre-khutbah talk and promoted it all over the place. So I see a dangerous combination of the Jamiatul Ulema De Deur and Al Jamah calling for 'jihad' if the bill is passed, changes or not. This is why I say this is going to be a defining moment for the ulema and Muslims here in Gauteng," Jacobs said.

"I don't know if Ganief Hendricks is aware that he is strengthening the hand of people that want to delink completely from South Africa; not from a religious or ideological basis, but on a racist basis. Saying that black people are the kuffar and Muslims are the only ones going to Jannah is a very bad notion. If that wins out in the end, it means Muslims will delink more and more from society and that does not bode well at all for the Muslim community," he said.

According to Jacobs, Al Jamah had overplayed its hand on this debate, "in the same way that Pagad had overplayed its hand" in fighting drugs and gangsterism. "They said they were anti-crime, but then the rhetoric got so vociferous, laying the blame squarely at goverment's door - which was not a bad thing in itself. But it is the rhetoric that goes with that and the allies that you then sweep up with you...in the end, your view (that you are actually pro the bill subject to changes) gets drowned out completely. So you are drowning yourself out by whom you take on as allies."

The fact that Al Jamah's pre-khutbah talk has become part of the campaign was a case in point, Jacobs said. "They have not taken Ganief's speech in its entirety, they have been paraphrasing it. They have taken the whole thing on jihad along with the emotive issues of pornography and abortion which one has to talk through, and conjures up the notion that (because Muslims are opposed to it) they must also be opposed to the MMB. It's not a thinking idea, it's an emotional idea."

Jacobs said this type of approach was a setback for Muslims, but does not come as a complete surprise. "After 1994, all the Muslim organs should have taken a far more active hand in helping Muslims to navigate their way forward. What happens with a minority group when things change around them is that they generally retreat into a laager. And what the Jamiat (De Deur) and Al Jamah is doing by default, is to feed that laager mentality. What we should not be basing our arguments on is retreat, but an argument of moving forward."

The activist said Muslims did well in the 1980's when they came out of their laager and connected themselves to a bigger ideal in terms of the anti-apartheid struggle. "We must not paint ourselves into a tight corner now - only us, only Indians, only Malays, only Muslims. We need to make ourselves bigger and getting this bill passed will help that. We have an opportunity with government listening to us because we are on a very good footing there. We know what it is that we want in that bill and we need to use the opportunity to unite to push ourselves forward." 

VOC (Munadia Karaan)

The original article with reader comments can be found here.

Friday, 25 February 2011

The Dervish on the Bridge

When I was young, unable to see beyond my universe, I always imagined that one day I would be like my Dad and be a builder of bridges. He was actually a bricklayer but in my young mind I imagined him a bridge-builder. But as I grew to be a man, words and pamphlets and designing books became my path. This later turned into communications. And what are communications and marketing if not the building of bridges across the rivers and roads of misunderstanding and ignorance?

Communications is the bridge between two groups who want to reach each other. It is the link between two people, between groups of people, between government and its citizens, between business and its market. It is the flyover made of words and images and symbols allowing the users to crossover to greater understanding of what lies on the other side. Bridges are also two-way streets.

These connections are relationships, associations, exchanges, feedback channels, allowing one side to touch the other. But as the connections are made and the traffic begins to grow driven by the needs of users, bridges are widened, more lanes are perhaps added and the connection becomes more sophisticated. Telephone lines are now using optic cables. Older forms such as newspapers, television and books are forced to embrace new forms such as mobile telephony and the internet with their social media tools, their RSS feeds, their media streaming and so on. Radio stations are now on multi-media platforms with interactive websites, live feeds, comments from listeners who are now also viewers, readers, contributors and promoters.

And yet, somehow, the bridge also seeks to become more specific, specialised, targeted, and more precise. Mass communications seems to be giving way to niche and strategic communications. Specific, unique and narrower bridges are being constructed for specific audiences, limited target markets, special income and interest groups. Newspapers and the publication industry, television and radio stations, media websites, telephone and mobile companies are all looking for the niche markets that will sustain them.

This is then the time to go bridge-building again to find connections between the general and the specific, the common and the unique, the wide and the narrow. This is also the time to find bridges to those who are unconnected; to build a bridge into the unknown. This desire to understand why communication bridges are being built and how they are constructed took me to on a journey to Rhodes University to study media and communications. My MA in media studies has now given me further insights into this phenomenon.

With these new sets of tools such as cultural theorists, political economists and different forms of research, I have now come to realise that communications are not just benign attempts to connect with others (specific audiences or the wider more general publics). They are often more deliberate constructions that seek to control those who uses these channels. Communications are not just exchanges but power relations. It is about who owns the bridge, who is allowed to travel on it, what modes are allowed and the bridge toll.
But it is also about the unforeseen uses of the bridge that the owners often never intended, never imagined. Power is also a two-way street.

It is these issues I would like to explore in this blog:
  • Issues about the dynamics of power and hegemony in the media. 
  • Discussions about media ownership and the frameworks within which media operates. 
  • How media frames who we are, what we desire, our tastes, how we see others and ourselves. 
  • The ways in which we use media ourselves, how we make media, how we speak for ourselves.

If this is what fascinates you too, then join me on this journey. I have deliberately chosen (with the help of a friend) the title media rumination (or Rumi nation). Whenever I think of Rumi, the image of the whirling dervish emerges. For me the dervish twirls not to only reach the higher but also to remain grounded: to spin and not become incoherent; to make the world go by and yet be in it. I like that.

Adli, 25 February 2011