Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The controversies that are "women's rights" and "migrant laborers' rights in the Gulf"

The usual disclaimer: I'm not writing this on behalf of CLS or anyone or any other program's behalf. Everything I say here (and in all my other posts and tweets during my two months in Oman through CLS) is entirely my own thoughts. So don't be hating CLS if something I say doesn't please your heart.

Okay, qrratugiya, time to stop pushing boundaries, at least in Ibri. But today was an adventurous day, controversy-wise (what?). Though, honestly, why should anything related to women's rights be considered controversial? Or migrant workers' rights? Stop it, humans. 

Here's what happened.

So in class, we discussed feminism and women's rights. It was a fun conversation, and we all enjoyed it. We tried not to get too controversial, though, especially considering the possibility of misunderstandings due to language barriers and all. As much as I reject the whole "culture vs Islam" concept, we ended up claiming that, yes, yes, culture's the main culprit for argument's sake. Our teacher is such a good person, so well-meaning, and so open to learning and so open to dialogue (I mean, this guy met with each 6 of us individually to discuss how the class/teaching style/etc. could be improved and all, and he was totally open to and accepting of all the feedback). AND he's so adorable! God bless him infinitely. So we didn't want to say anything that might offend him or his beliefs or that might suggest that we don't respect the culture, religion, or country so close to his heart. Still, feminism is always for some reason I fail to understand a controversial topic. Can't wait for that to stop being the case. ‪#‎FeminismInshaAllah‬
THEN! The other controversial thing happened during my talking session with my speaking partner (who's also a great person, we get along well, agree on lots of important issues, and she's a good listener and a good teacher AND she's interested in the lame, boring stories I tell her of my childhood, family, and girl stuff and stuff). I told her that for our weekly presentations this week, I'm considering doing something on the utter lack of human rights of migrant workers in the Gulf. Well, it was a ... an interesting--no, depressing--conversation. It's scary how unwilling some Khaleejis are to learning about the terrifying realities of the humans who work for them. Yes, migrant laborers' terrible treatment is also a problem in the U.S. (especially in Texas where I live - there's lots of scholarship on this; please make yourself aware of it if you're not already), so I'm not suggesting that it's okay when it happens in the U.S. but not when it takes places in the Gulf or elsewhere. But here in Oman, virtually every other shop relies on who appear to be South Asian workers', and seeing it right in my face is just heartbreaking when I know what goes on in their lives here. Knowing that hardly any of the money the shop earns actually goes to them angers me. It's heartbreaking. My heart goes out to all these migrants who leave EVERYTHING and EVERYONE behind to try to make a living for the people they love only to go somewhere were they're unlikely to be respected, where they are deprived of the most basic rights every human should have--like freedom to move around, leave employers as they deem necessary, find better and more opportunities, and to simply demand respect. And then I'm told that "No, no the reason we take their passports from them is because they try to run away! If they run away, they deserve to be deported." And in response, if you go, "But they're humans; everyone wants to find better opportunities and better lifestyles, so maybe if they run away, it's because they actually really need to run away and find a better job or place to work at." And they go, "No, no, NO ONE in Oman treats theirs employees badly. If they do, the workers have their right to just leave peacefully." I feel like the word "privilege" fits here too perfectly. 

As much as I get tired of South Asians and my many disagreements with them, when it comes to their sufferings, we are one; I'm them and they're me. And this may be a controversial topic or whatever, but I will not be able to rest until I've given my weekly presentation on this. Next week, inshaAllah.

But lesson learned: any and all discussions of the violation of the human rights of the infinite South Asians who work in Oman are something guaranteed to get heated, and many Khaleejis will try to justify the mistreatment or then totally deny it. (They'll give a story of their one servant who tried to run away and was--haha in their face--deported.) Naturally, I compared it to slavery and was told that no, it's nothing like slavery at all because--lo and behold--"Here in Oman, we treat our servants with respect. We don't abuse or hurt them at all. We don't even yell at them." It's the "here in Oman" part I get annoyed by. 

Goddamnit, I want a better world where people aren't defined by their socio-economic status or race or gender or sexual orientation or religion or other human-enforced barriers that should be a positive force in celebrating diversity instead of being used to marginalize certain groups.
Peace be on all.

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