The Quran on those who Exploit

May 22, 2011 § Leave a comment

“WOE UNTO THOSE who give short measure: those who, when they are to receive their due from [other] people, demand that it be given in full – but when they have to measure or weigh whatever they owe to others, give less than what is due! Do they not know that they are bound to be raised from the dead [and called to account] on an awesome Day – the Day when all men shall stand before the Sustainer of all the worlds? “(Quran 83: 1-6)

I have been thinking a lot about these verses, and wondering about production around the world. There is an expectation that when we buy commodities in North America, we pay the full price – no bargaining, no compromise. Companies make billions off of this. But how do they reward those who make their goods? They pay them meager wages, barely enough to live on. They often don’t even pay their North American workers enough or give them benefits (think Walmart). During the market crisis, heads of corporations paid themselves millions in bonuses, while the common citizen paid the price of their company bailouts.   God in the Quran addresses these sorts of people by the use of the word ‘wail’ ( وَيْلٌ), the definition meaning ‘woe unto you’ or ‘destruction, ruin, or doom unto you’ and they are later in the same chapter promised Hellfire. Exploitation, even on a small scale, is a very serious offense in the Quran. Are we a part of this? Do we even care?

I remember a few years ago MSA National was giving a scholarship to Muslim students from Chevron-Texaco. I wrote them a long letter explaining that it makes no sense for those who believe in Islam and its truth to accept money from a company that has raped (I didn’t use that word exactly) parts of Nigeria (along with other places in the world, but I used Nigeria as an example) and has put almost nothing back. How can we as Muslims be a part of that? The outer forms of worship (prayer, fasting, etc.) mean nothing when we’re accepting money stained with the blood of those who were exploited for oil.

I never received a response. This may be overly cynical to say, but I don’t think many Muslims care about exploitation as long as they don’t see it, don’t hear it, and don’t think about it. Looking Muslim and acting Muslim as well at following religious ritual is enough. This example was of a group simply accepting money from a major oil company, but many are directly involved in these dealings. Even on a small scale, cheating on business deals is a norm among many I’ve observed.

God curses those who exploit others, and those who are unfair in their business transactions. Ritual is not enough, if we do not make sure our actions are fair and just, we’ll be answerable to Him for what we’ve done to others.

The City of Sao Paulo

May 9, 2011 § Leave a comment

Featured in Morgan Spurlock’s documentary Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, the city of Sao Paulo has accomplished what we may deem an impossible task: it rid its public spaces of all advertising. Now that’s a place I’d like to see for myself!

Here is an excerpt of an article on the removal of publics ads in Sao Paulo from Bloomberg Businessweek:

São Paulo: The City That Said No To Advertising

The “Clean City” law passed last year by the populist mayor, Gilberto Kassab, stripped the Brazilian city of all advertising. 

by Patrick Burgoyne

A city stripped of advertising. No Posters. No flyers. No ads on buses. No ads on trains. No Adshels, no 48-sheets, no nothing.

It sounds like an Adbusters editorial: an activist’s dream. But in São Paulo, Brazil, the dream has become a reality.

In September last year, the city’s populist right-wing mayor, Gilberto Kassab, passed the so-called Clean City laws. Fed up with the “visual pollution” caused by the city’s 8,000 billboard sites, many of them erected illegally, Kassab proposed a law banning all outdoor advertising. The skyscraper-sized hoardings that lined the city’s streets would be wiped away at a stroke. And it was not just billboards that attracted his wrath: all forms of outdoor advertising were to be prohibited, including ads on taxis, on buses—even shopfronts were to be restricted, their signs limited to 1.5 metres for every 10 metres of frontage. “It is hard in a city of 11 million people to find enough equipment and personnel to determine what is and isn’t legal,” reasoned Kassab, “so we have decided to go all the way.”

The law was hailed by writer Roberto Pompeu de Toledo as “a rare victory of the public interest over private, of order over disorder, aesthetics over ugliness, of cleanliness over trash& For once, all that is accustomed to coming out on top in Brazil has lost.”

See Morgan Spurlock’s New Documentary

May 9, 2011 § Leave a comment

Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold

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Just saw this a week and a half ago at the Hot Docs Film Festival. For anyone interested in product placement and the infiltration of advertising in all aspects of our existence, this is the documentary to see. What I thought the movie highlighted well is how inescapable advertising is (unless you live in a remote area) in North America and how much it has become part our normal landscape. I now come to expect odd insertions of lines advertising products in movies and tv shows and almost don’t notice them anymore. It was a good reminder of how much our minds are jammed and polluted by all of this stuff.

CTV: UBC named Canada’s first Fair Trade Campus

May 8, 2011 § Leave a comment

 Congrats to UBC for leading the way. Hope to see this on other campuses across Canada!!

UBC named Canada’s first Fair Trade Campus
CTV

By: Kendall Walters, ctvbc.ca

Date: Thursday May. 5, 2011 5:07 PM PT

There’s something different about the way the University of British Columbia wakes up and smells the coffee in the morning – the steaming caffeine poured into warm mugs across campus is fair trade.

UBC just became the first Fair Trade Campus in Canada. The Fair Trade Canada designation follows Vancouver’s recognition as a Fair Trade City this time last year.

Coffee, tea and chocolate bars sold at UBC and student society AMS-run eateries are ethically purchased and provide equitable compensation to farmers for their product.

The commitment does not include campus franchises – Starbucks, Tim Hortons and White Spot.

Kaan Williams is the director of fair trade with the UBC chapter of Engineers Without Borders. He was instrumental in pushing the designation initiative forward.

“It’s not just a recognition of past activity at UBC,” he said. “It’s also a commitment to retain the momentum that UBC has.”

The campus had already put into effect many policies fitting with Fair Trade Canada’s designation requirements. UBC has offered fair trade coffee for the past decade; the campus sold nearly 1.5 million cups of fair trade coffee in the last year alone.

“All the reactions I’ve heard so far were enthusiastic and excited,” Williams said. “People are excited to see some recognition for what’s going on here at UBC.”

Only a few extra steps had to be put in place to meet designation restrictions.

The campus dedicated itself to using fair trade products whenever possible, Williams said. That’s why it’s gone beyond the minimum requirements of the designation.

Fair Trade Canada asks that Fair Trade Campuses sell only fair trade coffee and offer at least three fair trade teas and one fair trade chocolate bar option.

Nearly all of the teas offered at UBC are fair trade and campus eateries are also selling fair trade tropical fruit such as bananas.

“We’re always looking for new things to use as well,” Williams said.

The designation has already fueled action by local businesses.

Vancouver-based coffee companies Milano and Ethical Bean have jumped on board. Milano produced its first fair-trade certified blend of coffee for UBC.

And there’s buzz in the air of fair trade designation hopes at several other Canadian universities. Williams has already been contacted by other institutions interested in following UBC’s example.

Andrew Parr is the managing director of UBC student housing and hospitality services. He was closely involved in the designation.

He said the campus wasn’t aiming to be the first fair-trade certified in Canada, but he said he thinks it’s a nice message to other institutions.

“This is something that is feasible and doable and worth doing,” Parr said.

The initiative is a matter of educating students on something more than the subject matter they study in the classroom, Parr said, adding he hopes the move can help UBC students become more socially-conscious citizens.

Williams agreed.

“That’s a nice way that we as an institution are able to make an influence in a broader community,” he said.

UBC joins 100 global universities that have already made the commitment.

T Magazine: ‘A Diamond in the Roughage’

May 5, 2011 § Leave a comment

The New York Times Style Magazine:

On being fashionable, ethically, by Lynn Yaeger

Sometimes it’s wonderfully easy, sometimes not so very. Deciding to throw that dirty makeup towel on the floor of the hotel bathroom, despite the card detailing the environmental consequences of your wanton gesture in three languages? An ethical conundrum that can sully a whole day (or at least a morning). But slathering your visage with the wholesome-est creams, bedecking yourself in the finest ancient gems and even brooking controversy by maybe daring to don a few vintage pelts, all in service of saving, celebrating — even worshiping — the earth? Simple.

It’s already the second decade of the new century, and we are dealing with style questions, ethical and otherwise, that would have bedeviled our chic ancestors. We may pay lip service to sustainability and strive for a toddler-size carbon footprint, but who among us is considering the environment when our cupboards are stuffed with nonbiodegradable synthetic Marc Jacobs fetish frocks, shiny plastic Balenciaga houndstooth-check spring coats and truckloads of industrial-strength Spanx made of who knows what mysterious chemical compound? Not to mention the sheer quantities of merchandise that languish in our armoires, living as we do in a time when 30 pairs of shoes don’t raise an eyebrow, instead of the measly two (or maybe three or four, if they were really prosperous) that our forebears made do with.

Back then, life was so much easier. You didn’t need to worry about the ecological correctness of your cosmetics because they were made of good things like arsenic, which — fun fact! — some women in the 19th century used to drink in a vain (pun intended) attempt to look like the fair maidens of the Caucasus. Or — second fun fact — you could visit an “enameler” on lower Broadway who encased your face and neck with a lead-based coating; but bear in mind that if the enamel was applied with slightly too heavy a hand, the merest movement would cause hideous spooky cracks.

How delightfully times have changed! This morning, I doused myself with gluten-free vegan shower gel (odd when you think about it, since I didn’t plan to eat it); rolled on a deodorant made, at least partially, from chamomile and rice (though I didn’t intend to consume this either); and attempted to eradicate my under-eye circles with a soy/rice peptide (a third meal?). I lightened my coffee (yes, caffeine — I don’t want to hear it) with organic low-fat “happy” milk, which the bottle claims comes from a cheerful cow who has a name.

Want to know how much I care about a cow’s name? On the other hand, I do like to know the names of the people who once wore my jewelry. Of all the ways of keeping green, of embarking on the road that will make a responsible, socially aware person out of the gross, wasteful slob you fear you remain deep inside, wearing old jewelry is perhaps the most seductive path. I am actually thrilled to look inside a cameo ring and find it inscribed “For Darling Desdemona, Christmas 1887.” I even have a soft spot for the semirevolting subgroup of antique bibelots known as mourning jewelry, a Victorian conceit that employs human hair — the ultimate green material — woven in clever ways, and that is invariably decorated with the name and death date of the luckless soul commemorated. (Added bonus: If you fling a hair brooch into the trash by mistake, it will decompose delightfully in the nearest fetid landfill, unlike those big plastic and resin necklaces they’re selling all over town with four-figure price tags.)

So go ahead! Learn the name of that bovine whose teats were squeezed particularly for your delectation, coat your face with enamel, stick an 18th-century diamond tiara on your head, and sally forth confident in the knowledge that no aspect of our glorious planet was harmed in the process of making you so gorgeous.

American Apparel Adventure

May 5, 2011 § Leave a comment

It was only a few months ago that I discovered American Apparel is a sweatshop-free, made in America clothing line (hence the name American Apparel). Before that, I’d passed it many times but never went in – it seemed like the same sort of clothing you could find at Old Navy or Banana Republic. But upon discovering their merchandise is not produced in sweatshops, I decided it was worth checking out.

Turns out I was completely wrong about it being a generic clothing store. There are many pieces in fashion now that are eighties revival that I like, some that I sort of understand, some that I would never wear but think might look trendy on a few brave souls. But I could only describe their line as Denise Huxtable whacked out totally eighties-style clothing. I actually stood confused at the front of the store for a few minutes  because I felt like I’d walked into the wrong decade.

After looking around a bit, I found a shirt that I actually liked and ended up buying. That was a lucky find though because I’m neither ‘trendy’ enough nor brave enough to wear most of the clothing in the store. They do have undergarments and nice accessories which I think would be worth a trip there a few times a year. But otherwise, I was pretty disappointed. Maybe the solution is for me to be more daring in my clothing choices? Maybe not.

CNN: ‘We take risks, others pay the price’ Naomi Klein

May 2, 2011 § 1 Comment

TED: ‘Addicted to Risk’

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CNN: ‘We take risks, others pay the price’
By Naomi Klein, Special to CNN
February 20, 2011

(CNN) — When I met George Awudi, a leader of Friends of the Earth Ghana, he was wearing a bright red T-shirt that said “Do Not Incinerate Africa.” We were both attending the World Social Forum, a sprawling gathering of tens of thousands of activists held earlier this month in Dakar, Senegal.

Amid that political free-for-all — with mini-protests breaking out against everything from Arab despots to education cuts — I assumed that Awudi’s T-shirt referred to some local environmental struggle I hadn’t heard of, perhaps a dirty incinerator in Ghana.

He set me straight: “No, it’s about climate change.” Specifically, the combative slogan refers to the refusal of industrialized nations to commit to deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. Since the hottest and poorest countries on the planet are being hit first and hardest by rising temperatures, that refusal will mean, according to Awudi, that large parts of Africa “will be incinerated.”

He was quick to clarify that he did not think that people from wealthy countries actively want Africa to “burn” — it’s just that they want “to hold on to their interests,” including “interests of profit-making.”

But there is something deeper at play too, Awudi said. “It’s a mentality that they have imported from the colonial days. A mentality of looking down upon people” from Africa. It is that mentality, he argued, that makes it possible to barrel ahead with economic policies that carry growing and glaring risks.

I decided to focus my TED talk on the psychology of reckless risk-taking, because I see that impulse at work behind so many of the catastrophes of recent years: the BP disaster, the invasion of Iraq, the financial sector collapse, and the ongoing refusal to take meaningful action in the face of climate change.

Again and again, policymakers ignore mountains of evidence warning of catastrophe, opting instead to roll the dice and hope for the best.

There are all kinds of explanations for what drives this sort of short-term decision-making, with greed and hubris cited most frequently. Less discussed, but possibly more important, is the phenomenon that Awudi referenced: that the people taking the risks often feel distinctly distant from, if not outright superior to, the people most endangered by their decisions.

Many of our greatest risk-takers are also convinced that they personally will be spared from the worst consequences should things go terribly wrong.

In most cases, this is not an irrational assumption. The U.S. government’s decision to invade Iraq was disastrous for Iraqis, whose country spiraled out of control, but in large parts of the U.S., that war is virtually invisible.

Multinational oil and gas companies are so hypermobile that a disaster in one part of the world just means concentrating on new “energy plays” somewhere else. And then there are the bankers who caused the 2008 collapse. Billions around the world have paid the price for their recklessness, but the financial sector itself has been largely insulated from all but the most token reprimands.

With climate change, the gap between those who created the crisis and those who pay the price is widest of all.

It is the historical emissions from the industrialized world that are responsible for the dangerous accumulation of carbon in the atmosphere. Yet in North America and Europe, where we have the infrastructure to deal with extreme weather (just don’t mention New Orleans), many of us feel we have the luxury to debate whether the phenomenon is even happening.

Meanwhile, African nations like Ghana, that contributed least to the crisis, are already facing crippling droughts and devastating floods, without the tools to cope.

All of this has led me to conclude that the central challenge of our time is tackling deep inequality, and changing the stories that we tell ourselves to justify our enormous privilege.

In a deeply divided world like ours, there is simply too much distance between the people with unchecked power to make grave mistakes and those who have to suffer the effects.

Only when we feel that our fates are genuinely intertwined will we understand that a fire that starts in Africa will eventually incinerate us all.

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