Saturday, November 18, 2017

Aheda Zanetti / I created the burkini to give women freedom, not to take it away

Australian burkini creator and manufacturer Aheda Zanetti

I created the burkini to give women freedom, not to take it away

The burkini does not symbolise Islam, it symbolises leisure and happiness and fitness and health. So who is better, the Taliban or French politicians?

hen I invented the burkini in early 2004, it was to give women freedom, not to take it away. My niece wanted to play netball but it was a bit of a struggle to get her in the team – she was wearing a hijab. My sister had to fight for her daughter to play, had to debate the issue and ask, why is this girl prevented from playing netball because of her modesty?

When she was finally allowed to play we all went to watch her to support her and what she was wearing was totally inappropriate for a sports uniform – a skivvy, tracksuit pants, and her hijab, totally unsuitable for any type of sport. She looked like a tomato she was so red and hot!
So I went home and went looking for something that might be better for her to wear, sportswear for Muslim girls, and I couldn’t find anything, I knew there was nothing in Australia. It got me thinking because when I was a girl I missed out on sport – we didn’t participate in anything because we chose to be modest, but for my niece I wanted to find something that would adapt to the Australian lifestyle and western clothing but at the same time fulfil the needs of a Muslim girl.
So I sat down on my lounge room floor and designed something. I looked at the veil and took away a lot of the excess fabric, which made me nervous - would my Islamic community accept this? The veil is supposed to cover your hair and your shape, you just don’t shape anything around your body. But this was shaped around the neck. I thought, it’s only the shape of a neck, it doesn’t really matter.

Before I launched it I produced a sample with a questionnaire to find out what people would think - would you wear this? Would this encourage you to be more active? Play more sport? Swim? A lot of people in my community didn’t know how to accept this, but I developed it commercially and made a good business.
The burkini came to everyone’s attention when Surf Lifesaving Australia introduced a program to integrate Muslim boys and girls into surf lifesaving after the Cronulla riots – they had a young Muslim girl who wanted to compete in an event. She wore a burkini.
After September 11, the Cronulla riots, the banning of the veil in France, and the international backlash that came with it – about us being the bad people all because of a few criminals who do not speak on behalf of Muslims – I really didn’t want anyone to judge girls wearing these. It’s only a girl being modest.
It was about integration and acceptance and being equal and about not being judged. It was difficult for us at the time, the Muslim community, they had a fear of stepping out. They had fear of going to public pools and beaches and so forth, and I wanted girls to have the confidence to continue a good life. Sport is so important, and we are Australian! I wanted to do something positive – and anyone can wear this, Christian, Jewish, Hindus. It’s just a garment to suit a modest person, or someone who has skin cancer, or a new mother who doesn’t want to wear a bikini, it’s not symbolising Islam.

When I named it the burkini I didn’t really think it was a burqa for the beach. Burqa was just a word for me – I’d been brought up in Australia all my life, and I’d designed this swimsuit and I had to call it something quickly. It was the combination of two cultures – we’re Australians but we are also Muslim by choice. The burqa doesn’t symbolise anything here, and it’s not mentioned in the Qur’an and our religion does not ask us to cover our faces, it’s the wearer’s choice to do so. Burqa is nowhere in any Islamic text. I had to look the word up, and it was described as a kind of coat and cover-all, and at the other end you had the bikini, so I combined the two.
This negativity that is happening now and what is happening in France makes me so sad. I hope it’s not because of racism. I think they have misunderstood a garment that is so positive – it symbolises leisure and happiness and fun and fitness and health and now they are demanding women get off the beach and back into their kitchens?
This has given women freedom, and they want to take that freedom away? So who is better, the Taliban or French politicians? They are as bad as each other.
I don’t think any man should worry about how women are dressing – no one is forcing us, it’s a woman’s choice. What you see is our choice. Do I call myself a feminist? Yes, maybe. I like to stand behind my man, but I am the engine, and I choose to be. I want him to take all the credit, but I am the quiet achiever.
I would love to be in France to say this: you have misunderstood. And there more problems in the world to worry about, why create more? You’ve taken a product that symbolised happiness and joyfulness and fitness, and turned it into a product of hatred.

Also, what are the French values? What do you mean it doesn’t combine with French values, what does that mean? Liberty? You telling us what to wear, you telling us what not to do will drive women back into their homes – what do you want us to do then? There will be a backlash. If you are dividing the nation and not listening and not working towards something you are naturally going to have someone who is going to get angry. If you are pushing people away, and isolating them – this is definitely not a good thing for any politician to do, in any country.
I remember when I first tested the burkini. First I tested it in my bathtub, I had to make sure it worked. Then I had to test it by diving in it, so I went to the local pool to test that the headband would stay put, so I went to Roselands Pool, and I remember that everyone was staring at me – what was I wearing? I went right to the end of the pool and got on the diving board and dived in. The headband stayed in place, and I thought, beauty! Perfect!
It was my first time swimming in public and it was absolutely beautiful. I remember the feeling so clearly. I felt freedom, I felt empowerment, I felt like I owned the pool. I walked to the end of that pool with my shoulders back.
Diving into water is one of the best feelings in the world. And you know what? I wear a bikini under my burkini. I’ve got the best of both worlds.

The 100 best nonfiction books / No 8 / Orientalism by Edward Said (1978)

The 100 best nonfiction books

No 8 

Orientalism by Edward Said 


This polemical masterpiece challenging western attitudes to the east is as topical today as it was on publication

Robert McCrum
Monday 21 March 2016 05.44 GMT

ext to the suicide bombings, the air strikes, and the beheadings, a closely argued 300-page monograph devoted to a radical post-colonial thesis might seem to suggest a modest literary intervention. Yet in the ongoing, brutal clash of Islam and the west, Edward Said’s analysis remains the book to which no combatant can be indifferent.

Orientalism is a profoundly influential and controversial study of the way in which, for at least 2,000 years, ever since the wars between the ancient Greeks and the Persians, the west has fought with, and largely dominated, the east through a persuasive colonial version of its culture and politics. Said’s masterpiece has been topical ever since its publication shortly before the 1979 Iranian revolution. Today, in an even more unstable world, it must be ranked high on any list of key texts related to the contemporary sociopolitical crises of the 21st century.
Edward Said

Said, a highly sophisticated and brilliant public intellectual, drew on his experience as an Arab-Palestinian living in the west to examine the way in which, from cu lture to religion, the west imperialised the ancient and complex societies of north Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. He would argue that the Gulf wars, and the catastrophe of Iraq, are a direct consequence of a fateful and crude ideology rooted deeply in the western mind.
Any summary of Said’s immensely subtle analysis of western attitudes and conduct towards the east risks becoming a travesty. However, in simplified terms, Orientalism examines the history of how the west, especially the empires of Britain and France, created a thought process to deal with the “otherness” of eastern society, customs and beliefs. As Said himself puts it, “I study orientalism as a dynamic exchange between individual authors and the large political concerns shaped by the three great empires (British, French, American), in whose intellectual and imaginative territory the writing was produced.”
The authors in question include Homer and the Greek playwrights such as Aeschylus who first characterised the Persians of “the east” in their dramas as exotic and inscrutable, stereotypes that Said shows subsequently to permeate the works of writers such as Flaubert, the young Disraeli, and Kipling, whose accounts of “the east” fed the west’s fascination with the orient. Said further sharpened the political edge of this narrative by showing how such ideas could be seen as a direct reflection of European racism and imperialism.
After the publication of Orientalism set off a firestorm of criticism from every angle of the east-west divide, Said declared, in a retrospective essay, that “the orient-versus-occident opposition was both misleading and highly undesirable; the less it was given credit for actually describing anything more than a fascinating history of interpretations and contesting interests, the better”.
These were vain hopes. In the nearly 40 years since Orientalism first appeared, the Middle East, the Arabs and Islam have continued to fuel enormous change, struggle, controversy and, most recently, warfare. Said, a pugnacious advocate for an independent state of Palestine became drawn into some visceral arguments in a way that helped politicise a book whose scholarly first intent had been to use, in Said’s words, a “humanistic critique to introduce a longer sequence of thought and analysis to replace the short bursts of thought-stopping fury that so imprison us”.
Said always longed for elegance and sophistication in argument. “I have called what I try to do ‘humanism’,” he wrote, a word that might surprise those who found him consistently combative and unforgiving in argument. But he was unrepentant. “By humanism I mean first of all attempting to dissolve Blake’s mind-forged manacles so as to be able to use one’s mind historically and rationally for the purposes of reflective understanding and genuine disclosure. Moreover, humanism is sustained by a sense of community with other interpreters and other societies and periods: strictly speaking, there is no such thing as an isolated humanist.” Perhaps it was Said’s tragedy that he should practise his craft as a great literary critic in an age which has had no patience with the subtleties of language, and no serious appetite for the nuances of a complicated idea. During Said’s professional life, almost every aspect of his study became reduced to slogans and violent posturing.
Indeed, just before Said died in 2003, he noted with dismay the continuing impact of “orientalist” ideology on the west: “Bookstores in the US,” he wrote, “are filled with shabby screeds bearing screaming headlines about Islam and terror, Islam exposed, the Arab threat and the Muslim menace, all of them written by political polemicists pretending to knowledge imparted by experts who have supposedly penetrated to the heart of these strange oriental people...”
As the US and the western powers continue to grapple with the crisis of Islam in Syria, Iraq, Egypt, and Libya, while desperately appeasing the oil-rich princes of Arabia, Orientalism will remain the text to which the Foreign Office and the State Department will have to return to replenish their search for mutual understanding in the conflict between east and west.
Said was always a vociferous enemy of theories about the “clash of civilisations”. With great elegance and clarity, he argued for intellectual progress. “One of the great advances,” he wrote as the Orientalism controversy raged around him, “is the realisation that cultures are hybrid and heterogeneous, and that cultures and civilisations are so interrelated and interdependent as to beggar any simply delineated description of their individuality.” How, he went on, “can one speak of ‘western civilisation’ except as an ideological fiction that gave the western nations their present mixed identities? This is especially true of the United States, which today can only be described as an enormous palimpsest of different races and cultures sharing a problematic history of conquests, exterminations, and of course major cultural and political achievements.”
In words that might provide an epigraph to this series, Italo Calvino once said that a classic is a book that has “never finished what it wants to say”. Orientalism is such a book.

A Signature Sentence

“No former ‘oriental’ will be comforted by the thought that having been an oriental himself he is likely – too likely – to study new ‘orientals’ – or ‘occidentals’ of his own making. If the knowledge of orientalism has any meaning, it is in being a reminder of the seductive degradation of knowledge, of any knowledge, anywhere, at anytime.”

Three to Compare

Albert Hourani: A History of the Arab Peoples (1991)
Ammiel Alcalay: After Arabs and Jews: Remaking Levantine Culture (1993)
Edward Said: Out of Place – A Memoir (1999)
 Orientalism by Edward Said (Penguin, £10.99). 

Friday, November 17, 2017

'I had to defend myself' / the night Harvey Weinstein jumped on Léa Seydoux

'I had to defend myself': the night Harvey Weinstein jumped on me

By Léa Seydoux

All throughout the evening, he flirted and stared at me as if I was a piece of meat. Then he lost control, writes the award-winning actor Léa Seydoux

meet men like Harvey Weinstein all the time. I have starred in many films over the last 10 years and have been lucky enough to win awards at festivals like Cannes. Cinema is my life. And I know all of the ways in which the film industry treats women with contempt.

When I first met Harvey Weinstein, it didn’t take me long to figure him out. We were at a fashion show. He was charming, funny, smart – but very domineering. He wanted to meet me for drinks and insisted we had to make an appointment that very night. This was never going to be about work. He had other intentions – I could see that very clearly. 
We met in the lobby of his hotel. His assistant, a young woman, was there. All throughout the evening, he flirted and stared at me as if I was a piece of meat. He acted as if he were considering me for a role. But I knew that was bullshit. I knew it, because I could see it in his eyes. He had a lecherous look. He was using his power to get sex. 
He invited me to come to his hotel room for a drink. We went up together. It was hard to say no because he’s so powerful. All the girls are scared of him. Soon, his assistant left and it was just the two of us. That’s the moment where he started losing control.

We were talking on the sofa when he suddenly jumped on me and tried to kiss me. I had to defend myself. He’s big and fat, so I had to be forceful to resist him. I left his room, thoroughly disgusted. I wasn’t afraid of him, though. Because I knew what kind of man he was all along.
Since that night in his hotel room, I’ve seen him on many other occasions. We are in the same industry, so it’s impossible to avoid him. I’ve seen how he operates: the way he looks for an opening. The way he tests women to see what he can get away with.
He also doesn’t take no for an answer. I once went with him to a restaurant and when he couldn’t get a table he got angry and said: “Do you know who I am? I am Harvey Weinstein.” That’s the kind of man he is.
I’ve been at dinners with him where he’s bragged openly about Hollywood actresses he has had sex with. He’s also said misogynistic things to me over the years. “You’d be better if you lost weight,” he said. That comment shocked me.

One night, I saw him in London for the Baftas. He was hitting on a young woman. Another time, at the Met Life ball, I saw him trying to convince a young woman to sleep with him. Everyone could see what he was doing.
That’s the most disgusting thing. Everyone knew what Harvey was up to and no one did anything. It’s unbelievable that he’s been able to act like this for decades and still keep his career. That’s only possible because he has a huge amount of power. 
In this industry, there are directors who abuse their position. They are very influential, that’s how they can do that. With Harvey, it was physical. With others, it’s just words. Sometimes, it feels like you have to be very strong to be a woman in the film industry. It’s very common to encounter these kinds of men.
The first time a director made an inappropriate comment to me, I was in my mid-20s. He was a director I really liked and respected. We were alone and he said to me: “I wish I could have sex with you, I wish I could fuck you.”

He said it in a way that was half joking and half serious. I was very angry. I was trying to do my job and he made me very uncomfortable. He has slept with all of the actresses he filmed.
Another director I worked with would film very long sex scenes that lasted days. He kept watching us, replaying the scenes over and over again in a kind of stupor. It was very gross.
Yet another director tried to kiss me. Like Weinstein, I had to physically push him away, too. He acted like a crazy man, deranged by the fact that I didn’t want to have sex with him. 
If you’re a woman working in the film industry, you have to fight because it is a very misogynistic world. Why else are salaries so unequal? Why do men earn more than women? There is no reason for it to be that way.
Hollywood is incredibly demanding on women. Think about the beauty diktats. All of the actresses have botox at 30. They have to be perfect. This is an image of women that is bizarre – and one that ends up controlling women. 
This industry is based on desirable actresses. You have to be desirable and loved. But not all desires have to be fulfilled, even though men in the industry have an expectation that theirs should be. I think – and hope – that we might finally see a change. Only truth and justice can bring us forward.
  • Léa Seydoux is a French actor. She was awarded the Palme d’Or at the Cannes film festival for her film Blue Is the Warmest Colour

The Weinstein allegations

The Weinstein allegations

A list of the accusations made against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, who has denied many of the allegations
Last updated on Friday

OCTOBER 20, 2017

"He tried to encourage me by telling me what a fantastic opportunity it was for me to be part of this project.Paula Wachowiak"
Intern Wachowiak was invited to Weinstein's hotel room where he exposed himself and asked for a massage Source: The Buffalo News

"Mr Weinstein was quite calm about trying to explain to me that if I would at least take my top off, this would demonstrate to him that I wasn’t going to be shy about doing so in front of the cameras."
Tomi-Ann Roberts

Weinstein invited Roberts to his hotel room to discuss a script, but was nude in the bathtub when she arrived. Source: Democracy Now
"He pushed me inside and rammed me up against the coat rack in my tiny hall and started fumbling at my gown. He was trying to kiss me and shove inside me. It was disgusting."
Lysette Anthony

Weinstein turned up at Anthony's home, later buying her a coat that she saw as an apology Source: Sunday Times

The 100 best nonfiction books / No 7 / The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe (1979)

The 100 best nonfiction books

No 7

The Right Stuff 

by Tom Wolfe 


The author raised reportage to dazzling new levels in his quest to discover what makes a man fly to the moon

ewspapers and magazines often provide an indispensable patronage for writers. The Right Stuff is one of several great books in this list that derive from the interaction of high journalism and a higher literary ambition. In 1972, Rolling Stone commissioned its star reporter to cover the launch of Nasa’s final Apollo moonshot, one of many moments that marked the end of the 60s.

Tom Wolfe responded with what he later described as just “some ordinary curiosity”. What was it, he wondered, that would make a man “willing to sit up on top of an enormous Roman candle, such as a Redstone, Atlas, Titan or Saturn rocket, and wait for someone to light the fuse?”
Wolfe decided, he says rather disingenuously, “on the simplest approach possible. I would ask a few astronauts and find out. So I asked a few in December of 1972 when they gathered at Cape Canaveral to watch the last mission to the moon, Apollo 17.”

Tom Wolfe... his account of Nasa’s final Apollo moonshot
became his best book in any genre.
Photograph: Mark Seliger/AP

The upshot was a four-part piece entitled “Post-Orbital Remorse”, which appeared in Rolling Stone during 1973. There was, however, an afterlife to Wolfe’s “ordinary curiosity”. He had stumbled on a “psychological mystery” – the motivation of the men involved, and his fascination with his own response. “I discovered quickly enough,” he wrote later, “that none of them, no matter how talkative otherwise, was about to answer the question, or even linger for more than a few seconds on the subject at the heart of it, which is to say, courage.”
And so, with his unfailing instinct for a good story, Wolfe spent the rest of the 70s in “a rich and fabulous terrain that, in a literary sense, had remained as dark as the far side of the moon for more than half a century: military flying and the modern American officer corps”. Wolfe’s account of “one of the most extraordinary and most secret dramas of the 20th century”, became The Right Stuff, his best book in any genre.
A classic of reportage, The Right Stuff is both a showcase of Wolfe’s remarkable gifts, as well as a book of its time. Below the waterline, it was also, as Michael Lewis has identified in a brilliant Vanity Fair profile, all about Wolfe. Lewis notes that: “Wolfe took an interest in the moon landing, but less in the mission than in the men. The early astronauts had some traits in common, he noticed. They tended to be born oldest sons, in the mid-1920s, named after their fathers, and raised in small towns, in intact Anglo-Saxon Protestant families. More than half of them had ‘Jr’ after their names. In other words, they were just like him. What was it about this upbringing, he wondered, that produced these men? It was another way of asking: What strange sociological process explains me?”
And because, in addition to “courage”, “test pilots” etc, The Right Stuff is all about Wolfe, it exhibits its author’s lifelong – and, let’s face it, southern – quarrel with the New York literary establishment. The Thomas Wolfe Jr, born in 1931, who had grown up in Richmond, Virginia, during the second world war, revered those “adventurous young men who sought glory in war” and who had become fighter pilots. As a young reporter in 60s Manhattan, he found himself an outsider. Towards the record of these pilots’ self-sacrifice and heroism, “the drama and psychology of flying high-performance aircraft in battle”, Wolfe observes, with some dismay, “the literary world remained oblivious”.
On my reading, The Right Stuff becomes a triple whammy and Wolfe’s home run. It’s both an exploration of courage and a meditation on its author’s background, as well as being a coded rebuke to the Manhattan literati who, in their devotion to the values of the New Yorker (Wolfe’s bete noir) and also Partisan Review, perceived military men as “brutes and philistines”. Meanwhile, the Vietnam war was in full, horrendous progress and navy pilots were dying. It was this heroism that Wolfe wanted to salute. “The Right Stuff,” he wrote later, “became the story of why men were willing – willing? – delighted! – to take on such odds in this, an era literary people had long since characterised as the age of the anti-hero.

Tom Wolfe ‘repressed his most rococo stylistic flourishes’ with The Right Stuff.
Photograph by Jack Robinson

The unintended consequence of writing about laconic, iron-jawed heroes was that Wolfe repressed his most rococo stylistic flourishes. Gone (mostly) were Wolfe’s whirlwind literary arpeggios; gone was the extravagant interior monologue of, for example, his essay Radical Chic, with famous passages such as: “Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. These are nice. Little Roquefort cheese morsels rolled in crushed nuts. Very tasty. Very subtle. It’s the way the dry sackiness of the nuts tiptoes up against the dour savour of the cheese that is so nice, so subtle. Wonder what the Black Panthers eat here on the hors d’oeuvre trail? Do the Panthers like little Roquefort cheese morsels wrapped in crushed nuts this way, and asparagus tips in mayonnaise dabs, and meatballs petites au Coq Hardi, all of which are at this very moment being offered to them on gadrooned silver platters by maids in black uniforms with hand-ironed white aprons…”
More sober, more subtle, and more respectful, in The Right Stuff Wolfe dedicates himself to probing the hearts and minds of the first Americans in space – Yeager, Conrad, Grissom, Glenn – those heroes who rocketed heavenwards to take on the Russians in the deep blue night of weightlessness, to pioneer another new frontier, and to thrill the American people.
Wolfe, meanwhile, remained a child of his times. He could never give up his dream of writing A Novel. “It’s hard to explain,” he writes in The New Journalism, “what an American dream the idea of writing a novel was in the 1940s, the 1950s, and right into the early 1960s. The Novel was no mere literary form. It was a psychological phenomenon. It was a cortical fever. It belonged in the glossary... somewhere between Narcissism and Obsessional Neuroses.” After The Right Stuffmade him a heap of money, a fully self-sufficient Tom Wolfe was going to scale the north face of Parnassus if it killed him. And when Rolling Stone (which commissioned him as if he were Dickens) came calling again, we got... The Bonfire of the Vanities. But that’s a whole other story.

A signature sentence

“When the final news came, there would be a ring at the door – a wife in this situation finds herself staring at the front door as if she no longer owns it or controls it – and outside the door would be a man... come to inform her that unfortunately something has happened out there, and her husband’s body now lies incinerated in the swamps or the pines or the palmetto grass, “burned beyond recognition”, which anyone who has been around an air base for very long realised was an artful euphemism to describe a human body that now looked like an enormous fowl that has burned up in a stove, burned a blackish brown all over, greasy and blistered, fried, in a word, with not only the entire face and all the hair and the ears burned off, not to mention all the clothing, but also the hands and feet, with what remains of the arms and legs bent at the knees and elbows and burned into absolutely rigid angles, burned a greasy blackish brown like the bursting body itself, so that this husband, father, officer, gentleman, this ornamentum of some mother’s eye, His Majesty the Baby of just 20-odd years back, has been reduced to a charred hulk with wings and shanks sticking out of it.”

Three to Compare

Norman Mailer: Of a Fire on the Moon (1970)
Carl Sagan: Cosmos: A Personal Voyage (1980)
Tom Wolfe: The Bonfire of the Vanities (1987)