‘Palestine + 100’: To forget is a sin in these futuristic tales

From virtual reality to extraterrestrial visitors, twelve authors explore what a free Palestine would look like. (Supplied)
Updated 04 November 2019

‘Palestine + 100’: To forget is a sin in these futuristic tales

CHICAGO: The year is 2048 in “Palestine + 100: Stories From a Century After the Nakba” edited by Basma Ghalayini. Twelve authors present their version of Palestine, where bananas grow on the slopes of Ramallah, pineapples flourish in Samaria and where virtual reality seamlessly overlays a desolate life.

Palestinian refugees are “like nomads traveling across a landscape of memory,” writes Ghalayini in her introduction. In 1948, the Nakba saw scores of Palestinian villages and cities destroyed and more than 700,000 Palestinians expelled from their land. As of 2003, it was estimated that 9.6 million descendants lived outside of Palestine and so when Ghalayini writes that for Palestinians “writing is, in part, a search of their lost inheritance, as well as an attempt to keep the memory of that loss from fading,” it is a powerful expression of how storytelling is a tool for preservation.

From virtual reality to extraterrestrial visitors, the twelve authors explore what a free Palestine would look like, or at least the illusion of freedom at the height of digital innovation. Salem Haddad, Majd Kayal, Emad El-Din Aysha, and Abdalmuti Maqbool create parallel words, pushing technological and societal boundaries, where history can be altered, government can be formed virtually and the past can be lived and relived through alternate narratives, but not without a cost.

From Mazen Maarouf comes a superhero and Selma Dabbagh tells of a desperate woman who must sell her kidney for a job. Between Anwar Hamed’s ghosts and Tasnim Abutabikh’s story of a mistaken enemy, each author turns the idea of freedom on its head, questioning the idea of freedom itself. From Rawan Yaghi comes a story of desolate landscapes in which oxygen is in short supply and sedatives are in high demand, and from Samir El-Youssef a story where the study of history is forbidden. Narratives are pushed as Ahmed Masoud explores the possibility of hosting international competitions and Talal Abu Shawish forces communities together when presented with an outside threat.

The story-tellers themselves have a range of perspectives that span over 40 years, from the oldest author in his sixties to the youngest in her twenties. Some have lived in Palestine while others have lived in Palestine through their parents’ or grandparents’ memories. As Samir El-Youssef writes in his short story, “in a country like this, to forget is a sin.”

South Asian marriage websites under fire for color bias

Updated 12 July 2020

South Asian marriage websites under fire for color bias

DHAHRAN: An online backlash has forced the matrimonial website Shaadi.com to take down an ‘skin color’ filter which asked users to specify their skin color using descriptors such as fair, wheatish or dark. The filter on the popular site, which caters to the South Asian diaspora, was one of the parameters for matching prospective partners.

Meghan Nagpal, a Toronto-based graduate student, logged on to the website and was appalled to see the skin-color filter. “Why should I support such archaic view [in 2020]?” she told Arab News.

Nagpal cited further examples of implicit biases against skin color in the diaspora communities – women who are dark-skinned are never acknowledged as “beautiful” or how light-skinned South Asian women who are mistaken as Caucasian consider it a compliment.

“Such biases stem from a history of colonization and the mentality that ‘white is superior’,” she said.

When Nagpal emailed the website’s customer service team, she received the response that “this is what most parents require.” She shared her experience on a Facebook group, attracting the attention of Florida-based Roshni Patel and Dallas-based Hetal Lakhani. The former took to online activism by tweeting the company and the latter started an online petition.

Overnight, the petition garnered more 1,500 signatures and the site eventually removed the filter.

“Now is the time to re-evaluate what we consider beautiful. Colorism has significant consequences in our community, especially for women. People with darker skin experience greater prejudice, violence, bullying and social sanctions,” the petition reads. “The idea that fairer skin is ‘good’ and darker skin is ‘bad’ is completely irrational. Not only is it untrue, but it is an entirely socially constructed perception based in neo-colonialism and casteism, which has no place in the 21st century.”

Overnight, the petition garnered more 1,500 signatures and the site eventually removed the filter.

“When a user highlighted this, we were thankful and had the remnants removed immediately. We do not discriminate based on skin color and our member base is as diverse and pluralistic as the world,” a spokesperson said.

“If one company starts a movement like this, it can change minds and perceptions. This is a step in the right direction,” said Nagpal. Soon after, Shaadi.com’s competitor Jeevansathi.com also took down the skin filter from its website.

Colorism and bias in matrimony is only one issue; prejudices are deeply ingrained and widespread across society. Dr. Sarah Rasmi, a Dubai-based psychologist, highlights research and observations on how light skin is an advantage in society.

The website took down the skin filter following backlash.

“Dark skin tends to have lower socio-economic status and, in the US justice system, has been found to get harsher and more punitive sentences.

“These biases for fair as opposed to dark skin comes from colonial prejudices and the idea that historically, light skin has been associated with privilege, power and superiority,” she said.

However, in the wake of #BlackLivesMatter protests, change is underway.

Last month, Johnson & Johnson announced that it will be discontinuing its skin whitening creams in Asian and Middle Eastern markets, and earlier this month Hindustan Unilever Limited (Unilever’s Indian subsidiary) announced that it will remove the words ‘fair, white and light’ from its products and marketing. To promote an inclusive standard of beauty, it has also renamed its flagship Fair & Lovely product line to Glow & Lovely.

“Brands have to move away from these standards of beauty and be more inclusive so that people – regardless of their color, size, shape or gender – can find a role model that looks like them in the mass media,” said Dr. Rasmi.