Breaking Down the Architecture of Disrespect

Breaking Down the Architecture of Disrespect

A tear rolls down my cheek as the crowd continues to applaud. My head is spinning from the story that has just unfolded. Rabia Siddique, the speaker for the event, thanks the room before taking questions. I look around at the speechless faces of strangers. You can see her story has impacted us all in one way or another.

Rabia Siddique is the daughter of an Indian Muslim father and a white Australian mother. They moved from India in the late 1970’s to what was a conservative Perth (Australia) at the time. Here, she resented her differences and faced challenges such as discrimination and prejudice as she adjusted to living in a new country. On top of this, she was sexually abused by a neighbour whom the family trusted. Her experiences lead her to pursue a career in social justice, taking her to London where she eventually joined the British Army as a military lawyer just days after September 11.

This lead to Rabia being stationed in southern Iraq, where she used her legal expertise and knowledge of Islam and Arabic to approach her task of assisting the local Iraqis in reestablishing law and order after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime. Her respectful, empathetic approach gained the respect and trust of her Iraqi colleagues.

On 19 September 2005, two British SAS operatives were taken hostage within an Iraqi Police compound called the Al Jamiat. A colleague of Rabia’s was sent in to negotiate the release of the two hostages, however as she had developed a reputation for being a person of her word, Rabia was the only person with whom they would speak. Although Rabia had no previous hostage negotiation or close hand-to-hand combat training, she was ordered in to lead the discussions.

The compound was surrounded by hundreds of local Iraqis by the time she arrived. She worked through discussions, and, when an agreement to release the hostages back into British custody was complete bar a few formalities, the crowd outside had grown to about 3000 people—who proceeded to storm the compound. At this point, Rabia and her colleague were also taken hostage, where, being the only female in the compound, she was subject to degrading and humiliating treatment. Many hours later, they were rescued and while her colleague was sent to a military debriefing, she was given a cup of tea and sent back to her tent. As her year continued in Iraq, she received no acknowledgement of the role she played on that day.

She returned to the UK, where she was eventually diagnosed with PTSD and almost lost her life due to an ectopic pregnancy. During this time, she heard news that her colleague had received a Military Cross, while she received an order to never speak of the events that occurred that day. In the years that followed, further events lead Rabia to pursue treatment to rebuild her inner strength and allow her to endure the discrimination case she filed against the British government and military. She eventually won.

I have heard other inspiring stories from many courageous and resilient people of this world, however, Rabia’s story hit home. It was the first time I had ever heard someone speak who had a background similar to my own. Both our parents were of different ethnicities, we’d moved from one country to another, we were required to adjust to different cultural situations in each place, and we were both Muslim woman who found struggles with growing up in a time where being Muslim was something that was considered different or less desirable in the local community. Rabia faced hardships I thankfully have not had to face myself, but her resilience in the face of these challenges was relatable, as was evident by the responses within the audience.

At the end of her talk, Rabia explained the positive feedback she started to receive from strangers who found the confidence to take a stand against their own hardships after hearing her story. She emphasised the importance of sharing experiences and the effect it can have to empower others to take a stand in their homes, workplaces and communities. To quote Rabia from her TEDxPerth talk ‘Courage Under Fire’:

In this world, we need more than ever to come together to create ripples and waves, to mobilise ourselves and others for a greater good and higher purpose. We can do this by sharing our stories as I have shared with you today. By upholding and defending our values that we ought to hold dear. From time to time we need to take our head out of our smartphones, we need to look up and we need to open our eyes, our ears and our hearts. And I leave you with this call of action, my friends. Mother Teresa said, “I cannot change the world alone, but I can cast a stone across the waters and create many ripples”. I ask you to do the same.

Starting out as the only female designer in a male dominated architectural firm and construction industry, I experienced ridiculous situations and comments that I didn’t think I would have to face in this day and age. Hearing Rabia’s story at that point in my life gave me strength to stand up and call out situations, such as telling men working on construction sites I was inspecting that it was never appropriate to call me sweetie. When the director of my firm singled out myself and the female office manager to let us know where the cleaning products were stored should we need to do a spot of cleaning, I loudly relayed this information to the remaining office of men. Later, I had to advise another director that his behavior was unprofessional when he suddenly vocally blamed me in front of clients for a past error of his (unknown to the clients in the room) before storming out. When he returned, I was given the silent treatment until the end of the day when he told me I should be glad the client agreed to overlook the error. When he was made to apologise a few days later and acknowledge the error was his, he made sure to point out a previous error of mine on a different project. I held my tongue at that point. Some people will never be able to see past themselves.

My move to Melbourne shortly after had me working in a refreshingly diverse environment where I was surrounded by people from many different countries and backgrounds and who now called Melbourne home. Suddenly I felt like I was back at international school where we were all sharing our similarities, differences, stories of adjustment to life in a new city and how we felt like a mish-mash of all the places in which we had lived. Not quite local here, no longer a true local back ‘home’.

TCK TOWN was just starting at this time, and getting involved in this storytelling platform along with being re-immersed in a diverse environment helped me begin to recognise that ‘Third Culture Kids’ had actually evolved from its original definition: a term used to refer to children raised in a culture other than their parents’ for a significant part of their early development years. For me, the term ‘third culture kid’ was developed at a time where living abroad was not as common as it is today and now, the gained perspectives, varied experiences and associated challenges of TCKs are not necessarily limited to just children, as per the definition above, but extended to adults who move at older ages, refugees who have been displaced, and orphans who may not come from the same country as their adoptive parents to name a few examples. There is overlap, and by sharing we bring the world a little closer, no matter how diverse our backgrounds are. Sharing our experiences with courage and bravery has the ability to evoke empathy, ignite compassion and empower others.

To read more about Rabia Siddique’s story, her memoir ‘Equal Justice’ is available online to purchase: a recommended read.

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