The Muslims Down Under Podcast

Navigating the Nuances: Finding Balance in a Polarised World

November 21, 2023 Muslims Down Under Season 4 Episode 3
Navigating the Nuances: Finding Balance in a Polarised World
The Muslims Down Under Podcast
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The Muslims Down Under Podcast
Navigating the Nuances: Finding Balance in a Polarised World
Nov 21, 2023 Season 4 Episode 3
Muslims Down Under

In a world of black and white opinions, where nuance is often lost in the cacophony of opposing voices, it's easy to feel overwhelmed and disconnected. But what if there was a way to navigate this polarised landscape, to find balance and understanding amidst the chaos? 

In this episode we explore the complexities of our world, seeking out diverse perspectives, and bridging divides. Join us as we delve into the gray areas, the in-betweens, the spaces where understanding and empathy can flourish.

Muslims Down Under is a platform that aims to #ChangeTheNarrative one conversation at a time.
Join us, and help spread the word. Together we can do so much more!

Show Notes Transcript

In a world of black and white opinions, where nuance is often lost in the cacophony of opposing voices, it's easy to feel overwhelmed and disconnected. But what if there was a way to navigate this polarised landscape, to find balance and understanding amidst the chaos? 

In this episode we explore the complexities of our world, seeking out diverse perspectives, and bridging divides. Join us as we delve into the gray areas, the in-betweens, the spaces where understanding and empathy can flourish.

Muslims Down Under is a platform that aims to #ChangeTheNarrative one conversation at a time.
Join us, and help spread the word. Together we can do so much more!

Bushra: Welcome back to another episode of the Muslims Down Under Podcast!  Peace be upon you and thank you so much for joining us again. We have a very interesting episode to discuss today and joining me for this discussion I have with me, Fareeha. Thank you so much for joining us, Fareeha, and welcome to the podcast. 

Fareeha: Thank you so much for having me. It is a pleasure, as always, to be here and I can not wait to get started with today's discussion. 

Bushra:  So, if you've been keeping up to date with our podcasts in our current series, you'd know that we've been discussing various social constructs and challenging ideologies that lead to social injustices. If you haven't had a chance to listen to these first few episodes we've already done, I highly recommend you do. It will just make understanding and keeping up with the context of this episode so much easier for it to all make sense. 

Fareeha: Yes. So in today's episode, we're going to be talking about what is currently happening in society and what we can do about it. You know, as you said, we started from the very basic family unit and how the breakdown of this unit leads to various societal issues leading to the impacts of social media and then now, in this episode, we're going to be talking about the present situation that we are in right now. 

Bushra: So, I'm going to take a moment to step back in time for a little bit a few generations ago, there were only a few television channels, a few radio stations, and a few international news services. And because these channels of information were so limited, everybody more or less got the information from the same two or three sources. So, if you were in charge of one of these few channels of information, it was in your interest to produce content that appealed to as many people as possible to create that engagement. And what we saw was traditional media in the past mostly produced content that was focused on consensus because, you know, we see that news was delivered in a way that everybody could agree on. TV shows were based on the most stereotypical families possible and talk shows focused on topics everyone could relate to. 

But, what's happened is, that with the Internet and social media, the supply of information has exploded. Suddenly everyone has 500 TV channels to choose from, dozens of radio stations to listen to, and an infinite number of websites that they can choose from to get their information. So these days, the most profitable strategy in the media and entertainment industry stopped being consensus and instead has become controversy. So, if people have 500 options to choose from, the easiest way to get people to stick around and engage with your content is to create that controversy. To share controversial things that get people talking, sharing their opinions, and increasing engagement. And this kind of optimization for controversy has trickled down all the way from politicians and major news outlets, even to individual influences on social media. Because the easiest way to get attention these days isn't to post something profound or insightful or educational. It is to create that controversy. So would you agree with that Fareeha?

Fareeha: Oh yes, I definitely agree with this because I've seen examples of this on social media as well. For example, there are certain podcast channels that I've seen on social media that try and get attention from their controversy by talking or insulting, for example saying outrageous things about women when it comes to debates about equality. Or, I've even seen videos justifying immoral actions like violence or infidelity in relationships, which is absolutely disgusting when you think about it. But that is an example of using that controversy. Those extremist views and ideologies on social media garner views and likes. Now, what is the impact of all of this is that it decreases social connection and it leads to the decline of societal cohesion. 

Social media and internet have not changed our culture, but rather it has shifted our awareness of culture, to the extremes of all these spectrums. 

And, until we recognise that this is happening, with all these controversies and extremist views on social media, it is impossible to have serious conversations about what to do or how to move forward. For example, with the examples that I mentioned before, unless we're able to actually sit down and have balanced or civil or logical discussions about, for example, gender equality, you cannot move forward with that concept or get anywhere with it, you know. 

So what we have is this silent majority that exists, which is people with a range of beliefs that take up the most space, and the extreme ends of the spectrum are what you see on social media. It is no secret that on social media, extremist views or ideologies like the examples I mentioned above, garner the most views, the most likes, and the most attention, right? So society is becoming more intolerant. It's becoming more contentious and factionalised. There is a decline in the willingness to compromise and related conditions that are essential for a civil society and another way you can see this is the comment sections on social media, so many videos you scroll through the comments. The comments are so insulting, so personal, and are so toxic most of the time for no particular reasons at all. It's just a lack of civility on social media and social media, and the Internet is reflecting the types of people in society that now exist. So, you know, it's not social media or the Internet that is causing this corruption or has corrupted things it is merely influencing and revealing what type of society we are currently living in. 

Bushra: Yeah, and even in Australia, the Australian population is made of many culturally diverse communities which can be considered as one of our country's strengths. But the reality, and the fact of the matter is that these diverse communities have also experienced elements of disadvantage and exclusion. If we look at the Australian Cohesion Index, this is a survey that is done every two years and combines data gathered from the mapping Social Cohesion Survey with indicators from the Australian Bureau of Statistics and other sources, and it gives us our context to the picture of social cohesion in Australia and in their latest report, which was published in 2021, one of the questions asked about racism and whether this is a big problem in Australia. And very surprisingly, the response rate for this question increased to 60% in 2021. This is an increase of 20 percentage points in response to a general question of this nature and this kind of drastic rise is almost unprecedented in these kinds of surveys. And, according to the report, the reasons are unknown and obviously difficult to determine. 

What we can probably sort of gather from this survey is that many movements and social constructs took place during the years prior to this survey. So, for example, the Black Lives movement, took place in 2020 and 2021 as well, just before this survey was conducted. In the past in these kinds of surveys, the highest level of discrimination was mostly reported by Australians from non-English speaking backgrounds. And so this worrying finding from this later survey has continued with this trend with these groups of people experiencing the most racism in Australia, unfortunately. So the question is, is there a perception that an increased number of Australians are now acting in a racist manner? Because, you know this is what the figures are telling us. 

Fareeha: Yes, definitely. You see the age in which we live, there is a constant discussion or debate you can say, and projection of controversial opinions on sensitive topics like race and religion that are around us all the time, be it through social media or news and things like that. And what that leads to is that it leads to an increase in racist and discriminatory behaviour, as you mentioned before, through your statistics, and that can sometimes even be unconscious because we're so like deeply into this sort of content all the time on social media and as a personal example. Not me, but my brother, with us being Pakistani, has endured racism at school again and again, which he comes home and shares with us now. As tying into what we said before with social media, most of this racism that he receives is in terms of memes from social media or harmful and controversial jokes that you would see on social media. And that is that can be very, very, you know, disturbing for him. 

So what we see happening is that when a society is not able to kind of piece together these pieces of the puzzle, issues such as prejudice, bias, and racism arise at various levels of society. These issues end up cutting through the basic fabric of society, leading to disunity for the individual, for the family, and for society overall.

Bushra: Yes, absolutely. And, so the natural consequence of disunity is disorder. This leads to mass confusion and things like depression, anxiety, and other issues we've discussed at length in, the past two episodes of this series, and all these things mental health issues are all in their eyes and you know, you could probably pick up any national self-reported survey in Australia and see this rise and the level of unrest that is now existing within our societies. So again, the question is why is all this happening? 

Fareeha: That is a very pertinent question, isn't it? And the answer to that is that when we start moving away from the basic principles of the laws of the universe, we start moving towards things that have no basis, whether it be biology, psychology, or social functioning. Then that leads to those ideologies lead to the corruption of society. For instance, the recent creation that we see in our society of how many genders and identities that's corrupting society because it disrupts the natural order of things, and it has no limitations. You know, there is no guarantee as to where we will draw the line or where it will stop creating a crisis for society, and when society becomes corrupt like this, this eventually leads to chaos and deterioration of human civilization, as we can also see with so many riots all the time, so many things on social media in the news and everything like that. And in the history of civilization, any progress that has ever been made has always been dependent on our productive behaviour within society. 

But when there is corruption or corrupt behaviour within society, there is no productivity. There is no long-term societal progression and people might feel in the immediate present, gratification or happiness. But in the long run, there is no advancement in society at all. 

Bushra: Yes, absolutely. And when we move away from the moral path, the results will speak for themselves. When we move away from recognising God as a central point of unity when we examine the concept of unity in depth, the entire world seems to revolve around this pivotal point, this belief, it influences man's life in all its aspects, it also implies the negation of all else except God. So belief in the oneness of God, the unity of God - this is not an end-all belief, but all other beliefs spring from this fountainhead of what we call the eternal truth. 

Fareeha: Absolutely. And,  the Islamic concept of unity also inculcates in man the realization that all human species are one to the oneness of human species. And it does away with any sort of barriers that divide men, be it racial, ethnic or coloured denominations. There's also a verse of the Holy Quran that states that ‘and hold fast all together by the rope of Allah and be not divided.’ So, this gives birth to the universal concept of equality in Islam, which is one of its very distinctive features and hence from the vantage point of God, all human beings, wherever and at whichever age they might be, they stand equal in His sight. So when we forego this belief in God, which is a fountainhead of eternal truth, we also, eventually end up negating the very foundation on which unity is had. 

Bushra: And currently, there are many movements and ideologies prevailing and emerging that are following this destructive behaviour and basically deteriorating the fabric of society. You know, there are so many things like culture laws, dividing society, we have the concept of cancel culture, which is a practice of withdrawing support of someone or something as a way of expressing disapproval and Council culture is often used to hold people accountable for their actions as well, but it can also be used to silence or censor people with those unpopular views. Then we've got things like political correctness. This is the avoidance of forms of expression or action that are perceived to marginalise or exclude or offend certain identity groups, and political correctness is often seen as a way of promoting tolerance and respect for diversity. But it can also be seen as like a censorship or as an attempt to stifle free speech. Then we've also got things like virtue signaling. This is the act of publicly expressing opinions or beliefs that are considered to be good or moral, and often in order to gain approval or acceptance from others, and it is often seen as an insincere way of avoiding or taking real action to address social problems. And we also have things like toxic positivity. This is the belief that one should always be positive and optimistic even in the face of difficult circumstances and toxic positivity can be harmful because it can prevent people from expressing their feelings and emotions, and it can lead to having those unrealistic expectations of life. So, you know, 

we've got so many current trends and ideologies and ways of thinking that people are trying to force on society, which are not always beneficial for us. 

Fareeha: Yes, absolutely. And continuing on from that, we then have movements, like for example the red pill movement, that divides society and I have personally seen this movement and content related to it, you know, making rounds on social media, and in the comments section the sort of language being used to express insults on social media represent this division in society being created. So, the red pill movement is basically a group of individuals who believe that the world is controlled by a group of powerful men and that women are conspiring to take men down. They believe that the only way to achieve success in this life is to reject any traditional values and embrace a philosophy of deep-rooted self-interest and manipulation. And this philosophy is really based on the idea that the world is not what it seems. And that there is a hidden reality that is kept secret from most people. Now this hidden reality is said to be governed by the laws of biology and evolution, and it is said that women are hard-wired to be attracted to powerful and successful men. Only, now the red pill movement has been criticized again and again for its misogyny. And for its promotion of violence against women, the movement has also been linked to the rise of other sorts of white nationalism and other forms of extremism. But despite this criticism, the Red Pill movement continues to grow in popularity. Why? Because the red pill movement or individuals part of this movement express their extremist views and controversial views through, once again social media, and in doing so, they are attracting the attention of young and naive minds, because young people are the main audience of social media. 

Bushra: Yeah. And there are other woke movements as well. For example, the Black Lives Matter movement, feminist movements that exist, anti-trans movements, and even climate activism movements as well. And then, you know, racism-related movements as well. And, basically, the list goes on. But while these kinds of movements do raise awareness about important issues and empower these minority groups. They also challenge the status quo. So while they can claim to want to make society more just and equitable, they are often too focused on things like identity politics, and culture politics, and they are intolerant of opposing viewpoints as well. They are harmful to free speech. They create a climate of division and sometimes resentment as well. 

So both sides have valid arguments, but they also have these extremes as well, and it's important to find those balanced viewpoints that actually lead to life progressing and actually lead to things like productivity in your day-to-day life. 

Fareeha: And it's also important to understand the point of free speech in this context, and it's important to remember that free speech is not absolute. You know, it's not speech that incites violence or that is defamatory. We must restrict speech, to have its limitations in order to protect public safety or to uphold the rights of others. And it is very, very important to consider the fact that free speech should be people presenting their views and their opinions in a non-derogatory, non-violent way and in a respectful way because that is in my personal opinion as well, that is more likely to lead to impactful change and that is more likely to get people to listen to what you have to say. 

Bushra: Yes, exactly. So how do we find that middle ground? How do we find balance in life? And I think you know, this is something that can be hard to do, not only in things like politics and in our communities, but also within ourselves. Our emotions, even our language. After all, things like polarizing words, we see them all the time. These aren't just in our news feeds or on social media. It's actually becoming part of our daily conversations and the way we think. You know, we're not tired, we're exhausted. We're not hungry, we're starving. And interestingly, National Geographic, they published a very interesting article that I read some time ago called Why every year, but especially 2020 feels like the worst ever.’ And the article points to the usual suspects like social media and the 24-hour news cycle and this influences our perspectives way more than we actually realise, and it delves into the human tendency to view the past through those rose-coloured glasses and the present through a microscope. But the article also points to something called ‘all or nothing thinking’. And, ‘all or nothing thinking’, it can also be called black-and-white thinking or dichotomous thinking. This is what is known in psychology as a cognitive distortion and irrational thought pattern. So in ‘all-or-nothing thinking’ there's no middle ground. There's no balance. There's only a polar opposite. So life is viewed in extremes. You know, things are either terrible or they're wonderful. People are heroes or they're villains. You're a winner or you're a loser. And when a person gets stuck in this type of all-or-nothing thinking they tend to use words like always, never, ruined, worst, best, etc. And so they frequently use hyperbole, and it becomes like a cycle. And because it is a cycle, 

you can learn to break this cycle by changing the way you think. You know, it's a process, of course, and you can still fall into it from time to time, but it's certainly possible to change and to find that balance in life. It starts from the way you think. So, you don't always have to pick a side. You don't always have to have an opinion about something. 

Just because you see something on social media or hear something from someone doesn't mean it's true,  or it doesn't mean it's true to the extent to which this information is being shared with you. So again, you know it could be exaggerated, so find that balance in your thinking and then in your actions. It takes that constant effort, but it can be done. 

Fareeha: Yeah, definitely finding balance in life is extremely important and it is the key to living a happy, fulfilling, and successful life, and to find that balance to basically work with the laws of nature. You know, for example, a pendulum, may swing from one extreme to another, but it will never come to rest until it finds that balance point between those two extremes. Or to be in tune, a musician needs to find that middle line where it's not too sharp nor too flat. And we see this supported by the Taoist philosophy or the Buddhist psychology. They believe that balance is achieved through a blend of opposites, and we also see this in terms of our bodies as well, because our bodies are also designed to find a natural balance, a state of homeostasis, we have an optimal pH which is not too acidic, not too basic. We also have an optimal temperature, which is not too cold and not too hot. And once again, as I said before, Buddhist psychology, according to this they say, that there is a middle way between the extremes of indulgence and self-denial which is free from sorrow and suffering. 

This is the way to basically find peace and liberation in this very life. If we seek happiness purely through indulgence, we are not going to be free. Or if we fight ourselves and reject the world, we're not going to be free. It is the middle path that brings freedom, and this is a universal truth. 

Bushra: Yes, and this is in essence also what Islam teaches. It says in the Holy Quran ‘Oh Allah Guide us in the right path’,  in the very first chapter, Surah Al Fatihah, verse 6. And so this principle of moderation, it is actually enshrined in the Holy Quran The essence of being a good Muslim is to follow the middle path, which is in effect, a straight path towards Allah Almighty and Islam upholds a balance between the spiritual and intellectual, between theory and law, and it infuses these elements together to find that middle path, to find that middle. And this is why we say that the Islamic faith is moderate, it is balanced and it is equitable in all circumstances. This message is central to Islamic practice and is seen to be addressed in all aspects of our daily lives as well. And you know this prayer, this verse of the Holy Quran, is such a comprehensive prayer. And if we look at the world, in the universe, we realise that everything is in equilibrium. Everything is created with balance. The distance of the earth from the sun is exactly balanced so that we do not overheat or we don't become frozen. That distance is an existence of equilibrium and balance. The whole world is in balance, and there are things that set off that balance and move that balance off center through the actions of human beings. And when our actions create something that makes it get off balance, it always leads to things like disruption to disunity, to disharmony. So with all these woke movements and culture wars that are happening in society and there are so many other opportunities for disruption and disunity these days that are taking place, it becomes even more important that we realize how to find that middle path, how to be moderate in our actions and our thoughts and our actions. And this prayer of the Holy Quran, Oh Allah or God ‘guide us to the straight path’ is such a wonderful way to do that.

Fareeha: And here I'd also like to point out that we also really need to find role models for ourselves to provide a correct way of life. Those that show ways to find the middle ground, the straight path. Because as we all know, actions speak louder than words and you always need a role model figure in your life to guide you at various points. It’s very, very important. Like for me, my dad, for example, when I was trying to get into uni and I was trying to plan my schedules, and how the workload will work, and everything. My dad really helped me out there with his experience of going to uni, what I could learn from it, and what I could adapt from it. It was extremely helpful for me. So yeah, having role models is extremely important and once again we come to the realization that primary role models in one's life, talking from personal experiences, are in many ways parents, right? Unfortunately, in this day and age, many parents do not recognize this responsibility of theirs, because they're very busy with their careers and their own personal lives. But coming back to the important question, what is the straight path? It is basically the path of moderation. So the Holy Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, is our ultimate role model. He basically created a visual aid for his companions. To explain this, he took a stick. And he drew a line in the sand. And he said that this is the straight path. Then he drew lines that emanated to the left and to the right of the straight path. He said that each of these lines is basically an opportunity or a way to veer off the straight path, and there is Satan waiting at the end of each of those paths that veer off the straight path that is calling to you. But as believers, we must stick to the straight path and not go too much to the left or too much to the right, but stick to that straight path. And it's always very, very inspiring for me to realize that this is where success and peace and meaning in life exist. 

But I'd also really like to point out here that we need to realize that finding a balance is a constant struggle. 

You know, for me, I am trying to finish all my uni work in a week, but then also trying to find time for myself to just relax, but then also wanting to spend time with family and then also wanting to do all my religious activities - it is a constant struggle. It is definitely not something you either have or don't have, but rather there are times when you will find that you have balance and then there will be times when you have less balance. For me as well, if I'm getting all my work done, all my assignments done, I feel really good at the end of the day. But then there will also be days when I'm not able to be as productive or establish that balance and get through everything that I  want to do. So, what we need to do in this situation is that we need to appreciate the times when we do have more balance and prioritise. Reaching a balance in life is a constant struggle, as I mentioned before, but it also requires consistency, which you get from just always trying your best, and I'm sure at the end of it you will find that balance is occurring in your life at a more regular basis. 

Bushra: Yeah. Finding a balance between our worldly goals versus our spiritual goals is important as well. You know, I was reading about something that is becoming more and more common, especially among Asians, I think. And it is this disease called Empty Heart disease. Now, you may ask what is Empty Heart disease? So, it is not a physical disease, but it's common amongst Asians who are very high achieving. There's actually been empirical evidence, and scientific studies published about this; you can actually Google it and read more about it. And this study found that for example in China, 40% of students who attended the equivalent of Ivy League, so world-class universities, in China, have this disease called Empty Heart disease, where they feel like they have made progress in their worldly pursuits, but that their actual life has no meaning or purpose, and they're wondering ‘what is it that I've achieved? Why have I achieved it? Why is it important?’ They're making themselves ask these questions and these questions lead to incredibly, incredibly difficult situations for them, where there are things like mental health issues emerging as we've been discussing. Even suicidal ideation and so on. And you know this Empty Heart disease. This is a relatively new phenomenon, but it's very interesting. It affects mostly young people and is very predominant in Asian communities.
And for many of these high-achieving students, the victory was actually empty. They feel a sense of inner futility and emptiness about their life, and the achievements that they're actually making. And this is a scientific study; I'm not trying to be, discriminatory towards anyone. But this study is such a good example of why it's so important to find a balance between our goals and our pursuits in life. Imagine being this type of student when you're so young, so hard-working, but you're you're very single-minded. You only have that one goal in life that you want to achieve these very high qualifications in life and yet you are feeling so defeated. You're feeling like you're not doing anything at all. You feel like you're not actually achieving any meaning in your life. And we also see a similar phenomenon in the context of Western culture as well. You know, consider the youth of these days searching for meaning in their lives and trying to find that pursuit of happiness in their lives. It is common for teenagers and young adults with their newly acquired capacity for abstract and symbolic thinking to ask great questions about the meaning in life to search for that meaning and to feel the complexity of the world. And you know this kind of, I guess, agitated way of thinking, it's nothing new. 

I think more and more people are experiencing it these days, because of these rising societal expectations, these woke movements and these cultural wars, and these minority ideologies that are causing division, all these social injustices are leading to these issues. But we hope that understanding how to find that balance, that middle ground, and that straight path in life, it's so important as we've discussed today. Since Islam is a very simple, very balanced, and very straightforward religion, it does give emphasis to all Muslims to live a simple and humble life of moderation as well. 

The key to keeping your balance in life is knowing when you've lost it and then knowing what to do about it. And this is what Islam teaches us. It gives us that straight path toward finding peace and meaning in our lives. 

How to live a balanced life in all aspects of our life, whether it is our social constructs, the way our families work, whether it is our physical health, anything at all, even mental health. Islam teaches us how to find that balanced way of thinking and then doing. And you know, we've discussed this in a couple of episodes in past series as well. And obviously we're limited in time in this episode to describe all of these wonderful ways on how to find the middle ground, how to find peace, and how to find balance in your life. But we've done quite a few episodes, so if you have any interest, I would recommend you go check out our past series as well. And you know, as I mentioned before, that the middle ground is not always easy to find, but it is essential if we want to, you know, bridge the divide and create a more united society. We must be willing to step outside of our comfort zone and to listen to the perspective of others, to the opinions of others. Only then can we hope to find solutions that work for everyone. 

Fareeha: Yes, absolutely and in a world that is increasingly divided, it is so important I think, now more than ever, to find ways to build that cohesion and to find that common ground. We must be willing to listen to each other, even if we disagree, and to find ways to compromise, find ways to accept each other's opinions and ways of life, and not to become extremists, not to find those polarising views or to support those kind of views, but to find that balanced life and balanced way of living. Only then can we hope to build, I think a better future for us all in this. 

Bushra: Exactly. So that's all we have time for today. Thank you so much Fareeha for joining me in this discussion. It's been such a pleasure to have you with us. 

Fareeha: Thank you so much for having me and I really hope that our audience is able to take something away from our discussion today. Thank you. 

Bushra: So we do hope you've enjoyed this discussion today. As always, thank you so much for joining us on our podcast. If you've got any opinions, any suggestions, please do share them with us and you can reach us on all of our social media platforms as well as our website. And until next time peace be upon you all.