17 August 2011

An Interview with.... Samah Hadid

The words “breathless and enthusiastic” came to mind when I was putting together an introduction for my next interview. In fact, I soon discovered that this person has achieved and contributed so much to our society that it is amazing that she is still only in her early twenties. But then again Samah Hadid is already an extraordinary person in today’s multicultural Australia; and is someone whose views I respect greatly.

Here is a glimpse of some of Samah’s achievements to date:

• An active member of the Muslim Women’s Association since the age of 15.
• A 2010 Australian Youth representative to the United Nations.
• The first Australian to complete a minority rights fellowship to the UN office of the High Commission for Human Rights.
• A Youth Representative on the Australian National Commission for UNESCO.
• A member of Amnesty International's Diversity Steering Committee.
• An Action Partner for Oxfam International Youth Partnerships.
• A participant to the Prime Minister's 2020 Summit.
• A member of the National Youth Roundtable.
• A Co-Author of “The future of us” focussing on multicultural identity.
• A performance artist and playwright who created “The Burqa Monologues”.
• Is currently setting up an international non-government organisation for minority youth in the Asia Pacific region.
• A NSW finalist for Young Australian of the Year 2011.
• A Regular panellist on ABC television’s “Q&A”.

Aside from this wonderfully impressive list, Samah also has a Bachelor of Economics and Social Sciences (Political Science) and is currently completing her Masters in Human Rights Law. She has also been voted by the respected St Gallen Insititute as one of the “top 100 leaders of tomorrow”.

There are so many things I want to ask Samah but I will need to limit it to just a few questions. Here goes:

1. Samah, thank you so much for taking the time for this interview. To start with, can you please tell me briefly of your background?

I have a community development background working with grass roots organisations in refugee and migrant communities. I have also volunteered and worked with various international based organisations including Oxfam, the Red Cross and the United Nations Secretariat.

2. You have definitely achieved a lot given your age. What to date has been your highlight and why?

Working at the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights was a huge highlight for me. I had the opportunity to work with respected indigenous and minority rights leaders from across the world. We pushed for greater human rights protection and promoted human rights campaigns. It was an inspiring time, mainly because I saw the value in a strong civil society.

3. Tell me about your time at the UN. What was your brief as Australia’s Youth Representative?

I was tasked with representing the concerns, profile and interests of young Australians at the world stage of the UN. A very huge responsibility and an even bigger opportunity. I used this platform to consult with young people in every state and territory across Australia as part of a 6 month national road trip. This ended in a 3 month stint at the UN General Assembly presenting a statement on behalf of young Australians to the GA. I met the most amazing and inspiring young Australians working on indigenous rights, climate change campaigning and alleviating homelessness and disadvantage in their local communities.

4. Human rights are an obvious passion. How did you come to get involved with this?

I suppose it’s a by product of being a member of a minority group in Australia, you see that your community group is discriminated against in media and the public domain and even on the streets , so you’re compelled to make a difference. Through my community advocacy work I came across other vulnerable groups in our society such as refugee and indigenous communities that were also discriminated against on a greater scale. I felt a sense of duty to advocate for changes to these inequalities and injustices. My journey in human rights activism just continued on after that.

5. The media seem to have made you a spokesperson for the Muslim community. How do you feel about this?

The media can do, say or frame the way they like but I don’t represent any community nor do I represent over 300,000 Muslims in Australia. Muslims are a diverse bunch and no one can be a representative. I advocate for Muslim minority rights but I don’t see myself as a Muslim community spokesperson.

6. Leading on from this, your progressive views as a Muslim (eg: same sex marriages) is different to those of traditional Muslims. Have you received any community negativity for your comments?

There has been a backlash against my views, but that is to be expected. Having said that I am not deterred from expressing my views no matter how controversial they are, no matter how sensitive the issue. No-one can stifle my voice but people are free to disagree.

7. During my research for this interview I read that you have a wonderful mentor called Maha Abdo. How has she influenced you?

She was a mentor of mine growing up, she was the embodiment of a strong and educated Muslim woman . She believed in my voice and my right to express it.

8. You must have met my famous people – politicians, human rights acitivists and power brokers. Who to date has been the most impressive person, and why?

By far Shirin Ebadi, the Iranian women’s rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner. Her work and activism has inspired my own advocacy. Despite her incredible accomplishment and high standing she is very humble in person and incredibly generous with her time.

9. Islam is the only religion that has a phobia attached to it (Islamaphobia). Is the media the main culprit for this? Also, how can Islam and prominent Muslims like yourself help break down stereotypes that the West has about it?

For me its about continuously highlighting the true messages and teachings of Islam which are based on peace, strong ethical and moral codes and human values we all admire. But above all it’s also letting your actions speak for themselves if Muslims stuck to the true teachings and principles of Islam – peace and love - there wouldn’t be a need to counter the stereotypes and bigotry against it.

10. On an international note, given the events that have happened in the Arab world this year, (eg: Egypt, Syria and Libya), what do you think the likely outcome will be?

I couldn’t answer that, the entire Arab uprising caught everyone by surprise so I don’t think anyone can know what is next . One thing is for sure the status quo has been broken and Arabs will not settle for the conditions of repression, authoritarianism and corruption that has marked previous generations.

11. Tell me about “The Burqa Monologues”? How did you come up with the concept?

It’s an appropriation of the Vagina Monologues written by Eve Einsler. I wanted to give women of colour a voice and share their stories through their own creative avenues.

12. You are such an energetic person who always seems to be on the go. Do you ever find the time to put your feet up, pick up the remote and watch a re-run of, say, “Friends” on television?

When I do have time to spare I like to spend it with my real friends as opposed the ones on screen ;)


13. If we fast forward 5 years what will we find Samah Hadid doing?

Not sure, my life is quite unpredictable… I’ll still be an activist advocating for social change . I would like to be running my own international NGO.

Finally, a BIG thank you to Samah for taking the time to answer these questions. It is greatly appreciated. I am sure that Samah’s star will continue to rise and shine brightly for many years to come. I for one will be following Samah Hadid’s career and ventures very closely.