By Ian Stubbs
I feel very privileged to be asked by Ifrah to be a quest contributor on her blog. It has been very good to be a friend on Facebook as I have very happy memories of a visit to Pakistan in 1983 (before Ifrah was born!) which included two overnight stays in Karachi. I had gone to Pakistan as an independent witness to gather evidence in support of some Pakistani men who had settled England and who wanted to bring their wives and families to join them and were being obstructed by the immigration authorities. I spent nearly two weeks based in Mirpur, Azad Kashmir, visiting small communities along the shores of the Mangla Reservoir. I was able to bring back photographic and recorded evidence from interviews and school records and the wives and children of six men were given leave by the immigration tribunal to come to England as a result.
It was a wonderful experience which I will never forget and the people I met were so friendly and hospitable. But it was also an important experience for me of cultural shock - of being alone in a very different culture from mine and not being able to speak the language. At times I felt a very long way from home.
This is, of course, the experience of many people who are refugees and immigrants and often the experience of those who live with disability. Just recently in England a woman who was born deaf was able to hear due to a cochlear implant. This is a surgically-implanted electronic device that can improve hearing by stimulating the auditory nerve. An implant cannot restore hearing to normal but it does give the sensation of sounds. The woman described how, “The first day everybody sounded robotic and I have to learn to recognise what these sounds are as I build a sound library in my brain.” Deafness not only hinders the person’s ability to communicate but there is often a social stigma which can increase isolation. In many religions ‘deaf’ and ‘blind’ are abusive, derogatory terms. In Christianity deafness historically was associated with demonic possession. Now our ideas of God have to evolve in the light of modern scientific understanding and development.
It is so easy for each of us at any time to become socially isolated and vulnerable, to be misunderstood, to experience prejudice or hostility – because we are different. But the glory of humanity is that we are all wonderfully made and amazingly different. Social media like Facebook can be used to stigmatize and hurt, but also offer great possibilities to increase our understanding, empathy and compassion. Let’s do all we can together to leave this world a better place for our children and grandchildren.