Of Pakistani origin, but not radical extremist…

There is quite an obituary in today’s Sydney Morning Herald:

Ruqaiya Hasan 1931–2015

…Ruqaiya Hasan was born in Pratapgarh, British India, the daughter of Syed Bedar Hasan, a magistrate, and his wife, Kaneez Fizza. When government records of her birth were lost, her mother and aunt re-registered her birth as July 3, 1931, somewhat earlier than the truth, so they could get her off to school.

Hasan’s grandfather, a judge, and her brother Zawwar were crucial early mentors. When he was studying English literature, Zawwar encouraged Ruqaiya to read his books, prepare summaries, select her favourite character and defend her choice. The process brought out and focused her prodigious analytical and critical skills, and resulted in a great love of literature and a desire to understand how language worked.

With her family’s support, and through sheer talent and hard work, Hasan transcended the barriers which then often blocked women from academic careers. After the family moved to Pakistan, she graduated from the University of Allahabad in 1953, majoring in English literature, education and history, and was awarded a gold medal for achievements in English.

After completing her Master of Arts in English literature at Government College, Lahore, Hasan was appointed as a lecturer in English language and literature at Lahore’s Queen Mary College.

Such achievements did not distract Hasan from other responsibilities. With their mother often ill, Hasan took the greater part of raising her younger sister, Zakia Sarwar, also later encouraging her to professional success.

She was awarded a British Council scholarship and went to Scotland in 1960, where she completed a postgraduate diploma in linguistics at the University of Edinburgh and, later, a PhD. It was there Hasan met Michael Halliday, already a prominent linguist and later the founding Chair of Linguistics and an emeritus professor at the University of Sydney.

Halliday was then a leading proponent of the social and functional approach to how language is organised, and pioneer of the systemic functional linguistics model of language.

They were married in California in 1967. In London, they had a son Neil, who featured as “Nigel” in Halliday’s classic study of the logic of child language development, Learning How to Mean (1975). The family moved to Sydney in 1976, where Hasan became a senior lecturer in linguistics at Macquarie University…


M.A.K. Halliday and Ruqaiya Hasan, Sun Yat Sen University, China, 2012

That is from a wonderful page by Ruqaiya Hasan’s very talented niece, Beena Sarwar: R.I.P Ruqaiya Hasan: A life well lived.

Lucid till the end, with her mind all there, she eagerly engaged in intellectual discourse with friends and fellow linguists who visited, although she tired easily. Soon after I arrived, as she got a little better, she was disturbed to hear about an online harassment and bullying campaign by self-proclaimed Shia rights activists. Herself from a Shia Syed family, she never had any tolerance for discrimination or injustice, no matter who perpetuated it. “It is particularly sad and unfortunate,” she said, speaking with an effort, “when those who themselves have suffered historically from persecution, who know what it’s like to be targeted, become the persecutors.”

I never met Ruqaiya Hasan, though I did meet Michael Halliday several times. I certainly knew of her work in linguistics: see for example this paper I wrote at UTS in 1998:

One rather interesting criticism of genre pedagogy has come from within the genre camp itself. While asserting that it is the only pedagogy worth considering (a touch arrogant perhaps?), Ruqaiya Hasan (1996:402-404) speaks of a tendency, noted by Alan Luke amongst others, for genre-based pedagogy to reproduce existing social relations by following currently approved models of discourse. Against that, she says, is the greater problem of maintaining the inequities of the social system by not teaching the educational genres that such gatekeepers as HSC examiners are looking for. However she does see a potential problem in the lack of encouragement of reflection in many genre-based programs:

So an important question is whether in learning discursive ability through genre-based pedagogy, one is also learning the ability to analyse and to challenge the desirability of the prevalent ways of being, doing and saying… The implied underlying message of this pedagogy is conformism, a respect for convention which is not required to be tempered by analytical reflection. (Hasan 1996:404- 405.)

Hasan goes on, of course, to propose a ‘reflection literacy’ whose aim is to ‘produce in the pupils a disposition to distrust doxic knowledge, that is, knowledge whose sole authority is the authority of someone in authority.’ (Hasan 1996:412)

A worry similar to Hasan’s occurs to me as I examine the marking criteria for the ELLA Year 7 literacy tests. They are criterion-referenced, so one either does or does not score on a series of purely formal and textual criteria, couched though they may be in the language of the functional model. Nowhere, it occurs to me, is there scope for the brilliant if eccentric response, nowhere is what the student says actually taken into account. I have real reservations about this which seems to me formalism out of control in the interests of producing a “measure” essentially for political consumption, that drivel with the appropriate formal or generic characteristics is indistinguishable in this test from intelligent writing. However, it can also be said that ELLA has some diagnostic use, particularly for ESL teachers who can line up certain criteria in reading and writing with ESL Scales indicators.

Also originally from Pakistan, but a different generation, and now a PhD candidate at the Alfred Deakin Research Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation at Deakin University is blogger and author Irfan Yusuf: “He was a guest speaker at the Sydney Writers Festival in 2009, and a description of the event said Irfan ‘points the finger at mainstream extremism and hypocrisy and is a passionate (and funny) voice of moderation’.” He was once a member of the Liberal Party and ran for Parliament in 2001.

His blog has burst back into life recently. I really commend it. For example: OPINION: Belligerent and unhelpful: that’s our Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

Some weeks back, Abbott hosted a Regional Countering Violent Extremism summit. Delegates included government ministers from countries other than Indonesia, civil society actors, CVE “practitioners” and academics. One British-based practitioner I spoke to described Mr Abbott’s language as

… belligerent and unhelpful.

Abbott made out that IS was coming to get us all. Yet delegates were often busy discussing how to deal with far-right extremism of the kind that frequently attacks Muslims and other minorities in places like Germany, Greece and Britain. Australia also has a problem with far-right extremism which has included numerous violent rallies by groups such as “Reclaim Australia”. Abbott’s silence about this violent extremism is almost deafening.

Far-right extremists have repeatedly damaged mosques and Sikh temples. They have physically assaulted and spat on women wearing scarves, stalked and videoed them and uploaded video of them on to social media. Women suffer disproportionately from this kind of not-so-domestic violence as they do violence in the home…