I was sitting in a meeting today at work and when talk of scheduling the next meeting came up, one person mentioned that Ramadan was right around the corner (they use the Hijri calendar for official meetings where I work). That's when it hit me - Ramadan is almost here!!
So in the spirit of my 'discovery', I felt it relevant to begin raising our collective spiritual awareness:
As some of you know, I've been trying (and failing) for years to get into shape. Regardless of my progress (or lack thereof), I have been able to gain some knowledge about how to get there.
Based on common practice, the most balanced approach to getting in shape consists of three things: healthy diet, weightlifting, and cardiovascular exercise. All three must be done in their proper balance in order to achieve sustained gains.
If you only go to the gym to lift weights without any cardio, you may end up with more muscle, but you will retain most of your excess fat. Conversely, if you perform cardio on a regular basis, but skip the weights, you may end up losing some fat but at the cost of losing valuable muscle. And its obvious that doing both while maintaining a diet of pizza and ice cream will get you nowhere!
The beautiful thing about all this is that Allah (swt) has designed the inner body to effectively mirror the outer body. In pursuit of purifying the nafs, a similar balanced approach is equally necessary. And if the balance is not maintained, the results will be less than optimal.
Part 1 - Cardiovascular Exercise
Let's begin with the cardio. As we do cardio to burn the fat on our body, we must likewise burn the fat off our inner hearts. Imagine if you ate junk food for years upon years shunning any type of cardio activity. How would that affect your physical body? Cholesterol level would be through the roof, arteries would become clogged, your body fat level would skyrocket - basically, your body would have deteriorated due to negligence.
The same has happened to our spiritual hearts. We have been indulging in all kinds of sins throughout our lives and this has resulted in layers upon layers of unwanted 'fat' surrounding our hearts. Our hearts have become rusted. Our hearts have become hardened. Our hearts have become veiled with darkness. We have neglected our hearts. We need to revive our spiritual hearts with its own type of cardio – Taubah (asking Allah for forgiveness).
Sincere taubah burns away the sins and their residual effects like cardio exercise burns away the fat. Taubah revives the heart. It begins to remove the accumulated rust from years and years of disobeying Allah and obeying our nafs. Asking Allah for forgiveness softens the heart that has become hardened over the years.
Also note that the one who jumps on the treadmill once a month and then expects to lose the unwanted fat is merely fooling him/herself. Similarly, occasional taubah and istighfaar will not suffice. It must be done on a regular basis. Remember, the Prophet (saw) used to make istighfaar over 70 times each and every day. How many times must we atone for our misdeeds? 1,000? 10,000? Maybe even more!
And just as a good cardio session can only come from a sustained effort resulting in a good sweat, sincere taubah can only come from constant istighfaar, resulting in its own form of 'sweat' – namely, tears.
If you don’t do your cardio up to the point of sweating profusely, you may have burned a few calories but you didn’t maximize your efforts. Similarly, if your taubah is not done with intense sincerity causing you to cry profusely out of shame and guilt, it may be accepted, but it is nonetheless lacking.
Part 2 - Weightlifting
Part 3 - Healthy Diet
Tuesday, July 31, 2007
I was sitting in a meeting today at work and when talk of scheduling the next meeting came up, one person mentioned that Ramadan was right around the corner (they use the Hijri calendar for official meetings where I work). That's when it hit me - Ramadan is almost here!!
Monday, July 30, 2007
You’ve all heard of white privilege. Here's a nice article written by Robert Jensen on the topic in case you haven't.
It’s the unearned privileges benefited by white persons due to the mere color of their skin. Its not only present in White countries; you'll find this privilege being given to whites by many non-whites all over the world. Its especially blatant here in the Gulf countries, which I'm guessing many of you probably already knew.
However, I'm here to introduce you to another phenomenon which I refer to as the Brown-Man Benefit. I'm the lucky recipient of this benefit as I'm of Pakistani pedigree which has resulted in my beautiful brown skin. Its quite interesting how this works.
Here in Saudia there is an unashamedly racist class system, with the whites on top, Saudis right below them, then Gulf Arabs, other Arabs after them, Africans, Southeast Asian (from Philippines and Indonesia) and then the lowly South Asians (from the Indian subcontinent). So you'll find many of the lower-grade jobs filled by Bangladeshis, Sri Lankans, Pakistani, and the like.
On a daily basis, I'll find myself interacting with my racial brethren from the gas station to the sweet shop to the local grocery store. And I've found that they all have a camaraderie that extends to anyone who looks like them and talks their language.
So when I walk into the sweet shop to order a tray of assorted sweets, the kind Indian behind the counter will immediately start talking to me in Urdu. And as the casual conversation wraps up, he'll finish it off with a smile and a few extra pieces to boot.
I remember this one time at an amusement park where the French fry stand was manned by an older Pakistani. He was selling potato wedges and curly fries to a line of impatient Saudis. When it was my turn, he quickly said to me in Urdu to wait till the crowd dies down. In no rush, I waiting patiently and when he turned to me, he smiled and said that he wanted to 'treat me right', but couldn't do it with the Saudis around.
He explained that the Saudi customers are very often rude and obnoxious, so he shorts them on their wedges and fries, but didn't want to do the same to me. I didn't complain for I can understand his frustrations built up over decades of abuse.
In the same park, one of the ride attendants insisted on entering both Maryam and Humza on one ticket instead of the standard two, something he said that he always does for 'our people'.
I'll admit that I've gotten into the habit of initiating conversations in Urdu with many of these workers in hopes of getting a 'hook up'. Does that make me so bad?
Before you start calling me a mooch, the BMB is not always about getting things for free. Once while driving to Madina, Humza needed to go to the bathroom. We pulled over at a gas station only to find none available. When I asked the gas attendant, he said for public restrooms I had to go to the next station, but since I was a fellow countryman, he would allow me to use their personal bathrooms located behind the gas station. He added that they never allow the Saudis to use it because of the mess they leave.
I found this stick-it-to-the-man attitude very prevalent amongst the laborer population. And its really no surprise as they are constantly treated like garbage by the locals.
Once I drove into the gas station and told the guy to put 40 riyals worth. He immediately looked at my Toyota SUV, assumed that I was the driver for the actual owner and asked me if I wanted 'the full 40'. I gave him a puzzled look and asked what he meant. He explained that drivers who work for Saudis regularly come and ask for 35 riyals worth of gas and ask him to write the full 40 on the receipt. He was obviously more than willing to comply.
However, the BMB doesn't always work to my advantage. Many times I've walked into a store and the salesperson will pay me no attention, choosing to focus on the 'real' customers. I've found that if in those instances I speak up in my accent-free English, they become much more responsive.
Its nice to be able to fall back on the BMB every once in a while because I've also been a victim of the racism evident against the brown-skinned folk. Fortunately, as soon as I feel the negative sentiment, I have the luxury of speaking in English informing the perpetrator that I'm not the typical brownie that he's used to abusing. I do feel a sense of guilt when I resort to such tactics, but such is the sickness of Saudi life.
So what's my whole point behind this post? In case you ever find yourself relocating to the Gulf, brush up on your Urdu and become one with your long lost inner Brown (and it wouldn't hurt to work on your outer Brown with a few extra hours in the sun).
Breaking News: Saudi Arabia lost to Iraq in the finals of the Asian Cup last night. The Iraqi victory was even more surprising as Saudi Arabia is considered the soccer juggernaut of the Middle East. But that isn't the *real* news.
The real news is understanding how could such a disgrace befall the Kingdom?
It must be a conspiracy by America! Anyone who knows anything about anything can understand this dastardly plot.
News of this victory will prove that the latest surge is actually working. This victory will show that American presence is improving the lot of the Iraqis.
Wasn't improving the national soccer team one of the vaunted 18 goals set by Congress?
No? I coulda sworn it was...
Anyways, America must have used all the funds earmarked for training the Iraqi military on training the Iraqi soccer team.
And I'm sure the Israelis had something to do with this latest turn of events (no Muslim conspiracy theory is complete without them!). Give me some time, I'm still working on fitting them into my grand theory.
Saturday, July 28, 2007
Cross posted at Muslim Bloggers Alliance
There seems to be a bothersome trend taking place in American Muslim communities. Now I can't say how recent this is (although my hunch is that its as old as the American Muslim community), but I've only become aware of it in the past few months. I'm referring to the trying times that convert sisters (new and old) are going through when interacting with their local communities. This can range from social stigma of not fitting into established women cliques to marital pressures to masjid accessibility issues.
Some sisters are complaining about feeling unwelcome at local Masjid events, which I know for a fact is not a new issue. Other sisters are complaining about the complexities of finding an appropriate mahrem or wali to help them in their social affairs (be it marriage or performing Hajj). And when they do find a wali, all too often these 'guardians' foolishly press the sisters to get married to the nearest Muslim bachelor (who happens to either be looking for citizenship or is divorced several times over). And lets not even go into the whole polygamy issue, where many of these sisters are made to believe that their husbands can abuse them in the name of Islam.
Now I consider myself to be somewhat informed of the American Muslim scene, so I'm a bit perturbed at my cluelessness of this development. Back when I was in Baltimore, I can honestly say that this problem never reared its ugly head in the public sphere.
Were these problems being swept under the rug? Probably. Were they ignored and disregarded as being petty issues that the sisters can handle internally? Maybe. Were the men simply not interested in dealing with the drama of the 'emotional' women? Very likely.
I'm even more ashamed of my ignorance because I was quite active in the local masjid, even having served in the Masjid Council for 4 years, and these social issues were never once brought to our attention. In hindsight, I'm sure the problem was there and I just wasn't privy to the inner circles of the female half of our community.
My worry is that if I was so out of the loop with regards to this serious crisis, then how many more sincere brothers and sisters are equally ignorant?
In the years of my Masjid activism, I don't recall any serious community-wide effort to help the converts (both male and female), besides an occasional Intro to Islam class. And even less focus was given to the new sisters. If anything was done, it was on an individual basis by some experienced sisters (convert and born) who took it upon themselves to help the newcomers. But nothing was ever institutionalized.
Speaking to the brothers, we've all seen the sad cycle of the new Muslim brother who is warmly embraced at first and then duly neglected afterwards. After a few weeks, he's never to be seen again. Now imagine how much more difficult it is for new sisters, who not only have the difficulty of coming to a new religion, but also have the gender cards stacked against them.
There is enough blame to go around. The brothers who are often in charge of the community affairs have neglected to address the needs of this blossoming minority. The sisters have dropped the ball in welcoming these newcomers and creating a safe space to ease their adjustment.
I admit I've been away from the US for over 4 years, so I may not know what is happening as far as recent community-wide efforts to tackle this specific challenge. But from the picture being painted in the Islamosphere, it doesn't look very rosy.
One final note. I may be overstating the extent of the problem. It may be that many newly converted sisters are coping with their difficulties with respectable support from the community. After all, people rarely go online and post a blog saying, 'Hey, look at me, everything is fine!' – normally blogs consist of rants on personal difficulties and daily struggles.
However, I would rather err on the side of caution. How many of us can honestly say that our communities have fulfilled their responsibilities when it comes to supporting the multifaceted conundrums of our convert sisters?
Thursday, July 26, 2007
I want to start by recognizing a very unique feat by Professor M. Shahid Alam. He wrote this article, Islam now, China then, discussing Muslims, Islam, and the war on terror and not once did he make the standard Muslim disclaimer that the killing of civilians is detestable and Islam does not condone such savagery. Bravo!
Clearly he has raised the discourse beyond the pettiness of the mudslinging taking place in the mass media, where everything revolves around the threats posed by Islam and Muslims to the domestic populations of the West. He has placed these tensions in their proper political context – a war of naked aggression in places such as Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestine - which in no way requires me or you to make any sort of disclaimers.
Onto my thoughts on his article:
We’ve all heard and read about how the extremists and the terrorists as well as the new kids on the block, the Islamists, have taken up inhumane tactics to fighting and protesting their perceived oppression.
"Expert commentators in Western media want us to believe that the Muslims have lost their minds. They tell us that Muslims are inherently, innately, perverse; that never before has violence been used in this way, against innocent civilians."
They continue by reasoning that the downtrodden in South America or Africa are not resorting to suicide bombing or indiscriminate violence. "Those peaceful folks are redirecting their anger and voicing their rage in nonviolent expressions, working within the system", they say.
(Sidenote: I find this 'analysis' very interesting due to its simplicity as well as hypocrisy. These same ‘peaceful’ Africans can kill themselves by the millions and yet they are not inhumane and dangerous. The Sandinistas and the Contras can kill thousands of civilians and cripple civil society yet they are not labeled terrorists. Its only when the oppressed rise up against the oppressors (particularly of the white kind) and take a stand against the aggression that they are called terrorists and extremists. It is only when they fight not themselves but the aggressors that the real spin begins.)
Shahid Alam, however, points out that violence has been used in fighting Western aggression, specifically in the late 1800’s when Britain took over parts of China. The Chinese resorted to 'asymmetric warfare' in combating the British troops.
"the mass of people take an active, nay fanatical part in the struggle against the foreigners. They poison the bread of the European community at Hongkong by wholesale, and with the coolest premeditationThey go with hidden arms on board trading steamers, and, when on the journey, massacre the crew and European passengers and seize the boat. They kill and kidnap every foreigner within their reach."
His article is really worth reading, not only for the historical perspective that he brings, but also his analysis of the Chinese uprising and it geopolitical affects across the region. He contends that if Britain had forced their presence into China crushing the popular war of the locals, they would have broken China into pieces and prevented it from becoming the docile economic power that it has become today.
“Imagine a world today--and over the past sixty years--if the West and Japan had succeeded in fragmenting China, splintering the unity of this great and ancient civilization, and persisted in rubbing China's face in the dirt? How many millions of troops would the West have to deploy to defend its client states in what is now China--the Chinese equivalents of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan, Egypt, Pakistan and Iraq? If Vietnam bled the United States, imagine the consequences of a quagmire in China?
Would the United States prefer this turbulent but splintered China--held down at massive costs in blood and treasure, with bases, client states, wars, and unending terrorist attacks on American interests everywhere in the world--to the China that it has today, united, prosperous, at peace; a competitor but also one of its largest trading partners”
But maybe that’s the whole point behind it all? Maybe the ultimate goal is to maintain instability in the region, preventing any semblance of unity or cooperation amongst the indigineous Islamic peoples.
Shahid Alam displays a bit of naiveté by comparing the threat posed by China to the lone superpower of the 19th century to the threat posed by Islam to the lone superpower of the 21st century. Islam was an actual dominant world power for centuries while the same cannot be said of China.
The West has no interest in promoting a fully functional society in the Islamic world. In fact that would be detrimental considering the historical realities of what the Islamic world once accomplished.
So it seems Professor Alam has, by citing the example of China, indirectly strengthened the case for Western meddling in the Islamic world.
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
Looking for a good laugh? I think this will do the trick:
Monday, July 23, 2007
Riyadh is a very dusty city; sandy would be a better word if only it didn't sound so feminine. Being situated in the middle of a desert might explain this oh-so-special trait of Riyadh. Sandstorms sweep through on a weekly, sometimes nightly basis. Makes for a funtime if you like the grit of sand between your teeth. The geographical location of this oasis city results in a very trying time for those who are allergically sensitive to dust. And I am allergically sensitive to dust.
Recently its gotten too much, especially in the early mornings. I'm waking up with a tissue in my hand, eyes watering and nose dripping. Its hard enough waking for Fajr at 3:30 in the morning, but its even harder with these allergies beckoning me back to sleep.
I can tough it out I think to myself. It'll go away. It always goes away. But never without a fight.
But man, this time its tough. My allergy attacks never lasted more than a couple days and here I am going on day four with no sign of relief. If I'm not blowing my nose, I'm sneezing.
Don't get me wrong, sneezing isn't always a bad thing. The body always benefits from this indiscriminate system reboot. After all, when Allah(swt) blew the spirit into Adam, he sneezed followed by a hearty 'Praise be to Allah'. So I like the occasional sneeze. Just not when I'm trying to snuggle into my inviting bed of dhikr wearing my cozy pajamas of taqwa waiting to savor every sip of my hot cup of Divine Love.
Go away, you unwelcome vagabond! This is supposed to me my personal quiet time. I’ve been making excuses for the past several months that I’ll get my spiritual mojo back come summer. I just need some silence and stillness I convinced myself, and I’ll be back dancing with the angels, cloud hopping in the presence of my beloved (saw), drunk with the dhikr of Allah.
Oh how I yearn for those days of intense inner tranquility when I found my soul in sync with my surroundings – all peace all the time. I want back my early morning Tahajjud prayers but these allergies are mockingly denying me, ‘Thank your Lord you’re catching Fajr.’ I want to revisit the sweet silence of sajdah (prostration), but my throbbing sinuses are screaming, ‘Get up you moron or I’m going to implode your head!’ I want my free-flowing tears back, but all my puffy eyes have to offer are annoying watery bubbles. I’ve foolishly planned all year for this moment, *my* moment, naively thinking spiritual ecstasy can be summoned like a genie from the lamp.
And here some stupid specks of sand are sullying my immature aspirations. Ah, the justice of it all.
Day four and I’m getting desperate.
I finally turn to Him. How sad that I only knock on His door when I’m desperate, when all else has failed but that’s the least of my worries right now.
"Ya Allah, please help me. Please help me for no other reason but to allow me to begin my journey back to You."
Blank. I stammer and stutter only to append some hollow prayers that I memorized in Sunday School.
Huh? Is that all I can conjure up?! Is my inside so dry, parched from the heat of my lowly passions that I can’t even muster a respectable appeal? How pathetic!
Confident that they’ve found an ideal incubator, my allergies snicker at my paltry plea with a loud sneeze.
I have got to kickstart my heart after my embarrassingly long existential hibernation just so I can *begin* to put together some coherent thoughts in the presence of my Creator. I can’t even make the simplest prayer. Fitting I suppose. Can’t waltz right into the King’s court in your jammies with crusty eyes and nasty morning breath expecting His audience.
You fool! You get what you deserve.
For too long my desires have sucked my heart dry of its vitality. I have fueled my anger, overfed my stomach, allowed free reign to my tongue, and harbored thoughts unthinkable.
Woe am I! How I wish atonement for my heedlessness could be achieved by a hundred lashes to my heart. If it were just that simple.
Ya Allah, but why complicate my endeavor with such an unnecessary impediment? At least play fair. Remove the allergies and give me a fighting chance.
But then it hits me in the midst of my blasphemous tirade. Who am I to decide when and where and how I can approach the court of His Majesty? How arrogant of me to think that I can schedule my purification!
'Silly child, My door is always open to those in search of My Mercy, but those who wish to run in and out will find Me not so welcoming of the tracks made by their muddy shoes on the carpet of My Love'
These allergies are a gentle, loving rebuke by the Most Compassionate. It is His way of letting me know that this journey is not to be taken lightly as an amusement or a sport.
'Wipe your shoes at the door and don't go back out again.'
Day five and I wake up with nothing. I barely even noticed until I went down into sajdah and realized I could breath.
With tears I refused to hold back in a sajdah I refused to arise from, I cried 'You are so beautiful to me and I am so ugly to You. You give and You give while I take and I take. What has this despicable slave ever done to deserve Your attention? When will I ever be able to give back to You? How will I ever be able to give back to You?'
This is the story of my Divine Intervention.
Saturday, July 21, 2007
When I grow up, I want to write like this.
Bookmark this post folks 'cause when you feel your Iman is hitting a low or life is simply beginning to overwhelm you, I suggest you sit down and internalize this work of linguistic art.
Cross posted at Muslim Bloggers Alliance
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said in a famous hadîth: “No one truly believes until he wants for his brother what he wants for himself.”
We have all heard and studied this hadith from the days of Sunday School. We have all heard it in various lectures and sermons.
We have all understood this hadith to be teaching us that the perfection of our individual faith is not solely a process involving oneself and Allah but it also incorporates the dynamics between oneself and the Ummah. Meaning that one can never achieve complete faith in a social isolation – it can only be achieved through the respectful interactions with other fellow Muslim brothers.
Sounds about right so far, eh?
Well not according to the renowned Dr. Abdullah Bin Bayyah. In this otherwise excellent posting on Suhaib Webb’s blog, Sh. Bin Bayyah explains the Prophet’s reference to brother as meaning ‘humankind brother’, not solely a Muslim brother:
"The value of “human brotherhood” is being joined with that of “love” in these words of our Prophet (peace be upon him). Before somebody accuses me of reinterpreting this hadîth for my own purposes, they should know that this is the understanding of the scholars from centuries back.
For instance, the leading Hanbalî jurist, Ibn Rajab said: “The brotherhood referred to in this hadîth is the brotherhood of humanity.” [Sharh al-`Arba`în al-Nawawiyyah]
The same is asserted by al-Shabrakhîtî and many others."
If you know me, you’ll know that I'm very accepting of this broader interpretation. I have no problem with it as I feel it's this approach that will bring about the true spirit of the Sunnah of our beloved Prophet (saw). I do believe that we Muslims have far too long advocated an exclusivist philosophy where non-Muslims are seen as the ‘other’ (especially ironic since we are the first to object when we Muslims are ‘otherized’ by the West) and it is this unique interpretation that will alleviate many unnecessary tensions between Muslims and non-Muslims.
What I do find problematic is why this interpretation has been dusted off from the bookshelves of traditional fiqh and is now receiving some airtime. How come it took us several centuries to publicize this interpretation?
In my opinion, and I don’t wish to project this onto the sincere intentions of scholars such as Sheikh Bin Bayyah, political considerations have come into play. The socio-political context in which we live is compelling us to find varying interpretations to well-known Islamic ‘principles’. We find this especially common in discussions on jihad, apostasy, and polygamy.
My concern is that, in our post-9/11 environments, we are performing intellectual gymnastics with our classical fiqh in search of opinions that are more palatable to the non-Muslim world.
I do realize that the bipolar worldview of classical scholars (dar al-Islam and dar al-Harb) is being replaced by a more pluralistic outlook wherein a new Islamic paradigm is *possibly* being developed. So it is understandable that previous majority interpretations are being replaced by minority, or even altogether new, opinions.
I do acknowledge that opinions once held as absolute truths need to be re-evaluated in the context of our times (that is what Ijtihad is all about), but we must equally be conscious of the circumstances in which this re-evaluation is taking place. Are we defining the issues based on the needs of the Ummah or are they being dictated to us by our very own critics?
I mean is apostasy or FGM such a serious global epidemic in the Ummah that it needs to trump other more rampant problems such as misogyny, illiteracy, and corruption? But since our critics choose to focus on the former two, we too must dedicate all our efforts to analyzing those issues.
And once we accept their prioritizations of our problems, how far will we go to appease them in redressing said problems?
Will polygamy go the way of slavery or concubinage, explained away as social aberrations that were tolerated in past Muslim societies only to become phased out and prohibited?
Will the Islamic concept of jihad be stripped of its military aspect and become a spiritual struggle against the devil?
If the term ‘brother’ in the hadith I began with is allowed to be interpreted as the 'human brotherhood' variety, will all other instances of ‘brother’ in our textual sources be allowed such an interpretation?
I think we all agree that the doors of Ijtihad need to be reopened (that is if you are of the opinion that they were ever closed), but I really wish that this development were taking place under the impartial patronage of Muslim scholars, independent of the suggestions by the critics of Islam. I find the uninvited tentacles of the West’s call for Islamic reform all too present in such fiqhi exercises.
Thursday, July 19, 2007
Here’s an amazing video from last year of the then 16-yr old Hensel twins (born in 1990, they are now 17) who share one body with two separate heads. In fact their body has two hearts, two stomachs, and three livers. For more information, check out their Wiki entry.
I watched it last week and I have honestly never felt such a full spectrum of emotions.
I felt anger at the parents for having put their children into such an untenable situation while also feeling the greatest of empathy for the gut-wrenching decision they had to make 17 years ago.
I feel such joy and elation at seeing the bubbly spirit of these two girls and I feel sadness at the grief they must endure in the presence of gawking strangers.
I feel encouraged by the innocence they exhibit having most likely been spared the cruelty so widespread among us, yet fearful of the day they actually come face to face with the wretched hatred of this world.
I feel indescribable inspiration at the strength they display and heaps of admiration for the unending support their parents must provide.
I am grateful that they live in a society that has allowed them to thrive as they have. I could easily imagine a life of solitude and unrewarding existence if they were to have been born in a Muslim country (or any developing country for that matter).
There is so much to learn about ourselves by contemplating on these two remarkable individual personalities.
(Allah) Who made all things beautful which He created (32:7)
On the earth are signs for those of assured Faith, As also in your own selves: Will ye not then see? (51:20-21)
What a beautiful creation by the most beautiful Creator! I am astonished at the vibrancy of these two young girls. How they are able to maintain a life of normalcy in the most abnormal of circumstances. May Allah preserve them and guide them and give them the best in this life and the best in the Akhira!
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
I'm sure most of you have read about the latest bombing tragedy in Islamabad where 16 people were killed in a rally for deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. This is the latest in a string of violence since the Lal Masjid siege ended on July 11. Here is a quick recap of the maddening violence of this past week:
July 11 - Siege cleanup ending at Lal Masjid.
July 12 - Two suicide bombers hit government targets. Three soldiers were killed when a driver detonated his car outside the town of Mingora in the Swat Valley in North West Frontier Province. In North Waziristan a suicide bomber walked into a government compound and blew himself up, killing three officials.
July 12 – In a televised address to the nation, Musharraf explains his actions on the Lal Masjid siege ("They prepared the madrassa as a fortress for war and housed other terrorists in there…I will not allow any madrassa to be used for extremism") and vows to eliminate extremism and terrorism from "every corner of the country."
July 14 - At least 26 soldiers were killed and 54 wounded in a suicide car bombing north of Miran Shah, North Waziristan's main town.
July 15 – Two suicide bombers and a roadside bomb struck a military convoy in Swat, a mountainous area northeast of Peshawar, killing 16 soldiers and 5 civilians.
July 15 - In the day's second attack, a suicide bomber targeted scores of people at a police recruiting center in the city of Dera Ismail Khan. The blast killed 12 policemen and 16 candidates and wounded dozens more.
July 15 - Interesting note in this article: "There is concern in Pakistan that the gathering sense of crisis could prompt Musharraf to cancel elections later this year and declare a state of emergency — despite his repeated denials."
July 17 – Three police, one bystander killed in suicide bombing at the Khajuri checkpoint site at the entry-point to North Waziristan.
July 17 – Suicide bomber kills 16 in Islamabad at a PPP (Pakistan Peoples Party) rally for Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry.
July 18 - Suspected militants attacked security forces in northwest Pakistan Wednesday, killing 16 soldiers and wounding up to 21 others in two separate strikes against military convoys.
July 18 – Pakistan government considers imposing state of emergency after latest bombing in Islamabad. "Analysts say declaring an emergency would delay elections expected later this year, boosting Musharraf's aims to defy the constitution and remain in power as both president and army chief."
There are two points worth mentioning here. First, the latest bombing of the Islamabad rally for Chief Justice Chaudhry is being framed as a logical extension of the violence in the northern regions carried out by militant Islamists (most likely as blowback from the Lal Masjid fiasco). That is a reflexive yet naïve analysis of the situation.
Anyone familiar with despotic rule knows the simple tenet of divide and conquer taught to all tin pot dictators in Machiavellian Rule 101. The Islamists had nothing to gain by bombing a Musharraf opposition rally. Nothing whatsoever. Rather only Musharraf would gain by such an action which would inevitably result in tensions between the Islamists and the Chief Justice-supporters.
Secondly, the 'state of emergency' flag has begun to be waved by the government. Don't get fooled by the phrase 'state of emergency'. Its straight up martial law!
"Martial law can also be declared in cases of major natural disasters, however most countries use a different legal construct like "state of emergency"." (Wikipedia)
So the Islamabad bombing is in reality Musharraf's dream come true where his two main domestic threats are set to declare war on each other while simultaneously allowing him to declare war on the nation with the imposition of martial law.
Isn't that convenient?
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
This Good News Post is for all you brothers who have gone for Hajj or Umrah and had a rough time with the lower portion of the Ihram. It seems that the Hajj authorities have approved a new seamless trouser that can be worn underneath the Ihram. They explain it as a device to curtail the all-too-common chafing of the inner thighs.
Now can someone please tell me what took so long????
While I'll admit I'm not as skinny as I used to be (wait, I was never really skinny), I don't consider myself as having thunder thighs or anything, so I was in for a real shocker during my first Hajj when I got hit hard with the chafing business. Thankfully, a good brother was kind enough to share his supply of vaseline with the strict condition of NO DOUBLE-DIPPING! (was that too much information?)
But seriously folks, I can live with the chafing - the real problem with the Ihram is the discomfort of walking around without underclothing. I've been blessed to go for Umrah more times than I can count (Alhamdul-Illah), but walking around without boxers has always freaked me out. One wrong move and you're the object of a peep show gone wrong.
So it was with sincere joy that I read about this innovation. I just think there should be some sort of minimum requirement that only those who have performed at least one Hajj/Umrah *without* these trousers can wear it. I mean its only fair that everyone suffer the same fate (at least once) that I went through so many times.
Am I being too unreasonable?
Monday, July 16, 2007
What am I talking about? Just like Muslims the world over are demonized for the mistakes of the few, black athletes too have their black sheep who are overpublicized and overhyped, taking the rest down with them.
I couldn't help but read this article about ESPN's blatant misrepresentation of black athletes and think of the media's equally blatant misrepresentation of Muslims. The parallels are shockingly obvious. While the clear majority of black athletes conform to society's standards and are perfect law-abiding citizens, its the Pacman Jones' and the Randy Moss' that are headlines worthy. Worse yet, the times when black athletes exhibit heroic qualities - Stephon Marbury and Derrick Brooks are two examples profiled in the article - their accomplishments are glossed over and given scant coverage.
A quote from an interview with full-time activist, part-time NBA player Etan Thomas builds on my analogy with his reference to the demonization of the 'ENTIRE CULTURE of the NBA' eerily comparable to the indictment of the ENTIRE RELIGION of Islam:
"I see bench clearing brawls in baseball. I've seen them drop the bat, rush the pitcher, and the entire team spill onto the field throwing blows, but it's never blown up in the media the way it is when basketball players get into a fight. In hockey they were actually complaining that there wasn't as many fights as there used to be. But when something happens in basketball, the ENTIRE CULTURE of the NBA is demonized. Then, somehow, they bring hip hop into the discussion, which always seems to happen for some reason, and there is this big problem. And something needs to be done. We become labeled as thugs. That is something that really bothers me, but it is an unfortunate reality that is our present day society."
Can you see the similarities?
I especially like Exhibit E in the article, where the author highlights the usage of the Internet as the latest tool for xenophobic bigots 'to voice their true opinions'.
"Internet anonymity often empowers readers to break free from this "oppressive PC culture" to voice their true opinions on black men in a way that is completely distinct from conversations where white athletes mess up."
I can't begin to count how many sickening comments abusing our dear Prophet (saw) and misquoting the Quran I have read, and not just on typical Islamophobic websites. Indeed, their true colors are being exposed.
What this shows is that the sickness is in the hearts of the people, those feeding the media ratings as well as those commenting on the web, those unwilling to see beyond the superficiality of the news reports and the superficiality of their own selves.
Muslims will do no better to improve their lot by trying to change their beliefs than blacks would do by trying to change their skin color. The problem is not with us. The problem is with those trying to change us by projecting their insecurities onto us.
PS. This is reason #3,452 for boycotting ESPN.
I just wanted to bring your attention to three sites of interest. First, there is a newly created forum called the Muslim Bloggers Alliance. Its a commendable effort to bring together Muslim bloggers. I hope to see it grow and flourish into something really big, Insha'Allah.
Second, there is the Carnival of Islam in the West. A blog carnival is "similar to a magazine, in that it is dedicated to a particular topic, and is published on a regular schedule, often weekly or monthly. Each edition of a blog carnival is in the form of a blog article that contains permalinks links to other blog articles on the particular topic." (Wikipedia)
This month's edition is being hosted at Br. Hakim Abdullah's blog and it features several of my posts. Obviously Br. Hakim lowered the carnival standards for this one month to allow my entries. ;-)
Finally, I must give a thumbs-up to MrEspy, who has done well with the EspyExchanges, having churned out two entertaining interviews this past week. Having left behind the days of my youth, its nice to get an insight into the mind of today's young Muslims. Keep up the good work MrEspy!
Now if you can just work on getting a new webname. I keep thinking of the ESPN awards show?! :-)
Monday, July 16, 2007 | | 3 Comments
Sunday, July 15, 2007
Cross-posted at Muslims Bloggers Alliance
Last week, we were blessed here in Riyadh to have Shaykh Zulfiqar Ahmed visit for a few days. I was able to attend one of his lectures and he gave this very simple yet profound lesson:
There exist four basic categories of material creation in the universe – the elements, plant life, animals, and the human being. Allah (swt) has interconnected them to create such a beautiful hierarchy so as to teach us the balance and purpose of life.
Beginning with the elements, lifeless objects such as dirt, water, and rocks, they share a common characteristic of body; they all consist of matter. This trait is shared by the upper three creations as well – plant life, animals, and man all have bodies made up of matter.
The second group has a unique characteristic of life, which is not shared by the group beneath it (elements), but is common to the groups above it (animals and man). Plants and trees grow and die.
The third class, namely animals, has the additional ability of movement. While minerals and plant life are immobile, animals can fly, run, and swim. Animals share the traits of the two lower groups (body and life) and have the added blessing of motion. Needless to say, man too has the trait of movement.
Finally we get to man. What is his unique feature that no other creation shares? Is it his ability to think? We have recently discovered that monkeys and dolphins exhibit signs of intelligence. Is it his ability to worship Allah? We know from the Quran and Sunnah that rocks, trees, animals and everything else in the Heavens and Earth glorify and praise Allah. So what is the special trait in man that is not found in the other three categories of creation?
It is his ability to love Allah. His ability to develop a deep longing for his Creator. It is in his heart, the locus of this emotion, that he is able to cultivate this most unique of sensations. This love is born from knowing Allah. And once love for Allah has posited itself in the heart, then wherever he looks, he sees Allah.
"Wheresoever you turn, there is the countenance of Allah" (2:115)
Is it not true that the lover is reminded of the beloved in every object he sees? Is not every breath another opportunity for the lover to remember his beloved?
"Those of faith are overflowing in their love for Allah" (2:165)
And whenever this special characteristic is lacking in man, he has ceased to occupy that highest of ranks in the hierarchy of creation. In the absence of this special love for Allah, man ceases to be man – he simply becomes an animal with advanced intelligence, or worse.
Let us now look at the hierarchy from a perspective of utility. We know that the lowest class of creation, the elements, is used for the benefit of the higher groups. The ground is broken up and the dirt is plowed in order to grow vegetation. Mountains are carved to build roads and tunnels. The basic purpose of the elements is to use them for the benefit of the other three categories of creation.
Next, plant life is consumed by animal and man to help sustain life. Fruits and vegetables are eaten, trees are used to build shelter, and many herbs and plants are used for medicinal gains. The purpose of plant life is to serve the needs of man and animal.
When we then look at animals and how they are utilized for the benefit of man, we see the beautiful plan of Allah continuing. Horses and donkeys are used for transportation, cattle and sheep are sacrificed to be eaten, birds have their various benefits, and so on. Animals were created for the purpose of fulfilling the needs of man. None, save the occasional vegetarian here or the PETA activist there, will object to such a reading of the man-animal relationship.
The hierarchy of life is clear, beautiful, and perfect. And when man internalizes this hierarchy and reflects on its implications, he can not but conclude that his purpose must also be to serve a higher being. His existence is not meaningless. In acknowledging this natural cycle of life, he must realize that his existence is for the sake of the Ultimate Being.
"Truly, my prayer and my service of sacrifice, my life and my death, are (all) for Allah, the Cherisher of the Worlds" (An'am:162)
Is it reasonable and ethical to ask man to dedicate his life for the sole purpose of serving his Creator? No one questioned the fairness in the elements fulfilling their purpose of creation. No one cried injustice when the grass was cut and fed to the cattle or when the trees were uprooted to build the houses. The ox unquestioningly plowed the farmer’s field and the guard dog dutifully carried out his obligations. This consumption and utilization of the lower classes of creation for the higher classes is never understood as oppressive or tyrannical. So why then does man protest so much when he is simply being commanded to fulfill the purpose of his existence?
Saturday, July 14, 2007
Rarely can I say that I've seen a smart commercial. This one is smart. And funny. And innovative, with a real surprise ending.
Friday, July 13, 2007
Final Update 7/13: Final count is 13-cool, 7-dorky, so its obviously clear that Muslims aren't ready for democracy. But seriously, since the voting was so close, there seems to be a need for a tie-breaker. I didn't want to do this, but I'll have to cast my vote. As the owner of this blog, my vote is worth hmmmm...let me pick some random number...7...yeah, its worth 7 votes. So that makes the real final count - 14-dorky, 13-cool. The masses have spoken, the dorks win! Wait, that didn't come out right...
Update 7/10: Sadly, it seems my readership consists of a bunch of 80's rejects - next you people will tell me that Smurfette was cute. So far I count 11 'cool/awesome' comments and only 5 'dorky' comments. If things don't change in the next day or so, I will be forced to cancel the vote and declare martial law on my blog. Hey, I am a Muslim after all...and that's how we solve problems.
A friend sent me this video (link) below claiming it was both cool and dorky.
I say there's nothing cool about it - its ALL dorky.
He says I’m the dork.
So we can settle it by asking you all to judge (whether the video is dorky, not me). And I reserve the right to delete comments/votes if I see the overall trend contradicting my opinion.
Oh and if you think a transformer is a device used to transfer electrical energy by way of magnetic coupling, please don't vote.
After its all said and done, I think we all can agree that this dude is 100% pure dork.
Thursday, July 12, 2007
Cross Posted at Muslim Bloggers Alliance
I’ve been reading through many of the news reports as well as the Islamosphere to get a better understanding of what really happened in Islamabad.
I’ve said before that its morally reprehensible and intellectually dishonest for us to make judgments on those labeled as Islamists (as well as any other contentious issue) based solely on one side of the story. Granted its not always easy to tell fact from fiction or truth from propaganda but we must at least hold on formulating an opinion until we hear all sides of the story. Here are some of the lightly reported aspects of the story that I’ve been able to glean from various reports:
1. Very few people actually heard Maulana Abdur-Rasheed Ghazi’s message. Here is a comprehensive speech (sorry but its in Urdu) summarizing all of what he was calling for. His demands made in this speech several months ago could not be considered overly extreme or foreign to the common Pakistani (end corruption and cronyism, cease immoral activities, implement Sharia laws in the court systems, etc.).
2. As tempered as his original message may have been, it was lost during the crisis this past week. As one brother living in Islamabad pointed out to me, it was very odd that Ghazi failed to mention his populist message during the stand-off. It would have seemed an opportune time to do so, with all of the world’s eyes on him.
3. He was constantly in touch with the media via his cell phone and he made it clear that he was not holding any women or children as hostages for the purpose of using them as human shields. According to him, that was part of the government’s smear campaign against him. (Link)
4. He made several capitulating gestures to the government where he was ready to unconditionally surrender and have any cases against him heard in the courts. His proposal also included handing over control of the Lal Masjid/Jamia Hafsa facilities to a third party. However, his stance changed when Ghazi was quoted on Geo TV as saying his mother had been wounded by gunfire. "The government is using full force. This is naked aggression. My martyrdom is certain now." Later he was quoted as saying, "We will not surrender. We will be martyred, but we will not surrender."
5. The day before the storming of the compound, a negotiating team consisting of Pakistani Ulema and former politicians, some of whom are known to be staunch government supporters, met with Ghazi for almost 12 hours in an attempt to end the stand-off peacefully. In fact, the two sides came to an amicable agreement summarized in a draft resolution. However, the Ulema group claimed that the government sabotaged the negotiations and "accused the government of creating a deadlock on the issue at the last moment and foiling all efforts to resolve it in a peaceful way." (Link)
6. Another negotiator, Maulana Shah Abdul Aziz, assigned by the government to hold talks between the military and Ghazi claimed in an interview with Asia Times Online that the arrest of Ghazi’s brother dressed in a burqa was a ploy by the government. Also, referring to an interview with his burqa-clad brother by state-owned PTV, Ghazi explained "He is a prisoner of war. The government had no right to humiliate him by presenting (him) in such way on TV."
7. The existence of foreign militants was another element that was barely mentioned in the news coverage. Although Ghazi flat-out rejected their presence (In the final negotiations before the storming of the compound, one of his conditions was for the media to visit the complex to prove his point there were no major weapons, nor foreigners present with him as claimed by the government. But his proposal was shot down), the military claimed to the contrary, even going so far as to blame the failed talks on Ghazi’s insistence on the foreign militants getting a free passage. That claim by the government was later debunked by the negotiating team "He always asked for guarantees for him as well as for those who were with him inside, but he never mentioned 'foreign militants'," said Maulana Hanif Jalandari. Regardless, it would be interesting to know how much of a factor the presence of foreign militants had in the tough stance taken by the military (and let’s not discount the added pressure from the US in cracking down on these foreign fighters).
8. And lets not forget the political tensions boiling over in the Chief Justice scandal where Musharraf unceremoniously sacked the top judge of the Pakistani court system. To what extent the extreme pressure that Musharraf was feeling from all quarters had a role in his decision to let off some steam on the militants will never be known. But it is worth considering.
I have purposefully avoided repeating the missteps and blunders carried out by Ghazi and Co. The CNN’s and BBC’s have done an adequate job in regurgitating that part of the story. My intent with this post was to present the other side and allow you to make your own judgment about the Lal Masjid tragedy.
Finally, I came across several thoughtful posts that looked at the bigger picture and provide some interesting insight. Umar Lee concluded from this event that a central Islamic authority would have been very useful in keeping such reactionary movements in check. Ali Eteraz posted on the corrupt nature of religious leadership and our need to be more critical of who we regard as our leaders (I must note that I don't agree with his other contentions, but that's for another day). Muslimmatters also provided a good post with some very insightful comments (Sh. Yasir Qadhi gave his thoughts also) on the root causes and the overarching consequences of these types of dilemmas.
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
You know the feeling by now. It’s a mixture of frustration and fear, apathy and apprehension, sadness and anger, confusion and clarity. It’s the feeling most of us get when we hear about yet another negative incident tainting this pristine religion of ours. And this feeling has become even more volatile in our highly charged environments, so neatly sprinkled with the explosive residue from 9/11, the war on terror, Iraq, Afghanistan, et al.
Every episode, instantly beamed all over the world, either makes us cringe and look for the first person to whom we can apologize or forces us to shake our heads in disbelief at the worldwide ‘conspiracy’ against Islam. In this polarized world of ‘with us or against us’, every episode forces us to choose a side – if we try to rationalize and analyze its situational context, we are branded apologists for extremism and if we criticize the bigotry and hate with which these actions are perpetrated, we are labeled apologists for the West.
We as a nation have become lulled into this oversimplification. We have fallen into the trap of picking sides (or worse, throwing our hands in the air and walking away). Our senses are constantly being bombarded with instant news, forcing us to instantly make a judgment: “No time for analysis, make a decision quick, you with us or against us? How can it be so complicated, we presented the ‘facts’, so what’s it gonna be?”
I say all this because I was genuinely surprised to read Br. Tariq Nelson’s post, “Embarrassed by the lunatic fringe” where I feel he was unfair to himself in feeling an emotion of embarrassment, especially when based on narratives created by those who have an agenda, be it imperialism, TV ratings, war profiteering, or a lust for power.
I refuse to allow them (the ones creating these narratives) to affect my measured evaluation of every situation. I refuse to allow them to lump all the West into one fiery ball of sin. I refuse to allow them to lump all dissidents into one evil group of Islamists. I refuse to feel embarrassed to be a Muslim. I refuse to feel embarrassed to be a Westerner.
Let me give an example of this overly simplified polarization. Sheikh Saleh Al-Fozan, a famous Saudi cleric, recently answered a question about those calling themselves ‘Liberal Muslims’. He stated:
Loosely translated (corrections are welcome):
“…The one who denies the knowledge of the obligations of the deen, that which distinguishes between the Muslim and the Kafir and wishes for freedom which is not subject to the bounds of Shariah, and denies the Shariah laws, especially those concerning the women, and (denies) the commanding of good and prohibiting of evil, and (denies) the legality of jihad for the sake of Allah, then these are from the major issues which nullify one’s Islam. With regards to the one who calls himself a Liberal Muslim, it is a contradiction if he means by liberal that which has been described. And such a person should make repentance for such ideas in order to be considered an upright Muslim.”
Sounds pretty straightforward, no? Not when you look at it from the two extremes. First, in reporting the item, they willfully ignored the first segment in bold, as the context of his answer was very important. Secondly, they literally interpreted ‘Musliman Haqqan’ as ‘Real Muslim’ (implying the opposite to be Non-Muslim) as opposed to the more appropriate ‘Upright Muslim’ (to which the opposite would be a Deviant Muslim).
Both extremes interpreted his answer as an open-season on liberal Muslims, reading his fatwa as a takfir of anyone calling himself liberal. The Islamists saw it as a vindication of their extreme beliefs while the neo-cons referred to it as another case of mullah-gone-wild. Sadly, Sh. Fozan was forced to yield to this nonsense and explicitly stated that he was not making such a judgment.
Is it such a surprise that the two extremes made their extreme interpretations? Not at all. Why be surprised at the barking of a dog and the crying of a baby? What upsets me is that these two voices have become so loud and obnoxious that the voice of reason and moderation has become drowned out, forcing us to pick one of the two sides.
How many people actually read the news item and felt the need to research what Sh. Fozan *really* said?
We are failing our intellects when we conveniently choose one of these sides. The truth must be scraped from the bottom of the cooking pots of government propaganda, media distortion, and radical discourse. Let us make our independent judgments free from the farce of fanaticism. And I am confident that when we do so, we will create our own space where facts, not religious affiliations or political loyalties, determine our support, our criticism, and our feelings.
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
Michael Moore was interviewed by CNN's Wolf Blitzer and man did he give CNN a good tongue-lashing. What got him really upset was a short attack piece, aired right before his interview, claiming that Moore fudged the facts in his new movie, Sicko.
Here is the 'Reality Check' segment that got him fired up.
And then here's the amazing interview where he really gives it to Blitzer and CNN:
Moore: Why don’t you tell the truth to the American people? I mean I wish that CNN and the other mainstream media would just for once tell the truth….You fudged the facts about this issue—-about the war and I’m just curious. When are you going to apologize to the American people for not bringing the truth to them that isn’t sponsored by some major corporation?
Monday, July 9, 2007
I had read a few months ago about the international campaign for the new seven wonders of the world. Well, they finalized their new seven and announced them yesterday in a big celebration in Portugal.
The good news is that two of the seven are associated with Muslims. The Taj Mahal in Agra, India, which was built by the Mogul Ruler Shah Jahan, is clearly an example of Islamic architecture at its best. Note that I said Islamic, not Indian, for too many people, even Muslims, have allowed it to be seen as an icon of Indian culture. The Taj Mahal is something that Muslims all over should be proud of.
Now I have trouble being equally proud of the other 'Muslim' marvel, Petra in Jordan. Its nice to see this hidden gem of the Muslim world finally recognized as a wonder of the world. However, I can't but help think of its Quranic history as one of the perished nations (That second link has some *really* nice pics of Petra, so its hard not to be impressed by its wondrous construction and breathtaking architecture).
But I just can't get the following verse out of my mind: "And Thamud who carved the rocks in the valley" (89:9) Should we really be celebrating the accomplishments of a people who were cursed for eternity in the words of the Quran?
But I guess in this day and age, we should take what we can get, eh?
BTW, of the other 14 finalists who lost out in the voting, three have Islamic affiliations - AlHambra palace in Spain, Hagia Sophia in Turkey, and Timbuktu (home to one of the first universities in history, Sankore Madarasa) in Mali.
Oh and if you're wondering about the Pyramids, worry not for our dear Egyptian brothers felt themselves to be too good for the competition, claiming that the pyramids of Giza were the only wonder of the world and the competition "has no value", because "the masses do not write history".
Glad to see them taking a principled stance on issues that really matter.
Saturday, July 7, 2007
When I saw this post featuring a Dr. Seuss cartoon called the Lorax, I was reminded of Robert Jensen's Anti-capitalism article, which I've reproduced below.
If you're too lazy to read the article, then at least watch the cartoon over at Tariq's blog.
And if you don't have the 20 minutes to watch the cartoon, I'll sum it up for you:
Capitalism and its big bully brother Globalization suck! Muslims should fight them tooth and nail. Why? Professor Jensen sums it up nicely:
"Capitalism is admittedly an incredibly productive system that has created a flood of goods unlike anything the world has ever seen. It also is a system that is fundamentally (1) inhuman, (2) anti-democratic, and (3) unsustainable. Capitalism has given those of us in the First World lots of stuff (most of it of marginal or questionable value) in exchange for our souls, our hope for progressive politics, and the possibility of a decent future for children."
Not sure what the alternative should be (and neither does Jensen). But here is his response to the 'no alternative' crowd:
"One of the common responses I hear when I critique capitalism is, "Well, that may all be true, but we have to be realistic and do what's possible." By that logic, to be realistic is to accept a system that is inhuman, anti-democratic, and unsustainable. To be realistic we are told we must capitulate to a system that steals our souls, enslaves us to concentrated power, and will someday destroy the planet.
But rejecting and resisting a predatory corporate capitalism is not crazy. It is an eminently sane position. Holding onto our humanity is not crazy. Defending democracy is not crazy. And struggling for a sustainable future is not crazy."
I say that when the American colonists protested British injustice by dumping 45 tons of tea into the Boston Harbor during the Boston Tea Party, they didn't exactly have 21st century democracy on their minds. They just knew that the system they were living under was inhumane.
When the peasants and wage-workers in France rose up against the old aristocratic order of 18th century France, they hadn't laid out the details to legislative assemblies or parliamentary elections. They too knew that the system had to change.
I say the same logic applies to all people of conscience who realize the oppression of this economic system.
One final note: If I had to remake the cartoon, I would have made the local have-nots (the swammy swams and the brown barbaloots, who were forced to leave their indigenous land) end up as cheap labor for the factory, fighting to survive on $2 a day. That would have been more realistic.
An Unsustainable System
Anti-Capitalism in Five Minutes
By ROBERT JENSEN
We know that capitalism is not just the most sensible way to organize an economy but is now the only possible way to organize an economy. We know that dissenters to this conventional wisdom can, and should, be ignored. There's no longer even any need to persecute such heretics; they are obviously irrelevant.
How do we know all this? Because we are told so, relentlessly -- typically by those who have the most to gain from such a claim, most notably those in the business world and their functionaries and apologists in the schools, universities, mass media, and mainstream politics. Capitalism is not a choice, but rather simply is, like a state of nature. Maybe not like a state of nature, but the state of nature. To contest capitalism these days is like arguing against the air that we breathe. Arguing against capitalism, we're told, is simply crazy.
We are told, over and over, that capitalism is not just the system we have, but the only system we can ever have. Yet for many, something nags at us about such a claim. Could this really be the only option? We're told we shouldn't even think about such things. But we can't help thinking -- is this really the "end of history," in the sense that big thinkers have used that phrase to signal the final victory of global capitalism? If this is the end of history in that sense, we wonder, can the actual end of the planet far behind?
We wonder, we fret, and these thoughts nag at us -- for good reason. Capitalism -- or, more accurately, the predatory corporate capitalism that defines and dominates our lives -- will be our death if we don't escape it. Crucial to progressive politics is finding the language to articulate that reality, not in outdated dogma that alienates but in plain language that resonates with people. We should be searching for ways to explain to co-workers in water-cooler conversations -- radical politics in five minutes or less -- why we must abandon predatory corporate capitalism. If we don't, we may well be facing the end times, and such an end will bring rupture not rapture.
Here's my shot at the language for this argument.
Capitalism is admittedly an incredibly productive system that has created a flood of goods unlike anything the world has ever seen. It also is a system that is fundamentally (1) inhuman, (2) anti-democratic, and (3) unsustainable. Capitalism has given those of us in the First World lots of stuff (most of it of marginal or questionable value) in exchange for our souls, our hope for progressive politics, and the possibility of a decent future for children.
In short, either we change or we die -- spiritually, politically, literally.
1. Capitalism is inhuman
There is a theory behind contemporary capitalism. We're told that because we are greedy, self-interested animals, an economic system must reward greedy, self-interested behavior if we are to thrive economically.
Are we greedy and self-interested? Of course. At least I am, sometimes. But we also just as obviously are capable of compassion and selflessness. We certainly can act competitively and aggressively, but we also have the capacity for solidarity and cooperation. In short, human nature is wide-ranging. Our actions are certainly rooted in our nature, but all we really know about that nature is that it is widely variable. In situations where compassion and solidarity are the norm, we tend to act that way. In situations where competitiveness and aggression are rewarded, most people tend toward such behavior.
Why is it that we must choose an economic system that undermines the most decent aspects of our nature and strengthens the most inhuman? Because, we're told, that's just the way people are. What evidence is there of that? Look around, we're told, at how people behave. Everywhere we look, we see greed and the pursuit of self-interest. So, the proof that these greedy, self-interested aspects of our nature are dominant is that, when forced into a system that rewards greed and self-interested behavior, people often act that way. Doesn't that seem just a bit circular?
2. Capitalism is anti-democratic
This one is easy. Capitalism is a wealth-concentrating system. If you concentrate wealth in a society, you concentrate power. Is there any historical example to the contrary?
For all the trappings of formal democracy in the contemporary United States, everyone understands that the wealthy dictates the basic outlines of the public policies that are acceptable to the vast majority of elected officials. People can and do resist, and an occasional politician joins the fight, but such resistance takes extraordinary effort. Those who resist win victories, some of them inspiring, but to date concentrated wealth continues to dominate. Is this any way to run a democracy?
If we understand democracy as a system that gives ordinary people a meaningful way to participate in the formation of public policy, rather than just a role in ratifying decisions made by the powerful, then it's clear that capitalism and democracy are mutually exclusive.
Let's make this concrete. In our system, we believe that regular elections with the one-person/one-vote rule, along with protections for freedom of speech and association, guarantee political equality. When I go to the polls, I have one vote. When Bill Gates goes the polls, he has one vote. Bill and I both can speak freely and associate with others for political purposes. Therefore, as equal citizens in our fine democracy, Bill and I have equal opportunities for political power. Right?
3. Capitalism is unsustainable
This one is even easier. Capitalism is a system based on the idea of unlimited growth. The last time I checked, this is a finite planet. There are only two ways out of this one. Perhaps we will be hopping to a new planet soon. Or perhaps, because we need to figure out ways to cope with these physical limits, we will invent ever-more complex technologies to transcend those limits.
Both those positions are equally delusional. Delusions may bring temporary comfort, but they don't solve problems. They tend, in fact, to cause more problems. Those problems seem to be piling up.
Capitalism is not, of course, the only unsustainable system that humans have devised, but it is the most obviously unsustainable system, and it's the one in which we are stuck. It's the one that we are told is inevitable and natural, like the air.
A tale of two acronyms: TGIF and TINA
Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's famous response to a question about challenges to capitalism was TINA -- There Is No Alternative. If there is no alternative, anyone who questions capitalism is crazy.
Here's another, more common, acronym about life under a predatory corporate capitalism: TGIF -- Thank God It's Friday. It's a phrase that communicates a sad reality for many working in this economy -- the jobs we do are not rewarding, not enjoyable, and fundamentally not worth doing. We do them to survive. Then on Friday we go out and get drunk to forget about that reality, hoping we can find something during the weekend that makes it possible on Monday to, in the words of one songwriter, "get up and do it again."
Remember, an economic system doesn't just produce goods. It produces people as well. Our experience of work shapes us. Our experience of consuming those goods shapes us. Increasingly, we are a nation of unhappy people consuming miles of aisles of cheap consumer goods, hoping to dull the pain of unfulfilling work. Is this who we want to be?
We're told TINA in a TGIF world. Doesn't that seem a bit strange? Is there really no alternative to such a world? Of course there is. Anything that is the product of human choices can be chosen differently. We don't need to spell out a new system in all its specifics to realize there always are alternatives. We can encourage the existing institutions that provide a site of resistance (such as labor unions) while we experiment with new forms (such as local cooperatives). But the first step is calling out the system for what it is, without guarantees of what's to come.
Home and abroad
In the First World, we struggle with this alienation and fear. We often don't like the values of the world around us; we often don't like the people we've become; we often are afraid of what's to come of us. But in the First World, most of us eat regularly. That's not the case everywhere. Let's focus not only on the conditions we face within a predatory corporate capitalist system, living in the most affluent country in the history of the world, but also put this in a global context.
Half the world's population lives on less than $2 a day. That's more than 3 billion people. Just over half of the population of sub-Saharan Africa lives on less than $1 a day. That's more than 300 million people.
How about one more statistic: About 500 children in Africa die from poverty-related diseases, and the majority of those deaths could be averted with simple medicines or insecticide-treated nets. That's 500 children -- not every year, or every month or every week. That's not 500 children every day. Poverty-related diseases claim the lives of 500 children an hour in Africa.
When we try to hold onto our humanity, statistics like that can make us crazy. But don't get any crazy ideas about changing this system. Remember TINA: There is no alternative to predatory corporate capitalism.
TGILS: Thank God It's Last Sunday
We have been gathering on Last Sunday precisely to be crazy together. We've come together to give voice to things that we know and feel, even when the dominant culture tells us that to believe and feel such things is crazy. Maybe everyone here is a little crazy. So, let's make sure we're being realistic. It's important to be realistic.
One of the common responses I hear when I critique capitalism is, "Well, that may all be true, but we have to be realistic and do what's possible." By that logic, to be realistic is to accept a system that is inhuman, anti-democratic, and unsustainable. To be realistic we are told we must capitulate to a system that steals our souls, enslaves us to concentrated power, and will someday destroy the planet.
But rejecting and resisting a predatory corporate capitalism is not crazy. It is an eminently sane position. Holding onto our humanity is not crazy. Defending democracy is not crazy. And struggling for a sustainable future is not crazy.
What is truly crazy is falling for the con that an inhuman, anti-democratic, and unsustainable system -- one that leaves half the world's people in abject poverty -- is all that there is, all that there ever can be, all that there ever will be.
If that were true, then soon there will be nothing left, for anyone.
I do not believe it is realistic to accept such a fate. If that's being realistic, I'll take crazy any day of the week, every Sunday of the month.
Friday, July 6, 2007
For years Muslims have been wondering aloud why everyone insists on specifying the religion of the terrorists (when they happen to be Muslims) while neglecting to do the same for other criminals. The most common response is that the terrorists are committing their acts *in the name* of their Islamic beliefs while the everyday criminal couldn't care less whether his religion condones his act or not.
However, they fail to mention that although the terrorists are indeed acting on their Islamic beliefs, they are following deviant interpretations that are in the clear minority, as classified by the majority of Islamic scholars. Thus it would be more appropriate to label them 'deviant Muslim' terrorists, but as we all know that isn't done.
So you can imagine my complete surprise when I read that Gordon Brown, the new PM of UK, banned his administration from using the term Muslim in connection with the car bombing fiasco of last week. Not only that, he also proclaimed that the coinage 'war on terror' be dropped from everyday usage.
I must say that I'm impressed. This is clearly a step in the right direction. It shows a willingness to understand the complexity and the nuances of the crisis, something missed by the 'you're either with us or against us' Bush administration.
I just wonder how serious this will be implemented, especially by the media and the public. As can be seen in the comments section of this article (which I reproduced below), the public isn't going to warm too quickly to Brown's suggestions.
But then again, didn't Bush make a similar gesture after 9/11, when he went to the Islamic Center in DC, saying that we need to be careful in not indicting the entire Muslim population. Yeah, alot of good that did.
Finally, I wonder if Brown's stance has changed since it did come out that the perpetrators were Muslim. Now *that* would make me VERY impressed.
BROWN: DON'T SAY TERRORISTS ARE MUSLIMS
Gordon Brown has banned ministers from using the word “Muslim” in connection with the terrorism crisis.
The Prime Minister has also instructed his team – including new Home Secretary Jacqui Smith – that the phrase “war on terror” is to be dropped.
The shake-up is part of a fresh attempt to improve community relations and avoid offending Muslims, adopting a more “consensual” tone than existed under Tony Blair.
However, the change provoked claims last night that ministers are indulging in yet more political correctness.
The sudden shift in tone emerged in comments by Mr Brown and Ms Smith in the wake of the failed attacks in London and Glasgow.
Mr Brown’s spokesman acknowledged yesterday that ministers had been given specific guidelines to avoid inflammatory language.
“There is clearly a need to strike a consensual tone in relation to all communities across the UK,” the spokesman said. “It is important that the country remains united.”
He confirmed that the phrase “war on terror” – strongly associated with Mr Blair and US President George Bush – has been dropped.
Officials insist that no direct links with Muslim extremists have been publicly confirmed by police investigating the latest attempted terror attacks. Mr Brown himself did not refer to Muslims or Islam once in a BBC TV interview on Sunday.
Ms Smith also avoided any such reference in her statement to MPs yesterday.
She said: “Let us be clear – terrorists are criminals, whose victims come from all walks of life, communities and religions. Terrorists attack the values shared by all law-abiding citizens. As a Government, as communities, as individuals, we need to ensure that the message of the terrorists is rejected.”
Tory backbencher Philip Davies said: “I don’t know what purpose is served by this. I don’t think we need pussyfoot around when talking about terrorism.”
But former Tory homeland security spokesman Patrick Mercer said: “This is quite a smart idea. We know that the vast majority of Muslims are not involved in terrorism and we have to accept there are sensitivities about these matters.”
Thursday, July 5, 2007
I was at the gym yesterday (yes, I do workout ...occasionally ...once in a while) and the guy at the treadmill was watching ESPN. They were televising the annual hot-dog eating 'competition' and I couldn't help but overhear a segment where they were talking about reigning 'champion', Takeru Kobayashi, having an injury to his jaw making him doubtful for the 'competition'.
The funniest part was when they were interviewing one of the contestants, he referred to great sporting legends coming through while injured, like Willis Reed and Curt Schilling, and he *seriously* mentioned Kobayashi in the same sentence, proclaiming that superstar athletes always come through. I thought he was going to laugh at the sheer absurdity of his own statement, but the dude was dead serious.
Then ESPN covered the event like it was some real sporting event championship. I admit I haven't watched ESPN for quite some time (trying to kick an old bad habit), but man, have things degraded this much in the world of sports coverage?!
But its not just a poor reflection on ESPN and the thousands (yes, there had to be over two thousand people there) attending and cheering on the porkers. Is there not a single voice of sanity who can claim such an event not only distasteful, but even criminal?! Just because something can be done does not mean that it ought to be done!!! I was going to put together a rant, but I read the following hilarious article and it summed it up better than I ever could:
Man-bites-dog show ghastly
Does a TV news segment or a story in your morning newspaper ever make you gag?
I don't mean because it is too violent. I don't mean a TV program that warns you it contains "disturbing images" or that the article you are reading includes graphic and grisly details about a death.
I mean sickening—a story so disgusting your stomach can take only so much.
Could somebody please, please, please, I beg you, put a stop to all this news coverage of that totally repulsive 4th of July hot dog-eating contest?
This thing is being rammed down our throats on a daily basis. Not only the "traditional" holiday stomach-stuffer but a steady diet of regional events leading up to it that we are being distastefully force-fed.
A celebrity has been made of Takeru Kobayashi, a 29-year-old with a garbage disposal for an esophagus. He is a six-time winner of a contest on Coney Island to see who can cram the greatest number of hot dogs down his or her frankfurter hole.
ESPN televised it Wednesday for a full hour. It is now officially your go-to network for spelling bees, poker players and grotesque gluttons taking part in "competitive eating."
Sports pages coast-to-coast have featured Kobayashi as if he were a champion athlete. TV news segments again and again have shown him gorge and chew with little bits of food spewing out of his mouth—that's entertainment.
America Online profiled the contestants, complete with photographs of them with food smeared all over their faces.
There was Joey Chestnut, who "broke the old record" of Kobayashi by masticating 59 1/2 dogs in 12 minutes time.
There was Sonya Thomas, a 105-pound woman who held the "American record" of 37 dogs before Chestnut broke it.
There was also a smorgasbord of "other" food swallowers such as Ed "Cookie" Jarvis, who ate 4 1/2 pounds of crinkled French fries in six minutes, and Tim Janus, whom AOL described as the "world record-holder in tiramisu consumption" as well as "one of the sport's up-and-coming stars."
Let me tell you what's up and coming, "sports" fans: lunch.
This is not a cute blueberry pie-eating contest from a rural state fair. This is a full-scale competition, nationally televised and as heavily promoted as Wimbledon, which glorifies a freak show. A "sport" that tests the limits of who will become physically ill first, the "athletes" or the audience.
Our gag reflexes haven't been tested this way since NBC ran a tasteless, gut-churning, vermin-devouring weekly series called "Fear Factor" and aired commercials for it while some of us happened to be in the middle of dinner.
We now endure TV film footage of Kobayashi and his cronies as they smash mounds of food into their lips and teeth.
I would love it if a commercial were to follow that depicts a starving child from a third-world nation who desperately needs your help.
There were reports of a jaw injury "suffered" by the great Kobayashi that could potentially hamper his performance.
I haven't rooted this hard to have a man's mouth permanently wired shut since Mike Tyson.
Some people go to boxing matches to see the blood. Some people go to auto races to see a crash. I hesitate to think why people would go to a hot dog-eating contest. To see what, the belches? The barfs?
"How was the contest?"
"Cool. I got to see a guy's stomach pumped."
This is the first so-called sporting event that makes me cringe, and don't forget, I have seen the Detroit Lions play football.
I wish Kobayashi, Chestnut or one of these guys would explode like that gastronome from Monty Python's "The Meaning of Life" who eats one morsel too many.
They say horse racing is inhumane. They say pro wrestlers do great harm to their bodies for entertainment's sake. Hey, at least an actual trained skill is involved. A wild pit bull could bite into a pile of hot dogs. A 6-year-old kid could. Someday, one will. A parent will go into a kitchen to find a bunch of first-graders vying to see which one can stuff the most Oscar Mayers into his mouth.
"What are you doing?" Mommy can scream as she dials 911.
"I saw it on ESPN," her choking kid can say.
We need to stop treating this carnival of sideshow weirdos as if it is cute.
Chestnut, 23, was the winner of Wednesday's nauseating competition in New York. He didn't choke under pressure. He devoured 66 dogs to Kobayashi's 63.
The victorious college student from San Jose State was wrapped in an American flag when it was over. He told the TV audience how proud he was to have Kobayashi's crown "come back to the U.S. on the 4th of July."
Here's an independent thought I just had: Go stuff yourself.
If I wanted to watch uncivilized creatures eat, I would go to a zoo. Get out of my face.
Australia is the first country to publicly state that securing oil was one of their reasons for going into Iraq. Oh really?! Ya don't say, mate?! (that was my attempt at speaking Australian)
You gotta give it to the Aussies - their brash honesty is even more bolder than the CIA which took 40 years to admit to their abuses of power. Our friends down under confessed to their hypocrisy in less than 5 years. Good on ya mate!
Frankly speaking, I always did have doubts about that country of convicts. You do know that they're all descendents of criminals exiled several centuries ago from Britain? Thank God for countries with some sense of honor and dignity like the US of A and the UK of B. We would never degrade ourselves to the point of groveling over a few (trillion) drops of oil. We are the flagbearers of freedom, justice, and liberty. Our humanitarian record speaks for itself.
So, during these days of July 4th celebration, let us thank God that we are a nation of principles who will never admit to going into Iraq for Oil.
Australia Says Oil Key Motive for Involvement in Iraq
Australia has admitted for the first time that securing oil supplies has been a key factor behind its involvement in the U.S.-led war in Iraq. Defense Minister Brendan Nelson says maintaining what he calls "resource security" in the Middle East is a priority for Australia, which still has about 1,500 troops in the region. From Sydney, Phil Mercer reports.
Releasing the government's review of its national security policy, the defense minister acknowledged that the supply of oil has influenced strategic planning.
"The defense update we're releasing today sets out many priorities for Australia's defense and security, and resource security is one of them, and obviously the Middle East itself, not only Iraq, but the entire region, is an important supplier of energy, oil in particular, to the rest of the world," he said.
Nelson says that, although energy concerns are important, the main reason Australian troops are still in the Gulf is to ensure that the humanitarian crisis in the region does not get worse.
Critics have accused the Australian government of telling lies about Iraq.
The main opposition Labor party says that, back in 2003, Prime Minister John Howard insisted the campaign to oust former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with oil. It has chastised Mr. Howard for making up his policy in the Gulf as he goes along. Labor has promised to pull Australian troops out of Iraq if it wins national elections due later this year.
Anti-war protesters say the invasion of Iraq was more of a grab for oil rather than a genuine attempt to uncover weapons of mass destruction as the government has insisted.
Ministers in Canberra have brushed aside the criticism. They say they remain committed to helping the United States stabilize Iraq and combat terrorism. They also stress that there will be no "premature withdrawal" of Australian forces from the region.