Aug 23, 2019

Sexual harassment during Hajj

I saw this image circulating on social media, which has become a subject of both ridicule and embarrassment. The text alongside the image said:

“Turkish brothers protect their sisters and wives during Hajj. The power of a society is reflected in how much the men value, protect and care for their women.”

Image
Most of Muslim men and women reacted to the photo emphatically sympathetic towards the women who are surrounded by men, but they also mentioned that creating such a wall may result to trample other women or men.
Non-Muslims have reacted with contempt and scorn. Some said that Muslims have no moral and have no respect towards women even at the most sacred site like the great mosque of Mecca.

Sexual harassment during Hajj has been rampant but it has recently came to light. Here I found a couple of personal narratives of those women who have been sexually harassed during Hajj at Mecca.

1. 'I never told anyone': 5 women's stories of sexual abuse at the Hajj
2. Sexual Assault During Hajj: Will #MosqueMeToo Lead to Reforms in Mecca
3. 100 Women: Muslim women rally round #MosqueMeToo

Aug 14, 2019

The depiction of ideal masculinity


I saw this sculpture at a restaurant called Laughing Horse Lodge at Swan Lake in Montana. I looked at it as a beautiful piece of art and took a photo of it. One can see how art is capable of depicting the ideal male body in its best but in a sarcastic form. It shows that masculinity can be commodified and can be sold as an idea. This sculpture is a perfect example of how the ideal of maleness is framed, its symbolic and allegorical meanings reveal our stereotypes. 

It is interesting how muscle has replaced other features of manliness. I often hear people saying things like "he goes to the gym, he looks good." 

It is a depiction of Heracles who fought the Nemean lion, the vicious creature in Greek mythology. I am not sure who is the other person, but the crushed figure at the bottom is a lion. 

Aug 13, 2019

Getting ready for another semester

So it is again the beginning of another beginning, another semester, I'm as happy as I was before - well, maybe, I think I was happy for the past two semester and well before that. And I'm now back at this stage, beginning, which is so exciting.
Today, I deactivated my Facebook account, I was offered lots of incentives like you will miss so and so, and I reasoned that I hate Facebook, it told me, maybe I don't have enough friends, it gave me an option to look up for some. I didn't Facebook, I thought, would be a distraction, and honestly, it is.

I sent a few messages to friends with whom I have been in touch regularly and with people with whom I worked this summer in Washington DC, telling them I'm leaving Facebook and here is my contact details in case you would like to reach out to me.
I'm feeling gloriously fine, leaving a distraction behind. I am pretty much flexible at this point to leave social media if I don't find it worthy.

I will continue blogging because this is where I can express myself without distraction and not even being worried if anyone would come by and read it because at the end of the day, I'm writing for myself and it is a cathartic experience that I have been doing for a while. Back in Afghanistan, I did blogging professionally, where I labored from dawn to dusk to create content both informative and useful for all. But not anymore. From now on, this platform for my random thoughts and I like the functionality of it.

Aug 11, 2019

At the Natural History Museum

May 15, 2019

Pakistani Girls Sold into Marriage

I just read this sad story on BBC website about young girls as brides belonging to minority Christian and in some cases Muslim groups trafficked to China. This tragic story could be the tip of the ice berg. Who knows how many innocent and naive girls are being sold by their parents who have gone unnoticed.

In early 2000s, there were some rumors about Afghan refugees in Pakistan who were sold into marriages in the Gulf countries. A few of them were smuggled into Dubai and kept in the houses of wealthy local Arabs. At one point one of the brides was drowned and some were seen working in brothels in Dubai. It is unfortunate and yes, poverty takes the largest toll on poor and vulnerable people who always happen to be women and children.

Feb 22, 2019

Amazon Prime's Ploy That Most Customers Fall Prey To

Whether or not you are an Amazon customer, you probably have heard of Amazon Prime membership. If you are a frugal person like me and waiting to hear when Amazon announces its 30-day free trial, then you should read this post. I will address some issues and concerns and how they might be related to you and your experiences. I will unmask Amazon Prime’s disguised price hikes in their ingenious marketing ploy that gives the company an opportunity to camouflage this ploy to overcharge customers. I will explain how I was overcharged.

You are probably aware that Amazon customers are only eligible for one free trial of Prime every 12 months. That happens generally in the beginning of the year, in January. So, knowing that I'd get a one-month free trial membership with Amazon Prime, I signed up last month. I ordered a couple of books and some other items. I set a reminder for myself to come back on time and to cancel my membership. Yesterday was the last day. I went online to cancel it but it said that I'm not a member because I signed for a free trial. That means you won't be charged when the free trial period ends. But unbeknownst me to that is not what happened. I was charged.

Today, out of curiosity I checked my bank account and I realized that Amazon had charged me $13.09 —that is for one month of Amazon Prime. It neither showed on my Amazon account nor did I receive an e-mail confirming the charge. So, technically a free trial period is a ploy to attract more customers and unbeknown to people, Amazon signs them up automatically to its Prime membership. This is exactly what happened to me. I did not subscribe to the Prime membership, it was only a 30-day free trial. But this is not an isolated ruse to deceive people, overcharging is another Amazon Prime hidden scheme.

So, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of it. As I mentioned above, I did not sign up for a Prime membership, but I was charged $13.09. Let’s add up that number. For a twelve month membership, if I pay $13.09, which I was charged, it would add up to $157.08.

When I saw that number, I went online and did some research. I looked through Amazon Prime’s website and nowhere could I find that number. I became more suspicious of Amazon. And then I asked myself, what is that cost for? Why it is not mentioned on Amazon’s website? What is shady about it? I needed to find answers for all these questions.

So, before I turned to Amazon and contacted its customer service, I checked Amazon Prime’s page to find the current costs of membership. This is what I found on Amazon’s website. As of May 2018, Amazon has updated its Prime membership, which is as follows:

  • Starting May 11, 2018, new members will be charged $119/year for an annual Prime membership and $59/year for an annual Prime Student membership.
  • Starting June 16, 2018, existing Prime members with an annual membership will renew at a rate of $119/year. Prime Student members with an annual membership will renew at a rate of $59/year.
  • Monthly Prime members continue to pay $12.99 per month. Monthly Prime Student members continue to pay $6.49 per month
Now, where does it mentioned $13.09 a month or $157.08 for 12 months? Nowhere. How can we consolidate $157.08 with anyone of these numbers proclaimed on Amazon Prime’s membership page? We can’t. So, is there a hidden cost, error or some sort of scam going on? The answer is, I don’t know. I don’t think a scam would be Amazon’s intention, but there is definitely something fishy going on that Amazon hides from its customers. That is a secret and a dirty trick that Amazon has carefully planned to take advantage of customers.

So, after my initial research, I turned to Amazon’s customer service folks and they were oblivious about it. At least they couldn’t explain why customers are charged at such a high rate. Some were not able to answer my questions. They were slow, impatient, and sometimes appeared rude. Other people had similar experiences. Finally, I asked them to direct me to their manager and one of them did. I chatted with Vinay, who claimed to be from the leadership team. He was so impatient, impetuous and rude. He forced me to end the chat. He yelled at me: END CHAT! I talked to numerous people at Amazon’s customer service, but not all are that bad. Here is my correspondence with Vinay:

Here's a copy of the chat transcript you requested:
12:27 PM PST Akshay(Amazon)Hello, my name is Akshay. I'm here to help you today.
12:27 PM PST Nasim FekratHi
I was charged $13.09 for prime membership, can you tell me what is that price?
12:27 PM PST AkshayNasim I understand your concern.
Please do not worry I'll try my best to resolve this issue.
12:27 PM PST Nasim Fekratit does't correspond with your prices listed here https://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=202213110
12:31 PM PST AkshayCould you please confirm last four digit of card on which you've been charged?
12:32 PM PST Nasim Fekrati cancelled my membership which was automatically charged. Don't worry about that
did you check that link?
12:32 PM PST AkshayYes I checked the link.
12:33 PM PST Nasim Fekratif i am charged $13.09 for a 12-month period that adds up to $157.08
but that doesn't say on that page?
it says for one year it is $119 plus tax
can you explain that?
12:34 PM PST Akshayyes correct. $119 plus tax for one year
12:36 PM PST AkshaySubtotal: $12.99
Tax: $0.10

Order Total: $13.09
12:36 PM PST Nasim Fekratthat makes sense but that doesn't add up to $119
12:37 PM PST Akshay$119 plus tax is for one year.
For one year it goes to near about $128 - $129 

12:39 PM PST Nasim Fekratbut $13.09 x 12= $157.08
that number doesn't correspond with what you are saying
12:40 PM PST AkshayIf you purchase for long period you'll get prime in less price as compared to monthly prime. 
12:41 PM PST Nasim Fekratcan you explain that?
https://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=202213110
it is not mentioned here though
12:42 PM PST Nasim FekratI want to know why
12:42 PM PST AkshaySure.
12:43 PM PST AkshayPlease allow me two minutes while I check this for you.
12:44 PM PST Nasim FekratOk
Thanks
12:50 PM PST AkshayThanks for your patience while I look into this.
12:51 PM PST Nasim Fekratno problem
12:54 PM PST AkshayAs I've checked the details with my lead we don't have such explanation for the prime charges.
If anyone purchase prime for one year it would be beneficial for them.

12:56 PM PST AkshayI don't mean to rush you, but we've been idle for 1 minute. I want to make sure our chat's still connected. If you aren't able to respond in 1 minute, this chat will close.
12:56 PM PST Nasim Fekratok
i'm here
12:56 PM PST AkshaySure.
12:57 PM PST Nasim FekratHow can I talk to someone who can explain this?
Do you have a manager or something?
12:58 PM PST AkshayYes we've but you'll get same resolution from my manager as we both have same resources.
12:59 PM PST Nasim FekratHow will I get that?
01:00 PM PST AkshayDo you want me to connect you to my manager/
01:00 PM PST Nasim FekratYes please
01:01 PM PST AkshaySure.
01:02 PM PST AkshayOne of the our appropriate team me​mber would be able to help you with this. I will transfer this chat to our special team for assistance. please stay connected.​
01:03 PM PST Vinay(Amazon)Hello, my name is Vinay. I'm from the leadership team. Please give me a moment to review the previous correspondence.​
01:04 PM PST Nasim FekratHi Vinay
sure
thanks
01:05 PM PST VinayThank you for staying connected. 
I've reviewed your correspondence and I understand your concern regarding the Prime charges. 
01:06 PM PST VinayI want to make sure that you get the correct information.
01:06 PM PST Nasim Fekratsure
01:06 PM PST VinayNasim, If you subscribe for Prime Monthly subscription, you will be charged $12.99 per month. 
01:07 PM PST VinayIf you prefer an annual Prime Subscription, it would be $119.00 
01:08 PM PST VinayIf you subscribe for annual Prime, you will get a benefit of discount with the price. 
01:09 PM PST Nasim FekratRight, I saw that is explained here https://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=202213110
01:09 PM PST VinayDefinitely. 
We are sorry but this is the only pricing available and the resolution we could help you with
01:10 PM PST VinayIs there anything else I can assist you with today?
01:10 PM PST Nasim Fekratwait a second please
The price on Amazon page is $119+tax a year
01:10 PM PST VinayYes. That's the one
01:11 PM PST Nasim FekratI was charged $13.09 for a month which is $157.08 for 12 months.
can you explain that egregious differences? 
01:11 PM PST VinayBase charge: 12.99 USD Tax: 0.10 USD Total charge: 13.09 USD
This is the charge including the tax 
01:12 PM PST Nasim Fekratin my state a one year tax is $7.99+$119=$126.99
01:12 PM PST VinayWe are sorry, I could just confirm that the Prime Annual Subscription will come with a discounted price. 
These are the fix charges that Amazon has and we won't be able to provide any further details in this case.
01:12 PM PST Nasim FekratOkay, why isn't that price mentioned on Amazon prime page?
01:13 PM PST VinayTax prices depend upon the region and area.
01:13 PM PST Nasim FekratYou are a manager or in leadership team as you said, can you explain that please? In my state it is $7.99 for a year
01:13 PM PST VinayI'm from the leadership team and this is the only resolution we could help you with. 
01:13 PM PST Nasim FekratBut you didn't answer my question
01:14 PM PST VinayAmazon prime Annual Subscription is for $119.00 + Taxes and not $7.99
01:14 PM PST Nasim Fekratwhat is taxes?
01:14 PM PST VinayI guess we have extended the best we could for you and there is nothing much we could assist you in this case. 
01:15 PM PST VinayIs there anything else I can assist you with today?
01:15 PM PST Nasim FekratOkay, you can't answer why Amazon charges me $157.08?
01:15 PM PST VinayIs there anything else I can assist you with today?
01:15 PM PST Nasim FekratYes, I have another question as well.
01:16 PM PST Nasim FekratI didn't sign up for Amazon Prime. I initially subscribed for a 30-day free trial. Why was I charged for prime membership?
01:16 PM PST VinayIf you wish you may subscribe with Prime Annual Subscription for $119.00
01:17 PM PST VinayThe Auto renew wasn't turned off and hence you were charged automatically after the trial period. 
01:17 PM PST Nasim Fekratdoes the Amazon automatically sign up its customer for Prime membership?
01:18 PM PST VinayThe auto renew was turned on and we have turned off the auto renew 
01:18 PM PST Nasim FekratI did turn it off. I also contacted someone on Amazon to check that. He or she said, I'm not signed up and that option was turned off.
01:19 PM PST VinayI now confirm that it has been turned off and the Prime Subscription has been cancelled. 
01:19 PM PST Nasim FekratIs there someone you could direct me that I can get an explanation regarding $157.08 charge for Amazon Prime for one year?
01:20 PM PST VinayI'm from the leadership team and have explained the details to you. This is the best we could help you with .
Is there anything else I can assist you with today?

01:20 PM PST Nasim FekratNo, sir. You didn't explain to me why Amazon Prime charges me $157.08 for one year. Can you direct me to someone else who could explain this to me?
01:20 PM PST VinayIt was a pleasure to assist you with this. Thank you for contacting Amazon.com. We hope to see you again. Please click "End Chat" to close this window.
01:21 PM PST VinayEND CHAT for me?
---------------------------------

So, as you can see Vinay from the leadership team was not willing to explain why Amazon Prime charged me $13.09, which is $157.08 for year. Most of the people with whom I talked to were foreigners. I also speculated that it might be because of unfamiliarity or something that they were not trained for, but when I pressed them for explanation, I realized that they were not actually unaware of it, but rather they were unwilling to explain the price that is designed to fleece innocent customers out of their money. Even sometimes their language was incoherent and impossible to understand. I think they may use Google translator like this one, which sometimes I couldn't understand what he was saying.

What I am trying to convey is that it actually does not say the actual price, which may influence people’s decision. If we add $.10 cents of tax to $12.99 that is $13.09, which is $157.08 for the entire year - the right amount that I was changed. The issue that I am concerned with is that Amazon Prime does not mention that on it is page. That is an ingenuous scheme. This is unethical and it should not be without consequences.

In 2014, I was charged for the whole year. I only realized towards the end of the year when I checked bank account. I was not notified by e-mail or otherwise. When I contacted Amazon Prime, they said, well, sorry to hear that. You always have the option to cancel your membership. You can cancel your membership now, if you want. That was their excuse. Amazon has carefully planned that and they know how to get away with it because they know that poor customers have no other choice than opting out, but Amazon has already drained their pockets.

Finally, I think it is imperative for everyone to share their experiences and expose schemes and ploys played by giant corporations such as Amazon. We can make them accountable and stop them from exploiting innocent and poor people. (Here I am going off on a tangent a little bit). We should share our ideas and experiences with each other to fight back against corporate greed and aggression. They are leaching off our hard work, our hopes, and success, and then use them against us not only economically but also politically.

Big corporations want to own us and rule us. We need to stand up and not let this happen. We should work together to be creative and raise awareness in our social circles, in colleges and universities, in workplaces, and in households. We have to make our hard work, our sweat, our success matter. This is the hallmark of our modern values. We have to stand for it and don't let giant corporations take control of them.

We need to get these things personal and turn it as a grassroots campaign on the street and on the web. Our laws are our tools, we can hold giant corporations accountable for their actions either it is related to global warming, health issues, human rights crises or small things like falling for the marketing ploy of Amazon Prime.

Jan 16, 2019

Government Shutdown Affects Grant Programs

Federal workers are not the only ones missing paychecks, the partial government shutdown has also affected academic communities, delaying funding and some travel cancellations as well. Today, I sent an e-mail to the National Science Foundation inquiring about funding, I received an automatic reply from NSF:

Due to a lapse in government funding, most National Science Foundation staff will not be receiving or responding to email until further notice. We sincerely regret this inconvenience and look forward to responding to you once we reopen.
Then a few minutes later, I received a follow up e-mail from the person in charge:
Because of the lapse in appropriations (aka, "a shutdown"), we are unable to respond to your message. Deadlines are unaffected by the shutdown.
So, here you go. You have some specific questions regarding funding and application, but you can't get an answer due to government shutdown.
I thought I should write this post in case anyone wonders whether he/she should submit the application on time or not, deadlines, according to the federal employee of NSF are unaffected by the partial shutdown.

Dec 31, 2018

going to an Eagles game


Yesterday, I went to the Philadelphia Eagles game. We tailgated outside the Redskins stadium at FedEx Field in Maryland. It was full of joy to cook and drink with my favorite people and meet some new ones. On my way home, I walked for nearly two hours to burn out some calories, but I got really tired when I got home. I slept like a log last night.

The Eagles battled hard to get into the play-off the victory of 24-0 over the Redskins. That means there is some hope for the reigning champions in the postseason.

I didn't know much about American football, so I started watching it in college. I gradually realized that it's like a religion to some Americans. Unlike soccer, American football is governed by a very complicated set of rules. It's also a dangerous sport; you can easily tear your ACL, break your neck or crack your skull. There are certain things about American culture you won't find else. In football, there is masculine pride, often with aggressiveness. You have to be tough and rough to beat the opponent team. If you look at the characters, they are huge, huge enough to block and resist like a bull. People in small stature have no place, almost, but there are some small agile players who run fast enough to outrun oversized players and accomplish touchdowns. Alcohol is an important element in the game. You have to drink enough to absurdly shout your lungs out for the team and talk loud to your neighbors. No one cares what you say or what others say to you. The language is familiar: You are stupidly drunk, happy, supportive of your team, wearing emblems and showing erratic behaviors, and balanced proportionally with the crowd. Nothing is out of the ordinary. Being as absurdly loud as possible is more likable and wanted than being quiet and ordinary. 

Dec 29, 2018

The Use of Social Media: Ego-Boosting and Time-Wasting

A few days ago, I felt I was succumbed to the temptation of using Instagram, which I have been trying to stay away from. The temptation was the result of thinking whether it is a good idea to upload some of my photographs there. I don't know why, perhaps, publicity was the spur. I opened an account, but for some reasons, I could not upload landscape photos to Instagram. I posted some photos of myself and tried different colors and features. I spent nearly two hours playing with a couple of photos. Then, suddenly, I thought, if I had spent that much time, I could have edited several photos on Photoshop and uploaded them to my website, or I could have read a few articles.

Time was not the only thing that I was worried about, it was something else: the ego. I did not download the Instagram app, but instead, I used the website through a backchannel. Even though everything looked basic, my photos looked fancy after I manipulated the light and color values. I could have stopped it, but the features and tools dictated me to do more. Therefore, I spent more time trying every available features.

Then, the following day, when I opened my account, I looked at my photos again. They looked great, except no one followed me. I thought, that is because I declined to share my contacts, or letting my friends know that I have created an account on Instagram. I again started working on my pictures. As I kept using different colors and tools to shape my portraits as best as I could, I felt drawn into the idea that I could possibly make myself look great and attractive. What a weird and unrealistic thing to do, I thought.

But for some reasons, I could not satisfy myself, I wanted my photos look really good. I never experienced such an urge before to spend this much time on my own portraits. It seemed ridiculous and I felt defenseless to the temptation and persuasion of tools that were offered to me.

It was then that I thought of the harmful impact of social media, such as Instagram, on the brain and behavior. I was offered a space, a strange yet familiar in which I felt I am not good enough. Two things happened at the same. The tools on Instagram asked me to boost my ego by changing hues and make saturation adjustment on my face, but at the same time, it took away my self-esteem from me. I felt insecure, but it offered me a panacea that I can indulge myself in egotistical projection of me and my personhood.

It was not the tools and features per se, but a range of other factors that were enticing. It opened a window to me, which listed some famous people and some were even familiar ones, and it asked me to follow them. Additionally, it ask me to share my contacts with the system. Then, it wanted me to send an invitation to my contacts and ask them to follow me on Instagram. I had a moment where I thought to myself, "What a bizarre thing that could be." I thought, I would become entangled in the web of self-doubt, insecurity, and perhaps, mental depletion.

Finally, today, I deleted my account on Instagram. It felt great. I patted myself on the back for I lost nothing. I felt I have protected myself from the invasiveness of Instagram, specially its e-mails and pushier notifications. I am considering staying away from social media like Facebook and Twitter, in general. So, I may delete or deactivate them in the year of 2019.

Dec 28, 2018

I Lost my Kindle, It is Dark Now

I feel terribly sad. I lost my Amazon Kindle Paperwhite on Megabus. I bought it, in 2013, as a college graduation gift for myself. There were nearly 100 classic books that I have purchased over the years. I wrote lots of notes and made lots of highlights, especially on War and Peace, The Brothers Karamazov, The Idiot, and Don Quixote. These books were my favorite ones, and honestly, they changed life in some way. I remember, when I decided to read War and Peace, I read dozens of reviews on who has rendered the best translation in English language; and I literally read every introduction of each translation that is made so far, and even compared certain paragraphs and sentences of the books. It took me four weeks to finish War and Peace. I devoured it. I was hoping to go back and read this and other books again and see my notes and highlights. Alas, hope has limitations.

The last book I was reading was The Heart of Darkness, a story about imperial horror in Congo in the late 19th century. I was halfway through it and gradually realizing how Joseph Conrad is challenging the reader by constructing ethical dilemmas on good and evil.

I also had several books on Afghanistan and the Middle East. One of them was The Great Game, which I recommend to anyone who is interested in Afghanistan's issues.

I know how I lost my Kindle. I was distracted by someone. Anyway, my Kindle is gone and I'm not happy about my sloppiness. I contacted Amazon and reported it as lost. It is deregistered and locked, which means it is an unusable device for whoever has taken it. If you read this post, and found my kindle, please return it to me and you will get a gratuity. 

Dec 25, 2018

Christmas Day and a Perfect Time for Reflection

Today is a special day; Jesus, a peaceful and humble king, was born and it is a perfect time for reflection. Therefore, I use this opportunity to send my love and appreciation to my family and friends, and to my readers on this blog.

There have been times where I sat down and ask myself, how did you get here. With all bitter experiences and with all obstacles and challenges that I have been through, I should be miserable, depressed and a failed person, but I am not. I feel, I'm the happiest person on earth, and that is because I believe the people that I have come in contact with throughout my life molded me like a piece of clay in their pottery of love and friendship. Before, I was dust, unrefined and an immature person, but their love and care gave me hope and ambition to follow my dreams. Today, I feel, without their support and love, I could dissolve into dust and particles that I had been. 

I am truly grateful to my family and friends for their continued support. I couldn't make this far without their guidance and help. They have become indispensable to my life and I can't imagine a moment without them and their love. I have learned that true love never dies, but grows stronger.

Merry Christmas to you all and I hope you're having a great one and a happy new year!

Dec 24, 2018

Winter Solstice or Shab-e Yalda 2018

I have never participated in or celebrated Shab-e Yalda, but every year, when I go to Philly, my American family and I go to winter solstice concert. Shab-e Yalda is the same as winter solstice, the longest and darkest night of the year.
The concept of Shab-e Yalda has been alien to me even though I grew up in Afghanistan, which we used to call it Shab-e Chellah. Nothing was especial about it, as far as I remember, but it has been growing on me.

This year, I wanted to celebrate it, but it didn't happened. Instead, I went to American Shab-e Yalda, where traditional music drawn hundreds of people together. I truly enjoyed it. It was a celebration of nature with chorus, soloists, jazz instrumentalists in harmony with world rhythms and the beautiful sounds of Alaskan timber wolf and the humpback whale. It was more meaningful I thought than what I have heard about Afghan Shab-e Yalda. In Afghan tradition, Shab-e Yalda is inundated with eating big meal and then gathering around reading poetry, divination with Diwn-e Hafez and palm reading - common superstitions.

Where we celebrated the the winter solstice, it was more about love of our planet earth and the sun. Attention was paid more on our planet and appreciation was made to the nature, nothing sounded egotistic.

"The dark night is ending, down has begun.
Arise, hope of the ages, arise like the sun
All speech flows to music, All hearts beat as one.
The dark night is ending, and dawn has begun." 
                       By John Greenleaf Whittier

Dec 23, 2018

On University Admissions Quota and Open Letter to Obama

A couple of years ago, I wrote a blog post about an open letter that was written by Pashtun intellectuals. A couple of the writers are currently working for Ashraf Ghani administration as advisors and heads of critical government apparatus. The letter was composed in 2010 and was sent to President Obama and many major news outlets in the United States.

Then, a few days ago I wrote a blog post on the discriminatory policy of 25% university admissions quota by Afghan Ministry of Higher Education. After several years, today, I happened to see that letter again which I received from a reader and posted on blogpost.

Later on, I heard from a retired US diplomat who happened to receive it through email listserv from the State Department.

You can get a sense of Pashton paranoia as well as what is happening right now in Kabul; and why Pashtuns around Ashraf Ghani are pushing other minorities aside and creating quota for university admissions.

Here is the link to the letter: https://kabul3.blogspot.com
Please share it with your friends who care about Afghanistan's current affairs.

Note: I blogged about the letter in Farsi. Since I have deleted my Farsi blog, the post longer exists.

Dec 21, 2018

Terrible Scheme: University Admissions Quota in Afghanistan

One of vital achievements of Afghanistan in post-Taliban era is higher education, but it is in jeopardy now. Recently, Afghanistan’s Ministry of Higher Education has decided to mandate a quota system for students entering into universities based on their ethnic and regional background. Based on the current quota policy, 25% of university admissions seats in the fields of medicine, engineering, law, economics, Agriculture, and Computer Science will be given to students from the so-called undeveloped areas.

What this means is that students with higher score from populated areas will have lesser chance getting into university; instead, students with lowest score will have reserved seats in universities across the country. 

This is a dangerous scheme and can hurt Afghanistan badly. The hidden agenda is basically to limit the number of students from minority groups from higher education, especially the Hazara students who are in vulnerable position. They come from the poorest areas and they solely rely on public universities which offer free education and scant stipends.  

Quota is designed to tackle higher educational disparities, according to Afghan higher education officials. Pashtun areas, mostly southern Afghanistan, have not been safe and students have not been able to go to school or getting better education. On the other hand, students from minority groups in relatively secure areas have been on the rise. This obviously made the current Afghan administration worry about young Pashtuns who stay behind. Their concern is understandable, but quota system is not the answer. 

Those who composed the quota scheme are obviously disregarding the fact that students with weak learning foundation have a higher chance of drop-out of universities in Afghanistan. This is a known fact and is currently a major issue at Kabul University. Every year, there are hundreds of students who deliberately misuse the Konkour system by using imposters to gain admissions. In the past, oftentimes, officials at schools and higher education centers where the exam was held sold questions to students. 

Afghanistan can do better. The United States and its allies have been a great supporter of education in Afghanistan and they should pressure Afghan government to abandon discriminatory plans, which will hurt young Afghans. 

Nov 22, 2018

Is Rejoicing over the Death of Extremists Okay?

Image from the front page of New York Times
For the past few days, many young Afghans have been rejoicing over the the death of some religious scholars (ulama) who died in a powerful blast in a venue near Kabul international airport. The incident happened in a wedding hall where the celebration of Muhammad's birthday was staged. It is estimated that the blast killed 55 and injured around 100 individuals. I am not sure if these ulama were the same people who gathered a while ago in Kabul to mull over whether the suicide bombing is mentioned or justified in the Qur'an. I wrote a short blog post about it. These religious scholars see themselves as authorities of religious texts and traditions who can have ultimate monopoly over people's beliefs . So far it has never occurred to them to think if one day they might be the target of their extreme and fanatic thoughts as well. As the Biblical phrase goes, as you sow, so shall you reap. This is due to their way of thinking, which is close to that of the Taliban and ISIS. It seems that they couldn't get away from a karma that was dictated by their actions.

Now, the question we need to ask ourselves is whether it is justifiable to rejoice on the death of these religious scholars who might have been wicked people. It is a difficult question which puts us in an ethical dilemma with our core values. I personally don't see these people useful but that doesn't mean they deserve death. They might not be very useful, but it is unfair to assume their presence in the society baleful. They are not physicians to prevent and cure disease, they are not engineers to build roads and buildings; they are rather experts in one thing: how to contaminate the minds of people through Islamic teachings. But still that is neither convincing nor reasonable for us to conclude that it is fine to celebrate the death of a wicked. One thing we can do instead of celebrating their death is to reflect on their actions and responsibilities.

For the past 17 years, every time a suicide attack ripped through a crowd of civilians, killing dozens and leaving hundreds wounded, these religious scholars failed to condemn the attacks. Their silence would meant they are tacitly approving the suicide attacks. Until now, they have been spectators, they may have not felt the pain and suffering of others, but now they should. Though this does not mean we should be happy over their death despite their evil-mindedness. Wishing their demise or rejoicing over their death itself indicates a malevolent nature. Ultimately it shows our weakness and our willingness to submit to bigotry and hatred, which is nothing different from what fanatic Islamists do. But there is a better a way to defeat them and that's not through lowering ourselves to their standard. We can defeat these evil-minded and religious bigots by reasoning and challenging their stone age beliefs and by teaching them modern values.

Nov 9, 2018

the cost of death

The man writes in his will that after his death his body should be taken back to his homeland and be buried at so-and-so graveyard next to so-and-so whom he loved so much. Assuming that someone would pay for the cost of his body to be transported to his homeland, he leaves a huge burden on his family, friends, and relatives.

I saw someone was saying on social media that it is the most ridiculous thing that one could do in the modern world. If you would love to be buried in your homeland, then why did't you go there and die there. It can cost thousands of dollars to transport a dead body from North America to Kabul. But the reality is, you don't choose to die or at least you don't have control over death. You can die anywhere but the transportation of the body is something that a lot of immigrants struggle with. It doesn't have a straightforward solution.

I know the person who passed away. He suffered throughout his life, he was a historian, a writer, and spent most of his life in refugee camps in Pakistan, Iran, and he was recently resettled in Canada. He was familiar with suffering and pain more than anyone else. I hope their family can find a solution. Rest in peace.

Sep 15, 2018

Ashraf Ghani Expresses Sympathy for the Taliban's Loss

What else would you expect from Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani to be besides the Taliban sympathizer? How can Trump and his administration trust the Afghan leader as a partner in fighting against terrorists in Afghanistan?
These are hard questions to answer, but one thing is clear that the current Afghanistan president is an unwilling partner for fighting against terrorism.

In a recent interview with Vice News, Ashraf Ghani openly expressed his sympathy for the Taliban. He said: "It is not just that my heart breaks for our security forces who are true heroes, but also for Taliban." The answer was to a question related to the Taliban's recent attacks on Ghazni city in southeastern region of Afghanistan, which resulted to the destruction of the city as well as high casualties among civilians and government security forces. 

It is not surprising that Ashraf Ghani openly speaks of his feelings about the terrorists who kill civilians every day, it is shocking when the US government and allies that have troops in Afghanistan do not react.

Sep 14, 2018

Consequences of Confusing Signs


Mistranslation can sometimes be catastrophic, but other time can be amusing. This store, which is in Gaithersburg, Maryland, has a funny and confusing banner. In caps, it says "Engine House Hobbies," but the second line says "A Releasing Your Creativity Application." What does it mean? It may need a professional translator to explain what the last line means. I am not sure if the owner is an English speaker. I speculated that it was translated from one of foreign languages. 

On August 10, Katherine and Joe who became dear friends to me this summer took me to the Montgomery Country Agricultural Fare. On our way to the fare, we were in the car when we passed by this store. Everyone of us read it's sign but no one got it. For a second, I doubted my intelligence, so I hesitantly asked Katherine and Joe if they understood the sign. They both said, they read it at least three times, but still confused. We laughed but confusingly, because we didn't understand what it means and start brainstorming some hypothetical meanings.

Today, I went through some photos to delete from my phone when I saw this photo and I thought wait a minute, I have to blog about it . I just googled the place and founded it on Google map. You can also try locating the address on the map, but you don't have to. Here is a direct link to street view of the shop on google map. If you find the meaning behind this sign, please don't hesitate to share your findings at the comment section.

Sep 13, 2018

Muslim Scholars Say Suicide Bombing Not Found in the Qur'an

This is not a joke! This is real. It happened a couple of weeks ago. Some highly qualified and top Afghan ulema (religious Muslim scholars), representing top Islamic seminaries like al-Azhar in Egypt, congregated in Kabul for several days to find out whether it is justifiable to declare suicide bombing haram (forbidden). After several days of arduous studies, miraculously, these ulama found out that God in his Qur'an does not mention anything about suicide. Therefore, still unsure, but they took courage to announce that though they wanted to see where the Qur'an adjudicates suicide bombing, unfortunately they could not find it. The news was published on several news websites including Deutsche Welle, also here.
It is bewildering and to some degree it illustrates a comedy of stupidity of human nature. Who is to blame? It is unfathomable how Islam has mutated humans into one the most evil and cruel creatures imaginable on earth.

Sep 6, 2018

Kisisi's Pidgin Language Is Not Unique

I recently began to read Perry Gilmore’s book, Kisisi (Our Language): The Story of Colin and Sadiki. It is a kind of autoethnography as well as linguistic case study and a memoir. In the prologue she tells the story of his son Colin and his playmate Sadiki, a Samburu boy in Kenya and how their unique and prosperous relationship led them to create their own private language, which was called a Swahili pidgin. She says that her book is an ethnographic exploration of young children’s ability and creativity in creating a language of their own.
by Perry Gilmore

In chapter three (I skipped the first two chapters, which I might return later) Gilmore discusses the role of play in her son Colin and Sadiki’s creative ways of communication. On page 37 she claims that the “play served as a space and a resource for the inventive verbal activities that generated their shared language." Gilmore goes into details how Colin and Sadiki created a lexicon for scatological artifacts, which to some degree influenced by sound play and onomatopoeia. She quotes Sutton-Smith who has suggested that play and fantasy are ground of generating new ideas that can even be used for later purposes. In the case of Colin and Sadiki, the entertainment aspect of their lives led them to linguistic invention in which the two could easily communicate.

This is interesting, but I personally didn’t find this English-Swahili-based creole something impressive or unique in a way that the author illustrates. In fact, this kind of creole is pretty common in developing countries, especially in societies with material deprivation. Further, this could happen anywhere in the world where the average household consists of at least five or six people. In such environment, rivalry among siblings are common and this is where children becomes creative. In order to compete with their siblings – even with their parents – over resources and positions, they devise new languages for communication.

I personally remember when I was very young, my brothers and I invented a language that was only apprehensible for us in the household. We were bitten a couple of times by older siblings and even by our parents for not talking the language that was spoken in the house. We were accused of speaking in the language of djinn and told us that the we would bring curse or spell hex on others.

Inventing creole was not unique to us, it was actually pretty common among children in our my village. When we were forced to quit speaking our pidgin language, we came up with a new idea. In our clique we decided to speak our native language Hazaragi (a subdialect of Farsi) backward. We became so fluent that we did not see the need to switch back to normal, but when necessary.

So, the quesiton is why children of third world countries are able to create languages of their own and children in the modern world, let’s say the Western world, are not able to be that creative?
Well, the answer is very straightforward. As I mentioned earlier, the family size matters. We were eight siblings and had nothing to do at the house except fighting all the time, but never stayed inside. We left the house at the crack of dawn and returned when it was really dark. During the day no one needed us or came after us. We used to spent most of our time playing, climbing on trees, finding foods in the nature, sometimes even stealing fruits from trees of farmers. We were out with other children in the playgrounds, on the farm and in the mountains, we were experiencing our ultimate freedom. There was no adult watching us and telling us what to do and what not to do. We had nothing but to come up with something new and language was one of them. In order to be unique and keep our schemes secret, we invented language. No one was interested in our speech and when we grew up, we gave up once and for all. It is I personally still can speak my native language backward. I tried with my sister, she was surprised.

Anyway, Gilmore’s book is interesting, especially for people who may think Colin and Sadiki’s case were unique. In fact, in the Western context, it is unique, particularly where children spent most of their time either with their parents or technological tools, and they are given very little time to spend with their peers.
I might come back to this book later.