Jan 16, 2021

Iranian flag at pro-Trump rally

I just read a great piece by Sonja Thomas explaining about the presence of the Indian flag at the capitol riots. It's confusingly fascinating to see that among the sea of flags at pro-Trump rally on January 6th, there were flags of many other nations. I noticed an Iranian flag of the pre-Islamic Revolution monarchy with a lion holding a sword waving among the crowd, and signs that repeatedly read "we love you," "#Iranians for Trump," and "stop the steal." There is an article about it here

Trump supporters hold a sign that says: "Iranians for Trump" (MEE/Ali Harb)
Iranians of pre-1979 Iranian revolution have strong feelings about their particular history that can be traced in their support of Trump and his policies against Iran. As far as I have been following the US politics, this particular group has always supported conservatives and their policies. They ideally think Trump aggressive policies may cause the current Islamic regime to collapse and the monarchy get restored, so that they can go back, but it seems that is unlikely to happen, at least now and perhaps, in the near future. But as a minority, their presence at this dangerous rally and their support of far-right groups, may hunt them in the future.

Jan 14, 2021

The semantics of racial slurs in Afghanistan

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post on my Farsi blog about my experience with racial discrimination and racial prejudice in Afghanistan and today, I thought I should start writing a few posts about the semantics of ethnic slurs that Pashtuns, Tajiks, and even Sayyids, who are Shias and look like Hazaras, commonly use against the Hazara people. Here is one of the most popular racial slurs used toward the Hazaras:

"God forbid my dog to be a Hazara" (خدا سگ مره هزاره نکنه  khuda sagi mara hazara nakuna). 

Here are four common features of this racial slur:

1. Dogs are known to be loyal, friendly, and protective. Hazaras are so disloyal, unfaithful, and unfriendly that they do not deserve to be even like dogs, and as such, God has created them a different species other than humans.

2. Dogs in Islam are considered najis (Arabic word), meaning untouchable and unclean. Hazaras are so vicious, wicked, and dirty that dogs are way kosher and clean that deserve to be kept as friends but not Hazaras. They must be outcasts.

3. Dogs are animals, and Hazaras are even worse than animals. They have no culture, no religion, and no ethics, and they deserve to be annihilated. 

4. Dogs are also considered infidels. This trope is twofold. One is that Hazaras are infidels. Therefore, they are not Muslim. It has religious and historical bearings, so it is commensurate with the mainstream Sunni doctrine that the Shias are heretics. As a direct result, Hazaras have been subjected to genocide twice in history and almost 100 years apart. One was by King Abdul Rahman during the 1890s, which resulted in 60% extermination, and most recently by the Taliban between 1998 and 2001. Another meaning of this trope is that infidels (any non-Muslim) in the West keep dogs as friends. In a way, it lacks strength, but it also brings back the idea of infidelity and the dehumanizing view that the Hazaras are not part of Islam and should be dealt with like non-Muslims because, ultimately, the purpose is to deprive them of humanity and anything,, that aids this purpose is functional.

These are the four significant and important semantic features of the ethnic slur, "God forbid my dog to be a Hazara," that powerfully pervades the ordinary sense of Afghan racial discriminatory language and thinking against the Hazara people. It has a broader range of invisible but dangerous connotations beyond this blog post. I may come back to this later. 

The primary purpose of this kind of slur is to dehumanize the Hazaras, to dispossess them of their humanness, and to project or see them as less than themselves. Subsequently, what might follow would be cruelty and suffering through different means, resulting in killing Hazaras mercilessly. Based on dehumanization ideology, when you deprive someone of all human qualities, then it's easy to kill them.

Jan 12, 2021

and those for us who stammer

Many of us at some point stammer, either for a short or longer time, or often try to remember but we can't help ourselves. The repercussion is of course a multiplicity of psychological anxiety, but here's a video on the BBC website showing kids can't utter their names, a BBC journalist who experienced years of stuttering but worked her way out; a UK MP who is being ridiculed in the House; and Joe Biden who acknowledges that he has worked hard to deal with his stuttering. Also check out this video where an Irish fireman tells his story of fighting stammer stigma.

Jan 10, 2021

to speculate about targeted killings

Everyone wonders who is behind all these targeted killings in Afghanistan. No one knows the answer yet. I have been asking my journalist and pundit friends, they have no idea, and if they do, they just regurgitate what government officials have been touting. Basically, the prevalent view among the general public is that the Taliban are be behind all these attacks. The Taliban deny but if we look at the patterns of the attacks, we can see a repetition of the same tactics the Taliban have used in the past. The only difference is that they now go after every prominent figures irrespective of their political affiliation or ideological standing. 

But there are also those who argue that why the Taliban should kill people who pose no threat to them. For instance, in the past few months former journalists, activists, and not very high profile individuals have been targeted whose presence obviously considered innocuous because they were simply not very much active as they used to. Now, we can also speculate that it might be the ISIS group but that still leaves a room for doubt, specially when we consider their sectarian ideology. They generally target Hazaras because they are Shia who are considered heretics from Sunni extremists perspective.

Superficially, I think that behind these latest strings of attacks might be a criminal group but that is anachronistic and one wonder why now. My sense is that there is a parallel ultra criminal religious group forming that is ideologically not far from that of the Taliban or ISIS and it is going after those individuals who are considered liberal and socially influential. Generally these are journalists, writers and pundits. 

Jan 7, 2021

the irony of yesterday's events

In the aftermath of the attack on the capitol in Washington D.C., a lot of leaders around the world reacted, some condemned Trump for inciting the violence, while others expressed anger, horror, sorrow and sadness. In the Muslim world, the attack turned into an interesting topic of satire and reticule of Americans and their democracy. In the Arab world, people draw cartoons of the attack, they satirized and criticized the US for being hypocrite, the fact that its leadership can't deal with its own problem at home, they have no right to point fingers at others or meddle in their affairs. 

I also saw some Afghan leaders on social media expressing their concerns about the future of United States and the transition of power. They called for calm and urged Trump to respect the people's vote. I laughed at this bitter irony that Afghan leaders are now worried about the integrity of the US presidential election. It sounds like one of those April fool's jokes, but it's for real.

Jan 6, 2021

When democracy dies

Photo credit: Getty images
Today, I was watching the live session on Biden's certification of electoral college on NYT when suddenly a chaos ensued in the congress. The camera was running but the sound disappeared immediately. Lawmakers rushed to the exit doors and then suddenly the video stopped. It was sad to see what was happening at the capitol after. I used to believe that Americans are more civilized than what I saw today, but today's events changed my mind. Today's events showed that even in a civilized nation violence is inevitable and that what happens sometimes in the developing world can happen in the most democratic country like the US as well. I just looked at the international news headlines, the world laughs at the US. It's sad and full of sorrow. I feel there are some Americans who grieve and mourn their dying democracy.

Jan 3, 2021

Terror and chaos in Kabul

The Times speculates that behind the targeted killings might be some factions in addition to the Taliban. It's not clear what factions might be in point, but it is pretty clear at this point the Taliban is behind such attacks. It's possible to assume that they carry out their attacks through their third-party criminal groups but what makes the difference? It's still Taliban carrying out these attacks against innocent civilians. The claim that magnetic bombs are homemade is also questionable, at least we should cast doubt on Afghan government officials who make such claims under anonymity. How does the Afghan government know that the sticky bombs are homemade? We know that every one of those bombs are exploded so far and the question is, how did the government find out about the nature of the bombs after they blasted? The degree and magnitude of explosion of all these magnet bombs reveal that they are not homemade, they are rather imported from one of the two neighboring countries. 

Jan 2, 2021

Discovering Marx too late

For the past few weeks, I have reading Marx. To have a better understanding of his social, political, and economic theories, I visited Feuerbach and Hegel. How happy I'm for this late discovery, and how much I envy those who discovered him early in their lives, and those who read his works and understand him better. Today, I thought if had I discovered Marx 20 years ago, I would have a better understanding of the world and situation that I grew up, and the situation that I'm in now. Perhaps, my life would be different, perhaps, I would be different person.

For the past few days, I had a heavy feeling of some sort of loss, loss of time and opportunity. I told myself, alas, what opportunities that could have produced strength and ability I missed! Or opportunities that I took for granted and now I have to work hard to revive or repossess that in some sense is not too late but frankly it's late. Anyway, I feel contented to have spent the latter part of the month of December 2020 in reading Marx and understanding him a little bit.

Jan 1, 2021

reMarkable 2 pdf and ebooks review

Here is a short review of Remarkable 2. It's strictly about the reading features and how adaptable this device is to pdf and eBook files. I did not look at other features since I did not see the need. I have read a lot of good reviews but they did not mention anything about its capability of handling pdf files and eBooks. As you can see in the video, eBook files are fine but there are some issues with pdf files, especially if you want to zoom in. 

The normal view which is 100% is too small for me, so I need to increase the text size but unfortunately you can't customize the percentage of zoom in and zoom out. So you are strictly left with some preset options that you can select from, and if you do, the text goes off the edges. That means you can't pull up or pull down or pull to the right, you are stuck with 100% normal view which is really small, at least for me. 

On the other hand, you don't have issue with eBook files. It has a perfect normal view but if you zoom in or zoom out like you do on iPad, you have similar issues with pdf files, meaning text goes off the edges. It is so pricy, I paid $557 (including a marker and a sleeve case) and it took four weeks to arrive. I don't think it's worth it. I will return it and keep using my iPad for now. 

Nov 23, 2020

a bizarre delusion

It's hard to believe. I spoke of human rights violation and massacre by the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan today in class; a guy on a zoom class who seemed to sympathize with Islamic extremists accused me of being a government propagandist. Worse yet, he asked me to stop talking about it. I can't believe this happens in academia. I must be in the wrong place or the person is placed in the wrong place. What a bizarre delusional world!

Nov 13, 2020

to keep blogging

Just thought this morning that I need to come back to this platform and post something, which could be text or photographs. For the past few months I have been trying to keep journals about some of the events taking place around me. I haven't had the opportunity to chronical as much as I hoped and whatever I wrote so far has been tucked under my pillow. That sounds like hiding. I don't need to hide, I told myself this morning. So, I promised to do blogging regularly. This is a place where I can post non-academic stuff, just for myself and perhaps for others, if anyone would cross this path.

Nov 11, 2020

Playing Mountain Dulcimer on the Summit of Mt. Aeneas

From my summer journals:
Yesterday, I took my mountain dulcimer to the mountains and gave a concert to the mountain goats. It was a windy day, excusably, I couldn’t hold my concert on the summit because the wind would not let me play as I wished to and the sound would travel with the wind (I don’t know where). Also, there were a few two-legged predators nearby that goats did not like them, they became more skittish. Therefore, I had to scramble down a scree field and find a spot on the cliff edge, at which, at the bottom, the goats had congregated.
First, I gave an Athenian oration and tried to highlight the rocky mountain goats’ sufferings for millions of years at the hands of the growling wind, the cruel winter, the savage blizzard, and the bitter cold. Then, I admired them for their climbing skills and applaud them for resilience and perseverance for adapting to an extreme climate and at last, I was sorry that human species have encroached to their territory and disturbed their natural ecosystem.
They patiently listened. Some were regurgitating and some got a bit excited and started bulldozing the ground with their horns. Some were grooming their beards with their cloven hooves and some were wagging their tails. I think they really enjoyed my concert.

Sep 11, 2019

Remembering September 11 After 18 Years

It is 18 years after the September 11 attacks happened. I was in Dubai working for a used car company as an accountant. It was getting dark and we were about to close the gates to the garage. I walked inside the office, as usual, looking around what needs to be done at the last minute. The TV was on and it was on Al Jazeera Arabic channel. Back then, that was the only widely watched channel in the entire Arab world. I saw a plane hit the facade of a big tower and about 15 minutes later another plane hit another tower. I thought I was watching a movie. It didn't seem real. The clip was shown over and over and suddenly I saw from the upper part of the building smoke rises and later both towers collapsed.

In my befuddled state I changed channels, and saw similar images. The Arabic channels and their commentators were speculating that Japan might have attacked the United States to take a revenge of 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Some commentators were pointing fingers at Jews, saying Jews have attacked the United States. I then searched other channels and finally I found BBC. Back then, my English was not that good but I could get a sense of what was in the news. What eventually I got was that the United States is being attacked but up that point, it wasn't clear who did it. I thought it is not a big deal.

The next day when I woke it wasn't a normal day. The local Arabs gathered on a roundabout near my work. They were happy and their utterances were "Subhanallah" (glory be to Allah) and Allahu Akbar (God is great).
It was rumored that some Muslim freedom fighters crashed the planes to the twin towers. Two days later, I heard from the news that al-Qaeda whose base was in Afghanistan was behind the attacks. Once again, everyone was happy because of the attacks. Arabs and other Muslims were celebrating and rejoicing over the death of nearly three thousand humans in the United States. To them all those who died in the attacks were infidels, but the perpetrators were called martyrs.

Among the cheers of jubilance, you could hear some Afghan voices too, however, they were not happy over the death of three thousand people, their elation was at regaining hope for survival, they were hoping that these attacks would trigger the United States to strike and destroy the Taliban and free the country. They were individuals who escaped the Taliban's systematic massacre in Mazar-e Sharif and Bamiyan. They were the Hazaras who were hoping for their country to be liberated.

Aug 28, 2019

Now you can delete Facebook account permanently

Do you remember that nearly three weeks ago Facebook agreed to a sweeping settlement of notable allegations regarding how it mishandled user privacy and pay $5 billion civil penalty, and also agreed to implement robust new protections of user data?

Well, as part of the new privacy settings, Facebook has enabled the permanently deleting account option. Until recently, you could only deactivate your account, but now you can delete the entire account with one click. Remember that nothing will come back after you push the delete button. It is scary and I am hesitant to do that though I do want to stay away from Facebook. I created my Facebook account in 2007 through the help of a friend. Back then you couldn't create independently (especially if you were living in Afghanistan) you should have been invited by someone. I had a friend at Duke University who sent me an invitation.

Just as a reminder if you want to delete your account, make sure to take a backup of all your photos, videos, status and posts. You will still be able to see them not on Facebook platform though. If you delete your account, you may not be able to use certain services if you have signed up with your Facebook account.

One final thing for deleting your account permanently, obviously there is a 30-day window for you in case you change your mind.

Aug 25, 2019

Lots of postcards to be sent out

Sometimes, I think I live an old fashioned life. Yesterday, I went to a used bookstore in downtown Charlotte and bought tons of postcards. I thought I am not going to be a slave of convenience of texting, e-mailing, or calling, I want to write my messages on a postcard. Though calling and texting have immediate advantage, I think it can't be equated with the impression that a postcard makes. Postcard becomes a memory and you can come back to it later, but you can't do it with phone call or text message.

I haven't seen a lot of people in this generation writing postcards. Last time I received a postcard was from my German teacher from Germany. I still have his card as a piece of friendship and teachership. I have an affinity with this medium. It takes me back to my roots where writing letter was the only means of communication. I find values in such tradition since it has become a lost art.

The postcards I bought yesterday were all old and whimsical. Interestingly, I found several Russian postcards capturing famous landmarks in Russia. They are from the Soviet era, between 1970-1990. I wonder who kept them all this time and why? I also found postcards from Germany. Again, they are old from the 1970s and 80s. I found a postcard of Marilyn Monroe wearing white swimsuit, probably from early 1950s. I immediately sent it to my American host dad.

If you like to receive a postcard from me, e-mail me your mailing address and I will send you one with a Rumi or Bedil poem, or simple greetings. This should be only in the US. Please indicate what language you prefer, I can write it in English, Farsi, Arabic, Russian, German, Pashto, and Urdu.

Aug 24, 2019

Fieldwork revitalized my native language

For the first time in nearly a decade, this summer, I had a chance to speak in my native language Farsi more than I did before. It was during my fieldwork that forced me to speak Farsi, though it have been comfortable and beneficial had I been able to speak English for the most part. That is what I also preferred, but not all participants were fluent in English. At any rate, I'm content with what have happened.

In my four years of college, I almost forgot Farsi. In college, I barely spoke my native language because there was no other Farsi speakers around. There was a benign retired US diplomat who lived nearby and we hang out a lot. He often called me or I went over to his place, we chatted in Farsi while cooking and drinking.

I have to admit that for the last ten years, I have never read a book in Farsi though I read the news regularly. That is a shame! (I tell myself). I did not have access to Farsi resources either, and honestly, I had no interest. I am a little bit biased towards Farsi and for that reason, I don't read scientific books other than in English. Farsi is good enough for poetry, storytelling and perhaps, Sufism, but not a language that you can use for critical thinking, logical reasoning, especially in the field of philosophy, technology, and science. I know this statement has ideological values, but what can you say when you compare two things. Well, one might say, languages are not things, they are culture and history. I agree, but what could you do in a short blog post than doing a gross simplification.

But getting back to the main point, living in DC with a community of Hazara immigrants this summer was gracefully beneficial to me. I noticed yesterday that my speech has become more smooth and I have become more confident to control myself from code-switching.

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.”

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