May 22, 2017

How do You Feel When Strangers Touch Your Hair?

Yesterday, I took a stroll in downtown Silver Spring, Maryland. On my way out from the Silver Spring library, on Wayne Avenue, a group of African-American teenagers was walking towards me. I was not paying attention much as I was approaching them. Then suddenly one of them who looked a tad lanky moved towards me and said: "How you doin?" "Fine," I said. Then the same person touched my hair and in a funny tone he said: "Nice hair." I said thank you. His friends laughed gleefully.  I think there were maybe five or six of them. 

I don't know what they had in mind and why one of them took his courage in both hands to touch my hair. I was quite amused, honestly. I was a bit in hurry otherwise I would ask them why they touched my hair. As I kept walking, I began thinking that maybe these kids had something else in mind. I have heard that sometimes African-Americans are annoyed by white people when they touch their hair, which I don't know why, maybe out of curiosity. I was wondering if this kid was taking vengeance. After all I am not a Caucasian, my features resemble Asian. Anyway, I was amused by their loopy behavior. 

May 19, 2017

Are We Falling into Mental Trap of Negativism?

It is true that Afghanistan has been engulfed in an atmosphere of racism and hate, and it is also true that the victim has always been the Hazaras. They have long been persecuted, but now we are living in a new era and the Hazaras have a better place than before. Though they are not religiously and racially persecuted, still they experience a great deal of discrimination and unfair treatment in various ways in their home country. Having said that, after their non-violent reform movement hit by a series of suicide attacks that left at least 97 dead and more than 250 injured, there has been growing anger filled with assortments of antigovernment rhetoric and confrontational lineups among some Hazara intellectuals inside and outside Afghanistan that could be interpreted differently.

The Internet, especially Facebook has provided a platform for this group to express their anger and dislike of Ashraf Ghani's government in many forms. In their eyes, the current administration has become so lenient towards the Taliban and too Pashtun-centric that it has allocated most of foreign resources to Pashtun areas where every investment project went to waste. They are probably right. Most of foreign assistance spent on public infrastructure like schools, hospitals that bridges in volatile areas where the Taliban burned them down. In contrast, they argue that investment and reconstruction in most peaceful areas like in central Afghanistan where mostly Hazara people live is either ignored or spent dearth of what has spent in the south or other parts of Afghanistan.

However, this is not what the tittle of this post suggests. While, to some degree, I do believe that resources for the past 16 years have been wasted and of course Hazarajat has been neglected, I think the statements that nowadays some Hazara intellectuals make against the government indicates a great degree of intolerance and bias. For instance, a few days ago when Ghani went to Bamiyan for inauguration of the second phase of North-South corridor connecting Dare-e-Suf district to Yakawlang district in neighboring Bamiyan province, they reacted with deep ambivalence about believing or accepting what has finally been taking place in Hazarajat. Instead of celebrating and welcoming the project, many Facebook users criticized Ashraf Ghani for carrying a Hazara little girl on his shoulders as a cunning scheme to outwit the Hazaras by showing sympathy while doing nothing.

This is the very reason that I wrote my previous blog post in opposition to a protest in front of the Asian Developing Bank building in Washington D.C. planned for May 22. I have noticed that some of these individuals unequivocally reject what has so far been achieved. Such protests would be beneficial if campaigners would not presuppose their statements based on anger and resistance, but factual information which would help the observer to pay attention to their cause. Maintaining negative attitudes towards everyone and everything the government does, not only overshadows the prospect of future nonviolent movements, but also creates sentiment that would echo racism and prejudice. Racism plus power is dangerous but racism minus power could also be menacing and that is the one thing from which we must stay away.

May 14, 2017

Why Campaigning Against TUTAP is a Bad Idea?

I initially wrote this post in an e-mail to an acquaintance (whom I thought was behind the campaign) when demonstration in D.C. was still a burgeoning idea. Then, a few days ago, I noticed that some Hazara diaspora living in Virginia and in the neighboring areas of Washington D.C. are potently campaigning for a protest in front of the Asian Development Bank in D.C. After a few phone conversations with some friends in D.C., I started mulling over the very idea of the protest and its potential failure.

What I primarily wrote to this person was to discourage some individuals from gathering in front of the Asian Development Bank building, which is just a branch not the headquarter. Protesting against the project that is going to be financed by ADB to boost Afghan access to electricity indicates how this group of people, who are prone to demonstration, is oblivious to the facts. Protest against ADB that finances an important energy project for Afghans is unreasonable and foolish. It does not matter anymore for whatever reason it is rerouted, but at this moment, any kind of objection against it would be automatically construed as an act that contradicts the national interests of Afghanistan. Some activists including the Enlightenment Movement leaders have gone far beyond their initial demands that now they can be easily branded as fanatics or extremists. As the way this movement is handled by its fervent enthusiasts, one of these days, they can be characterized fanatics because of their extreme attitudes and ideas that now have become toxic and to some degree inimical to the comfort and well-being of the Hazara minority group.

Every rational person understands that the TUTAP issue is obsolete now, but unfortunately some people are not able to get over it. They are constantly being imbued with inaccurate information by some of the leaders of the Enlightenment Movement who themselves are now ensnared by their own struggle for fame and publicity.

As to the protest in D.C., most of these campaigners are the newly arrived refugees and they are quite clueless about how the politics in Washington D.C. works. Some of them, I heard, even don’t speak English. They are not familiar with the areas where they live in. My suggestion to these fervent demonstrators is to rethink about their plan; instead, they should come up with alternative ideas that can be beneficial for their well-being in the future. Whosever’s idea it is, it is sounds amateur and to some degree ridiculous. Their decision to print out quotes of Martin Luther King and Gandhi and then shout their lungs out in front of the ADB Bank indicates how lost and ignorant this group of people is. Their courage to go out, not even think of how ridiculous they would look, is admirable, but I wish they would collect their money – that they would spend on transportation – and send it to school children in Afghanistan who are in dire need of school supplies.

Another alternative idea would be to raise money for organizing workshops on learning basic things about American life. This would encourage the newcomers to integrate into the society and learn about American culture and values, which eventually help them become good citizens. Flocking around the White House does not solve the TUTAP issue. Any activity in relation to TUTAP is futile and the protestors would bring petty upon themselves, and the response to their spirit would be just ridicule upon ridicule.

I have previously seen crowds of Hazaras marching around the White House shouting at the top of their lungs the way they have done elsewhere. I am doubtful that such protests bring visibility to the campaigners and their cause in the most sophisticated capital where lobby groups are the main form of advocacy in order to influence the decision-makers. I invite these campaigners to inform themselves about some recent changes and events in Afghanistan, it would help them to rethink about their decisions. Here is the SIGAR’s recent report on Afghanistan: "April Quarterly Report, "Reprioritizing Afghanistan Reconstruction."

Finally, one can assume, based on previous gatherings, that the impetus for some of these Hazara campaigners is personal - that is to take selfie in the streets of Washington D.C. If that is the case, flocking around the White House is a good opportunity for taking selfie that shouldn't be missed.

Mar 25, 2017

Ein Dialog

Wir sind gerade am Flughafen in Berlin angekommen. Mein Freund John und ich hatten keinen Plan, sondern besuchten Salzburg. John ist ein Amerikaner und er kommt aus einer kleinen Stadt im südlichen Bundesstaat Georgia. Er ist Student an der Universität Georgia und er studiert Biologie. Er war in Europa, aber nicht in Deutschland. Für ihn ist diese Reise informativ und auch für mich. Bis jetzt haben wir eine gute Zeit, aber es bedeutet nicht, dass wir uns auf alles einigen.

Als wir in Salzburg ankamen, hatten wir etwas Uneinigkeit darüber, was zu sehen und was nicht zu sehen war. Hier sind unsere Gespräche:
John: “Zuerst sollten wir den The Sound of Music Tour machen und dann können wir einige Sehenswürdigkeiten sehen.”

Ich: “John, wir haben nicht genug Zeit. Wir sollten zuerst die Mozart Tour machen und wenn wir noch ein wenig Zeit haben, können wir die Sound of Music Tour machen.”
John: „warum denkst du, dass wir die Sound of Music Tour nicht zuerst sehen sollten?
Ich: “The Sound of Music ist ein musikalischer Film, der weltweit berühmt ist, aber du kannst es sehen und weißt alles darüber.”

John: “Bist du verrückt? Ich spreche nicht über den Film. Ich möchte die Szene sehen, wo die Geschichte im Film stattfand.”
Ich: “ Oh es tut mir leid, aber trotzdem ist es nicht so wichtig wie die Mozart Tour zu machen. Die Mozart Tour beitet viele spannende Sehenswürdigkeiten. Zum Beispiel kann man Mozarts Geburtshaus besuchen. Du wirst sein kleines Zimmer, sein Musikinstrument und seine Spiele sehen. Du kannst auch seine Musik hören, während du die Ausstellung anschaust. Zusätzlich kannst du Mozartkugel probieren und auch Souvenir für deine Freunde kaufen.”

John: “Ich finde, dass die Mozart Tour sehr wunderschön ist. Ich stimme mit dir überein. Lass uns gehen und die Mozart Tour machen.

Jan 16, 2017

50 Children: The Rescue Mission of Mr. & Mrs. Kraus

I usually don't watch TV or movie, if I do, I would prefer to watch documentary films. Recently, I watched 50 Children: The Rescue Mission of Mr. & Mrs. Kraus, by Steven Pressman, which is the story of Gilbert and Eleanor Kraus, a Jewish couple who, in 1939, decide to travel to Vienna to save the lives of 50 children. The couple are Jewish, but the mission that they take is not out of religious passion, it is rather a benign version of self-sacrifice and humane action, something that we now rarely hear or know.

Their journey to the Austria, which is under the control of Nazi is not easy. They encounter numerous government bureaucracy and discouragement from people who afraid to have Jewish in their communities, event Jews - who afraid of increasing anti-semitism - tried to persuade the couple to give up on their plan.

The couple eventually travel to Berlin and then to Vienna. There, the Kraus met with hundreds of families who are willing to send off their little ones to thousands of miles away in hopes that if they would die, their children will be alive. This is a heart-wrenching story, specially when some of those children who are now in their 70s or 80s narrate their own stories about abandoning their parents. This is the story that is relevant to our time and it also teaches us what we can do to make this world more beautiful and more tolerable for each other.

Jan 13, 2017

From the Stans: Yulduz Usmonova and Loiq Sher-Ali

Earlier in one of my blog post, I translated a poem of Loiq Sher-Ali, one of Tajikistan's famous poets. Today, I was reminded by a Tajiki friend that the exact poem that I translated here is adapted into a song by a famous female Uzbek pop singer Yulduz Usmonova. I have been listening to this song for the past five days. Usmonova's voice has masterly echoed the sentiment that is lurking among the lines. The striking part of this song is the mesmerizing choreography of dance around the vault by the lake.

I don't think the vault is natural, but the just the embodiment of imageries, allegories and overall the concept of the poem into sentimental corporeality is extraordinary beautiful. A famous female Iranian singer Googoosh has copied the exact song with little alteration though in the lyric (it seems to me that the lyric is appropriated for this song, which is artistically does not sound very ethical), the music is quite the same but the dance choreography is dully in tawdry fashion - yet still beautiful with Googoosh's voice. Googoosh's version is titled "Nemidouni" (You don't know). Usmonova's song is called "Namekuni" (You can't). Here is the song. The lyric that I translated from Tajiki into English and Persian is copied below.

If you can’t make me laugh, don’t make me cry
If you can’t help me, don’t hurt me

If you can’t make me happy, don’t remind me of joy
If you can’t make me joyful, don’t make me tearful

From the four corners of life to the pathway of life
If you can’t be a protector, don’t be an invader

If you haven’t been befuddled, don’t try it
With vaunt and flaunt, don’t try to fool me

Your body is free of any pain of being in love
Your hands are empty, don’t make mine empty

You haven’t seen the world, don’t promise me the world
You haven’t seen the sea, don’t make me thirsty for the storm

In Tajiki
Хандон агар намекунӣ, гирён макун маро,
Обод агар намекунӣ, вайрон макун маро.

Хушбахт агар намекунӣ, аз бахт дам мазан,
Шодон агар намекунӣ, нолон макун маро.

Дар чорсӯи зиндагӣ то кӯи зиндагӣ,
Раҳбон агар намешавӣ, сарсон макун маро.

Ҳайрони дил набудаӣ як лаҳза худ ба худ,
Бо лофу бо газофҳо ҳайрон макун маро.

Ҷонат тиҳист аз ғами ҷонсӯзи ошиқӣ,
Дасти тиҳӣ ту ин ҳама дастон макун маро.

Дунё надида, ваъдаи дунё мадеҳ ба ман,
Дарё надида, ташнаи тӯфон макун маро.

Лоиқ Шералӣ