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 big tower and about 15 minutes later another plane hit the facade of another tower. I thought it was part of a movie. The clip was shown over and over and suddenly I saw from the upper part of the building smoke rises and later both towers collapse.

I switched channels to check what is going on. Up to this point I was befuddled. The Arabic channels and their commentators were speculating Japan has 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 attacked but up that point, it wasn't clear who did it. I thought it is not a big deal and I went to bed.

The next day when I got up. It wasn't a normal day. The local Arabs and the workers gathered in the circle, just outside of our garage. 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 is in Afghanistan is 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 of the Hazaras 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.”

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 took a picture of it and I thought this is a beautiful piece of art. One can see how art is capable of depicting the ideal male body in its best. It seems that masculinity has been commodified, selling not only an idea, but the quality, maybe more than the value of money. This sculpture is a perfect example besides its symbolic and allegorical meanings. 

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." On the other hand a kind and gentle man might be looked as weak due to not having muscles.

Update: After showing this image to a friend of mine, today, I have to redact what I earlier said in this text. Initially I thought the person at the bottom is a woman, but I realized it is a lion. What a thoughtless observation! I am slightly embarrassed. I don't know how many people have read this post and did not bring it to my attention.

It is Heracles who fought the Nemean lion, the vicious creature in Greek mythology. I am not sure who is the other person, but the crushed one beneath him 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 16, 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.

Mar 16, 2019

Christchurch Shootings and Muslim Hypocrisy About Terror Attacks

India: Muslims ulama (religious scholars) hold placards during a condolence meeting and protest in Mumbai. Credit: AP
The Christchurch shootings were act of evil and must be condemned universally, but honestly, do Muslims condemn the attacks carried out by Muslims on other Muslims? The answer is simply no. In the aftermath of mosque shootings in New Zealand, Muslims around the world decried the shootings. This was an attack from a non-Muslim on Muslims. The Taliban and ISIS have been targeting Hazaras in Afghanistan for years, no one has come out carrying a placard condemning their acts. For the past few years over hundreds of attacks have been carried out in Hazara communities in Kabul and have killed over a thousand.

Just one example, last year in August 2018, a suicide attacker entered a classroom in Kabul which killed 48 teenagers and wounded hundreds of others. What is the difference between this kind of attack and that of Christchurch shootings? No one condemned such attack, neither Muslims inside Afghanistan, nor Muslims in other countries. Instead, they convened a meeting in Kabul to investigate whether suicide bombing is mentioned in the Qur'an or not.

There are dozens of other examples of incidents where Muslim terrorists killed innocent people all over the world. No one has forgotten the Yazidi genocide in which over 5,000 men and women were killed and thousands of young women and children abducted and put into slavery. Where were these Muslims back then to come out and condemn the evil acts of their ilk?

In the past few years, Muslim terrorists have ran their vehicles over pedestrians in European cities several times. Were they condemned by Muslims? How about Orlando nightclub shooting and Manchester Arena bombing? Did Muslims condemn those attacks? No. They rejoiced over the death of non-Muslims and especially gay people and they praised the attackers. The fact is that hypocrisy and contradictions are rooted in Muslim's faith that makes it almost impossible for them to see if their own act of evil is really evil, rather than seeing it as a gift to please and glorify their God.

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.

Feb 9, 2019

Abdurehim Heyit at Chinese Concentration Camp

I was saddened upon hearing the news on the death of Abdurehim Heyit at one of Chinese concentration camps. But that was a false news. Today a video of him emerged on social media showing him he is still alive. He is a prominent Uighur musician from Xinjiang region, which is mainly a home for Turkic-speaking people of interior Asia.

According to news, Heyit is supposedly detained since two years ago. He is sentenced to apparently serve for eight years in what is called "re-education" camps in the Xinjiang region, where more than a million Uighur Muslims are reportedly being detained and tortured.

Heyit is one of the most skilled Dutar players. It is not an easy instrument to master. I have been listening to his music since I was in college. Here is one of his beautiful pieces.

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.

Jan 6, 2019

Taking an Oath on the Qur'an is Not a Good Idea

While I believe everyone should have the right to use any text – holy or non-holy – for swearing-in, I cannot condone the fact that using any type of religious text for taking oath of office is latent prejudice against those who are atheists, secularists, and those who are not followers of Abrahamic religions.

Yesterday, I read on the news that Rashida Tlaib, the newly-elected Democratic Congresswoman from Michigan, took her oath on the Qur'an, a copy that is said to be owned by Thomas Jefferson. Christian lawmakers have been using the Bible to swear in to the Congress for years, which has become a tradition. Recently, Jews have been doing so too, but using the Qur'an for swearing-in Congress seems a bit odd, not only that the book fundamentally opposes to American/secular values and even Christian traditions, it does not warrant our contemporary moral concerns.

Why should a lawmaker swear in on the book that considers women inferior or unequal to men? Is it not ironic when a woman who is not considered equal to a man and whose most basic rights are inconsistent and disregarded by the book and yet she is taking an oath on? Jefferson's version of the Qur'an is not different from the ones that are available in public. The fact that Jefferson owned a copy of the Qur'an does not mean he glorified it or interested in Islam. I know a lot of people who have copies of the Qur'an who are not Muslims. I have read Mein Kampf two times, first in Farsi when I was very young and then I read it in college. I read it not because I was interested in Hitler's views; I rather read it to remind myself of an evil mind that can easily grow in our modern day.

In the same way, given the fact that the Qur'an is the primary source of Islamic jurisprudence, Jefferson was obviously curious to learn about it and its influence on some legal system. It is not even known if he really read it. It is only said that he owned a copy, which is still available at the Library of Congress. He did not leave any note on it though. So, we cannot conclude that he really read the Muslim holy book.

So, why Thomas Jefferson owned a Qur'an? The answer is simple. He was a curious man about everything, world religions, in general, and Islam, in particular. At the time he bought a copy of the Qur'an, he was a 22-year-old law student in Williamsburg, Virginia. His curiosity of reading the Qur'an was intended to understand Islamic law (particularly the Ottoman law) and how to deal with Muslims, which was a central issue among Christians as they gradually came into contact with the Ottoman Empire. In both Europe and North America, Christian groups, such as Protestants grew interest in reading the Qur'an not because they were interested in Islam, but they were concerned about Muslims encroachment on European territory.

Christians in the West until recently refused to recognize Islam as a religion. The word "Islam" did not exist in Western language dictionaries up until 1816. Though the Islamic holy book was translated by German philologists as early as 16th century, Islam was not recognized by the Western world until the 20th century despite Muslim presence in the West as early as 16th century. There was no name for the faith; instead, Muhammadan, or Mahometanism were used for Muslim as the followers of Muhammad. Medieval Christians viewed Islam as a heresy of Christianity. In Dante's Inferno, both Muhammad and his cousin and son-in-low Ali are placed in hell. They are depicted as bloodthirsty and vicious men. Mohammad's body split from groin to chin and Ali's face cleft from top to bottom (Inf. 28.22-33; also see The Inferno of Dante Alighieri, p. 191).

In fact, Jefferson himself criticized Islam as “stifling free enquiry," in his political debates. He also held a similar view against Catholicism. He was not a very religious person, which means he did not have much respect for fairy tales in the Bible. The Qur'an is not exceptional; it contains the same superstitious elements. Jefferson despised them. He took scissors in hand and excised all pages referencing to miracles. He cut and pasted the remaining pages together and created an abridged Bible. He thought of Jesus as an inspiring moral teacher, rather than Devine being. If he had considered the Qur'an as an inspiring moral source, he may have expurgated it from superstitions too, which I would doubt there would be more than a few pages left.

It is not only wrong and misguided; it is ridiculous that some liberals are romanticizing Jefferson's association with Islam, to the degree that they have limited the scope of constructive criticism of Islam. They place Islam beyond criticism. Critics of Islam are often branded as racists and Islmophobes. Being preoccupied with the notions of non-negotiable rights, liberty and freedom of speech, both liberals and leftists use various means to labeling and intimidating everyone who disagrees with them, especially on the base of their liberal idealism. They disregard even if these values are violated by Muslims; they use this yardstick not only to purchase more party power from minorities, but also measure and judge the actions of their opponents.

Tlaib's profane outburst is an example. Ironically, her profane remark came after she took an oath on the Qur'an, which was not only ignored, but also received support from her fellow lawmaker. This shows that cursing and incivility is fine against opponents as some of Tlaib's supporters expressed. I am by no means supporting Trump, he is an empty vessel of moral values; I am more concerned at the prospect of the rhetoric of left-wing populism that may blur the lines between what is right and wrong.

Finally, it would be more meaningful if Tlaib had taken her oath on the U.S. Constitution like Kyrsten Sinema, the Democrat senator from Arizona, rather than using the Qur'an, which is incompatible with the U.S. Constitution and American values. I personally believe that the oath should be abolished altogether. It is an ethical prejudice against those who are not religious or followers of Abrahamic religions.