Wednesday, September 28, 2005

A Sense of History - on ABC!

So, I just finished watching a tape recording of the new ABC show Commander-in-Chief. The main story is that Mackenzie Allen (Geena Davis) is the first female vice-president of the United States. The catch is she is an Independent and was selected by the President to reach a wider voting bloc to get him elected. Well, Mr. President has a stroke, which makes her the President according to the Constitution unless she chooses to resign. Although the President and the Speaker of the House (who becomes President if VP resigns) didn't wanted Mackenzie to resign, she chooses not to.

Overall, I enjoyed the first episode. It's fun to watch a show that is centered in DC because I live here and can relate to the city & the politics of it all a lot better.

Secondly, I believe it's time for US president that is not a white male, so if I have to live with a sense of history on TV, so be it! I strongly believe that more women are needed in leadership positions and it has always amazed me that the United States has not had a female president, when many other countries that are considered "backward" like India, Philippines, Bangladesh, Pakistan and many others have had female leaders.

There were two things in the show that irked me:

1. The first issue that is being dealt with in the show is the case of a Nigerian woman who is going to be stoned for committing adultery, which is a violation of the Islamic legal code or "sharia" of the country. Madame President ends up deploying the US military to exert pressure on the Nigerian government to allow the woman to seek political asylum elsewhere.

I have said this before in my blog that I respect Islamic laws, which means I do consider adultery a sin. Many of my Western friends disagree with me that "having sex" should not be a punishable crime, and I guess I haven't made up my mind yet. Because, I believe every country has its own identity in terms of religion & culture. And if that means having sex out of marriage is considered illegal, then, we have to accept that fact. I think what annoys me is when Western countries try to impose a Western notion of "democracy" and "freedom" on other countries - not only is it ineffective, it creates a lot of resentment and many times even harms the minimal progress towards reform that a country is making. Check out this
NY Times article where Karen Hughes (senior Bush administration official charged with spreading the American message in the Muslim world) is taken aback after meeting Saudi women who challenge her notion that they are oppressed. Although I'm not a big fan of Saudi's policies on women, I think it goes to portray how the other side always sees things.

However, what I am against is how most of the time, only women end up being accused. In addition, many times, these cases are based on false evidence just because the woman is powerless and doesn't have many rights. So, in this instance I would want to know wo the guy was who had sex with the woman and got her pregnant too - it should be a joint punishment. Also, I don't agree with stoning as a punishment. I haven't studied Islam to the extent where I can make an educated analysis on how a Muslim state should deal with something like this.

I guess most of the time, Americans hear about things like that through the media without any context, which makes Islam look like a barbaric religion and that is what annoys me.

2. My other pet-peeve from the show is a line in Mackenzie's speech, where she said something like "Freedom is America's gift to the world." To me, that sounded very arrogant & is actually inaccurate because it assumes that civilization & freedom were born in the United States, when this country is only a little more than 200 years old. I'm not saying that freedom is not a big component of what the US stands for or that it has had no impact on the world. Nor am I denying that there are countries that have no respect for human rights, but the US does not have a perfect track record either. Moreover, with the Iraq debacle, most people don't want to be gifted by American democracy & freedom!

I just think it exacerbates the ignorance amongst Americans when they don't realize that Africa, Asia & other civilizations made huge progress way before Europe ever did, especially during the "Dark Ages." For instance, the Muslim World contributed greatly to the birth of the Renaissance period in Europe, which has greatly influenced the United States.

Other than that, I definitely plan to watch the show every week!


Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Shias in Iraq

As a Shia, one thing I haven't been able to bring myself to write about is the deliberate attacks on Shias in DC. The carnage of civilians in the past few weeks, mostly, Shias, has been horrifying. I vividly remember being skeptical about the possibility of a civil war in Iraq, but I'm not so sure anymore. Not because I think sectarian violence in Iraq was inevitable, but because both the British and American military forces failed to secure the porous borders. The foreign infiltration of fighters from other countries, especially those that believe in the annihilation of Shias, could have been avoided.

My co-worker who works on International Law & Justice is actually working on writing a piece about how Zarqawi's comments that call for the complete destruction of Shias are genocidal in nature, when one compares it to the Genocide Convention. Once that piece is made available, I'll definitely post it.

The lack of coverage the sectarian violence in Iraq has received is indeed troubling. And it is not surprising to see no condemnation from neighboring Arab countries or more a louder voice about this even amongst Muslims in the US. As a co-director of
The Qunoot Foundation, my friend Mohamed wrote a really touching post about Sunni-Shia relations on his blog. It is also definitely refreshing to see a press release by the Muslim Public Affairs Council:


(Washington, DC - 9/27/05) -- The Muslim Public Affairs Council condemns the heinous and seemingly endless barrage of anti-Shi'a attacks taking place in Iraq on a daily basis. In the span of the last three weeks alone, over 1,500 Iraqis have been killed in a series of terrorist attacks that have crept from public spaces into holy sites and mosques.

Yesterday, insurgents dragged five Shi'a Muslim schoolteachers and their driver into a classroom, lined them against a wall and gunned them down. Elsewhere, a suicide attack and roadside bombings killed 10 Iraqis. On Sept. 14, more than a dozen explosions ripped through the Iraqi capital in rapid succession, killing at least 152 people and wounding 542 in a series of attacks that began with a suicide car bombing that targeted laborers assembled to find work for the day. The one-day death toll was believed to be the worst in the capital since major combat ended in May 2003. Also on that day, at least 112 people were killed and more than 200 were wounded in the heavily Shi'a neighborhood of Qazmiya where day laborers had gathered shortly after dawn. The Qazmiya district also was the site of a bridge stampede involving tens of thousands of Shi'a pilgrims on Aug. 31 that killed 950 people.

Earlier this month, al-Qaeda's leader in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, allegedly declared "all-out war" on Shi'as and vowed to kill anyone participating in the Constitutional referendum. Such Muslim-on-Muslim violence is a betrayal of the teachings of the Qur'an, which state, "But whoever deliberately slays another believer, his requital shall be hell, therein to abide; and God will condemn him, and will reject him, and will prepare for him awesome suffering" (4:93). Iraqi politicians, including deputy speaker of the National Assembly Hussain al-Shahristani, as well as Sunni and Shi'a religious religious leaders in Iraq have denounced the attack as "barbaric and gruesome." However, internationally-recognized Muslim leaders and scholars have been startlingly silent. MPAC calls once more upon on all the religious leaders, regardless of their denominational persuasions, to demand that adherents of Islam -- in unambiguous terms -- not commit such a heinous crime in the sight of God.

For their part, the U.S. government has done little other than issue warnings that Sunni Arab insurgents are likely to increase their attacks ahead of the Oct. 15 national referendum. As the occupying force, the U.S . military holds a non-negotiable responsibility to secure the lives of all Iraqi citizens. A failure to do so only further undermines the Administration's claims that this war is being waged in the pursuit of peace, freedom and democracy.

[CONTACT: Edina Lekovic, 213-383-3443,]


Sunday, September 25, 2005

Thoughts on the anti-war protest

Yesterday morning, my friend & I were out appartment searching when we saw tons of war protestors on the metro, which was jammed. No, I did not go the anti-war protest held in DC although I live here.There are two main reasons for this:

1. I am not a protestor kind of person. Although I believe protests have played a huge role in history in affecting change, I didn't think this one did.

2. I don't feel like I can support the "Get out the troops now" mantra. Although I'm vehemently against the American policy in Iraq, I feel like things would get a lot worse if the Americans left. I feel the sectarian violence will blow up into a civil war & the chaos will worsen. Do I have a solution? Unfortunately, not.

But I was surprised to read
Juan Cole's take on the protest & agreement that the troops should be withdrawn. I have always respected his opinion but I don't know how I feel about this one.


How can something that feels so right be wrong?

Note: This piece of writing is completely based on my own opinions & experiences. Although I can't speak for all Muslim women, I've had this discussion with enough girls to be comfortable using "we" in some cases. In addition, even though I am mostly familiar with the Khoja community, I know that this debate isn't unique to us. I also realize that this may offend some people, for which I apologize.

Last summer, during a "sister's circle" at my mosque, the topic of discussion was marriage and education. As more and more young Muslim women are pursuing education be it a Bachelor's degree or beyond, this subject matter is a huge point of contention.

As the debate progressed, the discussion became education vs. marriage, presenting the two as irreconcilable aspects of life rather than a productive conversation about how the two are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Since a good friend of mine and I were the only two "older" girls that had pursued education and were not married, we both were inevitably highlighted.

Some women started talking about how educated girls are "too picky" or "too fussy" when it comes to accepting a proposal. Some even insinuated that girls pursuing their education or career were giving those goals a higher priority than marriage.

In many Muslim communities, once a girl turns 18 or 19, community members start giving her the "look" expecting that any day, her engagement will be announced. For girls who are in their early-mid twenties without a diamond on their finger, we are sometimes even considered by many as "old maids."

All Islamic seminars that I have attended on marriage emphasize that both guys and girls should be careful about choosing a partner based on compatibility, etc. But then why is it when a guy presents certain criteria that he is not willing to compromise on, he is considered responsible. But when a girl does the same, she is being anything from too "idealistic," "picky,' "fussy" or even "un-Islamic."

The most frustrating thing is the assumption that women pursuing an education or career don't want to get married, when in many cases, that is simply not true. We just haven't found the right guy. Honestly speaking, finding the guy you want to spend the rest of your life with, is just not as easy as picking out your favorite kurti from the closet and trying to find a matching hijab.

My biggest pet peeve is when people talk about how important it is for Muslims, especially women, to get an education and get involved in various activities; but when it actually comes to supporting them, the buck stops right there.

Although I've had to deal with this issue from elders of my community before, what has been really exasperating is to see a similar attitude by some young Muslim guys. I've heard many guys talk about how they're glad when they meet independent women who are ambitious, have already embarked on their career and considered a "breath of fresh air." However, when it actually comes to committing and supporting women in their career or educational goals, many of them are unwilling or scared to take that leap. I'm in no way implying that all guys are like that or that some of them are not sincere because I know many who are not that way. But unless more guys actually say, "I do," it is just going to seem like lip service to many girls.

The most hurtful part for me has been is that I question my career choice all the time. I wonder if it was a mistake not to choose something that was more "marketable."

But then I try to remind myself why I chose to do what I do in the first place: after 9/11, I decided that more Muslim voices were needed in politics, and I felt the best way for me to serve God was by serving His people. My education and my work has allowed me to explore the diversity of humanity and the world we live in, which makes me feel close to Allah and proud of Islam like never before.

Many of my Muslim female friends – no matter what their career choice is – feel the same way. So then why is the core of our very being attacked? Why are we so ostracized? Muslim guys – of all ages – need to start being comfortable with women who can talk about Brad Pitt one minute, the future of Palestine the next and a chicken recipe the minute after that.

When Napoleon said, "The hand that rocks the cradle rocks the world" he had a good point. We need to realize that educated Muslim women are crucial for the healthy growth of Muslim communities, especially if Muslims want to prove to the world that we too have a lot to offer humankind. It is time we recognize that educated women are assets to Muslim communities, not liabilities.


Saturday, September 24, 2005

The Qunoot Fall Conference

I know the organizers of the conference pretty well, so I would definitely recommend it to anyone. I'm pretty excited about it because this is one of the first - if not THE first - conference organized by young Shia students and professionals to ensure that the voices of both Sunni & Shia youth are heard. As a co-director of The Qunoot Foundation, my friend Mohamed wrote a really touching post about Sunni-Shia relations on his blog.

The Qunoot Foundation presents:

Exploring the Layers of Our Identity
Saturday, November 12, 2005
George Washington University Law School
Lerner Hall, Room L201

200 H St NW, Washington, DC, 20001

Schedule of Events:
8:00-9:00 AM
Registration and Coffee/Snacks

9:20-9:40 AM
Welcome and Introduction

Mohamed H. Sabur, Co-Director, The Qunoot Foundation

9:40-10:00 AM
The Concept of Du'a and Qunoot in Islam
Irfaan Nooruddin,
Islamic Studies and Research Association

10:00-10:45 AM
Being a Minority within a Minority
Najam I. Haider, Doctoral Candidate,
Princeton University , Adjunct Professor, New York University
Moderated by
Svend White

10:45-11:45 AM
Negotiating an American Identity Post-9/11
Dalia Hashad, Arab, Muslim, South Asian Advocate, American Civil Liberties Union
Arsalan T. Iftikhar, National Legal Director, Council on American-Islamic Relations
Moderated by Zehra Naqvi, J.D. Candidate,
American University, Washington College of Law

11:45 AM-12:15 PM
Presentation of American Shi'a Muslim Survey Results
Abbas Kanji, Strategic Planning Initiative,
The World Federation of KSIMC
Ali Abbas Qureshi, Survey Analyst, American Shi'a Muslim Survey

12:15-1:30 PM

Dhuhr/Asr prayer and lunch

1:30-2:30 PM
Imagining a Tolerant Muslim Community
Sayyeda Mirza, Project Manager, Middle East Leadership Program,
EastWest Institute
Shahed Amanullah, Editor-in-Chief, alt.muslim, Founder, Halalfire Media Network
Shenaaz Janmohamed, Master's Candidate, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor School of Social Work
Moderated by
Mona Mafi, J.D. Candidate, George Washington University Law School

2:30-3:30 PM
Examining Gender Disparities
Saba Ghori, Foreign Affairs Officer, U.S. State Department, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights & Labor
Jihad Saleh, Master's Candidate,
Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University
Moderated by Zuleqa Husain,
Muslim Public Affairs Council

3:30-3:45 PM
Break and Snacks

3:45-5:15 PM
Creating a Space: Getting Involved in MSAs and National Muslim Organizations
Mohamed H. Sabur, Co-Director, The Qunoot Foundation
Ahmed Younis, National Director, Muslim Public Affairs Council
Moderated by Amin Al-Sarraf,
Muslim Public Affairs Council

5:15-5:45 PM
Maghrib/Isha prayer

5:45-6:45 PM
Town Hall Forum: Where Do We Go From Here?

6:45 PM

Dinner and Open Mic Poetry Reading
Moderated by Khizer Husain
(To submit a poem or art piece/photo you would like to present, please e-mail us at

--The Qunoot Foundation


How to write a Thomas Friedman Article

I found this really amusing - no offence to any Friedman fans out there!

- - - -
C R E A T E Y O U R O W N T H O M A S F R I E D M A N O P - E D C O L U M N :
- - - -
Last week's events in [country in the news] were truly historic, although we may not know for years or even decades what their final meaning is. What's important, however, is that we focus on what these events mean [on the ground/in the street/to the citizens themselves]. The [media/current administration] seems too caught up in [worrying about/dissecting/spinning] the macro-level situation to pay attention to the important effects on daily life. Just call it missing the [desert for the sand/fields for the wheat/battle for the bullets].

When thinking about the recent turmoil, it's important to remember three things: One, people don't behave like [computer programs/billiard balls/migratory birds], so attempts to treat them as such inevitably look foolish. [Computer programs/Billiard balls/Migratory birds] never suddenly [blow themselves up/shift their course in order to fit with a predetermined set of beliefs/set up a black market for Western DVDs]. Two, [country in question] has spent decades [as a dictatorship closed to the world/being batted back and forth between colonial powers/torn by civil war and ethnic hatred], so a mindset of peace and stability will seem foreign and strange. And three, [hope/freedom/capitalism] is an extraordinarily powerful idea.

When I was in [country in question] last [week/month/August], I was amazed by the [people's basic desire for a stable life/level of Westernization for such a closed society/variety of the local cuisine], and that tells me two things. It tells me that the citizens of [country in question] have no shortage of [courage/potential entrepreneurs/root vegetables], and that is a good beginning to grow from. Second, it tells me that people in [country in question] are just like people anywhere else on this great globe of ours.

So what should we do about the chaos in [country in question]? Well, it\'s easier to start with what we should not do. We should not [ignore the problem and pretend it will go away/lob a handful of cruise missiles and hope that some explosions will snap [country in question]\'s leaders to attention/let seemingly endless frustrations cause the people of [country in question] to doubt their chance at progress]. Beyond that, we need to be careful to nurture [the seeds of democratic ideals/the fragile foundations of peace/these first inklings of a moderate, modern society]. The opportunity is there, but I worry that the path to [peace/stability/moderation] is so [narrow/poorly marked/strewn with obstacles] that [country in question] will have to move down it very slowly.

Speaking with a local farmer on the last day of my recent visit, I asked him if there was any message that he wanted me to carry back home with me. He pondered for a second, and then smiled and said, "[Short phrase in indigenous language]," which is a local saying that means roughly, "[Every branch of the tree casts its own shadow/That tea is sweetest whose herbs have dried longest/A child knows his parents before the parents know their child]."

I don't know what [country in question] will be like a few years from now, but I do know that it will [probably look very different from the country we see now/remain true to its cultural heritage], even if it [remains true to its basic cultural heritage/looks very different from the country we see now]. I know this because, through all the disorder, the people still haven't lost sight of their dreams.


Sunday, September 18, 2005

Yet another missed opportunity

I was attending a terrorism conference last week and all the speakers kept on talking about how Katrina proved that the US is ill-prepared of dealing with disasters and how we don't capitalize on opportunities that are presented to us. For instance after 9/11, the unity amongst Americans and the sympathy we received from the world was squandered by the invasion of Iraq. The terrible ongoing violance in Iraq, the carnage of innocent Iraqis is not winning the US any brownie points either.

Hurricane Katrina has provided us with other opportunities: some that we have taken such as talking about the status of the poor, especially minorities in this country and how they were affected the most. The ineffectiveness of FEMA and incompetency of the Bush Administration has also been discussed in great detail. What we are not talking about is global warming or climate change. Although, one cannot make a direct correlation about the effects of climate change & Hurricane Katrina, it is fair to say that global warming causes temperatures of seas to rise which causes unstable weather & hurricanes become more frequent.

I have been taking my time because I've been trying to figure out how to express my feelings on the 4th anniversary of 9/11, the worsening situation in Iraq and Hurricane Katrina. Today, I got the opportunity as the UN concluded on Friday.

This summer was filled with hope & optimism about the UN summit - it was termed as a "once-in-a-generation" opportunity as the UN celeberated its 6oth anniversary. America was united in its hopes for the United Nations. “There’s no doubt that this is an organization that needs updating and reforming in order to be effective,” said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. “And we are a founding member of the United Nations. We shouldn’t abandon it. We should make it a stronger instrument.”

Drawing on proposals from Secretary-General Kofi Annan, a task force led by Republican former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Democratic former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, and his Administration’s own ideas, President Bush assembled an ambitious agenda for the UN. The Administration promoted a restructured Human Rights Council that excludes human rights abusers, a Peacebuilding Commission to prevent and resolve conflict in war-torn areas, meet the threat of global terrorism, and restructure the UN’s oversight capacities to make it more efficient.

At the end of July, the U.S. was well on its way to achieving all of these truly groundbreaking proposals. The draft Outcome Document for the Summit included all of them, and U.S. negotiators were well on their way to hammering out the details. The chief obstructionists, Cuba, Venezuela, Egypt, and Pakistan, were increasingly isolated, and ready to fold on key U.S. priorities. We were winning.

Yet, in the end, we lost. The statement signed by Heads of State this week makes little progress toward U.S. goals. In fact, the draft document released six weeks ago would have advanced the U.S. agenda much, much further.

This diplomatic defeat not only stings because of its significance, but because of the ease with which we could have won on many, if not all of our priorities. We need look no further than our own Mission on New York to assert responsibility. Ambassador John Bolton – hailed by the Administration during his confirmation hearings as a crusader of management reform at the UN – could not achieve even that, despite overwhelming momentum on his side.

Within weeks of his appointment and less than a month before the Summit, Ambassador Bolton proposed hundreds of amendments to the draft document, throwing negotiations into turmoil. He outraged developing nations by attempting to remove any mention of the Millennium Development Goals, when merely defining the term would have sufficed to cohere with official U.S. policy. And he then conducted an all-out assault on a provision reaffirming rich countries’ commitment to allocate 0.7% of their national incomes to help poor countries lift themselves out of poverty – even though the Bush Administration affirmed it twice in 2002.

Our point isn’t that the 0.7% target is necessarily a cure-all for the world’s problems; our point is that in part by fighting a relatively harmless provision that the Administration had affirmed in the past, Bolton lost the strong momentum toward important changes at the UN that he inherited upon his appointment. In short, Bolton took his eye off the ball.

The result was a toothless document that satisfied neither developing countries nor the U.S. Thanks to Bolton’s blunder, we have no assurance that the UN will be able to exclude egregious human rights violators from its human rights institutions. We lost out on a definition of terrorism that would pull the moral rug out from under terrorists masquerading as “freedom fighters.” We even lost out on the basic management reforms so high on the U.S. agenda. And the maddening part is that all of these victories were easily within in our grasp.

None of these agenda items are dead, but without the spotlight of the World Summit to expose the obstructionists, it will be much, much harder to move them forward. The lessons from the Summit are clear. Sticks don’t work without carrots.

There is every reason to believe leaders and people of good will are prepared to continue their efforts to renew the UN. The founding principles of the United Nations– greater freedom, deeper cooperation, and respect – bear the distinctive mark of U.S. leadership. Sixty years after the UN’s founding, it needs our leadership again to be stronger and more effective. And to meet the challenges of a new century, we will surely need a strong and effective UN.


Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Will be back soon...

I'm sorry I haven't blogged in almost a week but I was in Minnesota & have been swamped catching up at work. However, I attended a conference yesterday & today on terrorism put up by New America Foundation. It was attended by about a 1000 people & featured prominent speakers like Sens. Biden & Hagel, Gen. Wesley Clark & former Secretary Madeline Albright. The other speakers came from diverse political, journalistic & diplomatic fields - since their presentations have been archived online, I would urge you to to check them out.