Abstract Chatter


Let’s Talk About Sex Baby
December 30, 2008, 9:40 am
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ny1Let’s talk about you and me//Let’s talk about all the good things //And the bad things that may be

In hopes of not disappointing the audience too much, this post isn’t discussing sex or anything related to it. I wanted to see how many people would click on the link because they were intrigued by the word sex or whether they clicked on the link because they were generally interested in what I had to say.

***

Four beautiful, Muslim women stepped out of their apartment on a crisp and slushy winter evening in the middle of New York City unaware and oblivious to what night had to offer.

We called around in order to locate a relatively cheap place to spend the evening and stumbled across Showman’s Jazz Club only a few blocks from our apartment in Harlem.

Eyes glared in our direction the second we entered the jazz lounge/bar, but this situation presented nothing out of the norm. Little did we know that the night was still young, and these glares were nothing compared to the interactions yet to come.

My friends and I ordered our $7 diet cokes and virgin daiquiris – and jumped right into conversation ranging from essestionalizing the ineptitude of guys to our future aspirations. It was at this point that a slightly tipsy professor from New York University approached our table and began inquiring about our reasons for being at a bar. She was floored and confused (just as I imagine everyone else in the bar was) as to how and why four Muslim women have enough freedom to do exactly as they desire without the intrusion of Man. Can it really be true that these veiled women have the exact same level of freedom as American women? A clear disconnect existed in her mind as she was unable to intertwine the idea of American Muslim women wearing headscarves or hijabs to that of American activities such as spending a relaxing evening at a local jazz lounge.

The conversation began as she mentioned her point of contention. She cited a novel written by Ayaan Hisri Ali entitled Infidel who was an author born into a loveless childhood and grew up in a clan-based society in Somalia where young girls underwent Female Genital Mutilation. Ali’s amalgamated experiences during her childhood left her utterly embittered and disillusioned, ultimately believing that the West was the only avenue for freedom of thought and expression– with a hatred of all things African, Somalian or Muslim. For a husband to not recognize that their wife as a person, a human and a partner– is not a concept with Islam, but a cultural concept that transcends into every society throughout time. There are opinions that get solidified in absolute laws when in reality these opinions were influenced and dispersed based on the complexities of context, circumstances and culture.

While it may be true that women in Somalia were incapable of practicing their rights and freedoms within the contexts of their society, there is no reason to draw a concrete parallel between male domination and patriarchy to the religion of Islam.

I was initially overcome with sadness, as it seemed unfortunate that an academic’s sole source of information to teach others within an elite institution was a book heavily burdened with subjective propaganda and biases.

But her willingness and drive to seek truth wherever it may be found, be it a bar or a book, made me see that there is hope. A hope that people will not be persuaded and misguided by mainstream rhetoric– that people have the sincerity and humility to find precision.

“The truth is incontrovertible, malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end; there it is.” –Winston Churchill



Performing Blasphemy-And All I Did Was Pray.
December 25, 2008, 5:00 am
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mosque

mosque

Over the past few days, numerous conversations on religion have come up, and I felt it appropriate to post the following excerpt which I wrote while living in Cairo, Egypt.

______________________________________________

…And so the evening began as I decided to stroll throughout my neighborhood, find a cafe and study for the GREs before sunset. Not really knowing what direction I was headed, I finally stumbled upon a beautiful mosque, one that was in close proximity to our flat, one where I could attend Friday prayer, and one where I could be reminded of the countless blessings in our lives as it’s so easy to get caught up in this materialistic madness of Coach purses and Adidas shell toes.

I tried to enter the mosque but it was fully gated. Due to my “lost and confused” look written across my face, a gentleman walked in my direction to guide me towards the main entrance. Realizing that I wasn’t Egyptian because I was incapable of understanding his rugged Arabic, he proceeded to find out if and where the women’s entrance was located. Alas, he pointed to a small space behind a pea-green curtain and commanded that I pray there.

I walk in to find an older and peaceful looking woman smiling in my direction. All I could think about was the ugliness that the green curtain embodied. But I was quickly distracted by the call to prayer, which was eloquently elevated by the loud speaker. I waited for the men to begin their prayer, and stepped outside my designated space from behind the green curtain into the main room.

And I prayed…

…Simply enjoying the beauty God’s creation– the intricate architecture of the mosque that is rarely seen in the U.S., as most mosques are old, converted buildings…

I ask from God the normal things in life of health, happiness and peace, and walk out of the mosque, only to start tearing as I think about the hideous green curtain.

Why was that man so insistence that I pray behind it? How can such a beautiful religion allow for something so unjust? How can a religion that freed and elevated a former slave and allowed him to recite the first call to prayer be the same religion that places women behind a dark shield–to be an invisible shadow?

I know It isn’t so…

As I continued to walk away, the man who assisted me earlier questioned why I hadn’t prayed behind the curtain as he instructed. Why had I disobeyed his orders as if he was the determining factor on judgment day? He then switched languages and in English asked if I knew that Islamic rulings state how women couldn’t be seen in public space. I simply replied by shaking my head and walked in the opposite direction.

I know It isn’t so…

Tears escaped my eyes, as I was torn. Imagine for a moment, a Woman who gives birth to a Man. A Man who is then given money by the grace of God to build such a fascinating piece of architecture to be enjoyed by ALL of society. Would he in his sane mind, place his mother, the Women who gave him life–behind that green, embroidered curtain?

If I wanted to pray on a hilltop or in a public park when the call to prayer was heard, would I be placed behind a curtain?
My entire world is grounds for prayer so how is it that a formal structure actually built for prayer is forbidden for me? How is it that I cannot enjoy the beauty of the sermon on a Friday afternoon given by the passionate preacher voicing his thoughts, or appreciate the gold Arabic calligraphy imprinted around the mosque, or the delicate and detailed paintings hanging on the walls, or the massive, white columns which hold the building in place? Why am I not able to enjoy the building that came from a Women, who gave birth to a Man, that could build the mosque?

I know it isn’t so,

But how could this Man be so naïve..



Escaping Death
December 20, 2008, 2:58 am
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The flight seemed to have been jinxed even before the night began. It all started when I mistakenly bought the wrong flight to NY and had to re-purchase another ticket.

I was one of the first people to enter the aircraft after the elite class members had settled in. I couldn’t help but notice every grey-haired white man staring me down as I walked through the narrow aisle, all the way to the back row—next to the restroom, seat 22D.
At the beginning of the night, I saw skin color and religion. I saw gender and class.

Then the night took an unexpected twist, and an hour into the flight, the captain announced that one of our (two) engine motors had blown out and we had to make an emergency landing in Jackson, Mississippi.

As the plane came closer to landing, I no longer saw color. Somehow, all I saw were people– people who breath, who live and who die— ultimately human beings who could not escape whatever destiny they are in for.  This night caused my own personal paradigm to shift.

The captain landed us safely as we taxied through the runway followed by eight fire trucks and 3 ambulances.

THIS TIME, 80 passengers meagerly escaped our final destination of death, but ultimately, no amount of wealth will save us from the departure of this world.



My Father—No Michael Jackson, But Apparently a White Man
December 18, 2008, 4:05 am
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Coming home provides an opportunity for me to become reacquainted with Patience. I seem to be thoroughly tested as soon as my plane lands at Hobby airport. Spending time with family is always a good challenge because I subconsciously tend to surround myself with like-minded people, but these encounters produce effortless conversations.

My family however, is far from being likeminded. I come from a family who’s both socially and fiscally conservative. If you do that math, it means they have tendencies that lean towards being Republican. The recipe calls for disaster if you add a dash of Southern flavor and an immigrant mentality.

So here we are sitting at SaltGrass Steakhouse (I warned you, they is Southern). And my dad proclaims that systematic discrimination no longer exists. His defense stems from the fact that Obama got elected. And my brother defended his claim in an instance, pounding his fist to the table as if it were a gavel.

I’ve come to realize that when Michelle Obama states ideas such as “…the American Dream exists for all, and it’s real because we are living proof…” really does more injustice than good.  NOW, I have to somehow develop an argument that proves their place in the White House will not eliminate discrimination that perpetuates at all other levels. Or that (upward) social mobility is as fluid as they propose it to be. I saw this coming from a mile away.

But his next thought surprised me. And this was my Father’s inability to understand the value of diversity. I attempted to explain that I, as a woman of color could provide some quantitative level of value to the equation that others might be able to. He seems to being going through an identity crisis and now thinks he’s a white man. Oddly enough, he just may be the (white) man in the professional world of Engineering where the dominant ethnicity is South and East Asian.

He was unable to recognize a particular privilege that comes with being a man (with relatively no accent) holding a professional degree. Nor did he fully grasp the somewhat complex concept of white privilege. As an undergraduate professor of mine, Bob Jensen would define it as, “…The privilege to acknowledge that you have unearned privilege but to ignore what it means”. Or maybe for my Father, to not even recognize that such a privilege exits.

It took him a good two minutes before the pin drop silence was broken, and he was able to recognize that a white man might not be able to fill an existing void—a void that I just might have the potential to successfully fill.



I’m a White Man, Hear Me Roar
December 16, 2008, 4:17 am
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I always get trapped next to crazy people when traveling. It’s never the cute guy whose eye I happen to catch, or the older lady who doesn’t require much maintenance or the teenager who just wants to sleep. No no, it’s always the crazy person.

Following this pattern, a Southern white man with yellowish-orange alligator cowboy boots (made in Mexico) plops right next to me. As soon as I saw his boots, I knew it was going to be a long night. I attempted to doze off for an hour of the flight, but that didn’t prevent him from asking me where I was from. To which of course he wanted to hear some exotic country out past the Himalayas or Zimbabwe. Allow me to be stereotypical for a moment, but I’m sure he didn’t know the difference between Africa and India, just as Palin hadn’t. Ah—God bless the good ol’ Joe Schmoes of the world.

My mission then became to make him recognize that not all Muslims have an accent and are crazy, radical, fundamentalists (or any other combination of adjectives that FOX has brewed up). From where the conversation was headed, I knew he was thinking along those lines. He voted for McCain, was fiscally conservative and grew up in the South with a Catholic background.

It was a slow and tenuous process, but he began to loosen up as the conversation progressed. I made a conscious effort to repeat what he stated, to genuinely listen to his viewpoints and grasp where he was coming from while simultaneously pushing the limit of his understanding. There were several points throughout the conversation where he took a step back to let it all sink in.

And towards the end, he asked when I was running for office.  If my game theory class and work on the Hill has taught me anything, it’s that the rules of the game determine the results, and aggregated preferences don’t allow for a coherent outcome. If the rules (laws) of this game (bureaucratic institution we call government) remain stagnant and don’t change their course, no comprehensive transformation will actually take place.

Of course my reply was, there is no need to run for office if I recognize that what I’d like to see happen, will never actualize simply due to the constrains of our limiting institutions. But I had to ask him if I had his vote.

I was pleased to hear that I had his vote, and he’d be following me on TV. It’s good to know that I made another man see from a perspective different than his own. I got a glimpse into his life as well– that of his wife and two beautiful daughters. The life of a “hard- working” southern republican, who just wants the best for his children.

Mission accomplished.



Justice for all (the Rich)
December 13, 2008, 8:28 pm
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Apparently, enough is enough only when the elite have announced that it’s enough. It’s when those citizens who dominate society through their financial influences and political institutions are slightly shaken from their core–does something begin to pivot away from the status quo.

Time and time again, we’ve turned our heads away, not wanting to hear the reality of the poor, not wanting to hear a truth different from our own. Now we’ve stepped into the muddy shoes of someone else, forcing us to see a different light—a light where the wealthy are demanding change. Apparently, that is when the world begins to listen; when the thunder of the rich drowns out the voices of all others.

It doesn’t matter which continent, whether it’s those who wear pin stripped jackets in India or in the US. Angry and low-income voices become mute in the everyday chatter of the rich.

Where then is democracy and full representation? Where then is justice for all?

“Mumbai Attacks Politicize Long-Isolated Elite” http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/07/world/asia/07india.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&ref=world