Silent History: A Review/Explanation of An Inspiring & Impacting Book

The following essay was written for a scholarship that I applied to. The prompt was to write on a book that inspired and/or has impacted my interest in studying History. This was not a difficult question because, though there have been many books, essays, and lectures from professors that have been positively influential to me, the foundation of what inspired me to be the Historian-In-The-Making that I declare myself to be, began with this book. Anyone who knows me well, is well aware that all my books are plagued with sticky notes and this book arguably has the most (next to Russell Brand’s autobiography: My Booky Wook) Currently, this book is with a very good friend of mine and I hope he is enjoying it as much as I am. I share this essay with my readers to encourage critical thinking as well as showcase once again my passion, that some will say resembles obsession more than fascination, for History. And is written in bold style to illustrate that it is being written from my actual self and not from my persona. Also, the essay was meant to be 300 words or less and I am proud to say I successfully met that mark so, yeah. I rock! I hope you all enjoy. Please like and subscribe to the blog. And don’t forget to follow me on Instagram and Like Us on Facebook!

As I’ve gotten older, it’s gotten more and more difficult to remember certain things. Even the most trivial such as, what I had for lunch yesterday, become a challenge when I look back into my mind. However, the book that inspired my passion for history, I will never forget. I can recall it so vividly; where I was, why I was reading it and how much I enjoyed it. The book was entitled: Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce by Stanley Weintraub. The title essentially already gives the plot away already, but I will reiterate nonetheless, that the book is about the ceasefire during World War I on the Western front and in honor of a special holiday, enemy soldiers exchanged gifts instead of bullets.

              I was not an avid reader my first semester of College and to be quite honest, I would skim through books more than actually reading them but there was something about the writing Weintraub utilized that made what some critics would describe as the words just “leaping off the page.” And here it began, my first semester as an Undergraduate Student, assigned to read this book for my Western Civilization class. Before I knew it, I had reached halfway through the book and was in joyful tears by reading how for one brief shining moment, during a time of war and carnage, “there was general handshaking: the dead were buried; cigars, cigarettes, and newspapers were exchanged and a general celebration ensued.” (Weintraub, 68). Though there were some who denounced the Christmas truce such as one familiar name, Adolf Hitler, criticized the Germans for fraternizing with the British enemy by saying, “such a thing should not happen in wartime…Have you no German sense of honor left at all?” (Weintraub, 71)

              Honor and or patriotism was the last thing on the minds of these soldiers however, as one British soldier, Corporal John Ferguson, quoted by Weintraub, about the ceasefire with the Germans, “Here we were laughing and chatting to men whom only a few hours before we were trying to kill.” (Weintraub, 79-80) Eventually the Christmas celebrations as well as “all fraternization with the enemy [was] to cease immediately.” Reading the words of these soldiers, post the ceasefire, gaining these epiphanies of their groundless bloodshed and carrying on with the charade (because they have no other choice) in their own way by feigning the discharges towards their targets or even purposefully “shoot [in]to the air’” (Weintraub, 140) was in a word, thought-provoking. The idea that these soldiers were sent to fight against “the enemy” and were now re-defining who exactly the enemy was. “Both sides were misled by half-truths…Beneath the artificial hatred, each respected the other. Victory, if it came at all, would be long delayed, costly and worthless.” (Weintraub, 119) Reading this made me realize that these soldiers demanded answers to questions they finally began to ask themselves, “why am I really here?” It made me think of what other lies we have been fed in our youth that remain truths that we would potentially “die for” in our adult life.

Avi Shlaim has said that “History is the propaganda of the victors” and his statement is agreeable because when we are children and we learn about history, we are told things in a positive light only to find out later that they are actually horrific. And only when we get older do we learn the actual truth that is the awful side of history. We learn about World War I beginning with a series of mishaps that all could be responsible for the start of the war and the countless casualties that resulted as well as the incendiary feelings that remain, resulting in World War II. All the while, wondering how and why things in our own history, got so bad; and if there was a chance for reconciliation even. And it is here, in this story, that we have a pocket of positivity that not everyone is aware although should be. Here these soldiers are learning that the differences amongst them are scarce; therefore, they have no reason to fight one another. Why are they fighting? When instead, “perhaps a football match, after which both sides went home, might be a better solution.” (Weintraub, 119)

-Ahmed H. Sharma (Mr. Writer)

Originally written on the 15th of February, 2017 at 1:19 P.M.

Book Cited:

Weintraub, Stanley. Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce. New York: Plume, 2002. Print.

 

 

 

“True” Identity: An Essay on Self-Awareness & Sensitivity

Who are we? We seem to be asked this question a lot and no one knows how to properly answer and no response seems satisfactory. In the past, people would identify themselves through their last names.  “My name is So and So, son of Whatshisface” And with that form of identification, people gained an impression of you, despite their interaction and properly getting to know you is a priori. It seems unorthodox, however simultaneously, it is understandable.

Arranged marriages function in the same way; this person’s father knows this girl or boy’s father and they thought “hey, you probably don’t have a shitty kid, let’s make them get married!” And the other said, “Yeah!” Then they have kids and they live happily ever after.

However, you don’t need to be a scholar in Anthropology to know that every human being is different. Moreover, no law is universally adhered to by individuals and that’s arguably, why we have problems in society. We can place the blame on religion or humans being savage by nature, but either way the only thing we can essentially agree on is that we cannot find anything to agree on.

Immanuel Kant argued how we can ascertain objective validity but because I’m no scholar of Philosophy; plus, Kant uses a special kind of vocabulary that scholars to this day are trying to figure out what the hell he was talking about. Instead, I will attempt to break the words down as if we were speaking actual English. First, the word: Objective, meaning universally accepted. This is a challenge because everything is arbitrary. Translating the work of philosophers like Kant, for example, is never universally accepted. And the word Valid, put simply just means true. That being said, it will make the following essay more comprehensible.

When we try to attempt and identify ourselves, in terms of contemporary standards, there is a lot to consider. And our need for personal identity is unavoidable. However, the crux of this essay is that we often have to prove our identity because some people are unconvinced of what we identify with because we do not contain 100% of the traits to adhere to that identity. To better clarify, let’s use the example of a father and son. Let’s say the father was a star athlete in his youth, when introduced to his son, if he is not a star athlete as well, but rather, a “nerd”, eyebrows would be raised as to how that was possible? If you don’t believe this, you’re not a superficial person and you should be very proud of yourself. But I’m not referring to you. Not everything is about you, okay? With that, readers hopefully can empathize where I’m going with this and will agree with me when I say, that just because the “nerdy son” of the athletic father does not mean that he is not legitimately his kid. In other words, you can’t identify yourself as something without someone telling you that’s not who you really are.

Which sounds like b.s. because who knows you better than yourself? Your parents? Sure. But, only you know your inner most thoughts. However, there’s people that love to say, “Oh but you’re not a real so and so because you have, do, or believe such and such.” I’ll use myself as an example of identification. Cause none of my friends would allow me to use them as examples. Just kidding! I have no friends.

Just kidding. I didn’t ask them. Because I’m lazy. And that’s why I have no friends.

So, how do I define myself? And this will not be in any particular order. The fact that I have to explain it, will be addressed in subsequent sentences. First, I’m a man. But am I a “real man” How does one define that? What kind of things define a man? Do I like Sports? That’s pretty masculine, right? No, I don’t like sports, so I guess that makes me less of a man? I don’t drive a truck, no; I drive a Hybrid. Guess that’s also a no for me to be a “real man”.  But nonetheless, I am a man. This is who I am. By the way, this is not supposed to be a critique on Trans-Genders because ultimately, what I’m saying is if you are who you say you are, it shouldn’t matter what other people think.

Another way I identify myself as, I’m Muslim. And I’m not sure if you’re aware of all the Islamophobia going around but I sure have noticed it. I’m blessed to say that I haven’t experienced any discrimination first hand (as an adult) but I have constantly had to serve as a spokesman for Islam, which I graciously accept. And as a spokesman, I  I will be posting another article where I expand on this because it is necessary, but in the meantime, I will conclude by stating, I don’t act as an apologist for terrorism caused by psychopaths claiming to do it in the name of Islam. Because of my progressive beliefs, a lot of people will regard me as “not a true Muslim” and that’s because I do not adhere to what they regard as what Muslims truly believe.

It’s like when some people regard African Americans as not “black enough” if they do things or talk a certain way that doesn’t coincide with the stereotypes people have of them. And that’s a shame because who the hell are they to determine what is something and what is not. Simultaneously however, I will sympathize how powerful words are in this day and age, where we should be careful with the words we pick.

A perfect example of this is: Stand-up comic, Jim Norton, notorious for his raunchy style of jokes about him being a shameless albeit honest, womanizer, would self-describe himself as a “pervert”. But in his most recent, 2016 special, Mouthful of Shame,  Norton admits he was wrong to describe himself as such because the type of adultery he would commit would always be consensual, therefore to categorize himself as such would assume that he sleeps with underage girls or is a rapist.

Back to my point, there are people who truly identify with things but they don’t make sense to people. Here’s the thing: they don’t need to make sense to you; they are not YOUR beliefs. It’s not until you empathize and listen to the concerns of theirs, where you understand why the individual believes the way they do. Take Muhammad Ali for instance, when he changed his name from Cassius Clay to Ali, a lot of people refused to acknowledge him by his new name. Claiming things like, “that’s the name he was born with, so I’m gonna call him THAT!” But his reason for changing his name was because it was at this time that he embraced Islam and was essentially born-again. African Americans acquired their surnames from their slave-owners, thereby explaining the phrase “that’s my slave name.” And even if you still don’t agree with it in the end, that’s okay too. But at least your grievances are not in ignorance. However, it’d be simple enough just to accept it and let people be happy.

In the end, all I’m trying to say is that there is an inexplicable desire for us to strive for something greater than ourselves and discover who we are and what our purpose in life is. Some turn to religion, careers, or drugs. Don’t do drugs though. And when we discover ourselves, often times we may believe we are something and people have a right to guide us if we are mistaken, like in the case of Jim Norton, but that’s okay because we are humans and we are going to make mistakes. In the end, we’re all just trying to make sense of ourselves and the battle will be less intense if we’re not having to defend ourselves against people who don’t understand and berate us as a result of it. Live and let live, and live and let die.

 

-Mr. Writer

Written on the 13th of June, 2017 at 7:00 P.M.

 

Welcoming Our New King: Review of Hasan Minhaj: “Homecoming King”

I will be honest, I wish I could have dived more into this review but I didn’t, at the risk of giving out spoilers.

When we think of the kings of comedy, we think of George Carlin, Jerry Seinfeld, or Bill Hicks however, Comedy has no racial boundaries. Arguably, it was Russell Peters, who broke the barrier for Brown comedians everywhere and showed that Indians could be funny. Subsequently, Aziz Ansari will do the same as not only a young, talented, house-hold name, and now anyone who doesn’t know him is considered living under a rock.

And now, we welcome a new Indian Comedian that is taking the world by storm. Though he is perhaps well known for his contributions to the Daily Show with Trevor Noah, he most recently, was the speaker for the White House Correspondent’s Dinner and did an impeccable job by speaking his mind. For those that enjoyed his 25-27 minute speech, I would encourage them to check out his hour long, Netflix special: “Homecoming King”. In this special, it’s a bit unorthodox in that it’s not like traditional stand up shows. For one, the show is more about his life and a specific story as opposed to observational humor and abstract thoughts.

Nevertheless, Minhaj dives deep into his memories and does his best to recreate those moments for the audience so they may empathize with his experiences as a descendent of Indian immigrants and struggling to maintain the culture he has been reared with and simultaneously try to fit in with others who don’t share the same culture and/or beliefs. It is evident early on in the special, how much he cares about his family, despite their disagreements. Moreover, he demonstrates that his family is almost no different than any other traditional family. Specifically, there is a generational gap of understanding between parents and their children in that they can’t seem to agree on how to handle discrimination.

For Minhaj, as a born citizen, he believes that Islamophobia should not have to apply to him because he has done nothing wrong. This is a fair and understandable perspective. On the other hand, his father (like most immigrants) believes they should take discrimination with a grain of salt; as this is something uncontrollable and inevitable when arriving to a new country. This is hard to grasp because, while we can acknowledge that there are terrorists that claim to commit horrific acts in the name of their religion, we do a disservice by associating other Muslims with them, especially since Islam has nothing to do with terrorism in the first place. Furthermore, that ordinary Muslim citizens should have to answer for their actions is ludicrous There’s an article where Aziz Ansari tackled this issue with Rupert Murdoch, perfectly, saying how unreasonable it is for Muslims to have to give press releases or publicly denounce terroristic acts when they clearly had nothing to do with it. In addition to that, Christians are never asked to publicly denounce horrendous acts that have been committed in the name of Christ.

Moving on though, Minhaj also goes on to talk about racism in two different forms: the first is when you’re put in a state of “fear for your own life” kind of racism and the racism “with a smile”. I’d like to tell the story here, but at the risk of it being a spoiler for the show, I’d rather not. Instead, go watch it for yourself to see the example he used. I would be remiss however, if I did not elaborate on what those two types of racism signify though. The former is self-explanatory: being constantly harassed due to your color, creed, or sexual orientation to the point where you are never sure if even the menial errands you need to take care of will be accomplished because your safety is at risk. For Arabs or South Asians, who are descendants from countries with a majority Muslim population,, often they will resort to changing their names in an effort to hide their identity and not cause conflict, so Mohammad will go by Moe, or Abdullah will go as Andy in order to not draw attention to themselves. I am guilty of this as well, personally, but this will be for another blog.

The latter type of racism, is a bit more complex, but when I say “with a smile”, of course I’m not talking about someone who will use a racial slur and grin. I’m referring to the type of people who will sit and laugh with someone “different” but will not announce it publicly or allow their children to associate with them out in the open because they are afraid of people judging THEM. This sort of thing happens when someone “acts” differently. For example, I would always get judged for my love for Bollywood movies and the music, speaking Urdu with my mother, or even eating indo-paki food. Therefore, people would laugh at me and think I was this foreign weirdo, despite the fact that I was born and raised in the U.S. and English was my first language. Thus, I became so ashamed of who I was, that I wouldn’t embrace it out in the open. Even being friends with other “brown” kids in school (where we were perhaps the only ones there) made me hesitant because I was afraid of people judging us or saying SOMETHING. And being Muslim, just added more things for people to judge me by. The thing is, I was not even a practicing Muslim either nor did I choose to be because I just didn’t want to give people a reason to say anything, pretty much.  So like Hasan Minhaj, I just kept it cool, tried to steer clear from danger. And just dealt with it because I figured that’s just the kind of things that happened and as a descendent of an immigrant, I had to deal with it.

However, there is a happy little epilogue to Hasan Minhaj’s story where he ends up pursuing a dream and the dream comes true. He is a successful comedian, married the love of his life, works a great job, and is becoming a house-hold name, all the while he is a Muslim. He tells these stories and is unashamed of who he is. We can all take a lesson from his story, that life is like Biryani (Chicken and Rice but with indo-paki spices. Look it up. It’s fantastic!) where you move the bad stuff out of the way and bring the good parts closer to you.

In “Homecoming King”, all the scenes (i.e., jokes) are hard to distinguish what is bad because all the parts, in my opinion, are good. As a comic, Minhaj takes a kind of Christopher Titus approach in delving deep into his memories and connecting with the audience  with his experiences. Simultaneously, Minhaj does this with a giant, contagious smile and tells the stories as vividly as one can desire. Who can ask for anything more? Now go watch it!

-Mr. Writer

Written on the 27th of May, 2017

 

 

 

Explaining Emotions & Authenticity Properly: Amateur Philosophical Responses to Actual Philosophers of Film Alex Neil and Colin Radford

The following entry is from an assignment I did for a Philosophy of Film class that I took this Spring 2017 Semester. I really enjoyed this class and the movies and readings assigned with it. That being said, I hope my readers will enjoy this movie. And for those who have not seen the films: Mary & Max or Terms of Endearment you have been warned for Spoilers.

I am running through a series of emotions at this very moment contemplating the perfect way to begin this essay. Anxiety, because I have been staring at a blank document for the last twenty minutes with my fingers on the keyboard remaining unmoved and Frustration, because I want this essay to be perfect, despite my amateur philosophical approach to the issue of emotions felt as a result of films. Just like coming up with a proper way to begin this essay, these emotions I felt, are genuine because my aim is to capture the reader’s attention and convince them that I know what I am talking about and that I worked extensively on this essay on. With that confession, the reader may empathize with me of the emotions I feel thereby, perhaps even cutting me some slack and allow me to get on with the point I’m trying to assert: that genuine, human emotions, can without a doubt be felt from fiction, however only under the condition that the viewer genuinely cares about the film he is watching. Moreover, that the film created, was made with the absolute intention to move and entertain its audience.

Only an ignoramus would believe that what is seen on a screen is real, yet it should not take away from emotions being felt because they are that caught up in the narrative or the actor’s portrayal of a character. When watching the film, Terms of Endearment, the reality of Debra Winger’s character lying in the hospital bed speaking to her children (that are not biologically hers) is irrelevant when the younger son is trying his best to keep himself from crying and simultaneously, cannot help but feel frustrated with his elder brother who seems to show an apathetic and dismissive attitude towards their mother as she is slowly passing away. Understandably, one who watches this scene would feel something from observing this scene, but what emotion that would be and how come, will vary. Examining the back and forth discussion on what emotion (if any) are felt from fiction between philosophers, Alex Neil and Colin Radford, reaching a compromise in their responses to one another (from this outsider’s perspective) seem to be a chore. The one thing that they both seem to agree on though, however, is that emotions, in general, are felt. The conflict tends to lie within what emotions, per se, are being felt and if the authenticity in feeling those emotions. The emotion of Fear, for example, according to Neil cannot be considered authentic because “I cannot coherently believe that [feeling Fear] is actually the case that I am threatened by something I know to be fictional.” (Neil, 4) Radford on the other hand, states that we can indefinitely feel genuine fear of something, even if we know it not to be fake: “even the mere thought of spiders may elicit these feelings of panic.” (Radford, 72)

These arguments put forth by Neil and the laws of the Paradox of Fiction attest Radford’s view. Specifically, that genuine emotion requires belief that the objects exist; moreover, we do not believe that fictional objects exist. Referring to Neil’s statement in the previous argument, one could make the assumption that if he were to have seen Mary & Max, he would not feel fear when Mary is at the verge of committing suicide after not hearing from Max for so long, but at this point, the audience has seen that Max has already sent a letter and hopefully, it will reach Mary in time, before it’s too late. Although in subsequent pages, he states that we may not be able to feel fear, but may feel pity: “we should remember that not all fear is fear for oneself; we may also experience fear sympathetically, or for others.” (Neil, 5) Neil is called out for this sort of contradictory (perhaps because it is so vague) by Radford and contends, “if the ways in which we are moved, the various responses, including feelings and desires, are like those we experience in unproblematic cases of pitying, we do pity fictions…(But why then, does [Neil] argue differently regarding…fear?” (Radford, 73)

As demonstrated with the two previous examples, it should be very clear that neither philosopher will deem Pity and/or fear as universal emotions felt by fictional films. Although again, they do admit that a viewer can most definitely be moved by something even by knowing it is fiction. I propose that one cannot simply categorize the feeling in one term, as interpretations of films are incontestably subjective. According to Radford, “we are irrational, inconsistent, and incoherent in being moved [by emotion] for fictional characters.” (Radford, 75) This means that we can feel emotions and we don’t know what they mean but because we are simply incapable of doing so. However inexplicably unsatisfying that reason may be for some who are unable to understand how fictional mediums can invoke genuine emotion, the main crux is that we can be moved by fiction. In order to make my argument more coherent for the reader, I will draw from a personal experience of how I genuinely am moved by fictional mediums.

Before this semester began (sometime in December 2016 or early January 2017) I purchased a book: The Simpsons and Philosophy by some author. My girlfriend, seeing what I had purchased, smiled because she is well aware of my obsession with this legendary, comical cartoon. She knew this not only because I watch it OnDemand each time we are at my house or that my mother pretty much spilled the beans to her (prior to us dating) of how much I loved this show as a child, even though she couldn’t understand how something so simple and childish (because it was a cartoon) could be so entertaining. It was inexplicable because I was well aware none of it was real and everything but I genuinely would smile and laugh at the episodes I’ve watched (repeatedly) even as an adult in his early twenties, I find myself laughing even harder because I am old enough to understand the little jokes I didn’t once understand as a kid. I am reminded of Blaise Pascal’s quote when he said, “the heart has reasons for its operations that sometimes reason does not often understand.”

With that, I hope I have been able to demonstrate my view, that we can genuinely be moved by fiction. Whatever emotion may be is dependent on the viewer. And in spite of a listener potentially not being completely convinced of why a viewer feels a certain way about a film, something entirely fiction and therefore, nonexistent, the reason for how or why those emotions are felt, any efforts in convincing may seem almost incomprehensible.

Therefore, I contend that it is not (nor should be) the responsibility of the viewer to have to explain to anyone, who simply does not understand, why he or she is moved by fiction. Moreover, by maintaining such feelings for fiction, we remain well aware that our strong belief in the medium will not miraculously “give life” to fiction but the very fact that we are defending our reasons for why we are moved by the fiction, should suffice well enough, that our emotions are authentic.

Works Cited:

Neill, Alex. “Emotional Responses to Fiction: Reply to Radford.” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 53.1 (1995): 75. JSTOR. Web.

Neill, Alex. “Fiction and the Emotions.” North American Philosophical Publications 30.1 (1993): 1-13. JSTOR. Web.

Radford, Colin. “Fiction, Pity, Fear, and Jealousy.” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 53.1 (1995): 71. JSTOR. Web.

Having What It Takes: A Critique On The Aesthetics of Sexy Bodies

A few years ago I attempted to give a response on the concept of Sexism in Art. I was 20 years old, had never read a book on Feminism or Aesthetics so in retrospect, I probably should not have written what I wrote. Nevertheless, I write this essay as a revision because with the knowledge I have now, I most definitely have grown as a writer and thinker. Therefore, as much as I abhor the language I utilized in my previous essay, I will keep it there because it will show how I am no different from other individuals who speak ignorantly of a subject and once we gain insight of said subject, we would like to take back what we said previously. It’s a natural phenomenon that a lot of people judge others for (including myself) and I think we should stop doing that. My views that I have on world issues or history, or things in general, I do not seek to condemn others if they don’t share my views, nor should I expect others to know what I know because if we didn’t get criticism for what we think we know, it will never inspire creativity; we will just be monotone zombies, blindly regurgitating the information we received from our peers. That being said, I hope my views in the previous essay do not offend anyone. And as of this day, this is my view. Thank you for reading. 

A dollar bill, whether it is torn or wrinkled, never loses its value. On the other hand, a crisp, clean looking dollar bill (even if it’s value is $1) is more aesthetically pleasing to the eye. Similarly, a perfect looking man or woman is more valuable to others than one that is not well put-together. As harsh as that sounds, it is incontestable that determining one’s attractiveness, or in this case, sexiness, has become the norm. People are constantly fed images of “perfect” bodies in popular culture and lauded for their appearances. Simultaneously, we can take the view that cringes at the thought of someone judging us and/or finding a flaw in our bodies. Nonetheless, there are constantly individuals who attempt to or search for ways, to alter the appearance of their bodies at the risk of us being perceived as un-sexy to someone and therefore, invisible. Furthermore, this issue seems to remain trivial for those who remain ignorant to the pressures of what it means to be “sexy”.  However, by citing inspiration from the following aestheticians: Sheila Lintott, Sherri Irvin, and C. Winter Han, I will examine that change is necessary (and hopefully probable in the distant future) for the concept of “sexiness” to no longer be a form of aesthetics, because in spite of the constant reminders of the lesson taught to us as children, we remain judging books by their cover.

Beginning with C. Winter Han’s essay entitled: From “Little Brown Brothers” to “Queer Asian Wives”: Constructing the Asian Male Body, the author touches on a number of excellent points. Specifically, Han points out the ongoing, albeit unchanged, racism towards Asian men. This discrimination extends towards the gay community, where the issue of femininity as a stereotype for Asian Men particularly slurred among Homosexual White Males. Although I do not identify within the LGBTQA Community, this was something I personally felt was surprising. Simply because I was unable to picture a group of oppressed individuals discriminating against another group of people. Somehow, I felt that the silenced gay community could empathize with the voiceless Asian community, yet the evidence Han provides, clearly state otherwise. Unsurprisingly to a number of friends I have in the gay community, shallowness in general, is normative. More specifically, shallowness based on appearance i.e., obesity or lack of muscles. As explained by Han, “unlike media outlets aimed at heterosexual male audiences, gay media plays a dual role in that male bodies on display promote an image not only of what one should be but also of what one should desire. Male bodies in gay media outlets are meant to be not only emulated but consumed.” (Han, 64) And in the case of Asian bodies, they are often portrayed as lanky, infantilized or comically unappealing. Thereby, “depicting [Asian bodies] as androgynous or exotifying them with feminized features, dress, or manners.” (Han, 65)

 

As bad as shallowness is, I would have to argue that discrimination based on racial inferiority is much worse; in other words, it is adding insult to injury to maintain that White bodies are more aesthetically superior to “Colored” bodies. To reiterate, the irony is uncanny to say the least, that a group of men who were teased for their femininity (even to this day) are capable of such grotesque behavior is almost hard to wrap one’s head around.  Han utilizes the example of an “Us Weekly article titled ‘Sexy shirtless [Hollywood] stars!’…When readers click…the article, they are treated to a photo gallery of sixty-three shirtless male starts, sixty of whom are white. Predictably, none of the sexy, shirtless hunks are Asian.” (Han, 70) To say that White Males are perceived as more aesthetic is, in other words, to pretty much state that White Males are ethnically superior. And for it to be nonchalantly portrayed in the media makes it the norm.

 

I would be remiss however, were I not to voice a criticism for this piece, and that is, I felt Han should have specified more on South Asians as opposed to just a bit, as if their struggle is minimal compared to the East Asians. Perhaps I’m being biased in my judgment, as a South Asian male, however there’s actually a short film that touches on this issue called “Yellow Fever” about a young Asian man who is baffled when he sees more and more Asian girls ending up with “White Guys” and not the other way around. He then receives advice from his Indian friend who essentially mocks him and says, “how often do you see an Indian guy with a white girl? It’s like one in a million. Literally.” I will give the author credit for mentioning the examples in TV shows like The Big Bang Theory and Rules of Engagement (Han, 71 & 74) where although, South Asians are portrayed despite being are less popularized in Hollywood in comparison to East Asians. And when South Asians (Indians, mainly) are portrayed, it’s often perceived as a simple-minded person, with a very thick accent (that is often feigned or exaggerated). Moreover, the actor portraying them is usually not even South Asian (e.g., Apu from The Simpsons and Fisher Stevens in Short Circuit 2) an issue pointed out by Indian-American comedian Aziz Ansari in a New York Times article.

 

This essay could not be complete without mentioning two specific philosophers who do a wonderful job in illuminating the struggles women have in attaining a specific body type that  is both “sexy” and gives them reason to be relevant. Their relevancy however, is limited to them only being regarded as objects despite overcoming numerous efforts in the workplace as well as educational gain to be able to “sit at the grown up table”. These philosophers, Sheila Lintott and Sherri Irvin, in their essay, Sex Objects and Sexy Subjects: A Feminist Reclamation of Sexiness, of do a wonderful job by shining a light an issue that perhaps some people notice, but no one sidea of women having to be “sexy” to be relevant. But their relevance is limited to them being regarded only as objects; and this simply won’t do.

 

Primarily, the authors attempt to break down the idea of the word “sexy” and relate it to how women were seen as objects of reproduction. In subsequent years, feminists will rise up and reject this notion of sexiness as “women are more than reproductive machines, even when considered as sexual beings.” (Lintott & Irvin, 303) The latter definition of sexiness “has to do with sexual pleasure and satisfaction” (Lintott & Irvin, 304) To clarify, the authors contend that “the prurient conception of sexiness classifies pregnant, disabled, and elderly women as asexual, as unable or unfit to engage in sexual intercourse and give or receive sexual satisfaction.”

Another point the authors touch on is how we can challenge these notions of sexiness with ethics: “to find someone sexy, in the respectful sense, is to recognize the sexualized subject animated in a body and to respect the subject in part for how they choose or choose not to infuse their own version of sexuality into their own body.” (Lintott & Irvin, 306) In other words, we mustn’t place our own interpretations of sexiness as universal terms but rather, look for the particular characteristics of the individual that makes them sexy; i.e., in their own way.

With that said, Lintott and Irvin seek to determine whether or not notions of sexiness can be considered aesthetic. According to them, it is possible, however “attributions of sexiness…should be responsive to the person as they actually are, not merely as they seem to us.” (Lintott & Irvin, 315) It seems like because individuals are unable to make fair judgements on what is sexy and what is not, make the idea of sexiness as aesthetic very problematic. Particularly, because for Lintott and Irvin, we cannot simply “say ‘He is sexy, and by that I mean I would experience sexual desire for him if I were attracted to fat men’; ‘She is sexy, and by that i mean that a person who finds it possible to experience desire for elderly women would desire her.’” (Lintott & Irvin, 310)

Though Lintott and Irvin’s empirical vigor through their examination of Feminism cannot be overstated,  I do begrudge that heavy emphasis on sexual objectification on women (which is understandable, considering this is supposed to be a feminist piece). Though not often as women,  it should be noted that men are capable of sexual harassment. Furthermore, being a feminist is seen as a “man-hating”, radical movement.  Historically, this may have been the case in the 1960’s but that is besides the point. Also, this article of course, is an obvious exception; plus, usually the ones making that critique are men. But it does not change the fact that some men are objectified and deemed unsexy if they do not have certain appeals (i.e., the six pack, “tall, dark and handsome”). I say this, not to drive attention away from the overall message in the essay, because it is an issue that needs to be resolved but for some reason, has not; my intention is only to bring up something which the author(s) may have missed.

These two articles share in common the desire to challenge the status quo of discriminatory views and stereotypes. And in this essay, I have attempted to demonstrate that judgments of bodies considered “sexy” should not be considered aesthetic due to the nature of constant pressure with societal norms plaguing individuals in attaining a particular appearance, at the risk of not being accepted. Moreover, further examination of the works by Aestheticians: Lintott and Irvin, Han attest the arguments I have made here. The concept of “sexiness” and “masculinity” is irrefutably perplexing and incontestably, subjective. Therefore, members of society must grasp that we do not all have what it takes to be the epitome of either characteristics in this world.

Furthermore, it is incomprehensible as to why individuals should particularly care or judge anyone based on their appearance.  According to both articles, perceptions of “beautiful” and “sexy” are ingrained in our minds and what we define as a “sexy person” is this artificially shaped subject of a specific race or color; and perhaps our reason behind why we do this, is because we are continuously exposed to images or advertisements in the media that is, especially in today’s popular culture, the standard. And simultaneously, albeit unfortunately, we ignore the fact that people are not meant to be categorized as objects of our appraisal.

-Ahmed H. Sharma (Mr. Writer)

Originally Written on the 10th of May, 2017

Works Cited 

Han, C. Winter. “From “Little Brown Brothers” to “Queer Asian Wives”: Constructing the Asian Male Body.” Body Aesthetics. Ed. Sherri Irvin. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2016. 60-78. Print.

Irvin, Sherri, and Sheila Lintott. “Sex Objects and Sexy Subjects: A Feminist Reclamation of Sexiness.” Body Aesthetics. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2016. 299-317. Print.

 

 

Should Muslims Support LGTBQ?

This essay is dedicated to my friends: Dr. Andrew J. Pegoda, Trevor Boffone, and Josh Inocencio and to all the comrades in the LGTBQ Community. I also dedicate this essay to my Brothers and Sisters in Islam. Also it should go without saying, that this dedication extends as well as to those in the Muslim community who identify as Queer/Trans those who have come out and those who are too afraid to come out.  Assalaamu ‘Alaikum Wa Rahmatullahi Wa Barakatuh.

Should Muslims support Gays/Lesbians/Transgenders? Let’s get right into it; to answer this question in a few words, of course! This may come as a shock to some people but Gay/Lesbian/Trans people, like Muslims, are normal people. I should know cause I am Muslim. I’m not Gay, but I am Pro-LGTBQ rights. Most people freak out when they meet someone gay, lesbian, or trans, but there’s not really anything foreign about them except the obvious. In fact, I met a gay couple that had been together for more than 20 years and it blew my mind; but not for the reason why you’d think that. Considering that most marriages among heterosexual couples keep falling apart, it was surprising to hear a couple that actually valued their relationship. When I asked them for advice on marriage or relationships, they gave the exact same advice you’d get from any other straight couple: communication, trust, remember why you fell in love in the first place, and don’t have kids, cause they ruin everything (just kidding!) (I’m not kidding)  But based on that, it brings me to the point that, how are you gonna say that marriage is supposed to be only for a man and woman when men and women can’t even get their shit together? But moreover, why can’t Gay people just have rights?! Like basic Human rights. I have only had one bad experience with a gay person, and that was cause he was an asshole, not cause he was gay. He doesn’t deserve rights. (okay that one, I’m kidding) 

There’s a misconception among individuals who don’t understand, nor wish to, the struggles that Muslims share with the Gays. As a matter of fact, there are even Muslims that identify within the LGTBQ community, and I had no idea. I know that’s naive to say but it’s just one of those things you don’t think about but as soon as I heard it, I was like, “Oh, well, of course. Why wouldn’t there be?”

Since the origin of Islam, Muslims were a class of people that were outcast from society and the fact that members of the LGTBQ community would identify with Islam, is not very surprising. Despite the verses in the Qur’an that state Homosexuality is wrong or an abomination, as well as Conservative Muslims have been very vocal against same-sex marriage (as have Conservative Christians; especially Conservative Christians) there are still Muslims out there that are Queer and or Muslims. And while you have all those things, luckily there are Muslims out there that are extremely tolerant of this because it doesn’t matter.

And that’s where my take comes from; a friend of mine, Josh Inocencio, is currently writing an article for OutSmart Magazine, a Houston as well as LGTBQ Based magazine, about Gays and Lesbians supporting Muslims. I’ll be sure to include the link once it’s been published and everything. He asked to interview me as a Muslim born and raised in the United States, and someone who pretty much stopped practicing for 2-3 years but has been again since 2015 (but more on that another blog). Not to mention that I’m a fellow Writer/Student-Activist/Philosopher and Historian-in-the-Making 😉  Members of the LGTBQ community in support of Muslims is in my view, heartwarming. In fact, even before the implementation of the epic Muslim Ban, the hashtag #illwalkwithyou was especially being vocalized by members of the LGTBQ community.

Now fast-forward to a few months later, the Trump administration pushes through a Muslim ban, something “no one” (sarcastic quotes) saw coming that affected members of the LGTBQ community as well that identify as Muslim.  Now, if you’re Queer, you’re already putting yourself in a vulnerable position and then to accept a religious belief; and Islam, at such an epoch of heightened Islamophobia, you’re just asking for trouble. But in my eyes, they’re a Brother and/or Sister in Islam and Asalamualaikum.

The crux here is that beliefs are personal: we don’t need to be able to fully comprehend what the other’s beliefs are. I take the cultural relativist approach here and contend that you can think something is strange, sure but that’s all. The thing is, concepts that are foreign to people tend to be believed to be wrong. It’s juvenile when you really get down to it, the idea that: “I don’t understand it, so it must be wrong!” Who are we to tell others that because they are that Gay, they are an abomination because they follow Islam, Christianity, things they just hold dear; simple beliefs, are wrong! When we humans are imperfect ourselves.

That’s why we need to quit trying to focus on these little details and focus on the big issue. We are struggling together and we need to overcome, together. Still however, many communities of faith: there is a serious question of homophobia that needs to be confronted. And of course, the Muslim community, like most communities, have a gay community and some are hidden some are not. But we hope that one day, all faith will be able to move past that.

Perhaps it’s the utilitarian in me but it’s just that those that approach religion and their beliefs usually distinguish their beliefs from the sect they follow or their upbringing, they are happy with what they regard as the truth even though all religion is based on faith and not necessarily fact. By saying that, I may get in trouble because I’m implying that all religion is capable of being wrong but there’s certain things that religion cannot prove, they’re miracles. I’m not going to say I don’t believe in miracles, it’s just that there’s no way to prove it that cannot be true. Historically and scientifically, the stories don’t make sense.

Again, I identify as a Muslim. Non-Denominational. A practicing Muslim as well. The ring I wear on my index finger is not just words in Arabic, these words are the pledge one takes when they declare themselves a Muslim. I don’t believe in tattoos, so this is the next best thing for me. My beliefs are very personal and dear to me, and as a result, I don’t see the need to impose them on others, but this does not change Islam from becoming one of the fastest growing religions in the country; the only reason for that, I imagine is because it’s the only religion that tends to make sense (or at least it does for me).

The five basic pillars in Islam are set in stone: Pledge your belief that there is only one God, perform pilgrimage, fast on the days of Ramadan, five daily prayers, and give a very small portion of your paycheck to charity. I follow all five of the pillars in Islam (but I haven’t gone on Pilgrimage yet) The rest of the teachings in Islam, I cherry-pick here and there what works for me; I do consult Imams and whatnot to make sure I’m not doing anything that is too taboo. That being said I don’t drink, eat pork, smoke cigarettes, do drugs, etc. But it is because I won’t follow EVERYTHING that certain sects will acknowledge, that I won’t say I’m a very religious person. I most definitely and unhesitatingly, will take the side of my Muslim brothers and sisters in distress over in Syria, Aleppo, Palestine, and Kashmir.

When asked why I say non-denominational, it’s because in my experience, different sects have argued about religion for centuries and even condemned one another (like the most recent sect, Ahmadiyya) by stating “they’re not real Muslims.” One of my favorite things an Imam has stated during the Friday prayer khutbas (sermons) was how he abhorred how other Muslims will disrespectfully attempt to correct the behavior in how certain Muslims pray or stand or kneel (because they’re not doing it “correctly”) and the Imam encouraged us to, when faced with such a dilemma: “Our brothers and sisters in Islam are dying in Syria and Aleppo, and you’re worried about me?!”

I digress and conclude that there have been a long tradition of Muslims and Gays working together on progressive issues (that have to do with minorities and ensuring that we don’t get any infringement on our rights) when there was a Muslim ban, the LGTBQ community got involved,  so when there is an assault against LGTBQ the Muslims should be aware and educated so they can support them. Progressive Muslims need to be more vocal and active in their participation and I am not trying to impose my progressive beliefs, but I do implore conservative Muslims or Muslims in general, to open their hearts and their minds to understanding the struggles of our Queer brothers and sisters. The saying goes, the enemy of my enemy is my friend; please acknowledge that the LGTBQ community is far from our enemy, and it’s time we realize it. Our time seems limited with each day that passes and rather than bicker or find fault with one another based on who people love or what religion they practice, we need to find common ground. The main common feature we share, is that we are civilized human beings; so let’s act like it.

-Mr. Writer

Written on the 22nd of March, 2017 at 1:45 P.M. 

Click here for more information on organizations that support LGTBQ & Muslim

Lazy Aesthetics: Examining Nature at Rest

For Dr. Cynthia Freeland.

In January, I had a short assignment for my Aesthetics’ class where I had to talk about a photo I took that I considered beautiful in Nature. I posted the essay on my blog because I loved the picture that much and wanted to share what I wrote with my readers. For my mid-term assignment, I had the opportunity to revise as well as expand on my essay. Again, I enjoyed what I wrote so much that I decided to re-publish what I wrote as well as giving my essay a proper title. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it and most of all, I hope my professor likes it.

Ordinarily when one thinks of squirrels, they often picture a little furry animal that runs up and down trees or away from people that get too close. Or perhaps more morbidly, dead furry little animals lying on the highway. Strangely, I was leaving the University of Houston campus early on October of 2016 and stumbled across this one squirrel that, literally, stopped me in my tracks. Seeing squirrels on campus is not unusual; students must encounter at least two or three as they walk to their classes. One of the fascinating traits about this squirrel for me however, was that it was just lying down, not doing anything. Unlike most of the squirrels we see on campus or even off campus, it was not eating anything, running, nor was it dead (despite its appearance). Disregarding this, readers may still find fault with my picture or my attraction to this lounging squirrel. As a result, I will attempt to make the argument, throughout this paper, that such an image of this squirrel fits the criteria of what philosophers consider aesthetic in nature. Moreover, by drawing upon the works of certain philosophers and aestheticians, I will be able to confirm my assertions and simultaneously, make the reader more cognizant of the true beauty of the photo.

            Prior to taking my photo, I gazed at this squirrel for longer than I’d like to admit and did my best to make sure I did nothing to disturb it at the risk of any sudden movement that would cause the squirrel to be startled and leave the scene. Graciously though, I managed to get a photo of the little guy and when I went home, the photo resonated with me for a while but only humorously. That evening, thoughts were running through my head of pure satire, “what is this squirrel tired from? It’s not as if he has midterms or has little to no money in his checking account.”  I then sardonically pondered as to what he may be thinking about: “He looks so depressed, he probably found his squirrel girlfriend taking acorns from someone else and is gradually contemplating suicide.” After the laughter died down, I began to wonder if I had made a wise decision by photographing the event and simultaneously, questioned the very nature of my initial appreciation i.e., was the image I selected and emphasized on what I considered “aesthetic in nature”, actually so or had I gotten carried away with something that amused me?[1]

            In order to properly answer that question, one would have to look deeper into what is aesthetic, i.e., what makes something aesthetic. Eugene Hargrove argues that there are three categories (Beautiful, Picturesque and the Sublime)[2] that are served to define something as Aesthetic and thereby, measure their levels of attractiveness and differentiate that which is awe-inspiring and uninspiring. Among those three, we could argue that my photo would be considered “picturesque” because clearly, it was not something I could ignore. Although, because what makes the image of this squirrel picturesque is that to me, it was interesting and in Hargrove’s view, just because something is interesting, traditionally has never considered an object beautiful.[3]

            From Hargrove’s view, I am able to understand how things considered “interesting” may not merit the same qualities as something considered beautiful or even picturesque for that matter. I choose to reject that notion, however, because I believe there can be a way to appreciate something so simple as a squirrel lying down, in how it can be approached. Such a view is taken by Allen Carlson who contends in approaching aesthetics from a perspective that appreciates nature in a positive manner.[4] Carlson goes on to explain that the most appropriate way to appreciate nature is scientific knowledge; a good point indeed, however arguably in this case, scientific knowledge seems to be irrelevant in examining this photo since there does not seem to be anything of scientific value of a motionless squirrel. If anything, I argue that it must be appreciated by its simplicity in nature. This appeal is introduced to by Ralph Waldo Emerson who defines Nature as divinely created (not altered by human contact) and therefore, unconditionally beautiful.[5]

            Nevertheless, when I examine the photo it of course, still makes me laugh. But moreover, it makes me ponder at the fact that for this one brief moment, nature was at rest. This is not to say that people are not fully aware that animals are capable of sleeping; simply stated, one just never usually sees an animal at rest. This is excluding animals at the zoo, of course, because animals there are trapped and miserable. But here, out in the open fields and fake green grass on the University of Houston campus, nature needs a break.  Often times, when we watch nature documentaries or the like, it’s rare that we see an animal that is not doing anything at all. We are accustomed to seeing our pets asleep but the idea of any other animal just resting is arguably eerie. One could even make the criticism of my photo that, because it defies the tradition of ordinary squirrels in motion, it is not aesthetically good.[6]  Although Yuriko Saito will bring up the example of a rotting carcass and state that such an act is nature in balance, but because its appearance is shuddering, some would not regard it as aesthetic.[7] Saito goes on to echo such a feeling when we discuss cockroaches, fleas, and mosquitoes that present a challenge to us to find attractive.[8] My problem with that however, is that it is not difficult to contest the appearance of a squirrel and compare it to how one views a cockroach; they are too different and only the latter could cause the most masculine individual to stand up on a chair to avoid contact.

            That being said, I argue that finding an appeal in this photo serves as part of the “revolution” in traditional aesthetics.[9] We could find this assertion in close examination of Sheila Linnot’s view in how aesthetic tastes may differ overtime.[10] While her claims are more focused in terms of approaching an aesthetic appeal in an ecologically friendly manner, we can still relate this claim to the motionless squirrel. Specifically, in how easily avoidable it is for most people to walk past a squirrel, unfazed, regardless of its movement or lack thereof. A reason for this could be because squirrels run rampant at the University campus or encounter them so much in our daily lives that they have lost their luster. At the same time however, I would dismiss that by mentioning how anytime one witnesses a dog (either poking their head out of a car window or walking around a neighborhood) a great deal of attention is placed by people who may even have one waiting for them at home.

            It is for reasons such as that and more, that I emphasize why my photo should be regarded as aesthetic in nature and respectfully dismiss any notions to state otherwise. Granted, my photo is unable to rival against other picturesque photos that some would perhaps view with a more artful eye. Nevertheless, it seems incomprehensible if one were to regard something as ugly in nature. Taking a lesson from Aldo Leopold, human judgement of nature is purely based on how it makes us feel; “it does not flow naturally from nature itself; it is not directly oriented to nature on nature’s own terms; nor is it well informed by the ecological and evolutionary revolutions in natural history.”[11] Therefore, any judgement or in this case, criticism of an image in nature is deemed trivial as nature’s purpose, is not to serve us in any way.

A similar connection can be made in concluding my defense of this squirrel photo.  Prior to my arrival and taking this photo of the squirrel, its existence and objectives in life carried out were not given by me. My curiosity peaked at the sight because of my love for nature (in the words of Emerson) “I am the lover of uncontained and immortal beauty…I find something more dear and connate than in streets or villages.”[12] The ultimate intention of my photo is to be Avant-garde i.e., beautiful in an idiosyncratic function. A squirrel at rest is meant to bare the same manifestation like that of a sad clown. Of course we are aware that just because the person dressed as a clown, who is meant to symbolize fun and excitement, is a human being underneath all the makeup and puffy clothing; capable of emotions such as sadness, anger, confusion. Because such a sight is seldom seen, it is therefore, inconsiderable. And when one does encounter something that is perceived as original or unusual, it is understandably charming and in a very outlandish sort of way, aesthetic.  

-Ahmed H. Sharma  

Originally  Written on the 17th of March, 2017 at  5:38 P.M. 

 

Works Cited:

Carlson, Allen, Sheila Lintott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Aldo Leopold, Yuriko Saito, and Eugene Hargrove. Nature, Aesthetics, and Environmentalism: From Beauty to Duty. New York: Columbia UP, 2008. Print.

 

[1] “The problem [in Aesthetics’ of nature] is what and how to select, emphasize and group and what and how to compose for appropriate appreciation.” Allen Carlson, Nature, Aesthetics and Environmentalism, P.119

[2] Carlson (Eugene Hargrove), P. 33

[3] “Traditionally, it has been held that interest is subservient to beauty, an element which has to be present in a beautiful object, but which is never considered an aesthetic category in its own right.” Ibid, P.35

[4] “Appropriate aesthetic appreciation is that appreciation of an object that reveals what aesthetic qualities and value it has.” (Carlson) P.225

[5] Carlson (Ralph Waldo Emerson) P.49-53

[6] Carlson, P.229-231

[7] Carlson (Yuriko Saito) P.242-243

[8] Ibid P.245

[9] “Revolution in the aesthetics of nature often takes place when people start appreciating the parts of nature formerly regarded as aesthetically negative.” Ibid P.238

[10] Carlson (Sheila Linott) P.386-389

[11] Carlson (Aldo Leopold), P. 109

[12] Carlson (Emerson) P.50