Does History ACTUALLY Repeat Itself?

This essay was inspired by my beautiful and supportive fiancé, Emily.

A couple days ago, my lady was in town and she told me she heard this quote on NPR and was curious what my response on it would be. In all honesty, I tried looking for the quote albeit not very vigorously so you’ll have to bear with the paraphrased quote. Suffice it to say, it led to a lovely discussion between us. This quote remained in my conscious for some time now, clearly, and in combination with my Theories & Methods class I’m taking, I just had to write about it in the style I most enjoy: Informally.

“History doesn’t repeat itself, human nature doesn’t change.” – Unknown

Indeed, both are most black and white statements. However, if one were to closely examine each allegation, interesting and informative scholarship would be found. Most significantly, perhaps is Michel-Rolph Trouillot’s Silencing the Past: Power and Production of History. In the book, readers will take a glance at what historians actually do in their research; that is, to examine traces of history and change things if necessary due to contextual vigor.  To add on to an entry a friend of mine wrote in his blog, History is a science almost. It’s not simply remembering dates; in fact, it’s not really that important. What is important however, is what happened around those times but moreover, to examine why and how things happened. That’s why if you ever ask a Historian about why the Civil War happened, they will give you this long ass answer because it is a complex issue that can’t be resolved in one answer. Of course, you could most definitely say it was Slavery. It was. Ultimately, everything that caused the bloodiest war in United States history, was because of Slavery and whether it should be abolished.

The thing is, a lot of people seem to have this understanding that History is black and white. That we all share the same attitudes on history, but in reality, interpretation is what separates and even divides us as historians. Take for example the case of Palestine and Israel. For many years, the debate surrounding the question of Palestine was if Palestinians were kicked out of Israel to make way for Zionist (not Jewish) settlers. Some scholars argued that the Palestinians left on their own accord, or there weren’t any at all i.e., the land was vacant. The latter half contend that Palestinians were forced to leave and had 48 hours to vacate their homes. That was the debate back in the 1980’s.  Currently it is generally, or at least arguably, agreed that Palestinians were coerced into evacuating but the reasons debated are because Palestinians were victims of ethnic cleansing or because they were a threat to Israeli settlers. The point of this story is not to spark controversy, but to examine that the production of history changes with time.

 For one to contend that human nature remains the same, it then opens another can of worms because it begs the question: what is human nature? And this is a total stream of conscious essay so forgive me if I’m leaving out a bunch of details, but the two arguments of how human nature are for one, savage by nature. And the other, that humans are born without sin but may develop bad habits. It isn’t easy to pick out of those two, especially because contemporary scholarship argues that there are some people that have neurological impairments that cause their inability to recognize bad habits. In other words, there are assholes and there are psychopaths. Assholes will lie, cheat, and steal from you because they just don’t care. Whereas a psychopath will destroy a person’s phone if they’re speaking too loudly on it and because they aren’t able to psychologically “ignore” the negative thoughts in their heads, feel absolutely no remorse. Thereby proving once again, that these sort of scholarly thoughts on human nature will change with time as well. 

Indeed, these various interpretations to come about will present a great disconnect with previous thought, therefore one could argue that history doesn’t necessarily repeat itself. History just repeatedly plays a role in how our thoughts on particular epochs shift. It’s an idea, and History as an idea, is produced by people with power and those with a greater voice like let’s say: films, can influence more people because they tend to be more popular than an actual book written by a historian whose work has been accepted by a committee of other historians. The good news is though that, people with power can lose it and people who don’t have power can gain it. You can watch a film about The Alamo and believe Davy Crockett and the others were heroic martyrs of their time, but then along comes a historian who shatters the glass case, like the iconoclasts we are, by telling you, “actually, these guys were just pirates who sought land because of manifest destiny and to expand their slave territory.” Therefore, History is never static; or as my professor so eloquently said it: “the history of history has a history.”

-Mr. Writer

Written on the 19th of September, 2017 at 9:25 P.M. 

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Loyalty and Slavery, Is there a Difference?

This is such a broad question to ask, of whether or not loyalty to something signifies that one is subservient in the ideological sense. If I am going to swear my allegiance to my country, does this mean I am forbidden from criticizing it? If I were to do so, does that mean my status as a “loyal citizen” is tarnished?

I am strangely reminded of what it means to be a “good child”. If your parents have taught you never to speak rudely to others, but then someone disrespects them, do you not have the right to raise your voice at the offender? Or does that make you an ill-mannered child. I’m going to quit asking questions now and try to provide some answers. 

If the reader may recall, I wrote an essay on what it means to be a “true” (whatever it is you believe in) and scoffed at the incredulousness of how one must adhere to certain stereotypes that another may have impressed upon them. For example, am I an American if I am born and raised in this country? I sure am! Now, am I a “real” American if I am a different skin color? I better be. However, that’s not the case at least from the outsider’s perspective.

Like any non-anglo individual, I get asked where I am from. And my first answer, Houston, TX, is not sufficient enough, despite it being the correct answer. Before, the follow-up question would be: “Where are you really from?” or “What is your nationality?” Finally (and thankfully) it became, “where are your PARENTS from?” when the latter was asked, I’d gladly oblige: Father is from Guyana and Mother is from Pakistan.

It’s not unusual for me anymore to be asked where I get my “exotic” skin color from. When you’ve been asked by numerous people as much as I have, even by people who coincidentally are the same race as I am, you become immune to it. I will admit, I’ll meet another brown or black person and I’ll wonder where they’re from originally as well. The ones who share my experience of being born in America tend to laugh with me when we can’t help but ask the stupid question of where we’re “really from”.

My issue is not with that however, instead, my argument is that despite me being the son of two immigrants (who are now U.S. Citizens) does it mean that I am not granted the same rights as individuals who don’t appear to be immigrants? Even my fiancé’s parents were born in this country, but one would have just assumed they were born and raised in Mexico. To which I argue, is there any problem with that?

As a Historian (in-the-making) I’ve noticed in my studies that immigrants tend to be a huge problem for individuals in most countries during their developments. Everyone seems to hate foreigners coming into their land, but no one seemed to have an issue with colonists evangelizing and/or taking away traditional values from the lands they go to. For example, not many people are aware of what Guyana is or where it’s located. To put it simply, a majority of the population are of East-Indian descent but are unable to speak Hindi, (save a few words) due to British threats of speaking any other language aside from English. But people in the United States, are afraid of people speaking any other country aside from English because they feel threatened that their language will no longer be the majority spoken?

I know I just jumped from one country to the next, but the United States inherited a lot of their behavior from the British despite the United States wanting to do things their own way.

I’ve digressed more than I’d have liked to so I will go back to my original point: If I am loyal to my country, does that mean I must abandon my roots? Personally, I’ve felt a great desire to learn more about my roots and the history of that country regardless of never having visited once. I enjoy living in the country I do and have a great deal of respect for the law in this land. That being said, I do not feel the need to express that by getting annoyed every time someone wonders where I am from. Let’s face it, at some point in the conversation, I’ll have to explain where I get my dark, brown-ness from.

But that opens another can of worms for me. On my father’s side, my grandparents are originally Indian. And Pakistan was once a part of India. Therefore, could I just save face and say I’m Indian? I refuse to for political reasons. I won’t elaborate on that either. Do I say, I’m Caribbean? I do. And the reaction from people who find out Guyanese people speak with a Jamaican-esque accent is MARVELOUS! As for Pakistani, the roots for that gets more complex because Pakistan saw a plethora of foreigners in their country.

More to the point, by having these roots and choosing to immerse myself in the cultures of those countries, I can see how one would perceive that I was not proud to be American. But to that I ask, what is cultural to America? America has always been a melting pot of different cultures. In fact, when I think of how one might imagine how a Texan looks, they would probably picture a cowboy. Cowboys are not native to America at all though, they are Mexican. Which is why it’s surprising how Mexicans in those old western movies were portrayed as lazy or inept. Even the hamburger is German. America gets credit for creating the Cheeseburger but, is that really something worth celebrating? Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely love Cheese. But sooner or later, someone was gonna try to put cheese on a burger. Do Indians get credit for putting Cheese in Spinach? If not, they should. Palak paneer is AMAZING! 

At the end of the day, if you check my Birth Certificate, it says I’m born in Houston, Texas. Therefore, I classify myself as Houstonian. I’m currently living in San Antonio, and it’s okay here so far. It’s not “my” city. But, that’s just it. My city isn’t perfect either. No city is perfect. It’s insane for one to say which city or even country, is better than the other. And by me saying that, it doesn’t mean I’m not a loyal Houstonian. Moreover, I don’t need to prove how Houstonian I am. Such a sentiment should be echoed by others who feel afraid to say how they truly feel. I know how I am as a person, i.e., I know my flaws, it doesn’t mean I hate who I am.

Therefore, I feel like Loyalty towards an ideology or a belief, is almost interconnected with slavery. Even as a Muslim, I’m inclined to adhere to the principles of my religion. This doesn’t mean that Islam is not open to interpretation in how I read or follow those principles. Islam means Submission; to which, I take to mean Submission to a higher power because we need guidance, therefore, I believe in the basic tenants of Islam, without having to feel pressure of being a “good Muslim”.

This is not to say that I condemn those who are loyal to their ideologies, I actually applaud them. I do however, condemn those who blindly show loyalty to their ideologies and reject criticism. In a “perfect world”, if we weren’t meant to accept criticism, why would we strive for better things? More importantly, if we were indeed perfect, why would we have rebellions?

-Mr. Writer

Written on the 8th of August, 2017 at 12:05 A.M. 

 

 

Why I Am a Muslim

My sincere apologies for the delay in writing this. I was supposed to publish this after the end of Ramadan, but I got caught up with other things. Please excuse me and Eid Mubarak!

The fact that I have to explain why I believe what I believe is really annoying. This is an issue that plagues Muslims worldwide, where we constantly have to be spokesmen for Islam but contrary to popular belief, not all Muslims think the same. And for some reason, everyone (including other Muslims) love to judge us based on how we practice or don’t practice. It’s like that scene in the movie Selena:

Image result for we gotta prove to the mexicans how mexican we are, and we gotta prove to the americans how

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in a situation where non-Muslims have judged me personally for something and exclaimed, “that’s not what Muslims do” and such a statement will be echoed by other Muslims and say “you’re not a ‘true’ Muslim.” But how do we define what a Muslim is? Because I am trying to make this essay as simple as possible (and because I’m no scholar of Islamic Studies) for the remainder of the essay, Muslim will be defined as simply: a follower of Islam.

Now, let’s try to break that down. How does one follow Islam?

There are several Muslims in the world, and naturally, their way of practice can be arbitrary. Sure, they may share in common certain pillars of Islam i.e., the belief that there is one God, but major (or even trivial) differences based on historical as well as scriptural interpretation hinder any chance of unanimity. The two major sects of Islam: Sunni and Shi’a contain schools of thought within themselves that only exacerbate the disagreements among Muslims. So what I’m trying to say is, there’s no answer that justifiably defines, respectively, what a Muslim is or what they believe.  Moreover, Islam is a religion that welcomes diversity, therefore it is challenging to even determine what features a Muslim must adhere too i.e., not many Muslim women wear their hijab or scarves and not all Arabs or South Asians are Muslim.

Prior to the events of 9/11, indifference was the watchword for people in the United States. There was no reason to be afraid or even worry about Muslims and if one thought about Muslim, they probably thought of Malcolm X or Muhammad Ali, who converted due to the teachings from the Nation of Islam, which some will consider more of a political movement as opposed to a religious school of thought. A similar sentiment is felt towards Ahmadiyya Muslims, like Mahershala Ali, whose beliefs I personally am scarcely familiar with. After the horrific attacks on the World Trade Center, it was said that the attackers were followers of Islam, and people wanted to know: What is Islam? And why do its followers hate us?

With Islamophobia on the rise, many Muslims rushed to put out this metaphorical fire on the effigy of Islam as a religion of Terror. Ordinary Muslims, meaning not Scholars of Islam, had to serve as spokesmen for why Islam didn’t promote terrorism and reassure them, we were not the enemy. Furthermore, some even tried to learn about Islam  As a young child, I experienced threats from classmates myself until I was 15 and was surrounded by intellectuals at a high school who, although they were ignorant of Islam, they didn’t seem to care much and that indifference carried out until my sophomore year.

It was March 2010 that I started to read basic teachings of religion and started teaching myself how to pray and accepted Islam. I stopped eating pork and prayed five times a day but wasn’t reading the Qur’an nor any other books. Essentially, I was just going by faith but still maintained respect for everyone who didn’t share my beliefs and when having to serve as a spokesman for my religion, I became an apologist because that’s all I knew.

When I started my first semester at University, I started drinking and stopped praying because I refused to be a “hypocritical” Muslim, who tried to hide his party-lifestyle and still go to the Mosque on Fridays. I ended up also just walking away from Islam because there were so many things I started reading on philosophy, ethics, and Islamophobia on the rise combined with terroristic attacks made me frustrated with having to constantly apologize for things I wasn’t even responsible for. I lived this way for a few years and oddly, I would get criticisms from Non-Muslims for walking away from my religion because they felt I was a traitor. I tried to keep my apostasy a secret because I was told that the punishment for leaving Islam was death.

Having come back to Islam now, I condemn such critique of Islam by individuals, whose aim is to destroy the religion of Islam off the face of the earth. During my time away from Islam, I didn’t condemn Islam or my lack of faith for profit or to seek sympathy from people simply because I had a bad experience with how the religion was brought up to me. In fact, religion was not forced on me at all. Another reason for me leaving had to do, not with Islam, but with Muslims actually. I will elaborate more on this soon but I don’t want to digress more than I already have. My overall point is that certain writers and critics of Islam, usually do not have a deep understanding on Islam; some will even argue that they’ve only read segments of the Qur’an or have never read it at all. My focus however, is on the critics, who are generally apostates, that tend to attack Islam from an emotional point of view; i.e., their upbringing towards Islam was one that was forced upon them and that is not the religion’s fault, it’s the environment and the ones who forced him who are to blame. Islam, like any religion, is a set of language and symbols that people identify with in order to feel at peace with the world and who they are; to have answers to broad questions and find peace within themselves so that life does not seem meaningless. It’s just a belief. However again, like any religion, there are extremists and people who will try to bastardize scripture because they are looking for political and/or selfish gain. And it is up to ordinary Muslims, such as myself, to speak out against THOSE kind of Muslims.

Critics like Ibn Warraq, Why I Am Not A Muslim, models itself after Bertrand Russell’s Why I Am Not A Christian, in its style of explaining why they have the beliefs they have but both authors admittedly, are not scholars of Religion. Ibn Warraq makes this confession in his Acknowledgements and in his Preface, talks about how he was brought up learning Islam by learning how to read the Qur’an in Arabic, with no clear understanding or explanation of the words in the Qur’an. Such an upbringing is not uncommon for young children brought up by their Muslim parents. Nevertheless, this author decides in his adult life to abandon his teachings of religious dogma, which is fine. He is an adult and therefore he can do what he wants. Warraq then goes on to explain his incendiary feeling towards liberal apologists who claim to be speaking on behalf of “all muslims”. Given that Warraq has already revealed to have Islam “forced upon him”, it’s as if he’s assuming the role of being a representative for all Muslims. Perhaps I’m mistaken? Then why, pray tell, did he write an entire book talking about how Muslims are brought up and on the origins of Islam. Warraq does do justice to the reader by explicitly saying he is not a scholar and shamelessly admits utilizing only secondary sources in his work. Therefore, I dismiss any sort of “praise” for this book being “well-researched”.

A similar sentiment is placed on Ali Sina, who wrote Understanding Muhammad, he describes Islam as a violent religion and the Prophet Muhammad is (among other things) a Psychopath. And its quite clear within the first few pages of his book, that his aim is to eradicate Islam as a religion. I’m not sure what kind of fucked up experience this guy had with Islam, but it must have been graphic considering he’s made it his career to talk shit about it and more so, he claims to be a Christian but nowhere in Sina’s biography does it claim that he’s a licensed Psychologists or Scholar of Psychopaths. Therefore, I can make a similar claims about Sina but that doesn’t mean it’s true. And on the other hand, I have a platform to say them so why couldn’t I? Because, I am not one to stoop to people’s low level.  In addition to Sina, there is Nabeel Qureshi, a convert of Islam to Christianity whose popular book: Seeking Allah Finding Jesus, Qureshi discusses his approach to Christianity after being “such a devout Muslim”. I won’t tear too much into Qureshi because I heard he has stomach cancer, we will be praying for him that he makes a healthy and speedy recovery.

Where he and Ali Sina correlate, is that they both essentially say Islam is bad, Christianity is good; Bible is Peace and Qur’an is Violent. Here’s the thing: everyone has this belief that in Islam, the punishment for leaving the religion is death. My personal opinion: I don’t think so. I really doubt that people automatically find out if you’ve left the religion, they will kill you. Now, if you make a big fuss about it, they won’t be happy. And that’s not an unnatural feeling. How many Christian families do you see jumping for joy when they hear their kid is an atheist? That’s what I thought.

Oh Timothy, you no longer believe in God? Well, that’s okay. We will still keep following the word of Jesus Christ, our lord and savior because that’s what he would want us to.

Get the fuck outta here.

I’m not saying we should condemn people for walking away from their religion. Nor am I advocating for people TO leave their religion. My whole point is, beliefs are personal, they don’t need to be shared with the world. If my brother-in-law divorces my sister, then fine, whatever. But if he then proceeds to harass the family, write books and articles talking ill about her, I’m gonna want to kill him. Does that make me a radical sibling or just someone who really cares about their big sister? Therefore, why is this any different than a religious individual who has murderous thoughts about killing someone who is being a dick. Again, I’m not condoning, I’m empathizing. In the words of Chris Rock talking about the O.J. Simpson Trial, “I’m not saying he should’ve killed her, but I understand.”

It was the judgement from so many people left and right by Muslims and Non-Muslims one can potentially receive either if they change religions, or walk away from religions that made me just walk away from it all at the age of 18. I got tired of being an apologist, I got tired of people judging me for not eating pork, and I got tired of Muslims being hypocrites in how they practiced (or didn’t practice) but were still judging me for how I practiced. Finally, at the age of 21, I was brought to a mosque by a girl, who eventually became my beloved fiancé, for a lecture she wanted to attend before the first night of Ramadan. I felt so out of place at the mosque, having not stepped foot in one for 3 years. I sat outside, alone, thinking to myself about everything going on in my life. I wasn’t in a good place financially or emotionally. I decided to go inside and perform wudu, the purifying ritual a muslim does before prayer and I felt clean, and immediately, I was transported back into my 18 year old mindset; before all the bullshit, before I left home and went off to University to fuck up my first and second year of my undergrad career, before I started questioning things, and before I started just hating everyone and everything. Later, I came across a gentleman who was my former Sunday school teacher. He liked me a lot and I really liked him because he wasn’t judgmental and he taught me how to pray and his genuine positive attitude, made me look up to him. He came up to me and said, “Asalamualaikum! You’re back in town? How have you been? Will you be volunteering to teach at the Sunday School now that you’re back?” I’ll admit, I was afraid when my mom found out I left Islam about what she would say, but I was ashamed, at what he might think of how everything he taught me, I just discarded.

Since then, I slowly began the transition into coming back into Islam. I am reading the Qur’an (in English) and the more I read it, the more it makes sense to me. I have read the bible a bit and I have a copy of the Bhagvad Gita, but honestly, Islam just seems like the right religion for me. Not because it’s more true or anything, it just makes me happy. And its something I identify with. It’s a personal belief that is inexplicable and moreover, I don’t need to explain it because it’s not anyone’s business why I am a Muslim. Moreover, I’m Non-Denominational Muslim, in that, I claim no loyalty to any particular sect of Islam, because I feel that people tend to have arguments as a result of these differences in how they practice.

I honestly cannot fathom why other Muslims are fighting one another simply because they do not share the same interpretation. And that is another thing, when people say Islam is a violent religion and they try to cherry pick quotes from the Qur’an. All scripture is a matter of interpretation; “we come as human beings with our pre-conceptions, prejudices, experiences, and ‘pre understandings.’ Our minds and hearts are already full of concepts and ideas…that we bring to the text before we even open its pages and pronounce its words.” (Dr. Scott Siraj Al-Haqq Kugle, Progressive Muslims, P.203)

Also, I consider myself a Progressive Muslim, as opposed to a Moderate Muslim, because I feel that Progressive Muslims show respect to the classical Muslim thought but leave room for contemporary interpretation. Furthermore, I believe that Islam is in no need of reformation, if anything its Muslims and Shari’ah Law (created by Muslims after the death of the prophet) that need to be put in check. According to Amina Wadud in her essay on American Muslim Identity in the book: Progressive Muslims, she states that Malcolm X, and subsequently other black Muslims that turned to Sunni Islam, did so with the mindset that Islam and Muslims were colorblind. I have my reservations about the latter statement. Surely, I get a lot of compliments from elder Muslim ladies that my fiancé is fair-skinned and resembles a Pashtun (an ethnic group in Pakistan that is generally fair-skinned and well-respected, arguably because they are fair-skinned). Never mind that she is actually Mexican (and a Tejana/Chicana orgullosa!)  but also, the kind of condemnation against other dark-skinned South Asians in general, make me reluctant to say Muslims are colorblind. Muslims are still human beings with flaws nonetheless, so I digress.

There are also Muslims that pray differently or don’t practice at all but still identify as Muslim or will protest when people will proclaim Islam to be a violent religion. The honesty that stems from these individuals is respectable. I do however, have a problem with Muslims that will not practice Islam but judge other Muslims on how they p\actice or try to serve as a representative of Islam, when they clearly don’t believe in it. I don’t have an issue with anyone else worshipping a different way.

“O disbelievers, I do not worship what you worship. Nor are you worshippers of what I worship. Nor will I be a worshipper of what you worship. Nor will you be worshippers of what I worship. For you is your religion, and for me is my religion.” (Qur’an: 109; Surat Al-Kafirun)

-Mr. Writer

Written on the 5th of July, 2017 at 1:07 A.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

 

 

 

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

“Go %&*@ Yourself”

Dedicated to my nephew, Gabriel. Thank you for your patience. 

In the short years that I have been an adult in this life, I have noticed that it is not uncommon to see people you utterly dislike so much that you just wish that they would stop breathing. This is hyperbolic speaking of course, but it is still true, for all intents and purposes. There are just certain people (WE feel) that just don’t need to be alive or be around us because having them around would endanger our surroundings.

That is why there are certain phrases one would proclaim at, and let’s be civil here, an untouchable.I saw Louis C.K. in July of this year and one of the things he said was Suicide is an excellent way to get rid of all your problems. I mean, really think about it.

“How do I get out of paying my taxes?”

“Kill yourself.”

He even went on to say that’s why he hates Vampires cause all they do is complain because of how long they lived, it’s like “you know what? Go out in the sun then if your life is so shitty”. Even Bill Burr jokingly stated how when he thinks about suicide it’s mostly for outrageous things like when he promised his girlfriend he’d make a pie for Thanksgiving but was just saying it so he could finish watching his game or whatever. And when Thanksgiving finally came around the corner he was like, “OH SHIT, Now what do I do? I guess I could jump really high and hope my head hits the ceiling fan”.

Even saying the phrase, “Kill Yourself”, to someone presents the same kind of laughter and joy one gets by saying, “Go Fuck Yourself”.

“Hey, can I have a bite of your sandwich?”

“Umm, no. Kill yourself?”

I would be remiss however, if I were to not include the gravity of the nature that is Suicide. Of course, Suicide, is a big deal and not something to be toyed about. It is terrible for someone to take their own life without realizing that there is so much out there to live for and would be selfish if they didn’t consider the feelings of their loved ones.

My point is just the way we insult each other is fascinating. And by saying to someone, “Kill yourself” is indescribable. Just like whenever we shout at cars while we’re in traffic; we’re aware the other person cannot hear us, if they did we’d be frightened to death, but it still feels good to let it out.

Then there’s the counter-argument of how we shouldn’t say mean things to people because “if we don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it at all”, by that logic then we’d all hold in our anger and slowly contemplate actually murdering people that upset us and anyone whose ever worked in customer service will attest to that.

Image result for meme okay, i'll just go fuck myself

Reverting back to my earlier statement of the phrase, “Kill Yourself”, I discovered this gem of a phrase from my 14 year old nephew and where he heard it from, I have no clue. Regardless, the phrase is hilarious because one expresses that you are an inconvenience in their life and it would be a lot better if you just went away. Permanently. Of course, they don’t mean that, just like when someone says, “Burn in Hell”, what we mean is that they hope that when you die, and go to hell you’ll suffer. It’s how we express ourselves. And that by itself, is fascinating. I wonder how these insults are coined. Certain words or phrases originate from places that we don’t truly understand and when we learn it, our outlook on the word may differ.

Perfect example: the word “Faggot.” It’s actual definition is a bundle of sticks (originated in Britain, with the spelling, “Fagot”) but is also a very derogatory word to describe a Homosexual individual. Another way to describe the flamboyancy of a Homosexual, is to call them “flaming” or “flamer”, so if one wanted to really insult someone that is gay/queer/transgender, they’d call them a “Flaming Faggot”; again, very offensive and should not be said. Going back to the definition, this bundle of sticks, from a very low grade wood, that would be tied up in old times (I’m not exactly sure of the year) and used to make a fire, where they’d burn homosexuals in the fire. Thus the term, “Flaming Faggot”, is born. Now that you know the story, and you hear someone say it, you can be extra angry and tell them to go kill themselves.

I tell this story not because it is interesting and depressing, but because we often say things we have scarce if any knowledge of what we say. It’s not until we actually open our minds and listen, that we actually learn things. And it’s the same thing with insults, we have to really be careful how we say certain things. My nephew can tell me to kill myself but I know he’s just teasing cause he’s a good kid. Just like how Frank Sinatra was able to get away with saying racial slurs to Sammy Davis Jr. cause they were excellent friends and if anyone else treated Sammy differently because of his race, he wouldn’t stand for it. And if I’m not mistaken, certain people in Boston or New England will say “Go Fuck Yourself’ and it’s the equivalent to “Yeah, whatever”.

It’s slang that really just interests me. We have come so far in the world with technology and everything, but no one has stopped to really appreciate how we have grown with the phrases we use to say something is cool, dope, fly, or fire. Nor has anyone pondered at how we’ve gone from, “Be quiet” to “Shut the fuck up”. Or most importantly from, “Drop dead!” to “Kill yourself!”

-Mr. Writer

Written on the 5th of November, 2016 at 4:15 P.M.