Sajed Bhandari

America, Books, Cooking, Muslims and some other things

Archive for October 2010

Book Review: The Rise of Islamic Capitalism

Book Review: The Rise of Islamic Capitalism by Vali Nasr

Sajed Bhandari

I had a chance to read this short book by Vali Nasr last week.  The original title was Forces of Fortune but the current title is The Rise of Islamic Capitalism.  As has been the case with the book reviews, I’m going to keep this entry short.

The book reads quickly, written for a general audience and is very well structured in theory and the case studies.  Nasr’s book identifies the strengths of sharia-compliant finance, its shortcomings and its limitations.  Nasr also addresses the emergence of a vibrant and liberal capitalism in the Muslim world that will address the shortcomings of sharia-compliant markets.  His thesis seems to be that the rise of the a pious and modern middle class will be a formidable market and businessmen and politicians alike should pay attention to this emerging market.  Nasr provides a critique of Khomeini’s Islamist revolution as well as its opposite force, Kemalist revolutions in Turkey and Pakistan.

Overall, very good book.  Definitely read it.


Written by sajedbhandari

October 28, 2010 at 5:38 pm

Book Review Kennedy

Book Review: Kennedy by Ted Sorensen

Sajed Bhandari

This entry is going to be short.

John F. Kennedy has been an obsession of mine for a long time.  I remember my parents speaking about him and my teachers teaching me about him.  The man faced so many obstacles in his path to the apex of American politics.  Opponents cited his youth as signs of ineptitude, his religion as a source of unknown loyalties.  Yet, John F. Kennedy broke through these obstacles, became the youngest and first (and only) Catholic President of the United States, pushed for historic civil rights legislation and was gunned down by an assassin’s bullet before completing his first term.  How can I not be obsessed with this man?  A few months ago I went to the bookstore in my old neighborhood to look for a biography on JFK.  I looked through the biography section and came across at least fifteen books.  The problem was that each of the books was about his death and the aftermath.  I asked the lady at the information booth if they had any books on his life (as I was sure he did more than get in the way of a bullet).  She looked around and could not find any.  Months later, I went to Minnesota and was brought to the Mall of America.  I walked around and found myself at the bookstore there. I looked around for nothing in particular and came across a book entitled, Kennedy.  That was it.  Just one word.  Nothing about his death, nothing about conspiracies or about his assassination.  Just the man’s last name.

I bought the book and read through it rather quickly.  Ted Sorensen was a close friend and counsel to President Kennedy throughout his life and administration.  Sorensen says more than once that this book was the memoir that President Kennedy was not able to write.  Of the seven hundred pages or so in the book, I took away two main aspects of President Kennedy’s life; his pursuit of excellence and his firm belief that politics should and can be the most honorable of professions.  These two themes, with the addition of “vigor” seemed to have motivated all of JFK’s public actions.

Read it.

Written by sajedbhandari

October 18, 2010 at 3:57 pm

On Democracy: Accountability and the Limits of Freedom in a Democratic State

On Democracy: Accountability and the Limits of Freedom in a Democratic State

Sajed Bhandari

I have always been interested in politics for as far as I can remember.  As a child, my mom and dad would often talk about politics (mother growing up in a left-leaning Awami household and father serving as a right-leaning, Independent MP in Bangladesh).  I guess neither my addiction to cable news nor my majoring in economics and politics were conscious decisions; they were both expressions of my interests growing up.  Reading about historical political figures, I was enamored with the power, the prestige, the legacy and ability to live beyond death that accompanied their positions in government.  But then in high school, I came across a saying of the Second Caliph, Umar, who said, “The leader of a people is the servant of that people”.  I assume he meant that the leader is bound to serve his people and not overpower them; that the trust given to him by God and by the people required of him to be enslaved by the limitations of public office and the needs of his constituents.

A year ago, I had a chance to work as a campaign assistant on a local campaign in NY.  I have also been working on a few Democratic campaigns (statewide this time) this election season, although I am not putting in nearly as many hours as I did last year because of graduate school and what not.  In any case, over the last year I have been re-thinking the nature of power that comes with holding public office.  Freedom as mentioned in the title and for the purposes of this entry is not the freedom allotted to the governed, rather, it is the individual freedom of the candidate and/or elected official in a democratic state.  Working on various campaigns since I have graduated from college, I came to see all the demands and limitations that are placed on those who run for office.  Running for office forces an individual to forfeit many of his freedoms in search of political power, this being the fundamental trade off and every person wishing to run for office needing to understand it.  Candidates cannot dress as they want to, speak as they want to or act as they want to.  Every public appearance is preceded by decisions of what color suit to wear, where to put the lapel pin, staying silent about issues that are controversial and often speaking about issues that the candidate may not particularly care about.  Many of the individual freedoms we hold as sacred are taken away from candidates in a democratic state; and that is the only way a democracy can function.

Limitations on individual freedoms of candidates exist and are essential because we hold those who seek power accountable.  We elect them, we pay them and because of this, they serve us.  They are our employees.   American politicians in general, and Democratic Party candidates in particular are under constant scrutiny for what they say in public.  Thanks to the media, we are able to hold them accountable for their statements.  This forces many of them to either sincerely change their views about certain groups within their constituency (best case scenario) or keep their views to themselves if they have any real hope of obtaining public office (worst case scenario).  Because of this culture of accountability, most politicians cannot openly denounce all Muslims as terrorists, homosexuals as undermining family values, and Jews as secretly running America and the world.  The far-right protesters and other extremists (Muslim and Evangelical included) can get away with holding signs and speaking openly about such ridiculous views because they are usually not the ones running for office.  Now, there is an assumption being made.  The assumption is that the vast majority of the people will not vote in extremists of any kind, thus preventing extremists from holding office.  This assumption seems to be undermined by certain Tea Party candidates, but overall, as the optimist that I am, I do think the vast majority of the educated electorate realizes extremism is not compatible with democratic governance.

In conclusion, I understand Umar’s statement in the following manner.  Political office is rife with limitations on individual freedoms.  These limitations on individual freedoms exist because there is social pressure to conform to the wishes of the electorate.  This social pressure is accountability in action, reminding the politicians that they are public servants, not masters of the public in a democratic state.  Politicians and leaders do have the power, prestige and legacy.  But forfeiting certain individual freedoms is the cost at which men can govern in a democratic state.

PS:  Make sure you guys go campaign.  November 2 is Election Day.  If you don’t campaign and/or vote then DO NOT complain if the fascists take over.  (For my Muslim friends:  When you guys go out to vote, keep in mind the party that defended the rights of Muslim-Americans on the principle of religious tolerance.  Also keep in mind, the party that used Muslim-Americans as the political bogeyman and that seeks to turn this republic into an autocracy along the lines of that eastern kingdom).

Written by sajedbhandari

October 17, 2010 at 11:34 am

“On Multiple Identities: Tariq Ramadan and my Bangladeshi Heritage”

“On Multiple Identities: Tariq Ramadan and my Bangladeshi Heritage”

Sajed Bhandari


I have read much of Professor Tariq Ramadan’s work and probably have not understood most of it.  The latter phrase of the initial sentence is not humility on my part; it is simply the truth.  Of all the words I have read and listened to by this man, one paragraph particularly resonates.  The professor says:


One must resist the temptation to reduce one’s identity to a single dimension that takes priority over every other… We should reach a broader view of ourselves and our fellow-citizens: each one of us has multiple identities that she/he must accept, nurture, and develop.  I have long been repeating to Muslims and to my fellow-citizens that I am Swiss by nationality, Egyptian by memory, Muslim by religion, European by culture, universalistic by principle, Moroccan and Mauritanian by adoption (italics added). This is no problem whatsoever: I live with those identities, and one or the other may take the lead depending on the context or occasion.

This particular quote is from What I Believe in the chapter, “Multiple Identities”.  This entry is not an explanation or commentary on the previous quote.  It is a reflection on the emotions that this quote brought forth with respect to my Bangladeshi heritage.  The reflection for the purposes of this entry consists mostly of my transition from contention with my heritage, to acceptance and finally, intimate curiosity.

I, like many other Muslim-Americans, became more conscious of Islam after the terrorist attacks of September 11th.  At the time, I was a fourteen-year-old freshman just beginning high school.  High school is normally a time when people begin to seek out their identity and in the process, often become content with a single dimension to that identity.  My initial experience with ultra-conservative and reactionary understandings of Islam caused me to become overly critical of many aspects of my Bangladeshi heritage.  This particular part of the paragraph should be read with the understanding that I was fifteen, an age when many adolescents seek to rebel against the desires and wishes of their parents.  I specify this because, now looking back, I think my views at that age had more to do with this phase of adolescence than with any sincere belief in reactionary ideologies.  However, coming back to the issue of my relationship with my ethnic heritage.   At that time I started to criticize my parents for certain customs in the culture, which I, in my ridiculous self-righteousness, considered innovations to, and deviations from a “pure” Islam (read Arabian Peninsula Islam).  I saw Bangladeshi practice of Islam as “folksy”, rife with innovations and generally a bad way to go about being Muslim.  This led to much animosity towards milads, certain Eid practices and an overall distrust of rituals taught to me by my parents.  More importantly, I saw all Muslims as the same, irrespective of their ethnicity.  Because of this, one particular thing I abhorred was my parents’ distrust of Pakistanis as an idea (not necessarily the Pakistani people we knew).  To me, it just seemed like your run of the mill, South Asian racism or assabiyah; never mind the fact that my parents were refugees during the Bangladeshi struggle for independence  (this is another article).

As I was finishing high school and entering college, I found myself getting closer to various groups within the South Asian community, particularly Pakistanis.  Most of my close friends were, and still are Pakistani.  Before I continue, I feel as though I need to put a disclaimer.  The great majority of the people who have been important to me in terms of friends and relationships have been Pakistani.  What I say subsequently should not be taken as anti-Pakistani or anything like that.  However, it was my interaction with Pakistanis, more than any ideological catalyst that led me to embrace my Bangladeshi heritage.  For the people who do not know, Pakistan was founded as a Muslim state consisting primarily of modern day Pakistan and Bangladesh (at that time known as East Pakistan).  But this is not an article about the civil war that accompanied the founding of Bangladesh (that too is another article).  My interaction with a lot of Pakistanis exposed me to racism for the first time in my life.  Considering I was a Muslim growing up in a primarily white and Jewish neighborhood in an upper-middle class Long Island town, the fact that my first encounters with racism came so late in life and from my fellow Muslims was somewhat disheartening.  Khair, this is not the point of the article either.  What is the point is that the racism, in jest most often, implicit frequently and explicit rarely turned me away from this idea of Muslim brotherhood.  For the right-wingers who will dig up this blog years from now, I said Muslim brotherhood, NOT Muslim Brotherhood.  There is a world of difference between a capital B and a lowercase b, a world of difference between the idea and the political party.  I would defend Pakistanis often in front of my parents and tried to explain to them that yes, they lived through a terrible war with them, but I grew up with them in the same neighborhoods, in the same political and social climate of Islamophobia and both groups spoke English better than they speak Bengali or Urdu.  More importantly, the Islamophobes did not discriminate between Bengali Muslims and Pakistani Muslims.  But as I grew older and my interactions increased, I noticed the incessant need for so many to see Bengalis as inferior to them (this is another article).  I began to see brotherhood as a two way street.  I had to ask myself, how could any two groups of people truly be brothers if one group consistently sees the other as inferior?  This, more than anything else, led me to accept my Bangladeshi heritage as integral to my identity.  Not because I needed to feel superior, but because I needed to find out why my parents were who they were and why they loved a country and a people so much that was so often denigrated by the people closest to me.

So where am I now with my heritage?  I started the article talking about multiple identities and the phrase “intimate curiosity”.  The Professor Ramadan quote brought into fruition this intimate curiosity.  It is almost poetic what he says, “Egyptian by memory”.  I am Bangladeshi by memory.  I have not been to Bangladesh since I was five years old.  I am twenty-three now, a few months from twenty-four and hope to finally go back one day inshAllah.  But I am Bangladeshi by memory because of the memories my parents passed on to me about their time during the civil war, their stories about the streets and buildings of Dhaka and the farms and ponds in Bogra.  I remember as a child my mother would sing songs in Bengali to herself as she cleaned the dishes, or sat in a chair or cooked, unconscious of what she was doing.  I used to hear the names of Tagore and Nazrul, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and the Zias and Sheikh Hasina.  My parents would argue about politics, about socialism and capitalism and Bangladesh’s experience with both.  These are all experiences my parents had, but what I realize now, that I did not then, is that what they were trying to pass on to me was not necessarily the stories of Bangladesh or Bengali-supremacy, but rather the emotions they felt as children, as youths and as adults in their previous homeland.  America is their homeland now.  I am trying to remember a quote that goes along the lines of, your homeland is not where your grandparents are buried; it is where your grandchildren will be buried.  I say my curiosity is intimate because it stems from trying to understand my parents and subsequently myself.  Who they were in and who they are now because of Bangladesh.  In the process I hope to “nurture and develop” this particular aspect of the multiple-identities that I have, as per the recommendations of that wise professor.

Written by sajedbhandari

October 9, 2010 at 12:14 pm

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