Sajed Bhandari

America, Books, Cooking, Muslims and some other things

Archive for the ‘Economics and Politics’ Category

Fareed Zakaria on Leadership

Fareed Zakaria on Leadership

Sajed Bhandari

I watch too much MSNBC for my own good.  This Sunday however, I had a chance to watch Fareed Zakaria’s special, “How to Lead” on CNN.  Yeah the name is kind of ostentatious but the hour long show was amazing.  I have read two of Zakaria’s books and am in the process of finishing his first book, From Wealth to Power along with watching his show and reading his articles as much as I can.  I was on the fence about him for a while, but his support of religious freedom and property rights in the middle of the Fox News-generated chaos that was the “Ground Zero Mosque” controversy this summer solidified my affinity towards Fareed Zakaria.  The man is a genius.  A naturalized citizen of Indian origin, Fareed Zakaria studied at both Yale and Harvard, completing his PhD in politics and international relations underneath Samuel Huntington (of “Clash of Civilizations” fame).  His work, The Future of Freedom, does a good job of “refudiating” (<- Yay Palin) his professor’s clash of civilizations claim.  I probably should write a review of that book too.  In any case, what follows is a brief summary of the program.

The show consisted primarily of interviews of leaders and their experiences leading in government, commerce, academia and war along with their various definitions of leadership.  The two leaders in governance and politics interviewed by Zakaria were Prime Minister Tony Blair and former New Jersey Governor and Bush Cabinet member, Christine WhitmanLou Gerstner, formerly the head of IBM, discussed crisis management and how his leadership style brought IBM from an 8 billion dollar loss to an 8 billion dollar profit at the end of his tenure with IBM.  Richard Levin discussed leadership as the president of Yale, particularly his difficult task of managing academics (a class of people who went into the profession so they would not be managed) and the obstacles created by leading a body of faculty and students who cannot be fired.  Finally, Admiral Mullen discussed leading men into war and the difficulties associated with asking an individual to risk his or her life in the defense of liberty and the republic.

At the end, the guests offered their take home messages and thoughts on leadership.  If one wants to create change, then he or she must figure out the essence of an individual—what drives him, what motivates him, understand what makes him tick, what do they value and what makes them come to work every day.  In addition, one of the guests urged to have a strong vision, communicate it clearly, set goals people can imagine reaching and go forward step by step.  What is essential is to pick a great team and empower them to do their job.  A leader can empower his team by knowing his or her subordinates.  This is particularly important because a leader needs to realize that he or she will not always have the answer, but it is equally important not to worry about this—figure out the gaps in your knowledge and find people who advise you on those matters.  A leader’s integrity should always be intact and this can only be achieved by holding one’s self accountable.

Overall it was a great show.  If you come across it online or CNN definitely watch it.


Written by sajedbhandari

December 29, 2010 at 10:00 pm

Book Review: Traitor to his Class

Book Review: Traitor to his Class- The Privileged Life and Radical Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Sajed Bhandari

Who: By H.W. Brands, an American historian and professor at University of Texas at Austin.

What: Biography of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  Rather large book at around 800 pages.

When: January 30, 1882 – April 12, 1945

Where: The biography initially covers FDR’s privileged life in New York and Boston.  The biographer subsequently covers FDR’s rise to power in Washington DC and his years abroad during his presidency.

Why: FDR’s New Deal set the progressive tone for Democratic politics in America.

Recommendation: Was not a big fan of this book.  It reads quickly, but I think the subject matter bothered me more than anything else.  FDR was a great man, and worthy of the respect that he gets, but disagreed with the President’s expansion of federal power, particularly in the executive branch.  I don’t recommend reading it.

Written by sajedbhandari

December 29, 2010 at 12:45 am

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

Documentary Review: Poisoned by Polonium

Documentary Review: Poisoned by Polonium- The Litvinenko File
Sajed Bhandari

Walking into a pharmacy a few years ago, I came across the Daily News or the Times, which had a haunting image of a man dying on a hospital bed.  He stared hopefully into the camera; his eyes had set deeply into his face and the hair on his head and eyebrows had disappeared.  The picture was clearly of a man suffering from some sort of radiation exposure.  I do not remember the headlines at the moment, but the man in the picture turned out to be Alexander Litvinenko.  He left his former life as a KGB, and successor FSB, officer in order to become a whistleblower against the Russian secret service.  His rebellion against the FSB eventually cost him his life as he was poisoned with Polonium 210 in London in April of 2007.  Before his death, Alexander Litvinenko embraced Islam both as a symbol of his solidarity with the Chechen people as well as because of his personal convictions.  Throughout the following weeks and months I read about this man and his story, but soon forgot about him, as happens to consumers of modern media.  Every now and then however, I would come across that same picture, in a magazine, on television or on the Internet.
I went to my local library the other day to return a set of DVD’s and walked over to the documentary section.  I am currently reading a biography on President Kennedy and had hoped to find a supplement to the book.  However, as I searched through the shelves I came across this DVD.  The name of the documentary was Poisoned by Polonium- The Litvinenko File by Andrei Nekrasov.  What follows is a brief summary of the documentary, highlighted issues dealt with in the documentary and what impressions I took away.
The documentary begins with Litvinenko’s voice stating that the tape should be released in the event of his death.  It becomes immediately clear that the filmmaker, Nekrasov is a close friend of Litvinenko and that the documentary by no means is meant to be an objective study of an assassination.  Rather, the rest of the documentary is an intimate tribute to Litvinenko’s life, mission and death.  The film initially talks about the 1999 terrorist attacks on the Moscow apartment buildings.  The terrorist attack, as understood by Litvinenko and 60% of the Russian citizenry according to the documentary, was a false flag operation executed by the FSB, the Russian secret service.  It was Litvinenko’s assertion that this war allowed Russia’s FSB to seize control of power in post-Soviet Russia.  He argues that many in the KGB/FSB saw their actions (torture, imprisonment and etc.) as legitimate in an illegitimate state.  However, Russia’s transition into a democracy allowed it to become a legitimate state, therefore making the actions of the FSB illegitimate.  According to Litvinenko, in order for the FSB to continue on with its actions, it had to create a situation wherein the state would again become illegitimate—in this case via the political trap of war with Chechnya.
The documentary goes onto explain some of the evidences for the false flag operation, the relationship between Russians and Chechens and the nature of the FSB’s revenue streams.  Nekrasov does not dwell on the false flag operation; rather he spends much of the documentary building Litvinenko’s character through his bosses, associates and agents.  Litvinenko believes that the main reason why the FSB is targeting him is because he exposed their methods of making money.  Under threat against his life and the life of his family, Litvinenko escapes to England.  However, on April 2007, Alexander Litvinenko was assassinated.  The documentary ends with Litvinenko’s conversion to Islam.  I had heard about his conversion, however, thought it to be a rumor.  Nekrasov interviews Litvinenko’s wife and father about his conversion as well as filming a powerful funeral scene to be discussed later.
Andrei Nekrasov’s film addresses certain themes beyond an exposition of Litvinenko’s life and death.  One of the primary themes throughout the documentary is the struggle between justice and arbitrary power.  Nekrasov says that the failure of Litvinenko’s rebellion led him to question whether society is governed by justice or governed by arbitrary, brute power.  Much of the documentary showcases the corruption rampant through Russia’s supposedly democratic system and secret services.  Litvinenko became disillusioned with the secret service as he noticed the types of individuals who were promoted through the ranks.  Idealism and dedication had nothing to do with it, according to Litvinenko.  Rather, corruption and cronyism provided the means by which individuals advanced their careers.  A soldier who fought in the 1999 offensive against the Chechens offers one of the most striking aspects of arbitrary power triumphing justice in the documentary.  The soldier recounts the story of his commanding officers selling ammunition to the Chechens for vodka and drugs.  Along with selling ammunition to their enemy, the Russian Army and secret service sold units and individual Russian soldiers to the Chechens for cash, leading to their deaths.
Another theme addressed by Nekrasov is racism.  Nekrasov argues that it is Russian racism that prevents them from calling the 1999 war with the Chechens a civil war.  The leaders instead referred to the offensive as anti-terrorist operations and did not see the Chechens as fellow Russians, rather as outsiders.  This is juxtaposed with a speech of a Russian woman lamenting the once close ties between Russians and Chechens.  She says that they were brothers and not foes.  In another example, Nekrasov shows a previous documentary of his to a group of Russians.  The documentary showcased the plight of Chechens after the war.  Images of young children, some with their feet blown off, some with cuts across their torso were shown to a Russian audience.  The first audience member comments that the documentary is one-sided and that these children would grow up to be future terrorists.  Essentially, that killing them is not morally reprehensible.
The final theme that I found important was that of Liberalism.  The documentary deals with market reform in post-Soviet Russia as well as political liberalization of its legislative branch and media.  One of the oligarchs interviewed discusses the Russian political culture and its relation to liberalism.  He argues that Russian slave mentality led to the waves of totalitarian systems that governed its citizens for centuries.  Because Russian citizens lacked internal limitations on their freedoms, external limitations had to be imposed by whatever regime that was in power at the time.  This however, the oligarch argues, is inefficient.  He claims that eco-political liberalism can only exist in a society wherein most of the populace understands the inner limitations that must be imposed on their freedoms.  He asks then why is he advocating liberalism in Russia if its citizens have such a slave mentality?  The oligarch argues when the communist regime fell, droves of entrepreneurs, independent politicians and journalists rose up to create a proper civic society and republic.
The film left me with powerful impressions and a desire to learn more about Russia in general, and Alexander Litvinenko’s legacy in particular.  I am interested in learning more about Russia’s transition from communism to capitalism as well as its citizens’ attitudes towards individual rights and liberties.  One of the most powerful impressions however was the final section on Litvinenko’s conversion.  His father stated that along with exposing Putin and the FSB, Litvinenko’s mission on this earth was to reconcile Christians and Muslims.  He believed that his conversion and death would be a catalyst to such reconciliation.  I suppose it was best illustrated at Litvinenko’s funeral.  The scene begins with a group of his family members dressed in all black and wearing crosses walking (the traditional color of mourning amongst Muslims is white).  The Quran can then be heard being recited.  As the family gathers around the gravesite, an Imam in traditional South Asian garb continues to recite as Litvinenko’s Christian family members throw dirt into his resting place.  The Imam slightly bows in respect as a family member illustrates the sign of the trinity across her chest in mourning.  Beyond the conversion and the optimism with which Litvinenko’s family members seemed to have approached it, I took away a respect for both the desperation and courage that must have been required by Litvinenko and his comrades in his rebellion.
I have watched the documentary twice now and have been moved greatly by it.  The film itself is almost two hours and filled with historical, political and personal analyses of Litvinenko’s life, mission and death.  I had to severely truncate the summary as the review ended up being much longer than I expected.  I would recommend watching this documentary as it highlights the life of a hero and the plight of a people living underneath a façade of liberty.

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September 9, 2010 at 1:43 pm

Three Links… If you’re my friend, you’ll go

It’s that time of the year again.  Campaign season is in full swing.  It’s open season on Muslim-Americans.  In the spirit of these (un)holiest of days, I’d like to provide you all with three very important sites.  They are all watchdog websites.  The first two focus particularly on Islamophobes, while the latter focuses more on right-wing hatred in the media (which includes, along with Islamophobia, Homophobia, and anti-Immigration/minority sentiments.)

I have not offered any descriptions, but these links will be found on the right of the screen under Watchdogs.




Okay, have fun.

– Sajed

Written by sajedbhandari

August 17, 2010 at 2:53 pm