Sajed Bhandari

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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.

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December 29, 2010 at 12:45 am

Book Review: Lipstick Jihad

Book Review: Lipstick Jihad: A Memoir of Growing up Iranian in American and American in Iran by Azadeh Moaveni


Who: Azadeh Moaveni is an Iranian-American woman who wrote this book after living for a few years in Tehran.  She worked as a journalist for Time magazine in Iran.

What: It is a memoir by an Iranian-American woman struggling to reconcile her Iranian heritage with her life in America.  She travels and lives in Iran to discover what being Iranian means to her.  The bulk of the book takes place in Iran, as she covers the life of the youth underneath clerical rule in Iran as well as discovering where her “home” is.

When: Takes place during the Khatami years and ends right after September 11th.

Where: Mostly in Iran, but touches upon her life in California, New York, Cairo and Beirut.

Why: To understand herself.  In the process, she offers a glimpse and critique of Iranian life without it being a thinly veiled, neo-conservative attack on Iran and Iranians (what a lot of other memoirs seem to be about).

Recommendation: My favorite book I have read this year.  READ IT.

Comments: I tagged too many pages in this book, as there were countless passages that touched upon the frustration I feel with conservative society, the façade of piety that forced religiosity creates, but also the beauty that does exist in so many Muslim societies.  The ending of the memoir is particularly powerful as Azadeh talks about the immediate aftermath of being Muslim in America after the terrorist attacks.  There is too much to say about this book, but my rule on book reviews is to keep them short, not be pretentious and encourage you to read for yourself.  Definitely read it.

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November 23, 2010 at 7:39 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.

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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.

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October 18, 2010 at 3:57 pm

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

Documentary Review 1: “The Man Who Walked Across the World- Magicians and Mystics”

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*** Accounting owns me for the next week so no new writing… This is a very old article I wrote.***

Documentary Review 1: “The Man Who Walked Across the World- Magicians and Mystics”


I have this documentary fetish.  I joined a group on Facebook called; I watch the history channel like its porn.  True statement.  So, one of the recent documentaries that I watched, and felt that it was worth mentioning in a review is “The Man Who Walked Across the World- Magicians and Mystics”.  The documentary follows an Arabist, Tim Mackintosh-Smith, who retraces the steps of the 14th Century Muslim traveler, Ibn Batuta.  I am not a huge fan of Ibn Batuta, nonetheless, his travels always intrigued me.

A Disclaimer: This is my first post of the like, so bare with me…

Biography of Ibn Batuta

His name was Abu Abdullah Muhammad Ibn ِAbdullah Al Lawati Al Tanji Ibn Battuta.  He was born in February of 1304 and died about 60 to 70 years later.  Ibn Batuta was a Moroccan Berber and a jurisprudent in the Madhab of Imam Malik (RH).  Although he was a scholar in his own, he is primarily known in the Muslim world and the Western world for his travels.  He traveled across much of the Muslim world as well as outside of it.  Ibn Batuta visited North Africa, West Africa, Southern Europe and Eastern Europe in the West, to the Middle East, Indian subcontinent, Central Asia, Southeast Asia and China.  And for the intents and purposes of this blog entry, that is all we will have to know about our sometimes-friend, Ibn Batuta.

Brief Synopsis of the Documentary

The narrator of this documentary is Tim Mackintosh-Smith.  He is an Arabist and has lived in the Muslim world for half of his life.  The documentary begins in Turkey, the homeland of Rumi.  This is where, according to Mackintosh-Smith, Ibn Batuta’s journey began.  The documentary continues with the narrator spending an evening with Sufis of the Mevlevi order.  The gathering, technically illegal in Turkey now, consisted of dancing, music, food and statements of Rumi’s history and philosophy.  Mackintosh-Smith then leaves the busy city to interview descendents of the nomadic Sultans in the outskirts of Turkey.  The documentary continues to the Crimea, or modern-day Ukraine and a visit to an Orthodox church, whereto it is said that Ibn Batuta also traveled.  The overwhelming remainder of the video consists of Ibn Batuta’s stay in Indian and the Sultan, Mohammad Shah.


So pretty much everything that preceding this section was boring and dry because there was very little personality within the text.  Believe me I know this.  I just wanted to offer a brief historical background of the focus of this documentary and a synopsis of the documentary; you should watch it yourself (I offer the link at the bottom of this entry).  So, I don’t consider myself too accepting of a person.  However, as of late, I have been trying to broaden my horizons and exposure to other cultures and beliefs.  Aristotle is quoted to have said, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it”.  I feel as though I have reached a status in my intellectual endeavors whereby I can now seek out new ideas and thoughts without feeling tremendous influence by them.  With this quote in mind, I watched this documentary with a surprising amount of tolerance and wonder.

The narrator of the documentary set out to show a picture of the Muslim world that is not always seen in the West.  It sought to bring down the monolithic image of the Muslim world that has been created in today’s media and political discourse.  The Arabist does a wonderful job of showcasing the rich diversity that is found within the Muslim world.  I am of a particular persuasion, school of thought, and ideology.  However, I could not help but revel in the beauty of all the different peoples and cultures studied in this short documentary.  This is a theme or understanding that you will see in a lot of my writings from now on.  The Mevlevis in Turkey, the Tatars in Ukraine and the Muslim Magicians in India showcased in this documentary each offered a very human, yet very distinct face to Muslims and the Muslim world.

I found myself, not necessarily re-evaluating my social or religious beliefs, rather finding a certain beauty in the difference that exists in our Muslim societies.  It peaked my curiosity in cultures that I might have previously found offensive or heretical.  I hope this is only a beginning to a thorough study of the Muslim world and the plethora of peoples and cultures it has to offer.

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May 7, 2010 at 1:19 am

Posted in Reviews