Sajed Bhandari

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Revolution: Egypt

“Revolution: Egypt”
Sajed Bhandari

 The great thing about waking up every day is not being completely sure what one will take part in during the subsequent hours. I woke up yesterday thinking I would get some work done for my Accounting Theory class, but I ended up getting a phone call from a close friend of mine; an Egyptian guy who like every good Muslim boy, is going to medical school next semester iA. He called and asked if I wanted to go to the protest in front of the Egyptian consulate in Manhattan. I, wanting to be a revolutionary as badly as can be possible, decided to tag along and go yell and carry signs for a few hours. I am going to leave out the bit about his horrible driving and parking skills and just skip to the part that really mattered; the protest. We walked along 46th street trying to catch up with the protesters who marched towards the consulate from the UN building. In all honesty, I was not expecting a large protest. At the most, I thought it would be my two Egyptian friends, a family or two and I yelling at the consulate. I have never been happier about my expectations failing to comply with reality as I was last night. I was beautifully wrong, my expectations failed marvellously. As we walked along the busy street, I noticed an endless procession of signs and loud Arabs (redundant) turning a corner about two city-blocks ahead of us. I was excited. There are very few times in this life that I have become visibly excited. (Lost Season 4 premiere, getting an offer from a great accounting firm, and waiting on line for the Simpsons Movie being the only three times.) But watching this gathering of so many people, marching in solidarity with the demands of the Egyptians in Tahrir Square and elsewhere in that ancient country was short of nothing but beautiful. It is the only word that would describe a motley crowd of individuals marching for human dignity and liberty. It was beautiful. I intend on keeping this article short and devoid of as many political thoughts as I possibly can.

 We walked, hundreds of Muslim, Christian, religious, secular, Arab, non-Arab, veiled and unveiled individuals along the wintry streets of New York with solidarity with the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutionaries (at least I was, a Tunisian started this whole thing). We marched, socialist and capitalist to remind others of what the Egyptians are fighting for. They are fighting for far more than their daily bread. They are fighting for the right to life, to disagree, to live as life is meant to be lived—with liberty and dignity. They fight for fundamental human rights and democracy is the institution from which all human rights can find any true practice in this world. It is easy for those who do not take part in any form of activism to criticize those who do as hopelessly idealistic and providing no material change in the world. But it took one individual ready to submit to immolation so his countrymen could be free and subsequently spark a revolution that will bring about reform throughout the Muslim world. This revolution emerged from the ashes of Mohamed Bouazizi and the world is a better place for his sacrifice.

 I offer no political commentary or insight because at the end of the day this is not a political issue for me, rather it is an issue of basic human existence. Why am I, a Bengali American, so enthralled by the revolution in Egypt? It is because the revolution is liberty manifest on the ancient streets of Egypt. Liberty is surrounded by risk. The comfort a tyrant offers with his security is beautiful to so many. But at what price? Do we offer atop the tyrant’s altar the dignity of the individual in hopes of the tyrant’s providential hands offering stability? What life is it that requires as the price of security the basic human rights of an individual? The freedom to speak, to worship as one sees fit and to live without coercion are basic human rights. It is time we rid ourselves of the slave mentality and attain the dignity that every human being deserves. The slave mentality is that which states “the stability offered by the tyrant is superior to the risks associated with fighting for liberty”. At its core is the belief that the devil we know is better than the devil we don’t know. The Egyptians and Tunisians fighting on the streets disagree. They rise up against the slave mentality. The devils have ruled far too long over the lives of man and it is time we too rise up against all those who seek to deny life to the living.

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Written by sajedbhandari

February 5, 2011 at 7:18 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

“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

Posted in Uncategorized

On Break

Still on break.
Will start writing in two weeks iA.

salam

Ramadan Mubarak/Happy Independence day for my Pakistani friends.

Written by sajedbhandari

August 16, 2010 at 12:33 am

Posted in Uncategorized

MPAC Action Alert

The Muslim Public Affairs Council today called upon the Obama administration to condemn Israel’s deadly attack on a convoy of unarmed international peace activists bringing humanitarian aid to Gaza, which has at least 10 people dead. Media reports indicate over 60 people were also wounded after Israeli Defense Forces descended on the aid convoy in international waters while sailing for the Gaza Strip.

Named the Freedom Flotilla, and led by the pro-Palestinian Free Gaza Movement and a Turkish organization, Insani Yardim Vakfi (Humanitarian Relief Foundation), the convoy of six cargo and passenger boats is the most ambitious attempt yet to break Israel’s three-year blockade of Gaza. The Free Gaza Movement, one of the organizers of the aid, said that Israeli commandos dropped from a helicopter onto the deck of one of the ships and “immediately opened fire on unarmed civilians.”

In light of this illegal attack which took place in international waters, it is imperative that the Obama administration also demand that the Israeli government lift the three-year-old siege on Gaza.

About 600 passengers were said to be aboard the vessels, including the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mairead Corrigan-Maguire of Northern Ireland, former U.S. Ambassador Edward Peck, and Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein. The convoy also had officials from the Middle East, Turkey, Greece, Sweden and England. All captured aid workers and ships should be immediately released, and the bodies of the dead must be returned immediately to their families.

“For what crime were these people attacked and killed?” said MPAC Communications Director Edina Lekovic. “The killing of the aid workers is a criminal act and the Israeli government should be held responsible for their murder by the Obama administration.”

Israel has falsely claimed it is not occupying Gaza, but this event shows clearly that Israel is willing to use deadly force to prevent much-needed humanitarian supplies from reaching the population of Gaza. The collective punishment of Gaza is a war crime, a violation of international law, and a massive impediment to any peace process.

Last year, President Obama presented a major speech on U.S.-Muslim World Relations, a major part of which addressed the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. If the United States is perceived as silent or weak on condemning the continuous harassment of non-violent humanitarian activists that culminated last night in the massacre on the Freedom Flotilla, then the dwindling U.S. credibility for any peace process will be dealt another major blow.

Many Israeli peace activists have already issued their condemnations. Gush Shalom has called for the lifting of the siege on Gaza. Several European countries and the European Union have condemned the attack. Turkey, considered the most critical strategic ally to Israel in the region, has recalled its ambassador from Israel and the Israeli government is now telling its citizens not to travel to Turkey.

TAKE ACTION NOW:

1. Call the White House at (202) 546-1111 and the State Department at (202) 647-5291 to urge them to condemn this brutal attack and call for an end to the Gaza siege.

2. Contact the U.S. Mission to the United Nations at (212) 415-4062 and demand that U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice vote to support a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israel’s actions.

Written by sajedbhandari

May 31, 2010 at 2:48 pm

This Article is not about the Muhammad Cartoons

This article is not about the Muhammad Cartoons

Sajed Bhandari

Who is this?

Who is this?

Anger is one of the emotions I do well.  I’ve felt anger about so many things.  The Muhammad Cartoons debacle is not something I can be angry about anymore.  I, like many other Muslims around the world, was initially angry, upset, and confused by what was seen as hypocrisy in the face of these cartoons.  Granted, I was never willing to go hurt someone physically over the issue, I was still very upset.  The two opposing sides on the issue are the following.  A group of people see the right to draw such cartoons as fundamental to freedom of speech.  The other group of people sees it as hate speech and often cites the hypocrisy of labeling these cartoons freedom of speech while labeling nooses in trees as racist and swastikas as anti-semitic.  There is a misunderstanding with respect to why exactly is it that so many compare these cartoons to racism and anti-semitism.  I, on the other hand, just don’t care.  This article is not about the cartoons as much as it is about Rasulillah SAW.

Some might ask why I have a copy of the cartoon in this article if it is not about the said cartoons.  I put the cartoon in the article because it is important for me to understand the emotions I have upon seeing this cartoon.  This article is fundamentally about me.  What does the cartoon bring out in me?  I feel upset by the cartoon.  It elicits very negative emotions.  But who is the man in this cartoon?  My friend Steve sent me an article about Muslims-Americans on a campus who dealt with this cartoon issue.  There were a group of people drawing stick figures and writing Muhammad next to them.  Instead of burning things in the street, the Muslim-Americans at this campus went around, drew circles around the hands indicating boxing gloves and wrote Ali underneath Muhammad.  Ingenious.

This article that my friend shared with me made me re-think the whole Muhammad Cartoon issue.  The article makes one ask the fundamental question about the nature of symbols and art as a symbol. I ask myself again then, who is it that is in these cartoons that the Danes are putting out?  I look again at the black and yellow and beige paint that sits in front of me.  The Arabic calligraphy that is so familiar.  Is this Rasulillah SAW?  The picture that is formed in this cartoon, is it the same person whose memory I recall so fondly?  This is not Rasulillah SAW.  This is not the man we sang about when I was a child.  This is not a symbol or image of the man I love and the man to whose truth I testify to.  It is ink on paper; it is a few pixels on a screen.  It is not the man that is in the heart of 1.5 billion human beings.

The cartoons beg me to ask, what are my memories of this man?  This man who is only a man the way a diamond is only a stone.  The cartoons, are they the image of Rasulillah SAW that I hold in my heart and in my mind? Growing up in a Bangladeshi-American household, I would often take part in milads that were held to commemorate the dead.  We would praise God and send blessings on the dead.  But the poems and songs that were the most heartfelt were the ones in praise of Rasulillah SAW.  This is the memory I hold of this man.  A shitty cartoon is not going to replace those memories of Rasulillah SAW that I hold.

I transcend the ignorance, the hatred, the negativity that flows from this cartoon.  It is not an image of the beloved of God.  It is again, ink on paper.  It is not a symbol of the man who bled in Taif.  He bled for us and he bled for himself.  He sought earthly protection in Taif and was stoned, maligned and ridiculed.  He like all of us was looking for stability, a safe place to exist.  Rasulillah SAW, a man, bled so that there would be justice on the earth again.  That is the memory of Rasulillah SAW that I hold.

I am not angry.  I am not upset by this image.  It is not an image of the man who loved his wife Aisha, the way I can only hope to love the person in my life.  It is not the man that cared for her, played games with her, loved her and died being held by her.   That is the memory I hold of Rasulillah SAW.

The ink on the page is not this man.  It is not an image of the man who when being protected by his companions in war ended up protecting them.  This is not an image of the brave prophet who stood in the face of tyranny and oppression.  It is not an image of the man who denied the sun and the moon that were offered to him by his enemies.  He was a man that sought justice above all else, be it for those who agreed with him or those who disagreed with him.  That is the memory of Rasulillah SAW.

What will I say if I see this man on the Day of Judgment?  Will I say that, Ya Rasulillah, I spent my life in anger?  Or will I say, Ya Rasulillah, I have spent my life with your memory strewn across my actions the way the stars dot the sky?  Ya Rasulillah, I have spent my life reading about you, wanting to see you, dreaming about you and all I want to do is sit at your feet.  This is the memory of Rasulillah SAW.

What can be said about this man?  Words are empty when attempting to explain what he means in my heart.  I am a sinner.  I am not a good Muslim.  I don’t claim to be otherwise.  This is not a statement on humility as humility is not one of the things I do well.  It is a statement of truth.  But in my heart, there is love for Rasulillah SAW.  There is a love that transcends the ink on the page that is meant to be a symbol of Rasulillah SAW.  So the black and the yellow and the beige paint can continue to exist.  If it is your freedom to express this image, then it is your freedom.  But, when I am on my deathbed, it is not this picture I will be thinking about.  It is not the black turban or the evil look on the face of this cartoon that I will remember.

My thoughts will not be tainted.

My memory of this man is mine to hold.  My memory of this man is the ease in my heart.  There is no stress, no thought that can cover the luminance that this love for Rasulillah SAW creates in me.  Paint dries, newspapers crumble and are thrown away.  But love for Rasulillah SAW is a memory that will never die in me.  It is this love that unclenches my fist when I see this image.

And as the poet says,

“Love of the Prophet runs like blood in the veins of his community.” – Iqbal.

Written by sajedbhandari

May 26, 2010 at 6:34 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

LOST

LOST

omg

Written by sajedbhandari

May 23, 2010 at 10:36 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

A Statement on Principle has no room in American Politics. The Rand Paul Story.

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“A Statement on Principle has no room in American Politics.  The Rand Paul Story.”

Sajed Bhandari

I have been visiting my parents in Minnesota since Monday.  My mom said she would not take me out in public until I shaved and got a haircut.  It was a fair state of things honestly; I looked hideous.   I had cut my hair one other time in Minnesota.  There is a local barber in the complex.  My dad had set an appointment for me to see him the next day.  My appointment was at three so I decided to head down the elevator and into the skyway to see him.  The man, his name is George, offered me a seat.  Before I sat down, I noticed that he was watching a video of my favorite newscaster, Glenn Beck.

This was not going to go well.

I was about to get my hair cut by a Teabagger.  That was my thought at least.  I don’t know if it was because I was in a different state or because the man had two sharp blades very close to my neck, but I decided not to get into a political discussion with him.  I am not very civil sometimes.

The first question that came out of my mouth… “So what did you think of the Primary results.”  I am an idiot.

What followed was a conversation on the Attorney General of the United States, Arlen Specter, Rand Paul and the Democrats.  But that is a whole lot of conversation to type.  We got into a discussion about media bias.  There was a young girl there, her name was Jennifer.  I think she said she was studying English.  In any case, she offered her input.

Jennifer said that it was interesting how George thought the Media was biased towards the Left and that he saw no bias on Fox News (don’t worry, I bit my tongue when George initially said this.  Again… not sure if it was Minnesota or the two sharp blades).  Jennifer continued saying that we only see bias if we disagree with it.  This is true.

I’m a relatively liberal person.  My friends would say my liberalism is a bit more absolute.  My friends would not be wrong.  But I like using the word “relatively”.  It’s a nice word, relatively speaking.   I guess I never really mind the Media bias on MSNBC because I tend to agree with what they are saying.  I watch MSNBC like it’s porn.

I never really had an issue with MSNBC’s bias, until what happened with Rand Paul and Rachel Maddow.  Long story short, Maddow grilled Paul on his opposition to a title in the Civil Rights act of 1964.  That is not the point of this article.  I don’t want to summarize beyond what I just said.

MSNBC created a firestorm.  They made much noise about Rand Paul and his absolute libertarianism, his purist ways, his political ineptitude.  MSNBC commentators kept saying how Paul was not fit for politics because he was too principled.  Instead of making pragmatic legal decisions, some were worried that he would spend too much time taking part in 2 AM dorm room bull sessions on national TV.

Needless to say, much of the commentators supported President Obama and his campaign of Change.  I think most of us were fed up with Washington and even more with President Bush.  Change would have been more than welcome.  But, these same commentators were criticizing Rand Paul for being too different from what is expected of politicians.   I guess change was important, but too much change from Washington’s ways, too much deviation from what is mainstream is not welcome.

Rand Paul was having a discussion on the nature of private ownership with Rachel Maddow.  He was not advocating the repeal of the Civil Rights Act.  But the nature of a 24-hour news cycle does not allow for an intelligent and informed debate about such issues as the nature of ownership.  Instead, conversations on these issues are turned into convenient political jabs.  The issue is deeper though than the faults of a 24-hour news cycle.  The issue that I am concerned with relates more to the deep-rooted anti-intellectualism that exists in much of our political discourse in America when we disagree.  President Obama, the philosopher-President, was able to intelligently articulate the case for a Just War while being the Commander in Chief of a military at war in two different nations and accepting the Nobel Peace Prize.  That is not sophism or political maneuvering.  It is good logic.  It is good argument.  It is Obamaesque.

The Media has time to sit and appreciate such an articulate speech when they agree to the premises and conclusions being made.  Rand Paul however, a libertarian, is not given the same patience.  We disagree with his premises and conclusions.  We do not let him have a reasoned interview on national TV.  We would much rather create sound bites and denigrate the man as taking part in dorm room bull sessions.  The issue is not that we have biased media.  That is a welcome part of a free society if not an integral one.  The issue is not allowing a person to logically explain his position when we disagree.  Thomas Jefferson preferred a free press over a functioning government.  Free press is what makes democracy possible.  But how are citizens of our republic to be informed when a person cannot defend his ideas in the abstract?  This is the change we need in our politicians; Republicans and Democrats who can have a civil discourse and argue with civic reason.  But that will never be the state of political discourse so long as every politician needs to worry about his or her speech being worthy of the 24-hour news cycle sound bite.

We say we are waiting for change, but we are not willing to accommodate it when it arrives.

Written by sajedbhandari

May 22, 2010 at 1:09 am

Posted in Uncategorized