Thursday, September 17, 2009

[Reaction] “Bush’s War”

Back in March of 2008, I watched a documentary entitled “Bush’s War” on PBS. It gave a timeline of how and why the war occurred. The documentary was an okay retrospective and had a few good points and many flaws.

The strength of the documentary was in its timeline of events and people interviewed. The timeline provided a concise overview of key moments from the lead-up to the war until how the war fell apart. The focus of this series was on the main political actors involved and so it is a top-down recollection of events. However, there were many issues that were ignored.

The flaws in this documentary are numerous. Above all, it was not trying to rock the boat or do any gutsy investigative journalism. For example key issues, such as the US desire for permanent military bases in Iraq or control of Iraqi oil, were ignored. Key figures like Alan Greenspan and Gen. John Abizaid have come out and said the war was about oil. If one looks at the immediate occupation of Iraq, the US only protected the ministry of oil and interior ministry (for WMD claims) from looting, while the rest of Baghdad was a free-for-all for looters. Furthermore, there was no analysis on how the media was instrumental in supporting the war. They also offered the administrations line on some issues—such as WMDs—but left it at that. They didn't give the UN inspectors dissenting voice which said at the time there was no evidence of WMDs in Iraq. In describing the Guantanamo Bay prison complex, they accepted the claim that it housed "Bin Laden's foot soldiers", which is patently false. The vast majority of those imprisoned at Gitmo were/are innocent and only a handful of prisoners had any sort of ties to Al Qaeda. So Frontline seemed to miss some of the glaring issues surrounding the war in favor of a more traditional discussion of it.

These obvious problems with the documentary, on top of the fact that it was released five years after the invasion, make it a weak critique of Bush’s War. While it was a good refresher on the timeline of events in Iraq, it did not probe into the meat of the war. Overall, I would say only watch this documentary if you want a general timeline of significant events that occurred during the Iraq War, but don’t expect any real substantive reporting.

The Great Debaters and Other Thoughts in the Night

I originally wrote much of this piece back on May the 5th. However, it remained incomplete and I had never gotten around to finishing it until now. Consequently, I am posting this piece which took place a little over half-way into my time in Malaysia.

As I write these words, I reflect on the fact that it’s been fourth months and a day since I landed here in Malaysia. Those four months might have well been four years in terms of the amount of experiences I’ve had. I mean it’s not like I haven’t lived abroad before—I spent a wonderful six months in Sydney in 2005—but this time, I wasn’t just passively experiencing life, I was actively living it. Right now, having just showered after the longest run I’ve been able to do since arriving, and still perspiring from a delightful catharsis, I write these words as though I just awoke after a rejuvenating siesta, the kind that truly refreshes the body and soul. Feeling wide-awake, I’ve decided to pen my thoughts.

Initially I thought I would write about reflections on these past four months. But then I thought, why do that, when I can talk about what I did today—a day that perfectly sums up my life in Malaysia. So instead of a reflection piece, I’m putting some words to paper or, rather, words to my laptop and from there the world wide web to give those who care—or don’t—a snapshot from my life on May 5, 2009.

I woke up today at around 830am. I ate what can only barely be called a breakfast—a pb&chocolate sandwich hardly seems to be what a 23 year old transitioning vegetarian should be eating—and got ready to go to school. I hopped on the internet—the one thing I make sure to do religiously here in anywhere I go—and caught up on the news from around the world and the usual bundle of emails I receive in the morning. After a quick skype conversation with Naumaan and Irfaan—God bless the creators of skype, my link to those most important to me in the world—I hopped in my Kancil—a small, four-door compact that takes me from point A to point B, most of the time…—and headed to school.

The usual seven-kilometer commute to work was no different today, except that I had to stop off at the dobi to pick up and drop off some clothes. When I got to school (I teach at a public high school here in the Malaysian state of Terengganu, in the district of Kemaman, and the city of Kerteh)—on Malay standard time as usual—I looked around for my Form 5 (equivalent of high school seniors) student who would participating in a district-wide public speaking contest. After locating her in the open-air passageway, some of my Form 2 (equivalent of eighth or ninth graders) wanted me to come teach their class. Apparently their teacher wasn’t at school today—unfortunately, an all too frequent occurrence here, and this is supposed to be one of the top schools in the district—so they wanted me to fill in. They were really excited and practically dragged me into my classroom so that I could teach them. I kept saying to no one in particular that I had to go to public speaking competition but the students were in just too ebullient of a mood to listen. So I stepped into class, explained to them that I would have to be leaving momentarily, and decided to briefly play this education “Exploring Malaysia” game with them. Basically, it’s a game with a bunch of flash cards—almost exactly like trivial pursuit—that ask the students trivia about Malaysia. I looked at the class the class and they looked disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to play the entire game with them, as they always seemed to enjoy playing this game more than any lesson plan I’ve ever done. So with a heavy-heart, I had to leave the students because I had to go to the public competition with my other students, the one’s I had groomed in the art of rhetoric.

The public speaking competition was being held in the biggest city in Kemaman, in the city of Cukai. I had to do the half-hour commute alone in my Kancil on a tortuous, but fairly scenic, route to get to the high school where the competition was being held.

I arrived at the school, SMK Cukai, around 1030am. I met another one of the ETAs who happened to be there with her students and we exchanged pleasantries for a bit. I then spoke with my Form 5 Indian student who was participating in the event. Her name was Shamin and she had prepared an excellent speech on Global Warming. In total, there were 18 students who spoke from the different district schools, giving between 5-6 minute speeches on prepared topics. Shamin delivered a fairly good speech which began, “Oh no, the sky is falling! Not really, but global warming…” and the audience seemed to like it. She was clearly in the top segment of the debaters and the students discussed all sorts of things, from the greatness of the tomato to the issue of bullying. The competition seemed to drag on since it got progressively warmer as the day went on—we were under an outdoor, roofed auditorium—and there were so many speakers. Thankfully there was a break before the impromptu round, during which everyone was able to relax and eat.

The impromptu round went by much quicker and the students had only three minutes to speak on a topic that they had 20 minutes to prepare a discussion for. The topic was significance of freedom. I practically jumped for joy when I heard about the topic, since I had done a whole series of classes on various freedoms, such as the freedom of speech and the freedom of religion. When it was Shamin’s turn to perform, she did quite well, except that her speech only lasted a little over a minute. This was quite typical for most of the speakers, or some speakers would just completely freeze and say nothing, so I hoped it hadn’t ruined Shamin’s chances at winning an award. Before the speech, I had mentally ranked her as the third best speaker out of the eighteen students there. After the conclusion of the impromptu speeches, I thought she was definitely still in the top 5 and, hopefully, still number three. Alas, when the award ceremony happened, she didn’t place in the top three and had to go home empty handed. Nevertheless, I know she learned a lot from the various public speaking lessons we had together and her general public speaking confidence had gone up significantly. It was an interesting event and then I started my drive back to Kerteh.

I drove straight to the Mesra Mall. This mall had been my savior throughout my time in Malaysia. I would always go here to eat and I would often go to the Indian restaurant Hameed’s. I went there today and had two dhosa masalas with daal and orange juice. I added some Famous Amos cookies to my meal and my feast was fantastic. The four places I would most frequent in the Mall was Hameed’s, Secret Recipe, Pizza Hut, Starbucks, and Famous Amos. Since I basically ate out every day, I felt like a college student all over again.

I then drove home completely full and quite drowsy. I got into bed to relax for a bit and let my body digest. I then received the now-familiar buzz of an incoming text-message and instantly smiled. Seeing the message woke me up from the daydream and I decided to leave the sloth-like position I had been in and head off for a long run.

I ran for about 45 minutes and my head was full of ideas that I wanted to write about. The run itself was amazing, it was one of those runs that I could have just kept going on and on with, but it got too dark, so I had to come back home. I came in and relaxed; I watched my sweat drip down my eyebrows, nose, and chin, all the droplets collecting in an ever growing pool in front of my contented legs. I grabbed some drinks and then I wrote a few things down on paper on the different thought that were running through my mind. I took a quick shower and then began writing a blog post about my day while the endorphins from running gave me a pleasant high.

One thought that had I been mulling over was how different interpersonal relations are outside of America. Generally speaking, American relationships tend to be superficial and people don’t naturally feel the urge to help people out. While I recognize that this is not true for all of America, I do think that this is very true for urban America. Relationships reflect the consumer society that America embodies—everything is transitory and disposable, both things and people. Relationships in other countries, particularly non-Western societies, tend to be more authentic and real. People care about you for who you are, not what purpose you serve them. While it is true that people will constantly float in and out of one’s lives, I have come to notice that my strongest relationships have been forged outside of the US, or with people who are originally not from the US. Sadly, this is the state of American society today.

I also reflected on the concept of freedom as it had been discussed ad nauseam by the debater’s today. I think that the strength of Western Civilization lies in its respect for basic freedoms—freedom of speech, assembly, religion. I’m definitely no Uncle Barack…errr…Uncle Tom and I despise Kipling’s alleged Burden, but I do recognize that these cherished fundamentals that exist—however much reduced in the post 9-11 era—in the West do not exist anywhere near the degree they need to be in the East. There needs to be more freedom of thought, so that people can pick and choose from the marketplace of ideas what to believe and not believe. This freedom deficit that does exist in non-Western societies needs to be rapidly and radically reduced, so that the benefits of innovation, diversity, and pluralism can flourish and help these societies grow. Freedom is a beautiful, under-utilized asset, and wherever it truly flourishes, so too do those societies.

As I finished up writing and prepared to go to bed, I realized it was the perfect day—well almost perfect minus a particular noun—and I was very happy at this moment in time. I recognize I’m where I need to be and I hope that I captured essence of the thoughts running through my mind. I was glad to pen my thought for a bit and that I did so before they had a chance to forever slip out of my mind. So Malaysia has been fantastic to me so far and I only hope that things will keep getting better.

Originally written on: 5-5-09
Completed on: 9-16-09
-Nausherwan Hafeez

Obama’s Speech to the Muslim World

The most perfidious politician is one whose rhetoric is in line with what is correct, but whose actions are patently wrong. This is the conundrum that both Americans and the international community face when dealing with President Barack Obama. President Obama’s rhetoric and eloquence tend to give him the benefit of the doubt, that what he is saying is either the truth or will be the truth one-day. However, when one looks beyond rhetoric to the actual actions being taken and plans being made, many of Obama’s policies are as bad—and in some cases worse—as President George W. Bush’s. Obama’s much vaunted speech to the Muslim world delivered in Cairo, Egypt on June 4, 2009 illustrates the wide-gap between rhetoric and reality.

President Obama began his remarks by emphasizing the common connections America has with Islam and the Muslim world. He was right to emphasize that Islam has always been a part of America and that there are mosques in every state of the union. He praised Islamic cultures' contributions to the world as well as American Muslim’s contributions to the United States. He quoted liberally from the Qur’an and made it clear that America was not at war with Islam. All of this served to excite and inspire, but then he turned to America foreign policy in the Muslim world.

He discussed a wide range of topics, and his focus was on seven points:
1. Confronting violent extremism in all of its forms.
2. The situation between Israelis, Palestinians and the Arab world.
3. The rights and responsibilities of nations on nuclear weapons.
4. The issue of democracy.
5. The issue of religious freedom.
6. The rights of women.
7. Economic development and opportunity.
When looking at these points, it is important to note that the more detailed his discussions were the more flaws that were apparent in his positions. Conversely, the more general his discussion, the better his ideas seemed.

Turning to the issue of confronting extremism, he discussed Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Guantanamo. He began by stating that the US was going to be more liberal in giving developmental aid to Pakistan and Afghanistan which, of course, is something to be praised. However, Obama then goes on to say that all American troops will be out of Iraq by 2012. This is a lie. In Obama’s February 27, 2009 speech on ending the Iraq war, he states:
“As I have long said, we will retain a transitional force to carry out three distinct functions: training, equipping, and advising Iraqi Security Forces as long as they remain non-sectarian; conducting targeted counter-terrorism missions; and protecting our ongoing civilian and military efforts within Iraq. Initially, this force will likely be made up of 35-50,000 U.S. troops.”
Obama clearly stated that he plans on leaving behind a “transitional force” that will be “made up of 35-50,000 U.S. troops.” Furthermore, it is true that he has long held this position, as he emphasized this same point when he ran for President. What is clear from his position is that he does not plan a full withdrawal of troops from Iraq and his rhetoric hides reality. America has done this countless times in the past, hence why we still have troops stationed in Japan, Germany, and South Korea, even though conflicts in those regions have been over for many decades. America has strategic interests in Iraq—with the most obvious one being oil—that it will protect through its permanent mega-bases and an imperial embassy. American extremism in regards to excessive militarism should be confronted; instead, U.S. troops will not be out of Iraq by 2012 and it is doubtful that they well ever willingly leave.

Obama also stated that, “I have unequivocally prohibited the use of torture by the United States, and I have ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed by early next year.” This statement is misleading in that it only tells half of the story. The disconnect between rhetoric and reality is eminently clear for both the issue of torture and Guantanamo Bay.

Obama rightly deserved praise for prohibiting torture shortly after he was sworn in as President. While he is to be commended for attempting to bring the US back into compliance with the Convention Against Torture that was ratified by the US in 1988 and is binding US law, he has yet to fully comply with the treaty obligations to prosecute those who have conducted or permitted torture to occur. As Glenn Greenwald points out:
Ronald Reagan, May 20, 1988, transmitting the Convention Against Torture to the Senate for ratification:
The United States participated actively and effectively in the negotiation of the Convention. It marks a significant step in the development during this century of international measures against torture and other inhuman treatment or punishment. Ratification of the Convention by the United States will clearly express United States opposition to torture, an abhorrent practice unfortunately still prevalent in the world today.

The core provisions of the Convention establish a regime for international cooperation in the criminal prosecution of torturers relying on so-called "universal jurisdiction." Each State Party is required either to prosecute torturers who are found in its territory or to extradite them to other countries for prosecution.

Convention Against Torture, signed and championed by Ronald Reagan, Article II/IV:
No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture. . . Each State Party shall ensure that all acts of torture are offences under its criminal law.
It is clear that Obama is required under the law to prosecute those who have committed torture; however, he has repeatedly stated he will not seek prosecutions against those individuals in the Bush Administration who are alleged to have committed torture.

In terms of Guantanamo, the issue is more complex. Symbolically, Guantanamo has been a very visible stain on the image of justice in America. Obama was able to score a public relations victory by saying he would close the prison, but he still doesn’t abide by the principle that made Guantanamo so terrible, namely the denial of habeas corpus and the creation of kangaroo court-style military commissions. Glenn Greenwald notes that:
Many Democrats -- including Barack Obama -- claimed they were vehemently opposed to this denial of due process for detainees, and on June 12, 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court, in the case of Boumediene v. Bush, ruled that the denial of habeas corpus rights to Guantanamo detainees was unconstitutional and that all Guantanamo detainees have the right to a full hearing in which they can contest their accusations against them.
While the Supreme Court has affirmed the right for prisoners in Guantanamo to challenge their detentions in Court, Obama has done a bait-and-switch and has declared that prisoners in Bagram prison in Afghanistan do not have the right to challenge their detention. By allowing this, Obama is essentially giving blanket approval to the denial of habeas corpus to prisoners detained abroad. So while Obama can no longer indefinitely detain individuals in Guantanamo, he can do so in Bagram or any of the other many US prisons around the world. While it is nice that Obama has decided to end the prison in Guantanamo, he will continue the illegal denial of habeas corpus to prisoners held by the US all over the world.

Although Obama is not using the Bush version of military commissions anymore to try detainees in Guantanamo, he is using a modified system of military commissions rather than using the federal court system to try detainees. Because of this, these trials will lack legitimacy and the detainees will never receive justice. Furthermore, it has been alleged that conditions in Guantanamo have become worse since Obama became President. All of this is unacceptable and puts Obama in line with illegal Bush Administration policies.

On Obama’s discussion on the Arab-Israeli conflict, he clearly reaffirms America’s unshakeable bond with Israel while also recognizing that steps need to be taken to assure a two-state solution. He calls for both sides to abide by treaty obligations and that Israel should stop its settlement activity. He says he is committed to the peace process and will see it through to its fruition; however, many other Presidents have said this same thing and still the Palestinians remain stateless. Obama’s generalized rhetoric is encouraging, but his words need to be backed up with actions.

On nuclear weapons and democracy, Obama struck a positive note. He renewed his call for a nuclear-free world and that is something to be lauded. However, he has yet to take any steps to make this a reality. He called for people world-wide to determine their own way forward and what style of democracy they want to live in. Yet, he decided to deliver his speech in Egypt, a country that is ruled by a repressive dictator. So while Obama’s rhetoric was strong, again the reality of the situation remains starkly different.

On religious freedom and the rights of women, Obama made encouraging statements. He encouraged interfaith dialogue and tolerance between different religions and within religions. He recognized that women play a critical role in all societies and thpse societies with well-educated women tend to be prosperous. He also noted how Muslim countries such as Indonesia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Turkey all had elected women leaders and that the rights of women need to be respected. In both of these areas there is very little to disagree with and the hope is that religious toleration increases and the rights of women are respected in both Muslim and non-Muslim countries around the world.

In terms of globalization and development, Obama recognized the challenges in these areas and strongly encouraged development. He recognized that the internet and television can bring both new ideas and loose morality. He said that Muslim countries can retain their heritage and still reach development, but it was up to these societies to do so. I strongly agree with this point as the Muslim world is trying to forge a new path for itself in the future.

Overall, Obama’s speech was meant to rehabilitate America’s image in the Muslim world and try to begin a new chapter. This is grand idea but talk is cheap. Obama will continue to occupy Iraq through at least 2012, he has escalated the war in Afghanistan, and he has expanded the global war on terror into Pakistan. He said, “Palestinians must abandon violence. Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and it does not succeed.” Why can’t Obama turn this statement around and realize that the US must abandon its violence, its extremism, and that killing is wrong and does not succeed?

Obama appears to be the ultimate salesman—he first marketed himself as the everyman and became President and now encourages the Muslim world to look beyond Americas current and historical clashes with them in favor of a nebulous new beginning. He desperately wants to show to the rest of the world that America wants to begin anew and should be trusted. Alas, he is hawking a cheap, superficial product that is breaking apart at its seams. While it is easy to be swept away by grandiose rhetoric, there is significant disconnect between his words and reality. The rosy image painted by Obama is not reality; it is an aspiration riddled with contradictions that necessarily precludes significant advancement in the areas Obama discussed. It would be great for America to turn a new page, but to do so rhetoric must finally begin to match reality.

-Nausherwan Hafeez, 9-15-09

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

[Book Review] American Pastoral

The American dream is quite a bit more complicated than the stories you hear. The book American Pastoral written by Philip Roth is an example of the inevitable dysfunction of trying to achieve this mythic concept. Roth, who is Jewish, tells the tale of a paradise lost for the protagonist, Swede Levov, whose hopes for an idyllic life are shattered by a bomb planted by his daughter Merry that killed an innocent doctor. I found this book to have extreme characters and a plot that tried too hard to represent American culture. Overall, I didn’t really find like this book that appealing and I would not recommend anyone to read it.

The plot was very much like an onion; you peel through layer after layer and find no significant substance in the middle. This book does a great deal of character development and the story follows the rise and fall of Swede Levov. Swede tends to follow a predetermined path of success by inheriting the family glove making business and achieves a good deal of initial success. He was a popular All-American kid that grew up in New Jersey and tried to pursue his version of the American dream. He was known for his placid demeanor and his friendly people skills. He was the paragon of moderation and a person who always lived up to his responsibilities.

In his life, he only challenged his family by marrying a genteel beauty queen who gives birth to his daughter Merry. He sets up a life for his family that is a caricature of perfection; he has wealth and status from running a profitable business and he couple’s this with the tranquility of being able to live on a farm. His life is the fusion of small-town America with a more benign version of capitalist America. All in all, he coasts through life by solving all problems and never has to deal with the nastier side of living. That is, until his daughter Merry becomes a radical anti-war activist and bombs a post-office in protest against the war in Vietnam. From this point on, his American dream collapses as Merry runs away. He tries desperately to get in touch with her, but his semblance of normality, of coasting through life without problems, his American dream, has been completely shattered. The veneer is destroyed and when he meets his daughter many years later, he is exposed to the dark-side of America; a land full of exploitation and greed that has basically crushed his daughter. His marriage falls apart and he does, as we find out early on the book, try to recreate some semblance of normalcy through a second marriage; however, his first marriage—which is the period in his life that is primarily discussed in this book—is exposed as hollow and that shit happens even to the people who follow all of the rules and societies norms.

The biggest problem I found with this book was that Roth tried to make the story too stereotypical of American culture and made his characters too extreme and well beyond the realm of believability. While it is true that all human beings are incredibly complex and it’s true that bad things happen can happen to good people, I found his presentation of these themes to be rather hyperbolic and unbelievable. All in all, I did not find this book to be that impressive, nor do I think that this book was really worth reading.

-Nausherwan Hafeez, 8-25-09

Monday, July 13, 2009

[Book Review] Islam: The Natural Way

Islam is meant to be the golden mean between all extremes. The central argument of Islam: The Natural Way by Abdul Hamid Wahid is to emphasize this point and explain a step-by-step way how Islam is the natural way for all of creation. This book, in general, is good at illustrating all of the basic beliefs in Islam in a very straightforward and easy way. I found the biggest weakness in this book to actually be the first chapter and there were a number of ideas in his book that weren’t explained as much as they should have been, and some concepts also need some more précising. Still, this book is a good way to find out about the basic beliefs in Islam, famous Sunnah and Hadiths, and particularly relevant quotations from the Qu’ran.

To begin with, this book starts on a very shaky foundation. The entire first chapter is aimed at disproving alternative viewpoints, the nature of and the belief in the existence of God, and the roots of Islam. The chapter does a very poor job of countering alternative worldviews and this section should be ignored. In terms of proving the existence of God, the author quickly comes to the conclusion that there is a God, but his reasoning has many holes in it. However, this books goal is not to explain alternative world viewpoints or discuss the more philosophical nuances in relation to the existence of God, but to explain to the reader what the fundamentals of Islam are about. Consequently, this chapter should be taken with a grain of salt, as the rest of the book focuses on Islam.

The second chapter is entitled “You and Your Condition” and gives an excellent discussion on the responsibilities, activities, and learning of man. The chapter quotes the Quranic verse that says, “On no soul does God place a greater burden than it can bear” (2:286, p. 37). This chapter argues that all men face different challenges and everyone has a variety of responsibilities; it is how we tackle these issues that determine whether or not we are successful in this life. This means that the individual should seek useful knowledge—and, of course, Islamic knowledge is sad to be obligatory—and live a balanced life. Everything is supposed to be done in moderation, and we all must be mindful of our sleep, exercise, cleanliness, fasting and personal issues. The emphasis in this chapter, along with the other chapters in this book, is how Islam is a rational path that leads all creatures to harmony.

The next couple of chapters discuss the individual in relation to their livelihood, family, neighborhood, community, and the universal Ummah.

One is supposed to make a livelihood that benefits oneself and is beneficial to the society. In Islam the dualistic concept of fard ‘ayn—duties obligatory on an individual such as prayers—and fard kifaayah—duties obligatory on the whole community—work in concert so that the individual has personal self-worth and is worthwhile to the community. So, for example, it would be a fard kifaayah for Muslim communities in the West to produce individuals in areas where there is a lack of Muslim representation in such as journalism, academia, and politics.

By earning a good livelihood, one is able to support a healthy family. The nuclear family—which is still emphasized in Western cultures—is critical for the process of tarbiyyah, that is the nurturing of the child. But, Islam also puts an emphasis on respect and relationships in the extended family, thereby broadening the social base of the religion. The basic unit of the family is marriage between a man and a woman. The author argues that,
“So far as the interaction between society, morality, and sex is concerned, there are four choice apparently open to any society:
1. an entirely homosexual society;
2. an entirely promiscuous society;
3. a society in which no sexual relations exist except between husband and wife;
4. a laissez-faire society in which all the above forms are tolerated.” (p. 116)
He goes on to argue that an entirely homosexual society would mean the death of our species. An entirely promiscuous society is thought by some to be the best, but he argues:
“ In such a society, it is imagined that everyone will have complete freedom to choose whoever he like at whatever time he prefers. With such freedom will come the deepest enjoyment as well as the reproduction of the species.

The reality will be different and there will be horrendous difficulties. People will become obsessed with sex. Strange as it may seem, sexual deprivation will be a major problem. Incest and deviant behavior will be common as it is in many societies that are promiscuous. Sexually transmitted diseases will spread.

The effects of all of this on human values and behavior are incalculable. Overall, it will have a degrading effect on sex itself and on human relationships. Sex will not be seen in the context of a whole, loving relationship, but will become an end in iteslef and in the process destroy respect, love, care and responsibility in human relationships.” (p. 117)
So he argues that the most natural state for a society is in which sex is regulated between the husband and the wife. In this sort of relationship, sex is actually encouraged by Islam, and sex is an act that is rewarded by God. He goes on to say:
“When you intend to have sexual intercourse with your wife, the noble Prophet advised that you should court her and approach her in a gentle manner, not in a rough way as animals do. And when you have satisfied yourself, you should wait until she is also satisfied.” (p. 122)
So sex is encouraged in Islam and leads to happiness for a married couple. This happiness can then be also employed and used to support the family.

As for the neighborhood, community, and universal Ummah, Islam teaches that you should be involved at all of these levels. It is said that you should not go to bed if your neighbor is hungry. Working within the community helps to foster natural social ties that bind everyone together. All of us are tied to the universal Ummah, as Muslims believe that no race is superior to any other, and that all people are brothers and sisters in Islam. This is why 25% of the worlds Muslims are Arabs and the largest Muslim country in the world is Indonesia. Islam in America exemplifies this fact, as it is the most ethnically diverse religious community in America. The true egalitarian nature of Islam can be seen in Mosques all across America where immigrant Pakistani’s can be seen praying next to indigenous African Americans and White Americans. It truly is the content of one’s character, not the color of their skin really matters.

The rest of the book discusses relationships with other faiths, global issues, and life after death. Islam argues that there is no compulsion in religion, and while Islam is said to be the universal religion for all mankind, people have the free will to believe what they desire to believe. Islamically it is believed at birth, we are all Muslims—i.e. creatures that submit to the will of God—and that through our varied circumstances, we are shaped into Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists or nonbelievers. Islam is meant to be a natural way to live a harmonious life and to prepare ourselves for the life after death. The gathering on Mount Arafat during the Hajj is meant to be a microcosm of mankind on the Day of resurrection, with billions of people hoping for salvation and eternal bliss.

All in all, I thought this was a good introductory book for the basics on Islam. Other good introductory books would be Islam: A Short History by Karen Armstrong and Muhammad: The Life of the Prophet by Martin Linges. The former gives a succinct overview of Islamic history and the later tells the story of Muhammad (pbuh) and his life. It is my personal belief that Islam is indeed the natural way and does a good job balancing individual concerns with concerns for the wider community.

-Nausherwan Hafeez, 5-24-09

Saturday, May 02, 2009

[Book Review] Of Love and Other Demons

Love ends tragically. That is the essential point of Gabrial Garcia Marquez’s Of Love and Other Demons. This is only the second book I’ve read of his, the first being Chronicle of a Death Foretold which I read back in high school. I’ve always heard good things about his major two works, One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera, and I had high expectations for this book. While I was not disappointed; however, at times, it was difficult read, as it was written in non-stop linear form. The book reminded me of the some of the other Latin American writers I’ve read in times past; in particular, I thought back to Isabel Allende’s House of Spirits and Juan Rulfo’s Pedro Paramo. As the book was a short, quick read, I would recommend it to those interested in the harsher aspects of love, as illustrated through the world of magical realism that Marquez harrowingly paints.

Each character in this novel experiences the burning flames of love, only to have loved destroyed for one reason or another. The protagonist of this piece was Sierva Maria, the daughter of the Marquis and Bernarda. The Marquis had once fallen madly in love with a woman in an insane asylum, but was forbidden from marrying her by a strict father who wanted him to maintain his noble heritage. Consequently the Marquis entered into a loveless arranged—but never consummated—marriage that ended tragically with the death of his wife by a lightning strike, said to caused by the insane woman who he had initially fallen in love with. After the death of his wife, the insane woman wanted to marry him, but he had sworn to himself that he would never marry again. However, a cruel and manipulative commoner forced herself upon the Marquis, stole his virginity and made him marry her, since she had conceived a child allegedly thought to be his. This loveless marriage was a sham and his wife, Bernarda, gave birth to their daughter Sierva Maria. Bernarda herself was inclined towards a hedonistic lifestyle, but fell madly in love with a man she met in the streets. That man was eventually killed and Bernarda, with a broken heart, fell in a downward spiral without her lover until she became a corpulent shell of woman who eventually isolated herself in preparation for her inevitable death from excess.

Then there is the story of Sierva Maria. She was the child of an unhappy couple who ignored her and she was raised amongst the African slaves. Eventually after being attacked by a rabid dog, she was committed to a convent because the Marquis feared she had rabies. She, of course, did not have rabies, but that didn’t stop the church from thinking she was possessed by the devil. This notion was reinforced by the fact that she spoke multiple African languages and was more comfortable with the African slaves than the Hispanics. Eventually she was put in the care of a pedantic 36-year old priest, Cayetano Dealaura. He was supposed to be in charge of her exorcism but instead fell madly in love with the twelve-year old Sierva Maria. The priest, who had spent his entire lifetime accumulating a vast knowledge through both religious and secular books, had never known the pleasures of the flesh. After confessing his carnal desires to the Bishop, Dealaura was stripped of rank and title and put to work in an isolated leper hospital. In spite of this, Dealaura would sneak into Sierva Maria’s cell every night to talk to her and enjoy furtive kisses. Eventually, as with every other love-story in this book, his love affair ends tragically.

All the while, the sole logical—albeit heartless—figure in this book was the Portuguese Atheist Jewish doctor Abrenucio. He represented the realist in the book, who had read widely, particularly in “heritical” (i.e. books banned by the Catholic Church) books and believed in science and reason. He believed that this existence was the end all be all of existence and commented that, “… love was an emotion contra natura that condemned two strangers to a base and unhealthy dependence, and the more intense it was, the more ephemeral.” Well that’s one way to look at things, that is, if the glass is half-empty I suppose.

This book was enjoyable but a rather bleak, if perhaps honest account, of love in this world. Garcia’s writing screams of heartbreak and the un-fulfillment of love. It was a sad reflection on the agonizing aspects of love. Love can be so passionate, so fierce, and yet be as transitory as the passing wind. I believe that one must seize love, however and whenever it finds you, and enjoy it for as long as it lasts. Love long, love deeply, and love the one you’re with, because who knows what tomorrow will bring.

-Nausherwan Hafeez, 5-2-09

Thursday, April 30, 2009

[Book Review] The Brothers Karamazov

I’ll be honest, this was often a dense read. The book was written in a classical nineteenth century Russian style prose, which made it, at times, a difficult slog to get through. Regardless, I did enjoy reading this book—although it took me several months to complete, as I read other things alongside it and I could never exclusively focus on this book—and I thought it had some interesting ideas and social commentaries. All in all, it was good story to read, albeit one that I had to patiently sift through to find the many gems it contained.

So basically the story is about the Karmazov family and their various escapades. In particular, the story is focused on the murder of the patriarch of the family, Fyodor Karmazov. Karmazov has four children—three legitimate, and one illegitimate, sons—that each represent a different ideological focus. Dimitri was the pleasure-seeking rabble-rouser who often over-indulged in the sweeter things of life, but always maintained a strict code of honor. Alyosha was the religious son, who was loved by all and was naïve as a baby and as patient as a turtle. Ivan was the atheistic intellectual, who had discovered the world of ideas, only to leave himself in perpetual doubt of anything, and his self-professed nihilism masked his innate desire for a simpler black-and-white life-style. Smerdyakov was the illegitimate son, spurned as an outsider and became a household servant; his outsider status allowed him to become wily. Smerdyakov was clever and studied similar things to Ivan, but lacked moral scruples because of his feeling of innate dejection from birth. These characters intermingled in a lively series of events tied to the murder mystery of Fyodor Karmazov and the allegation of parricide against Dimitri.

The one section of this book that I found particularly intriguing was the section on the Grand Inquisitor. This section is often listed as one of the most famous short stories in all of literature and, naturally, for good reason. The story was voiced through Ivan and told to the apprehensive and innocent Aloysha. The subject was the notion of God, good versus evil, and stability versus chaos. The story was set during the time of the Spanish Inquisition and was basically a dialogue between Jesus and the Grand Inquisitor, with the latter being the only one who really spoke. Jesus had come back to save the world so as to speak, but as soon as he began performing miracles, he upset the established order. The Catholic Church could not allow for people to defiantly believe in this Messiah, because they had already created their own Messiah, and the Church had become supreme authority over the land since they vicariously ruled in place of the messiah. For the real messiah to come and usurp the Churches established authority—although Jesus would not have wanted to do that—was both blasphemous and rebellious. So Jesus had to be imprisoned, to maintain order and the illusion of God, rather than see the bleakness in reality and understand the full meaning and responsibility entailed in human freedom. The Grand Inquisitor argued against allowing humans total freedom because what they really needed was just bread. The Grand Inquisitor was a hardcore Hobbesian and after his long diatribe against Jesus—in which he blamed him for believing that humans could have freedom and happiness if given the opportunity—he says that it easier for a select few to guide the ignorant masses and provide for their happiness and eternal salvation. It is the burden of the elite, the chosen few who have to carry the real cross, to guide the ignorant masses through their brutish life. The fact that the Grand Inquisitor was an atheist and knew this world was all that there ever will be caused him to lash out against Jesus and argue against the notion of freedom and religion in favor of bread and stability. And, of course, if there is no God, reasons Ivan, then “everything is lawful.” This entire section is a great discourse on the relationship between man and God and definitely worth reading, even if this only section of the book you read.

All in all, I found the book worth reading, though I would only recommend it to those who have the luxury of time in indulge in a classic piece of literature. I was highly recommended this book in eleventh grade by my Philosophy teacher, Mr. Lukacs, and I told him I would eventually get around to reading it. Six years and many experiences later, I see why he had recommended it to me and am thankfully that he did.

-Nausherwan Hafeez, 4-30-09

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Freedom of Speech

I’ll admit, I was a reluctant convert to the notion of complete freedom of speech. I had always believed that some things people said were so vile, so beyond the pale of respectability, that there had to be some boundaries or limitations to the concept of freedom of speech. In fact, once upon a time I did argue that some things were so extreme that they had to be censored. Over time, however, I have come to appreciate what complete freedom of speech entails and what the responsible exercise of this right means for a society.

The reason why freedom of speech is so important is that it directly leads to the broader, and I do believe more fundamentally important, concept of freedom of thought. What this means is that no higher authority indoctrinates those below with uniform notions and ideas; instead, people are free to choose from the marketplace of ideas and develop whatever belief they want based on the strength of evidence. Rational people can (theoretically) listen to the various opinions on some issue and walk away with a new viewpoint. A society grows and flourishes when people can think independently and critically about different viewpoints.

This, in a nutshell, is why freedom of speech is so important. This uniquely Western concept forged during the Enlightenment strengthened the diversity of thought and belief in the Western world. The concept of critical self-reflection became a hallmark of all liberal Western democracies. Freedom of speech has been used by the press to check government abuses. Locke’s Social Contract would have no defender without the freedom of speech. It is the muckraking journalists that expose abuses of power, the ivory-tower academics that document these abuses, and the politicians who have to deal with the fall out of these exposés. Without journalists exposing the horrors of Abu Ghraib, the world would never have know what it means to have America “justice” meted out to (largely innocent) Iraqis. Thus, freedom of speech is inextricably tied to regulating and exposing those in power, but also it allows people to formulate any independent ideas they so desire.

However, even within the domain of Western freedom of speech, sometimes there are ideas that are so offensive that they have become illegal. For example, across much of Europe holocaust denial is a criminal offence fully prosecutable under the law. In fact the historian David Irving was imprisoned in Austria for thirteen months for committing this offence. It was based on this concept that some ideas are so extreme that they must be outlawed, and I vehemently argued against (for more info see my post entitled "Cartoon Controversy") the publication of the cartoons initially published by Danish newspapers that not only depicted the alleged image of the Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) (In Islam this is blasphemous), but also portrayed him as a terrorist.

This is where the idea of responsible usage of the freedom of speech comes into play. I think that people should themselves realize the consequences of using this freedom and perhaps sometimes delicately discuss sensitive issues. With that being said and while I believe that it was utterly wrong for those images to be published, I now believe that it was within those people’s rights to publish that material. As morally repugnant as I believe those cartoons were, it becomes a very tricky issue to regulate what can and can’t be said. How far will we be willing to clamp down on freedom of speech to protect people’s sensibilities? Either everything can be said, or else too many limitations will be placed on the freedom of speech and, by extension, freedom of thought. This is unacceptable for a society that wants a vibrant debate of ideas and diversity of opinions.

More often than not, however, many Western nations practice self-censorship to provide either ideological cover for a particular agenda, or to prevent incensing some sub-group of people’s sensibilities. In terms of self-censorship, the way the mainstream corporate media portrayed the destruction of Gaza by the Israelis is an excellent example of how self-censorship works; the brutalization of a helpless people becomes not only justified—because of course Israel is, and always will be, the victim—but the right thing to do, since Israel is a frontline state in the War on Islam (often referred to as the War on Terror, but these two monikers could be interchangeable). This portrayal reinforces the ideological belief of the US government that Israel must be defended and supported, no matter the cost or reality of a situation. The fact that this reinforces established authority rather than questions its actions is a failure in the fight for freedom of speech.

The other type of self-censorship is how to deal with a sensitive issue for a particular sub-group in society. The example of the cartoon controversy can be revisited here. The publishing of these cartoons became a rallying tool used across the Middle East to protest Western ideological imperialism. The consequence of the publications of these cartoons (even though they were published months before) was riots in cities across the Middle East, the burning of embassies, and the deaths of dozens of people. In the West, it provided for an example of how sacrosanct the notion of freedom of speech is, no matter the cost. In the East, it provided the masses a distraction to focus on the external enemy (i.e. the brutal, tyrannical, imperialist West) and deflected focus on the terrible governments that rule over these people.

One important distinction to be made, however, is that I have purposely portrayed the Western concept of freedom of speech as more monolithic than it actually is; the reason I’ve done this is for simplicity sake and that for almost all of the major issues, Western freedom of speech is essentially uniform (i.e. anything can be said as long as isn’t a direct threat to a countries sovereignty—like saying, “I’m planning a revolution in so-and-so country, and this is how I’m going to do it.”) amongst liberal Western democracies. However, I must note that the US notion of freedom of speech is still, by far, the most liberal and complete of any Western democracy. There is very little that you can’t say in America. That being said, you should still watch what you say, since your words and ideas will have direct consequences for you, but that is of course patently obvious.

The concept of freedom of speech has still not penetrated Oriental cultures yet. I don’t want to sound like an Orientalist here (I swear Edward Said, I won’t sell out) but there are some generalizations that can be made of the Oriental mindset. One is that Oriental cultures tend to have more deference for authority, are less willing to forcefully speak out, and are circumspect, rather than direct, in their criticisms. While I do believe in cultural relativism as the only realistic way to deal with cultural differences, I feel like the inability of these peoples to freely speak their minds has prevented them from freely thinking. I mean think about it, Google could NEVER have been created in the intellectually stifling and painfully uniform culture of say China.

This independent thinking, the ability to innovate, has been something that Orientalists have criticized the Orient for. Orientalists argue that this inability to innovate prevented the Orient from evolving and challenging archaic, and possibly wrong, norms and values. For example, the Orientalist Bernard Lewis’ central thesis in What Went Wrong? was that Islamic civilization failed because they lacked the capability to create new ideas. Instead the Dar al-Islam was left to wither away and cheaply imitate Western development, but without absorbing the intrinsic meat of the ideas that allowed for the development of the West. I do believe this argument holds some merit, even though the source is obviously suspect.

The list of failures in Orient because of a lack of freedom of speech is long and damning. To use China as an example, Chinese repression of Tibet and East Turkestan (i.e. the Xingxiang province) is not well documented at all. There is only a small drip of news that reaches the West of the brutal repression of Buddhist monks and the destruction of Muslim villages and mosques. Juxtapose Chinese treatment of Uigher Muslims that they capture (those captured in revolt against China are usually never seen again) and the amount of press coverage the American gulag known as Guantánamo Bay has gotten. Yes Gitmo is a deep stain on America’s reputation and is an ongoing tragedy; but at least we are able to document the abuses that have occurred and perhaps one day fix—in however inadequate of a way—some of the mistakes we have made. Then, hopefully America won’t repeat this travesty. But look at China. It disappears people regularly but doesn’t suffer from media agitation against its brutal policies. Hence it never receives moral opprobrium or pressure to change its unjust actions. It, therefore, never has to learn a lesson and can continue to oppress those that deviate from the mandates of the state. I believe that this is not only wrong but that this will hinder China ideologically in the future, thus preventing it from becoming a benevolent world power. Instead, China is on a path of Soviet-like preeminence in the world, except that it has the economic capacity to maintain its (rapidly growing) informal empire and status in the globe while the Soviets didn’t.

Another Eastern example that has relevance to my current situation is Malaysia. People here are programmed to believe certain concepts from an early age and any deviance from those beliefs is seen as heretical. To be heretical in a collectivist society is to be cast out into the wilderness, without protection, and constantly being in fear of slipping up badly so that the vicious wolves can pounce. So to question inane government actions lands bloggers here in jail. To be opposed to the government line, you may be tarnished with sodomy charges. To hold a protest of more than five people, a permit is required (something like 99.9% of these requests are denied). Malaysia—and basically the rest of the developing world—needs to accept and tolerate different opinions other than the normative ones; if these societies do adopt this liberalism, they will flourish and succeed. If they don’t, they will remain intellectually castrated and unable to evolve to a higher degree of civilization.

So pick up the White Man’s Burden and proselytize the righteousness of freedom of speech. Okay so that’s perhaps a bit tongue-in-cheek. But still, I believe that it is critical for Eastern societies to develop a healthy tolerance for the notion of freedom of speech. This will greatly benefit their societies and allow for innovative thinkers to create new technologies and improve on the stagnant status quo. Free thought allows for the gestation of new ideas. Ideas do matter and hold extreme relevance in an idea-driven world. Marx’s concept of communism—although bastardized by the Soviet Union—affected hundreds of millions of people worldwide; so too, a new idea, a new innovation, could revolutionize human society. Freedom of speech is a necessity that could allow for this. This provides for the flowering of the world of ideas and checks governmental abuses of power. To quote the famous American founding father Patrick Henry, “Give me Liberty, or Give me Death.”

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Pakistan Problem

Pakistan was a nation that was founded based on the radical notion that religion could create a new nation that had never previously existed. Pakistan was the flowering of the dream of a truly pan-Islamic identity. The creation of the country based on religion, as opposed to nationalism, was a truly monumental moment for Muslims internationally. A hope or dream of a country where Islam was the unifying theme, not race, language, or tribe. Alas, this dream has failed.

Pakistan has failed for a myriad of reasons. The country is hindered by extreme poverty, underdevelopment, and misallocation of resources. Add this to the already dominant problems of illiteracy, overpopulation, environmental degradation, internal insurgencies, external threats, terrible political leadership, a shattered economy, a growing domestic Taliban movement and a move towards a more puritanical interpretation of Islam in the public sphere, a selfish middle-class, a still feudal-esque class system and you have a country that is on the brink of disaster.

If one looks objectively at the Musharraf years versus Pakistan’s current situation, there is no doubt that times were better under Musharraf. That’s not to say I endorsed him or his many ridiculous actions—because I did not—but Pakistan was substantively better with him at the reigns than under Zardari. I mean it was under him that the Baluchistan separatist movement grew traction and was brutally suppressed, he took a heavy handed approach to domestic dissidents as was apparent with his sacking of the judiciary, there is the lingering issue of disappeared people from his cooperation with the US in the War on Terror, and a much longer list of failures. But the positives—like consistent economic growth of around 5%, minimal inflation, reducing economic debt, the construction of new highways and other infrastructure, preventing the US from too rapidly expanding the War on Terror into Pakistan—are all things that made Musharraf’s rule tolerable.

Pakistan has always faced cyclical waves of dictatorship followed by democracy. Civilian rule—outside of the first generation of leaders—has always been bad, if not severely unsettling in terms of the country’s best interests. The domestic Pakistani political system is corrupt to the core. The PPP is a feudal party where leadership is dynastic, not democratic. The PML-N ruled over the downward spiral of Pakistan in the late 1990s and Nawaz Sharif continues to unfortunately lead the party. Jamait-e-Islami is a reactionary political force. Imran Khan’s Justice Party has no real following and is still a bourgeois attempt to change the system from within. There is no decent political party that Pakistani’s can vote for; consequently, Pakistan will continue to be led off a cliff by terrible leadership.

On top of all of these problems, Pakistan is increasingly becoming the next theater in the never-ending War on Terror. Many people had hoped that President Obama would try to solve global problems through principled diplomacy; however, as his actions have proven thus far, he is committed to the use of force as a means of achieving peace. President Obama has tried to solve the issue of Pakistan through the use of force. President Bush tried to solve this issue through the ballot box. Bush failed; Obama will fail. President Obama’s actions build upon the failure of the Bush Administration policies and all of these factors taken together paint a bleak picture for Pakistan’s future.

Bush’s Failures
President Bush failed in his approach to dealing with Pakistan. He provided over $10 billion dollars of mostly military aid to Pakistan before having to deal with the ugly aftermath of political trouble that gripped Pakistan in 2008. The crisis in Pakistan during the end of last year exposed both the naivety and fallacy of Bush’s black and white worldview. Bush’s attempts to promote democracy abroad consistently failed and Pakistan was just another in a long-list of foreign policy blunders.

The central problem with Bush’s worldview was that he viewed the world in absolutes. Bush had been a stalwart proponent of exporting democracy; however, his focus had been on promoting procedural democracy where having a round of elections proves that a nation has become ‘democratic’. By promoting procedural over institutional democracy, Bush failed Pakistan and other countries in his grand plan to democratize the world.

In Pakistan, President Bush had pushed hard on former President Pervez Musharraf’s regime to hold free and fair elections. Musharraf, a military general turned statesman, had been forced to accept this Faustian deal last year after facing intense internal dissent over the sacking of judges (some have now been reinstated, including recently the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Iftikhar Chaudhry), heavy handed tactics in the tribal areas, disappearing people, attempts at privatization of state industries such as the Pakistan Steel Mills, and declaring a state of emergency. Bush’s default antidote for these ills was democracy.

The theory was that the Bush Administration would help engineer a new democratic government in Pakistan vis-à-vis a power-sharing agreement between the former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and President Musharraf. After Bhutto was assassinated, her Pakistan Peoples Party was elected to rule the country along with former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s Muslim League. These two main parties and Musharraf reached a political impasse after several months of political haggling. Eventually Musharraf was run out of town and replaced by the kleptocrat Asif Ali Zardari, the infamously corrupt widower of Bhutto who is derisively known by the moniker Mr. 10%, to try and save Pakistan. However, comparatively speaking, looking at Musharraf’s reign and Zardari’s current position makes it seem that Bush bet (yet again) on the wrong horse.

Since Zardari has taken power, Pakistan has floundered and gone into a great deal of debt. Just to remain solvent, Pakistan has had to request billions of dollars of conditional loans from the IMF and World Bank. The Rupee is facing a strong inflationary trend, the economy is severely contracting, and Pakistan faces the risk of economic collapse. Add to this toxic mix a growing indigenous Taliban movement and constant clashes with Tribesmen in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and you have a recipe for disaster.

Bush’s failure was that he didn’t understand how to deal with Pakistan. He tried to offer largesse to the Pakistani military for as long as it was politically possible and then he switched over to his tried and true method of supporting elections. Of course this is the same Bush who supported democratic elections in countries only to renege on supporting the results of those elections (The most obvious examples that come to mind are in Palestine and in Lebanon—Hamas was ostracized in the international community and Hezbollah was ignored.). The great irony in Bush’s actions is that his support for elections undermined his goals for Pakistan, just as it did in Palestine and Lebanon. His promotion of procedural democracy backfired and his solution for Pakistan failed.

Obama and the Way Forward
With Obama’s decision to expand unmanned aerial bombardment deeper into Pakistani territory, things can only get worse. By bombing Pakistan, Obama is making a huge mistake. Not only are his actions illegal according to international law they add to the violence in the region. By dropping bombs that kill mostly civilians, Obama is creating even greater animosity towards the US. If Obama—the supposed White Knight who is supposed to rescue America from being loathed internationally—continues and expands Bush era policies, America will permanently lose face in the eyes of millions of people in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Obama had the choice to withdraw peaceably from Iraq, gradually withdraw from Afghanistan, and deal with the Pakistan issue through the use of the carrot (i.e. giving development funds for education, for example, is a much more effective use of money than any bomb will ever be); however, he chose to continue the occupation in Iraq until at least the end of 2011, surge the war in Afghanistan, and escalate the War on Terror into Pakistan. Obama has chosen the path of perdition that will not only damn the countries that are on the receiving end of this occupation, but also consign America to lost prestige, power, resource, and efficacy in international affairs. These actions will not address Pakistan’s underlying problems and will fail just as Bush’s attempts at democracy promotion did.

The way forward out of yet another quagmire and possibly a fully failed state is through principled diplomacy and generous developmental funding. Pakistan desperately needs money for basic infrastructure like roads, schools, and hospitals. Pakistan does not need a further militarization of its society and that would be exactly what will happen if Obama continues to attack Pakistan. Pakistan needs stability to attract foreign investment and needs to deal with the crippling illiteracy and poverty that plague the nation. Pakistan received some level of respect in international relations when Musharraf was in power; he helped to improve Pakistan’s economy, built up $15billion dollars worth of cash reserves to insulate the economy (most of these funds have been wasted since he left office), he cooperated in the War on Terror, and did improve Pakistan’s standing in the world. Musharraf is now long gone and Obama has to deal with the kleptocrats that currently rule Pakistan. He needs to offer the carrot to a starving nation that is on the brink of collapse. If there is no radical change soon, Pakistan will fall further into the abyss and the dream of become the leading Islamic country in the world will never be achieved. But if Pakistan fails, the West will deserve some of the blame. Beware a country that has nothing left to lose and Obama must change his approach to Pakistan immediately or else…

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Langkawi

I took a trip to the famous Langkawi Island from January 24th through the 26th. I enjoyed myself thoroughly and below there are some thoughts and reflections on my trip.

General Reflections
My overall impression of the island was that it was nice, but seemed like a tourist trap. The island was quite built-up and the modus operandi appeared to be sucking as much money out of visitors as possible. The island was an escape from what the real Malaysia looks like. In terms of beauty, the beaches were decent but the landscape was fantastic. There were small, lush tree covered hills that were stunning and really put me in awe of nature’s beauty.

The island is worth going to if you want to get a very touristy type of beach experience. Depending on your budget, you could stay at a swanky resort (as some ETAs did) or at some pretty cheap hostels (which I did). Regardless, it’s doubtful that you will spend much time at your place of residence—there are so many things to do on the beach that you will keep yourself very busy. That being said I would only recommend Langkawi to people who want a fully developed tropical island beach vacation; it was definitely not for people who just want a more pristine, underdeveloped island where you can sit back, relax and get in touch with nature (for that type of experience, I would highly recommend Palau Kapas—more on this on some later post).

Food
The one thing that I absolutely loved about Langkawi was the food. There were many different types of foods to choose from—Italian, American, Malay, Thai, Indian, etc.—but I really enjoyed the Indian food. There was an Indian restaurant called the Taj Mahal (go figure) which served some truly authentic Indian dishes. I’m generally a very picky eater but this place had some fantastic dishes. One of the best dishes that I had was the butter chicken—the warm, tender chicken was properly marinated in a thick sauce that was achingly good and made me come back for a repeat visit. It was a great change of pace from all the Nasi-whatever I had been eating and the food did wonders for my famished stomach.

Beware the Seven Wells
On Monday the 26th, I decided that I wanted to head over to the Seven Wells. The Seven Wells is a series of ponds about 200m up a 1200m high mountain. I climbed a series of steep steps up the mountain and reached the scenic top. I arrived at the spot fairly out of breath but normally I wouldn’t have found the climb up so difficult; however, since I was carrying my backpack—that contained all of my travel items and probably weighted about 20lbs.—on my sun-burnt shoulders the climb was a bit of a challenge. The extra weight made the climb up a bit difficult, but the view was worth it.

After enjoying staring out at the scenic vista, we (Neil, Matt, and I) decided to go off on a side-trail. The trail had a sign that said 1000m, so we figured that we didn’t have to go too far. We trekked for fifteen minutes through the jungle, with heavy overgrowth on both sides of trail. We were making a steady climb at about a 40 degree incline up deeper into the jungle. We then saw a sign that said 700m and we were quite confused. We had been walking for quite a while and shouldn’t the distance be decreasing?

At this point, I was starting to feel exhausted. The backpack on top of the sweltering jungle heat was quite taxing. My shirt was completely drenched from sweat and every step I took, little droplets of sweat trickled down my face, passing down my beard, before finally dropping to the ground as I walked further into the jungle. Another fifteen minutes later, we saw another sign that said that there were 500 more meters to go and I was utterly perplexed. Then it finally dawned on me—it wasn’t 500 meters to go, it was 500 meters vertically to the top of the mountain.

So I continued to trudge on in my quest to the top of the mountain. Since I was walking slower, Matt and Neil had walked far ahead of me and I was traveling alone in search of the summit. The further up I went, the steeper the climb. Finally, there was a sign that said the peak was just up another incline. This incline, however, was extremely steep, probably at about a 70 degree angle. There was a rope that you had to use if you wanted to go up to the top. So I started going up and maybe 30m from the top, I saw Matt and Neil coming back down. I asked them what was on the top of the mountain and I was quite disappointed to find out that at the top of the mountain there was only a little sign that said, “Please turn around.” There was no scenic vista, nothing of value at the top, just a little sign telling whatever poor sap had made the journey to turn around. Damn.

So my trip back down the mountain was a race to prevent dehydration. I knew I was on the borderline of exhaustion as my head started feeling light and I had to pull my belt even tighter. I raced to the bottom and ran directly to the small store that offered refreshments. There, I bought three 16oz. bottles of juice, 2 16oz. bottles of water, and then proceeded to drink all of these things in under 10 minutes. The hike had been exhausting, but at least I was able to get my workout in for the day.

I did have a good time in Langkawi—lots of fun in the sun (from which I received my first ever sun-burn), good cuisine, lots of explorations, and some good conversations. Langkawi was a great trip to wrap up my January travels in Malaysia and I was ready to go tackle my “responsibilities” in Kerteh, Kemaman starting Febuary 1. Yay for vacations!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Obama and the Unwinnable Wars

Never in the past three years have I been this disconnected from the news. One of my most diligent habits since my sophomore year of college has been to closely follow the news and know about what’s going on in the world. These past two months I’ve been quite disconnected from the news and world events. However, from what little I’ve heard and read the world seems to be in increasingly in dire straits. I’m not really surprised about this per se because all of the warning signs have been around for years. But the allegorical shit has hit the roof and America is collapsing under the weight of its own internal contradictions.

Now is a time for a dramatic change in how we live in this world and how our leaders respond to crises. Iraq and Afghanistan are conundrums that the Obama Administration has to deal with. Just as the foolish invasion of a country (i.e. Afghanistan) accelerated and eventually became the catalyst for the death of the Soviet Empire, so too will the America Empire find its death in the sands of Iraq and the caves of Afghanistan. America is bogged down in two unwinnable wars that the Obama Administration has fully committed to continue. Afghanistan was already in terrible shape before the US bombed the country back to the Stone Age. Iraq has been a country that has been devastated by years of internal oppression followed by a brutal occupation that has cost the lives of over a million Iraqis and displaced millions of others. We’ve used depleted uranium bullets to kill “terrorists” and civilians alike, leaving behind a trail of death and cancer-causing pollutants that have already devastated these countries and will continue to plague these people for generations to come. We’ve bombed wedding parties in the mistaken attempt to root out terror. We’ve dropped laser-guided missiles on schools, mosques, and houses where “terrorists” hide. We’ve brutalized and tortured prisoners from Bagram to Abu Graib, Guantanamo, and beyond.

So President Obama has made two significant policy pronouncements on both Iraq and Afghanistan. I will begin by briefly commenting on the Afghan issue before I devote the rest of this piece to Obama’s ludicrous policy statement on Iraq.

President Obama announced on February 17, 2009 that he would be sending an additional 17,000 troops to bolster the 36,000 American troops that are already in Afghanistan. Adding more troops to a lost cause will only cost more money, unnecessary death and destruction, and a further deterioration of America’s prestige and image abroad. Obama is lucky to be following the worst President in US history so any action he takes people would like to give him the benefit of the doubt. However, the US has been in Afghanistan for over eight years now and has not substantively accomplished anything. Yes it is true that some roads have been built, schools have been opened, and the US has made an effort to provide some reconstruction funds to Afghanistan. But it is also true that we are the ones who destroyed the country in the first place (okay so Afghanistan was already in shambles before the US annihilated everything that was still standing), killed thousands of innocent civilians, and our actions have also been motivated by geostrategic and resource-related issues. More troops will not solve the problem; only through principled diplomacy with those figures that we loathe (namely the Taliban which has slowly regained control over much of Afghanistan) can we extricate ourselves from this quagmire. Without an exit strategy, Obama will waste more money, more lives, and fail to achieve a long-term just peace. Adding more fuel to the fire will mean that Afghanistan will continue to die a protracted death over the coming years.

President Obama delivered a major policy speech on Febuary 27, 2009 that outlined his plans for the future of Iraq. This policy speech was quite disappointing for those peace advocates who believed that Obama’s election was a mandate to withdraw troops from Iraq. However many of his points were in line with his pre-election statements although he did make changes for the worse in his position. But that is to be expected from any politician, even the messianic type. Obama’s significant electoral victory should have allowed him to make a bold policy change in Iraq. Instead Obama stated in his policy speech that:
As a candidate for President, I made clear my support for a timeline of 16 months to carry out this drawdown, while pledging to consult closely with our military commanders upon taking office to ensure that we preserve the gains we’ve made and protect our troops. Those consultations are now complete, and I have chosen a timeline that will remove our combat brigades over the next 18 months.

Let me say this as plainly as I can: by August 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end.

Obama has decided to expand the time-frame for withdrawal and even after the end of the combat mission, “Security Forces” will be left behind to assist the Iraqis. All of this sounds a lot like President Bush and his “Mission Accomplished” notion and is far from what anti-war advocates had hoped for. This is utterly unacceptable and Obama has broken a key promise of his electoral campaign.

Obama continued his speech and explained that:
After we remove our combat brigades, our mission will change from combat to supporting the Iraqi government and its Security Forces as they take the absolute lead in securing their country. As I have long said, we will retain a transitional force to carry out three distinct functions: training, equipping, and advising Iraqi Security Forces as long as they remain non-sectarian; conducting targeted counter-terrorism missions; and protecting our ongoing civilian and military efforts within Iraq. Initially, this force will likely be made up of 35-50,000 U.S. troops.

Through this period of transition, we will carry out further redeployments. And under the Status of Forces Agreement with the Iraqi government, I intend to remove all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2011. We will complete this transition to Iraqi responsibility, and we will bring our troops home with the honor that they have earned.

Obama does not really want to withdraw from Iraq; he just wants to change the parameters for how we remain in the country. Just as before the escalation of the war in Vietnam with President Lyndon B. Johnson where US troops in Vietnam were seen as merely “advisers”, Obama will be leaving “Security Advisors” in Iraq at least until the end of 2011. This is ludicrous since it has been noted that we can fully withdraw from Iraq within six months. The Iraq War is now Obama’s war and he will have to answer for the money wasted, lives lost, and failure in our perpetual occupation of Iraq.

America is at a cross roads. We can either withdraw immediately from the mess that we have created and provide liberal reconstruction funds to Iraq and Afghanistan, or we can continue down our path of perdition and continue these unwinnable wars. We should remember that,
Politicians, by definition, respond to political pressure. Those who decide that it's best to keep quiet and simply trust in the goodness and just nature of their leader are certain to have their political goals ignored. It's always better -- far better -- for a politician to know that he's being scrutinized closely and will be praised and supported only when his actions warrant that, and will be criticized and opposed when they don't.

Obama is no different. Americans must demand an end to these wars now. We can no longer stand by and wait until America collapses because of its imperial hubris. Without swift action America is doomed to collapse like the Soviet Union. This should not happen. Let us remember the wise words of Abraham Lincoln and hope that we can step back from the precipice:
The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Stories from KT

I spent two crazy weeks in Kuala Terengganu from January 9th through the 23rd. I made many memories and had an amazing time. Initially, I was trying to decide whether or not to make this several blog posts, or just one really long post. I’ve decided on the later and will differentiate between the various stories with separate subheadings. What follows are some of the different experiences I had while in KT.

Kuala Terengganu
KT itself was a dramatic change of pace from KL. KL is a cosmopolitan city with lots of eateries and places to visit. KT was a small city with very few sites to see and delicacies to sample. Although KT offered less in the way of attractions, the experiences that I had here more than made up for whatever it lacked.

Seri Malaysia
For our two week stay in KT, the ETAs got to chill and relax in the Seri Malaysia hotel. The hotel was located on a dirty river next to Chinatown in a semi-busy part of town. The food that they served was generally subpar—except for the copious amounts of watermelon that everyone seemed to be thoroughly enjoying—and the rooms were quite basic. There was two simple double beds, a crappy TV that didn’t really to work that often, and a piss-poor excuse for a bathroom (though, on the plus side, there was heated water for the shower). It was a huge step down from the Dorset Regency that we had stayed in while we were back in KL, but as time went by, I became more accustomed to the basic accommodations. Once we got settled into the hotel, it became a second home and a daily part of our lives. Many memories were made here, friendships were forged, and we received what was dubbed an “orientation” for our program.

Locked Up (1-13-09)
One of the oddest experiences that I had was getting locked in my hotel room.

One morning I decided I wanted to show up to class on time for a change. I had already made it a habit of showing up to class late and I figured that I shouldn’t always be the last one to get to class. I woke up at 745am, headed down for breakfast and then headed back up to my room. Unfortunately my room key was still in the room so I had to call maintenance to open the door. Once they opened the door, I went in grabbed my bookbag, arranged some things in the room, and then I tried to leave.

At this point it was only 830am and I wasn’t too late for my morning session. Technically, our orientation classes were supposed to begin around 8am. Realistically, since everything ran on Malaysian standard time, classes would actually begin between 815 and 830. So I figured I was good on time and I yanked hard on the door to open it. I pulled with all my strength but the doorknob would not budge. The door just didn’t want to open. I chuckled at my predicament for a bit and then I thought that maybe I wasn’t turning the door properly. Try as I did, the door would simply not open.

So I decided to call the front desk and ask them to send someone up to open the door. The puzzled operator said someone would come up shortly. In the meantime, I called up Neil, my roommate, and asked if he would try to come upstairs and open up the door. He came up, I slid my keys to him and he tried opening the door. That attempt didn’t work either. I laughed and told Neil that he should explain to the teacher (if she cared) that I was locked in my room and hence I would be late to class.

Now that lame sounding excuse in the bag, I decided to chill around the room until things fixed. After a couple of minutes, the maintenance guy came up and told me he would have to call the locksmith. At this point, I figure I’m going to be in the room for a good while so I turn on my computer and started surfing the net.

Finally around 9am, the locksmith came and said he would have to take the entire knob off. The only problem was that he would have to come to my side to unscrew the doorknob. That was a bit of a problem. I was staying on the third floor and there was only one alternate to enter the room and that was through the very small (for show only) balcony outside of my window. The poor Malay locksmith had to get in so he had no choice but to go through the room next door, out their balcony, and then jump to my balcony. He then had to crawl through the small windows that looked out towards the street and only then could he get into my room. Had this been a different situation, I might have tried my hand at some parkour, but I figured this wasn’t the appropriate time or place.

Once he was in my room, he proceeded to unscrew my doorknob and then let me out of my room. It was rather difficult to try to explain to people how I managed to lock myself into my hotel room and hence why I wasn’t able to get to class on time. It wasn’t a big deal as I didn’t really miss much. Showing up late (or not showing up at all) became a norm for me from here on out…

Mosque Park
The biggest attraction in KT was the Mosque Park. This place had scaled down replicas of something like 20 major Islamic buildings from around the world. There was an amazing replica of the Dome of the Rock which you could actually walk inside of. It was a Muslim version of a theme park and was an interesting concept. I enjoyed seeing architecture from all across the Muslim world and it really represented the transnational heritage of Islam across the word.

Election Madness (1-15-09, 1-17-09)
One of the most memorable experiences I had was observing the by-election for a seat in the national parliament. Apparently some Baricion Nacional (BN) politician had a heart attack and died while playing badminton, so his vacated seat was being contested by the BN and the opposition Pakatan Rakyat (PR). The election held national significance in the sense that it was being framed as a referendum on UMNO’s actions since the last election in 2008. Both sides were bringing the political heavy hitters into town and there were major political figures from both sides actively campaigning for votes. In fact, I was even able to meet with the leader of the opposition, Anwar Ibrahim, for a brief moment. I saw him before a rally and when I spoke to him he spoke softly and with a gentleman’s character. At the rally, however, it seemed as though he had done a complete transformation into a dynamic, charismatic leader that was easily able to captivate a packed audience with both wit and eloquence. I didn’t understand what he was saying the majority of time since he was primarily speaking Bahasa, but I could still feel the electricity in the room. After hearing him speak at the rally for PAS (the Islamist party that was part of the opposition PK), I was fairly convinced that they would win the elections. Sure enough, when Election Day rolled around on the 17th, PAS won.

Election Day was insanity brought to life. Daytime was relatively calm but as soon as the sun went down an eerie aura of anticipation could be felt in the streets. Everyone seemed to be following the news, waiting to hear who had won. I finally heard the news from Salem while I was at KT Bowling and I immediately joined him out on the streets. Though I knew little (and still know very little) about PAS or UMNO, I thought it would be appropriate to join in on the festivities (I figured, “When in Rome, right?”). PAS had won the elections and there was utter mayhem on the streets. The green and white moon PAS flag fluttered out of every passing car and motorcycle. People erupted in the most spontaneous display of political euphoria that I had ever seen. Everyone was taking pictures and a Mercedes S 500 even slowed down to take a picture of Salem, Afua, and me. Naturally I jumped in with the crowds and started walking down the street yelling, “Takbeer!” In response—almost instantaneously it seemed—I would hear a loud chorus of “Allahu Akbars!” I got caught up in the fervor and excitement and night was alive with the sound of car horns and “Allahu Akbar.”

All of sudden an armored tank passed me by on the street and reality began to set in. I looked at Salem in utter disbelief and began to question whether it was wise for us to continue to be on the streets with the large presence of police stating to take positions across the city. There were something like 11,000 additional police brought into the city to maintain order (KT’s population is less than 250,000) and I saw the 5-0 out in full effect. Police in full riot gear—batons and barriers outstretched—seemed to pop up on every street corner. All sorts of wild thoughts began to cross my mind: What would I do if the police confronted me? What if I saw some police brutality? What if the police resorted to using (the many) water cannons that they had? I started vaguely forming an alibi and if I had been confronted, I figured I would keep saying I was an American and just observing what was going on.

We decided to continue walking down any streets that were not blockaded. Consequently, we were forced to take the rather scenic route back to hotel. By scenic route I mean walking by rows and rows of policemen on our way from the main beach in KT to the Seri Malaysia hotel. The walk back to the hotel was a complete 180 degree change from the mood earlier in the night. Irrational exuberance had been replaced by the somber reality of the rule of law and order. Still, the night was an amazing experience and I was impressed by the amount of visceral joy that was brought to the masses merely through the simple democratic process of elections. The democratic socialist in me was very happy that night.

Eating in KT
Apparently Malaysia’s favorite past-time is eating. There is breakfast in the morning (around 7 something), tea time (around 10 something), lunch (noon time), lupper (4ish), and then dinner (8-9ish). Everything that is cooked has to be deep fried, have a ridiculous amount of salt and sugar in it, and basically be terrible for your health. Native Malay cuisine isn’t really that good (in fact, most of the dishes are pretty crappy), but the selection of eateries in KT was limited. We were stuck with eating at KFC, Pizza Hut, or the occasional random roadside restaurant. There was one decent Japanese restaurant but other than that, there was a dearth of ethnic foods. However, all of our meals were already provided for at the hotel. Still anytime we got sick of the hotel food, we would try and hit up some random eatery.

One of the nicest food stalls was the waffle lady. Near our hotel, there was this woman who would serve hot waffles on the side of the road next to a convenient store. The first time I went, I watched curiously as a portly Malay woman buttered up a waffle iron and then proceeded to pour the waffle mix onto it. Once the waffle was toasted to a semi-crisp—but still moist—state, she would lather the waffle with a mixture of peanut butter and chocolate. I would get my steaming waffle and usually wolf it down on my walk back to the hotel.

Obama’s Inauguration (1-21-09)
On January 21st at around 12:30 am KT time, a group of ETAs decided to watch the historic inauguration of America’s first black President. The messiah-in-chief would be sworn in to a country that was collapsing under the weight of its own internal contradictions.

Chalmers Johnson eloquently parallels in his Blowback trilogy the current state of America with that of the former Soviet Union. He argued that the latter’s collapse was broadly caused by internal economic contradictions, inability to reform, and imperial overstretch. He then built up an argument that said America faced these same issues and was bound to go the way of the USSR without dramatic change.

Now I don’t remember all of his specifics, I want to make a few comments along these themes. Without going into a long and detailed rant to support this general thesis, one can clearly see why the American Empire is collapsing.

In terms of internal economic contradictions, there are so many to list that I don’t know where to start. To briefly list a few:
1) The US has tried overwhelming fiscal and monetary intervention in the economy and they haven’t been able to do anything to fix the economy.
2) The Federal Reserve—which has far too little oversight—has decided to cut interest rates to nothing, lent money out of thin air, has increased the inflationary tendencies of the dollar, and wholly has no control over real regulation.
3) The Banking system in America is in shambles and all major banks need to be nationalized to prevent a complete collapse of the economic current economic system.
4) Money is misallocated to things that don’t need money—e.g. imperial wars—and doesn’t go towards improving domestic needs.

In terms of the inability to reform, our sclerotic political system is clearly incapable of change. America will always be controlled by either the Democrats or the Republicans. Effective and popular majoritarian positions (e.g. the desire for universal healthcare) will be constantly ignored either because of apathy or ignorance. Individuals who oppose the two-party hegemony are marginalized and ignored and the people with the best ideas—e.g. Ralph Nader—are ignored in favor of false hopes (i.e. Obama). The Electoral College will continue to prevent any real change from occurring at the executive level and the legislative level will remain neutered except for a handful of legislators who try to constructively change the system (e.g. Feingold, Paul, Ellison, Kucinich, etc.).

In terms of imperial overstretch the most obvious examples are Afghanistan and Iraq. But that’s not all. America has bases or military personal in over 130 countries worldwide. We spend over $1 trillion dollars each year on the military, that is more than the rest of the world combined. Our penchant for hard power has only bred more hatred against America and we can no longer sustain our imperial delusions.

With all of these thoughts in the back of my mind, I sat down to watch Obama speak. We started watching the speech in my room; however, because of the slow internet connection, we headed downstairs to watch the speech on tv in another ETAs room. The speech itself was not substantive but more an attempt to change the tone in Washington. While Obama still held out his cautious optimism, he clearly recognized the challenges that were facing America. His eloquence and charisma make you want to believe him; however his actions temper that enthusiasm. For example, the first attack Obama launched after was elected was an air strike on Pakistani territory. On January 23, 2009, Obama authorized a Predator drone bombing of Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal areas in which twenty-three people were killed. Out of this group, allegedly 8 to 10 were Al-Qaeda or Taliban members. The rest were all civilians, including women and children. Violating any countries sovereignty is illegal according to international law and Obama’s actions have made him a war criminal. Three days into his Presidency, the airy rhetoric fell away in favor of the harsh reality of what an Obama Presidency actually means. Twenty-three people—theoretically it could have been any of the twenty-three ETAs here in Malaysia if we had been born in a different place—are no longer on this planet because of Obama’s actions.

As Obama’s true colors show, I am slightly reassured by my own actions in the sense that I did not vote for him. I voted for Ralph Nader. I voted my conscious and am glad that I did not vote for the alleged lesser of two evils.

Still I don’t want Obama to fail. I would like to see him change America for the better. However I know enough about him, his policies, and his advisers to know that he will not realistically bring about a substantive change that people have hoped for.

KT Bowling
One of the coolest places to go in KT was KT Bowling (yes that does say a lot about how “vibrant” the city actually is). At different points in time, I would go bowling with some of the other ETAs and enjoy a typical American past-time. One tradition that we made was to have anyone who gets a strike do a little dance. Strikes were rare, as our skill level in general was quite low, but after one strike I (attempted) to break-dance. I did a little slipping and sliding across the waxed floor and managed to break it down a little bit. I’m sure I’ll visit KT Bowling again at some point.