Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Lessons from Gaza 2008

  • If you are poking a bee's nest with a stick, better be sure to have protection for when they come out. One has to question the tactical necessity of firing rockets at residential areas in Israel. What objective, military or otherwise, did they achieve?

  • "Only 13 Israelis dead, is it justice?" is not what one should be asking. While it may be sadistically stimulating on some base human emotional level to see thousands of dead Israelis that does not accomplish anything nor does it offer long lasting peace or even justice. Same is true for the dead on the Gaza side. Killing thousands of Gaza residents will not give Israel peace for any notable duration of time.

  • Words can only take you so far. The Hamas had thousands of good words but Israel is still the superior military power. Hezbollah 2006 was an anomaly. This time, they did not hesitate to kill civilians. This is actually how war is supposed to be if you want to achieve your military objectives. Hamas stupidly gambled on the war being "nice". War is never nice and innocent civilians die. Question is - who cares? Neither side, it seems.

  • Israel clearly has the support of the world's only superpower. Gaza does not even have the support of fellow Palestinians. Abbas criticized the Hamas while the Gulf Arab dictators would clearly prefer Israel demolish Hamas. A populist, democratic movement in Arabia? Allah forbid!

  • Women leaders clearly have three balls. In an attempt to prove they are tougher than the men they replaced, they are often more militaristic, aggressive and eager to project power. Whether it's wise to do so is another question. Think Golda Meir, Hillary Clinton, Margaret Thatcher, and now Tzipi Livni. Clearly, Sheikh Haseena and Benazir Bhutto are exceptions.
So what should the Muslim community world wide (and the Arabs) do to prevent another round of genocide?

First, short term ceasefires achieve nothing. You want peace, stability and economic prosperity. Even thought of emulating the Prophet? The Hudaibiya treaty, signed with terms very unfavourable to the Muslims, changed the game forever. Go to the Israelis and ask for a 20 year peace treaty.

Yes, it would have been nice to go to them BEFORE they pummeled you black and blue but still, 20 years of peace is not something they will ignore. Technically they are not talking to you but er, you also are committed to wiping them off the face of the earth. Both should moderate their tones a bit.

Think about it. 20 years of peace. No economic or naval blockade. Israel would have to dismantle all checkpoints. They can't build settlements (get international UN soldiers to see this). 20 years to build up yourself economically, politically, militarily and peacefully. Have what other people around the world take for granted.

Second, accept the fact that Israel is going to be around for sometime. How about competing with them on education? On knowledge? On achievements?

In the entire Muslim world, there are only 500 universities (none of them make the top 500 in the world). In USA alone there are 5,758. Literacy in the West is 90%. Israel has 100%. Muslim world - 40%. Arabs - 20%. Gaza - 5%.

Export of high technological products from Pakistan is 0.9% of its exports. In Saudi Arabia it's 0.2%. Singapore's exports comprise 68% of high-tech products. In the UK, the average number of books published per million residents is 2000. Egypt, leading the Muslim world, comes up with 17.

"Read" is the first revealed word of Quran. "Ink of a scholar is holier than the blood of a martyr" said the Prophet. The Muslim world has a surplus of martyrs and a deficit of scholars.

Third, and final, think for a moment.

All of Israel's tanks, planes, Jeeps and ships need fuel. Oil.

Where are they getting it from?

Friday, January 16, 2009

Music and Its Power

It might sound strange that on a post to deal with music and its power I can't exactly pen how I feel about it.

I like it. I like a good piece of music.

Music has power, of which there is no doubt. And anyone who denies it is denying the truth. Music has the power to move the souls of men.

I find it strange when people barricade themselves against this basic truth. I once met someone who told me "Music is haraam (forbidden) and nothing haram is good."

To me it seems that these people like to seek out anything that is fun and forbid it. They very much seek to enforce the ideology that we have not come into this world to have fun. Their mantra seems "Enjoin what is good and forbid what is fun"!

It is these same people however who have taken hero worship to a new level, especially at nasheed singers! I used to attended RIS until two years ago, and then could not due to schedule conflicts, but one factor used to rile me during RIS - the way some girls believed during the time nasheed singers would come.

These singers were singing devotional songs about the Creator and the Prophet, yet girls were screaming and somehow it was all 'halal'. Same behaviour, replace Outlandish with Junoor or Sami Yousef with Shah Rukh Khan, and the behaviour is suddenly 'haram'!

I appreciate a good piece of music, despite sometimes not even understanding the language. I can appreciate good talent and the hard work that goes into composing. As a blogger and writer I can understand creativity and applaud it.

Currently I am listening to one song in loop-de-loop mode. It's Bandeya Ho from the Pakistani movie Khuda Ke Liye.

In the movie, our hero is attending a music class and the class is given the assignment of partnering with someone of a different culture and language and come up with a composition that is the reflection of both. Bandeya Ho is the result.

I don't understand the lyrics, but the song is great.

Any discussion on music in Islam cannot be complete without mentioning this movie. The arguments at the climax of the movie, presented by the character played by Nasiruddin Shah, cannot be easily refuted.

Yet I have met many people who blanket ban music, despite lots of evidences to the contrary. During one Zakir Naik event I attended, someone from the audience asked him, "Is music haram?"

The scholar replied, "In my opinion anything other than daff music is haram."

Why daff? It's an Arabic drum that the Prophet permitted to be used in his presence.

I immediately thought why is no one asking, the Prophet IS Arab, so obviously his people will use Arabic instruments. What about musical instruments from MY culture? So am I to be subservient to the Arabic culture now?

But this is reality (and is a main reason why I don't respect Zakir Naik a lot). Muslims all over seem to have a cultural inferiority complex to the Arab culture (some of which is not even Islamic!). The most weird "Islamic" song I found posted on one Muslimah's blog was by an Egyptian singer. He was singing a love song to his beloved in Arabic.

One of the girls commented, "This song is so good but Astakfirullah. I am going to pretend the girl and boy in the video are married."

This is the sort of disconnect with reality syndrome that is prevalent amongst many in our community.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

West Coast Diaries - 3. Los Angeles

Where San Francisco was beautiful, Los Angeles was dirty. Where San Francisco was small, Los Angeles was huge. There is a highway called Pacific Highway One that leads from San Francisco to Los Angeles and hugs the coast of the Pacific Ocean and passes through picturesque towns. I rented a car in San Francisco, and we drove partly through this highway, before switching to the faster interstate to head down to LA. With traffic, the total drive was about 8 hours. My uncle lives in LA, so we bunked at his place, ready to explore the three big attractions of LA.

I already knew Hollywood was dirty but even then I was unprepared for how dirty it really was. The weather was a bit gloomy, rainy at times, and the whole area had a run down look to it. It was hard to imagine, standing next to the Kodak Theatre, that this was where the Oscars take place. Just opposite the road was a hobo urinating against the wall. Some tourists passing by took a picture, I don't know why.
There are some famous buildings and monuments in Hollywood, such as the Capitol Records building above, and of course the Kodak Theatre.
It's fun to walk along the Walk of Fame and see the numerous stars and trying to find your favourite actor or actress, but that soon gets tiring after a while. The only fun thing in Hollywood is the Hollywood Museum (where they have the set of USS Enterprise with the Captain's chair!) and the tour of the Kodak Theatre.
The famous Grauman's Chinese Theatre (above) is right next to the Kodak Theatre, and you can see this building when a famous movie premiers on Hollywood.

Universal Studios
Now this is the fun thing to do in LA! I honestly had a really great day at Universal Studios, and not just due to the weather which the day before had been gloomy but on this day the sun came out in full force!

What we in our group did was to upgrade to "Front-of-line" passes when we purchased our tickets online, back in November. It was marginally more expensive as we purchased online and it allowed us to skip ahead to the front of every line at every ride or show, as well as get preferred seating at the shows. A fabulous buy, especially when the weather is great and the lines are long! Oh, for a whole day we were VIPs.
San PedroThe beautiful San Pedro valley, as seen from the tram ride at Universal Studios.

They have a tram ride (which shuts way earlier than the park) that takes you on a studio tour. The ride is not just a sight of the buildings however. For example, when they take you to a bridge that broke in the movie King Kong, you are ON THE BRIDGE as the driver is narrating this and then the bridge breaks! When they are explaining how they create flash floods in movies, suddenly a flash flood erupts right AROUND THE TRAM (see below).

The best, however, is when the tram passes through the plane crash set used in the War of the Worlds.

They destroyed a whole Boeing 747 for this movie!

Then they take you around Wisteria Lane (the sets for Desperate Housewives) as well as other famous studio sets. Other than the studio tour, there's lots of rides and shows that keep one occupied. I really enjoyed the Terminator 4-D show, where the Terminator actually shows up in front of you in a person and takes you INSIDE the movie.

They also have a show involving lots of sounds, special effects and oh, explosions.
Again, the lines were huge, but we cut everyone across and got the best seats in the house!

What can I say about this place that has not been said! Truly, the Happiest Place on Earth. The employees were literally smiling all day. Everyone was super eager to go out of their way to help us in case we needed anything.

Mostly though, we stumbled upon a secret. December 24 may be the best day to go to Disneyland if you want to avoid crowds. Seriously, rides that have 2 hour waits, we just waltzed through and went on again if we liked it! We covered both the parks and had a great time. After Disneyland, Wonderland does not even compare!
An African boat cruise that featured elephants and tigers and cannibals!
Elephants taking bath. You don't want to get too close!

A spook at the haunted house.

Pirates of the Caribbean

High School Musical 3's cast performing

Mrs Incredible during a parade

Pinocchio waves us goodbye

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The "Muslim" World is Praying for Gaza

Saudi Arabia is praying for Gaza. Whenever the residents get some free time from debating on laws about women driving and punishing rape victims, they pray for Gaza. Even some of the Princes took out time from their busy schedule of partying in Monaco to pray for the Gaza victims.

People in the Emirates are also praying for Gaza. The small country may be facing hard times due to the financial crisis and borrowing too much, but they are still praying for Gaza. Even the labourers, some of whom haven't been paid in months, take time out from cleaning their leaking septic systems to pray for Gaza. Some of the locals have even stopped going every day to the bars and nightlife in sympathy for Gaza.

Bangladeshis are also praying for Gaza. They may have elected one of the most corrupt ladies to power, who is busy literally killing her opponents off, but they are still praying for Gaza. The average person feels their pain through their own, every time they are paying a bribe to get a phone line connected or the policeman when caught driving without a license. Even in these hard times they are praying for Gaza.

The average Pakistani also feels for Gaza. Despite raping a woman every nine minutes or passing laws that get women gang raped, they are enraged every time Israel kills another woman or child from Gaza. Even their President has stopped drinking wine apple juice and prays for Gaza.

Qataris feel strongly about Gaza - and Iraq. Every time they supply food to the American military base near Doha, they get angry about Iraq. Every time they invite an Israeli representative to party in the capital after some conference on interest, they get angry about Gaza.

Egyptians too feel strongly about Gaza. They are angry at the inhumane way Israel has butchered the Palestinians. Of course they will fire rockets, they say, look how Israel has blockaded their tiny country! When reminded it is Egypt that is helping Israel enforce the blockade, it is still a Zionist conspiracy.

All in all, the "Muslim" world is very angry, and are ready to pray again.

... Allah does not change a people's lot unless they change what is in their hearts. But when (once) Allah willeth a people's punishment, there can be no turning it back, nor will they find, besides Him, any to protect (13:11)

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

West Coast Diaries - 2. San Francisco

San Francisco is possibly the most beautiful city in the United States. I was there for 3 days and it remains my favourite city of the tour. San Francisco is a nice, scenic, beautiful, and very friendly city. Second, we met Baraka and Muse!

Our group stayed downtown, near Union Square (sort of like our Nathan Phillips). Surrounding this area is a bunch of designer shops (Prada, Fifth Avenue, Saks, etc.) - supposedly where Sarah Palin went on her shopping spree.


One thing you have to be prepared to do is to walk a lot on your first day.
The best route to take is to walk north Grant Street (right next to Union Square) all the way, taking in Chinatown, Cable Car Museum, Lombard Street, Ghiradelli Square, and finally Fisherman's Wharf on the way.

Cable Car
As our group started to walk, the first area we crossed through was the famous Chinatown of San Francisco. I was amazed at the scale of this Chinatown. Our own Toronto's Chinatown does not even compare. What's more, it was really authentic Chinese stuff that stores were selling, not just cheap Dollar Store stuff.

Note: don't bring women on this route as they will shop crazy.

Cable Car
One of the icons of San Francisco is the cable car. These cable cars are part of the only existing ground cable car system in the world. San Francisco kept theirs as other cities moved to electric transportation and it is now a tourist attraction in its own right.


A few blocks west on Grant and up north from Chinatown is San Francisco's cable car museum, which is also the place from where the cables that run the cable car system are operated. You can actually see the gears and motors and pulleys and engineers working on them! I was amazed to see they still use the same instruments for the last hundred years!


After finishing the museum, it's a bit of a walk to Lombard street - also known as the world's crookedest street.


The view from the top of Lombard street is simply fantastic, you can see the Bay in one direction, north to Alcatraz in another, and down to the city in the third direction! I also ran into a tourist couple there, from Israel, who simply were taking pictures after every 5 steps. They asked me to take a picture of them, where they pretended to hold up the Alcatraz Island!

For chocolate lovers, there is a small plaza close to Lombard Street called Ghiradelli Square. They used to have a chocolate factory there, but now they sell their brand of chocolate there (and trust me it is super tasty). If you visit during the day, they even give free samples!


A short walk away is the Fisherman's Wharf. This is a famous area where piers jut out into the Bay area (and Pacific), fishermen return with their boats and you can sample fresh seafood (crabs too!) right at the dock. It's a pretty touristy area. I had crab legs there, fried, and very tasty.

Right at Fisherman's Wharf is a World War II submarine.


Entrance is cheap and it's quite interesting, especially for those that have never been abroad one, to see just how congested a life submariners lived - and this is a famous one, having seen action against the Germans.


Ever seen the movie The Rock? It was primarily after seeing that movie that I had always wanted to visit Alcatraz Island, the site of America's most notorious prison, where they once held famous prisoners such as Al Capone.


We took a ferry from Pier 33. It takes about 10 minutes to get to the Rock.

The Rock

As I got closer, I could feel the air getting colder, the sea a little rougher. It was easy to see why prisoners here felt isolated from the rest of the world. We took an audio-guided prison tour, and one of the best ways to see the prison.

The Cell

Pictures can't do justice to the gloom that is Alcatraz, and similarly, the magnificence that is the Golden Gate bridge!

Golden Gate

If you watched Roger Moore in A View To A Kill battle the villain atop the Golden Gate bridge, you would know the thrill I felt when I was actually walking on this bridge. It's massive!

San Francisco will hold many memories for me. It was in many ways the most pristine American city. Alas within the city we still saw signs of Americanism (a guy was beaten by some thugs on the street while we ate inside, hobos everywhere), but in many other ways, a city I loved visiting.

Friday, January 02, 2009

West Coast Diaries - 1. The Trip

It was a fabulous trip. I flew in to San Francisco and flew out of Phoenix and in between drove nearly 1600 miles on the road. America is a great country to visit and the cities I hit on the way each had their own unique attractions and history.Here's a few of my general observations of my last fortnight in the United States of America:

  • Tea is a luxury. I was seated at a breakfast when the waitress asked me if I wanted coffee. I said I would prefer tea. She smiled and went to get that. It was when I got the bill I realized the coffee was complimentary, tea was $2.76 a cup. At least in San Francisco we could get tea, desiring it at pit stops on the road at those service stations was asking for the impossible.

  • People would ask me, "so where are you from?" When I would reply "Canada" they would then say, "no, originally?". I don't know why, but that bugged me.

  • At least the above people knew Canada. One guy asked me if it snowed in Canada. I mean, of all the times I got irritated at people for thinking it ONLY snowed in Canada, here was one person who had no idea where Canada was. This was in Williams, Arizona.

  • There are some good people in small town USA. I had a flat at 9 pm near Williams, Arizona (where they didn't know Canada was another country). One grocery store opener told us to come inside and offered us coffee while he called for a mechanic to fix our tire. Another brought us fries. The mechanic didn't rob us blind for having to drive 50 miles to fix a flat.

  • For some reason people assumed I am a) Indian and therefore b) vegetarian. "Bangladesh" made no sense to them. This was on the whole useful because I didn't have to explain why I was not eating the meat at restaurants and having to go into the whole Halal / Haram issue.

  • The United States has an amazing selection of consumer goods of every type, far more variety than what we get in Canada. I went to a Macy's which was 11 storeys tall!

  • Everyone thinks our healthcare in Canada has problems and praises the healthcare they get from work, but then talks about how they worried about visiting the doctor when they didn't have a job. Nearly EVERY one I met would talk about healthcare at some point.

  • Spanish has become the de-facto second language of the USA. In Disneyland and Universal Studios, every announcement and every sign was in English and Spanish. There were times when every worker I met on the road driving between cities was Hispanic.

  • People are really hoping Obama delivers. I was eating a local diner at Phoenix and some black women were watching the TV. When Obama came on screen to give a speech, they started to applaud.

  • American cars are shit. I am sorry for those of you that drive them, really. I once drove a Honda Civic all the way to Florida and back, no problem. Drive a Dodge Calibre to Tusayan from Vegas, problem!

  • Despite all the hospitality, there's nothing like home. Even if we have snow and bad weather.