So after a Ramadanic hiatus from reading, I got back to and finished Hillbilly Elegy. Here are a few thoughts about it but would love to hear yours
- I thought the author was very courageous in sharing his struggles and giving an insider's view of a culture not often discussed in popular literature (or at least I don't think it is....but maybe I'm not the best measuring stick)
- I can understand why people who identify with/as hillbilly or working class white would have an issue with the book. The sense of "don't air your dirty laundry" comes through as he describes the culture. And even though he romanticizes certain parts of it, his description of the culture is sobering
- I didn't feel that there was much substance from a "what can be done about this" perspective but then again I don't think this was the author's intent.
My main take away though is that he eventually made it. Despite all what went wrong, still some things went right and he (a lucky son of a bitch as he himself puts it) made it. There is a sense of hopefulness. A sense that, you know, if we address some of these issues we can save a lot of kids in similar situations from the dim future they face currently.
I couldn't help but compare and contrast this book to that of Ta-Nehisi Coates however. Different yet very similar as I find both to speak of a dim future for children born in a certain set of circumstances.
What I find strikingly different though is that the set of negative conditions in JD's book are, to a major extent, self made and limited to the immediate actors within the child's life. Whereas in Coates' book, in addition to a similar set of circumstances a child may face, there is still this societally and systematically pervasive set of obstacles that will take more than one generation to overcome.
The major difference between the two stories as I see it is still that of, well, black and white.
What did you think?
If given the ability to wave a magic wand and change something, what would it be?
I would choose to eliminate the metaphorical pedestal for I believe it to be the most destructive thing we do to ourselves. No, not by placing ourselves on said pedestal but rather by placing others upon it and then kinking our necks as we cock our heads in puzzlement over how such perfection is humanly possible. Be it a beloved actor, a religious figure, an athlete or even a keyboard warrior, we tend to view the ones we admire, especially if we admire them for something we lack, without any imperfections thus creating an unhealthy and an unattainable standard. At the same time we rob them of the right to be human and therefor we see any sign of humanness as a "fall from grace" that not only shakes our perception of them but also of the world around us because afterall if "so and so" can't even be "such and such" then what kind of a world do we live in? Well my friends, that world is an imaginary one that we tend to create for ourselves to escape some realities and avoid truly living.
Life is a symphony of imperfections dotted with some perfect moments. The sooner you understand that the sooner you'll get rid of that tension in your neck and realize that the ebbs and flows of life affect us all.
So about two years ago I got in the habit of asking my audience to write down what they think when they hear the word Islam/Muslim before I begin my presentation. Although my audience has ranged from Police Department to soldiers deploying to a predominantly Muslim country to healthcare professionals, the majority of my audience has been college students in various disciplines and majors. I've kept all of those notes and I plan on collecting more. I am hoping that one of them days I'll find me a poor college student who would collate all the answers and then publish them. Because the answers to the question tell a completely different story from what we're being led to believe as the current American attitude towards Islam and Muslims. They also tell of inquisitive minds and spirits that are anxious about the future of a world that seems to grow more and more intolerant. But what those minds don't see quite yet is the light that they are bringing with them as they go through the dark times. We should treat them all like we would treat a delicate candle sparking its first flickers of light.
Peace and love to you all.
How are you?
A question often asked in passing, in an exchange of pleasantries between two people. A question that is almost always answered in the same casual vein in which it was asked. It's as if we've become conditioned to consider deeper discussions about our wellbeing a social faux pas. Time is money in our modern capitalistic society, and money cannot be made by talking about “emotions.”
Such shallow niceties are so fragile that a simple test of what we supposedly stand for as a society has sent our collective moral compass in a spinning frenzy. No wonder we are broken.
How often do we stop and think about how we drone on as supposed members of a supposed society without much consideration of our fellow human beings? Many of us have deep feelings, thoughts, worries and aspirations, but how many of us know that about each other? No, I don't mean doing that with the random person on the street. But what if we truly took the time to do so with the friend/partner/neighbor/colleague?
How often do we really ask the question intently? How often do we answer it meaningfully? How are we to understand and appreciate the struggles of a black person or an immigrant or a working-class white man/woman if we can't get past the lip service of a shallow nicety that is expected as a show of “civility” but never really used as a means of understanding the person of whom we're asking the question?
How are we to have a healthy functioning society if we don't even know what is going on with those we work with, live around, or even sometimes call friends? There is a lot more to the person we interact with, and if we don't invest the time in getting to know each other better, then we will never heal our societal wounds.
We are dealing with a lot of issues that affect us on many different levels, yet we seem to either brush them aside or become keyboard warriors, hiding our thoughts and emotions behind the false guise of internet anonymity. Issues such as immigration, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and attacks on faith principles, as well as the rampant sense of nationalism over true patriotism, the divisive/divided/dividing political system, glaring health care disparities, and the widening gap between rich and poor, are all created by the sense of foreignness we develop by not engaging each other in meaningful conversations.
So I ask you, if such problems are of our own creation, then what is stopping us from creating solutions instead? We can't acknowledge and appreciate what we don't know, and we can't know without at least having a conversation.
So I am going to leave you with a challenge. I urge you to text, call, email someone you know. Take them out to lunch, grab a cup of coffee, go for a walk. Have a thoughtful conversation. Go ahead – ask someone how they are doing like you mean it.
This post originally published in Fort Wayne Journal Gazette http://www.journalgazette.net/20170331/beyond-niceties-youll-find-real-people
How are you?
A question often asked in passing, in an exchange of pleasantries between two people. A question that is almost always answered in the same casual vein in which it was asked. It's as if we've become conditioned to consider deeper discussions about our wellbeing a social faux pa. Time is money in our modern capitalistic society and money cannot be made by talking about "emotions". No wonder we are broken.
How often do we really ask the question intently? How often do we answer it meaningfully? No, I don't mean doing that with the random person on the street but what if we truly took the time to do so with the friend/partner/neighbor/colleague. There is a lot more to the person you interact with and if we don't invest the time in getting to know each other better then we will never heal our societal wounds.
Well, I've decided to do just that. What you’re about to read is an honest answer to the question. I've never done this before and to be honest, I am anxious about how what I'm about to share might be interpreted. No, I'm not worried that you'd judge me. I'm worried that you might get worried about me. So let's establish some simple ground rules.
What you're about to read is not a new development. I have always been in tune with my own thoughts and emotions from a young age. That was never easy and many times I wished that I was not, but I have worked through most of this over the past 25 years or so. I'm comfortable with who I am and I am fully aware of my own thoughts and emotions and what they mean....or at least I like to pretend that I am :)
Also, this is not a cry for help. Rather this is a scream that I hope will get those who read it to stop and think about how we drone on as supposed members of a supposed society without much consideration of our fellow human beings. I hope that by sharing how I truly feel and the thoughts and emotions that I experience, we would stop and reflect for a little while. For in order for us to break the cycle of shallow niceties, which are so fragile that a simple test of what we supposedly stand for as a society has sent our moral compass in a spinning frenzy, we must stop and reflect on our own thoughts and emotions and how we seldom stop and ask about others' emotional wellbeing.
So, here it goes....
How am I?
I'm exhausted. Extremely exhausted.
I am emotionally fatigued, intellectually drained and spiritually bruised.
But not defeated
My name is Ahmed Mahmoud Rajab Ahmed Abdelmageed Elasmar. I am a Palestinian who was born and raised as a refugee in Qatar. I moved to the western world after high school (started in Canada in 96 then US in 2000). I am a Muslim, immigrant, American citizen. I am also the husband of a Michigander that chose Islam as her faith a year before we got married; Father of a girl and two boys and the youngest of five children to now aging parents. My parents who after witnessing the occupation of their homeland and ethnic cleansing of their hometown at the tender ages of 8 and 5, and after living as refugees the majority of their lives in Qatar, are now green card holders living in the United States. I hold two degrees, blessed to work at a higher education institution that respects me and trusts me to help direct a major portion of its curriculum.
Why do I share all this with you?
Because every single part of who I am is under attack.
Who I am is the source of my exhaustion.
Let me repeat that one more time.
Who I am is the source of my exhaustion.
I have to fight every single day to prove my worth in a world that has decided to meet every piece of me with suspicion.
Allow me to explain.
Ahmed the Palestinian Arab
Ever since I can formulate my own thoughts, I became acutely aware of what it means to be a Palestinian. Now granted, I did not live the war nor am I living under the current occupation but I have lived and continue to live its consequences.
If I am to defend the rights of my people, I am labeled an anti-Semite.
If I am to discuss the atrocities of a political regime that has killed, and continues to kill, scores upon scores of my people, I am met with an indifferent "it's complicated" response.
I am to sit and watch media, religious and educational institutions erase me and my people from existence.
To add a ton of salt to this gaping wound, I am to live with the fact that some of my tax money goes right into the hands of the Israeli apartheid, colonialist, expansionist regime that has made me and many of my people a refugee. My western education and migration are means of survival that my parents strove hard to provide me and my siblings.
I am also to sit and watch my greedy government, current and past government, act with callous disregard fueled by arrogance, to the destruction they reek upon anything that may stand in the path of achieving and maintaining a super power presence. Drunk on its power and deluded by its own grandiose sense of democratic superiority, my American government continues a pseudo colonial control and sustains a calculated intentional fragmentation of the Arab world. Of course I am not going to absolve the majority of governments in that Arab world from an equal, if not more, callous disregard to anything that may stand in the way of their sense of authority and control. Puppets in the hands of a master except no one really wanted such a show.
The Arab in me who always longs for a romanticized image of Arabism made up of poetry and intellectual engagement, has that image shattered by the reality of a toxic geopolitical climate created and maintained to a great extent by my government. Not a single day goes by..... not a single day....without thoughts of remorse over a language and a culture that my children will most likely not get to appreciate as much as I do. Not a single day goes by without a feeling of helplessness as I witness the continued destruction of a beautiful part of the world that many beautiful people call home. Torn between an inability to change or stop this reality, I feel as if I am both a victim and a culprit of such destruction.
Ahmed the Muslim
Ever since I understood and felt what God means, I chose Islam as my faith. I grew up in a predominantly Muslim country however I never fully understood and appreciated my faith until I moved to the western part of the world. My transition period was the most challenging yet the most beneficial thing that ever happened to my beliefs. I went from a Muslim majority country to a world with people from all walks of life on all different paths seeking God. Some don't even believe in God. All this made me question why I believe what I believe in and why I choose Islam as my faith. That transition period went from self-discovery to self-preservation on the 11th of September 2001. On that particular day, the entire world turned and stared at me. From that particular day onward, I became THE representative of the Islamic faith. I now speak for the entirety of Islam and am expected to answer for any and all actions of those who claim it as their faith. On that particular day I understood the full meaning of "other" and from that particular day onward, my failures and my successes became attributed to my "otherness". If I fail, it's surely because of the inferiority of my "otherness". If I succeed, it is because in this politically correct world we need to check off the "other" category on our diversity roster.
Ahmed the parent
For a long time, I gave up on the concept of marriage and having children. I did not want to bring children to a world I thought was ugly. It's funny though how that whole perspective changes when she walks into your life. Now I am the father of three beautiful children and trying my best to balance all the normal things we balance as spouses and parents...but with a few extra added layers.
Beyond the concern about the wellbeing of my wife and my children, the normal paternalistic/materialistic concern that drives someone to work hard to provide for their family, I carry the concern about my wife who proudly displays her faith in public. I am not afforded the luxury of only being concerned about my kids' performance at school and behavior on the playground. I worry about the rising vilification of their faith and parts of their heritage. Will their names turn them into an automatic target? Will the current unbridled islamophobia become mainstream? Do I spend my time at home and watch the world go into such doomed direction or do I engage and try and change the narrative? How do I balance my obligations as a father and my obligations as a civically engaged person? Securing a better future for my kids is not simply about building a good educational foundation for them to grow into their own productive roles within society. Securing a better future for my children means that I sometimes have to take time away from being with them to fight an ugliness that is consuming the world around them. Where do I compromise? How can I compromise? Why should I compromise?
I can add some of the other daily thoughts such as concerns over how academia is currently being viewed, the current attack on science, the rampant sense of nationalism over true patriotism, the divisive/divided/dividing political system, the glaring healthcare disparities, the widening gap between rich and poor, my worries and concerns for my black friends, my immigrant friends, my privileged friends who don't understand their privilege, my students and their success, my students and what role will they play in the society, what change will they introduce to their community and much much more. But I'll stop here for I think I shared enough.
These are not deep philosophical reflections on who I am and what my role in life is. These are daily thoughts, feelings and emotions and I am certain that I am not the only one who has them.
I share with you intimate details of what goes on in my own mind in hopes that we look beyond the label. A label we create for and impose upon those whom we consider "other". So I ask you, if such problems are of our own creation then what is stopping us from creating solutions instead? How are we to have a healthy functioning society if we don't even know what is going on with those we work with, live around or even sometimes call friends? How am I to understand and appreciate the struggles of a black person, or an immigrant or a working class white man/woman if I can't get past the lip service of a shallow nicety that is expected as a show of "civility" but never really used as a means of understanding the person of whom I'm asking the question?
It's in our hands.
Let’s break the cycle.
How about we start a "How are you" campaign?
Text, call, email someone you know. Take them out to lunch, grab a cup of coffee, go for a walk. Have a thoughtful conversation. Go ahead, ask someone how they are doing like you mean it.
"I'm color blind"
A statement employed by some to convey that they see everyone equally and that race plays no factor in how they view others. They assume, and I'll say naively here so not to assume ill intent, that by doing this they are helping improve the race problems that are plaguing this country.
I don't agree with that. Not seeing someone's color won't make the problem magically go away.
You need to see the full spectrum of color because if you don't see me then I don't exist.
If you don't see the effects that someone's "color" have on their lives, negatively or positively, then you don't see the societal problems that have led to them.
You need to see it.
And when you see it, you need to acknowledge that feeling that you get from seeing it.
Then you need to address it. Work on it and get to the root of it.
Start personally then work your way up to the community level. This is how we can start working towards a post racial society.
Last week I was asked what I turn to for hope in difficult times and my answer was my faith and people who embody hope in their actions.
Let me expand on that
عَنْ أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ أَنَّ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ قَالَ:
(( إِذَا قَالَ الرَّجُلُ: هَلَكَ النَّاسُ فَهُوَ أَهْلَكُهُمْ ))
وفي رواية أخرى:
(( فَهُوَ أَهْلَكَهُمْ ))
The prophet Mohamed says "if a person says: people are doomed then he is the most doomed of them" and in another narration "he has doomed them"
So I always look for optimism and people who are optimistic.
:" عَجَبًا لأمرِ المؤمنِ إِنَّ أمْرَه كُلَّهُ لهُ خَيرٌ وليسَ ذلكَ لأحَدٍ إلا للمُؤْمنِ إِنْ أصَابتهُ سَرَّاءُ شَكَرَ فكانتْ خَيرًا لهُ وإنْ أصَابتهُ ضَرَّاءُ صَبرَ فكانتْ خَيرًا لهُ ".
"How wondrous are the faithful, their condition is always good for them. If good befalls them they give thanks and that is good for them and if ill befalls them they have patience and that is good for them"
In Arabic "شكر" and "صبر" or "give thanks" and "have patience" are in the verb form. Meaning one has to display their thanks or patience through action.
So I always surround myself with people who give thanks through service and those who display patience by not complaining while working on changing their condition.
And finally God says in the Quran chapter 13 verse 11:
ۗ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ لَا يُغَيِّرُ مَا بِقَوْمٍ حَتَّىٰ يُغَيِّرُوا۟ مَا بِأَنفُسِهِمْ ۗ
Verily God does not change the state of a people till they change themselves.
That's why I surround myself with people who are actively engaged in making a positive difference in the world
That's what I turn to for hope.
"Oh the humanity"
A common phrase we often say as we express shock and dismay at, or as an outcry of appeal for people to empathize with us as we face, some heinous act that seems unbefitting of a human. What this neglects however is the fact that the ugly that prompted such an expression is also part of humanity.
We can't ignore hate out of existence or simply wish it wasn't among us.
We can't be oblivious, or naive, to its existence.
We must acknowledge it, identify it, understand it and then use the good that exists within our humanity to overcome, or marginalized, it. This is a constant that has existed and will forever continue to exist. A battle that is eternal.
To all the agents of positive change out there, don't be discouraged if your message falls on deaf ears or if you are fought against. Afterall, prophets and messengers faced far worse even though they had a divine message and were sent and supported by the divine.
In the Quran, God says
مَّا عَلَى الرَّسُولِ إِلَّا الْبَلَاغُ ۗ وَاللَّهُ يَعْلَمُ مَا تُبْدُونَ وَمَا تَكْتُمُونَ
Not upon the Messenger is [responsibility] except [for] notification. And Allah knows whatever you reveal and whatever you conceal.
Simply stated, a messenger is to notify although, in my opinion, the word "Notification" in the above translation sells the word الْبَلَاغُ short. The word الْبَلَاغُ means to deliver the message clearly and with eloquence.
So relieve yourself from the responsibility of changing hearts and minds and simply continue to share your message of love, peace and justice. Continue to share with eloquence and it will eventually soften the hardest of hearts.
To those who are not so religiously inclined, remember that your responsibility as a light is to simply shine regardless of how dark or bright the environment around may seem.
There is an alarming trend that I am noticing among those who want to justify their whatever-phobia, hatred, bigotry....etc.
An attack on and blame of "political correctness".
"If it wasn't for this PC bulls$&% such and such would've never happened"
"I would like to cast my fears, insecurities and hate on others because they are different than me"
Political correctness means to not alienate, offend or disadvantage a group of people within society on the basis of the way they choose to live their life, their economic status, skin color ...etc. now, some will mockingly say "will then why do we put criminals in jail? That's the way they chose to live their life and we need to be PC and respect that" and get a little grin on their face as they think to themselves "I sound wicked smart". Listen, once someone's rights infringe upon those of another (yours on theirs or theirs on yours) then there is no such a thing as PC in the eyes of the law.
The term, more often than not, is used to defend those who consider themselves in the category of "us" against whatever target of their hate/racism/bigotry might be. How? Go back to the example above, the ones that say "If it wasn't for this PC bulls$&% such and such would've never happened" would use this line of thinking after a brown/black/Muslim/Gay/other person does something criminal. They would not use that same line when a big, burley, supposed man hides behind a gun and waves it in the faces of those "other"
Palestinian, Muslim, American, Husband, Father, Academic, Pharmacist, Coffee Addict, Nutella phene, Pseudo writer, Soccer player, former Canadian, Community servant, Pinch hitter imam, interfaith ninja, Intellectual vigilante, and the undisputed KING of snark