September is the cruelest month

Abbu 2004My parents had a 57th wedding anniversary this September 10th.

Was it really just 10 days ago?

Abbu (my father) used to joke about his wedding month of Septemberستمبر (Sitamber = September), calling it  ستمگر (Sitamgar = the cruel one).

This September was the cruelest one.

He passed away peacefully on the 1st of Muharram, the 11th of September, a day after his anniversary, at 12:30 in the afternoon, at the age of 85. We are from God, and to God are returning.

It was 2:30 in the morning in Chicago. I had no idea.

I woke up and got ready for work on Tuesday. When I checked my messages, my world fell apart and the house suddenly became dark and lonely.

The photo above is of him when I visited Pakistan in 2004. His health was declining, but he was well, and he was so happy to see me.

His name was Dr. Muhammad Saleem Mir. He was a physician, a specialist in Pharmacology, he put himself through medical college, and worked morning and evening to give us a good life. He lived a full life, with many trials and struggles, many joys, and many who love him dearly.

I would appreciate it if you would pray for him, or recite fatihah for him.

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Mansion of ghosts

Untitled 2Today, we watched the heartbreaking BBC documentary, My Big Fat Pakistani Mansion. The film interviews owners of the empty mansions in Kharian, mansions built by local people who immigrated to Norway.

Over decades of often menial labor, these expatriate workers saved money, and dreamed of returning to their town. The plan was that they would build gorgeous houses, huge enough for their grown children and grandchildren to live in luxury.

Once their children were grown, and their grandchildren were in school, speaking Norwegian and a little Punjabi and Urdu, they realized the truth.

The mansions would remain empty, and they themselves would be alone, shuttling between missing and loving their Norwegian family, and wanting to remain rooted in Pakistan in their town.

The film highlights the rupture that immigration entails. It brings out the heartache and the death of roots that the triumphalist immigrant narrative neglects. Global inequality is at the heart of immigration. “No one leaves happily,” says one of the immigrants in the film. And once they have left, and then return with wealth, their return fuels inequality in their former homes as well – not to mention the isolation of these permanent exiles.

As I was wrestling with my feelings, and trying to plan my blog post, my daughter (12) produced a poem that she had just written. We titled it Mansion of Ghosts. 

 

They see
A vision–
Laughing–
Talking–
Children–
Adults–
Teens–
Elders–
All happy
in Pakistan–
In a snug-but-happy
Mansion

So they work–
For decades–
And the mansion–
Is built–
Tall–
Proud–
Huge–

But they are alone.

Their children saw
Europe–
The U.S.–
Norway–
The U.K.–
Their children–
They stayed
In those places–
And found partners–
Settled–
Had children–
Got rich–
Happy children–
Adults–
Teens–
And their parents–
The elders–
Left behind–
With nothing–
But a Ghostly–
Shadowy–
Tall–
Empty–
Mansion–
Using one room–
Maybe two.
Because in the others–
Ghosts
Of dreams–
Visions–
Hopes–
Sitting–
Alone–
Feeling
Forgotten.

By R., September 3, 2018

Journaling in the bookstore

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Untitled by Toni Frissell

We went to the bookstore today. We were irritable, and we hadn’t left the house almost at all in two days.

At the bookstore, my gaze brushed across shelves upon shelves of journals – hardcover, softcover, cute, blank, interactive, religious. Every kind of journal, along with the memory that my smartest friends have started journaling or have written diaries for decades. I wrote a diary as a teen. Then, for fear of having my privacy violated, or out of laziness, or because of too many conflicting currents in my life (which do I write about?), I quit.

Maybe I could resume.

images.jpegMaybe, if I journaled, I would alight on the thoughts, the feelings, the actions I ought to engage right now.

I work. I parent. I am a friend. I am a daughter. I am a wife. I keep house. I keep my health. I pray. In all of those areas, I am angtsy and struggling to do better.

What I don’t do is know what I really want to do.

I rarely have the time to know myself. When I do, I sit and wait, surfing my thoughts, waiting for some identity, some dream to come to the surface.

Maybe if I journaled, I’d get back in touch with myself.

In the bookstore, too, is where my many potential selves, dreams, desires collide, clamoring for attention. The Annotated Alice reminds me of my original love of literary criticism. The two for $10 classics table tells me I haven’t even read all the classics that, in my 20s, I thought I would finish by my 30s. I’ve definitely read more than the people milling around me, but I haven’t done all I’d planned.

Maybe I should buy a journal, and jot down all my dreams, all my ideas, all my loves, all my questions, all my solutions, all my struggles – and then they’ll have a chance.

Or maybe that journal will end up, like the others, in a storage box in a storage unit. To be put away for that day when I have time to look at myself in the mirror and say, Who are you?

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The Repentant Magdalen (1635) by Georges De La Tour

Maybe, that day, I will shamefacedly turn away from myself again. Maybe I will say, I am too busy with the dishes and the dust bunnies.

In the bookstore, 30-second Philosophy and 30-Second Physics taunt me with the other projects – some that I started as a teen and never really completed, some that I regarded as gaps in my knowledge and thought, when I’ve got a paycheck, I’ll pursue that. I’ll take courses! I’ll watch youtube videos! I’ll read books! I’ll do Math workbooks!

And always, the coffee-table books about nature, animals, birds inspire me to lose myself in wonder. My love affair with animals and birds started with this nice collection of encyclopedias my parents bought us at Ferozesons book shop in Lahore. I practically memorized those encyclopedias. The axolotl is like a Peter Pan. The red panda was my favorite. The gibbon was the acrobat of the forests. I never even dreamed of being a naturalist or a zoologist. It wasn’t even that kind of option.

There are too many dreams around me. And before me, too, is The Routledge International Handbook of Veils and Veiling, reminding me that I have a chapter to write.

I put the green $7 journal back on the shelf.

I’ll pursue my dreams when I can sleep again. These are days that are far too wide-awake. Every idea is a task and a chore. There are no dreams.

I feel pretty

In my mind’s eye, I have fringes/bangs. But no matter how many times I ask my stylists’ “honest opinion,” they never give in. In Pakistan as well as in the U.S., the stylists have united against my bangs. They just always say, “Nah, girl, not for you. It is not a flattering look for faces like yours.”

Does that change how I think I’ll look with bangs? No, ma’am.

But I am not a risk-taker. So I never get bangs at the salon. Unconvinced by the stylist, I get my usual 2″ cut with moderate layers, and hold fast in my heart to the image of gorgeous me with bangs.

But for $2.50 or so, I picked up clip-bangs from the pharmacy yesterday. And I DON’T CARE WHAT ANYONE THINKS. I feel glamorous and I just don’t care.

We were watching Rampage when I suddenly appeared before my husband and daughter, and asked, “So what do you think?” From their expressions, you’d think a monster gorilla had appeared before them.

Again, I DON’T CARE.

“The Vine Basket” by Josanne La Valley

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Grand Bazar, Kashgar, Xinjiang. Credit: Michael Turtle 

I’m going to ask my Literature students and my daughter to read  Josanne La Valley’s book The Vine Basket.

Teachers and parents, check out a sample interactive reading plan centered on part of the book, and curricular questions (p. 23). Here is a video trailer of the book and an excerpt of an audio narration.

Chinese oppression of Uyghur Muslims is long-standing and long-ignored. Uyghurs are victims of a large scale state ethnic cleansing project. A million or more Uyghurs are currently in concentration camps for indoctrination against Islam. These camps are now expanding:

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The Chinese government are systematically and brutally ravaging Uyghur’s Islamic identity, their cultural heritage, and their desire for independence.

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Armed civilians patrol outside a bazar in Hotan prefecture (Radio Free Asia)

I struggled to write this post. I, who have known about Chinese oppression of Uyghurs for decades, find myself at a loss for words to describe their situation. I attribute this difficulty to the silence surrounding Uyghurs.

Not that we can rank oppressions in human terms, but compare the silence regarding Uyghurs to the worldwide awareness of Tibet.

Turpan-Checkpoint
A face scan checkpoint to exit the high-speed train in Turpan. The line on the left side which goes through a simple metal gate held open by an officer is for Han people. – Darren Byler, Navigating Checkpoints in the Uyghur Homeland

Xinjiang is now a totalitarian police state of historic proportions — it is widely cited as one of the most heavily policed places in the world today. Public security budgets have skyrocketed and futuristic surveillance systems have been pioneered in the region. As a result, over 20 percent of all criminal arrests in China happens in Xinjiang, despite the fact that the region contains only 1.5 percent of the country’s population. – Lucas Niewenhuis, China’s Re-Education Camps for a Million Muslims

What “crimes” can land you in Chinese “re-education” camps?

“The first group typically consisted of illiterate minority farmers who didn’t commit any ostensible crimes other than not speaking Chinese. The second class was made up of people who were caught at home or on their smartphones with religious content or so-called separatist materials, such as lectures by the Uighur intellectual Ilham Tohti.

The final group was made up of those who had studied religion abroad and came back, or were seen to be affiliated with foreign elements. In the latter cases, internees were often were sentenced to prison terms of 10 to 15 years, Eldost said.” – from Gerry Shih’s heartbreaking article, China’s mass indoctrination camps evoke Cultural Revolution

A Kazakh citizen who was taken to a re-education camp reports on what happens there:

In four-hour sessions, instructors lectured about the dangers of Islam and drilled internees with quizzes that they had to answer correctly or be sent to stand near a wall for hours on end.

“Do you obey Chinese law or Sharia?” instructors asked. “Do you understand why religion is dangerous?”

One by one, internees would stand up before 60 of their classmates to present self-criticisms of their religious history, Bekali said. The detainees would also have to criticize and be criticized by their peers. Those who parroted official lines particularly well or lashed into their fellow internees viciously were awarded points and could be transferred to more comfortable surroundings in other buildings, he said.

“I was taught the Holy Quran by my father and I learned it because I didn’t know better,” Bekali heard one say.

“I traveled outside China without knowing that I could be exposed to extremist thoughts abroad,” Bekali recalled another saying. “Now I know.”

A Uighur woman told AP she was held in a center in the city of Hotan in 2016. She said she and fellow prisoners repeatedly were forced to apologize for wearing long clothes in Muslim style, praying, teaching the Quran to their children and asking imams to name their children.

Praying at a mosque on any day other than Friday was a sign of extremism; so was attending Friday prayers outside their village or having Quranic verses or graphics on their phones.

While instructors watched, those who confessed to such behavior were told to repeat over and over: “We have done illegal things, but we now know better.”

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Chinese riot police in the 2009 Urumqi riots

Rachel Harris lists Uyghur celebrities detained by the surveillance state, including Ablajan Awut Ayup, a Uyghur pop star who disappeared in June. He is not an “extremist,” but a pop star under criticism by conservative Muslims for his bilingual videos and other things.

My friend Dr. Kristian Petersen, scholar of Muslims in China, shared a list of China and Islam scholars who can speak to your classes and other audiences who are interested in this topic. I would recommend him!

Josanne La Valley wrote The Vine Basket and Factory Girl that highlight the plight of Uyghur Muslims. The Vine Basket is the story of a girl, Mehrigul, whose alcoholic father wishes to get money by sending her off to the factories far away from Xinjiang. I’d recommend it for middle grades and up. It covers themes of girls’ education, parenting, alcoholism, depression (Mehrigul’s mother), and the havoc caused in entire families’ lives by Chinese occupation, oppression, exploitation, and systematic disruption of Uyghur lives.

The book is a rare telling of stories from a setting that most adults (let alone children) know anything about. I read it, though I did so very quickly, in one sitting within a couple of hours.

I highly recommend the book, with only one caveat. I hesitated and indeed agonized over my caveat, because I regard this as a very important book, and I wish to acknowledge and respect the author’s commitment to Uyghurs. However, I struggled with the deux ex machina in the story, which is a wealthy White American businesswoman. She does not appear in the story often, but she is a central mover in it.

Since the story is set in the horrific context of the devastation wrought upon Uyghurs by a great world power, I wish that the wealth of another great world power didn’t have to be the rescuer, so to speak, in Mehrigul’s life. I would have recommended a very different resolution to the story, so that agency resided with the Uyghur heroine and her family rather than Mrs. Chazen. As the description says, “Her only hope is an American who buys one of her decorative baskets for a staggering sum and says she will return in three weeks for more.” SIGH.

(Thank you, Americans, for becoming a ginormously wealthy world power (well, now, how did that happen?) so that a few of your kind citizens can travel the world collecting artifacts from impoverished locals who can then canonize you.)

I recommend La Valley’s second book Factory Girl for older readers, as it is about a Uyghur girl who is sent to the factories and faces terrible physical, psychological, and cultural struggles.

Josanne La Valley died in 2017. She covered a human rights crisis that is desperately neglected by writers and scholars.

 

The conventional marriage proposal

proposalCan I just say, I find the idea of the man-on-one-knee-woman-shocked-almost-traumatized marriage proposal primitive?

But it’s here for now, as Amanda Marcotte says:

“Women are routinely told by the culture and media that men are reluctant to get married, that men are usually interested in women only for sex, and that women are desperate to get validated by a ring on the finger. … Given the choice between two stereotypes—the passive princess whose charm and beauty brings a man to one knee or an insecure needball who nagged a reluctant man into marriage—women will pick the former every time.” – Why The Sexist Marriage Proposal Won’t Go Away

I have no conventional marriage proposal, no engagement ring, no trauma in my marriage history. My now-husband and I just realized, together, that we were going to get married.

So you’ll excuse me for being unhappy with the traditional Western heterosexual proposal.

I’m just surprised that presumably after falling in love, getting to know each other, knowing each other really well, learning to read each other’s signals, that you’d be totally amazed, shocked, even traumatized (this article compares a marriage proposal to a car accident) when the man suddenly pops The Question. Wouldn’t you be coming to the same conclusion around the same time? Given that – for whatever reason – women tend to be more sensitive to emotional cues, and are generally charged with emotional labor anyway, shouldn’t they be, as usual, charged with the task of knowing when?

The act or state of shock at the moment when your beloved says he wants to marry you is deeply concerning to me. What, he didn’t make you feel confident in his love? You didn’t realize he was serious about putting a ring on it? You thought he was just a player?

And, what, you still want to marry him?

Stop erasing Hajar from Eid-ul-Adha

makkah.jpgWhen your Eid khateeb talked about #EidAlAdha and #Hajj did they talk about Hajar?

If not, demand they tell the whole story.

Your half-told stories are driving us away. When you erase our mother Hajar (AS), and only speak of Ibraheem (AS) and Ismail (AS), you erase us. When we don’t see us in your khutbahs and your Islamic books, we are driven away by the silences.

I will still keep showing up, but I can’t guarantee my daughter will. Or her children.

So get your act together, for the sake of truth, God, and our children. Push your masjid, khateeb, and imams to tell the whole story.

Read this post by my friend and anthropologist Donna Auston.

 

Shoplifter

170314131412-neiman-marcus-780x439I go to Michigan Avenue frequently because my doctor is nearby, but I never visit the more upscale shops there. Gucci, Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, etc.–I just don’t go in. Partly because I find expensive fashion incredibly ugly and impractical, but partly because I just don’t fit in.
Yesterday my daughter accompanied me to a doctor’s appointment, and once we were done, and we were walking up the street, I thought I’d just show her Neiman Marcus. 
 
My scruffiness that day was such that I thought I’d be instantly tailed. But the store was quite empty, and sales staff were very welcoming. 
As we wandered through the quiet murmuring store, suddenly three large men thundered past us like they were in Mission Impossible, ran out the doors and tackled somebody to the ground. We stared in shock. Salespersons quickly smiled at us, saying “sorry, sorry, ladies,” – as if we were at a tea party and someone had spilled a drop on my saucer.
We heard shouts and the sounds of a woman protesting.
I decided to take my daughter upstairs to the shoes department. As we got out of the elevator, I saw tears running down her face. She was utterly shaken. Who was it, she wanted to know. How poor was she? So what if she shoplifted, they didn’t have to hit her.
I realized that I had left the scene in fear, so as to separate myself from the incident. Maybe I should have followed the men and acted as a bystander-observer to keep them in check. I felt guilty.
I took her back down, and approached a cluster of quietly clucking sales staff. “Is she okay?” I asked one. “Oh yes,” said she, smiling, and leaned forward confidingly, whispering, “She was stealing.” “I know,” I said, “but still.” “Oh yes,” she quickly smiled with great compassion.
 
We left the store. As we crossed the doors, I saw a torn hair extension on the floor.
 
I’m not unhappy that my daughter saw all that. I’m glad she didn’t just see Neiman Marcus as a glittering place of daydreams. I’m glad that, in the five minutes we spent there, the mask fell off.
We had a talk about social inequality. We talked about how stealing is wrong, but how, in the presence of an extreme wealth gap, the force and authority of law enforcement do not fit. Because wealthy people and celebrities shoplift but never do significant time. The everyday morality that maligns minor shoplifting but ignores systemic oppression and wealth concentration is merely a cover for protecting corporate interests against the grubby paws of all the others, all of us. 

Lowkey

Check out the British-Iraqi rapper Lowkey’s work, which I’ll be using for my Intro to American Government class. It’s like a graduate class on global politics set to music. The beautiful Children of Diaspora concludes with the heartbreaking words of Edward Said:

Exile is strangely compelling to think about but terrible to experience. It is the unhealable rift forced between a human being and a native place, between the self and its true home: its essential sadness can never be surmounted. And while it is true that literature and history contain heroic, romantic, glorious, even triumphant episodes in an exile’s life, these are no more than efforts meant to overcome the crippling sorrow of estrangement. The achievements of exile are permanently undermined by the loss of something left behind for ever.

And don’t miss the devastating power of Lords of War on war profiteers, drone warfare, and the heavy human cost of innocent civilians that happen to come underfoot for the militaristic powers of the world.

And grieve through Ghosts of Grenfell.

 

 

The lasting wounds from academic managers

betrayalToday, I sit here, and wonder about former colleagues at former universities. The ones who never let on as they mentored and socialized with me, that come ARPT decision time, they’d throw me under the bus.
I wonder: were they under pressure from senior colleagues? Some of them were, as I heard. But they were mostly tenured and had relatively little to lose.
I wonder: do they regret it?
Do they chalk it up to self-preservation?
I want to ask them. But I avoid them, and never attempt to communicate with them.
I come from a culture of shame-and-embarrassment. I feel a deep shame for them.
These were their actions, but I feel shame.  
I also feel ashamed because I didn’t see it coming.
That afternoon, when I picked up an envelope before the reappointment meeting, I didn’t even feel any emotion because I foresaw nothing and had no warnings, no ‘chatter.’ The shock was complete.
Some people involved didn’t even know me. I guess they were cogs in a machine, who owed their senior positions to “working well with others.” 
When does working well with others mean cruelty to others, marked as outsiders?
How do people in administration and management learn to, get used to “managing” people like goods and commodities, moving them around, eliminating them? I suppose this is a whole other skillset. 
I have these days, when I wonder.
These thoughts are difficult, because I still do not understand. It’s like occupying a planet with people who are a completely different species.