December 28, 2006

Eats, Shoots & Leaves

The Punctuation Game

Not sure what the title means, but this might help me with my oft-criticized apostrophe issues.

My apologies for the meaningless entries of late.

Update 1.2.2007:

This is probably why people take the time to contact me about my grammatic failings. "They reveal that you have paid no attention to your own writing and invite the reader to respond in kind."

That's a great website, by the way. Writing, Clear and Simple is a blog with some great tips on conveying meaning clearly, and I've learned quite a bit from it in the last couple of months. (It's also where I found this punctuation game.)

Why I love the holidays

December 27th, 2006:

I prayed Fajr in Mississauga.
Zuhr and Asr in Kingston.
Maghrib in Ottawa.
And Isha in Montreal.

That's five prayers in four cities, a new personal record. Though in retrospect, I should have prayed Zuhr in Bowmanville; I'm due for another visit.

In addition, I found time to resolve a number of long-standing issues, including one nearly two years old, alhamdolillah, and managed to still find time to help someone move for three hours. I feel accomplished.

December 27, 2006

Hajj Journal | CBC Montreal

Online Hajj Journal | CBC Montreal

CBC, which I've come to greatly respect for the balanced news reporting and fair representation of Muslims, is hosting the journal of a sister from Montreal who has gone for Hajj this year. These are always interesting reads, and it's nice of CBC to include that on their website. I sometimes read over my own, and regret that I really did not express myself well. I generally wrote at times of inconvenience and frustration, and didn't capture my awe and amazement of the whole experience; I could have written something much better had I collected all my thoughts at the end rather than write at odd times during the actual rituals. Anyway, I'll be keeping tabs on this journal on CBC; it's always encouraging to read such accounts.

And while on the subject, this post is easily the best I've read describing the experience of Umrah. A very inspiring read that deserves a better medium than the blogosphere.

December 13, 2006

Arar Recommendations | CBC News

CBC News summarizes the principal recommendations for the RCMP coming from the Maher Arar commission:

Arar Recommendations | CBC News

Arar has accomplished so much already just by having his name cleared. He was just one person up against an entire government agency, and he's winning. Truly inspiring.

IO 2.0

I recently upgraded to the Blogger beta, which has a number of new features and brings it closer to matching Wordpress, which I admit is the better blogging platform. I'm relatively happy with Blogger, primarily because I've built my template mostly from scratch and don't feel like doing it over, and I'd rather not go with a boring generic one.

The changes don't mean much for you as a reader, except that most posts are now categorized for your reading convenience; you can see the full list of categories along the right side of the page, and navigate at your leisure. For those of you visiting through an RSS reader, you can now subscribe to a comments feed if you are so inclined. I imagine you're not. I encountered one somewhat annoying bug during the upgrade: a number of comments have now been marked as "anonymous" for some reason.

And for all those who have e-mailed me recently, commenting isn't broken; I just disable it occasionally. So don't worry about the monkeys.

Update 12.13.2006: It turns out that the commenting is actually somewhat broken as part of the upgrade. I think this primarily affects users who are signed in to older Blogger accounts (as opposed to their Google accounts.)

Blogger mentions the bug here, but they say it's been fixed. Oh well.

December 07, 2006

the blurst of times

a thousand monkeys at a thousand laptops a novel does not make
for behind the words is a work of sweat, hardship and heartache
yet the monkeys tried and sweat they did, all for menial pay
but still they tried, and felt inside they'd finally have their day

most would fail, to no avail was their random typing
a broken dream, they'd yell and scream and wouldn't quit their griping
but there was success, as the monkey press made it so well known
some did their best, made it big, and now are on their own

one group punched many keys but they were gibberish at best
but those who read them came to greet them, thinking they expressed
words of sorrow, words of anger, appealing to the stressed
and the group broke off, became big stars, and went out to the west

others smashed away, an odd array, of u's and i's and t's
but some found words that appealed to nerds of dubious degrees
and thus they learned and quickly turned to their expertise
and made big bucks, in their monkey tux, doing as they please

one remained who wrote his mind, he had so much to say
of humour, heartache and all between, in a unique monkey way
and the monkey earned respect and love, and oh so much hype!
but all alone and in the light, poor monkey couldn't type.

December 05, 2006


For those of you who have about 100 minutes to spare, this is a very enlightening documentary about Muslim Spain.

I have often wondered why we as Muslims have lagged so far behind when our predecessors were the pioneers of modernity and civilization. There is little innovation today in the Muslim world; at best, we copy the West, but unfortunately we tend to take the worst of it while leaving the good.

During my travels in South Asia, I heard many people lament about how things were becoming too "westernized". I generally take exception to hearing this sort of talk, as it undermines all the good in the West. I can walk outside at night and feel safe here. I can go to a store, and not expect to get swindled. I can breathe the air and drink the water without feeling sick. I can freely go to a doctor if necessary, and expect professional, courteous treatment. These are basic expectations that I've come to take for granted in Canada, but they are also expectations that should theoretically stem from Islamic living. Unfortunately, that's not the case.

The problem is not that Muslim countries are becoming Westernized. The problem is that Muslim countries are taking the bad from the West while leaving the good. We'll adopt the crude language and skimpy dresses, but ignore the orderly lineups and clean washrooms. We'll bring the booze, lottery tickets, and racy magazines into our stores, but we'll ignore all that Western nonsense about recycling. After all, throwing things on the street is much easier, and we don't want to imitate the kufaar.

Tobacco companies are starting to lose their battle in the North American market, but they're finding great adoption in Pakistan and Bangladesh. While smoking is becoming increasingly inconvenient in most major cities in Canada, it is becoming more and more common, almost encouraged, in much of the Muslim world. Even here, I know more Muslims who smoke than non-Muslims, the justification being "it's not haraam, brother. Allah said not to make what is halaal to be haraam." Personally, I do believe it's definitely haraam, but I won't get started on that because this sort of reasoning annoys me considerably.

Muslim Spain was the envy of the world; it set the precedent upon which the European renaissance was largely initiated. It was built upon a foundation that sought the best of two cultures. The basis remained Islam, but the Spanish Muslims were not afraid to learn the arts and sciences of others. Much of the classical philosophy we study today only reached us because the earlier Muslims preserved the texts in Arabic. This philosophy preceded Islam, but there remained some value in these texts that was worth preserving. This was not a compromise on their own values or beliefs, but a reflection of the curiosity and discovery encouraged by Islam.

It would have been easy for the Sahabah to brush off the suggestion of Salman al-Farsi radhiyallaho'anh to build a trench around Madinah. After all, Salman was coming from a society of fire-worshippers who were not guided by Allah or the Prophet. But in spite of this, the Prophet sallalaho'alayhi wa salam saw value in the idea, which ultimately lead to the successful defence of the city. This wasn't imitation of the kufaar; this was a case of taking the good from another society and adopting it.

Where have we gone wrong? It's not that Muslims are uneducated. When I first started at the University of Ottawa, I was surprised to see that half of my professors were Muslim, and the dean of the faculty was a Muslim woman wearing hijab. Nearly all the teaching assistants were Muslim, as were most of the graduate students. Most of them were Egyptian, but there was a good number of Lebanese, Indian, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi Muslims amongst them as well. There were some exceptionally brilliant people among them who were the pride of the faculty.

Among the graduate students was my Egyptian roommate of two years. While he was also very intelligent, living with him gave me a peek into what really goes on in the minds of these Muslim students. I lived with him during the course of his Masters degree, and I knew he hated every minute of it. He would come home frustrated and angry, but never gave up. His perseverance astonished me. During this time, he went through a messy engagement that lasted over a year before breaking, but he kept his dedication high and his grades strong, something I failed to do during a somewhat similar ordeal. While he clearly lacked interest in his studies, he did extremely well. All the while, he would lament about how he would rather have been a cook instead, though the fool he used to serve me at breakfast made me glad he took up engineering instead.

Eventually, I moved away to live closer to the university, and he left the city as well after successfully completing his masters degree. Several months later, he called me up regarding some outstanding bills, but not before we caught up with one another.

"So what have you been up to lately?", I asked.

"I'm just doing my PhD right now, should be done in a year or two," he replied. I was astonished! A PhD? The poor guy hated every minute of his masters', I couldn't imagine him going through yet another several years in earning the PhD. I asked him to explain.

"Well, I'm planning on visiting Egypt soon," he said. "And I would feel shy to go back there with just a masters' degree." Just a masters' degree. I started realizing that many of these people were getting degrees only for the sake of degrees. I recalled one night where he had taken me to visit one of his friends who was working at a local pizza place. This friend was working there to cover the costs of his own PhD. He had already completed two masters' degrees in Engineering, and was well on his way to completing his PhD. And he was working in a pizza place. With two masters' degrees. I asked him what he wanted to do after he completed his studies, and he casually said "I'm doing what I want to do."

It's unfortunate that I've rarely seen any of these students venture outside academia; they generally become professors, or leave the discipline entirely. They could accomplish so much with their talents and education, but their education often goes to waste because it is sought for the wrong reasons. After living with that roommate for as long as I did, I discovered one frustrating trait of upper-Egyptian culture: higher education is not something that is considered exemplary or honourable; rather, the lack of higher education is something that is considered shameful.

Really, all that education is serving little more than to pad up their biodata (and according to my roommate, that's really the main goal). There's an incredible talent pool sitting there in the Muslim world, but not one single Muslim engineering firm has demonstrated much innovation in the last 50 years or so outside of the oil industry. Yet, there are PhD graduates in Computer and Electrical engineering making pizzas (and serving as prime ministers in inefficient governments.) All the while, we drive European and Japanese cars, talk on Finnish cell phones, and use American software.

I have often thought of Germany as a viable example for the Arab and Muslim world to follow. This is a country that has been decimated twice in the last hundred years, but has built itself up only on the strength of it's own people. It is not a land replete with natural resources, nor is it one with significant trade routes. Yet it is full of dedicated workers who can look beyond their past to harvest a better future. And it's been working.

There are opportunities out there to be explored, and a talent pool with the knowledge to make the most of these opportunities. Andalus was the envy of Europe, as much for it's advanced civilization as it's religion. Today, we are barely hanging onto our religion, and have hardly any civilization to be proud of. Progress starts by beginning with the fundamentals, and regaining that sense of discovery that the early Muslims brought forth. It doesn't happen in spite of Islam, it happens because of it.

November 30, 2006

Prayer Times extension

For those of you using Firefox, I would highly recommend the fzami Prayer Times extension. It's the least intrusive and most useful Prayer Times software I've tried.

November 29, 2006

A message from my brother

A few days ago, my brother got quite badly injured in the playoffs of Season 6 in the West Island Muslim hockey league. The description of the incident and ensuing injury was quite gruesome to hear, and was certainly much worse for those who saw it. I haven't been home yet to see the extent of the injury, but alhamdolillah he's doing much better now.

He wrote a message to the other players of the tournament which I really liked, and thought I'd share:
Assalamo Alaikum Everyone,

First of all, I want to thank everyone for your concern. It is a very good sign to see Muslims really caring for each other. Even the first aid people in Kirkland Rec were impressed with the initial treatment our brothers gave me. May Allah reward each of you. Alhamdulillah, by the grace of Allah, I am doing very well. The injury was only external, and the pain ended even before I reached the hospital. I didn't even have to wait long in the hospital before seeing the doctor. He put about 12 stitches, and Insha Allah, it should be healed in 7 - 10 days. I will likely return to work on Wednesday, and get back into a more normal routine.

It is our eman that whatever is supposed to happen to us, cannot be avoided. And whatever is supposed to miss us cannot reach us. This injury was Muqaddir from Allah, and it is just a test of patience and other qualities. Also, the Prophet (S.A.W) explained in one hadith that it never happens that anyone faces any hardship, not even a thorn prick in the foot, except that Allah uses it to either forgive his sins, or elevate his level in paradise. Also, going through pain helps us relate better to others who suffer more than us, and reminds us of how much we need to be thankful for the countless bounties we have been given. May Allah accept all of our deeds, forgive our sins, and give us success in this world and in the hereafter.

I look forward to seeing everyone again, and being ready for Season 7.

This was posted here, on the Great Hockey website.

I love West Island, and all the brothers there. I haven't seen a community quite like theirs anywhere else, and I often miss the days when I was among them.

November 25, 2006

730 Days of Irrelevance: The Year in Review

And thus the second year of Irrelevant Opinions is over. Perhaps every November 25th should be celebrated as "Irrelevance Day", celebrated exactly two weeks after "Remembrance Day" to forget about those brave souls who fought for our country and reflect on things less meaningful.

It's been a strange year. While it has been very eventful from a personal standpoint, what was most notable for me about this year was how little had changed. While the first year of Irrelevant Opinions saw me move past the decades of academia, journey for several months to Saudi Arabia and India, and take my first steps in the professional world, this year by comparison has been quite stagnant. I expected to see a great deal of change, but not the sort of change that eventually transpired. Instead, the year was largely characterized as one of miscues, close calls, and near misses.

It was my first full year of working. While the academic life was always full of surprises and every semester was a new challenge, the professional life changes little from day to day. Granted, the very nature of my occupation precludes routine. And all that being said, I can't help but feel thankful for the life I have. While this year truly lacked much of the pace and progress of previous years, I still managed to move about and see the world. I spent time hiking alongside waterfalls and babbling brooks in the French Alps, cycled along the Fox River in Illinois, and scaled the snow-covered mountains in Whistler.

In terms of Irrelevant Opinions, it was a year in which readership grew considerably before losing most of it during my many extended breaks in the year. During my five-week hiatus in France, a few of the main referrers to this site pulled their links, while many more were removed during the technical failures that plagued these pages in the latter half of the year. Still, the readership that remains is dedicated and friendly, and it's great having you all around.

Like last year, I will opt against writing something meaningful in favour of recycling old material.

January 3rd, 2006: Bugs in my Cereal. Almost a year later, and I still don't know what I meant by that title. Strangely though, "cereal bugs" (or similar variations) is one of the most popular search terms that leads people to this site. For some reason, people seem to search for "irrelevant bugs in cereal" much more often than you would think.

January 13th, 2006: Havelli. This post still makes me laugh, knowing the story behind it.

February 11th, 2006: Legacy. It doesn't always have to be irrelevant.

March 5th, 2006: Hope Restored. I never quite finished writing this, hurrying to a conclusion without actually describing anything from the conference itself. I should get back to this someday; there were a few great speakers whose lectures I should have written about.

April 3rd, 2006: Was Better Alone. Writing can be very therapeutic, sometimes.

April 9th, 2006: Cryptic Voicemail. This also still makes me laugh; it turned out to be the product of the former and current MSA Presidents at my alma mater.

July 24th, 2006: The Struggle. Still one of my best stories.

August 15th, 2006: Muhammad, the Last Prophet (Animated Film). I wish my nephews would watch this more, and Transformers less.

August 25th, 2006: A Discussion over Chick Peas. This wasn't a very good piece to begin with, but there were lots of interesting comments here.

September 7th, 2006: Sidewalk Afterthoughts. I received a number of e-mails and personal messages expressing appreciation for this post, so it must have had some value.

November 16th, 2006: Litterbugs in my cereal. Not sure why I kept that "bugs in my cereal" theme going.

Thanks to all the readers; Google Analytics tell me you come from all over the world, speaking a number of languages and running a plethora of browser versions. Though many of you choose to remain silent, your support is much appreciated. Keep up the good work.

November 21, 2006

Imams Ejected from Flight | BBC News

Six imams ejected from US flight | BBC News

"The six men were taken off the US Airways flight, bound to Phoenix from Minneapolis, after a passenger reported 'suspicious activity' to cabin crew."

I spend an inordinate amount of time in airports around Canada, and can't imagine this sort of thing ever happening at any of them. While I have read so much about the work being done in the US around cultural awareness and sensitivity, there still appears to be a great deal of ignorance and paranoia. I'm curious as to how Canadians have managed to protect themselves from such paranoia, as I don't see the same types of social programs in place here. Most Canadians seem to understand and accept the religious practices of Muslims without us having to explain it.

November 16, 2006

Litterbugs in my cereal

When I saw this sign at a park off Highway 99, a whole slew of bizarre images were conjured up in my tired mind.

The prosecution lawyer advanced to the front of the courtroom. The defendant sat meekly before him. At first, the lawyer said nothing; he wanted to revel in the guilty expression gracing the defendant's face, with his head dropped, his hands folded, and beads of sweat forming. That image alone may have swayed the jury against the favour of the poor defendant.

"So, Mr. Zigglefroo. You see all these people before you. The allegations are clear," the lawyer chided. "Do you realize the implications of this allegation?"

"Yes sir," the defendant whimpered.

"And what do you have to say about these charges?", the lawyer pushed on.

"I .. I have nothing to say."

The lawyer stopped his pacing, and moved to the middle of the courtroom. "He has nothing to say!", he announced. "Mr. Zigglefroo says he has nothing to say! Is that what you told the police when you were caught red-handed in the despicable act you are accused of?!"

"I .. I didn't do anything!" The defendant was nearing tears. The prosecution lawyer felt no sympathy.

"Nothing! He says nothing! My friends, your honour, what this man calls nothing is far from nothing. This man was caught in one of the most vile, most devilish acts in the history of the parks commission. This man, Mr. Zigglefroo, by his own admission threw his culinary waste into a trash receptacle while not in the state of tourism!"

Gasps from the audience. Then silence, broken by the footsteps of the prosecution lawyer as he continued to pace the courtroom.

The defendant continued his whimpering, "I didn't do anything!"

"Nothing? Nothing?! You mock the law! You break the law, then you mock the law! It is people like you who are the bane of our society. You start off as toddlers, playing games meant for three-year olds while you're only two. You tear the labels off pillows which specifically warn you against tearing said labels. You eat just one Lays potato chip, and you can believe it's not butter! And what do you say you've done? Nothing!"

The sweat begins to drop more profusely. Mr. Zigglefroo's face is red.

"And then one day, you'll walk into a zoo with a sawed-off shotgun and start killing pandas left, right and centre, strangling ostriches while chewing on the cartilage of squirrels!"

Objection! Overruled! Other typical courtroom clichés! The defendant, poor Mr. Zigglefroo, sat all alone as the murmurs amid the crowd became louder, more pointed, more accusing. And the lawyer would not let up.

"This man, Mr. Zigglefroo, is a criminal! The sign was clear, 'Tourist Use Only!' And was Zigglefroo a tourist? No! He was on business! And all others dumping refuse will be prosecuted! And here he is now, proving his guilt by his silence! He was no tourist - but soon he'll be touring JAIL! Hahahahahah!!!"

Pandemonium ensues. The crowd begins throwing crumpled papers and rocks toward the defendant. A brawl breaks out amid the jury. One lady gets punched in the face, and she returns the favour by smashing a chair against someone else. Another gets hit in the head with a stapler. She throws a pencil.

Finally, Mr. Zigglefroo broke. He leaped out of his seat alone at the front of the courtroom, his whimpering face turned to rage and insanity.

"Yes! I did it! I did it! And I'll do it again! Yaargh!!!" And with that, he began running around the courtroom in circles, grabbing the gavel off the judge's desk, while the bailiff attempted to tackle him and restore order. But even as he was pinned underneath the bailiff, Mr. Zigglefroo managed to shove the gavel into the gaping maw of the bailiff.

"Whoops, sorry Mr. Bailiff! Your mouth didn't say food use only!! Yargh!!"

The judge came down from his platform, let his robe drop to the ground, and kicked Mr. Zigglefroo in the head knocking him unconscious. Finally, order restored. The judge then pulled the gavel out of the bailiff's face, taking another quick jab at the jaw of Mr. Zigglefroo with the blunt end.

"Court adjourned," he stated.

And thus Mr. Zigglefroo was dragged from the courtroom, and all the others proceeded to file away. Everything was left in disarray; papers scattered everywhere, coats and glasses and briefcases spread across the room, and for some reason, there was an injured turtle resting limp in the aisle. And so it remained until evening.

Finally, a janitor entered the room, surveying the carnage. He began sweeping his way through the spoils of the drama, until he realized something was awry. "Hmm.. where do I throw all this out?"

Disclaimer: Obviously, I know nothing about the legal system.

Oh, and I feel fine.

November 13, 2006


Clearly, my Ramadhan break took a little longer than expected. It was a good one, though I spent nearly the entire month alone. Normally, I would break my fasts with my Jewish colleague, who skipped lunch for nearly the entire month out of "solidarity"; quite a departure from all the years of breaking fast with family, or the six years of Ramadhan at the University of Ottawa with 200 friends every evening. All that being said, Ramadhan did afford me a unique chance to be part of the community, and I quickly found my place at the nearest mosque. That particular community was a very different demographic than what I am accustomed to, but I somehow fit right in as the token young single guy.

I was a little surprised upon seeing the imam for Tarawih on the first day. He did not at all match the image of most huffaz and imams I grew up with. Rather, he seemed like the most typical Pakistani uncle you can think of, and I was somewhat disappointed. He recited fairly well, however, and made very few mistakes. Still, I was not entirely comfortable at the beginning.

A friend used to drive me home nearly every day after tarawih. One day, he commented, "the blind hafiz is amazing, isn't he?" The blind hafiz? I didn't know who he was talking about. But lo and behold, it turns out the imam I was reading behind was completely blind, even though he made no visible indications of being so. Instantly, I developed a great deal of respect for that imam, and any superficial thoughts I had of him as a typical Pakistani uncle quickly disappeared. That revelation also reminded me about the beauty of the Quran, and the miracle of hifz. It's an amazing thing, that adults, young children and even the blind equally have access to memorizing the most beautiful text in any language. It's something that appears to be quite common, but we must never lose our sense of awe at the magnificence of it all.

A person doesn't need to look far to see the signs of Allah. Whether it be witnessing the miracle of Quran memorization, or seeing the beauty of nature, the signs are all around us. As I once said in a speech I delivered a few months ago, we don't need to wait for the moon to split; there's enough evidence in our day-to-day life.

It seems fitting to include pictures from my trip to Whistler yesterday. My cousin made the trip down from Petawawa, and we had an awesome weekend traipsing the snowy mountains and navigating dangerous cliffside highways in a fun little Yaris. There's one more activity that I'm dying to try, so I just need to convince someone else to take a weekend trip to Vancouver and accompany me on another crazy adventure.

Lions Gate Bridge, on a typically wet, dark, and rainy morning in Vancouver.

In the valley between Whistler Mountain and Blackcomb Mountain.

A suspension bridge through the valley.

Snow sitting atop the needles of a Western Hemlock, with Usnea lichen hanging down, as gentle snowflakes fall in the background. This picture makes a great desktop wallpaper.

More pictures here: Flickr

October 18, 2006

Arar to accept human rights award via video | CBC News

Arar to accept human rights award via video | CBC News

"Maher Arar will accept an international human rights award Wednesday, but won't travel to Washington for the honour over fears he'll be detained again."

I have much respect for Mr. Arar, and have met him on a number of occasions. It's wonderful to see him honoured this way, but terribly ironic that he still fears travelling to the US. His fears are justified, given his earlier treatment, and illustrates how much more work remains to be done. I'm sure he'd much rather receive full justice and security in his travels than any honours and rewards.

September 22, 2006

Something Irrelevant

One personal frustration that bothers me more than it should is this: when I think up a great comeback days or even weeks after an initial remark. Conversely, one of the most satisfying feelings is when I do successfully respond in a timely manner. Thus, the following incident was immensely satisfying in a weird, inane way.

I was in Ottawa after one of my weekly cross-country flights from Vancouver. I was speaking with a friend, who had recently graduated from University of Waterloo. Somehow, we started discussing the quality of tap water; apparently, it is much better in certain parts of Ottawa then others. I mentioned that Vancouver tap water was good. The Waterloo graduate then said, "Man, the water over in Waterloo is terrible."

Quickly, my reply came, "is it because the Water comes from the Loo?"

Toilet humour, but it made me laugh no less.

Moral: Not every story needs a moral.

And with that irrelevant anecdote aside, I am going to take a break from Irrelevant Opinions to sort out some thoughts, focus on Ramadhan, and work on some personal projects.

May you all benefit greatly from the blessed month that is upon us. Ameen.

September 17, 2006

Le fureur du jour

So the issue of the day is the obscure quotation of Pope Benedict regarding the Prophet Muhammad salallaho'alayhi wa salam. Unlike the cartoon issue, these words came from a highly influential figure whose words carry much weight in world theology. For the most part, the response has been more civil and restrained than back in February, but there have been some unfortunate episodes of violence and at least one murder. Nice way to demonstrate that Islam isn't a violent religion, guys.

Since I don't believe that the Pope is a regular reader of Irrelevant Opinions, I'm not going to bother dwelling on the issue, as others have already written so much. And if, Mr. Ratzinger, you are reading, es tut mir Leid. Sorry.

Here are some worthwhile reads on the issue:

Pope criticises, Anjem embarrasses | Indigo Jo Blogs

Responding to Provocations | Musings of a Muslim Mouse

When You Just Don't Care Enough | Izzy Mo’s Blog

And if the Pope is reading this, here are two earlier posts that you might find educational:

Legacy | February 2006
Muhammad, the Last Prophet: Animated Film | August 2006

September 15, 2006

Faith over Fundamentalism

As usual, a Sikh taxi driver drove me from my Vancouver hotel to the airport for my return flight to Montreal. The topic of conversation, of course, was the bloody rampage yesterday at Dawson College. Details regarding the gunman have started coming out, including the fact that the gunman was of Indian/Sikh origin. This troubled the taxi driver. "How come he became like this?", he asked. "I've never heard of a Sikh doing such things."

"But he wasn't a Sikh," I said. "He may have come from a Sikh background, but I don't think he considered himself to belong to any religion. He was just evil, and religion had nothing to do with it."

It felt weird; normally, I find myself trying to defend Islam against the horrible actions of some who claim to be Muslims. Today, I found myself defending Sikhism against the actions committed by the Dawson gunman. In this case, there was clearly no correlation whatsoever. Of course, if the gunman came from a Muslim background, this would clearly be considered a terrorist act. The way I see it, it was a terrorist act regardless of who was responsible; were people not terrorized by the threat of a gunman roaming the hallways of the college?

Where people are trying to find a correlation is with regards to the gunmans' association to the Goth subculture. I had written earlier against the Gothic subculture as a very misdirected attempt to tread away from the norm; they focused entirely on image while ignoring the real threats present in mainstream society, particularly the rampant commercialism. One reader, himself part of the Goth subculture, interestingly remarked that he had never considered the Goth subculture from the perspective of someone already outside the mainstream. That is, since many Muslims are often considered outsiders themselves, their perspective on the subculture would be relatively free of the usual criticism directed towards their kind.

The obvious comparisons to the Columbine massacre have been plenty, and are deserved. In both cases, the gunmen belonged to middle-class suburbia, in relatively normal homes with relatively normal families. One important difference was that the Dawson gunman was reportedly not affiliated with Dawson College in any way, while the Littleton pair attacked their own school. His choice of the college as his target appears to be entirely arbitrary; his "revenge" was not against specific people, but simply an attack against a random group of youth he found to be vulnerable. And that's just sickening.

A lot of criticism has been raised against the website where the gunman kept his blog. Apparently, an earlier murder in Alberta also involved members of this website. I took the time to read some of the forums on the site, and found some very disturbing comments. While many were quick to condemn the actions (they almost sounded like Muslims!), a surprising number of them appeared to be defending the gunman. One wrote that "the way you people are cursing him and attacking him makes you no better than him." Excuse me? I think cursing and attacking a guy who just walked into a school and shot over twenty people isn't as bad as shooting over twenty people. Another wrote, "where were his parents?"

The unfortunate part is that the blame always seems to be directed towards everything else, because we simply can't figure out why a person would actually do such a thing without any motivation or influence. It's perplexing, but it appears to be the natural result of a society devoid of morality and faith. Of course, many argue that faith actually causes more hatred than it prevents. They'll point to the many episodes of religious fundamentalism today, and make a strong case out of it. But again, it comes back to the same discussion the taxi driver and I had; some people are just evil, and religion has nothing to do with it.

The website, seemingly taking a page from nearly every Muslim organization in North America, has issued a strong condemnation on their website, saying that Goths remain peaceful and loving, albeit depressed people. Blaming it all on the Goth culture is as much a flaw as blaming all of terrorism on Islam; however, just as there are certain questions Muslims must ask themselves regarding their direction and place in the West, the Goth subculture needs to do the same. Unfortunately, most people don't quite consider them to be a legitimate "organization" of any sort, so their condemnations will fall on deaf ears. Then again, so do ours, most of the time.

What can we do? I don't think anyone knows. No matter what anyone does, no matter what laws are in place, or no matter what people try to believe, there will always be crazies who go their own way. Right now, many of the families of the victims, as well as the victims themselves, have found some reprieve in the church. Some comments published in the Gazette demonstrated that even those who were never religious before simply did not want to feel alone and confused, and found comfort in the hallows of the nearby church. And of course, prayers were made at many local mosques.

It's fitting; no matter how much people say about religious fundamentalism, no matter what atrocities are committed in the name of God, we as humans always turn back. Because in spite of all our shortcomings, in spite of all our ingratitude, Allah still loves His servants. Allah still wants us to return to Him. And even while some continue to associate partners to Allah, or reject Allah entirely, the doors of repentance always remain open.

Update 9.17.2007: Great post by Shan - The Blame Game

September 13, 2006

driven by emotion, lacking a motive

It's one of those things that happens somewhere else. Unfortunately, Montreal is somewhere else to the rest of the world.

A man, reportedly in his mid-20s, walked into Dawson College in Montreal with an automatic weapon, opened fire against a mass contingent of students in the cafeteria, and eventually either turned the gun against himself, or was shot by police. There have been conflicting reports throughout the course of the day; some say there were up to three shooters, others give different descriptions. What has been confirmed is that two are dead (including the shooter) and at least nineteen have been injured (several seriously). No motive has been established.

Dawson College is part of the CEGEP network, the brief post-high school/pre-university phase we all go through in Québec. Many of my high school friends studied there, while I went through John Abbott College. I can't think of anyone right now, but I'm certain that I know current students of Dawson; there are only a handful of options for English-speaking students, and Dawson is definitely the most central one.

I was only 8 years old when a gunman entered École Polytechnique in Montreal, killing fourteen young women before killing himself. I didn't quite realize the ramifications of the event at the time. I was probably in Grade Three at the time; I remember writing about it for the "Current Events" journal we needed to keep back then.

It's incredibly frightening that such people exist in our own backyards. What are their motivations? How can someone foster that much hate, that they would be willing to just start killing people randomly? This is not Iraq or Palestine where people are growing up in the midst of violence, where everyday is a nightmare. This is Montreal, the home of hockey and smoked meat sandwiches; where does such hatred come from?

There is currently a murderer on the loose in downtown Vancouver, accused of killing a number of homeless people in the last few weeks. The murders have been occuring on the streets I walk everyday, yet no one knows exactly who is responsible, or what their motivation may be. The sad reality is that some people need no motivation; they have simply lost any trace of humanity they once had.

The motivation for the Dawson shootings remain unclear; perhaps, we'll never know. Media reports stated that there was no clear link to terrorism, but whatever happened clearly was an effort to terrorize innocent people. I imagine that for some twisted individuals, the posthumous glory is enough of a motivation; after all, there were several incidents of "copycats" in the wake of the Columbine massacre. The children responsible for that atrocity have left something of a legacy, however morbid. Whatever the motivation, there can be no justification. The students will never be the same, nor will the school itself.

For the average person like me, it hurts to feel so helpless. Being helpless against aggression and hatred overseas doesn't worry me as much as it should, because the physical distance is a legitimate barrier. But when you see and hear of these sorts of atrocities from your own city, it's another story altogether. Like many of us felt eleven years ago after the Toope murders, we are forced to ask ourselves, is there anything we could have done?

It's a bit of a conundrum; we'd like to think we can do something to prevent such senseless acts, but at the same time, we don't want to hold ourselves responsible. No matter what anyone does, no matter what efforts are in place to prevent such incidents, there will always be people who fall through the cracks.

Hopefully, we'll see the details unfold over the next few days as the investigation begins. Unfortunately, none of those details will change anything, nor make this any less of a crime against humanity, nor will it alleviate the suffering of any of the victims. Investigators will investigate, reporters will report, and bloggers will blog, but that will not stop haters from hating or murderers from murdering.

May we all be protected from hatred, injustice, and aggression. Ameen.

September 11, 2006

Monday, September 10th, 2001:

Of all places, I happened to be in Moscow.

"So, what's the story?", my friend asked.

"You're not going to believe this. The flight has been delayed seventeen hours," I replied. We had already been waiting for a few hours. I had just returned after running around the dismal Moscow airport for hours trying to figure out what the heck was going on; there were no indications as to where we were to gather for the final leg of my journey, to return home.

"Seventeen hours?!"

"Yep, seventeen hours. The flight is at 3am. We should be home around 8:30am Eastern on September 11th."

* * *

Tuesday, September 11th, 2001 - Montreal:

We were tired, hungry, but relieved. We were finally home. I walked towards the exit where I caught a glimpse of my family, awaiting my arrival after an entire summer overseas. A security guard pulled us aside, and sat us down in a room outside Customs.

I didn't know why. There must have been at least a hundred people on the plane, but only three of us - myself and my two friends - were pulled aside. Quickly, we discovered that something was greatly amiss - security started running about, barking into their radios.

"Do you know what just happened?", one guard angrily asked me.

"No idea," I replied.

"Two airplanes just hit each other on top of the World Trade Center in New York." There was no clear consensus as to what actually happened in those initial moments, but what they did know was that all air traffic controllers in the United States were being urged to ground all flights. I didn't know what was going on, but somehow I was being singled out for some reason.

And then they instructed me to open up all my suitcases. I complied, as did my travelling companions. They searched everything, digging through my books and notepads, finally stumbling upon a bag of jewellry my aunt had put away in my suitcase without my knowledge. I was slapped with a big fine for misrepresenting the goods I was bringing into the country. During their search, they also inquired about the purpose of my visit to Pakistan, my earlier visit to Saudi Arabia still listed on my passport, and why I wasn't aware of the contents of my own suitcase.

Finally, I was let go, over an hour after everyone else on the same flight had already left.

I finally met with my family. My greatest worry at the time was the week of school I had already missed. That worry didn't last very long.

* * *

Friday, December 14th, 2001 - Ottawa:

It was just before Jumah prayer. I was living at the University residence, descending to the lobby in my usual gray thobe.

On the elevator, an older, caucasian man looks me up and down, and asked me, "So... did you see the tape?"

He was referring to the Bin Laden "confession" tape that was revealed the day before.

"Oh yeah... that tape. Yeah, I saw it. I wasn't convinced, to be honest."

"You know what I think?" I had gotten fairly used to hate speech by that point, so I was mentally prepared to respond; fortunately, I never had to.

"You know, as soon as it happened, I was sure it was Bin Laden," he said. "But after seeing that tape, and how it was so obviously a fake, now I'm starting to think otherwise. That they would go to such lengths... it's clear that it's fake."

* * *

Friday, September 8th, 2006 - Vancouver:
I watched Loose Change for the first time. Nearly five years had passed, but my mind was never settled on the whole issue. Earlier, I had a discussion with a colleague regarding my misgivings around the whole "official story".

"So, you don't believe that it was done by terrorists?"

"No - that's not what I said," I replied. "It was done by terrorists. By definition, it had to be done by terrorists - it was an evil, murderous act to promote some twisted ideology. I just have this radical notion that terrorists don't have to be Arab or Muslim."

* * *

I don't know what to believe about what happened, except that it was horrible, inexcusable, and the guilty will one day pay a horrible price. At the same time, I don't consider it to be any more an act of terrorism than bombs being dropped from fighter planes in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Lebanon. And for those, there's no doubt as to who is guilty.

Loose Change, and similar media efforts, raise some fundamental questions. The typical responses, minus the profanities, are as follows:

1) "Yes, and Elvis was escorting the plane while riding a unicorn."

2) "Yeah right, you stupid liberals. Go back to killing babies and raping men."

3) "What, you want me to believe some crappy low-budget film made by some stupid kid? What's more likely, that the government would go to such lengths to kill it's own people, or that some stupid kid just wants to get attention and make a whole lot of money?"

4) "Shut up you stupid moslem, we're going to blow up your countries and send you back to the stoneage you damn towelhead."

A whole lot of ad hominem, unfortunately. The actual arguments are rarely challenged, primarily because no one wants to believe that the allegations can be true. If they were, it would challenge every idea of freedom, democracy, and justice the Western world has ever thought existed. Thus, anyone who dare question the official story is dubbed to be a fanatic, a nutcase, or a terrorist.

I have read a few actual counterarguments, but none that can stand up to even basic scrutiny. At best, they'll explain how the collapses of the North and South towers could have happened, but none of them dare try to explain the absent wreckage at the Pentagon, or the collapse of Tower 7. They won't even start on the suspicious trading and insurance claims that preceded the terrible events.

* * *

Whatever one believes, one must never lose sight of the fact that this was not the beginning; this was merely one of many atrocities which have been committed not for religion, not for democracy, but for wealth and power.

I'm struggling to find a conclusion, probably because there has been no conclusion to the events that I've written about here. I'll leave the politics to other blogs; I've written far more about politics than I am comfortable with already. While I search for my conclusion, I hope everyone else has success in coming to conclusions of their own.

September 07, 2006

Sidewalk Afterthoughts

Every once in a while, I let myself get frustrated. That's a fairly natural human emotion, but I tend to feel guilty afterwards; life overall has been very kind to me, and the worries I struggle with seem so insignificant in retrospect. Monday was one of those days where I let impatience overcome me, forgetting all the good in my life for the sake of a few minor frustrations.

Vancouver is a beautiful city, but it holds a dark secret: there is more poverty here than almost anywhere else in Canada. The Downtown Eastside area, situated just a few blocks from beautiful waterfront condos and trendy boutiques, is home to what is considered to be the poorest area of Canada. The sad consequence is that the neighbourhood is rife with drugs, homelessness, and prostitution. The crime rate is reportedly one of the highest anywhere in North America, and the results of that trickle into the more mainstream areas of downtown.

I see more beggars on the street here than anywhere else in Canada. The impoverished come in all shapes and sizes; if you were to see some of them just walking down the street, you'd never expect that they would have to beg just to make ends meet. Many of them are young, with seemingly good heads on their shoulders; they could have so much potential were it not for the drug addictions. Others have lost their wits entirely, walking around aimlessly for days on end, yelling and screaming profanities at the wind and rain.

And that's when I start feeling guilty about ever feeling frustrated. There was no choice these poor souls made that have brought them to where they are. None of these people simply decided that this was the life for them. They fell victim to circumstances mostly beyond their control, and now walk the streets with little hope of ever enjoying a comfortable life. They walk hungry, dirty, and incapable of even sorting out their own thoughts. Their beds line the sidewalks, and trashed coffee cups become their wallets. And my daily realities far exceed even the best of their dreams.

Neither my talents nor my hard work have saved me from such a life. There was no choice I made which protected me. Every breath I take, and the comforts I enjoy while taking them, have been gifts from my Creator. And perhaps the greatest gift I have is that I recognize this to be so; how many millions of people go through their lives with no belief at all? How many millions of people suffer from hardships without having the comfort of faith in their corner? It is a gift in itself to believe that there is Divinity listening to our thoughts and prayers; without this, we would all fall entirely to despair.

Ramadhan is fast approaching. Sometimes, I look at the beggars in the streets and try to justify my complacency by reminding myself that I will be fasting for an entire month in a few weeks. But that fasting, as valuable as it is, is still insufficient to truly show gratitude for all the favours I have been blessed with. Fasting in itself is a favour, because it is a sign that I have been given the gift of faith. So how do I show gratefulness for the ability to fast? What thanks do I give for the ability to perform prayers during the night and day? As one scholar said, "prayer alone is not a sufficient token of gratitude to Allah. In fact, the prayer is itself another blessing we must show gratitude for."

Truly, no amount of action on our part will ever complete our obligation towards gratitude, but Allah remains the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful. We do what we can, and pray that our actions are accepted; please remember me in those prayers.

Update 9.16.2006: Please read this wonderful post at Reflective Dust for a practical response to this piece.

September 03, 2006

Random observations on airline safety

It's amazing people still fly anywhere.

* * *

Awaiting my flight at the Ottawa International Airport, I passed by a drink stand and asked for a bottle of orange juice.

"Sure," said the cashier. "But because of the new restrictions, I'll have to pour it out of the bottle and into this cup before I can give it to you."

"Um, okay." I replied.

The cashier pulled the bottle off the shelf and began pouring the contents into a plastic cup. She looked up and smiled.

"Don't worry, we're fighting terrorism."

* * *

I can't bring deodorant on a plane, but I can bring a Dell laptop that may explode.

* * *

An Iraqi American was refused entry onto a flight because of Arabic writing on his t-shirt.

The story: Arabic T-Shirt Sparks Airport Row | BBC News
The personal account: Back from the Mideast | Raed in the Middle

* * *

Panic erupts on a flight bound for Ottawa because of a flushed iPod.

The story: iPod prompts airport scare in Ottawa | Ottawa Citizen
The reaction: Flying the Paranoid Skies | Ottawa Citizen
The personal account: I played a game, I became a terrorist | World of Warcraft Forums

* * *

A pilot flying from Ottawa to Winnipeg locks himself in the toilet in the middle of a flight.

The story: Canada pilot in toilet trip drama

* * *

There were six well-publicized crashes in August 2005, making it one of the worst months in commercial flight history:

August 2006 began with the uncovering of an alleged plot to blow up a number of commercial aircraft at Heathrow Airport. There were two major commercial airline crashes in August 2006, followed by another on the first of September.

And yesterday, a British Royal Air Force plane crashed, killing all twelve soldiers on board.

* * *

Well, at least we won't be subjected to the threat of an Arabic t-shirt on a flight.

Update 9.06.2006: Another amusing story out of Ottawa:
Speeding Driver blames lack of goats | Reuters

Not related to this post or worthy of it's own blog entry, but I just had to put it somewhere.

August 25, 2006

A Discussion over Chick Peas

I'm approximately 33,000 feet above Alberta or Saskatchewan right now. I should be sleeping, since I have a busy day of working, driving, and partying tomorrow, but 20 minutes of sleep early in the flight has made it very difficult to keep my eyes closed since. Hopefully, writing a few irrelevant anecdotes should help put me back to sleep, so here goes.

Once a week, I'll have dinner at an Indian restaurant situated between my office and hotel. It's a fairly nice place in the heart of downtown Vancouver, but going there alone every week was always tiresome. Because of the surprising unavailability of halal food in downtown, Subway is my usual dinner destination, and I often prefer it mainly because of the lack of awkwardness of eating without any company. But in the absence of home cooking and real spice, I would always get drawn back to the Indian place, where I would sheepishly walk in requesting a table for one, and sit alone awaiting my order.

After a few weeks of pestering my Jewish colleague, he finally agreed to join me at the Indian place for dinner on Wednesday night. As I was somewhat of a regular there, it was very refreshing for both myself and the staff that I entered the restaurant requesting a table for two. I advised my colleague on the best options for him which would satisfy his kosher constraints. Finally, he settled on shahi paneer, which he had served with mattar chawal and roti.

I sincerely hoped that my colleague would enjoy his meal, as I didn't want to continue coming to this restaurant alone. He didn't like the papadum that is always served as an appetizer, so I was banking entirely on the paneer. When the food arrived and I instructed him on how to eat it, I waited anxiously for his verdict.

"This is really good!" I sighed with relief. "And it isn't too spicy at all!" He requested the mild meal, while I was burning up with the extra-hot cholay. My meal, in spite of the overwhelming spiciness, was delicious as well. We both sat there enjoying our meals while discussing and comparing the concepts of sanad in hadith sciences and the laws governing rulings from the talmud.

At one point, he asked me, "This is the type of food your mom cooks every day?"

I nodded. "This is the stuff I grew up on." Cholay has always been one of my favourites, and is staple Ramadhan food in our household. "My mother makes this stuff really well."

He looked up, shook his head, and sighed.

'Isn't it sad that there aren't any girls out there anymore like our mothers?', he asked.

The question caught me off guard, but I agreed. My colleague, who is of Moroccan Jewish descent, understood the common lament of many young Muslim men like myself. I explained my personal situation to him, while acknowledging that I have three wonderful sister-in-laws that have helped keep my hopes up. "But they're not from here, are they?", he asked, sounding much like a mentor of mine who often seeks to convince me about the merits of importing. "Actually, only one of them was born in Canada... the other two are from back home."

"There you go." Though we heavily differed in background and religion, he clearly understood and shared concerns around the eroding principles of tradition. We discussed the issue further. I was surprised at how similar our feelings were on issues of marriage and family relationships. "Ce qui mari la fille, il se mari la famille," he said. We both acknowledged that the 'traditional' system worked, and how important it was for the family to be involved heavily in the whole process.

Many close friends of mine have tried doing things outside of the usual process. While I admired them for looking past cultural barriers, I worried about conflicts between the respective families. Though they were very religious people in each case, they neglected the importance of respecting their parents wishes. They intended to prove that they knew better than their parents by leaving aside nationality and culture, focusing purely on the Islamic character of their prospective spouses. As noble as their intentions may have been, in each of those cases, the engagements (and marriage, in one case) failed, and all of them suffered greatly. Hearts were broken, parents became bitter, and some very close friends fell into despair and misery. I was usually the first person these friends reached out to when things were going awry. I did my best to comfort them; however, I could clearly identify where things had gone wrong, and was incapable of reversing it. And even after years have gone by, some of them still have not fully recovered from the frustrations of those days. I continue to pray for them, but consistently hear bad news every time I give them a call.

This is not to say that we must restrict ourselves by culture. However, I do believe that such decisions must be made only with the consent and full approval of parents. If a young man ignores the wishes of the parents who raised him, sacrificed for him, and who understand him like no one else, he is doing a great disservice to himself. He is shunning the advice of those who have the deepest understanding of his needs, while embarking on a path devoid of the necessary guidance. I assume the same applies for young women as well; many would be incapable of making wise decisions without assistance from her parents. I have seen intercultural marriages work, but the parents on both sides were heavily involved in the process.

My colleague and I split the bill, and proceeded to our respective destinations. As I walked back to my hotel, I thought about all the decisions I've made in my life, and how often I strayed from the guidance of my own parents. Thankfully, none of those decisions have caused me much grief, but I often look back and recognize the deeper wisdom of parental advice I neglected. Alhamdolillah, I am where I want to be right now because I listened and followed them to a satisfactory extent; I may have been further if I listened and followed even more.

Rabbirham huma kamaa rabbayaani sagheera.

August 22, 2006

Maybe I won't

For nearly a week, I had lost access to a number of entries and could not log in to the Blogger service. This just happened to co-incide with recent misgivings I've had about the very idea of publishing my thoughts to a worldwide audience, and I thought that perhaps, it was time to say goodbye. It wasn't the Blogger technical issues that would have put me off; it's against my nature to give up on something because of a technical issue. But I often wondered whether Irrelevant Opinions was making me a better person in any way. It succeeded in reviving my passion for writing after my many years of engineering studies, but having met that goal, I wondered if there was anything else I wanted from it. I couldn't think of anything.

Strangely, however, I missed it during the brief absence. Even though I will often go over a week without writing anything, I felt like something was missing by the fact that I couldn't write anything here even if I wanted to. In a certain way, this site and the handful of readers had become quite important to me. As someone who only sees his home for only a day or two per month, this site and the loyal readers provided a much needed permanency that my mobile lifestyle lacked.

This site was still collecting statistics during the downtime, and brought up some very interesting results. I typically get around 40-50 unique visitors per day, mostly in Canada, but there are some regular overseas readers as well. My referrers log showed that some of them were actually digging through my site using Google cache and the Wayback machine, salvaging posts that would otherwise have been lost. That dedication amazed me. In addition, I heard a great deal of protest at the idea of closing this down from family, friends, and strangers who find all this irrelevance somewhat relevant.

All that being said, I wouldn't continue only because other people want me to; I would only continue if I want to myself. I haven't fully decided.

I am satisfied with the content I've been able to put out thus far. A lot of other blogs are full of copy/paste work, teenage angst, and general nonsense. I'd like to think that IO is a little different.

Thanks to all my loyal readers thus far. We'll see where things go from here.

August 16, 2006

Technical Difficulties

Obviously, something is seriously wrong, since I've lost the last six months of posts and comments.

Update 8.22.2006: The good people at Blogger, responding quite promptly to my support e-mails, have rescued all my irrelevant opinions thus far.

August 15, 2006

Muhammad, the Last Prophet: Animated Film

I saw this film when it played at the Canadian Museum of Civilization last year. If you have 90 minutes to spare for a simplified version of the seerah, (Prophetic history), this is very educational viewing, particularly for those completely unfamiliar with the history of Islam. It cautiously steers clear of any contentious issues to present an easily approachable rendition of one of the greatest stories of world history.

For those who wish to learn more, there are many books which describe the life and mission far better than any film can. That being said, it is unfortunate that we still have to refer to books to describe the life of the Prophet sallalho'alayhi wa salam. Each of the companions of the Prophet was usually example enough to pay tribute to the honour and nobility of the beloved Prophet Muhammad.

August 12, 2006

Musings in transit

The lineup through security at Vancouver airport was much longer than usual. I'm accustomed to passing through security in under five minutes, with a total entrance-to-gate time never exceeding ten minutes. Today, the lineup took at least fifteen minutes on it's own. As usual, I passed through the metal detector without triggering any alarm, and so no additional search was done. Security quickly checked my laptop, then let me proceed on my way.

I got off much better than most. I saw security agents searching the bags of hundreds of passengers, grabbing any toothpaste and deodorant they could find, tossing the "suspicious" toiletry in a trash can. I was encouraged by the fact that no special attention seemed to be given to the visibly South Asian or Arab passengers. Everyone was inconvenienced equally.

All things considered, I'm satisfied that the worst fallout of the alleged attacks was long lineups and wasted toothpaste.

There was a Chinese man in front of me in the line, while a Caucasian man chatted on his cell phone next to me, informing someone that he expected to miss his flight. The Chinese man informed the Caucasian that there was a delay, so he need not worry. I asked him which flight was delayed.

"All of them," he growled in his heavy Chinese accent. "They're all late."

I was a bit relieved, as I was cutting things short myself, and may have missed my flight if there were no delay. The Chinese man then turned to me, his voice dripping with anger.

"F**k the America," he said. "If there were no American, there would be no problem."

Touché. The thought crossed my mind that I should defend the average American against his hateful statement; something along the lines of, "there are still lots of good people in America. Don't blame the average American for their corrupt government." I opted instead to remain silent, and let the man believe whatever he wants. I recognized that anything I say could be misconstrued; the Chinese guy can say whatever he wants, but if those words were heard coming from my lips? I could very well be arrested.

It's funny; the powers that be want us to believe that the "terrorists" hate the West, and seek to destroy the Western values of freedom and democracy. I wish people would wake up. Nobody "hates your freedom". But many do hate your government. They hate the government that has lied to the world, killing hundreds of thousands of innocent people to get oil. They hate the government that pumps billions of dollars into the defense of a Zionist, fascist government while overlooking problems on it's own soil. They hate the government that is run by inept, arrogant, and spoiled brats, pushed into power by wealth and greed.

"But we can't forgot 9/11," they say. "Remember what happened on 7/7?" This quickly becomes the catch-all justification for any military action, no matter how ineffective and atrocious. But on the other side of the fence, there are people who are asking themselves, remember 9/19? Remember 3/12? Remember 7/16? Remember 7/30? The list goes on and on, and that's only within the last year. And people still wonder why such hatred exists.

And it's not just "angry Moslems" who hate that government. It's the Chinese guy at Vancouver airport. It's the Canadian guy in the cubicle next to you. It's the black man in the sewage water flooding New Orleans. And it's the child who lost his parents, their lives destroyed under the artillery paid for by that government. Say all you want, that child doesn't hate your freedom. He hates that bomb that you dropped on his home. And nothing you say will change his mind.

August 09, 2006

Silently helpless, at my keyboard

Things have been very busy in the last few weeks for me, leaving updates infrequent, untitled, and uninteresting. All the while, the war in Lebanon has been raging and many other conflicts continue unabated, leaving a Muslim world that is on the verge of collapse. My heart aches thinking about all the suffering people, while I go to bed every night with my greatest worry being getting up late. I float between gratitude and guilt for the luxuries I continue to enjoy, as I type away comfortably in an expensive hotel room in the heart of a thriving city.

There are people I know who typically have very restrained political views, but they have recently changed their tone considerably. Many are frustrated and ashamed of the decidedly arrogant position taken by the Canadian government. Never before would they share their feelings on the sordid political climate; now, they rejoice at Israeli and American military casualties, while grieving for the Lebanese, Palestinian and Iraqi civilian losses. With no end to the aggression on the horizon, I find myself feeling the same way.

I sit in a coffee shop trying to relax after the long hours of work, when I overhear a couple debating the issue. I await a meal at a nearby restaurant, when an argument breaks out over the terms of a ceasefire. I wait at the train station, while a man to my right curses as he reads of the news of the Middle East. On my left, a lady looks at me suspiciously. While the true victims are those who continue to suffer tragic losses for the political gains of others, the conflict is truly global. Everyone, be they in Beirut or my backyard, has taken a side.

I get frustrated writing about all this, so I will leave it to others to express their views much better than I ever could.

World War III? | Manila Standard Today
An interesting article detailing how we may already be in the midst of a global conflict approaching the scale of the first two World Wars. The individual conflicts began somewhat isolated, but are now merging and are quickly forcing the rest of the world to take action. May Allah Subhana wa ta'Ala protect us all.

The Galloway Interview | Sky News
This interview has become quite popular; take a look if you haven't seen it already. It was refreshing to see someone so frustrated with media ignorance get a chance to unleash himself on national television, and in front of a worldwide audience thanks to the internet. If I were stupider, I'd say the poor anchorwoman got "owned", but thankfully, I'm not.

The most critical point he makes, I think, is acknowledging that the conflict did not begin with the capture of the Israeli soldiers. "It's really very simple, except if you think only in a clock that goes back four weeks."

Qana Massacre | Riverbend
When someone living in Baghdad, where every day is a nightmare, can still be horrified by the terror unleashed upon the Lebanese people, it forces us to forget all of our petty inconveniences and acknowledge how lucky we truly are for whatever peace and comforts we enjoy.

"Hail Haifa" ... and all things Israel or you're dead! | Ethereal Melodies
A comprehensive piece outlining the hypocrisy of the Zionist establishment in a biting, satirical tone.

Frontline blogs | CBC News
CBC News has listed a number of Lebanese and Israeli blogs for the first-hand account of the crisis. I haven't read through most of these, but some of them appear to be interesting.

Mideast Dispatches | CBC News
The excellent Adrienne Arsenault is documenting her experience in the crisis region. Of course, I don't always agree with her, but she has generally been among the better foreign correspondents working in the region. The reader comments are an interesting reflection of the Canadian populace. Increasingly, there are "if you don't like it, go back to your home country"-type remarks which are quite frightening.

* * *

May Allah Subhana wa ta'Ala grant comfort to the grieving families, and grant victory to those fighting oppression wherever they may be.

July 29, 2006

After strenuous weeks of tight deadlines followed by long, uncomfortable flights, it is getting increasingly frustrating to return to an empty home more uninviting and devoid of life than any of the foreign hotel rooms.

July 26, 2006

“O ye who believe! Seek help in steadfastness and prayer. Lo! Allah is with the steadfast. And call not those who are slain in the way of Allah "dead." Nay, they are living, only ye perceive not. And surely We shall try you with something of fear and hunger, and loss of wealth and lives and crops; but give glad tidings to the steadfast, who say, when a misfortune striketh them: ‘Lo! we are Allah's and lo! unto Him we are returning.’ Such are they on whom are blessings from their Lord, and mercy. Such are the rightly guided.” (2.153 - 2.157)
5 dead in Dempster Highway accident | CBC News

I knew some of them. May Allah grant them the highest ranks in Paradise, and grant comfort and peace to their grieving families.

Update 7.28.2006: Yukon crash ends faith mission | Toronto Star

July 24, 2006

The Struggle

With all the difficulties going on in the world today, I thought it was time to be a bit nostalgic.

In October 2001, with tensions still high after the attacks in New York and Washington a month earlier, I was riding on Bus 97 towards Bayshore with one of my closest friends. We were both wearing Saudi "thobes" on the bus, and were likely under suspicion already. Regardless, I was in a good mood, and things were soon to become brighter.

While still in downtown, a familiar face walked on to the bus. At first, I didn't recognize him, but then I recalled him as one of my close friends in my CEGEP days; I hadn't seen him in at least two years, and seeing him in Ottawa after knowing him only in Montreal was quite a strange coincidence. His name was Jihad, he was of Lebanese origin. Jihad is a common name meaning "struggle", but is often misinterpreted as an evil word in the traditional Western lexicon.

So when I realized who it was, I burst with enthusiasm, jumped out of my seat, and yelled out on the crowded bus, “JIHAD!!!

It wasn't until the next day that I realized that I must have freaked out dozens of terrified passengers with an open declaration of holy war.

July 17, 2006


Nobody knows exactly what happened.

There are a few questions that nobody has really asked yet. Since when has playing paintball been a terrorist activity? In the months following the March 2004 anti-terrorism arrest in Ottawa, much was said about the local youth going out for jihad training at nearby paintball sites. Nobody raised the point that paintball is a fairly innocuous activity, enjoyed by thousands of people who haven't the slightest desire to harm anyone.

If paintball was the incriminating factor, then why not shut down the paintball sites? After all, they breed terrorists. It's a ridiculous claim, but one that has not been questioned at all during these last few weeks. It is a sad reality that such paranoia exists only as it applies to Muslims. While Al, John, and Joe can play paintball with no repercussions, suspicion will always follow Ali, Yahya and Yusuf if they engage in such activities.

Did Mubin Shaikh really encourage the suspects? Were they really "time bomb[s] waiting to go off," as Mubin stated, or were they pushed towards that direction by Mubin himself? Or were they not inclined towards that direction at all, and have been incarcerated unjustly? At this point, no one really knows.

The reaction to this story has been predictably polarizing. Mainstream reaction amongst Canadians to his work has been particularly effusive, with readers of calling him a hero, and deserving of the Order of Canada. He has been called a "a wonderful example of a true believer in Islam", and one wrote that "[his] hope is that your story will shed some light on the fact that most Muslim people are peace loving." Another wrote, "[we] as Canadians are very fortunate indeed to have the true spirit of Islam come forward in Mubin Shaikh." This is easily the best press Islam has gotten in the Canadian media that I can remember.

On the other hand, many Muslims, frustrated by our perpetual misrepresentation in the media, have attacked him. While eager to defeat stereotypical representations of Muslims as violent zealots, the verbal assault laid upon Mubin Shaikh has been frightening. The milder ones have called him a munafiq, or hypocrite, a very harsh term in terms of Islamic jurisprudence. Others have called him a "kafir", and desired that he be "tortured in this life and his next life, and that he [be] ripped from his family so that his daughter would be fatherless." Many wish that he be thrown into hell, something the Prophet Muhammad (saw) did not desire even for his worst enemies. And to label someone a "kafir", or infidel, in Islam is perhaps one of the riskiest allegations one can make. If you label someone a "kafir", it is said, the kafir is either him or you. That is, if you incorrectly assert that someone else is a disbeliever, it is akin to disbelief in itself.

Clearly, emotion has suffocated the rationality of many Muslims, as it often has. The ironic part is that the criticism is coming from both the secular camps as well as the religious ones. The secular side falls victim to the ad hominem fallacy; they attack Mubin because of his earlier support for Shariah. That is, they are attacking the person, not the idea he presented. The religious side tends to get lost in what is apparently known as the straw man fallacy. They have set up Mubin as someone who encouraged the youth to terrorist leanings, and then had them arrested. That is a position easy to refute, but it is most likely a misrepresentation of Mubin's actual position. In either case, there are significant gaps in logic with the way Muslims are reacting to all this.

The most common criticism of Mubin was his role as a CSIS spy. Many argue that it would have been more appropriate that he report the individuals to the local mosque, or that he himself try to discourage the youth from hateful tendencies. This is all fine and good, but perhaps it would not have been enough. If the alleged plot was indeed true, then discouragement alone wouldn't have changed the minds of those people. I have dealt with such people personally, and they do not answer to reason in most cases. And then perhaps instead of writing about this "foiled terrorist attempt" right now, I would be writing about the destruction of the Peace Tower in the Centre Block of Parliament Hill. Or perhaps I would have been amongst the rubble, as Parliament is only a couple blocks away from my office. And that would have decimated all hope any of us might have for a relatively peaceful future in this country.

It is perhaps more likely that the suspects were simply angry in talk only, and were unlikely to actually do anything. Often, it is difficult to distinguish violent tendencies from occasional violent thoughts. Everyone, at some point or another, has said something like, "man, I wanna kill that guy." This does not mean, of course, that one actually intends on murder. In the same way, perhaps someone did mutter, "man, I wanna cut that damn Harper's head off." But is that enough to prosecute a person? And if so, was Mubin responsible for this critical misunderstanding? At least one of the suspects has been released on bail, so it is likely that the jury is beginning to realize that these youth did not have the capacity for such evil acts. Details will hopefully begin to emerge as to how feasible the entire operation was, and how far from action the suspects actually were.

Ultimately, justice will be served by Allah. My opinions on the matter truly are irrelevant, as are the opinions I've been reading. Personally, I am not prepared to take any position, nor do I see a need to. I am responsible for my actions, you are responsible for yours. None of us have enough information to pass judgement on anyone else, and the most crucial information will always lay within the hearts of those involved. We don't have access to that, nor do even the Angels. Protect yourself from hatred, and pray for justice. Do not let your emotions cloud your better judgement and bring you to vilify others. Vilification will only worsen the situation, and shatter whatever efforts we have made towards unity.

Pray for me.


July 15, 2006

Whistler while you work

I was thinking of writing about the train bombings last week, or the Lebanon war, but things are just getting way too depressing. I'm getting frustrated just thinking about all this, so I'll leave all that aside.

I spent the day in Whistler, British Columbia: future site of many events of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, and one of North America's most popular ski destinations. I always expected that the natural beauty of Canada would likely exceed anything else I had seen during my world travels, and here's the confirmation:

I just bought this digital camera a few days ago; I'm not too happy with it, unfortunately. More photos here.

Update 7.20.2006: I was able to return the camera, even after taking over a hundred pictures and exhausting the included batteries. Yay for free rentals!


July 14, 2006

First suspect granted bail

Teenage Canada terror suspect granted bail - lawyer | Reuters

He won't be the last. Some of the suspects, I'm sure, were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. It's interesting that this happened so soon after this "mole" stuff became public.

On a somewhat related note, the Canadian media must really find some new Muslims to interview. I'm really tired of reading what Tarek Fatah has to say on every single issue. Perhaps it's only our own silence that allows people like him to have a forum to express such opinions; the wiser opinions, meanwhile, remain relegated to the depths of the vast wasteland that is the internet. Irrelevant opinions, indeed.

July 13, 2006

Of Mole and Men

'Devout Muslim' informer helped in Toronto terrorism-related arrests | CBC News

Mounties had mole in alleged terror cell | Toronto Star

Not sure what to think about this just yet. It's not my job to judge the intentions of others, nor is it yours.

Update 7.14.2006: This ayah kept popping up in my head.
O you who believe! avoid most of suspicion, for surely suspicion in some cases is a sin, and do not spy nor let some of you backbite others. Does one of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother? But you abhor it; and be careful of (your duty to) Allah, surely Allah is Oft-returning (to mercy), Merciful. (49:12)

Update 7.15.2006: Prison steels Amara's faith, letters show
This is all so very confusing.

July 11, 2006

On heroes and headbutts

When I was in France earlier this year, talk had already begun about the World Cup. It was still over a month away, but the passion the French had for the game far exceeded even the passion Canadians have for their hockey. And the millions of immigrants in France beamed with pride that their national hero was of Algerian descent.

For the disenfranchised North Africans in France, Zinedine Zidane was not just a soccer football star; he represented so much more. He was a fighter who got past the prevailing French nationalism, and excelled in his field against seemingly all odds. He grew up in Marseilles, but not the romantic, wine-country Marseilles we might read about. He grew up in the squalid Marseilles slums, among thousands of other second-generation immigrants of North African descent. If the slums in Lyon were any indication (and I'm told that they are), these were not friendly places. From what I saw in Lyon, these housing projects were rife with drugdealers and other shady personalities. The religious ones among them were doing an excellent job to counter the efforts of the social underworld, but they were too few to reach out to everyone.

Unemployment is extremely high in these housing projects. In Lyon, I met hundreds of young people of about my age struggling tremendously just to make ends meet. Their fathers, who had entire families to provide for, were perpetually depressed. Often, they would look at me cynically, knowing I came from a country where it was not considered uncommon to have a complete university education. I stopped introducing myself as a computer engineer or computer analyst early on when I realized that doing so might be considered arrogant.

Those who refused to pacify themselves with drugs resorted to the soccer field. And when the soccer fields were all occupied, as they often were, then the parking lots and basketball courts were good enough. I don't think I ever saw people actually playing basketball on the courts; it was always soccer.

I'd be lying if I said I cared about the World Cup. I only watched one match during the entire tournament, and that was only in a waiting room while I was getting work done on my car. That one match was a somewhat entertaining affair - Portugal vs. The Netherlands - but I didn't know any of the players on either side, and always found soccer to be boring on TV to begin with. But in spite of my apathy, I made it public early on that I was rooting for France, if only because their star was Algerian when I had personally observed the struggles of minorities there.

And France performed admirably, losing only in the World Cup final against Italy in a game I still didn't care enough about to watch.

But the real story, of course, is the headbutt.

The word is that the Zizou headbutt was in response to racist comments. There has been lots of speculation and lip-reading done; while there isn't a definite agreement, it's clear that it was something very nasty. During my time in France, much was said about Zidane's character off the field, that he was calm and humble. The headbutt is perhaps one of the most primitive (and hilarious) forms of attacking someone else, far removed from the persona of someone known for his humbleness.

I'm sure writers and the irrelevantly opinionated will try to derive some deep philosophical parallels from this incident. I've read someone trying to link the incident to European history in World War II. Sports analysts will condemn the man for thinking of his own revenge before the good of the team. Others will applaud him for standing up for a country that has frequently been ridiculed for being weak. And I've already read others ignorantly hanging off the "France sucks" bandwagon, labelling the incident as yet another demonstration of perpetual French failure.

Ultimately, it's about a man, his head, and another man's chest. And when the Italian fell, whatever racist or hateful rhetoric he spewed he said fell with him. And to me, that's worth celebrating.

Update 7.28.2006: A Much Needed Head-Butt | Islamica Magazine

This is a much better article on the non-athletic connotations of the Zidane headbutt. It's actually remarkably similar to what I wrote above, but is clearly written by someone with more interest in the game and the players than myself.

July 10, 2006

Wise words from Seeker's Digest

"Beware of knocking out your soul with a backbite (or a head-butt)."

More here.

July 06, 2006

Dahyer sichuayshun

Several months ago, I wrote how technology is corrupting the English language.

Things are getting worse: Push for simpler spelling persists.

Update 8.2.2006: And apparently, technology isn't a problem after all.
Texting helps teens' grammar | Toronto Star

The ironic part is the "verbing" of the word "text" in the title of the article. Either way, I'm not convinced by the results of the study.

Fly away

So I'm in Vancouver these days.

It turns out that the hotel I'm staying in was the site of a mutant research facility in X-Men 3. So if I come back a little weird, you'll know why.

July 04, 2006

I won't apologize

I read another article today about how Muslims need to do more to root out extremism. This time it was Tony Blair who said that there is only so much his government can do; it is up to Muslims themselves to identify the fringe elements in their community, and work against them.

This rhetoric is common, and I essentially agree with it; we have a lot of work to do amongst ourselves. But I will not apologize for the actions of others, especially if requested to do so by hypocrites who are running an illegal war. In fact, calling it a war is perhaps even too generous; it is an invasion, and should be recorded as one of the greatest disgraces of modern history.

The rape of a young Iraqi girl, and the subsequent murder of herself and her family, has surfaced. The girl was fifteen fourteen; her parents and little sister (no more than seven years old) were the other victims. Is there anyone who really believes that this is the only such case? This one happened to surface publicly; there must be hundreds of such incidents that remain hidden. Considering the humiliations that surfaced at Abu Ghraib against Iraqi men, it would be foolish to assume that Iraqi women were not abused as well. The list of atrocities keeps getting longer; were such a list ever published, future generations would categorize this army - and the government that controls them - along with the most oppressive forces of the twentieth century.

I suspect that the government is less worried about the rape/murder itself, and more worried about how it leaked.

No one is asking for the Americans to apologize for the acts of their soldiers. No one is asking the Americans to "root out" the extremist elements within their ranks. We refrain from this because we believe that the actions of a few does not reflect the entire organization. Unfortunately, that logic is applied selectively: don't blame America for the action of its citizens, but blame the Muslims for the actions of its adherents. That no one questions this hypocrisy is frightening. And anyone bearing a bumper sticker requesting that we "Support Our Troops" is asking us to support an organization that has caused more violence, death, and instability than any other group existing today. And yet, such behaviour is applauded, while speaking out against these criminals is considered to be a challenge against liberty, democracy, and justice.

We live in strange times, when the ones dropping bombs from fighter planes to kill individual men are considered to be the ones fighting terrorism. Things are completely backwards when you are considered to be a threat to national security when you don't support the invading army in an illegal conflict. But that's the world of today, and we all must live within our circumstances.

I will do for my community what I must do as a Muslim, but I will not apologize for them. Unless the average American takes responsibility for the atrocities committed by their fellow citizens, I see no need to take responsibility for those atrocities committed in the name of Islam.