Vacuum

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She heard the laptop fall. Her eyes were still closed.

She heard the phone call. Under sheets, she was still covered.

 

Her eyes stung with anger. Sadness. Confusion.

Why God? I don’t understand.

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Things To Be Proud Of

Two of these FINALLY came in the mail yesterday..

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B.A. in Philosophy (left), Summer 2013

B.A. in Political Science (right), Summer 2013

Certificate in Middle East Studies (center), Spring 2012

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And all I could think of was Beyoncé’s “Flawless“..

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In Progress: M.A. in Middle East Studies, Spring 2015 (Inshallah)

Next: Ph.D. in Political Philosophy - or similar field title. (They say if you write things down, you’re more likely to achieve them)

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Things To Live By

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When I first heard this song, I realized it was a love song. But, I felt as though it were a song more appropriate for myself.

Our lives are built around a conception we have of our Selves. And I am afraid, sometimes, to step outside that conception of my Self, and outside those walls I have built around my Self. Time tells me to be bolder now.

And I know, I am just a child at heart – but I’m getting older too..

There is a line from a movie that I’ve always loved.. It is a moment she has least confidence in herself, and She tells him: “I’m going back to LA. No more trying to be something I’m not”. He replies, “What if you’re trying to be something you are?”.. The concept of becoming what someone is: to Be always Becoming.

The song asks, “can I handle the seasons of my life?”. Cliché would dictate that yes, yes you can handle anything. But as the song answers honestly, “I don’t know”. And while that isn’t the most optimistic answer, it is the most authentic.

In a way, there is almost something exciting about not knowing. It’s a challenge. You don’t know what you can handle, till you come right up to the edge of it. You don’t know the seasons of your life, till you brave right through them.

.. Can the child within my heart rise above?
Can I sail through the changing ocean tides?
Can I handle the seasons of my life?
I don’t know..

But I’ve been afraid of changing
‘Cause I’ve built my life around you (you: my Self)
But time makes you bolder
Even children get older
And I’m getting older too ..

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I’ve moved to the East Coast, it’s very different from the suburbia I was living in Southern California. I’m in a studio apartment, whereas I’d previously been living in a family home. I didn’t bring my car with me, so I’m now experiencing the world of public transportation.

My university campus is open, with a city-feel. Streets run through it, as do a few rats, I noticed. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve gotten lost! In California I’d been attending a closed-campus, where the only thing that ran through it were bike lanes and fluffy bunnies and squirrels.

But, I love the Metro entrance to my university here. You stand at the bottom, and the escalator takes you up, and up. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, a pianist is playing right by it. So as you walk to class, you do it with a little swirl in your walk, to go along with the melodies.

I have utility bills now, and rent too. Two things I didn’t have to worry about in the family home. Ah, money management – the dreaded mark of adulthood.

I also have neighbors. One of them stole a package of mine, I have yet to get it back. And some days, when they make enough noise that you’d think they owned a trampoline, I fantasize about killing them all off.

Other than that, I’m mostly preoccupied with obsessively keeping my apartment clean, and figuring out graduate school. So far, it basically feels like a giant book club. You read, discuss what you read, and that’s about it. Occasionally you give presentations on readings as well.. Cue the horror music. Discussion and public speaking are the one things I avoided like the plague in college, so it’s quite a surprise to realize they form absolutely everything graduate school is.. But, I’ll figure it out.

I remember a guy in one of my classes, after just introducing himself, told me I had a “scared bunny look” that I needed to get rid of. The comment has stuck with me because, secretly, I do feel like a scared bunny. He was a douche for saying it, but part of me fears he was right. I’m trying to look anything other than novice, I don’t know if it’s working…

My second class was far more memorable, though..

I was late, or, let’s say “right on time” instead – sounds better, doesn’t it?

I walked in the door and sat in the closest chair I could find. I didn’t want to make a sound, I didn’t want to cause a disturbance. The chair hugged the wall, and frankly part of me wanted to fade right into it.

I knelt down to my bag, pulled out my notebook, and looked up.. And there he was. Sitting alone. In the front row, center.

He didn’t know it, but I stared at his neck, his broad shoulders, countless times during lecture. I’d watch him laugh at the professor’s attempts at jokes. I’d see his cheeks rise up from his smile, and felt my own naturally do the same at the sight of his. I listened when he’d make discussion contributions that the professor found hard to dismiss. He’s different, I could feel it. He’s caught my attention, and I like it. I could almost hear Frank Sinatra in the background singing his, “The Best Is Yet To Come”..

Anyway..

I’ve been reflective lately. I began thinking of a few core things that, thus far in my life, I believe in and trying to live by, and I thought that I’d share them. Because, why not?

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 Live your morals, don’t just preach them to yourself and others. Be as consistent with your self as possible, else how could you live with yourself?

 Acknowledge that you’re not perfect. Sometimes you will fall short of consistency, of expectations, of goals. It’s okay, that’s what fallible humans do.

 Never let being so happy cause you to forget to thank God for that happiness.

 Karma is real. Release into the world only what you’re willing to get back.

 Avoid wearing so much makeup that you barely recognize yourself when you take it off. Where’s the delight in getting compliments on a face that doesn’t even resemble your own?

Try to remember, in fact repeat this to yourself: if you have to repeat an outfit.. the world will NOT end.

 Imagine the world as a bowl, swirling around in it is peoples’ inner lives – all of their fears, joys, pains, desires, etc. Before you act towards another, ask if you want to add to the total amount of pain in that bowl, or to the total joy? Watch the bowl’s swirl, see all that pain? Try not to be just another person causing it for someone else.

 Don’t use “I love you” casually. It’s such a special phrase, and saying it to everyone, all the time degrades its power to a mundane status.

 If you’re going to own an animal, know that is a responsibility and treat it with the care you’d give a child – or may God bestow his wrath on you.

 As my great aunt taught me when I was younger: “Never Give Up”.

 Don’t ask for favors unless you absolutely have to. No one likes a heavy person.

 Sometimes there’s a little voice in your head that tells you things. Not your conscience, more like your instinct. Take it seriously, it’s usually right. Sometimes you just know more than you think.

 Not everything has to have a reason or make logical sense. Allow for randomness.

This may seem obvious, but with all the social media sometimes its easy to forget: Real life is far better than virtual life. Put your phone away more often.

 Trust can be beaten. But if you’re trusting someone who is trustworthy, don’t let it be broken. Everyone makes mistakes.

 Don’t lie. Even white lies can hurt, so don’t try to rationalize your own lying. People will always eventually respect your truth and appreciate hearing it, not your hidden acts and deceitful words.

 Respect your elders, but give them no pedestals. In fact, give no one a pedestal. It’ll always be too high, and they’ll always fall off it.

 Give worthy people the benefit of the doubt. Be careful who you consider worthy.

 If you have an idea for an article you’re writing, always write things down as they come, even if it’s just to organize them all later.

 Love isn’t for cowards. Do it boldly and bravely.

 Never say things that hit below the belt to those you love. They will hear enough of that from those that don’t love them, they don’t need to hear it from you too. Keep that sacred level of softness with them, even in the hardest of moments.

 Don’t shy away from telling people you love them. There are enough families, friends, and lovers in the world that never say they love each other, that never hug or kiss each other. Simply because “it’s not something we express”. It’s such a shame. Life is too short to hold love in. Someday those you love will die, and someday you will die. Show all you can before that time.

 Appreciate kindness from people. It’s not common, it’s not ordinary. They chose to be kind to you, they didn’t have to. It’s only appropriate that you don’t take it for granted.

 “It’s all about association”. So question every assumption there is, because more often than not it is a product of things associated with other things. Connections imbedded within our minds as self-evident givens.

Avoid being thoughtless. Think about what you do, review your decisions. Apologize for your wrongs, continue with your rights.

There are types of people that have what I call “dot of sadness”. They’ve experienced or felt things in their lives, and they were left with a dot. They carry it around, you can feel it in their aura. They’re typically deeper, enjoy them. Also, be a force of comfort for them.

 It’s okay to cry sometimes. But other times it’s not.

 Alone time is the core of your self, don’t neglect it. You can only rejuvenate, re-create, by going back to that center.

 If you don’t like your body, do everything you can to improve it. Namely, exercise. It’s healthier than complaining about it. But be realistic, know that you were born with a general, unchangeable body type, but you can still strive to be in the best shape of that body type.

 Avoid borrowing or lending money as much as possible.

 Embrace color. The colors you choose, is a reflection of your Self, a signifier of your space in the world. Be that one Red coat in a sea of Black.

 Smile at strangers, they may be having a bad day. And be generous with your “please” and “thank you” ‘s, manners may be old fashioned, but they’re a nice tradition to keep around.

 Unlike most, I don’t view what is divine about children as being their innocence. A child will lie to you, and steal from you, if it means getting that candy bar. What is divine about children, actually, is their curiosity and their excitement, or in arabic: “دهشة”. That, right there, is how you find laughter and smiles in a regular day. Find something exciting about the boring, find something interesting in the routine. Stop and listen to the violinist by the Metro, or watch that bird formation in the sky by your apartment.. It’s those little things – let them catch your attention, admire them.. the world can wait a few moments.

 Before judging, try to understand. Practice a few thought experiments where you’re in someone else’s shoes. Of course.. if that still doesn’t explain it, then by all means, judge away! :p

 Don’t pity those less fortunate than you. Don’t join philanthropy or any other help-focused field just because you feel sorry for others. Dismissing someone’s dignity is repulsively righteous.

 If you’re a moron, admit it to yourself. And then go read a book.

 Watch your anger.

Patience.

 Sometimes, it’s best to just get a good night’s sleep. You’d be amazed how many problems are solved by simply getting proper rest.

 Do what you’re afraid of. Not when you’re completely ready, because you will never be. Instead, pick a general stage in your life and decide that’s when you’ll make yourself ready, then do it. And it’s okay to move at your own pace in doing so, rather than someone else’s.

 Vanity is a virtue, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to look your best. There’s a saying my mother used to tell me: “if you look good, you feel good. If you feel good, you do good”. Simple and true.

 “Nothing is solid; Everything is fluid”. As Scarlett O’Hara in ‘Gone With The Wind’ said: “After all, tomorrow, is another day..”.

 If it’s a Man’s World, then that’s all the more reason to remain a female in it. Don’t hide it to look “serious” or “professional (polite code for masculine) that’s inauthentic conformity. As the Rodgers and Hammerstein song goes, “I am proud that my silhouette is curvy, that I walk with a sweet and girlish gait, with my hips kind of swivelly and swervy.. When I have a brand new hairdo, with my eyelashes all in curl, I float as the clouds on air do.. I enjoy, being, a girl!..”

  Make time to Dance, always.

  Cherish the angels God puts in your life. Try to make them happy.

 Don’t be afraid to kiss at an airport. The world is cold, so warm it up with your Public Display of Affection…

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A Day for the Illegally Detained: Remembering Saudi’s Prisoners

This past Monday was named a “Day for the Illegally Detained”. A Twitter account called ‘al-Munaseron’, which translates simply to ‘the supporters’, first announced that May 20th would be designated as a day to remember illegally detained prisoners. Many families of detainees and their supporters have decided to participate, the most prominent cities participating are Buraidah and Riyadh. Continue reading

Boston Bombings: A Saudi-American Perspective

On wind he walks, and in wind / he knows himself. / There is no ceiling for the wind, / no home for the wind. / Wind is the compass / of the stranger’s North. / He says: I am from there, I am from here, / but I am neither there nor here./

By traveling freely across cultures / those in search of the human essense may find a space for all to sit.. / Here a margin advances. / Or a centre retreats. / Where East is not strictly east, / and West is not strictly west, / where identity is open to plurality, not a fort or a trench./

- Mahmoud Darwish (excerpts from his elegy poem to Edward Said)

 

• INTRO

I’ve felt so many things following the Boston Marathon bombings; it is impossible for me to narrow it down to a single sentiment. Events that touch on identity are challenging for me to process, as I’m often left in a schizophrenic daze. Throughout this ordeal, I felt myself shift from one side of my Self to the other, and from one emotion to the next. So, I won’t try to simplify what is inherently complex. I will simply present and reflect, and nothing more. No fancy theorizing, no overarching message. This post is only meant to be a glimpse at personal identity – that wild thing which one cannot pin down.

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• HEARING THE NEWS

I heard about the Boston bombings first from a group of Saudi, Arab-Nationalist friends. I was driving to class at the time, and felt my chest tighten as I read the news on my phone. My first question was: “did a Saudi do it?” I thought again, “did an Arab and/or Muslim do it?”.

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Saudi Feminism In The Social Realm: In Defense of Personal Revolutions

“’Cover up, you woman!’, [they say]. But I won’t cover, and your trashy way of offering religious advice wont work with me”, proclaimed a Saudi woman named Loujain al-Hathloul in a video posted on her “keek” account. She then laughed, and began to show her “keek” followers various campus buildings at the University of British Columbia in Canada, where she studies French Literature. A day or two later, her video went viral among general Twitter users. She is now the #1 top-viewed Saudi user on “keek”, and the #18 top-viewed user in All Countries.

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  • Understanding Authentic Acts & Defining ‘Personal Revolutions’

I admit; my first impression was that the video was juvenile, since it wasn’t exactly the most serious attempt to start a debate on the interplay of societal pressure and religious practice. Many who are mainly focused on the political dismissed her videos outright as just reckless and pointless.

But, I am reminded of an old conversation I once had, in which I was asked simply, “why must every act have a point, or a purpose in the grand scheme of things?”. I remember, I’d never thought of it that way before, and soon came across Nietzsche’s warning against this same tendency in understanding human affairs, “mistrust all systematizers and avoid them. The will to a system is a lack of integrity”.

It does make sense, when one thinks about it. In all honesty, who has not had such frivolous moments? Who has not spontaneously poked at fire, seeking the thrill of watching its sparks fly? Life would be a bore without these bursts of valor, as silly as they may appear at first. As Heraclitus, one of the first Ancient Greek philosophers to favor rebellious thought, said, “Man is most nearly himself when he achieves the seriousness of a child at play”. And so, in her playful seriousness, Loujain was asserting her Self. And socially, even the smallest of such authentic assertions can be considered personal revolutions.

Now, what do I mean by “personal revolutions”? Continue reading

Arab Spring Expectations & ACPRA Trials: Word Play & A Shift of Power in Saudi Arabia

I.

Following the Arab Spring, there have been suggestions that the image of the Middle East has been improved, according to some mystical set of standards, and that the need to dispel stereotypes is no more. I believe this is false, the framework around the Middle East, on whole, has not changed. The Orientalist and Islamophobic lenses remain firmly before the eyes of analysts, even adopted by some locals of the Middle East themselves, who chose to practice ‘self-Orientalism’. Recently, I have become interested in whether this problem of framework does, or does not, plague the field of Middle East Studies. So far, the most successful classes I have come across were ‘Arab Revolutions’, with Mark Levine, and ‘Middle East Narratives’, with Daniel Brunstetter, as both incorporated voices directly from the Middle East, either via guest speakers or Skype calls, and both placed an emphasis on historical context. It was not so much what was being said by these ‘voices of the Middle East’ that added value, rather, it was the simple attempt to dispel the prevalent ‘Otherness’ that is perceived about the region.

Over the past quarter, however, in which I took two US Foreign Policy classes, I have been introduced to a new brand of Middle East Studies. The first of these classes issued a disclaimer at its start that the class will span a history of America’s relation to the world, except the Middle East. I haven’t the slightest idea why. The second class, while well intentioned, offered analysis of the Middle East no deeper than a Thomas Freidman article. “Saudi Arabia is like a pile of sand. And if you poke it, oil will burst out. Kuwait is just a smaller version, it’s about the size of this campus!”, explained my professor. While I busied myself, looking around for the nearest hard surface to bash my head on.

He went on to say how “volatile” the region is, and that the Arab Spring meant only problems for Washington. A student asked what the Arab Spring “in countries like Saudi Arabia” would mean – at which point I felt like the ‘problem child’ of a family. My professor responded that he wasn’t too sure, but that there were “terrorist sympathizers” in “those kind of countries”. I watched as my fellow classmates feverously took notes. For them, his opinion was Truth. It was one of those moments when you are faced with a choice: should I just let it go? Or, do I bother pointing out how his viewpoint itself hinges on the assumption that anything is only worthy if it is stable, predictable, and in accordance with the desires of Washington, while all else, apparently, is “terrorist sympathizing”. I grew frustrated; he had stripped Saudi Arabia of its diverse peoples, complex history, and current changes. I was also resentful of how he managed to portray the Arab Spring as ‘scary’ by pointing to its supposed inevitable Clash with ‘Terrorists’, all while alarming my impressionable classmates in the process.

As a result, later in the course, I found myself using the open-ended essay assignment as an opportunity to list “proofs” that “change” was happening in Saudi Arabia, and that it was more than a terrorist-loving pile of sand. Only after submitting it did I realize that, although I was trying to problematize his flat commentary, I only did so by pointing to examples that aligned with what I knew he would consider “US values”. I came to the frustrating conclusion that I had just succumbed to the temptation of arguing within his same framework of judgment. And it is a temptation, isn’t it? It is tempting to practice the far easier method of simplifying Saudi Arabia, and more broadly the Arab Spring. It is easy to idealize it, and point to all the aspects that we know will please whomever it is we’re debating with.

But the fact is that the “Arab Spring” is a term fit only for the relativists’ playground. There is simply no way around it; it has been assigned different meaning by different people, and you will find elements within it from absolutely every single strand of political thought. As a result, very little can be said generally about the Arab Spring. In fact, it’s questionable whether anything can be said of it at all. But that is the role of the writer, isn’t it? To at least try and create meaning around what they observe, while acknowledging that the influence of perspective is always present when doing so.

And so, in this post, I will symbolically resubmit that essay, leaving behind the pressure of appealing to a Thomas Friedman–like professor. I will attempt to look at what the Arab Spring has meant for current Saudi political discourse, how it has fueled the rights movement that is being pioneered by the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA), resulting in arrests and trials of its co-founders, as well as highlight a few cases of Saudi citizens who have witnessed its activities and explore the patterns of exclusion and Otherizing throughout.

II.

I recall the moment I read a tweet by Mohammed al-Qahtani, one of the ACPRA co-founders on trial, in which he wrote, “the government wanted to intimidate us (himself and fellow activists Abdullah al-Hamid) by putting us on trial, so we have decided to put the government on trial!”. Is it possible, I wondered, for two individuals to put an entire government on trial? Do they really have the power to do so? Continue reading