By Mohammad T.
Is injustice inevitable? Is structure indestructible?
In my pessimistic moments, I fear that my parents were right all along: don’t worry about that goodie stuff, they control too much and are too powerful; just take yours and be happy with what you have. You may accuse them of being too simple, or too Cold War, or maybe even conspiratorial. But it’s hard sometimes to disagree with them.
I just finished watching the last episode of ‘The Wire’, and I’ve come away surprised by my own reaction to the series. Like every character in this incredibly well-crafted, incredibly powerful series, I thought I would leave its world of make-believe Baltimore profoundly upset at the recycled detritus of contemporary American life — so much so that it would push me away from the dirty and inglorious work of invisible righteousness that I see among my many radical colleagues and friends, working hard every day to keep their spirit from pining away. Why keep at it, I should have thought? I will end, but the system survives. It creates many more of them, but sometimes it will malfunction and create a few of me. Why bother, no? I can snatch a few shiny trinkets from that same system, stay quiet, and live comfortably knowing that I took mine.
The cast of characters of this tragedy.
That’s probably what I should have thought, after completing this last episode. But I am reminded what the series’ creator, David Simon, in response to the many commentators ruffled at the apparent cynicism of the series: “It’s a love letter to Baltimore,” he said. So here’s to hoping that, with the support of my friends and family, that I don’t become so cynical as to think I’m above putting, as a wise man once urged, my body “upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, and upon all the apparatus of that machine.” Here’s to hoping that I can, after a long wait, reflect upon my work as a kind of broken love letter.
By Mohammad T.
Today, my parents are leaving to Saudi Arabia for a 10-day trip on the hajj, the obligatory Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca. This will be their third (and likely final) hajj. In the course of their three trips — all within the past 10 years — they will have witnessed the transformation of the pilgrimage from an awe-inspiring religious journey to a somewhat-less-inspiring Vegas-esque festival of greed and capitalism.
The last time they visited, they performed the tawaf (the circumambulation of the ka’aba, Islam’s holiest site) under the watchful gaze not just of God, but of the skeleton of Abraj al-Bait. It was under construction then, but is now completed and magnificent. Constructed on the site of the now-demolished Ajyad Fortress — an Ottoman castle built in 1781 to protect the historic Islamic site from vandals — the Abraj al-Bait is now the third-tallest building in the world. With the globe’s largest clock face, it sits in the heart of a massive complex of seven towers, and features within its bowels a five-star hotel operated by Canadian mega-hotel firm Fairmont and a 20-story luxury mall. Continue reading
By Mohammad T.
Recent revelations by Edward Snowden concerning the National Security Agency’s massive surveillance dragnet have put refocused the public’s attention to the privacy pitfalls of casual internet use. Coupled with near daily news stories about internet security systems being compromised, and it’s enough for a lay internet user to be frazzled into submission. Fear not — I decided together a handy guide for folks who want to push back against the war being waged against user’s privacy and anonymity. What you’ll find here is a compilation of tools and services that will help ensure, as much as is currently possibly, a modicum of anonymity and security in a treacherous world of tracking, advertising, data retention, and surveillance. I personally use all of these, and in my humble awesome opinion, they are all, well, awesome.
There’s much more out there to what I’ve listed below, but this will get you started if you’re new to this world. I’ve included a couple links below which you can follow to truly update your nerd-dom if you’d like; otherwise, we’ll start here for now.
Of course, none of this stuff is intended to prevent government surveillance of the type we’ve read about from the NSA — nor could it, as we’ve found out from Lavabit. It will help, however, push back against the massive tracking and surveillance apparatus erected by the private sector that monetizes everyday individuals’ behaviors online.
With that brief introduction, let’s get to it. Continue reading
It seems this whole NSA surveillance episode has brought out the double standard in all us. I’ve compiled three of my favorites – what are yours?
Consider this headline, from Design & Trend:
Google Thwarts Iranian Phishing Attacks Before Election
Google announced on Thursday that it had detected and thwarted thousands phishing attacks that had been aimed at the email accounts of Iranian users ahead of that country’s June 14th presidential election.
According to an online statement, Google said it had found a “significant jump” in Iran’s overall volume of phishing activity in the past few weeks. With the election only a day away, the search engine giant felt that the attacks were “politically motivated”.
Let me know when Google thwarts American spying attacks. I’ll be waiting.
Here’s another; how deliciously ironic is this?
Where’s Hillary Clinton when you need her?
And, lastly, it’s always great to appreciate the racial side of things, as this column posted recently on Salon shows us:
Suddenly, white people care about privacy incursions
For many, government surveillance has been a regular part of life, especially since 9/11. So, why the outrage now?
In short, I love irony, particularly when it comes and smacks you in the face.
By Mohammad T.
This article was written originally for KABOBfest, and can be viewed here. Big shout out to the editors there for accepting this contribution.
I’ve never seen an Iraqi break dance before. But apparently Tim Arangon and Yasir Ghazi have.
You see, these New York Times reporters are truly on the cutting edge. They dig deep. They unearth the worms. They uproot the, well, roots. Everybody else is too lazy, or too stupid, to do any serious journalism. Everybody else covers the same old Negative Nancy material. Continue reading
By Mohammad T.
On Friday night, I attended one of the closing showings of “Ruined” at the Berkeley Rep Theater, a play written by Lynn Nottage about the plight of women during the Democratic Republic of Congo’s civil war. I was moved enough by the play, and the one rather profound weaknesses of that play, to write up a short piece on it. I don’t intend to write a review of the play (you can find those here, here, and here), nor do I intend to share insights about the historical, social, and political background of the situation that the play has a conversation with. Instead, I want to discuss the play in terms of how it contributes to a problem that I believe infects the way we interact with situations such as the DRC’s.
By Mohammad T.
Over the past couple of weeks, artists worldwide have composed and recorded songs in solidarity with protesters in Egypt. After listening to them all, I thought it might be nice to have a comprehensive list of them in one place. I find many of them quite moving, so I thought I’d throw them up here for those to listen. If you don’t have the time to listen to all of them, make sure to listen to the very first one – featuring a cross section of the protesters themselves.
If you’ve heard any other songs that I’ve missed here, please do comment on this post, and I’ll update it accordingly. Updates:
*First Update* I’ve included a song coming out of Tunisia by a Tunisian hip-hop artist, and a song by an Egyptian rapper.
*Second Update* Amidst the rubble of a fallen dictator, a new song has been recorded by a group of young Egyptians – with contributions by a host of those who were on the streets in Cairo – to celebrate the occasion.
*Third Update – 2/13/2011* Included seven more songs – one from Alexandria, one from famous singer/actor Mohamed Mounir, two more written by Egyptian artists, two by Tunisian artists (including one sung in the middle of protests), one by Sami Yusuf, and the last by Wycleaf Jean in tribute to the protesters. This list is getting to be mildly unwieldy, but semi-comprehensive. Keep them coming.
*Fourth Update – 2/14/2011* Added a new one by artists Mustafa Najjar and Mohamed Abbas.
Here they are: