Category Archives: The Body Politic

Pilgrims of a new Arab order

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

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On double standards.

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.

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In Brief: Consenting to American Exceptionalism

By Yousef K.B. 

The way that American foreign policy under the Obama administration has been talked about and analyzed publicly and especially by progressives (or those who call themselves progressive/leftist/radical/social justice advocates etc. etc.) is very disheartening and dare I say dangerous.

I know by now we’re all familiar with the list of foreign policies of the Obama administration that many critics point to, but just as a reminder let me throw out a quick list:

  • Drone attacks over sovereign territory
  • Continued imprisonment and torture of individuals deemed as ‘terrorists’ or harbingers of ‘terrorists’
  • Imposing debilitating sanctions outside the framework of any international laws
  • The continued occupation of Afghanistan and full fledged support of the economic policies of the previous administration in Afghanistan and Iraq
  • The murder of people who retroactively are labeled as enemy combatants
  • Continued support of neo-liberal development programs (including free trade, privatization, and de-regulation) that devastate economies and lives throughout the world
  • Full fledged support for the policies of Israel as well as despotic regimes based on some notion of US national interest
  • The mass deportations of people (Don’t forget Obama was deporter in chief)
  • Sustaining and increasing surveillance of peoples in the US
  • Increased militarization of not only the US border but borders throughout central America
  • The continued promotion of the war on drugs outside of the US
  • I can go on, but I think you get the point.

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Hollow humanitarianism: A review of Lynn Nottage’s “Ruined”

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.

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Reinvisioning legal pedagogy

By Mohammad T.

[This is a short piece I wrote for a course on legal writing. I plan on turning this into a larger, publishable article. I will try to return to this subject a number of times over the next few months, and add iterations to this that will ultimately (and hopefully) coalesce into an article with some redeeming value. I welcome any comments you might have – they will be enormously helpful.]

“Into that strange compound which is brewed daily in the caldron of the courts, all these ingredients enter in varying proportions. I am not concerned to inquire whether judges ought to be allowed to brew such a compound at all. I take judge-made law as one of the existing realities of life. There, before us, is the brew.”

-Cardozo’s “The Nature of the Judicial Process”

I believe in a more prominent role of theory and theory-based education in legal pedagogy. Though legal pedagogy does an adequate, if not good, job at producing legal minds after graduation, it could still stand to benefit, I think, from a more sustained and rigorous focus on theory. Reading Holmes and Cardozo only makes me even more firm in holding this opinion.

What exactly do I mean by theory in this context? Legal education as I have experienced it seems predicated on teaching both substantive areas of the law (e.g. doctrine and policy) and on procedural areas of legal practice (e.g. trial practice and public speaking). My focus for this piece is on the former. I generalize legal education to cover two key areas of substance: matters of legal doctrine, and matters of policy that underlie, undergird, and give meaning to these doctrines. A student not only learns “the law” as it is practiced or written, but also is allowed the opportunity to inquire into its efficacy, its history, its drawbacks, and its place within the larger body politic.[1] This seems relatively straightforward, and fairly intuitive.

The problem is, though, that a student is not asked to interrogate how she is to necessarily learn both the doctrine and how to interrogate the policy behind and the context of the doctrine. I think it’s fairly safe to say that legal pedagogues assume that students will know how to begin tackling these questions, and how to understand these questions. They often draw upon, as Cardozo says, the “ingredients” that composes them as intellectual beings and hope they are equipped to deal with these questions.[2] Beyond a (superficial) recognition that students, lawyers, and judges make decisions based on these “ingredients,” there appears very little in the way of critical study that interrogates exactly how these decisions are made, let alone how these decisions should be made. This is the role of theory that I find missing in legal academia. Continue reading

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On the perfidy of January 20th

By Mohammad T.

On January 20th, the instructor of my constitutional law course opened up the hour-long class with a discussion of the significance of the inauguration vis-a-vis the issues we have been and will be discussing throughout the semester. During the conversation, when my classmates were discussing their impressions of the inaugural speech,  one particular comment struck me, and compelled me to respond: a woman sitting three rows behind me remarked that she thought it  refreshing to hear Obama talk about, in a new way, American values, American freedoms, and the vision of the founding fathers, particularly in these troubled times. She noted that even though such rhetoric doesn’t appeal to her often, Obama’s displayed unique and powerful touch in describing the values espoused by the founding fathers, and his command of language enabled her to connect in a new way to this old vision of America

To which I raised my hand and responded, “The inaugural speech gave me diarrhea.”

(Nobody laughed.)

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