Africans: The History of a Continent

“Africans” is a good book packing a lot of information in a mere 300 pages. This density along with its dry, academic writing style makes this a slow read. But I would still recommend it to anyone interested in African history.

Africans: The History of a Continent is a good book. It gives a condensed history of Africa in a mere 300 pages. Thus it is packed with information and analysis.

One downside of this book is the author’s dry style which is common in a lot of academic texts. That combined with the densely packed information meant that it took me a long while to read it.

While Africa: The Biography of the Continent was a popular read with an easy-going style, Africans focuses more on data and analysis. Overall, I would say I learned more from Africans.

I would recommend this book along with Transformations in Slavery as essential reading to get an idea of African history.

The Browning Version

The Browning Version reminds me of the book Goodbye, Mr. Chips. It is a good movie. I rate it 7/10.

The Browning Version is a movie about a public school instructor which reminded me of Goodbye, Mr. Chips to some extent.

A good movie to watch, I rate it 7/10.

Who is a Muslim?

Should we define Muslims narrowly or broadly? Does even the effort to define exclude people and thus is negative? Can we learn from the Kharijites and Murjites? Arafat has some thoughts and I add my 2 cents.

Sorry, I haven’t gotten the time to write about why I think “Islam is defined by Muslims.” I have several unfinished posts on the topic lying among my drafts, but they will have to wait when I am less busy. For now, here is a related post about the necessity or otherwise of defining a Muslim by Arafat.

[T]here were three main strains of argument: 1) It is necessary to define a Muslim (preferably through a broad definition with minimal conditions) if at least for the sake of inclusion and preventing takfir. 2) It is necessary to define a Muslim, because people derive identity through membership in communities, and if Muslims form a community (ummah, local and/or global), it must naturally be defined (It seemed to me that this line of argument had certain communitarian tendencies […]). The proponent of this position insisted further that a definition “too broad” is problematic. 3) The third position, in opposition to the first two, was that this debate is practically useless, and likely even harmful: the effort to define necessarily excludes, and that is bad — not only because of the anti-takfir principle (you cannot judge another person’s Muslimness, since God alone decides), but also because we need to be open and welcoming towards everyone. The proponent of this position also maintains, that yes of course, there are normative criteria that make a Muslim, and which for instance we’ll teach our kids, but for the community to practically apply these is harmful and intolerant.

Do read Arafat’s post as he has a bunch of thoughts on this topic.

He also mentions the Murjiite school of thought in early Islam.

[Murji’ites] advocated the idea of “delayed judgement”. Only God can judge who is a true Muslim and who is not, and no one else can judge another as an infidel. Therefore, all Muslims should consider all other Muslims as true and faithfull believers, and look to Allah to judge everyone during the last judgment.

The opposite approach was taken by Kharijites, the original radical fundamentalists, who preferred a very strict and narrow definition of a Muslim and declare jihad against anyone they considered not to be a Muslim (i.e. anyone who committed a grave sin and they included almost everyone in that category).

While I think that we have to define Muslim as anyone who considers himself (or herself) one, there are a few caveats:

  1. This acceptance might or might not mean that the person is a Muslim in the eyes of God. So I am taking the Murjite position here by delaying judgment and staying away from takfir.
  2. On the other hand, the Murjite position and the reaction to the Kharijite violence resulted in giving a pass to the Umayyads as the Murjites (and the Muslim community in general) acquiesced to Umayyad rule. This position of accepting even unjust rulers has survived in some traditional schools of jurisprudence. While I understand the reasons why this arose as a result of civil wars and disturbances, I have to part company with the Murjites and hold the rulers responsible for their injustice. I would still delay judgment on their faith. However, I would hold them accountable for their deeds as rulers. This is probably a secular concept

There is also the issue of determinism as related to Murjite thought but that is a topic for another day.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

We have seen all Harry Potter movies though we haven’t read any of the books. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was somewhat weaker than the earlier episodes. I rate it 6/10.

We have seen all the Harry Potter movies but haven’t read any of the books. So we saw Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire as well.

This movie was a little weaker than the previous ones in my opinion. Especially the romantic interests subplot didn’t work at all.

Overall, I would rate it 6/10.

Georgia Aquarium

We visited the Georgia Aquarium, the world’s largest aquarium, some months ago. It was crowded but Michelle loved it. We are going to visit it again soon. Here are some photographs that I took on our last visit.

Reading Photodude’s blog and seeing his great Georgia Aquarium gallery reminded me that we went to the aquarium several months ago and the photographs from that visit are still sitting on my hard drive. So here they are.

 

When we went, the aquarium was very crowded. We thought Michelle would be cranky because of the crowds, but she is such a fish-lover (“fish” was her second word) that she remained excited and happy. She was particularly excited at the huge viewing window where she ran from one end to the other pointing out all kinds of fish.

Goodfellas

Goodfellas is a mafia movie which we had seen before but forgotten. It wasn’t until we were midway watching it again that we remembered. Overall, it is an okay movie. I rate it 6/10.

This is not actually a movie review of Goodfellas. Rather, it is a rant about my forgetfulness. I got the Goodfellas DVD as a result of Netflix queue malfunction. No, that’s not correct. I put this movie high up in the queue itself since it sounded interesting, had good reviews and sounded vaguely familiar. Did I say vaguely familiar? There was a reason for that but I didn’t realize it until we had watched half the movie. We had seen it before!

Yes it is an okay mafia movie. I would rate it 6/10.

Happy Independence Day

July 4, 1776 was an important day in world history and the Declaration of Independence has lessons for us all. Happy Independence Day!

July 4, 1776 was an important day in world history and the declaration of independence has lessons for us all:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.—That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, —That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

Also worth reading is the speech Frederick Douglass delivered on Independence Day in 1852 about slavery and liberty (hat tip: Brad Delong).

The principles contained in [the Declaration of Independence] are saving principles. Stand by those principles, be true to them on all occasions, in all places, against all foes, and at whatever cost….

What to the American slave is your Fourth of July? I answer, a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass-fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy—a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.

Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the old world, travel through South America, search out every abuse, and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the every-day practices of this nation, and you will say with me, that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival….

Fellow-citizens, I will not enlarge further on your national inconsistencies. The existence of slavery in this country brands your republicanism as a sham, your humanity as a base pretense, and your Christianity as a lie. It destroys your moral power abroad; it corrupts your politicians at home. It saps the foundation of religion; it makes your name a hissing and a byword to a mocking earth. It is the antagonistic force in your government, the only thing that seriously disturbs and endangers your union. It fetters your progress; it is the enemy of improvement; the deadly foe of education; it fosters pride; it breeds insolence; it promotes vice….

Allow me to say, in conclusion, notwithstanding the dark picture I have this day presented, of the state of the nation, I do not despair of this country…. While drawing encouragement from the “Declaration of Independence,” the great principles it contains and the genius of American Institutions, my spirit is also cheered by the obvious tendencies of the age. Nations do not now stand in the same relation to each other that they did ages ago. No nation can now shut itself up from the surrounding world and trot round in the same old path of its fathers without interference…. A change has now come over the affairs of mankind. Walled cities and empires have become unfashionable. The arm of commerce has borne away the gates of the strong city. Intelligence is penetrating the darkest corners of the globe…. Oceans no longer divide, but link nations together. From Boston to London is now a holiday excursion. Space is comparatively annihilated. Thoughts expressed on one side of the Atlantic are distinctly heard on the other…. No abuse, no outrage whether in taste, sport or avarice, can now hide itself from the all-pervading light.

Happy Independence Day, everyone!