Pearl Harbor Day

Is it Pearl Harbor Day today? Or is it my birthday? I turn 34 right around this time (11:15am Pakistan Standard Time).

Instead of posting photos of me as a toddler, I’ll use my birthday as an excuse to post more pictures of Michelle (with me, of course).

22 minutes old Trying to keep her hands off her face Day 7: Likes the rocking chair
Us watching her weblog Trying to get her on her stomach See the look on Michelle's face
First time bottle-feeding Trying cheek to cheek Michelle and me
Last Day in Piscataway At a Rest Area Looking at each other
Eid Afternoon Can hold her head now She likes to face outward
Michelle and me Michelle not smiling Laughter rings our home

And Happy Hannukah too.

Segregated Blogging

Via Sister Soljah, I found a post on a blog titled Blogging: an Islamic perspective. I was intrigued.

The blogger divides all blogs into 3 categories: personal, topical, and a mix of the two. His criticism is directed at personal blogs.

For starters, all bloggers know that since their blogs are public, their entries are accessible by anyone and everyone. As such, every blogger (but specifically a Muslim one) should be extremely cautious about what he/she is divulging in the blog entries. Many times, the contents of a single entry don’t seem to be of much concern, but when read collectively with past entries, they can provide an entire profile on the personality, character, and even physical traits of a person.

This is a regular concern for everyone with a blog. He gives it an “Islamic” touch later.

Islam, with its emphasis on modesty and its cautious approach to gender interaction, strongly discourages members of the opposite sex from openly divulging their personality, character, and physical traits (among other things) to each other.

The old interaction between genders bugaboo!

Originally, when the concept of distant communication in real-time was non-existent, the prohibitions that were laid down were for physical, face-to-face contact. However, the advent of telephones, the Internet, SMS, digital cameras, and e-mail, has made it possible to have unhindered communication and interaction without any physical contact whatsoever. As a result, it has become increasingly difficult to differentiate between the two forms of communication (in terms of actual presence vs. distant) from a religious ruling point of view. Therefore, the entire concept of modesty, “lowering the gaze”, and “covering ones self properly” must be extended to all forms of contact. Thus, they must be applied in a holistic sense, to all our actions, and not only to physical interaction.

The author is stretching his logic too thin in my opinion. Interaction on the web is not the same as in real life, though some of the same norms do (or should) apply.

Similarly, bloggers must be careful about what they write, lest they divulge traits about themselves that they should otherwise not be making known to the opposite gender, while at the same time, leading the readers into sin by hooking them on to reading on and learning more about the things they really don’t need to know, and shouldn’t know. Some devoted readers even end up forming an affectionate, emotional attachment with the author.

The fact that the above is in fact possible has proven itself time and time again, with bloggers receiving marriage proposals and other suggestive comments through various means such as e-mail, the comments box on their blogs, etc. It is highly unlikely that a stranger would send off a marriage proposal unless he/she was able to get to know the author well enough to feel comfortable in taking such a step.

I guess he hasn’t read my post regarding commenters looking for marriage.

And is he saying that anything that leads to marriage proposals is banned in Islam? Where would that leave society?

As long as the readers of the personal journal can’t communicate with the author, it is a one-way communication. However, the negative aspects of personal journals are multiplied when a mechanism is made available for readers to leave comments for and interact with the author and with others, without any restrictions. As witnessed on some blogs, the ability to leave comments on the blog (either in the form of a ‘comments’ link after each post or a ‘shout’ box) can lead to unhindered communication between members of the opposite gender.

He comes out against blog commenting. Big surprise!

With the Islamic principles of modesty as a backdrop, it must be made clear that cross-gender interaction is permissible when needed, for as much as it is needed. Anything beyond that is impermissible.

May be TypeKey can provide the commenter’s gender as well which will allow bloggers to block comments from those of the opposite gender, just like spam.

In the end, he provides some alternatives to personal blogs.

As an alternative, one can have a private blog on one’s own computer. As well, a gender-specific Yahoo! group can be created for members of the same gender to post their entries. Some blogging sites allow for password-protected entries, through which one can restrict and limit who can read the entries. Soon, some Islamic sites may begin brother- and sister-only blogging services, Insha-Allah.

Great! First, our college MSA came up with separate mailing lists for guys and girls. Now, he wants to create gender-segregated blogging.

10 + Michelle

It’s been exactly 10 years since “I” became “We”. On December 1, 1994 in Wah Cantt, Pakistan, Amber and I got married. That day, we thought we knew what love was. But we weren’t really aware of the bond between two persons who spend their lives together. Since then, our love has grown considerably; we trust each other completely; and respect is definitely part of the equation. We have found out every idiosyncratic and mundane thing about each other.

There have obviously been ups and downs. There were compromises to make. There were also the difficult times when we lived in different states: Amber in Jersey and I in Georgia.

Overall, these have been a magnificent 10 years. The icing on the cake, so to speak, was provided during this last year with the birth of our daughter Michelle.

Last year, I posted photographs from the day of our wedding to our 9th anniversary. This year, the theme of the photographs is the “icing.”

Michelle is 8 days old Eid Morning
Going to an Eid party Thanksgiving Day

Tonight, we are planning to go for dinner at a South African restaurant.

UPDATE: The ostrich was great. I heartily recommend 10 Degrees South.

Zakat for Muslims Only?

My post asking for charity recommendations elicited a few questions about Zakat (the obligatory Muslim charity). I was told that Zakat is only to be given to Muslims.

I had heard something like that before, but I decided to look it up this time around as I couldn’t understand any reason for such a prohibition. Interestingly and expectedly, I found nothing in the Quran which could be construed as a prohibition on giving Zakat to non-Muslims. Here are the only relevant Quranic verses I found.

Quran 2:273: (Charity is) for those in need, who, in Allah’s cause are restricted (from travel), and cannot move about in the land, seeking (For trade or work): the ignorant man thinks, because of their modesty, that they are free from want. Thou shalt know them by their (Unfailing) mark: They beg not importunately from all the sundry. And whatever of good ye give, be assured Allah knoweth it well.

Quran 9:60: Alms are for the poor and the needy, and those employed to administer the (funds); for those whose hearts have been (recently) reconciled (to Truth); for those in bondage and in debt; in the cause of Allah; and for the wayfarer: (thus is it) ordained by Allah, and Allah is full of knowledge and wisdom.

I also didn’t find anything in the hadith collections I searched, though it is possible I might have missed something there.

If I remember correctly, most scholars forbid giving Zakat to non-Muslims. Among the four major schools of Sunni jurisprudence, Hanbali, Shafi and Maliki scholars are in that camp. I am not so sure about Hanafis, though some online scholars forbid it.

Looking at the Salafi Islam Q&A

It is not permissible to give zakaah on one’s wealth or crops, or Zakaat al-Fitr, to kaafirs, even if they are poor, or wayfarers, or debtors, and if one who gives zakaah to them, that is not counted as zakaah.

It is permissible to give regular charity – not obligatory charity (i.e., zakaah) to poor kaafirs, and to exhange gifts and with them and treat them well to soften their hearts towards Islam, so long as they have not carried out any hostile actions against the Muslims, which would disallow that.

Another Q&A at the same site gives some more details and a somewhat torturous interpretation of a hadith. Islam Q&A also prohibits giving Zakat to the Shia.

Not to be left behind,, which is a Twelver Shia website, prohibits giving Zakat to anyone other than the Shia.

It is necessary that the person to whom Zakat is paid is a Shi’ah Ithna’ashari. If, therefore, one pays Zakat to a person under the impression that he is a Shi’ah, and it transpires later that he is not a Shi’ah, one should pay Zakat again.

Moiz Amjad provides some sanity.

If you closely observe all the heads enlisted in the Qur’an [9:60 above — ZA], you shall see that for none of these heads does the Qur’an make it essential that the person to whom these funds are given should be a Muslim. For example, the Qur’an could have easily specified that the Zaka’h funds should be spent on the poor and the needy Muslims. On the contrary, however, we see that the poor and the needy, irrespective of their religious affiliations, are eligible to receive these funds. The same is the case of more or less all the other heads.

And that is why I don’t discriminate on the basis of religion when giving Zakat.

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Enjoy your turkey!

Last year, I had to fly home to spend thanksgiving with Amber. This year not only are we together, we have got Michelle with us. That reminds me, Michelle was conceived last year over the thanksgiving weekend.

UPDATE: Congratulations to my brother-in-law and his wife on the birth of their daughter today. What are the odds of all three siblings having their first children in the same year?

The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited

I read The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited before Michelle’s birth but haven’t had time to review it.

It is a detailed look (640 pages) at the issue of the Palestinian refugees with more than 2,700 endnotes/footnotes. The book starts with three maps. One shows the UN partition plan. The 2nd map codes the Arab villages and towns based on how they were abandoned (in Benny Morris’s own words):

  1. Abandonment on Arab orders
  2. Influence of nearby town’s fall
  3. Expulsion by Jewish forces
  4. Fear (of being caught up in fighting)
  5. Military assault on settlement
  6. Whispering campaign — psychological warfare by Haganah/IDF

There are too many towns and villages listed (about 400) for me to summarize here but #1 seems to be the only one which doesn’t occur frequently in Morris’s list.

The final map shows the Jewish settlements established on the site of or near Arab ones in 1948-9. There are about 186 such settlements that Morris lists and they started in April 1948. More than anything else, this was probably what made the return of the refugees impossible.

Here are some population numbers from Benny Morris. Jewish population was 650,000 while there were 1,250,000 Palestinian Arabs. About 700,000 Arabs became refugees. The number of Arabs left in Israel in 1949 was 102,000. Looking at these numbers, it is easy to see why 1948 was nakba for the Palestinians. More than half of their population was uprooted, with the largest Arab town (Jaffa) not existing any more as an Arab town.

Overall, Morris has tried to show some context in this book, at least more than he did for the previous edition. The chapters are mostly organized chronologically, though sometimes he switches back and forth between different towns and villages in a chapter which can be confusing.

The book also tells us what everyone does know: war is hell. There was looting, expulsions, etc.

The focus of the state was in exploiting abandoned Arab property for Jewish needs and preventing the Arabs to return to harvest their crops, for example. Here are some examples from Jaffa: “great deal of unpleasantness and some brutal behavior”, “pushed about”, “concentrated in one or two areas behind barbed wire fences”, “property vandalised, looted and robbed”, “forced unpaid labour”, “15 Arab men found dead”, “12 year old girl raped”. The military governor believed that no soldiers were punished for these acts.

In Safad, some old Arabs “with an average age of 80” remained after its takeover by Palmah. The Muslims among them were expelled to Lebanon. The few Christians, who were willing to live under Jewish rule, were transferred to Haifa by the Israeli army. Despite the efforts of the Israeli Foreign Ministry and the Minority Affairs Ministry, the army refused to allow these septuagenarians and octogenarians back into Safad.

When Beit Shean (Beisan) surrendered, the Arabs were told they could stay as part of the surrender terms. However, Haganah commanders were later “troubled” by the presence of Arabs behind the front lines and so the 1,000-1,200 Arabs residents who had remained were expelled a few days later.

During the early months of the war, there was not much expulsion of Arabs. However, in April 1948, a decision was made to “destroy villages in strategic areas or along crucial routes regardless of whether or not they were resisting.”

Everyone has heard of the Deir Yassin massacre. But I did not know that Deir Yassin “had signed a non-belligerency pact with its Jewish neighbours and repeatedly had barred entry to foreign irregulars.”

More problematic than the expulsion and flight of the Arabs, in my opinion, was the Israeli policy to block their return. Here is Israeli Foreign Minister Shertok on the issue:

The most spectacular event in the contemporary history of Palestine —- more spectacular in a sense than the creation of the Jewish state —- is the wholesale evacuation of its Arab population … The reversion to the status quo ante is unthinkable. The opportunities which the present position open up for a lasting and radical solution of the most vexing problem of the Jewish state [i.e., the large Arab minority] are so far-reaching as to take one’s breath away. Even if a certain backwash is unavoidable, we must make the most of the momentous chance with which history has presented us so swiftly and so unexpectedly.

Shertok did not want the refugees to return but was willing to pay them compensation for the land so that they could settle elsewhere.

Not everyone was against the refugee return. Mapam’s Political Committee passed a resolution supporting the return of ‘peace-minded’ refugees at the end of the war. Ben-Gurion responded to that by saying: “we should prevent their return … We must settle Jaffa, Jaffa must become a Jewish city … I will be for them not returning also after the war.”

I don’t want to go into the Israel-Palestine conflict other than the refugee issue in this post, but this passage from Morris is instructive:

The settlements, mostly kibbutzim, had expanded and deepened the Jewish hold on parts of Palestine, gradually making more of the country ‘Jewish’, or at least not Judenrein. In the successive partition plans, the presence of clusters of settlements determined what would constitute the areas of future Jewish statehood. Settlements ultimately meant sovereignty. Each new settlement or cluster staked out a claim to a new area. Linked to this was their military-strategic value and staying power.

There were also expulsion and forced movement of Arab villages in the border areas despite (armistice) agreements to the contrary with Egypt and Syria in 1949. I believe some of those people live in Israel and are still trying to get back to their village. According to Morris, in addition to military concerns, economic ones like coveting the Arab land also played a role.

Here is Morris’s conclusion, most of which I agree with.

The first Arab-Israeli war, of 1948, was launched by the Palestinian Arabs, who rejected the UN partition resolution and embarked on hostilities aimed at preventing the birth of Israel.

[… T]he displacement of Arabs from Palestine […] was inherent in Zionist ideology [… T]he underlying thrust of the ideology […] was to turn an Arab-populated land into a State with an overwhelming Jewish majority.

[…] But there was no pre-war Zionist plan to expel ‘the Arabs’ from Palestine […] and the Yishuv did not enter the war with a plan or policy of expulsion. Hence, […] between the end of November 1947 and the end of March 1948, there were no preparations for mass expulsion and there were almost no cases of expulsion or the leveling of villages.

[… F]rom early April 1948 on, ‘transfer’ was in the air and the departure of the Arabs was deeply desired on the local and national levels by the majority of the Yishuv, from Ben-Gurion down. And while this general will was never translated into systematic policy, a large number of Arabs were expelled.

[…] Israeli policy toward […] [refugees]: Generally applied with resolution and, often, with brutality, the policy was to prevent a refugee return at all costs.

Overall, it is a good book for someone interested in the genesis of the Palestinian refugee problem. If you are interested in a more general history of the conflict, I would recommend Righteous Victims.

URL Alphabet

Via PhotoDude who got it from Reecie, here is an interesting meme.

Type each single letter of the alphabet in the address bar of your browser and list what the auto-complete function pulls up first.

Here are my results:

A is for Amygdala.
B is for Brian’s Study Breaks.
C is for Crooked Timber.
D is for David Appell.
E is for Electoral Vote.
F is for Fowzi.
G is for Gene Expression.
H is for HijabMan’s Blog.
I is for IsThatLegal?.
J is for J. Brad DeLong.
K is for KO.
L is for Letter From Gotham.
M is for Michelle.
N is for Nielsen Hayden, Teresa.
O is for Orkut.
P is for PhotoDude.
Q is for QuickFacts from the US Census.
R is for Rambling Monologues.
S is for Site Meter.
T is for Talking Points Memo.
U is for Under Progress.
V is for Validation Results.
W is for Washington Monthly.
X is for Xanga site of Barsaat ke mausam.
Y is for Yglesias.
Z is obviously for ZackVision.

I am a bit surprised that almost all of these are blogs.

US Visa Issues

Colin Powell on US visas (hat tip: Perverse Access Memory):

It is in our interest to have foreigners come to our institutions, come to our medical facilities, come to our entertainment facilities, visit the United States as tourists to get a better understanding of who we are, what we are as a nation and people, how we can reach out to other nations. And so, we are doing everything we can to make it easier to get a visa for those who should be coming to our country and mean us no harm. We want to be seen as an open country, with open doors welcoming people as we have in the past.

That’s just PR BS. I am very pissed off since my parents, who were planning to visit us for a month in December, have been refused a visit visa. I can’t really think of any reason for them to not get a visa. My Dad has been to the US once before on our Masters degree commencement. My parents are well-educated and are spending their retired life well-settled in Islamabad. If we, the elite1 of the US, can’t get our parents to come visit us, who can?

The reason my parents were given was a stock one: that the consular officer can’t be sure that they would return after their trip. Why wouldn’t they? They have a house in Islamabad. My two siblings live in Pakistan as well. My Dad has a pension and retiree medical benefits there. They have friends and relatives as well as property.

Yes, I know that it is the right of the US to admit or refuse any visitor. But it is also my right to be pissed off and rant when my parents can’t visit me.

It had taken us some effort to convince them to visit and they probably agreed because they wanted to see their only grandchild. But now that would have to wait.

In related news, I did not know that all visa applicants have to submit fingerprints to the US embassy. According to the US Consul General in Jeddah,

“Like the photograph we print on your visa, these scanned fingerprints will help identify you as you enter the United States and will prevent your visa from being misused if it is lost or stolen. Your scanned fingerprints will be kept in a secure database. They will not appear on your visa, or be shared with any other government agencies.”

If that’s the case, why don’t they fingerprint only those whose visa application is approved? What happens to the fingerprints of those who are refused a visa?

Related: An LA Times article about the negative effects of the visa policy on US business.

Continue reading “US Visa Issues”

عید مبارک

تمام قارئین کو عید الفطر مبارک ہو۔

تمام قارئین کو عید الفطر مبارک ہو۔

A happy Eid to everyone.

No, I have no idea why Eid is on Saturday in Atlanta when the rest of the US is celebrating it on Sunday.

And happy Diwali too.

Exit Polls and Moral Values

There has been lot of talk about “moral values” being the most important issue in the Presidential election this year. Here are the results of the exit poll question in order of decreasing Bush margin…

There has been lot of talk about “moral values” being the most important issue in the Presidential election this year. Here are the results of the exit poll question in order of decreasing Bush margin:

Issue All Bush Kerry Bush-Kerry Margin
Terrorism 19% 86% 14% 13.68%
Moral Values 22% 80% 18% 13.64%
Taxes 5% 57% 43% 0.70%
Education 4% 26% 73% -1.88%
Health Care 8% 23% 77% -4.32%
Iraq 15% 26% 73% -7.05%
Economy/Jobs 20% 18% 80% -12.40%

The 2000 exit poll did not ask about “moral values.” The issues mentioned then in order of decreasing importance as rated by voters were: Economy/Jobs, Education, Taxes, Social Security, World Affairs, Health Care, and Medicare/Rx Drugs.

Here is some decent analysis of the exit polls by Political Animal.

22% of voters said “moral values” was their most important issue. Among these voters, 80% voted for Bush, while in 2000 voters who said “moral leadership” was a higher priority than managing government gave him 70% of their votes. Although this suggests that Bush made some inroads with this group, the 2000/2004 questions aren’t really comparable enough to draw a conclusion.

Here is Kevin’s conclusion.

Based on this, my tentative conclusion is that the “moral values” vote is a red herring. It played no bigger a role this year than in 2000.

Terrorism played a bigger role, mostly by being a more important issue to a lot more people. Bush’s actual level of support among people who based their vote primarily on world affairs increased only modestly.

And that good old mainstay the economy was the most important of all. Compared to 2000, fewer people personally think they’re doing better but more people believe the economy is in good shape anyway. And Bush was overwhelmingly successful in convincing those people that his policies deserved the credit.

Mystery Pollster has links to some analysis of this issue as well.

A New York Times article covers some of the debate.

Several independent pollsters said they were suspicious because a higher percentage of people listed “moral values” as their top concern in the Election Day poll than had in many of the previous public polls.

Humphrey Taylor, chairman of the Harris Poll, said in a posting on the Internet that the difference may have been because most of the pre-election surveys ask voters to mention on their own the most important issues of the election.

“When so few people (one percent in our October survey) mentioned moral values spontaneously, I very much doubt the pundits’ conclusions that this was really more important than the issues that came at the top of our list when they were not prompted,” Mr. Taylor wrote on the Web site of the American Association of Public Opinion Researchers.

But Bill McInturff, a Republican pollster, called critiques “garbage.”

“The people who picked moral values as an issue know what that means,” he said. “It’s a code word in surveys for a cluster of issues like gay marriage and abortion.”

I am not sure why it was considered a good idea to put moral values on the list. Either an open question or more specific “moral” issues should have been on the list instead. Secondly, there are no comparable questions on the 2000 exit poll to do a good analysis.

It is obvious that the two major issues for Bush voters this year were terrorism and moral values. The question is what kind of voters are they and whether they can be persuaded to vote Democrat. Blogs are full of arguments about these questions but it is all speculation and hand-waving. I can’t say I have any idea. My idle speculation is that the terrorism voters might be more amenable than the morality voters.

UPDATE: Via Mystery Pollster, here is a Pew Research Center study on moral values:

The survey findings parallel exit poll results showing that moral values is a top-tier issue for voters. But the relative importance of moral values depends greatly on how the question is framed. The post-election survey finds that, when moral values is pitted against issues like Iraq and terrorism, a plurality (27%) cites moral values as most important to their vote. But when a separate group of voters was asked to name ­ in their own words ­ the most important factor in their vote, significantly fewer (14%) mentioned moral values. Regardless of how the question is asked, the survey shows that moral values is the most frequently cited issue for Bush voters, but is seldom mentioned by Kerry voters.

In addition, those who cite moral values as a major factor offer varying interpretations of the concept. More than four-in-ten (44%) of those who chose moral values as the most important factor in their vote from the list of issues say the term relates to specific concerns over social issues, such as abortion and gay marriage. However, others did not cite specific policy issues, and instead pointed to factors like the candidates’ personal qualities or made general allusions to religion and values.

[…] The survey asked voters who were given the list of issues to describe, in their own words, “what comes to mind when you think about ‘moral values’?” Among voters who chose moral values as most important from the list of seven issues, about half gave a response that mentioned a specific issue. More than four-in-ten (44%) defined the phrase specifically in terms of social issues, including abortion (28%) homosexuality and gay marriage (29%), or stem cell research (4%). A few other issues also were mentioned, including poverty, economic inequality, and the like.

But the definition of moral values is not limited to policy references. Nearly a quarter of respondents (23%) who cited moral values as important explained their thinking in terms of the personal characteristics of the candidates, including honesty and integrity (cited by 9%). Almost one-in-five (18%) explicitly mentioned religion, Christianity, God, or the Bible. Another 17% answered in terms of traditional values, using such language as “family values,” “right and wrong,” or “the way people live their lives.”