Sunday, January 03, 2021

On Wealth and Fandom

In the Quran, a relative of Moses named Korah (Qārūn) appears. His story is told in the Bible, as it is in the Muslim scripture. In the latter's narrative, Korah's story is trimmed. The result is a presentation of an archetypal personage whose central lesson is meant to inspire readers of scripture for all time, regardless of one's lineage and one's context, and in conversation with our moral premise.


Korah was blessed with enormous wealth, as we are told, such that a band of men were charged to carry the keys to his treasure troves. Many among his people admired him for his wealth and, in fact, coveted it, hoping with all their hearts that they would be given the likes of what Korah had possessed. But Korah, the braggart and miser, was ultimately an ungrateful man who flaunted his wealth and status, attributing the amassing of his fortune to his sheer intelligence, prowess, and talent—and to no one else. The knowledgeable and sages among the Israelites warned those who admired Korah that the reward with God was better than what captured their fancies and imbibed their hearts. The warning was especially sharp, since the problem with Korah was not his wealth per se, but his arrogance and the terrible lost opportunities to have done good with his provision, which requires a degree of humility, as we learn. 


In short, God caused the earth to sink beneath Korah’s feet, pulling down with him his wealth and home—everything that he loved and that drew the attention of his admirers. The next morning, after beholding the spectacle of what had happened to the objects of their admiration and their possessors, his former fans were overwhelmed with the realization of the folly and shame of their infatuation—that is, ashamed for what they decided to admire.


But there is good news. The people were now grateful that they were not taken down with Korah, and they immediately attested to the fact that wealth and status are with and from God, who gives and restricts. The lesson to take from this, in brief, is actually simple but important—with the temptation to say extremely important: Folks must be wary about where they direct their admiration, a personal choice we don't usually think about.


Obviously, we live in a time in which there is great pressure to love something because of its surface accouterments and usually for some commercial or political boon. It has become natural to admire the wealthy, fawn over their ghost-written books, and quote their aphorisms; and many do so with absolutely no idea of how the wealth was attained, who was cheated, what idea was stolen, what unprincipled decisions helped secure it, how many became indentured or impoverished as a result, and how little of it actually makes it in the hands of the needy. 


To “admire” something is as much of a “deed” as anything that we do with our hands and bodies. These deeds of the mind and attention have an ethical-bias, in other words. What goes on in our minds and hearts has conditioning power. This is a timeless lesson of Korah as told in verses 28:76-82 (Sūrat al-Qaṣaṣ). It is always edifying to turn to it when the material world and its miserly wielders start to catch our fancy. 


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Sunday, April 26, 2020

Ramadan Karim

Ramadan karim, everyone.

There's a lot said and published about Fasting Ramadan during a pandemic. It's possible that too much is being said about it, though I understand the trial and the feelings it causes.

But there has always been a private, if not an isolated, aspect to ritual fasting--this voluntary privation as a rite of worship, a sacred epistemology, that is, a pathway to knowledge that can only be attained by way of religious rites. You know ... to ascertain the extraordinary we have to do the extraordinary.

Fasting is invisible. It's unseen and perhaps connects more immediately with the larger Unseen realm of existence. 

Not sure what others feel about this. But either way, may this be a blessed Ramadan for us all, ia.


Sunday, May 18, 2014

A PDF of my study (Parsing "Arab Spring") is available online for free. The study examines the origins, spread, framing, and contestations surrounding the descriptor "Arab Spring."

I hope you find it interesting. Thanks.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Alternative Narratives

I make it a point to teach in my journalism classes something about the alternative press, its history, incentives, and the apparent need in the media ecology for alternative narratives. It so happens that in the alties you'll find essayists whose messages hardly make mainstream. Among the finest of American essayists (my view) are Marilynne Robinson and Rebecca Solnit. Here's one by Solnit. 
Excerpt: Henry David Thoreau wrote books that not many people read when they were published. He famously said of his unsold copies, "I have now a library of nearly 900 volumes over 700 of which I wrote myself.” But a South African lawyer of Indian descent named Mohandas Gandhi read Thoreau on civil disobedience and found ideas that helped him fight discrimination in Africa and then liberate his own country from British rule. Martin Luther King studied Thoreau and Gandhi and put their ideas to work in the United States, while in 1952 the African National Congress and the young Nelson Mandela were collaborating with the South African Indian Congress on civil disobedience campaigns. You wish you could write Thoreau a letter about all this. He had no way of knowing that what he planted would still be bearing fruit 151 years after his death. But the past doesn’t need us. The past guides us; the future needs us.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Completely agree with this

NYT editorial about the death penalty:

"More states are coming to recognize that the death penalty is arbitrary, racially biased and prone to catastrophic error. Even those that have not abolished capital punishment are no longer carrying it out in practice."

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Taking a Stand: An Anniversary

Nice piece in NYT about Muhammad Ali's refusal to be drafted in the military.

"Ali was one of the most identifiable human beings on the planet. Here was the Greatest, telling the world that he was not going to war. For me, words like conscience, principle and integrity were merely terms in a civics class. When Ali defended his controversial position, how he had no appetite for war, standing for one’s principle became concrete. 'My conscience won’t let me shoot my brother or some darker people,” he told reporters. 'And shoot them for what? They never called me [n-word].'"

Sunday, April 21, 2013

About "Arab Spring," the phrase and its resilience.

Here's a story of mine published in the Chronicle of Higher Education. It's about the "Arab Spring" phrase and the various objections to it.  I paste it in below.


In February, an important two-year mark of the Arab Spring was commemorated in Cairo's Tahrir Square with demonstrations that were anything but springlike. The frustration and violence reflected none of the hope that once riveted the eyes of a global audience on Tunisia and Egypt, where masses gathered to topple two entrenched leaders, each autocrat permitted to abdicate with a pulse.

Since that original spark, there have been constitutional crises, sectarian strife, economies on the precipice, military intrigue, and sporadic lethal confrontations, all of which have dimmed the luster of the movement's early days. Yet despite the setbacks and the wariness they evoke, the cheerful phrase "Arab Spring" has managed to stay in style. And there are reasons for this.

Read more »

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Privacy, ownership, and the e-book aesthetic

Here’s a story of mine in The Chronicle of Higher Education about the shift in ownership and privacy risks associated with the e-book aesthetic. I paste it in below.


When the Pulitzer Prize-winning architecture critic Paul Goldberger spoke at Northwestern University in Qatar last November, he made observations about Doha's urban scene: how, for example, it is unsympathetic to pedestrian traffic and a lively community vibe. But then Goldberger did something that all guest speakers should try to do, namely, offer a durable point that applies to just about anywhere.

Architecture, he said, has both form and symbolism, and it is the role of the critic to look at buildings—small or massive—as they unavoidably connect to culture, politics, social mores, and, of course, money. This symbolism approach works nicely with the skyline or housing projects of any city. But it also applies to most, if not all, popular products of human inventiveness—including devices that are becoming the standard hardware of our professional and intellectual lives: e-readers.

Read more »

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


Here are a few pieces about Sharia in the American context.

Robert K. Vischer writes in First Things, a rather conservative magazine, about "The Dangers of Anti-Sharia Laws" in the US. In The New York Times, legal scholar Samuel J. Rascoff reminds us that "Uncle Sam Is No Imam," based on a more extensive argument he writes in the Standford Law Review, "Establishing Official Islam?"

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Douthat's Two Minds

If you have an ounce of sincerity, it's difficult to write a thousand words without tipping off some of your intentions. An overrated opinion writer for the New York Times wrote yesterday a column ("Islam in Two Americas") in which he starts out surprisingly well, but then the dark spirits take over. Essentially, as Joan Walsh of Salon remarks correctly, "Not surprisingly, Douthat made his astonishingly ignorant remarks in a column defending prejudice against the so-called 'ground zero mosque,' which, again, isn't a mosque, and isn't at ground zero. The controversy, ginned up by Republican opportunists and kept alive by cowardly Democrats (thanks, Harry Reid!) is bringing out the 'Know-Nothings' in American politics again -- and I mean that in both senses of the word."

Walsh takes down Douthat in good and convincing manner. You may read it here.

Seriously, just when you think the political tenor of America can't get worse ...