26 December 2006

brave new world

Joan Martinez-Alier, writing in 2025:

Instead of counting in money, it was more sensible to count sometimes in calories and sometimes in hours of work, and sometimes not to count at all. Instead of working for the market, it was better to work for family, friends, neighbours and communities. Reciprocity and redistribution were preferable, socially and ecologically, to the unlimited expansion of the generalized market system. Was it Herman Daly or Leonardo Boff who in the bad old times reminded us: 'Our blessings cannot be counted in money'?

research from my last paper of this term (yay). 2025 sounds like a good time (but i'm not sure how counting in calories would work exactly. very intriguing though).

17 December 2006

the spirit of giving

those of you looking for gifts during the holiday season (or at any time in fact) may like to check out this site http://www.changingthepresent.org/

as gifts to your friends and family, you can buy toys for sick children, hire lawyers to free prisoners, provide micro-loans to women or counselling to cancer patients. what a great concept: 'changing the present, one gift at a time'. it is, indeed, the thought that counts.

closer to home: http://www.changingthepresent.org/nonprofits/show/204

please spread the word.

13 December 2006

new projects

so i started working on a new lesson at work yesterday--about constitutionalism, with particular reference to thailand; its 1997 constitution and the recent military coup. i am excited, i know very little about constitutionalism, and am ready to immerse myself in a v dicey, federalist papers and more.

elaborating on the theme of constitutionalism and the rule of law, i will also be working on a research project covering other asian countries until mid january.

another topic that is fascinating me at present is
the idea of green taxes (check out this link for more info). in fact, i'm thinking this could be what i want to write my thesis on..

all in all, i have some great food for thought. i just have to finish up with boring exams and assignments before i can jump into all this!

(i have to add however, that it is always the ideas and research part that interests me more than the actual working on stuff ; )

10 December 2006


despite the fact that i live with my family (five/six other people to be exact), i feel increasingly alone. in fact, i feel more alone when i'm with them than when i'm not. linked to this is a sense of alienation as well..

this can't be normal.

01 December 2006

birthday again

today i went in to work, where i got gifts, a cake and more wishes.

work makes me feel spoilt; it is where i have professional standing, where i feel loved, and where i have the freedom to work (in terms of both content and logistics) largely as i please.

in many ways, i started grad school to get away from work, to try something new. and yet, i enjoy my work more now than before. i look forward to that one day in the week when i will be at the office.

life is strange. in a good way.

30 November 2006

thank you

i was inundated with calls, messages, emails and ecards yesterday and felt much loved :)

ksa and nc, thank you for the company.

25 November 2006

tired eyes

it is the second last week of term, and typically, i have way more things to get done than you would think possible. all i seem to be doing is reading--words on paper or words on a screen. my eyes are complaining. i cannot wait till this is all over and i can go stare at some blue water or green mountains. just the thought is so soothing.. aaaaggghhhh, i want to go NOW.

i have been snacking on mint m&ms, and i need the equivalent for my eyes..

21 November 2006


i am confused. confused and upset. i am unable to explain or justify many aspects of my faith and religion to others. i always thought there was no need for explanations or justifications; my faith was my own, and in my small world, that was in itself enough explanation. since then, my world has become much bigger. and less understanding. less tolerant.

i say this while working for a human rights organization; it is a lonely struggle sometimes. i feel even more alone when i see that apart from activists themselves, most people are very willing to make trade offs. self interest is the ultimate goal. human beings are indeed quite selfish, and we seem unable to learn from history.

when i first started this work, i was frequently asked whether i found it depressing. in fact, the courage and spirit of those suffering human rights abuses was inspiring. however, what depresses me is the apathy--and even worse, the indifference--of ordinary people, of humanity at large.

14 November 2006

time to step up?

i saw the movie step up a few days ago. it was fun, with good music and dance sequences. in the same mould as many other movies, but still enjoyable.

as i walked out of the cinema, i could not remember the last time i had worked as hard as the characters in the film, to achieve something (hifzing the 30th separa? a-levels?). my dad was always amused by my high school reports, all of which inevitably stated that i was 'a very hard working student'. he would always say, imagine if you really were to work hard... at auc as well, several friends would tell me to stop 'slacking' and be more disciplined (ugh).

i have usually managed to get by in whatever i'm doing with an average amount of effort. there are definitely some things that require much more effort, but i usually tell myself that those are beyond my capabilities. plus, putting in that much effort also means giving up other things. i have never been willing to do that. i would rather enjoy many different things, than work on one thing consistently.

the idea of being intensely focused on one thing is appealing right now. it might be time to stop cruising, and to really step up!

10 November 2006


i finally joined the yoga classes at markaz. and i'm enjoying them. i'm stretching muscles i didn't know existed. i'm using my back instead of my neck to do things, and finding i can do them much better. i have learnt that my shoulders tend to be tense throughout the day, and i find myself consciously relaxing them. i am suddenly much more aware of my body, of what it can and cannot do, of what i want it to do. it is strangely liberating.

what is also liberating, is watching the people around me. witnessing their awareness of their bodies is just as much of a thrill as experiencing my own. i was initially wary of seeing middle aged women, without their ridas, contorting their bodies in awkward positions. i am used to praying or socializing with these women. exercising with them is much more intimate, more physical. however, i believe it will become simply another form of bonding, and i'm looking forward to it :)

31 October 2006


the words are stuck
in my throat, my fingertips, my soul
but i need you to know, to understand
i need to share
so i will you to recognize
the thoughts clogging my pores
i will so hard that tears spill over

the warm trail on my face feels good
like a lance, a cleansing
but i am not so easily misled
no matter how many tears are spent
i will never feel clean, never feel new enough
that burden will always be there
it will always haunt me

i can play, pretend
i can submerge myself in ideas and images
surround myself with laughter and music
but when i go home
i will be alone with that weight
and it will stare me in the face
it will remind me that no matter how far i go,
at some time, i must return

there is no escape

19 October 2006

the politics of language

a guest speaker in my chinese foreign policy class yesterday pointed out a small, subtle and yet significant fact:
english language publications use the term ASEAN+1 or ASEAN+3,
while chinese language publicaions use the term 10+1 or 10+3

ASEAN+1 = ASEAN centric
10+3 = 13 states sitting around a table, which is how china would prefer to think of the grouping

how many nuances (and more) i must be missing by only reading material in one language..

12 October 2006

the point is...

as i read the 2006 man booker shorlist (the winner being kiran desai for the inheritance of loss; nice title) and filed away new names to check out at leisure; as echoes of birdsong by sebastian faulks-which i recently finished-still resonate; and while cloud atlas by david mitchell is promising to be an amazing read, i recall my sister-in-law's question of many months ago: what is the point of reading a novel? (or writing one for that matter.)

she asked this in all seriousness, while enrolled in a course that required her to write a number of book reviews. she didn't seem to enjoy reading any of the books, which made it rather difficult to review them. it wasn't that she disliked the books, but more that she was indifferent to them.

reading fiction, for me, is about experiencing different worlds, different perspectives. it is about making new friends, exploring new places, understanding new professions. and it is about appreciating the fantastic use of language to create all of the above. cloud atlas is a great example: its chapters (so far, at least) consist of narratives of different characters at different historical times. each narrative is so real; not just in historical authenticity, but also in personal characterization. i am, yet again, in awe. it is a wonderful feeling.

and this is true for not just literature, but other art, music, film. how many worlds there are then, to explore!

(an aside- i found cloud atlas randomly at the hku library, while picking up a tom robbins novel :)

06 October 2006

old friends

immanuel wallerstein, robert keohane, joseph nye, stephen krasner, susan strange, adam smith, friederich list, robert gilpin, david ricardo.

too bad mufaddal, noura and wafeya are not around (and dr salter too).

last night many of my classmates were complaining at the theoretical nature of the material covered. awww, theory is FUN. not very useful maybe, but still fun..

05 October 2006

a whole new library

i am pleasantly surprised by the hku library's stock of fiction. they even have a section called 'leisure reading'. i have so far found novels i have been wanting to read by tom robbins, douglas coupland and even sharon maas (and yes, they do indeed have more than one copy). for the past three years i have been surviving with what i can find in the public libraries (which is not a bad collection, but not great either) so i now feel like i am in heaven :p

my pleasant surprise must also be attributed to the auc's almost non existent collection of fiction. you can imagine my horror when i first realized my reading choice was limited to the classics, or a few titles such as 'australian love stories'. when i enquired about this poor choice, i was told that university libraries do not keep 'fiction', while literature is a different matter altogether. thankfully cairo had many cheap or secondhand bookstores!

i am still not sure whether most university libraries stock such a large collection of contemporary fiction (including romance and chick lit), but i am very glad that hku does. that i couldn't find the intuitionist or the years of rice and salt will not dampen my enthusiasm..

01 October 2006


i was sitting on my masalla at namaz tonight, sharing my munajat with a new mom. while reading, her eyes kept moving towards her baby daughter at the other end of the suf. literally every ten seconds, her gaze would slide away from the paper at hand, even while her voice strived to remain in accord with the rest of us. my reactions were multiple: amazement that she was managing to follow at all, relief that i had nothing (or no one) to thus occupy my attention, mild annoyance at her constant shifting gaze, bewilderment as to why anyone would choose to take such a burden upon themselves.

the last few days at markaz has seen a small explosion of children. they cry, scream and stumble over everyone's masallas (i am always terrified my specs will meet a dire fate), their mothers are constantly running after them or shushing them and they go extra nuts during dinner.

honestly, why??

this world has enough children. together with less than satisfactory parents. i don't want to join that group. i think i am too selfish; i value my time, privacy and energy too much to want to share. it is not that i dislike kids, or never wish that i too had a cute cuddly bundle. the new mom sitting next to me tonight, when her wandering daughter returned, and started playing with me, for the next few moments she was the cutest kid in the world, and all i wanted was to make her smile. but those are mere moments, whereas these kids are around for life.

22 September 2006

thai military coup --not benign

i was telling a thai friend yesterday that i was confused by some of the media reports regarding the coup. thanks nc, for articulating that confusion.


The September 19 military coup has been described by some persons as benign. Their reasoning goes that the government of Thaksin Shinawatra was bad and intransigent. Whatever way it could be removed was good. Even normally well-informed news media have evoked images of a quiet and non-violent coup that is expected to just "slip in and slip out", in the words of one BBC correspondent.

The Asian Human Rights Commission rejects these arguments as naive and confused.

The Thaksin government was a civilian autocracy. It did not respect human rights, the rule of law or democratic principles. It manipulated the media, intimidated its opponents, and played with legislation and public institutions for its own advantage. It exacerbated violence, from wanton extrajudicial killings of supposed drug dealers across Thailand to the conflict in the south. It enormously expanded the power and influence of the police. It fixed an election and allegedly extorted vast sums of money.

But a military autocracy is worse than a civilian autocracy. Within hours of taking power, the army abrogated the constitution, banned political assemblies, commenced extralegal arrests, and authorised censorship. The Thaksin government sought to undermine the constitution, harass gatherings of political opponents, and control the media through advertising revenue and criminal defamation. But by its very nature, it did not have the audacity to abandon the country's supreme law and ban civil rights. By contrast, and by its very nature, the army has already done so.

Today Thailand is without a parliament and a constitution. Its executive is under control of the army. Its judiciary is hobbled. Its media is threatened. It is in a very dangerous moment.

The argument in favour of a military coup is akin to the argument used by proponents of torture. Torture, they say, is sometimes a regrettable necessity. Where the lives of many are at stake, the physical integrity of one may be violated. Likewise, a coup is sometimes described as a regrettable necessity. Where a country is at stake, a government's integrity can be violated.

Both arguments boil down to the same wrong-headed notion: that a coup, like torture, can be started and stopped with convenience. It cannot. Torture, once it is introduced into a system of investigation, mutates and spreads. It affects not only the victim but the persons who use it, their institutions and the perceptions of society about what is permitted and what is not. Likewise, a military that obtains power through a coup infiltrates and distorts all areas of governance, as well as public attitudes and expectations. Once admitted, it is not easily removed. Its presence is felt long after it is physically gone…

There is a saying that runs, "Afraid of the tiger, one invokes a tutelary, but the tutelary turns out to be worse than the tiger." Today, Thailand has replaced a tiger with a tutelary. Happy that the tiger is gone, the terrible implications of how and by whom it was removed are not yet understood. But there is one certainty: no military coup just "slips in and out". By nature, military rulers leave things behind to ensure that their interests endure. And by nature, those interests are contrary to the rule of law, human rights and genuine democracy. Proof of this can be found today in Pakistan and Burma, and in the leftovers of military dictatorships in virtually every country of South and Southeast Asia.

The question is not whether the coup is benign or malign. The question is, how much damage has it already caused, and how can it be mitigated?

The Asian Human Rights Commission reiterates its call to the Royal Thai Army for an immediate return to civilian control and restoration of the constitution, without any amendment other than that to pave the way for prompt and fair elections. It reiterates its call for continued strong international condemnation of the takeover, including from the United Nations. And it makes a special call to the international news media not to misunderstand and misrepresent the coup in Thailand through glib summations from casual observations: study the real consequences of the coup before reporting on it.

21 September 2006

lost potential?

i was looking through some old auc stuff, in the hopes of finding some readings for my current classes. i found one. i also found a recommendation letter written by one of my favorite professors. the letter made me sound so cool: intelligent, dedicated, passionate, talented. what struck me the most, was the letter's suggestion (or expectation?) that i was heading somewhere great, that i was capable of achieving many things.

the letter was written three years ago.

in that time, i cannot say that i have achieved all that much. reading the letter, i felt sad. i am left wondering what happened to the potential the letter hinted at..

16 September 2006

for chitra

when you first came back from illinois, you gave me a book. the inscription said, 'because it was yours from the moment i saw it'. i now return some of that sentiment:

i hope you never lose your sense of wonder
you get your fill to eat but always keep that hunger
may you never take one single breath for granted
god forbid love ever leave you empty handed
i hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean
whenever one door closes i hope one more opens
promise me that you'll give faith a fighting chance
and when you get the choice to sit it out or dance
i hope you dance .. i hope you dance
i hope you never fear those mountains in the distance
never settle for the path of least resistance
living' might mean takin' chances but they're worth takin'
lovin' might be a mistake but it's worth makin'
don't let some hell bent heart leave you bitter
when you come close to sellin' out reconsider
give the heavens above more than just a passing glance
and when you get the choice to sit it out or dance
i hope you dance .. i hope you dance
time is a wheel in constant motion always rolling us along
tell me who wants to look back on their years and wonder
where those years have gone
i hope you dance .. i hope you dance

15 September 2006

indeed, what is normal?

the following is quoted in the article 'What women are saying about the violence in the Middle East'

And a woman writing under the pen name of ‘Delirious’ writes about what ‘normal’ means in a time of war at Life or Something Like It… http://computeraidedelirium.blogspot.com/

"In a normal world, the masses would not be slumbering while their fellow human beings are being killed. (I wonder, how does everyone still go about their business normally? Do they wake up, switch on the news, and go: "Oh, it's these Arabs and Jews that are killing each other again, pfffffff.... bo-ring. Hummm... what am I going to wear today?")

In a normal world, the UN would be something other than just a prefix for the world UNABLE.

In a normal world, the media would not be biased or misinformed. (too many examples to link to here, but you all know what I'm talking about -- here's one anyways).

In a normal world, children and infants would not constitute 1/3 of killed civilians in a war.

In a normal world, a cease-fire would have been decreed a long time ago.

In a normal world, humanitarian convoys would not be bombed, and fuel would be allowed to reach port at least to prevent hospitals from shutting down.

In a normal world, bombs would not be dubbed as birth pangs of a New Middle East (Rice's now infamous metaphor).

In a normal world, an end to all this madness would have been sought a long time ago, instead of finger-pointing and more destruction.

But then... who am I to define what is normal?"

11 September 2006

value for human life

a few days ago, in frustration and puzzlement, one of my colleagues--a senior cambodian human rights defender--wondered whether in our part of the world (as well as other developing nations) human life was valued less than perhaps in europe or america. how else could we explain the great number of lives lost everyday, with such little attention and uproar? he noted that if we do not value the lives of our fellow countrymen, how can we expect others to?

the conversation inevitably moved to the new york world trade centre attacks and i voiced my disquiet at the local tv station's adverts for a two-hour documentary on the topic. five years after the tragedy, the hype has not died down. but what of the thousands of other world tragedies that have continued in those five years? why are their stories not portrayed as vividly, or at all?

i am aware that part of the answer must necessarily lie in the politics of media, power and capital. i am more interested however, in the responsibility shouldered by civil society, by ordinary individuals. earlier last week, a fellow indian, on learning that my family comes from the state of gujarat, asked me, 'what are you doing in response to the government of narendra modi, to the 2002 pogrom?' he did not ask me for an opinion or comments, he was interested in concrete actions. implicit in his question was my responsibility to be doing something.

one of my friends has this quote on his blog: you must be the change you wish to see in the world

(perhaps i can begin working towards this change by participating in class discussions this time around.. !)

06 September 2006

writing guru

one of my colleagues is without doubt the best writer--and editor--that i know. today, i read some of his work after a hiatus of two months. again, i was struck not only by his clarity and style, but also by his creativity. this latter is perhaps the quality i most envy. to be able to say the same thing for the umpteenth time in a different and unique way is definitely not easy. in fact, this is the one thing that particularly frustrated me several months ago; i was sick of repeating the same phrases, playing with the same expressions. when these are made up of 'extrajudicial killings',' official impunity',' lack of effective remedies' and the like, the frustration is not merely stylistic. inspirational writing like his is therefore greatly welcomed.

three years ago, when i first met him and was in awe, i told myself that he had ten years more experience than myself. i hoped that i too would reach that point after a certain amount of experience. now, i am not so sure. sure, writing (and the critical process associated with it) is a skill. it is also a talent. skills can be learnt, but talent cannot.

04 September 2006

the handmaid's tale

this is such a great book! i tried to read other stuff by her (margaret atwood) before, but could never get into it. not only is her writing amazing, but the plot was also compelling. it was disturbing though. not just the plot itself, but that you can almost identify with the society she's created; its existence is possible.

here are some quotes:

"I try not to think too much. Like other things now, thought must be rationed. There's a lot that doesn't bear thinking about. Thinking can hurt your chances, and I intend to last. I know why there is no glass, in front of the water colour picture of blue irises, and why the windown opens only partly and why the glass in it is shatter proof. It isn't running away they're afraid of. We wouldn't get far. It's those other escapes, the ones you can open in yourself, given a cutting edge."

"Or I would help Rita to make the bread, sinking my hands into that soft resistant warmth which is so much like flesh. I hunger to touch something, other than cloth or wood. I hunger to commit the act of touch."

"We lived, as usual, by ignoring. Ignoring isn't the same as ignorance, you have to work at it.. The newspaper stories were like bad dreams to us, bad dreams dreamt by others. How awful, we would say, and they were, but they were awful without being believable. They were too melodramatic, they had a dimension that was not the dimension of our lives. We were the people who were not in the papers. We lived in the blank white spaces at the edge of print. It gave us more freedom. We lived in the gaps between the stories."

"I wait. I compose myself. My self is a thing I must now compose, as one composes a speech."

"It's impossible to say a thing exactly the way it was, because what you say can never be exact, you always have to leave something out, there are too many parts, sides, crosscurrents, nuances, too many gestures, which could mean this or that, too many shapes which can never be fully described.."

"The moment of betrayal is the worst, the moment when you know beyond any doubt that you've been betrayed: that some other human being has wished you that much evil."

"If you don't like it, change it, we said, to each other and to ourselves. And so we would change the man, for another one. Change, we were sure, was for the better always. We were revisionists; what we revised was ourselves. It's strange to remember how we used to think, as if everything were avaible to us, as if there were no contingencies, no boundaries; as if we were free to shape and reshape forever the ever-expanding perimeters of our lives."

01 September 2006

practical theory

i met up with my auc friends dalia and sean this summer. it was like a few stolen moments, or, as i told dalia, as though i was still in transit (which, in some ways, i was). regardless, at dinner that first night, we inevitably and so very naturally ended up discussing postcolonial theory and its implications for everyday life.

my issues with foucault, derrida, spivak et al rise from their lack of practical value. their ideas do not help me in dealing with everyday human rights violations. they say nothing that i can repeat to those suffering gross abuses.

this critique is directed not only towards postcolonial theory, but all theory. theories of ipe for instance, are unable to effectively address the cause and effect of female migration. i recall my frustrations at being unable to use the ipe theories to explain the numerous exceptions i was faced with for my final paper at auc. at that time, exceptions were seen as just that --exceptions, not the norm.

my experience over the past three years has taught me differently. in this time i have dealt with nothing but exceptions. which, in the course of time, have become the norm. is it that i am not grasping the theories in their entirety, or, as noted by carl jung,

Since self-knowledge is a matter of getting to know the individual facts, theories help very little in this respect. For the more a theory lays claim to universal validity, the less capable it is of doing justice to the individual facts. Any theory based on experience is necessarily statistical; that is to say, it formulates an ideal average which abolishes all exceptions at either end of the scale and replaces them by an abstract mean. This mean is quite valid, though it need not necessarily occur in reality. Despite this it figures in the theory as an unassailable fundamental fact. The exceptions at either extreme, though equally factual, do not appear in the final result at all, since they cancel each other out. If, for instance, I determine the weight of each stone in a bed of pebbles and get an average weight of 145 grams, this tells me very little about the real nature of the pebbles. Anyone who thought, on the basis of these findings, that he could pick up a pebble of 145 grams at the first try would be in for a serious disappointment. Indeed, it might well happen that however long he searched he would not find a single pebble weighing exactly 145 grams. The statistical method shows the facts in the light of the ideal average but does not give us a picture of their empirical reality. While reflecting an indisputable aspect of reality, it can falsify the actual truth in a most misleading way. This is particularly true of theories which are based on statistics. The distinctive thing about real facts, however, is their individuality. Not to put too fine a point on it, one could say that the real picture consists of nothing but exceptions to the rule, and that, in consequence, absolute reality has predominantly the character of irregularity (The undiscovered self, Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd, 1958).

30 August 2006

joining the bandwagon

it feels strange to write something that is non work related and which could be read by many persons. and yet, it also feels good --freeing somehow.

since cairo, i have felt a tad inarticulate .. three years later, i am set to begin grad school. articulation continues to be a problem and is one of the things i would like to work on this year. a blog seemed a good way to begin. and i have been inspired by fellow bloggers :)