21 February 2007

kung hei fat choy!

so we celebrated lunar new year this weekend (it was a long weekend, saturday-tuesday). it was a lot of fun, and this is largely because we have family visiting, including a six month old nephew. while this means that our tiny apartment is even more packed than usual, i do not feel as claustrophobic as i might have expected. it definitely depends on who is taking up the space. sharing a room with hunaid for instance, is not at all irritating, whereas i'm sure i would not be as happy if it were someone else.

we've had a lot of laughs, poked fun at everyone and everything, taken a lot of trips down memory lane. of course, with 11 adults and two kids (at one time the respective numbers were 13 and three) there was also chaos and stress, but all the laughs make up for that (or so i tell myself!). the trips down memory lane in particular were fun, as they were not only our (mine and my siblings') memories, but also of our parents; memories of their childhoods, of being newly married, of their parenting experiences (which always include stories of our funny and not so funny escapades).

i have also enjoyed spending time with my nephew juzer. he is absolutely adorable and very entertaining. i didn't get to spend much time with my neice alefiyah when she was at this age, so i am very much in love.

lastly, with all this family around, this lunar new year has been extremely profitable in terms of lai see!

there are many other things to say, but i will save those for other posts. i find it unusual however, that in the space of the last four days i have told hunaid several times that certain incidents or conversations were blog worthy... it was obviously an inspirational weekend/new year as well! (whether i will in fact get around to blogging about those is another matter of course..)

12 February 2007

theory as emancipation

according to chris brown in understanding international relations (2005), thinkers of the Enlightenment challenged humanity to know themselves and their world, and to apply that knowledge to free themselves from both superstition and ignorance. the original carrier of the emancipation project was liberalism. contemporary forms of liberalism however, no longer perform this function; contemporary liberal theory is 'problem-solving' theory: it accepts the prevailing definition of a particular situation and attempts to solve the problems this definition generates. emancipatory theory on the other hand, should challenge conventional understandings.

the idea that theory should help you to understand your world, to question the dominant discourses of that world, and therein free you from political, economic and social tyranny is, to me, very appealing. whether or not theory is able to do this, is another matter. (in an earlier post i noted that theory is of little practical value. perhaps i will have changed my mind by the end of the semester!) brown's text however, reminded me that there are many different types of theories--some are normative, some interpretive and some explanatory--and they all have their own contextual background. when a theory is taken away from this background and used to explain another very specific event, it is inevitable that its logic is weakened. it would be naïve (and narrow minded) to assume that any single ir theory is able to explain the multiplicity of ir events and problems.

chris brown does a very good job of explaining the contextual background of the various ir schools and theorists. i have in fact read several of these theorists (in another lifetime and a slightly different context). however, i read them without knowing the background and without knowing enough of the ongoing debates among the various theorists (this constant talking-to-and-about theorizing frustrated me then and frustrates me even more now; why must entire books be written about what someone is thought to have meant in a certain article?). that the theories make more sense when i know the background is already indicative of the relationship between a theory and where it is coming from.

three years of dealing with daily human rights abuses made me highly cynical of all theory. my distance from that world, and my (re) immersion in academia reminds me that while I may like to reject theory for its inability to address human rights violations, it is still theory that helps me to articulate alternative social narratives and make sense of prevailing discourses.

this post has been far more difficult to write than anticipated, and i am unsure of its coherence. this is one of those times when i resent attempting to express what is so clear and obvious in my head. it also reminds me of my favourite ben okri quote: learning what you know is something you have to do everyday, every moment.

07 February 2007


before going for ashera, and since being back, many people have asked me to describe the experience. needless to say, i have been slightly reluctant, and not really sure how to do so. religion and faith are difficult for me to express, and when there is so much history and tradition involved, my language skills seem even more inadequate than usual. while surfing the web this morning, i came across the following post with quotes on imam husain and karbala. i was pleasantly surprised to learn that charles dickens and mahatma gandhi were inspired by imam husain. i also found the following article in a colombo newspaper about the ten days of ashera.

even though i consider myself to hold my religion very closely in sync with my daily life, i am still surprised when i come across non bohra references to it. i think this is because i have always thought of it as something so private; i do not see the necessity of discussing it, sharing it. anyways, i am glad that there are others who are able to articulate for me. for those who want to know about my colombo ashera, read the article and the quotes.

back to school

last night was my first international relations theory class for this term. most of you will know that while i love immersing myself in intellectual calisthenics, i occasionally pop my head out of the ivory tower and start screaming about the irrelevance of it all. well, yesterday there were many others who did the screaming for me, and i found myself on the other side: trying to justify the study of all this theory. i am excited to play devil's advocate. and i am sure that i will learn a LOT.

in particular, i want to brush up on my history. i was a fascinated history student throughout island school, but in cairo i got sidetracked with studying current affairs and my history just lapsed. nowadays i can feel my lack of historical grounding, and as my ir professor mentioned several times last night, we should all in fact have degrees in history before studying ir theory.

i left class armed with reading lists and good intentions. let's see how far they take me!