Thursday, April 17, 2014

Say No Condo

In less than a few weeks, Rutgers University approaches the graduation date of its 2014 candidates. And as we head down the road to the commencement of that ceremony, the focal point of the event so far has been the controversy surrounding the Condi Debate: Should Rutgers allow Condoleezza Rice, a war criminal, to speak at their 2014 Graduation Ceremony? A point of note here is the fact that not only has Condoleezza Rice been penciled as the commencement speaker of this year’s event but she is also to be awarded an honorary Doctor of Law degree from the institution. Why is this wrong?

First and foremost, there is the aforementioned allegation of the person in question being a war criminal, responsible for one of the greatest travesties of justice in recent history: leading a charge against a nation, namely Iraq, by inciting the emotions and sentiments of the American people opposing an entire population of a country, their race, their religion, on the basis of lies and deception.

It is a known fact today that the Iraq War was unjust and against the American principles of freedom and liberty, regardless of what the Bush Administration would have us believe. The rationale for the war that was provided to the world was the elimination of WMD’s assumed to be, illegally, in the possession of the Iraqi Government and the independence of the Iraqi people. A decade after the war, we now know that no such weapons were found, that in the January of 2005 the United States effectively terminated the search effort for unconventional weaponry in Iraq, and the Iraq Intelligence Commission concluded that the judgments of the U.S. intelligence community about the continued existence of weapons of mass destruction and an associated military program were wrong. And if the aftermath of the Iraq War has taught us anything, it is that the Iraqi people have not been liberated, they are not free, their lives have been wrongly disrupted and, tragic to state, destroyed.

The country of Iraq is now in shambles. Women and girls forced into prostitution to feed their families; the men of the house, dead; children orphaned and mothers widowed, the Iraq War has been nothing more than outright carnage, slaughter of innocent civilians in the name of America, a country founded on the values of justice, freedom and liberty. There should be absolutely no doubt that Condoleezza Rice and her cohorts in the Bush Administration do not stand for said values. Thus, the future leaders of the United States should not be made to believe that a lady of her standpoint is, by any means, a hero.

In honoring Condoleezza Rice as the commencement speaker of this year’s graduation ceremony, Rutgers does not only condone her actions and decisions which have cost the lives of half a million people, loss of lives that Dr. Rice coined as “collateral damage,” but the institution glorifies them, portrays them as actions that are praiseworthy, that should be looked up to, and it is utterly appalling and morally reprehensible to do so, or stand by and allow it to be done. The future leaders of America are not to view the waste of human life as collateral damage, as a difference of opinion; these loss of lives, not just Iraqi lives but American lives, could have, and should have been avoided.

The aftermath of the Iraq War is a laundry list of crimes against humanity with war veterans living through the effects of terminal depression, anxiety and PTSD, along with the Iraqi people left with not even the most basic of resources required to sustain life. Resources such as clean water, electricity, shelter and food have been rendered absent. Diseases run rampant and medical aid is non-existent. Women raped, men murdered and crippled mentally and physically to the point that the lines between life and death have been blurred and erased. This is only the tip of the iceberg when we are talking about the tally of brutalities left at the wake of Condoleezza Rice who signaled the unjustified butchery of so many lives. Should the University of Rutgers really be allowed to honor such a person?

What exactly are we honoring here? Are we honoring the meaningless deaths of half a million people? Are we honoring the decision to water-board Abu Zubaydah? Are we honoring the rape of Iraqi women, the murder of Iraqi children, the pillage of a nation based on false suppositions? And, let us think of the war veterans and the soldiers who died in battle. Why were they sent to the gallows for no reason? What was the end goal and has it been met? Survey says, no.

The resultant effects of the Iraq War is not only the literal deaths of the people involved but the metaphorical deaths of two nations, not just Iraq but the United States as well, for with the breach of the values that this proud country was founded upon is the death of this nation. The United States is no longer seen as the beacon of justice and hope. Rather, it is now a country deeply entrenched in Islamophobia, responsible for the unjust demonization of Arabs, South Asians and Muslims. Dr. Rice has been, at times, a complying bystander, and in others, an active participant in this tragedy. And one of the greatest tragedies if Condoleezza Rice is allowed to speak at the commencement ceremony of the Rutgers 2014 graduations is that there will be students of Iraqi heritage graduating and they will have to bear the fact that the murderer of their fellow countryfolk will be speaking at their graduation. How would the children of Holocaust survivors feel if a Nazi general were asked to speak at their graduation?

As a student of Rutgers and a proud Bangladeshi-American Muslim, I state that it is not too late for us to fall back on our values of justice and do the right thing. I urge each and everyone of you to stand up against the decision to invite Condoleezza Rice to our great university. Please say no to this injustice.

— Fahim Ferdous Promi

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Rutgers Community Must Stand Against Rice Invitation

Brandeis University reversed its decision to award Ayaan Hirsi Ali with an honorary degree last week because of her Islamophobic rhetoric. The argument for rescinding her honorary degree is hefty, but not nearly as formidable as the argument to rescind Condoleezza Rice’s invitation and honorary degree here at Rutgers. Unlike Rice, Ali is not considered by most of the world to be a war criminal. For a much lesser offense, the Brandeis administration moved forward anyway. At Rutgers, President Robert L. Barchi has confined the debate on Rice’s invitation to a question of free speech in America, instead of the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi people who had families, dreams, friends and passions. This neglects the reality of the invitation and simplifies the issue to one that is incredibly narcissistic. Rutgers is one of the greatest universities in the world, and as such, it is imperative that we intellectually engage the question of our commencement speaker as an inclusive, thoughtful community. With this in mind, we must also remember that some of our own community members are deeply hurt and personally affected by the consequences of the Iraq War. The invitation to Condoleezza Rice began on the foot of exclusivity and disregard for consciousness and justice on this campus.

As a graduating senior, my commencement was ruined the moment I found out Rice was this year’s speaker. I find it difficult knowing that my soon-to-be alma mater is honoring a woman who is complicit in some of the worst human rights violations. This is a level of dehumanization that I never foresaw from the current Rutgers administration.

Let’s think about this objectively. The United States was adamantly against the utilization of chemical weapons in the Syrian crisis and threatened to take military action if a solution was not reached in which such weapons would no longer be used. Ironically, the Bush administration used chemical weapons in Fallujah, Iraq. This is an overt double standard. As Americans, we must hold ourselves accountable to our own standards of morality — otherwise, the rest of the world will not respect us. Rutgers will become a propellant of this hypocrisy if we invite and honor Condoleezza Rice. We have the power as a university community to make the choice to rescind her invitation or welcome her. Her invitation is not set in stone. With the stroke of a pen, Barchi can rescind her invitation and her honorary Doctor of Laws degree. For justice, we must stop at nothing, and we cannot forget why she has done more harm than good.

To be a war criminal is a dishonor. This title is reserved for those who commit crimes against humanity. Holistically, this is not just in reference to the usage of chemical weapons in Fallujah. It includes the usage of the term “collateral damage” to decrease the number of reported deaths, the Abu Ghraib prison and the Iraqi refugee crisis, in which more than 4 million Iraqis have no permanent home, and millions of Iraqi children were left parentless as a result of the war. These children have no homes, and since the country is still in shambles, there is no education system and no mechanism to ensure that the youth of Iraq will ever find the opportunity and hope that we have in abundance. We must have more compassion and empathy when discussing this issue.

Are we as Rutgers students going to sit down and give Barchi and the Board of Governors the right to assert that her invitation is impossible to rescind? Barchi frankly does not speak for me or for many of us. This decision alone, and his adamant unwillingness to introduce debate as a means to actually rescinding her invitation, essentially highlights his callousness — the same callousness that could push the Board of Governors to send a war criminal an invitation to speak at our University’s commencement.

Ask yourself this question: Does Rice really deserve an honorary degree? Disregard Barchi’s email in which he asserted that he would not compromise on his decision to invite her — the power should be in our hands to decide whether or not she is welcome to speak at our commencement on May 18. At the heart of this question is whether or not we will stand up for what is right. All human life is precious and invaluable. We hold the ones we love as close as we possibly can. This invitation ignores the idea of loving one another, no matter where they come from. At Rutgers, I believe the love I’ve received here has brought me to where I am today, up until this moment at the very end of my four years on the banks. In the words of Cornel West, “justice is what love looks like in public.” This cannot hold more truth than in these moments leading up to this year’s commencement. We can choose to love those we’ve never met by respecting their dignity and loving their humanity, or we can choose to ignore them and honor a woman who, along with the rest of the Bush administration, took it away from them.

Rutgers, we can do better than this. And by better, I mean that we can make a difference in our world — together. Rescinding her invitation does not look nearly as bad as inviting Rice to speak in the first place. In fact, in 20 years, our university will be commemorated for retracting the invitation because it was the right thing to do, in the same way we are commemorated for being the first public university to partially divest from Apartheid South Africa. Back then, we did the right thing, and the entire world reveres us for it. The movement to divest came from the students and faculty who tirelessly pushed for what they believed in. It seems that Barchi and the Board of Governors threw these principles out of the window when they decided to invite and honor Rice. We, however, have not.

— Sherif Ibrahim, The Daily Targum

Monday, April 14, 2014


"O ye who believe! Stand out firmly for justice as witnesses to God, even if it be against yourselves, your parents, or your kin, whether it be against rich or poor: for God can best protect both. Follow not the lusts of your hearts, lest ye swerve; And if ye distort justice or deal with inequity, verily God knows all that ye do."
[al-Qur'an 4:135]

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Rutgers Should Learn From Brandeis

With Rutgers University’s 248th commencement ceremony just weeks away, protests over having Condoleezza Rice as the commencement speaker are still going strong. The administration has made its stance on the issue very clear: In an email to the entire University, President Robert L. Barchi said despite the opposition, Rice will still be welcomed as the commencement speaker, given a hefty $35,000 honorarium and shall also be presented with an honorary Doctorate of Laws degree.

This last point is probably the most problematic, as we find it difficult to understand the reasoning behind presenting an honorary degree to someone who is clearly not considered worthy of the honor by several University affiliates. But Rutgers is not the only university dealing with controversy over commencement this year. Brandeis University made headlines last week with its decision to cancel the presentation of an honorary degree at commencement to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a renowned women’s rights activist who is scheduled to speak at a graduation event. While she is respected for her academic accomplishments and for overcoming challenges in her personal life that she is certainly entitled to speak to, Ali is also known for her blatantly Islamophobic comments and her campaign against the entire religion — in her words, “Once [Islam is] defeated, it can mutate into something peaceful. … I think that we are at war with Islam. And there’s no middle ground in wars.”

What kind of message would Brandeis be sending if it presented its most prestigious honor to a woman who is responsible for this kind of hate speech and for condemning an entire religion? It was a very poorly made decision, but we still think it is commendable that Brandeis realized this and corrected its mistake.

We wish we could say the same about our own university. Despite the controversy, the protests across the Rutgers community and a faculty petition with more than 350 signatures, Barchi and the Board of Governors have made it clear they will not compromise on their decision. Instead, those in favor of having Rice insist that rescinding her invitation or even revoking her honorary degree would be in violation of the First Amendment’s right to free speech. This is a weak defense that completely misses the point. It’s not that Rice is not welcome at Rutgers, it’s that our commencement ceremony is supposed to be about celebrating graduates’ hard work and accomplishments, and it’s not the appropriate venue for such a polarizing figure to deliver the address and receive an honorary degree.

Besides, what does it even mean to be presented with an honorary degree? According to the Rutgers University website, “This degree recognizes an individual’s exceptional achievement or distinction in a field or activity consonant with the mission of the university. Through this major public action, the university is able to acknowledge worthy individuals of national and international acclaim whose accomplishments support the ideals of the university and serve as an example for our students, alumni and society.”

By presenting Rice with an honorary degree, the University makes clear that it believes Rice’s achievements — which include the political decisions made during her time as Secretary of State, specifically, the invasion and subsequent destruction of Iraq — are in line with the values of the University and are worthy of this honorary degree. It means that the University considers her to be someone the graduating class should look to as a role model. But who gets to make that call? There needs to be a more transparent process of selecting commencement speakers and recipients of an honorary degree because the decision to invite and honor Rice is clearly not representative of our entire university, or even a majority of it, in any way.

We commend Brandeis University for reversing its decision and taking the opinion of its community into consideration. Of course, it is a major embarrassment for the university to have offered the degree to a bigoted person in the first place, but it has at least done the right thing instead of stubbornly refusing to consider a majority opinion to try and save its own face. By refusing to compromise on the issue of not only inviting, but also honoring Rice at our commencement ceremony this year, Rutgers is only digging itself into an even deeper hole.

— Editorial Staff, The Daily Targum

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Love, Faith and Sacrifice

"If you focus too narrowly on a single path to God, all you will ever find is the path."
~ Meister Eckhart
Religions – specially the Abrahamic religions; more specifically Islam, in recent times, have been denigrated to a series of laws and regulations that line up to form a checklist for its devotees to complete as they move on up the aisle towards buying themselves a coupon ticket to Paradise. This is the modern day crisis of faith.

It is indeed a serious issue in the community of Muhammad left behind today. We set out everyday to fulfill a plethora of chores in our to-do list: pray five times a day, check; fast next Monday, check; grow a beard, check; convince my little sister to wear a headscarf, check – we treat all these deeds not as acts of the spirit but merely actions of flesh and bone. The inherent wisdom behind the Islamic lifestyle is lost.

Perhaps the greatest tragedy of modern-day Islam is the way we treat the Holy Scriptures as not the unadulterated Divine Discourse between God and Man but rather a measly book of do’s and don’ts written down by some strange man in the desert as a bundle of stories.

If I were to write a book today, a novel with a character that eats a certain way, speaks a certain way, sleeps facing a certain direction, and then centuries down the line some archaeologist stumbles upon the thing and tells all his children to follow the actions of the character in the story simply because he likes it, how absolutely insane would it be? However, that is exactly how we have begun to treat Islam. Eat this, don’t eat that. Why? Because the Qur’an says so. Wear this, don’t wear that. Why? Because the Hadith says so. People are just being fed to live a certain life only because a myriad of scribbles inked onto a stack of paper tells them to do so.

Now, instead, consider this. So we have the aforementioned book with the character. I write it down. Someone finds it. They know about me, let’s say that by the time the novel is discovered I am some sort of legendary author and the character I have penned is an inspiring hero of lore. The children read it, they love me and they love the character I have designed so much so that they want to grow up and be just like him. That is what Islam is supposed to be. You read the Qur’an, you fall in love with the Author, understand Him, wish to know Him better, cherish the virtues that are desirable to Him and try to imbue yourself with them to attain His affection.

The Qur’an is the Sacred Speech of God where He tells us the stories of men and women who He raised above all creation and those who He has damned below all creation. Through reading it we are to understand the traits that He loves, try to comprehend why is it that He chose to elevate Moses, Abraham, Jesus, Noah, Mary and Dhulquarnain while condemn Abu Lahab, Nimrod, the Pharaoh and Satan. Their stories are not to be meaningless bedtime narratives to us but morals with glad-tidings and warnings.

Let us take for an instance the example of a child hearing the epic saga of Harry Potter and Voldemort. They identify with the former as the hero who is to be admired and respected, and the latter as the villain who is to be despised and loathed. Now, human nature is driven with the urge to earn respect and admiration, and once the child understands Harry is the one to be respected and admired, the child imitates him to accomplish exactly that while avoiding the traits expressed by Voldemort to avert being seen as the hated adversary, the outcast.

Switching our focus back to Islam and the Qur’an, we too have stories akin to that of Harry Potter and Voldemort but the stage is even grander. The characters here are not only vying to garner attention, admiration and respect from their peers but One far exalted – God. And this is where the Love of God is so important. Why must the reader be driven to earn the admiration of God? See, if a person does not like someone, if that person could not care less about what this someone thought of them, then why would that person sacrifice all the pleasures of their life to earn that someone’s respect and admiration? And let us be extremely blunt here, God asks us to make very many sacrifices quite very many times throughout the Qur’an and sacrifice is an extremely prevalent theme throughout the theological and historical lore of Islam.

What we must ask ourselves are the following questions:
Was Abraham going to slaughter his child mercilessly because some vengeful voice in the sky asked him to do so? Was he going to do it so that he could simply go to Heaven?
Did John stand against the tyranny of Herod and lose his head for an indifferent holy being of nothingness?
Did Mary wander the deserts outside Palestine all by herself bearing the excruciating pangs of childbirth for the fulfillment of some divine will she did not understand?
Did Muhammad spend months eating leaves outside the walls of Mecca out of some senseless, misguided desire for self-torture?
Did Husayn stand against the brutality of Yazid's oppressive, unjust regime knowing full well that he was going to die because of some misplaced passion for achieving martyrdom?
The answer to all of the above questions is a resounding 'no.'

Abraham loved God and he trusted God. He knew that if God was guiding him then God was leading his path towards good and righteousness. We know Abraham longed for a child all his life, he was not simply about to give it up because of the pleasures of Heaven. All the pleasures in existence he could long for came through the fulfillment of his wish to father a child: he could desire for nothing more. But then, why sacrifice that which was his greatest source of joy and happiness? Because his love for God was greater and his trust on Him was profound. He knew God would not misguide him and plunge him astray hurling towards misery.

Nowadays, our love for God is lacking. We do not trust God; even more so, we do not know God and how can we ever trust that which we do not know? Thus we are not ready to sacrifice for Him. We are unsure if what we are to give up will ever be reimbursed. We are unsure if what we are to forsake will ever be returned. We are unsure if our faith is ever to be rewarded.

The zeal to follow the footsteps of Muhammad ibn Abdullah ibn Abdul Mutalib, 'Ali ibn Abu Talib and Husayn ibn 'Ali, of Umar ibn al-Khattab, Uthman ibn Affan and Abu Bakr as-Sadiq, of David, Jacob and Solomon will never be there unless we instill into ourselves what was instilled into them; until we inspire ourselves with what inspired them; they did not see Islam as a manifesto of laws but rather the Way towards a Divine Union between themselves and the Eternal Beloved.

— Fahim Ferdous Promi