The Problem with American Mosques

This post originally appeared on WiseUp. WiseUp is a platform for South Asian Americans and Muslim Americans to become more informed about Texas and National politics.

Read time: 4 minutes

Mosques across America need to establish a more inclusive environment for all types of Muslims. The American Muslim population is now largely represented by first generation, young Americans that have an opportunity to step into leadership roles to reorganize and standardize the mosque’s structure.

Growing up, I envied my church going friends for their excitement towards their religion. I shared their belief in the same God yet we attached two separate emotions going to our place of worship. I wondered what it would be like to meet at a coffee shop in the middle of the week and just discuss what God intended for us. I wondered how long it would be until we had robust youth programs and had visionaries leading every mosque. 

Unless you grow up in a city with a substantial Muslim population, your understanding of Islam and its practice is limited to the perspective you inherit from your parents, online articles, and your local Imam. There is an emphasis that we all learn to read Arabic and finish the Quran in its purest form yet reading comprehension is voluntary. We are led to believe by our community that Islam is a series of rules and consequences for not following those rules. Watering down Islam with fear tactics is elementary and a sin against the beautiful religion. 

Why are we perpetuating a system that isn’t working? 

We’re raised to think there's only one category of Muslim and if you don't fall into that mold, you're not a real Muslim. Overtime, after getting yelled at by everyone you turn to with your questions, the worst fallacy takes a seat in your heart: that Islam is somehow more complicated and a less enjoyable to practice compared to other religions. 

There is a great divide between how we perceive Islam versus its intention - this division matters for both Imams and their congregation.

Mosques, Imams, and Muslim program leaders do not have uniform practices to adjust to their congregations' varying needs. Imams have varying levels of education, degree requirements, and guidelines on continuing education. There is no formalized training on dealing with today's societal and cultural issues that tag along with the already overbearing task of being a Muslim in America. 
 
I enjoyed going to Sunday school, Jummah on Fridays, and looked forward to Eid. I grew up in a town with a Muslim population large enough to sustain good Imams, provide resources to their attendants, and establish programs to inspire the youth. But this experience is not common across America. In small towns across the country, communities lack Imams that are effectively trained and dont have the necessary skills to cater to the American Muslim community. The role of the Imam throughout our history has been to not only be religious leader but also a community leader that caters to sociopolitical issues.  Today, an Imam is expected to continue their role of regularly giving advice on marriage, health, and teen issues. However, Imams do not always have training on providing guidance on these topics or awareness of the real problems facing Muslim Americans. Despite the size or location of a mosque, many seem to come up short on answers to basic questions:

What are the youth’s concerns?

Does the Imam have all the resources they need to lead, continue their education, or serve their congregation?

Who should make up the board of directors and is there some representation of the congregation by age, gender, and race? 

Are we devoting enough time and sensitivity to women’s issues? 

Is there a transparent budget and how much of it is allocated towards social and children's programs?

Does the congregation know who to contact when they are having financial or emotional trouble at home?

Mosque leaders can pioneer this change. We have reached the age where the American Muslim’s voice can resonate. Before we can expect the rest of America to understand who we are, we need ourselves to be excited about our community and our mosque. We no longer have to rely on bringing in Imams that grew up in a culture different than ours and challenge ourselves with their contradictory messaging. 

I am not going to pretend to understand the trials that new and existing Imams face when joining a mosque. They are still trying to figure out their worth and balancing the expectations of the mosque’s board of directors and congregation - all while combating the expected challenges of theological leaders. 

An Imam cannot be burdened with running all aspects of the mosques operations. The board of directors, the Imam, and staff’s roles should be defined and balanced.  The mosques board needs to listen to their Imams needs, standardize continuing education to lead Muslims with consistent messaging that aligns with the Quran. An Imam’s role is to ensure the stability of the mosque and its spiritual mission. 

To follow the example of our Christian brothers and sisters, there needs to be a paradigm shift from the teaching Islam the way it was taught hundreds of years ago. We cannot ignore the importance of reading comprehension and critical thinking of the Quran. We should simply do what it takes for everyone to question and embrace Islam. We should engage the youth to both maintain interest in the religion and a love for its teachings. The bible study model of conducting small group sessions at mosques, Islamic centers, homes, or coffee shops needs to become a more rampant practice across America. Many communities have welcomed this socializing model and have seen greater engagement. 

Unless the Muslim community is considered a safe haven, those struggling with their faith will turn elsewhere. We should seek to engage curiosity, not dismiss it. We should prioritize logic over dogmatism. Mosque activities should focus on inclusivity and nurture the curiosity of young Muslims. There should be an active interest in helping young women and men effectively interpret the Quranic scripture for themselves. We should be able to rely on our Imam when they speak on tough issues like domestic violence, combatting extremism, effectively balancing Islamic and Western values, etc. 

Simply put, mainstream mosques need to be restructured to empower the Imam,  garner the interest of the youth by thoughtfully discussing issues that impact them, and establish programs that address the needs of their congregation.

Extend Your Attention Span for Syria

Read time: 2 minutes

Syria is not in our headlines everyday. When I do see any articles, I avoid clicking on them because I know what it says.

Another airstrike.

More casualties.

Absolute terror.

I knew about the Netflix documentary The White Helmets for a while now and I avoided watching it. It’s only 45 minutes long but I avoided it for weeks. I knew it was going to be good but I also knew it was going to be deeply horrifying. The documentary short is about the first responders in Syria that have saved over 58,000 lives since 2013. They are civilians who have dedicated their lives pull both dead and living bodies out of rubble as the daily strikes continue. Well, I finally watched it.

Incredible stories.

Sad beyond reason.

Induces an ugly cry that lasts as long as the documentary.

I’m glad I watched.

The way we have shielded ourselves from this horror in America is fascinating. It’s something I will woefully look back on and hesitate to tell my future children about.

“I’m sorry, I can’t say much about the Syrian genocide because we were too busy talking about the dumbest and most backwards Presidential election in 2016.”

We also probably don’t talk about this everyday because we don’t even know what’s going on. Everyone’s involvement in this war is convoluted and ambiguous. You shouldn't be embarrassed about not knowing. No one understands the lines anymore (although this video from Vox was helpful).

There’s something else we’re all not admitting here in America. Deep down in our hearts, we know that there’s a huge chance that we’re the bad guys this time. We don’t know the extent of our government's involvement in this war, we don’t want to welcome refugees, and worst of all, we don’t want to acknowledge our educate ourselves on it.

What’s going on in Aleppo is as traumatic and rampant as the Orlando nightclub shooting. Except for Syrians, the massacres are a daily occurrence. This is not a comparison of casualties, this is a comparison of fear. The number of people waking up everyday wondering if today is their last outweighs any tragedy we are facing here. Daily terror is not an abstract concept for them like it is for us. Our inability to admit this is also sickening. We are not entitled to ignore what’s going on Syria. We are not entitled to safety over them.

I didn’t watch The White Helmets last night. I watched it two weeks ago and I am still completely shaken up. If I were to die today and have to answer to God, I know I would be ashamed of my inaction. Please watch this short, please do your best to care, and please donate to these incredible heroes. That’s the least we can do from our desks right now.

Giving Up Indifference

Read time: 3 minutes

I am happy and complacent. The happiness part I’m used to but the complacent state of mind is driving me to an edge. I’m grateful for my life but it’s pushed me away from empathy with suffering and most of all, it’s made me feel like I’ve stopped going forward in life.

Every year, I like to celebrate Lent  - for two obvious reasons: it’s easier than Ramadan and second, 40 days is an appropriate time frame to form a new habit. This post on what the Pope wants you to give up for Lent stirred what was central to my discomfort with my idle mind: indifference. I'm giving up on indifference because indifference is too easy and it's definitely not making any of us feel better about our political and social climate.

Describing this phenomenon he calls the globalization of indifference, Francis writes that “whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor.

Earlier this month, as soon as I decided to care about stuff again and let our American state of affairs sink in, I was grossly galvanized by the Republican Party's propaganda. Every PR firm in America should come together and re-brand what is now a shameful party to associate your traditional, conservative, and once practical values with.  If you disagree, again, they have a major PR issue. Imagine how hard it is for young American to attach to the Republican Party. Imagine what it’s like to be cornered into backing Donald Trump come end of day today. Perhaps it's not so different from having to back Hillary Clinton but at least she’s not the American equivalent of the early stages of Saddam Hussein.

Caring is hard but please care enough to not vote for Not Trump. If everyone who is a part of the  My-Vote-Doesnt-Count group voted, it would count right now. Even if you have to wait three hours in line, at least you saved your Republican friend from losing their mind and got to skip some work. This evangelical and conservative radio talk show host and pastor doesn’t even understand how this Trump take over is happening. Decide to pay attention this election year and help out a Republican in need.

To close this rant, I saw this on Facebook last night and I want everyone to read this at least 14 times and be sad with me.

Let today sink in. There’s nothing to celebrate and everything to change.

Muslim Americans, let's decide on how to get through this.

It’s been hard, for all of us.

People are scared and angry. It’s important now more than ever to come out of this as leaders in crisis management.

Here are a few things for us to all remember as Americans:

The comments you read online or the snippets of hate you see on television are from people who do not realize they know a Muslim. Almost everyone in America knows a Muslim but they are not aware of it. Muslims don’t all look the same and I think we can all do a better job of raising awareness of who we are, so a coworker I’ve known for over two years isn’t surprised when I tell them I’m taking off to celebrate Eid.

There’s definitely a tactful way of doing this that doesn’t involve randomly bringing up your faith. With all that’s going on, it’s easy to talk about how equally fearful and hurt we are by current events. However, rather than harp on all the negativity, it’s been incredible reading all the positive articles, posts, and messages from people supporting/defending Muslims. Continue to share all the good so we can stop sensationalizing the bad that perpetuates for good ratings.

Growing up, my parents are good about sharing sweets during Eid with our neighbors. We can still make kind gestures for our neighbors this holiday season.

There is no “moderate Muslim”, there are just Muslims or extremists. I no longer see a purpose in describing myself as a “progressive” or “moderate” either religiously or politically. No one has to claim to be a moderate because extremism exists. You can just be.

Muslims have accomplished the most in detecting or reporting extremism and we shouldn’t stop now. ISIS is a real threat for us.

You used to be able to just assume that all terrorists are all illiterate, ignorant, and fanatical. Now it’s as though ISIS has the funds and social intelligence to recruit any weak minded individual. Their motives have nothing to do with Islam and everything to do with arrogance and power.

The Quran and the Bible are so similar, that I got away with not reading the entire Bible and still passing my quizzes in my Christian Heritage course at Baylor. They share the same beautiful stories and dangerous language we so often see out of context. The arguments on Islam preaching war, oppressing women, violence - whatever - are equally present in the Bible and the Torah. These verses are apart of larger stories that ultimately end all three religions with a call for loving your neighbors, living with compassion, maintaining your virtue, patience, and faith.

Radicals exist in all faiths and philosophies and have existed in all era’s. Every religion has been tormented by extremists and terrorists. Unfortunately, this is the radical Islam era.

Surely this bond of common faith, this bond of common goal, can begin to teach us something. Surely we can learn, at least, to look at those around us as fellow men and surely we can begin to work a little harder to bind up the wounds among us and to become in our hearts brothers and countrymen once again.
— Robert F. Kennedy 1968

If you want to respond to people online, exhibit patience, empathy, and maintain a sense of collectiveness.

If there’s anything else that’s helped you get through this, please share.

Write a Letter to Yourself

Read time: 4 minutes.

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I feel like I'm failing all the time. I have not posted here in a while. Truthfully, I write often but I don't know how to share it. When people ask me about my blogging frequency, I feel guilt. I owe it to myself to write, to get better. My responses are always related to life. Life happening or life just being a lot. 

Like many of my friends, I am experiencing the quarter-century-self-evaluation. It's been nice to see people freak out, desire more from within, desire less from without and change only to unchange. People have quit their traditional corporate jobs for their start-up idea. People are traveling more and desire impact. People made babies, people found love, people lost love and sometimes started over. While all of this is expected, these stories shake us up about ourselves. Then time passes and our reflection of these years are reduced to normalcy. But nothing is actually normal...the same way nothing seems abnormal anymore.

And before I exhaust myself of polar ideas, I urge you to reflect forward. More than reflect on how you became the You of Today, it would be interesting to map out what you expect your next ten steps to be. At 26, I want to look back at this moment now. For me, it’s always been easy to look back and notice drastic changes about myself: work habits, lifestyle, opinions, not having opinions, diet, aspirations, my taste in music or obsessions… but paradoxically, I can hardly predict or even anticipate any of that changing. 

Write a letter to your future self; we hear this advice often but I want to do it for the first time. I want to give myself enough credit for my journey in personal, academic and professional growth. We’re used to feeling like we’re failing. We fear wasting our strengths and not contributing to the world. We came this far in our careers but will have no one to share it with. What if we think that  it's too late? But how great would it feel to be in your mid-thirties and realize that everything changed after all – and for the better? 

Here are some thoughts you might want to share with future you:

  • An idea that defines you
  • Five people you trust
  • What are some of your favorite things in life?
  • What music do you listen to?
  • What did you do the last three weekends?
  • Your current financial situation?
  • Habits you wish you could change; habits you strive to maintain
  • What do you appreciate about your life? What improvements do you foresee?

Writing a letter to yourself is a way to measure your success because at this point, you probably need to give yourself a break. My handwriting is unreliable so I wrote myself an email and saved it as a task reminder within gmail to read a year from now. Save an email draft, physically write on paper, go to futureme.org or whatever makes sense to you. Be clear, simple and candid. I hope you take the time today to do this for yourself.

I Would Like You to Know About This: Violence Against Women

I failed myself as a woman the past few years. I've been known for my anti-feminist jokes. They were misguided by extreme feminism – mostly the misogynists you picture when you hear the word "Feminism". Truthfully: I was naive. There are gender equality gaps in the workforce and the discrepancies are narrowing but the reality of women being mistreated still exists. This is my last summer before the career world and if I didn't begin substantial volunteering now, it would not gain traction later on down the road. We like to care about poverty, hunger, violence and injustice but many of us cannot empathize. I needed exposure. Yet, no matter where we live in the US, it’s easy to unravel our issues.

Going down the highway from downtown was a different kind of forever this time. There was no traffic. My insides swirled and I just got in my car and started crying. I guess I finally got it. I just had my first orientation at Genesis Women’s Shelter. A few weeks before graduation, it became evident to me that I needed to emotionally challenge myself in many ways. Genesis is a shelter for battered women and their children. Everyone has their trials but these aren't my trials, these are our trials. Domestic violence is one of our trials as humanity.

Here’s a correlation to remind us of what this household violence perpetuates: 85% of men in prison have been exposed to domestic violence while growing up.

Domestic violence has only crossed my path indirectly, maybe a friend’s friend or neighbors cousin. I did not know how to help them. Though emotional intelligence is a strength of mine, I doubt I would be able to detect these kind of disturbances in peoples relationships.

There are a few reasons domestic violence within a couple goes undetected. One main reason: women are afraid. They're afraid of  upsetting their spouse, losing their family, and believe they are dependent. Fear alone will empower battered women with the ability to lead normal lives in front of others. If their friends find out they are abused - physically or psychologically, it will only arouse the abuser more. To these women, it is an important and painful cycle to avoid.

Getting inside the outreach facility for Genesis was justifiably complicated. The actual shelter is at an undisclosed location. I walked into a room where women (and some men) ranging from high school to retirement age sat sharing "Why?”. Why are you here? Why do you want to volunteer? At first, it was a few but then it was half the room that had experienced violence in their time. Now they wanted to give back.

“I’m here to give back.”

Give back what? The sole idea that they had made it safely out of their situation, maybe with some help, have led them to want to give back? Some didn't even have help but they’re there to give back. I sat floored with admiration.

“When I called the police, they told me I had to get out myself and I could not take my children.”

“My first husband found me in California. He sent a letter stating, “I know where you are”.

Except for the part where I introduced myself and my desire to volunteer, I was silent. I’m not usually quiet but what was I supposed to say? “Yeah, my life and people in them have been totally great; I'm here to emotionally enrich myself. Sorry about what happened.”

No.

These women did not share their stories, they were there like me: wanting to help. The more I heard, the more I was appalled by my own naivety.

1 in 4 women experience violence in their lifetime. That means that the lady driving cruising 40 mph on the highway or the one carrying a whaling baby at the grocery line perhaps at a bad day. It’s overwhelming to even have these thoughts. I've only known great guys. But with my luck aside, there is a serious men’s issue within sour communities.

As outlined in a pretty spectacular TED Talk, there needs to be a paradigm shift. Domestic Violence is largely a men’s issue, a leadership issue. The burden to teach the youth should fall on adult men with power. They are leaders of this cause and should be held accountable for the crimes, the inaction, and the ignorance regarding the severity of this issue.

Men should interrupt each other and not stand for tactless jokes against women. There should be no blurred lines regarding violence in our peer culture. That way, men who perpetuate this hate, this abuse, lose their status in society As a result, we could see a radical drop in abuse. We could stop forgetting that it's happening.

Its not fair to our mothers and sisters to lack introspection regarding domestic violence. People like Chris Brown should not be allowed to perform anywhere or have influence among our youth. I don’t think as individuals we can be silent bystanders as these perpetrators continue their heinous antics.

Every city has their resources. In Dallas, one of them is Genesis. They have gone out of their way to be smarter than the abuser, to provide help to women discretely, and to help them start new lives methodically.

Genesis provides:

A 24 Hour Hotline, an emergency shelter, counseling, housing, daycare, recovery, child play therapy, an onsite school, case management, job readiness, and legal counseling – all free of charge.

We assume wonderful facilities like this exist and it allows us to sleep at night. But before I came here, I would not be able to properly redirect a friend in need if she came to me. That’s pretty disappointing. So, I want you to know.

Genesis

“Surprise” Birthday Dinners: Lets Stop Doing This to Each Other

Picture this nuisance with me: You walk in and the restaurant is filled with an ambient clutter of loud music and chatty hosts, helping you warm up to a sense of fun importance. There are maybe 2 others in your group who came before you. You are number 3 of 15. No one is on time and absolutely everyone is there for someone else. By the time you all sit down, watch the Birthday Person fake a yelp of glee when they walk in, you are famished. The waiter hasn’t even taken the orders yet. You then engage in surface level conversations about work, school, and significant others. The entire time, you wish you had sat next to that one person you really want to talk to but they’re too busy juggling three conversations themselves. A total of 15 minutes will be spent on everyone asking the other what they’re ordering. That way, you can know what they’re having and order what you were going to order to anyway. Everyone is loud and complicated and the waiter hates you. Two people will decide it’s not a problem to come half way through dinner. The worst part of this whole pretense is that the Birthday Person carries the burden of making significant impact with all 14 of you before the night ends. He or she will wonder why you invited a random group but not their other close friends. HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!

You will most likely get your food last and yeah, it was over priced. As checks are being paid, there are murmurs of what the rest of the night holds. The acquaintances all have other engagements and the real 5 friends will stick around for the actual birthday celebration.

Surprise Birthday Dinners: why do we do this to each other? Having a dinner for yourself is acceptable. This angle of it being a surprise is like a game of tag: if one person decides to throw one, a chain reaction is started for the next 364 days for everyone and their respective subgroups.

Not sure what a guy’s excuse is but ladies, I like to make an art out of getting ready as much as you do but planning Surprise Birthday Dinners are not the answer. You know what is? Something fun. Let’s be frank: the person in honor really just wants to hang out with their friends. They’re just glad you’re there. So as their friends, to channel all our efforts into finding a date that works for everyone, picking a restaurant that’s quaint and delicious—all while attempting to surprise the Birthday child—is wasted effort.

Why can’t we all skip the dinner pretense and plan something catered to what the person would really enjoy? Go to sports games, improv shows, karaoke bars, food festivals, support local musicians, a play, the arcade, a boat party, fishing, barbeque, set up a beach/lake picnic, a cooking class, pottery, a drive in theatre, or visit an obscure bar or specialty restaurant. Basically, surprise them with anything else.

Let me be super original and say that there’s an assumption about being in your twenties: you’re out to enjoy to life. You want experiences. With that in mind, why are we using our free time to sit at a giant table of 15, at a quazi-fancy restaurant, celebrating our friend reaching another year? Surprise Birthday dinners can be nice at times but it is mostly the strangest thing we have all made a tradition of.

What We Imagine
What We Imagine
The Reality
The Reality

Having Opinions: Be Prude Yet Shrewd

I struggle with extremism. Overly strong beliefs provide a harbor for narrowed ideas and anchor any potential progress within a thinker. We have invested our views upon only a few media conglomerates, making us susceptible to any mismanaged fact. We react without much thought to misleading statistics. We respond to outrage with more rage or obsession. Our news sources throughout the years have diminished from full-fledged articles, to blogs, to tweets, and memes that grossly generalize complicated ideas.

I think it’s great that many people have responded so sensibly, pinpointing deficiencies in news coverage and reflecting on the morality of any given situation. However, we have become prisoners to our ideologies, our small worlds, and tightly held beliefs. We’ve stunted learning any new information and filter our minds to find what specifically pertains to us. I'm not saying there is an easy solution to revamping the American media. I'm saying that as any other concerned individual, we have to bring it upon ourselves to uncover whats right. For every stance you take—for every post you share—read twice as many opposing articles. Not only can that further cement your position on a subject, but it may also enlighten you to the true issue at hand.

Despite the weight of an issue, it’s important to remain rational and choose leveled words when making an argument. Without the concept of moderation during critical events, we lose sight of what’s at the core of an issue.

Relevant example: there are enraged gunmen committing serious crimes at places one would never hope for. Regardless of what you feel is at the core of these events (whether it is gun control, fair coverage, or pure injustice), be cautious by how you intake new information. Not only heed caution when learning about such tragedies but practice temperance when speaking on it. We aren't surprised by how stories unfold, not because there isn’t crippling information, but because we have already predetermined our stance. Isn't it possible that you are immune to reason because you are so deep at one end of an issue? Aren't we all clouded by a plethora of right and wrong information?

Another relevant example: A chicken sandwich chain and the supposed jeopardy of free speech at one end of the extreme and freedom of religion at the other. Both sides can substantially argue that their first amendment rights are in question. If you are truly appalled by the situation, regardless of which end you stand on, make sure you empathize and rationalize yourself out of an extreme end. Failing to do so will cause your frustration to linger, in which case, your cause has already lost effectiveness. Think of the last time you read something by the extreme opposition and miraculously altered your views? Never. Rage fails us. So, do your research: what other corporations support groups that you feel are opposing your liberty? Or at the other end: Whom else do we quiet as a society for simply speaking their mind?

There is truth to both sides but radical ideas don't constitute a viable stance on their own.

Really, disproportional and bias news coverage is an old topic. However, the same way a physician takes an oath to practice honest care, journalists need to carry a heavier burden of presenting well-rounded information. Do justice to your beliefs and remain educated. It's been a work in progress for me to do this as I read/watch the news but it has provided me with a more positive psyche. Change the way you read, be weary of extreme language, and empathize generously to opposing arguments.

This is all my opinion so perhaps I sound extreme myself. If you are easily persuaded by this or don't agree at all, maybe I failed to make my point.  Also relevant: The Best New Show for America

Think Inside the Box

Don’t let it piss you off when you realize how easy it actually is to be happy in life. Around this time last year, I made one simple decision: make no resolutions. When you’re losing your mind, stressed about anything or everything, ask yourself: “Does it really even have to be this way?”

Most of us already have everything we need to lead a happy, stress free life. Before modern society, stress was good—necessary for basic survival instincts. Now, life has just become a list of demands and goals. Every time I sacrifice living life to study I ask, “Is this worth it?” I want to know the exact date in ancient history where civilization decided that life was about wanting more. To clarify, I love innovation. I would be saddened by any disruption to progress. However, happiness should not be the price we pay for change. We complicate life on our own. I also admire ambition but again, you have to consider its actual cost. If you spend a quarter of your life searching for your dream, the next half of your life achieving it, what was the point in the end?

Thinking and living inside the box is so underrated. Not once this past year did I feel “unhappy”. I accepted life. You don’t have to continuously feel grateful for your life to be happy either. Just know that achieving your ambitions is outside the box—not a matter to stress over. Unburden yourself to be happy.

1. Redefine “goals”

This year has been so cathartic because I finally stopped making rules. How “outside of the box” is it to know exactly where you’re headed all the time? If you don’t let your goals limit you, then you’ll probably end up achieving something everyday. Just do things that you’ll be happy about—it’s that simple.

Loopy?

2. Don’t bother having a personal “To-Do” list past #3 (or have a list at all).

Try to think of the last time you finished the first 3 things on your list and made it onto #4...Must have been a great day but no one can do that everyday. I used to create my own stress and disappointment by starting my day off with false expectations. As the days of feeling useless-ness piled up, the more daunting this list became. Everyday began with guilt from the previous days’ of un-accomplishment. I just got rid of it one day; I started living that day.

3. Stop Being Busy

This takes a lot of mental deconstruction. Do what’s truly important. Do less. Before you worry over what was pushed aside in the process, realize that it probably had no affect on anything. Think before you make commitments.Stop being busy and be still. The less you move the easier it will be to direct yourself to what’s necessary.

Very little in life demands risk so why isn’t everyone happy? Begin to accept that happiness doesn’t have to be an abstract concept or goal. Its difficult and ironically against our nature to live inside the box.

I have enjoyed every minute of the last 365 days. Forget making resolutions this year; just start living.

We Cannot Grow Without Accepting Our Weaknesses: The Economic Meltdown of 2008

I recently sat in on a Q&A with Federal Reserve Chairman, Ben Bernanke. It was aimed to answer questions that rose from our recent economic crisis and to help students of all ages understand the importance of personal financial literacy. Some key lessons/ideas I will seek to grow from:

Greatest Success and Greatest Failure of The Federal Reserve

During the Great Depression, the Federal Reserve failed to boost the money supply and stabilize the financial system. Consequently, in 2008-2009, the Fed took this lesson to heart—they prevented deflation and kept the banking industry from collapsing. A great achievement was in the 1970’s. The Fed brought down inflation, conquered it and achieved great prosperity. He urged the importance of students needing to understand the elements of stability and crisis management from the past and present.

 

Role of the Media in Consumer Confidence

The media controls a large portion of consumer and business confidence. We should keep a healthy amount of skepticism and decide for ourselves before placing too much or too little confidence in our economic health. We need to think for ourselves with a wide variety of sources (newspapers, channels, politicians and economists). Those who have prospered have always kept this in mind.

Monetary vs. Fiscal Policy

It is importance to know the difference because the Fed only deals with monetary policy. The Fed works independently from Congress its Fiscal Policy therefore, maintaining their nonpartisanship. Although we’re in a recovery, we are still struggling. According to Bernanke, we cannot cut taxes while increasing spending all at once. However, we need to be expansive in the short run and frugal in the long run. It’s a challenge. We need to somehow persuade the public that we need to tackle our long run debt and will in turn give us more space to be expansive.

Banks: Raise or Lower Risks?

Raising risks brought on the recession but not taking any risks has slowed down our growth. Should banks seek to build capital and stabilize or make more loans? Bernanke proclaims that banks should make loans to good borrowers to build capital—great for both businesses and our economy. However, we should now take a “balanced and appropriate” approach: healthy risks and lots of help for small businesses (85% of our economy).

The recession ended in June 2009. Why is there still slow growth?

Bernanke states, “It is not uncommon for recovery to be slow after such a financial crisis.” He mentions that banks were reluctant to make loans and cater to household finances. Consumers are saving (finally!) but spending has decreased. Ultimately, even though our labor market is expanding, we still feel little growth. Bernanke concludes that the suffering is diminishing and we should continue being hopeful.

What if the Fed didn’t collaborate with the Government?

Its true: we basically bailed out Wall Street. A combination of subprime mortgages, greedy business executives, and the lack of business regulations was the root of the bailouts.

This Frontline video is one of my favorites and it thoroughly explains the financial crisis of 2008.

Basically, loans were given to homebuyers despite investment banks being aware of its high risk. Insurance companies, like AIG, backed these loans with phenomenal ratings, entrusting them to attract other investors. Keep in mind that these insurance agencies maintain peoples pension and hedge funds. Companies like Goldman Sachs allegedly sold these loans, aware that they would fail, and bet against them (synthetic collateralized debt obligations).

In the end, the burden is left on the taxpayers.

So in 2008, the Fed had no choice but to step in. They tried to prevent a collapse of our economy, not to save Wall Street. They knew from history that the financial system is too important…its collapse would have been beyond devastating. Bernanke reiterates, “Although it was distasteful, it was necessary.” In September-October 2008, we came very close to a global financial system collapse. Actually, a couple of nations did have their economy collapse but most nations began issuing bailouts to prevent a deeper, greater meltdown. If the Fed did not collaborate with the Government, people would lose investments, retirement, and the wounds from this recession would be far from healing years later. It was all a successful attempt. The Feds actions were necessary because it affected every single American. In retrospect, we prevented being in a graver state like other nations. Many companies are also paying back their bailouts with interest. Bernanke concludes that, “as an economic historian, we really had to keep it from being worse.”

The toughest situations have the least popular policies. Patience and trust has never been so important, even beyond our economy.

Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act

I’m a business major but even I cannot ignore the need for reform. The Dodd-Frank/Consumer Protection Act passed in July and was comprehensive enough to mend our errors. It makes fundamental changes in our financial system: creates a stability oversight council and brings together the heads of all financial agencies. This reform greatly strengthens the provisions for regulators to oversee individual as well as the general whole of the various institutions. It closes many existing gaps in our system (there were previously no legal requirements for investment banks to be regulated).

It also creates a consumer protection agency. It has provisions that make bailouts unnecessary and illegal. We will have an agency to oversee it in the case that an institution is collapsing and the government will “size it down with no tax dollars spent…this legislation is, by far, the most sweeping since 1930”. The Great Depression lead to the creation of the FDIC and The Meltdown of 2008 lead to the Dodd-Frank/Consumer Protection Act.

So what’s an important lesson for our future generation: the students?

At the macro-level we can take note of how damaging financial instability can be on our society as a whole. Contrary to what I felt before, I’ve realized the enormous importance of Wall Street. Its near collapse jumpstarted a series of bailouts that were, regretfully, necessary. At the micro-level, we can learn a lesson in personal financial literacy. The basics of saving and budgeting as an individual have never seemed more crucial.

Note: I really do appreciate all the support, praise, and constructive criticism I receive. I don’t know why more people don’t question my thoughts and ideas because I’m pretty debatable. I cannot hope to improve my style or rhetoric without criticism.

What Stops Being Cool After Turning 20 (if not sooner!)

1. Disregarding the Importance of Politics How many “F*** politics” have you seen under people’s Information on social network sites? The count is disheartening. Some feel that discussing politics is tacky or don’t want to reveal their personal affiliations- that’s great, not a terrible attribute at all. Those who just don’t care or are under the false impression that Politics doesn’t affect them need a drastic eye opener.

I guess as Americans we have grown comfortable to our daily lives and easily lose sight of the effects of politics. I don’t want to turn this into a lecture so to cut it short: if you want to succeed and prosper in life, you need to stay informed.

2. Not Paying For Any Music

Not many have thought to buy a CD since 2001 with the introduction of iPods and mp3 players popularizing. Since piracy is a general issue that has yet to be resolved, it is your personal duty as an adult to support the artists you love. A really dumb argument to make is that “they’re already wealthy enough”-its not even the money; it’s the principal of it all.

3. Hating to Read

Pretend you have time for it. How do you get through college by hating to read? There are books out there for all interests and thinkers. Saying you hate to read is like not having any thoughts. Reading is knowledge and knowledge is progress and a lack of progress is a meaningless life. I guess a loophole to not enjoying reading is being an audio/visual learner. Regardless, unless you’re sitting in on lectures or watching really amazing documentaries or movies, you are just missing out!

4. Neglecting the Use of Proper, Basic Grammar/Punctuation/Spelling

Dis iz a pet peeve 4 most ppl & if ur still talking lyke dis nd mixing up ur there theyre theirs thAn rest assured ur bein reevaluated. (My Mac book had a red squiggly seizure with that sentence.)

Note to the 5% of idiots in their 20’s: I have had people laugh at my face/admire me because I use “big words” and sound “very intellectual” when I’m speaking to them…. ARE YOU SERIOUS? They are not “SAT words”, they’re just NORMAL words you should casually be using already. Vocabulary does end in 8th grade.

5. Leading a Passion-less Life

Everything with substance, greatness, and inspiration came from a step taken with passion. No one wants to be with a dead beat. After a year or two into college, the experimenting phase should come to a close so that you can start working towards what you're passionate about. To still be uncertain about your interests and hobbies at this point would be concerning.

6. Assuming You Have Already Grasped All of Life’s Lessons

Wisdom is infinite. People in their twenties ironically tend to be the least humble—I would know! The toughest trials bring me down to size and make me realize that I have just started. You can honestly measure the amount of wisdom within in a person not by their age, but by their humility.

7. Being a Sheep

Your mother gave you a life so live it. As an ex sheep, I know the burden of chasing an image, trying please others, and letting the views of parents and peers infringe upon my own. It really is rewarding to know that who you are is more than a product of what you’ve seen but rather what you’ve learned. Before you blindly proclaim your views on a political topic, choose your major, or decide anything, get the facts. By opening your mind, listening, attempting to see things from different perspectives and diversifying your news sites, you really will find out more about yourself than anything else.

8. Not Keeping Up With Current Events

It really is a tad unnerving to be the last one to hear about a catastrophe or new changes. Keeping updated locally, nationally, and globally will greatly broaden your interests and causes in life. Diversify your sources and subjects because it really does feel pitiful to be left out of a conversation.

To Infinity And Beyond: Generation Alpha

Generation Alpha My mother hates it when I refer to myself as an “American” because I am, first and foremost, Bengali. Well, someone has to be American, right? Its no longer “white people” and it never really was. Generations X,Y and Z are differentiated according to pop culture, technology, and mentality- each churning our melting pot a bit more.  Born between the start of the 80's and the Clinton scandal, I belong in Generation Y. Anyone before Y is either a Baby Boomer, or their child: Generation X.

There isn’t much analytical research on this (not online at least) so the specific cut offs for the generations vary. Its easier to distinguish each of these unique time periods with labels for the varying characteristics and motives.

Generation X 1965-1979

Generation Y 1980-1997

Generation Z 1997-2010

Generation AA 2010-…

Generation X has a subculture rooted against the norm. They caught up on music and even fashion from MTV, knew the importance of higher education, and like my parents, felt America to be the model society. They left home, liberated society, and made progress a major goal.

I feel lucky to have been born in the time frame for Generation Y. Computers shrunk before my eyes, one of the greatest Presidents was involved in a scandal, history was made with the attacks of 9/11, the King of Pop died, our first African American President was elected and social networking became a hobby-this list is beyond extensive. “No Surprises” would best fit this Generation because we have dealt with an intensive amount of change.

The children in our current society are already an intriguing biproduct of America’s melting pot, exponential progression in technology and societal views. Both Generation Y and Z are crucial targets for the media and advertising because they were inherently raised to keep up with the times. Generation Z has a major head start on everything-using technology, making their own social rules, and accepting change. While Generation Y is a part of the main workforce, Generation Z will be graduating high school and discovering the limits to all that we are accustomed to now.

The past decade has included murmurs about the bad side effects of extended cell phone usage, our role in global warming, loss of traditional values and major changes in human communication. Traditional structures of family no longer apply-children born out of wedlock and divorces are becoming alarmingly common. These are all issues we face but what does it mean for Generation A, my offspring?

Generation A will be born accepting the desire for the highest formal education- attending college will probably be required for any profession. Technology will likely have a base in everyday functions. The internet paired with smartphones have already facilitated getting directions, mass spread of knowledge to even picking a place for lunch. I read and know everything just on Twitter at least minutes before it airs on any news channel. The constant need to keep up, progress further, and establish a mark will be the greatest and toughest aspect of Generation A. It’s a little daunting to think that social networking, smaller families, text etiquette, etc. will passage into a life style rather than mere choice.

Of course, these are only my predictions. As a Bengali-American, I feel like I’m a part of the experiment group. I juggle two cultures, languages-all in the midst of practicing a faith in a society that is based on constant change. Different cultures and backgrounds are still fascinating in America but will they be once the cultures Generation Z and A, B, etc. are only defined as American? Perhaps Generation A will grow weary of the race to the future and strive to head back to their roots. Maybe my children will be more curious about their ancestral roots and opt out of a semi-real society based on the Internet. Maybe the Kindle will seem like a joke to them and paperback books will once again be cherished. Generation A may become economically savvy to contrast its parent, Generation Y, who has spent more in a time of recession than any other. I personally feel that there will be a great backlash against our current culture into a focus on simpler goals and traditional values. Ideally, Generation A will reignite a movement similar to the renaissance and take more political initiative- finally putting original definition to "American".

Generation A will be a pivotal outcome of all that we have placed importance on today. They have no option but to be pioneers for greater social, cultural, and technological changes. And with our greater life expectancy, we should all be alive to see it.

Who Really Wins?

Sarah Palin's Facebook Posts July 22 An Intolerable Mistake On Hallowed Ground (Excerpts)

Earlier today, Mayor Bloomberg responded to my comments about the planned mosque at Ground Zero by suggesting that a decision not to allow the building of a mosque at that sacred place would somehow violate American principles of tolerance and openness…Many Americans, myself included, feel it would be an intolerable and tragic mistake to allow such a project sponsored by such an individual to go forward on such hallowed ground. This is nothing close to “religious intolerance,” it’s just common decency.

- Sarah Palin

August 14 Legitimate Questions for the President

Mr. President, should they or should they not build a mosque steps away from where radical Islamists killed 3000 people? Please tell us your position. We all know that they have the right to do it, but should they? And, no, this is not above your pay grade. If those who wish to build this Ground Zero mosque are sincerely interested in encouraging positive "cross-cultural engagement" and dialogue to show a moderate and tolerant face of Islam, then why haven't they recognized that the decision to build a mosque at this particular location is doing just the opposite? Mr. President, why aren't you encouraging the mosque developers to accept Governor Paterson's generous offer of assistance in finding a new location for the mosque on state land if they move it away from Ground Zero? Why haven't they jumped at this offer? Why are they apparently so set on building a mosque steps from what you have described, in agreement with me, as "hallowed ground"? I believe these are legitimate questions to ask.

-  Sarah Palin

It wasn’t until I read this that I realized how ridiculous this Islamic Centre near Ground Zero issue has become.  Sarah Palin, among many others, has adamantly opposed the building of the Manhattan mosque to preserve the honor of the victims of 9/11. I can’t say fully understand the reasoning behind the terrorist attacks on the twin towers because no reason will ever justify that kind of massacre. Yes, the attacks demoralized Americans and furthered the understanding of, what should be considered, a peaceful religion. However, to discourage building a place to manifest the true nature of Islam only fuels the people at both radical ends.

On one side you have this ignorant “politician” and justifiably angry citizens who carry a disdain towards Muslims all together after the attack. According to Palin, who has endlessly voiced in her naïve opinion on this, “This is not an issue of religious tolerance but of common moral sense... a stab in the heart of the families of the innocent victims of those horrific attacks.”

I definitely understand the anger behind this issue. It seems outrageous to build an Islamic Center near those grounds. However, to deny a certain group of faith their right to do so infringes on the very fundamental rights we are seeking to defend against the radical terrorists. “By doing so, it is my hope that the mosque will help to bring our City even closer together and help repudiate the false and repugnant idea that the attacks of 9/11 were in any way consistent with Islam,” states Mayor Bloomberg in his speech defending the building. To go back on the principles that America most cherishes let’s the terrorists win and the victims die in vain.

And on the other side, we have people who want to build this Islamic Center despite the anger it will arouse. If after 9 years since the incident, Islam is still misunderstood and tied to justifying terrorism, then what good will this Center do now? What is the purpose of still wanting to build this mosque even though it will clearly fall into further discrimination and possibly face much vandalism? Because if it's being built to build better relations and minimize the divide between Americans and Muslims, it's failing so far. Then again, a point is to be made.  And it really has been with weeks of endless debates over this site. I think that instead of having 11 stories to exemplify Islam, they should split up the Center to manifest the good in all faiths and create a memorial to further honor the victims of 9/11.

The basic point I’m trying to make is that it is hypocritical for us to deny these citizens their right to build a place of worship on private property. Mayor Bloomberg precisely made this point when he states,

“We would betray our values and play into our enemies hands if we were to treat Muslims differently than anyone else. In fact, to cave to popular sentiment would be to hand a victory to the terrorists and we should not stand for that... We do not honor their lives by denying the very constitutional rights they died protecting..”

I avoid reading anything Sarah Palin posts on facebook because most of it is geared towards fueling hatred towards our President. A truly legitimate question to ask would be why she believes she is adequate enough to run our country. Anyway, I’m tired of seeing this on the news and coming across messages like these. It is every leaders duty to protect what we preach to others. I’m moderately surprised and glad that President Obama also stood up and defended the building of this Islamic Center in order to preserve the constitutional principle of religious freedom and equal treatment.

Don't Hurry that Curry

You can always tell a lot about a person just by the way they order their food at a restaurant. Their life, personality, mindset and even education can manifest its self as they place an order. I’m sure this is no surprise to those who have gone on their first dates with a person and can quickly determine within the first 5 minutes whether or not a second date is in question. When I’m working with my dad at his restaurant, I can’t help but notice the way people walk in, contemplate their appetite, and place their trust unto us to satisfy it. While working this summer I’ve found the restaurant business to be like a game- one that requires you to quickly figure out your players and their moves. Mannerisms and social interactions give away everything. The adventurous type will always try something new and bold. The tame and lame will order the least spiciest item and return only to eat the same thing, refusing to try anything else. The leaders will walk in and order for everyone at their table. The followers will always “get what he’s getting”. The Pakistanis love the beef. The Bengalis adore the fish. The Indians like the buttermilk curries. The Africans love goat. The Asians love, love the Biryanis (this one makes me laugh the most). I love meeting non- South Asians who know Indian dishes. It really impresses for me for some reason just because I wouldn’t even call myself a connoisseur in Indian cooking. Noticing all these things is necessary if you want to maximize your sales and customer satisfaction, I promise I’m not uselessly being a creep.

The Worst Customers:

Non-white females- Oh, my, GOD. Probably the most indecisive, demanding, and pickiest eaters you will ever encounter in your life. I’m going to guess they come to America with the mindset of “Give them nothing! But take from them everything,” because they will refuse to either order enough or pay enough. Note to women: you are not freaking Spartans! Furthermore, women tend to endlessly ask questions- of all kinds. I was once asked what shape our ice cubes were. Really? Was that necessary, you woman?! Of course, I’m making generalizations here because I have met very interesting, well-rounded foreign females while working. But as a group I would like to say that this holds true- they are the center of their own little delusional worlds.

Shout out to white girls: thanks for being not so difficult.

The Best Customers:

No surprise, males. Of all backgrounds. To sum it up, I’ve concluded that they are more daring, determined, and well, nicer. When guys walk into a restaurant the purpose to them is very clear- they are there to eat. They need, they want and then they get. It’s that simple. The funniest (and probably the saddest) observation I’ve made is that men are a lot more cheerful when they come out with their guy friends rather than their wives. One guy came twice in the same day and the difference in his mood was beyond significant. He first came with his wife timid with a few occasional smiles. He seemed like a normal nice guy. A few hours later he came in laughing and completely unrestrained with a bunch of “his guys”.

Note to these guys: Grow a pair. Don’t ever let her push you around. She’ll eventually respect you more.

I know it’s borderline wrong of me to categorize our customers by gender and race but running a restaurant is a complicated game you have to learn to quickly master. My dad and I can admit that we shamelessly make fun of a lot of people and their awkward behaviors or demanding tendencies. These laughs, however, come with the heavy price. Forget the food and forget the upkeep- the amount of toleration and patience needed to run an Indian restaurant is tremendous. Although playing the game can quickly become taxing on my nerves, I do somehow, enjoy it.

Yeah, I’m pretty self-conscious at restaurants now.