Thursday, June 24, 2010

Embedded.com - COMMENTARY - Why engineers don't like Twitter

Embedded.com - COMMENTARY - Why engineers don't like Twitter

Twitter is one of the most popular social networking tools around today. But of the 50 million+ “Tweets” broadcast daily (according to Twitter), not all that many are being sent or received by engineers, many of whom say they just aren’t buying into the micro-blogging service based on “140-characters or less” text messages.
In a recent EE Times survey of 285 engineers, 85% reported that they don’t use Twitter. More than half indicated that the statement “I don’t really care what you had for breakfast,” best sums up their feelings about it; others characterized it as “a ridiculous waste of time and electrons” or expressed the strong desire for it to simply “go away.”

In the same survey, the frequency distribution of responses was heavily skewed toward “not-at-all-loving-it,” with 20% firmly in the “hate it” camp.
“The amount of information in a tweet is not worth the time spent looking at it,” asserts Jeffrey Tuttle, a hardware design engineer with 20 years of experience. “To be productive when doing design you need long periods of uninterrupted thought. Twitter by its nature is intrusive and interruptive. Consequently it seems to be for those people who don’t have enough to do.”
When the topic of Twitter came up at a recent EE Times-sponsored focus group, Tuttle feigned horror, forming a cross with his index fingers and holding them up as if attempting to ward off an evil vampire. Which, come to think of it, isn’t such a bad analogy given how often engineers describe Twitter as a time suck.


Read more at the link above!
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It's great to know that people (sane people) do agree that Twitter is a complete time waste and totally a twit of a thing to do! I mean seriously, all you're doing hour after hour is sending out updates about anything random, just to have poeple see and reply to your tweets! It may be highly addictive. But with all addictions, it's not good. The article above was such a relief :P. But it does say that there were engineers who liked Twitter for the reason that they could easily have product updates and keep connected to industry personnel. So there are two views to it. What does the general Pakistani Twitter addicts do ?? Decide for yourself :P. All you need to do is look around and keep your eyes opened.


Outrageous!

The other day I was talking to this girl I know regarding her final year project and what's becoming of it. She seemed so relaxed, especially since her project submission date was coming up. The conversation b/w her and me went like this:

Me: So how come you're not worried about your FYP?
She: Oh, well you know, thesis part is easy.
Me: How come?
She: Wellll. All I have to do is scour the internet and cut and paste stuff from various sources. Viola! Thesis made!
Me: *speechless actually*.. but said: Erm. Okay.
(Didn't have the guts to actually say it out loud what a lousy way it was to do a project).
She: Hardware part is the tricky one. But that's kinda done too.
Me: Oh. So you guys didn't have any difficulty?
She: *with a laugh*. Oh we never made it...
Me: What!???
She: Well, we had an external. That supervisor isn't even attending our calls.
Me: Whatttttttttt?
She: So he's going to make the hardware. He took money for it.
Me: *eyes nearly popping out*.. money???
She: Yeah. We each coughed up 10k, and we're 6 students. The total hardware cost by the way is only 20k roundabout. I'm telling you.
Me: So why the heck did you pay the extra money! Kyuun!
She: *smirking at me as if I'm the most stupid idiot on the planet*... the rest of the money, my dear friend, goes into the pocket of this supervisor and the chairman of our dept, who hired him.
Me: *finally really speechless*

Monday, June 21, 2010

The show - idiotic poem

It's a matter of seconds
As they run, and run
Then they hit, and they run
And we watch
Watch them wide-eyed
Eye them wearily
Slack-jawed that we are
Are so immersed
In their work

It's a matter of micro-seconds
Now, that there is
An aura of urgency
That lies heavy in the air
The air that breaths
Breathes tension, and excitement
Excited that we are
And moronic, we stare
Stare at their work

Not much time left now
Now that the moment
Is at hand
Our hands tremble a lil
As somebody screams
The shouts mix with the noise
Noise of the crowd
The crowd that's energized
Watching their work

And it is time
The time that was awaited
The man runs
Runs towards another
Swings it, and the ball is swung
For a six
And we watch in horror
Horror at their work

I so want to kick the Pakistani cricket team. Really hard.

Copyright Uni_Disgruntledoony_2010

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Malik denies report on ‘grey telephony’

ISLAMABAD: Interior Minister Rehman Malik seemed to be calling for a new libel law in the National Assembly on Wednesday as he denied heading any longer a London-based telecom company that allegedly benefited because of him from favourable government policies about the so-called grey telephony. 

Interrupting the general debate on the new budget, the minister reacted angrily to criticism by an opposition member, Tahira Aurangzeb of the PML-N, who called for his removal from the cabinet on the basis of a Dawn report that described him as chairman of Rodcom Europe.
He said he had founded Rodcom when he was in exile in Britain, but left it before joining the present government and that, following his advice to his partner to wind it up, “that company does not exist now”.
The minister called for setting up a house committee to probe the matter and offered to resign from the cabinet as well as the Senate if the report involving him in the affair were proved correct. But he said those criticising him must also resign if the allegations against him were proved wrong.

Read more here.

-----------------------------------------------
Something from a Cached Google Page:

Rodcom Europe Limited was formed in 2001 with the intention of becoming a specialised VOIP company offering a limited number of high quality routes to a limited number of high quality customers.

Our early destinations were mainly to eastern Europe and Pakistan soon joined them when the VOIP licenses were first issued in 2003. The company's activities in Pakistan have grown to the level where we are now oone of the top 5 senders of Pakistan calls in Europe. We pride ourselves in working closely within our target countries to ensure we understand the maket and can offer our customers the highest possible levels of quality coupled with the lowest possible levels of price.

The company is very proud to have Dr A. Rehman Malik as Chairman of Rodcom Europe ltd and the company sits together with the others under his wing giving us a truly global profile, ranging from television and I.T. to security and ecological transport.

Source

Ho!

And funnily enough, when we try to access the Rodcom Europe page, this comes...

Double Ho!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Chotey Nana

Assalamualaikum

The day started with some really sad news. Somebody who I was very highly acquainted with (without meeting him much, imagine), passed away this morning (Friday shabb) around 2 am. Inna lillahe wa inna ilaihe raajeoon. The story behind Chotey Nana is an interesting one and it has some great great lessons associated with it.

Well, my association with Chotey Nana was literally none (only my Dad knew the family pretty well since a long time). I got to know a little bit about him when I came to be friends with Andy, a really good friend of mine. The initial A Level days were simply full of fun and laughter, with a load of mention of many relatives of hers, and one of them was Chotey Nana, her nana's younger brother. It's a great big happy family MA, and this person was one of the jolliest additions to it.

Later on, I got to know even more about Chotey Nana because Andy happened to become his daughter-in-law ... :) and the times she used to describe her ''new'' (not really) family to me, there was always this special mention of her ''susr'' (dad in law) who was so much fun to be with and a joy to have around.

Around three weeks back, a rather sudden news came that Chotey Nana had a really high fever (106 !!), and he has been taken to the hospital, unconscious. Dad was involved in the whole treatment that followed. Poor Chotey Nana didn't come out of coma at all. He had had kidney failure and multiple complexities all added up. Now here's the lesson-learning bits. The doctors had advised very gently to the family that it really will be of no use to continue dialysis (he had been undergoing that since the renal failure), and it would be best if that treatment is stopped. My dad used to get calls from Chotey Nana's eldest son imploring how in the world could he take this kind of decision knowing that if it resulted in his father passing away or something, he wouldn't be able to forgive himself.

Imagine the aazmaish (trial) people. We can't even imagine this kind of trouble befalling our parents/family, and ooper say you have to make a choice that whether you'd like to cling to any hope available or trust the judgment of vastly experienced doctors. Sigh. My dad also advised them to opt out of dialysis for their dad and to let things run their course. He visited the hospital, saw Chotey Nana's condition, and was sad to inform them that it really will be of no earthly use to continue dialysis.

Chotey Nana has three sons. And all went extremely out of their way to give their father the best possible treatment and to make him as comfortable as they can possibly do so. This was so remarkable in days where we hear of parents being shoved into old homes and not taken care of in the least. Children who are abroad (and do have the choice and means to come back/visit), but they don't because they simply don't care. And many more examples. But these sons did a LOT, and Alhamdulillah, I believe Chotey Nana was blessed indeed to have such a good family and offspring. His one and only daughter, who happens to be married abroad was also able to come here and MA, she spent the last days here with her dad too. The daughter was able to console her mother and make her get through this extremely tough time. These children really did justice to this Ayah of the Holy Quran:

Thy Lord hath decreed that ye worship none but Him, and that ye be kind to parents. Whether one or both of them attain old age in thy life, say not to them a word of contempt, nor repel them, but address them in terms of honour. And, out of kindness, lower to them the wing of humility, and say:  My Lord! Bestow on them thy Mercy even as they cherished me in childhood. (17:23)


Today when the news came in, I didn't know what to feel. Extreme sadness... or a kind of relief that Chotey Nana was finally out of the misery he was in. As Andy told me today, he was in a LOT of pain. And dialysis had been discontinued for three days now. So you can imagine the halat, no kidney working,,, and no dialysis either. :(:(

The scene at their house today was a really heart-wrenching one. I couldn't watch Choti Nani, really, she was so upset. But I couldn't help admiring her too, because even though she was burdened with the humongous loss, she was composed (not wailing and completely out of control, like I have seen many ladies on these days).

The whole family followed the Sunnah way of burial (which means no extra stuff like flowers/what not on the grave and pakki grave etc etc, everything was simple and without any extras).

May Allah Grant him a complete new slate wiped clean of all sins, for the intense pain he suffered here for more than 20 days. And may Allah Grant him a lovely place in Jannat ul Firdous, and amazing sabr to the whole family who chipped in and did their best to help out their parent - also, give special reward to the children of Chotey Nana who fulfilled their responsibility and were there for their father, when he needed them. Ameen. Please say Ameen to all who read this, so that the dua'a is prayed from your side too.

Finally, one Hadith that scares the living daylights out of me, and this is the basis on which I am ready to forget every goal/dream/PhD plans/blah I have ever had...

Abu Huraira reported Prophet Muhammad as saying: Let him be humbled into dust; let him be humbled into dust. It was said: God's Messenger, who is he? He said: He who sees either of his parents during their old age or he sees both of them, but he does not enter Paradise (because he has been undutiful to them). (Muslim)

Take care people and take care of your parents. They're a treasure that we usually do take for granted.





Thursday, June 17, 2010

Govt loses Rs30 billion in taxes - ugh, what thieves!

ISLAMABAD, June 14: The government is facing an estimated annual revenue loss of over Rs 30 billion on account of ‘grey telephony’ under which international calls are re-routed through local — often illegal — exchanges to avoid local taxes, mainly because of policies designed apparently to favour a sitting powerful minister.

The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has been reducing approved settlement rates for international calls terminating in Pakistan with a stated objective of reducing incentive for grey traffic. But the authority increased these rates soon after the PPP-led government came into power in Feb 2008.

The PTA now admits that its policy of raising ASR was ‘misused’ by some operators, but says that “no estimates for the volume of grey traffic and the annual loss for it are available”.

One of the leading beneficiaries of the grey traffic is Rodcom Europe, now being renamed as Hollywell Solutions. Rehman Malik, the sitting interior minister, is the chairman of London-based Rodcom Europe — a specialised VOIP (voice-over internet protocol) company established in 2001 “offering a limited number of high quality routes to a limited number of high quality customers”, according to the company website.

It says its early destinations were mainly to Europe and “Pakistan soon joined them when VOIP licences were first issued in 2003.” Rodcom’s activities in Pakistan, the website claimed, “have grown to a level where we are now one of the top five senders of Pakistan calls in Europe

The lack of transparency on the part of the government makes it next to impossible to figure out whether or not Rodcom’s activities are legal. The government contends that not all VOIPs are illegal, but the PTA refuses to provide details about operators registered with them.

This, observers conclude, suggests that most of them are operating in violation of rules and without paying taxes.

Regardless of whether or not Rodcom is operating legally, Rehman Malik’s ownership of the company raises moral and ethical questions. “That a federal minister who oversees law enforcement agencies which are required to curb such illegal telephone calls, should own a company involved in this business is clearly a conflict of interest,” an observer said.

Read more here.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

If I could have any toy in the world...

I would go for these... **deep sigh**

1. Crystal Growing Kit

This kit has everything you need to grow 4 different types of crystal formations. Three of them grow in clusters and the fourth is a solitary crystal specimen. Growing crystals is super easy too, so you'll be having fun and enjoying the glittering fruits of your labor in hours and days (which is incredible considering it takes the Earth millions and millions of years). Take that, Planet Earth! And this crystal kit is the gift that keeps on giving, as once you've made your crystals, you can share (or sell) them. Learning and profit all rolled into one - isn't science grand?

2. Edge Robotic Arm Kit
With a bit of tinkering, and no soldering you'll have a passable replacement for your own meaty appendage. Five axes of robotic movement are at your command with the wired remote. Command the gripper to open and close, wrist motion of 120 degrees, an extensive elbow range of 300 degrees, base rotation of 270 degrees, base motion of 180 degrees, vertical reach of 15 inches, horizontal reach of 12.6 inches, and lifting capacity of 100g. whew!
 
3. MSI GX740 Gaming Notebook
You get a 17-inch screen with a 1680 x 1050 resolution, 4GB of RAM, and a 500GB HDD. The notebook has an ATI HD 5870 graphics card with 1GB of GDDR5 RAM. Power comes from a 9-cell battery and the machine uses a new Intel Core i5 CPU according to the MSI website. Apparently, other configurations will be offered as well.



4. Flying Alarm Clocks

When it is time to rise and shine, you can not procrastinate with this little baby in the room. As the alarm goes off, it starts it propeller and takes off around the room. You must get up and chase it or you might be dived bombed at some point by the swirling copter. This is an innovative job by the folks over at GetDigital. We look forward to seeing their next creation . . .
 5. Alien: Facehugger!
**grinning from ear to ear**


6. Understand the Large Hadron Collider With a Spectacularly Detailed Pop-up Book Voyage to the Heart of Matter: The Atlas Experiment at CERN is a collaboration between authors Emma Sanders and Anton Radevsky that was produced with the assistance of “nearly 40 physicists” who “provided scientific guidance, photos, and sketches of various parts.”
If anyone knows of a simpler, better way to describe the principals behind the Large Hardon Collider, I’d like to hear it.


As my mum would say ''hazaaron khwaishain aisi'' :S:S

Monday, June 14, 2010

Ahhh - whyy?

Questions with no real answers :D

1. Why does one's head becomes incredibly heavy after only 3 pages of a 7-page research publication?
2. Why is it so difficult to decide which specific pinpointed area do you want to research in?
3. Why isn't there a concept of a supervisor (who can actually guide you to that pinpoint) present in this country?
4. If such supervision is present, why don't I have access to it?

Oh well :D. I have access to the most amazing journals on this planet free of cost. I should make FULL use of it. Man, what an internship ...

*goes happily back to the paper with a heavy head*

So long! The funny thing is, the place where I'm sitting right now, nobody seems as happy as me to be sitting here availing these facilities.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

More good stuff - and 10th June :D

AoA

Somehow, I usually forget the more worthier stuff to mention on blog. I want to make this post a huge reminder. Why?

1. So that I come back here, look at it, and vow to follow ''things up''
2. Whenever I'm 'too busy' I look back and find that things are better if we take out time for 'worthy stuff'
3. I should never give up - till I do ''it all''

:S. So yeah, remember my lofty plans of learning Surah Baqarah?

Well, I wanted to mark the occasion when I did 10 Rukuhs, and Alhamdulillah, I am on the 12th one now. :D It's SUCH an amazing feeling to be knowing this much of the portion of the Holy Quran (and with the meanings, and with word to word translation- courtesy the Quran class). It feels like heaven, really.

 
But there is so much more to do. I mean, there are 40 Rukuhs. And then - that's only Surah Baqarah done. What about my becoming a Hafiza dream :S...

Okay, I shouldn't scare myself so much at this point. Lemme just make lil mounds/hills to leap through... not make a Himalaya and then mope when I can't cross it.

Okay, now to the number 16 guessing business. I'm two days late though. Remember the post, where I talked about a number ''16'' and asked the question : what could be the significance of this number in pakistan?

:D. Well... the answer is....


Well, it's the SPEED. 16 Mbps is the internet speed that's being offered to users at the place where Im doing an internship this summer Insha Allah. :D. The 10th June deal was that this was supposed to be our orientation day, but now it's been shifted. So 16 Mbps :D Ahem. That may not sound big to many. But for humble old me... hello. For somebody like me who regularly becomes jal bhun key kebab (very indignant) over the miserable 1Mbps broadband that I have, this is 16 times more exciting. 16 times better browsing, 16 times faster downloads and ...er, okay. I should stop now. 

Fibre links rock :D

Friday, June 11, 2010

Good stuff :)

Assalamualaikum

What an absolutely exhausting day. I don't think I've been on the road this much in 24 hours (counting out any trips, picnics) :D. The day started at 5 am, when I had to accompany Chotpo to the airport. She had to go to ISB. I had been invited to go too and despite longing for a vacation, politely declined... *grinning*. Nobody parts with this amount of money just for two plane rides in 24 hours.

So it was an amazing drive where we saw the sun rise and all, Alhamdulillah. It was beyond beautiful. I wish I had a camera with me. Or my phone camera had lightening capture feature :S. Anyhow, we reached back home around 7.30 where I could only drop into bed and hope that time passes reaalllyyy slowly till 9am.

At 9am I was woken up by Dad for breakfast, and after doing that I was hoping time passes reaalllyy slowly since had to pick sis up at 12, and had to leave by 11.30. Btw when you check your mails and all, time doesn't really pass slowly :P.

Went to pick up sis, and the drive was a horror :S:S. Police check points and a lot of ranger activity in the city. Actually, the brother of the person killed last week was shot dead yesterday :(:(. Inna lillahe wa inna illaihee rajeoon. I don't know what's happening to the city, seriously.

Finally, reached her place, and bolted up the stairs to their house. At that time, I could hear a mixture of sounds.. :D. One sound was of bhanju wanju crying and whining, and the other sound was my sis scolding him quite loudly :D:D:D... (I mean hello!! How would a lil baby understand if you order him to eat something you're feeding him out of a bowl) :D:D.... eh eh eh eh.

I entered the place, grinning at the hassled face of sis the priss and the red-faced toddler sitting in his high chair, looking highly indignant :D. The minute he saw me, his expression changed, completely. Man, you should have seen the transformation. Sis scowled as the kid cackled and laughed, trying to wriggle out of his high chair and take a flying leap into his Khala's arms. :D Awwwwwwwwwwwwwwww - *melts* Masha Allah multiplied by a gazillion!

Khair, sis now ordered me to ''keep him laughing so that his mouth remains open while I push in more food till the bowl is empty" ... hahahaha. So my job now was to act like a complete clown. The kid expects that (and respects that too :P)... and remained cackling with laughter. Finally, the bowl of food finished, and the mum and kid safely in my car to be taken home.

Again, same idiotic traffic :S. Terrible, really. I think people have become crazier in the past 6 months or so. They're more impatient, everybody wants to ''go first'' and nobody minds staring rudely when they themselves are coming from the 'wrong way' and you try to navigate your car so that they are forced to brake. Sigh.

Reached home. Made rice. Hurriedly did stuff. Then lunch, and slept for a while. In the evening, had to go to nani's house since she leaves tomorrow for the UK to see her son :S. My mamu - please everybody, say a lil dua (prayer) for him - had to undergo radiation therapy, for a tumour in his brain. He's veryyy young :( and has lil kids. So nani nana (who would never agree to go anywhere) have agreed to go on this 6-month journey. Sigh, 6 months is a looong time. I hope this time passes by reaaaallllyyyy fast.

So went to nani's - had a load of fun there. SO many visitors, all sitting and chatting comfortably, and sooooo many kids, so meri Eid :D. Finally, left from there, sis was picked up from there by TB and we reached home by 10.30pm.

Ahem. The day ain't over. We had to go to the airport, to pick up Chotpo since her flight was due to land at 12. And since our house is 45 mins away from the airport in medium traffic, we had to leave again at 11.15. Sighh :P. But before leaving, a text message from a friend came "Hey, what's your result??" ... I was like ''The result is OUT??? Itni jaldi?? I mean, we just got over exams!''

Then another text from another friend came ''Hey! You got both As!'' .. and I was like ...whaattttt :D... then dad and mum came, and said Mubarak ho :D:D. Man, am I happy or what. This was a semester when I had Quran classes and I was SURE that it would affect this education, and Alhamdulillah, Alhamdulillah, it surely didn't :). I'm seriously happy today. Cuz, I have realised that it is not impractical to think that one can manage BOTH deen and dunya education at the same time. Allah Taala, you have one GRATEFUL bandi here.

Khair, then went to the airport, and had a nice tea there (Chotpo's flight was a lil late). She came out after a while and we all went home.

One thing I forgot to mention. Good thing I mean. At nani's place, there were other guests too yeah. So one of the umm, mamis I think (dun rem the relation darn) asked me whether I was doing a job or left it. I replied that I left it, because it wasn't feasible with MS. She nodded in understanding, and Mum, who was listening to this, inserted her comment "Well, she isn't doing any job also because her mum asked her not to and she would be all alone in the house from morning till evening'' ... :S The lady nodded again and said that she really understands this and it isn't easy to be alone all the time etc.

And me, I was awashed in so much guilt at this :S:S. I mean, here I am, complaining my head off because I'm not allowed to work and leave house from 9 to 5. And the loser moron that I am, I don't and never really realised that (if we're girls), then our mums do really need us with them (if they're not really well and can't work on their own), and it's our duty (at least in this day and age of online jobs) to be with them and do what they ask of us. I mean, what more can a daughter really give back to her mom? Nothing can actually make up for the work they did for us when we were small (and btw, I was also lactose intolerant :$ and that means more work than normal). Absolutely nothing.

So here I am, again, very grateful for the opportunity I have right now to help out at home, and even though that nullifies my wish of higher studies abroad, it still gives me great pleasure to:

1. Earn some sawaab (blessings) in life
2. Help out at home and not make mum feel lonely
3. Have a really special bond with the lil dude: nephew I mean.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Recipe: Mangoe Mould with Chocolate Sprinkles

Assalamualaikum

As promised to a commentator, here's the recipe. It wasn't an internet one :S.. so no CPS (Copy-Paste-Sahoolat)

Things you need
1. Aqal
2. Gelatin (spelling maaf) - 1 tbsp
3. Stove and hot water - 1/4 cup H2O
4. Mango pulp (1 and a half cups)
5. Milk (2 cups)
6. Er, I'll write more as I write method
7. Aha! I knew I'll remember. Sugar (1 cup)
8. Double Aha. You also need 3 eggs separated (yolks and whites alag alag)
9. Cream (1 cup)

Method:

1. Dissolve the gelatin in water on mid-level heat (:D - I seriously dunno how to convey a recipe). Khair, so it will form ugly looking blobs at first, but with the heat, the geletin WILL dissolve. Have a lil faith.

2. Take the egg yolks, add them to the milk, mix well. Add in the mango pulp. Put on stove

3. Let it cook for 5 mins or so, add the sugar. The mixture will thicken. Then mix in the gelatin slowly slowly. (gelatin smells foul, that's normal okay?).

4. Take the egg whites, and mix it will (till it stiffens - thats what the recipe said, but I dunno what stiffen is.. so I just moved a spoon in it at high speed for about 5 seconds).

5. Take (ohoo..that's number 9!) the cream, and beat it well. No stiffen wiffen. And add it to the cooking pulpy mixture.

6. Add the egg whites to the pulpy mixture. That's your last step.

Conclusion:

1. Take the cooking pot off stove and set it to cool.
2. Optionally (it wasn't there in the recipe), when the mixture cools, sprinkle some chocolate crushed in your hand (:D).... and give a nice brown texture on the yellow sweet dish
3. Enjoy and enjoy the praises you get :D

So long.

PS: I wish the day had been as jovial as the post today. Totally rotten day.

Friday, June 4, 2010

The Israeli flotilla attack: victimhood, aggression and tribalism

A must-read **somberly**. As I said, it's now high time we choose sides. And this article cannot make it more clear that we now need to do this. However we may have to sacrifice our ''apologetic'' attitude.


The Israeli flotilla attack: victimhood, aggression and tribalism

One of the primary reasons the Turkish Government has been so angry in its denunciations of the Israeli attack on the flotilla is because many of the dead were Turkish citizens. That's what governments typically do: object vociferously when their citizens are killed by foreign nations under extremely questionable circumstances. Needless to say, that principle -- as all principles are -- will be completely discarded when it comes to the U.S. protection of Israel:

A U.S. citizen of Turkish origin was among the nine people killed when Israeli commandos attacked a Gaza-bound aid flotilla . . . An official from the Turkish Islamic charity that spearheaded the campaign to bust the blockade on Gaza identified the U.S. citizen as 19-year-old Furkan Dogan . . . . Dogan, who held a U.S. passport, had four bullet wounds to the head and one to the chest . . . .

Will the fact that one of the dead at Israel's hands was an American teenager with four bullet wounds to his head alter the Obama administration's full-scale defense of Israel? Does that question even need to be asked? Not even American interests can undermine reflexive U.S. support for anything Israel does; even the Chief of the Mossad acknowledged this week that "Israel is progressively becoming a burden on the United States." One dead 19-year-old American with 4 bullet holes in his head (especially one of Turkish origin with a Turkish-sounding name) surely won't have any impact.

Yesterday, newly elected British Prime Minister David Cameron became the latest world leader to unequivocally condemn Israel, saying the attack was "completely unacceptable" and demanding an end to the blockade. But last night on Charlie Rose's show, Joe Biden defended Israel with as much vigor as any Netanyahu aide or Weekly Standard polemicist. Biden told what can only be described as a lie when, in order to justify his rhetorical question "what's the big deal here?," he claimed that the ships could have simply delivered their aid to Israel and Israel would then have generously sent it to Gaza ("They've said, 'Here you go. You're in the Mediterranean. This ship -- if you divert slightly north you can unload it and we'll get the stuff into Gaza'."). In fact, contrary to the Central Lie being told about the blockade, Israel prevents all sorts of humanitarian items having nothing whatsoever to do with weapons from entering Gaza, including many of the supplies carried by the flotilla.

One can express all sorts of outrage over the Obama administration's depressingly predictable defense of the Israelis, even at the cost of isolating ourselves from the rest of the world, but ultimately, on some level, wouldn't it have been even more indefensible -- or at least oozingly hypocritical -- if the U.S. had condemned Israel? After all, what did Israel do in this case that the U.S. hasn't routinely done and continues to do? As even our own military officials acknowledge, we're slaughtering an "amazing number" of innocent people at checkpoints in Afghanistan. We're routinely killing civilians in all sorts of imaginative ways in countless countries, including with drone strikes which a U.N. official just concluded are illegal. We're even targeting our own citizens for due-process-free assassination. We've been arming Israel and feeding them billions of dollars in aid and protecting them diplomatically as they (and we) have been doing things like this for decades. What's the Obama administration supposed to say about what Israel did: we condemn the killing of unarmed civilians? We decry these violations of international law? Even by typical standards of government hypocrisy, who in the U.S. Government could possibly say any of that with a straight face?

* * * * *

What this really underscores is that the mentality driving both Israel and the U.S. are quite similar, which is why those two countries find such common cause, even when the rest of the world recoils in revulsion. One of the more amazing developments in the flotilla aftermath is how a claim that initially appeared too self-evidently ludicrous to be invoked by anyone -- Israel was the victim here and was acting against the ship in self-defense --has actually become the central premise in Israeli and (especially) American discourse about the attack (and as always, there is far more criticisms of Israeli actions in Israel than in the U.S.).

How could anyone with the slightest intellectual honesty claim that Israel and its Navy were the victims of a boat which Jon Stewart said last night looked like "P Diddy's St. Bart's vacation yacht"; or that armed Israeli commandos were the victims of unarmed civilian passengers; or, more generally, that a nuclear-armed Israel with the most powerful military by far in the Middle East and the world's greatest superpower acting as Protector is the persecuted victim of a wretched, deprived, imprisoned, stateless population devastated by 40 years of brutal Israeli occupation and, just a year ago, an unbelievably destructive invasion and bombing campaign? The casting of "victim" and "aggressor" is blatantly reversed with such claims -- which is exactly the central premise that has been driving, and continues to drive, U.S. foreign policy as well. In Imperial Ambitions, Noam Chomsky -- talking about America's post-9/11 policies -- described the central mental deception that is at the heart of all nations which dominate others with force (and if you're one of those people who hear "Noam Chomsky" and shut your mind, pretend that this comes from "John Smith"):

In one of his many speeches, to U.S. troops in Vietnam, [Lyndon] Johnson said plaintively, "There are three billion people in the world and we have only two hundred million of them. We are outnumbered fifteen to one. If might did make right they would sweep over the United States and take what we have. We have what they want." That is a constant refrain of imperialism. You have your jackboot on someone's neck and they're about to destroy you.

The same is true with any form of oppression. And it's psychologically understandable. If you're crushing and destroying someone, you have to have a reason for it, and it can't be, "I'm a murderous monster." It has to be self-defense. "I'm protecting myself against them. Look what they're doing to me." Oppression gets psychologically inverted; the oppressor is the victim who is defending himself.

Thus, nuclear-armed Israel is bullied and victimized by starving Gazans with stones. The Israel Navy is threatened by a flotilla filled with wheelchairs and medicine. And the greatest superpower the Earth has ever known faces a grave and existential threat from a handful of religious fanatics hiding in caves. An American condemnation of Israel, as welcomed as it would have been, would be an act of senseless insincerity, because the two countries (along with many others) operate with this same "we-are-the-victim" mindset.

* * * * *

A prime cause of this inversion is the distortion in perception brought about by rank tribalism. Those whose worldview is shaped by their identification as members of a particular religious, nationalistic, or ethnic group invariably over-value the wrongs done to them and greatly under-value the wrongs their group perpetrates. Those whose world view is shaped by tribalism are typically plagued by an extreme persecution complex (the whole world is against us!!!; everyone who criticizes us is hateful and biased!!!). Haaretz today reports that "Jewish Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. gave a rare demonstration of unity on Wednesday when they backed Israel's raid of a Gaza-bound humanitarian aid flotilla." Gee, whatever could account for that "rare demonstration of unity" between these left-wing Jewish progressives and hard-core, Jewish right-wing war cheerleaders who agree on virtually nothing else? My, it's such a mystery.

I can't express how many emails I've received over the last week, from self-identified Jewish readers (almost exclusively), along the lines of: I'm a true progressive, agree with you on virtually every issue, but hate your views on Israel. When it comes to Israel, we see the same mindset from otherwise admirable Jewish progressives such as Anthony Weiner, Jerry Nadler, Eliot Spitzer, Alan Grayson, and (after a brief stint of deviation) Barney Frank. On this one issue, they magically abandon their opposition to military attacks on civilians, their defense of weaker groups being bullied and occupied by far stronger factions, their belief that unilateral military attacks are unjustified, and suddenly find common cause with Charles Krauthammer, The Weekly Standard, and the Bush administration in justifying even the most heinous Israeli crimes of aggression.

It will never cease to be mystifying (at least to me) that they never question why they suddenly view the world so differently when it comes to Israel. They never wonder to themselves:

I had it continuously drummed into my head from the time I was a small child, from every direction, that Israel was special and was to be cherished, that it's fundamentally good but persecuted and victimized by Evil Arab forces surrounding it, that I am a part of that group and should see the world accordingly. Is this tribal identity which was pummeled into me from childhood -- rather than some independent, dispassionate analysis -- the reason I find myself perpetually sympathizing with and defending Israel?

Doesn't the most minimal level of intellectual awareness -- indeed, the concept of adulthood itself -- require that re-analysis? And, of course, the "self-hating" epithet -- with which I've naturally been bombaded relentlessly over the last week -- is explicitly grounded in the premise that one should automatically defend one's "own group" rather than endeaveor to objectively assess facts and determine what is right and true.

This tribalism is hardly unique to Israel and Jews; it's instead universal. As the Bush years illustrated, there is no shortage of Americans who "reason" the same way:

I was taught from childhood that America is right and thus, even in adulthood, defend America no matter what it does; my duty as an American is to defend and justify what America does and any American who criticizes the U.S. is "self-hating" and anti-American; the wrongs perpetrated by Us to Them pale in comparison to the wrongs perpetrated by Them on U.S.

Or listen to Fox News fear-mongers declare how Christians in the U.S. and/or white males -- comprising the vast majority of the population and every power structure in the country -- are the Real Persecuted Victims, from the War on Christmas to affirmative action evils. Ronald Reagan even managed to convince much of the country that the true economic injustices in America were caused by rich black women driving their Cadillacs to collect their welfare checks. This kind of blinding, all-consuming tribalism leads members of even the most powerful group to convince themselves that they are deeply victimized by those who are far weaker, whose necks have been under the boots of the stronger group for decades, if not longer.

That's just the standard symptom of the disease of tribalism and it finds expression everywhere, in every group. It's just far more significant -- and far more destructive -- when the groups convincing themselves that they are the Weak and Bullied Victims are actually the strongest forces by far on the planet, with the greatest amount of weaponry and aggression, who have been finding justifications for so long for their slaughtering of civilians that, as Israeli Amos Oz suggested this week about his country, there are virtually no limits left on the naked aggression that will be justified. Thus, even when Israel attacks a ship full of civilians and wheelchairs in international waters and kills at least 9 human beings, this is depicted by its tribal loyalists as an act of justified self-defense against the Real Aggressors.

UPDATE: A few related items worth noting:

(1) Max Blumenthal catches the IDF trying to quitely withdraw its absurd claim that the flotilla was linked to Al Qaeda;

(2) Reporters Without Borders notes that, as of yesterday, Israel continued to detain most journalists on the ships, including their film and cameras, thus preventing any of them from disputing Israeli propaganda; as the NYT reported, Israel was also "refusing to permit journalists access to witnesses who might contradict Israel's version of events." Manifestly, all that was done to ensure that the highly selective and edited video released by the IDF would shape the narrative of what happened and could not be challenged in the first few days of reporting.

(3) The truth, however, always emerges. See this interview with just-released Al Jazeera reporter Jamal ElShayyal, who was aboard the ship that was attacked, about what really happened and who began the shooting.

(4) Jeremy Scahill was on MSNBC today debating the flotilla attack with Israel-centric Ed Koch, and did a superb job debunking several of Koch's lies. There is no excuse for any television network to host discussions of this incident without including critics of the attack and the blockade, including that rarest of all American TV events: hearing from Palestinian or other Muslim critics of Israeli policy.

(5) Sadly No's HTML Mencken examines the extreme and twisted demands for Israel-loyalty being issued by Commentary Magazine, among other sectors in the U.S.

(6) One of the tired, clichéd epithets being spat by right-wing war cheerleaders at critics of the Israeli attack (such as myself) is "Useful Idiots." Yet just as nothing helped Al Qaeda (and Iran) more than the invasion of Iraq, the U.S. torture regime, Guantanamo and the like, nothing helps Hamas more than these types of naked acts of Israeli aggression which repulse the world. As Gazan-born journalist Taghreed El-Khodary explained yesterday in Salon:

Israel has given Hamas a present. Hamas' morale is high; it's a boost for them. They feel stronger and that's what they needed at this time when they had been weakened somewhat.

So who are the actual Useful Idiots?

UPDATE II: This morning, John Cole predicted that because of Turkey's opposition to Israel in this case, "the new mission du jour for the wingnut Wurlitzer is to begin a full-fledged demonization of Turkey." Leading the way, however, is Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner, who, speaking today to National Review -- that's National Review -- denounced Turkey as "our former ally." By "our," he presumably means "the United States." So apparently, even if a stalwart American ally like fellow NATO member Turkey evinces insufficient devotion to Israel, then they must be declared a non-ally of the United States (h/t Steve Hynd). It doesn't matter if Turkey is actually important to American interests; the fact that they are odds with Israel means they must be jettisoned by the U.S. See above for how and why that works.

'Freedom Behind the Razor Wire'

'Freedom Behind the Razor Wire'
('What It's Like' pt.4)

At this moment, I can glance out my window and see a 60-ft. stretch of grass patches, dirt, sunflowers, and gravel that ends at the perimeter fence. At various times of the day, droves of small birds swoop down onto the grass before my window, hopping around from one place to another while rapidly pecking the ground with their beaks. They keep at this for maybe ten minutes before flying off in the same formation they landed in.

To be able to witness their grace and beauty is a treat in here, thanks to Allah. But more significant in my mind is the fact that they were choosing to land here, of all places. These creatures possess the wings to carry them soaring heights and great distances to land on any plot of land they so choose. Human beings that we are, we have no such wings and are here against our choosing. Yet, the birds make a daily choice to land behind the razor wire, on prison grounds.

There must be a sign in this ...

By definition, prison is a tool of confinement. the sovereignty of its inhabitants is usurped. It is characterized by limitation. It is not designed to offer much to those who it swallows into its cold, gray belly ... conventionally speaking. For certain people, however, there is an exception to this. For certain prisoners, there is a treasure hidden here that only they can find; it is a treasure that, when found, turns this institution of confinement upside down and inside out. It is the treasure of the very freedom that was intended to be usurped - rather, a freedom greater than the one intended to be usurped. This treasure, when found , can transform a tool of confinement into a tool of liberation, as Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah realized on his way into prison while recitingL { " ... inside, it will be mercy, and on the outside, it will be torment." } from Surat al-Hadid, v.13.

When he was in an Egyptian jail in the city of Alexandria, Ibn Taymiyyah began one of his letters with the verse from Surat ad-Duha: { " And mention the bounty of your Lord." } He then proceeded to do so: " I would like to inform my companions that I am in a state of bliss the like of which I have never experienced or seen. Allah has opened wide for me the gates of His endless bounties. These blessings by Allah will only be tasted by those who have acquired insight into the realities of faith and Tawhid ... The subsequent pleasure and happiness, total joy and excitement, that are difficult to describe are all found in the knowledge of Allah, belief in Him, and true worship of Him, alone. " And we all know of his golden statement that is repeated often today hundreds of years after he uttered it: " What can my enemies do to me? My paradise and garden are in my chest, going with me wherever I go. My imprisonment is a time of privacy with Allah. My deportation is tourism for me. My execution is martyrdom. So, what can my enemies do to me ... ?" It is this same spiritual freedom that Sayyid Qutb found in prison that led him to pen these poetic verses:

"Brother, you are free behind these walls,
Brother, you are free in these shackles;
If you stick firmly to Allah,
Then how can the plots of people harm you?
Brother, the armies of darkness will vanish,
And a new dawn will shine on the world;
So, let your soul shine,
And you will see the dawn come to us from afar ... "

The above is simply a conveyance of the freedom these men found in regards to their own selves. The freedom that their imprisonments granted to the world, however, was far wider and greater. Their writings, their teachings, the stands they took, and their circumstances of imprisonment inspired and liberated the hearts and minds of all who came across them while writhing in the abyss of ignorance and inferiority complex. They did not merely disperse knowledge - they shaped personalities! And this liberation was born through their captivity.

On p. 174 of his autobiography, Malcom X said: " Many who today hear me somewhere in person, or on television, or those who read something I've said, will think I went to school far beyond the eighth grade. this impression is due entirely to my prison studies." On p.176, he explained: " I could for the first time pick up a book and read and now begin to understand what the book was saying. Anyone who has read a great deal can imagine the new world that opened. Let me tell you something: from then until I left prison, in every free moment I had, if I was not reading in the library, I was reading on my bunk. You couldn't have gotten me out of books with a wedge ... Months passed without my even thinking about being imprisoned. In fact, up until then, I never had been so truly free in my life. " And on p.183: " I don't think any body ever got more out of going to prison than I did. In fact, prison enabled me to study far more intensively than I would have if my life had gone differently and I had attended some college. "

The above words are of one who entered prison as a thief, pimp, and street hustler who could barely read or write ... The prison within whose walls he devoured book after book in a process that taught him his history, expanded his vocabulary, reformed his morals, and transformed him into an unparalleled orator who shook the world with nothing more than the power of his words. Behind those walls of the Norfolk State Prison here in Massachusetts - just 45 minutes from where I sit and write you these words - Malcolm X was able to liberate his mind in a manner that made him a liberator of the minds of so many others. (By the way, I've spike with several inmates here who had previously been held at Norfolk, and they informed me that the gigantic library that Malcolm was transformed by has since been removed.)

Nelson Mandela is considered to be the world's most famous former political prisoner. He spent 27 years under lock and key because of his refusal to renounce the right of South Africa's blacks to struggle against the racist apartheid government that kept them in a state of subjugation. He spent more time in prison than I've been alive on this Earth, yet that time behind bars had the opposite of its intended effect. Each minute he spent at Robben Island Prison was a testament to the undying will of a symbol of resistance. This imprisonment of Mandela and his colleagues set in motion a chain of events that, after nearly three decades, forced the DeKlerk government to seek negotiations with the ANC and (at least officially) put an end to apartheid. This imprisonment of Mandela and his colleagues resulted in an entire country being freed from the evil of institutionalized racism (although there is much left ot be done in this regard in South Africa).

About ten minutes from my home, there once lived an author (about 200 years back) named Henry David Thoreau. This man was so disgusted by America's unprovoked invasion of Mexico, as well as the continued practice of slavery, that he refused to pay his poll tax. He was then thrown in jail, where he remained until a friend stepped in to pay the tax for him against his will. In his famous essay 'Civil Disobedience,' Thoreau reflects: " The proper place today, the only place which Massachusetts has provided for her freer and less despondent spirits, is her prisons, to be put out and locked out of the state by here own act, as they have already put themselves out by their principles. It is there ... on that separate but more free and honorable ground, where the State places those who are not with her, but against her - the only house in a Slave State in which a free man can abide with honor. " Of his own freedom that he experienced in prison, Thoreau described: " I saw that if there was a wall of stone between me and my townsmen, there was still a more difficult on e to climb or break through before they could get to be as free as I was. I did not for a moment feel confined, and the walls seemed a great waste of stone and mortar. I felt as if I alone of all my townsmen had paid my tax. "

Subhan Allah, look at how his conviction in the righteousness of his cause turned his prison into, as he described it, "more free and honorable ground" than what was outside it. He felt freer than his townsmen because out of them all, he was the only one who was willing to make a material sacrifice for what many of them believed in but were too afraid to step outside their comfort zones for. This is why when his friend and fellow author, Ralph Waldo Emerson, visited him in jail and asked him: "Henry, what are you doing in there?" Thoreau responded by peering out from his cell and simiply asking: "What are you doing out there?"

And al-Maqdisi wrote the following poetic verses to his mother from the depths of prison:

"... Here, I am free despite my chains,
Their ringing fills all corners of my heart;
My honor is here, my freedom is here,
My shackle is my honor and my injury is my pride;
I will say to the prison that has adopted me,
Tighten your shackles and do not release them;
Here, I am free, and outside these chains,
Are people who kneel down in treachery;
O prison, I long for my chains,
These chains and shackles are my weapons;
O prison, I am part of my cell,
These cells and their darkness are my cloak;
I am lofty and honored in your shackels,
And the 'free' beyond your walls are happily enslaved ..."

Frankel, who was held at Auschwitz, wrote: "As much as he sinks deeper and deeper into prison life, the prisoner also obtains a longing for the beauty of art & nature in a way he never experienced previously. Their effect would allow him to forget, sometimes, his stressful conditions. If someone had seen our faces on the journey from Auschwitz to Bavaria when we saw the Salzburg Mountains, with its peaks visible in the foreground in front of the Sun, through the few tiny holes poked into the walls of the boxcars, they would never believe that these were the same faces of those who had previously lost all hope of life & freedom. Despite this, or because of it, the beauty of nature overtook our hearts after we had been deprived of it for such a long period of time, " and he went on to describe: "We observed the clouds fading in the sunset, with the sky filled with these clouds as they continuously changed form and color - from grayish-blue to blood red. One prisoner commented: "How beautiful the world can be ..." "

Back in the 70s, a woman named Assata Shakur ( a member of the Black Panthers) penned the following poetic expression of the freedom she maintained while behind bars:

" ... I have been locked by the lawless,
Handcuffed by the haters,
Gagged by the greedy;
And if I know anything at all,
It's that a wall is just a wall,
And nothing more at all.
It can be broken down ... "

So, these prisoners - with all of their various religious beliefs, political affiliations, geographic locations, and ethnicities - despite being chained and locked in tiny, suffocating cells, were able to turn their prisons from tools of confinement to tools of liberation. Prison became for them a vehicle of freedom for themselves, and at times for millions around the world whose hearts and minds they touched.

Looking, then, at these birds as they hop around before my cell window, it makes perfect sense that they would choose to land behind the razor wire: they find a freedom here on these grass patches. No human being walks these patches, so they are free to poke their beaks into the ground and seek out the straw and insects it has to offer them. Yes ... it should be clear now that like the aforementioned prisoners, these birds find a certain freedom behind the razor wire that keeps them coming back day after day. They swoop down, gather what they need, then fly off.

Trying to pinpoint what freedom I have found behind these walls, I think back to a day when I was laying in my cell reading, only to see a visiting official of some sort peering in as he walked around the unit. He said to me: "What a depressing place, " to which I replied by standing aside and pointing back, saying: " This is where I worship my Lord."

Although it is difficult to adequately express in words, the conditions of prison - while having obvious downsides - are ideal for freeing oneself from worldly distractions and turning fully to Allah. Three weeks before I was arrested, I was reading an essay on Tawhid & shirk by on eof the scholars of Najd, I cam e across a sentence in this essay that made me stop. He was defining the term 'hanif' that is mentioned repeatedly in the Qur'an, and he said: "Hanif means to turn fully towards Allah while turning away from everything else." So, I thought to myself: 'Imagine if I can reach that state, where I can focus fully on Allah and not be distracted by anything else ... '

Here, I have the two factors to facilitate this: peace of mind & and time. I don't do anything in here that I didn't do on the outside, but the difference is in the quality, depth, enjoyment, and relaxation that was difficult attain at the masjid or at home. The outside world bears fruit, and prison bears another fruit. Both have taste, but they are distinct form one another because of the difference in conditions under which each fruit grows. I'll give a few examples:

The Prophet (صلي الله عليه و سلم) said: " For me to sit with people remembering Allah from dawn until Sunrise is more beloved to me than freeing four slaves of the Children of Isma'il. " This is because freeing a slave results only in the freedom of the body, but the remembrance of Allah at this time of the day results in a freedom which is far greater and sweeter—the freedom of the heart and soul. Like most of you, this period during the day was usually spent preparing for and driving to school or work an hour away. I could sporadically take proper advantage of this time, but would usually miss out due to life's demands. In here, nothing is required of me by others. The only time when I even have to communicate with anyone is when my cell is being searched, which only occurs monthly, anyway. So, this time in prison is my time - every second of it - in which I can do what I want, when I want (of course, within the capacity of choices). I can now sit each day after praying Fajr and slowly and calmly proceed through a solid list of adhkar & ad'iyah until I see the Sun rise. If you find the time in your own day to do this, start by opening up 'Fortress of the Muslim' and reciting #75 daily. Week by week, work you way up until you find yourself going through #75 - 98 on a daily basis. Try to incorporate it into your daily routine such that it becomes an inseparable portion of your day, like food and sleep. In here, I enjoy this practice each day for as long as I choose, without having to worry about time constraints. I know now what Ibn Taymiyyah felt when he referred to this as the early morning sustenance without which he would have no strength during the day.

Unlike other parts of the prison, the isolation unit is generally silent and calm. The only sounds to be heard are the occasional mechanical whirring of doors being slid open/ shut, and the voice of whoever is out on rec speaking on the phone. Otherwise, there is a constant, eerie silence. There are no blaring televisions, inmate fights, and everything else that would occur in the population units. So, my remembrance of Allah is conducted with full focus on the meanings of what I'm uttering. I can go through them slowly and calmly in total concentration without any background noise to spoil the moments. When I'm finished, I get up to pray the Duha prayer. The Prophet said: " ... each tasbih is charity, each tahmid is charity, each tahlil is charity, each takbir is charity, enjoining the good is charity, preventing the bad is charity, and this is all completed by praying two rak'at of Duha prayer."

My cell is at the eastern-most edge of the prison, with my window on the eastern wall of my cell. So, I pray in the direction of the open view of the grass, sunflowers (in warmer weather), fence, and trees i mentioned previously. And whenever I get some sunlight, it enters through that direction as well. So, I have quite a serene qiblah to pray towards, by Allah's Grace alone. It could've been otherwise, with me having to pray towards my rusty blue cell door covered in graffiti, but I was given the best wall in here to be east. So when I stand up and begin to recite, I have the closest thing to a scene of natural beauty I can before my eyes. This, when contrasted with the blandness of the remaining three walls, automatically induces a sense of khushu' from the start, which is only amplified by the silence around me. I can recite with full focus and concentration on the meanings of the verses. pausing at each one, asking for Paradise when I come across mention of it, seeking refuge from Hell when coming across mention of it, and I can recite for as long as I wish without having to rush. I have all day, after all. It was the Prophet's sunnah that he would not recite portions of chapters in each rak'ah, and would rather recite them in their entirely - sometimes even reciting more than one complete surah in a rak'ah. I can do that now, while I rarely could on the outside because of the interference of time. And really, I think you all find your salah more fulfilling when you stand longer, and the Prophet said that this type of prayer is the most beloved to Allah.

I want to pause and briefly comment on having the Qur'an with me in here. It has amazed me how many verses I would recite on the outside without having fully grasped their significance, only to come here and repeatedly say: 'How could I have missed that?' When I suddenly had more time to dedicate to the Qur'an, words and concepts began popping out at me that I had previously glossed over on the outside, and i've had many 'Aha!' moments where the hairs on my arm would stand on end. In here, I've developed a very personal bond with the Qur'an. More than ever, I see it as 'my' guide, 'my' companion, 'my' book, that speaks both to me and for me. With hours a day spent reading & exploring it, I've become more familiar with it than I was on the outside; I have come to know its character, its nature, its unique dimensions. There is just something about reading it in this environment that causes me to feel each verse's impact in a more direct manner that is unfiltered by the distortions of the outside world. I've always said that in here, I have the two things I need most always at arm's length: a faucet to make ablution from, and a Qur'an to read from.

The Prophet said: " The closest the worshipper is to his Lord is while he is prostrating to Him. So, increase your supplication in it," and he said: "... as for the prostration, exert yourself in supplicating during it, because you're most likely to be responded to." Knowing this valuable virtue of the time spent in sujud during the prayer, ask yourself how long your average sajdah is. I know that my own on the outside were not nearly as long as they could've been, and I would encourage you - even if you don't have the time and peace of mind that I have been blessed with here - to elongate it. Repeat the tasbih slowly, with concentration, travel with your mind to the Throne of Allah high above the sky; there are some narrations that the Salaf would make the tasbih ten times or more during the average sajdah. Try to maintain this, and follow it up with a lengthy list of supplications, as this is time allotted for you to ask for whatever you wish! I can tell you that one way I've been able to spend longer times in sujud in here is to go into the sujudslowly and calmly, with tranquility. Usually, the way you initiate the sajdah determines how you continue it. The volume of your voice should be just above a whisper, and your forehead, nose, hands, knees, and toes should be planted firmly and symmetrically in the ground and be as comfortable as possible for you to take as much time as you can. Such moments, especially during the late night hours when the entire unit is dark and asleep, are golden for me.

More liberating than these outer physical actions, however, has been the effect of the environment on the actions of the heart. Picture yourself living in a concrete box, forbidden from being in the same room as another human being (except your attorney) for months at a time. A guard rushes by every half hour during his rounds, trying to avoid having to stop for any reason. You sporadically converse for no more than five minutes at a time with passersby from behind the metal door of your box. Besides this, you sit in that box in silence and solitude. You will barely notice that there are others in the building, mainly because you have no access to them. After living in such a state for months at a time, you cannot help but attach less significance to the abilities and presence of others. For all intents and purposes, you are on your own. If you were to have a heart attack sitting in that concrete box of a cell, nobody would know about it until they were to eventually find you on the ground during their bi-hourly rounds. The subconscious reliance you had on people throughout your days outside is now shifted to the only other presence you have with you in that cell: Allah. You are now forced to direct whatever pleas, complaints, and concerns you may have in a single direction. You have seen how easily people come and go, and you are now being taught in raw terms how to put your reliance in the right place. You now know the secret behind the Prophet taking an oath from 'Awf bin Malik to "not ask anyone for anything." For the Salaf, true Tawhid was in depending on Allah in all matters instead of others. This concept looks me in the eyes every second I spend here in this concrete box ... this box that is freeing my reliance from other than my Creator. Ibn al-Qayyim said: "What will cut down your concern with what is with others is to simply bear witness to reality, and this is to see that everything is from Allah, by His permission, in His grasp, and under His authority. None of it moves without His movement or power, and nothing benefits or harms without His will. So, how can you be concerned with the creation after witnessing this?"

This reality has helped in making supplication much more enjoyable. See, the more needful the heart is of Allah's bounty, the more tender it will be. Du'a' is best made at those moments when the heart is most tender. You often find that those with the hardest hearts are those who place the least reliance on Allah and are always trying to take advantage of others, and vice versa. Think back to how 'Ikrimah, the son of Abu Jahl, accepted Islam. He was escaping from Makkah by boat the day it was conquered, and the boat got stuck in a storm that was sure to drown everyone on board. At this moment of dire need, 'Ikrimah's heart became tender and he supplicated: "O Allah, I promise that if You deliver me safely from this, I will go and put my hands in those of Muhammad, and will find him full of mercy." As Ibn Kathir related, they made it through the storm, and 'Ikrimah went to the Prophet to announce his Islam. So, that one moment of dire need perfected his supplication such that it was responded to on the spot. Prison is 24-hour boat ride through a storm, and the nature of it frees your supplication from the barriers to acceptance. This is one reason why the supplication of the oppressed is accepted.

A large number of the inmates held here are awaiting trial. Observing them when I can, I cannot help but be reminded of the Day of Judgement. Most of those guys admit that they actually did something, but hope to find one technical error, one loophole in the system, some way out of where their choices have brought them. They sit day and night poring over their collections of case studies, spending long hours in the law library, preparing motions and arguments and statements in hopes of squeezing whatever mercy they can from the judge! Please! Just one more chance! Have mercy! Lighten the sentence! If I go back, I will never return to what I was doing (see surat al-An'am, v.27)! This is judgement day for them, as their deeds have caught up with them, and one judge will determine their fate based on those deeds. I wish each and every reader of these words could witness this spectacle for themselves, as it will serve to pull the wool from over many eyes as to the reality of this life in relation to the next. This is the scene we will all one day face before the Ultimate Judge - One Who cannot be swayed by closing statements, cannot be overruled by hidden loopholes, and Who is more aware of our deeds than we ourselves are. To watch these desperate souls fighting their cases is a liberator from the procrastinative illusions of everyday life ...

Finally, I can say that every aspect of my surroundings is a reminder of my freedom. My very presence here is a reminder of my freedom. Let's be clear: I am not in prison because I ever engaged in some "terrorist act." Not even my lying accusers have charged me with ever having attempted to hurt a soul. Surely, then, I am no more of a 'threat to society' than the rapists, home invaders, and heroin dealers who are released from here daily with nothing more than a slap on the wrist. Rather, I am here because of my holistic belief in the tenets of Islam at a time when there is unrelenting pressure from the powers of the world to redefine it according to their whims and desires. I am here because in the so-called 'battle for hearts and minds,' I have, by Allah's grace, kept my heart and mind free from becoming casualties. So, everything I lay my eyes on in here - the rusty door, the metal sink/ toilet combination, the concrete walls, my orange jumpsuit, the annoying Flexipen I'm using to write this - is a stark reminder of my freedom, not my imprisonment, despite the undesirable nature of it all. This is a raw freedom that can unfortunately rarely be found outside these types of walls.

... 'Freedom' carries different meanings for different people. The absence of an agreed on definition for it, though, is an indication of how universally sought after it is. It is a goal that people will even risk their lives to attain! I just completed a book discussing the Revolutionary War. Long & bloody battles were fought by Americans to free themselves from the yoke of British domination, just as battles are being fought today by those who wish to free themselves from American domination. It touches every aspect of our lives: food (menus give you freedom of choice), marriage (represents the freedom to express love), government (people generally wish to be free of government interference, hence the calls to do away with big government), and so forth. Everyone talks about it, everyone wants it, but everyone differs over its definition. However, I believe that I and many others behind bars have confirmed for ourselves what ultimate freedom is. I will suffice by quoting Babar Ahmad: "True freedom is not the ability to go where you want, disobey your Lord when you want, and think how others want you to think. Rather, true freedom is the freedom to live for one's religion, beliefs, and principles." The one who has this is free even if he is in the depths of a prison, and the one deprived of it is imprisoned even if he has never set foot in a prison.

This freedom is buried as a hidden treasure deep within concrete walls. It cannot be unearthed without swooping down behind the razor wire, just as those birds do outside my window day after day.

Your brother in the orange jumpsuit,

Tariq Mehanna
Plymouth County Storage Facility
Isolation Unit - Cell #108
Monday 3rd of Jumada ath-Thani 1431
17th of May 2010