Three Bohras killed in Iraq, several wounded

Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji'un

Among the victims was Shk Yahya, the father of Murtaza, one of my closest and dear friends.

In a shocking tragedy yesterday in Iraq 3 Mumineen from London were killed when the minibus they were travelling in was ambushed by gunmen at a checkpoint near Baghdad airport.

The 3 men, Shaikh Yahya bhai Ghulamali, Shaikh Saifuddin Qutbi (Makai) and Shaikh Husain Mohammedali were in a party of 4 Mumineen bhaiyo and 1 bahen who had set out on ziyarat of Karbala and Najaf with the niyyat of Huzurala's (tus) tuulul umr.

Shaikh Saifuddin bhai and Shaikh Husain bhai both died at the scene whilst Shaikh Yahya bhai succumbed to his injuries this morning following surgery. The other two members also suffered from gunshot wounds but are not in any danger.

Mumineen in London converged on Husaini Masjid to offer the families sympathy and support with Shahzada Ammar bhaisaheb Jamaluddin spending nearly an hour consoling them at the side of Al-Muqaddasah Busaheba's ziyarat.

Both Shaikh Saifuddin and Shaikh Husain bhai leave behind young families of 3 and 4 children repectively. Shaikh Yahya bhai also leaves a family and grandchildren with his son just recently married. The three men were dedicated servants of the community; sincere, honest and devoted. Their khidmat was performed from the heart, both physically and through their material wealth. No matter how small or large the khidmat they were on hand to do it, from arranging the parking of cars to organising the reception and ziyafat of Aqamola (tus) they were there in body and soul unfailingly. They will be sorely missed by the Mumineen of the UK and London in particular.

We offer our taaziyat, condolence and dua to the families of the deceased. They must bear with the tragedy and we wish them sabr by the Dua of Imam Husain (as) and Imam Husain's Dai (tus) in this devastating time.

The 3 men had the sharaf of ziyarat and daakhili of Imam Husain (as) in Karbala and now they are in his jiwaar for ever.


Reports from news media:
Two Britons killed in Iraq named (BBC)
Two Britons killed in Iraq ambush (Al Jazeera)
Third Briton Dies in Attack (Sky)


in memoriam: Egg the betta fish

On friday (jumo'a ni din) my daughter's first pet, a betta fish she named "Egg" (I think inspired by the opening scene of Finding Nemo) passed on to the great goldfish bowl in the sky. We performed Egg's dafan (burial) yesterday (technically his tiji-din, or third day as is customary).

Egg was cool. A bright blue betta fish, he and about three dozen of his brethren were handed out at a birthday party. Unlike most of his brethren, he actually survived :)

Egg's first home (apart from the plastic bag) was the small bowl that he came with. I added some nitrogen-absorbent rocks to the bottom. His next home was a relatively gargantuan (by betta fishkeeping standards) 5-gallon tank given to us by a friend who didn't want to lug that sucker with him while moving to Washington DC.

Egg survived Hurricane Rita. Or rather, he survived being taken out of his roomy tank, stuck back in his puny bowl, and then spending 9 hours in a hellish car ride for a total distance of 60 miles to our in-laws place (a trip that under non-evacuee conditions takes only 1 hour). While at my in-laws' place he also survived being dumped out of his bowl onto the carpet, then having to live in tap water with barely any water-treatment solution left. He then survived three days of living in progressively filthier water in that same puny bowl, exacerbated by the fact that I stopped feeding him to keep the filth down as much as possible. Call it the survival-starvation diet. It worked, because we got back home and he went back to his tank happily.

For the next two months, Egg did just fine. He seemed to have no emotional trauma from his Rita adventures. He developed some odd habits, like hanging out near the water heater in his tank all day, or slowly swimming backwards and downwards for no apparent reason, or chasing food particles around the tank. Sometimes he would just chill out all day in the fake grass. All in all, he had it pretty good. Especially given that most bettas are stuck in a half-gallon bowl, and I never got around to buying some cheap fish roommates to fill out the tank.

Last week, though, prior to Thanksgiving, he suddenly stopped eating. Since we were going to my in-laws' again for the long weekend, I transferred him to a new small travel tank I bought for cheap from WalMart and took him with us. Though he wasn't eating, I figured he might start up again and would definitely starve if we abandoned him to his tank at home for four days.

Unfortunately, in Katy he didn't want to eat either, and expired shortly the second day we were there. My father in law buried him in the backyard near the orange tree. Despite an attempt at distraction, Sakina noticed what was going on and started to wail about just WHAT did he think he was doing with Egg in the backyard?! There was some drama and a few tears shed, and then she announced she wanted a goldfish like Elmo's Dorothy. She asked one more time about Egg yesterday evening, but seemed pretty satisfied with the answer to her "Why did we put him in the backyard?" query with the truthful answer, "He's dead, gone to heaven." Which is true, in one sense.

So, to my daughter, reading this in ten years, your first fish had a decent life and lived longer than anyone expected for a birthday party trinket prize. You named him well, amma and I fed and housed him well, and you shed honest, if brief, tears for him. And next time you stop by Nanajan's house in Katy, pause by the orange tree and remember your first pet.

(I am not buying you a pony.)


hearts and minds

The insurgency in Iraq has two components. The "rebellion" against occupation, which is largely a home-grown guerilla movement against the US troops, and the "jihadist" one which is largely a foreign fighter-driven ideological movement. The latter, under command of Abu Musab al Zarqawi (LA), is the one that targets Iraqi civilians indiscriminately, like this:

on Thursday, a suicide bomber blew up his car outside a hospital south of Baghdad while U.S. troops handed out candy and food to children, killing 30 people and wounding about 40, including four Americans.

Three women and two children were among the dead in the attack outside the hospital in Mahmoudiya, a flashpoint town 20 miles south of Baghdad in the "triangle of death" notorious for attacks on Shiite Muslims, U.S. troops and foreign travelers.

Al Qaeda doesn't care about muslims. Killing children is a desperation tactic which reveals the emptiness of their rhetoric.


100 GB 7200 rpm

Such specs for hard drives are nothing new for desktop hard drives, but for notebook hard drives (2.5" form factor) they are state-of-the-art. Via Anandtech, Seagate and Hitachi released 100 GB / 7200 RPM drives a few weeks ago. According to reviews and head-to-head comparisons, it looks like the Hitachi drives have better performance, are cheaper, and are more robust. As the specs and capacity of 2.5" drives improve, I think that portable 2.5"-based RAID arrays for data backup are not too far off in the future. For reference, here's an article on notebook-drive-based RAID using 5400rpm drives a few months back from Tom's Hardware.

The drive in my new T42 thinkpad on order is a Hitachi 60GB/7200. I will be posting some comparative benchmarks between that drive and the one in my present T40 (an 80GB/4200) once i get the new machine. There's a comparison of 7200, 5400, and 4200 rpm drives at LaptopLogic that I can compare my results to.


Ariel Sharon to quit Likud

This is major news:

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has decided to quit his Likud Party and set up a new party for upcoming general elections, Army Radio reported late Sunday.

Earlier, the moderate Labor Party voted to leave Sharon's coalition, already weakened by an internal Likud rift over Israel's pullout from Gaza. Setting up a new party would scramble the political picture for the early election, set tentatively for March.

While I believe that Sharon will someday have to face justice for the war crimes of Sabra and Shatila, it is undeniably true that he has demonstrated true leadership since ascension to Prime Minister (though of course the circumstances of that ascensioin itself are another black mark).

It is astounding how this "Settler among Settlers" has been the one who withdrew from Gaza. The Wall between Israel and the West Bank has been largely a success and surprisingly responsive to outside oversight to ensure that it stays as fair as possible. And now, this resignation from Likud, which I think bodes potentially well indeed for a moderate center party in Israeli politics.

There is hope indeed. And Sharon deserves a lot of credit.

UPDATE: more details - Sharon's goal is to dissolve the present Parliament:

In a bold gamble, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Monday asked Israel's president to dissolve parliament, pushing for a quick March election just hours after deciding to leave his hardline Likud Party and form a new centrist party.

Sharon's decision to leave Likud sent shock waves through Israel, redrawing the political map, finalizing his transformation from hardliner to moderate and boosting prospects of progress in peacemaking with the Palestinians.

His confidants say Sharon felt Likud hardliners, who tried to block this summer's Gaza pullout, were imposing too many constraints and would prevent future peace moves. Palestinian officials expressed hope Monday that the political upheaval in Israel would bring them closer to a final peace deal.

The dramatic events began with Sharon's decision late Sunday, after a weekend of agonizing, to leave the party he helped found in 1973. On Monday morning, Sharon asked President Moshe Katsav to dissolve parliament, a step that would move the vote to the beginning of March, or eight months ahead of schedule. Katsav said he would weigh the request and decide quickly, after consulting with leaders of other parties.

Midday Monday, Sharon met at his office with 11 breakaway Likud legislators, expected to form the core of the new party, reportedly to be called "National Responsibility."

And, the tantalizing tidbit that the new party, tentatively called "National Responsibility", might even include Shimon Peres!

Among those expected to follow Sharon out of Likud are Vice Premier Ehud Olmert and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni. Former Shin Bet chief Avi Dichter, two top academics and even ousted Labor leader Shimon Peres were mentioned as possibilities. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz was still undecided Monday.

Alas, Israeli parliamentary politics don't have much analogue to US politics. Here, independent candidates at best have neutral effect (Perot) or profoundly damaging (Nader).

Brass Crescent links roundup

It's been long overdue, and with the Brass Crescent Awards on the horizon, I think that it's about time to do another links roundup. No overarching theme like last time; this is more of a quick tour of a few blogs that I think should be on everyone's radar.

Abdusalaam al-Hindi blogs from Alabama, a Daari Desi in Dixie. He has always had an eye for the eclectic, such as an interesting theory that the design of the minbar/mehrab in many masjids worldwide may have been inspired by architectual features of ancient Jewish synagogues. Lately he has been talking about the French rioting, and also has been keeping an eye on Indian politics.

Islamicate is a group blog whose primary author goes by the delightful moniker, Islamoyankee. The blog is focused on commentary about the state of the modern Islamic world, and convergence between east and west. Islamoyankee's father recently passed away, so he has understandably had more important things than blogging on his mind recently.

Since I never have defined the Brass Crescent as exclusive to practitioners of Islam, but the broader intersection of Islamic culture which neccessarily includes other faiths, I'd like to next highlight the best-named-jewish blog ever, The Velveteen Rabbi. She had a very thoughtful piece on defining "Jewish Renewal" that I found very applicable to the muslim community as well. She has recently been attending the 68th Annual Union for Reform Judaism right here in Houston and been blogging the conference diligently. I just had to steal one of her photos from the conference!

Probably everyone has heard of Haron Moghul by now, given his total dominance of last year's Brass Crescent Awards. we should create a Haroon category where everyone can just nominate him and vote for him. I predict he will take that category with ease :) But the fact remains that he is one of the Crescent's most essential bloggers. His essay a month ago about the roots of Hindu rage was particularly important. As an American desi myself, I often have trouble even understanding Partition, yet it remains central to dialouges of identity between desi-Americans. Sepia Mutiny is perhaps the best place to see these dialouges in all their nuance unfold.

Abu Aardvark is another critical read. If there's one blog that everyone in the Brass Crescent doesn't have on their blogrolls yet but should have, it's his. He has a knack for applying Arab pop-tart music as social commentary. But he also has his somber moments, such as this insightful comment about the danger of liberalizers adopting takfir as a strategy. It is tempting to declare Osama bin Laden et ilk to be unbelievers, but doing so is a validation of the binary mindset which allows OBL's brand of hirabah to grow and sustain itself. The post Liberals and Takfir is essential reading.

Zachary Latif has been blogging for about as long as I have, but he went on a pretty extended hiatus a while back. He seems to hve picked up the baton again, so do pay him a visit. As a bonus, the orange seizure-inducing layout is gone. I found his comment about France essentially being too technocratic and meritocratic to be quite interesting; it gives some added dimension to the anger of the immigrant class, who are largely excluded from obtaining the requisite strings of certificates and exam scores. Part of teh reason for that exclusion is racism, the other economic, and combined they form a barrier to full participation in French society that most immigrants can never surmount. Plus, Zack has a pretty hilarious (and possibly auto-biographical?) story about math.

Finally, I'd like to welcome Hujefa V to the blogsphere. Hojo is a physician in Dallas, whose love of the Dallas Cowboys got him some unwanted attention last year. That incident gave him his first opportunity to write in the public domain, and the result was a masterpiece of reasoned and patriotic appeal. His new blog, Am In The ICU, promises to be just as compelling, since it will be about what he knows best. That is, medicine, and football. Or both :)

That wraps it up for now. Hopefully Shahed and I will get the Brass Crescent Awards rolling soon. Stay tuned :)



I've been using an IBM Thinkpad T40 for the past couple of years for my research. It's a fine machine, ordered and paid for by my advisor. Now that I've graduated though, he needs his sizable investment back of course, so I began researching what I should replace the machine with.

My needs were 1. thin and light, given that it would be used for travel to conferences and on the bus, 2. fairly powerful given that I will be running IDL and MATLAB, and 3. rock-solid and dependable. These requirements, along with a lot of help from the forum at NoteBookReview.com, led me right back to IBM/Lenovo's T42. I chose the T42 instead of the T43 primarily because I could get a faster hard drive. I spent about a month and a half researching models from Fujitsu, Asus, Toshiba, and HP before finally deciding that the T42 was indeed the machine for me. I placed an order and the machine should be shipping next week at long last.

Here are some specs:

* Pentium M 1.86 GHz
* 14.1" SXGA screen
* 1 GB RAM
* 7200 RPM, 60 GB hard drive
* Bluetooth and Wireless 802.11b/g
* model part number 2373m3u

I plan to run some basic benchmarks on the old machine before I send it back to my advisor, and then compare them to the new one to get a good sense for how much performance I am gaining.

One of the major issues I faced was whether I should wait until the new Yonah (dual-core) Pentium-M chips are released in January. I decided to buy now, however, because new models with Yonah would be much more expensive anyway, and I also need a machine asap since my advisor needs the old one back and can't wait until January. Plus, it is not clear that dual-core will be supported in most of the software I use at the outset (though that will change over time, a horizon of a year or two IMHO). I got a very solid config at a very reasonable price, which I think will be more than sufficient for the next few years to handle whatever I need. I could have saved another $150 had I purchased from an ebay reseller, but I think that the peace of mind of buying direct from Lenovo was worth the markup.

The machine should be here after Thanksgiving. Can't wait :) As for multi-core, I will build myself a Yonah-based desktop next year.


Kudos to Condi

She sucked as NSA, but rocks as Sec. State:

After marathon all-night negotiations, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced a comprehensive agreement between the Israeli and the Palestinian governments Tuesday designed to ease the Gaza Strip's isolation by allowing more reliable access for its goods and people to Israel and the outside world.
The agreement allows the Palestinians to begin work on Gaza's seaport, and assures donors that Israel will not interfere with its operation. It leaves unclear when the port would open and under what guidelines, but work to get it up and running will take at least three years, Palestinian officials said. The deal says discussions on renovating and reopening Gaza's international airport will continue.

"The important thing here is that people have understood that there is an important balance between security on the one hand, and, on the other hand, allowing the Palestinian people freedom of movement," Rice said at a news conference with international envoy James Wolfensohn and European Union foreign minister Javier Solana. "The other important point is that everybody recognizes that if the Palestinians can move more freely and export their agriculture, that Gaza will be a much better place, where the institutions of democracy can begin to take hold."

That last bit is the key, and Condi stresses it exactly teh right way. Not surprising given her background in diplomacy (no word on whether her rift with mentor Scowcroft can ever be healed). Nadezdha has all the gory details.


Paul Cella throws a gauntlet; I pick it up.

Steven den Beste also throws one, but the FARK collective handles it better than I could.

And add Dennis Prager to the jafi pile, for the record.


Moustapha Akkad killed by hirabists

InnaLillahi Wa inna Ilahi Raji'un

Famed director Moustapaha Akkad, and his daughter, were among the victims of the vicious bombings by Al Qaeda in Jordan.

Akkad may be most well known to American audiences for his work on the Halloween series, but the muslim community will always revere his masterpiece The Message, starring Anthony Quinn. Here is what I wrote about The Message two years ago:

The MessageThe definitive project in film to narrate the early history of Islam was the powerful movie, The Message (1976). The director, Moustapha Akkad, actually shot each scene twice, with different sets of actors for the English version and the Arabic version, because he felt that subtitles would mar the film. Anthony Quinn played Hamza in the English version. Akkad also introduced the cinematic equivalent of the Islamic tradition of not representing the Prophet SAW visually, by framing scenes involving Muhammad SAW from his point of view. Thus, when other characters address the Prophet SAW, they are actually addressing the viewer of the movie. Some scenes had the Prophet SAW off-screen, and Akkad used a haunting musical theme to indicate Muhammad's presence. Muhammad's SAW spoken words are never heard by the audience but are heard by the other characters. The net effect is to convincingly establish the presence of the Prophet SAW but yet never actually violate the tradition against representation. It's partly a brilliant statement about perception and cue within movies in general as well as a merely functional device to circumvent offense. I consider Akkad's use of this device to be the opposite of Jar Jar Binks - rather than visualize an artificial person, the character has enormous impact upon the film and the mportance of the character is underscored, by their absence (visually speaking. But in cues from other actors and the music, the character exists. With even more realism than the jarring artifice of a CGI construct).

The damage done to the muslim world by hirabists such as Al Qaeda is incalculable. They invoke with empty words the welfare of muslims as justification for their evil, yet muslims are always their most numerous victims. And the damage extends far beyond tragic loss of life, to culture and heritage as well. For their crimes against muslims and greater humanity alone, not taking into account how they defame the holy faith of Islam itself, they are a blight upon the earth and they deserve death and speedy return to the fires of hell from whence they came.



The Brass Crescent Awards will be along soon enough.

Texas Amendment Proposition 2 - Marriage Ammendment

Which way should we vote? For me the answer is very simply, "YES". Let me explain. I feel marriage is a social contract and concept. Its a matter of society deciding what is acceptable for our society. Having said that, yes I am also a stern believer in providing equal economic opportunity for any other unions. Remember, our country has always promised equal economic opportunity not social equality. We would not want social equality. Social equality strips identity and culture.

The only argument I have seen that makes sense against this proposition is the one that suggest that by "banning" marriages for all other unions, you effectively remove economic opportunity and benefits that are afforded to married couples.

But proposition 2 when read in its entirety, clearly talks about defining the word marriage as defined between man and woman. It does not take away rights from any other unions. It simply says marriage does not include other unions. So you may say, "what about same sex unions? What about their right?" That is where opportunity exists to create new laws to afford economic equality.

We need laws to define other unions and therefore providing benefits of inheritance, common property, etc to unions between same sex couples. Instead of fighting for the same word, "marriage", why not fight for the economic benefits for the same sex couples and call it something else - because it is different after all.


There is much heat generated from the fires in Paris. And not just that from burning cars, mind you. Any student of history can look at the Parisian civil unrest and see reflections of a thousand incidents of urban rioting by an alienated immigrant or minority underclass. However, for the polemically inclined, the fires are themselves kindling for an entrenchment of the attitudes that led to such profound alienation in the first place.

However, I think that there is indeed authentic analysis of the Parisian rioting to be found elsewhere. This Washington Post article is a good start:

While French politicians say the violence now circling and even entering the capital of France and spreading to towns across the country is the work of organized criminal gangs, the residents of Le Blanc-Mesnil know better. Many of the rioters grew up playing soccer on Rezzoug's field. They are the children of baggage handlers at nearby Charles de Gaulle International Airport and cleaners at the local schools.

"It's not a political revolution or a Muslim revolution," said Rezzoug. "There's a lot of rage. Through this burning, they're saying, 'I exist, I'm here.' "

Such a dramatic demand for recognition underscores the chasm between the fastest growing segment of France's population and the staid political hierarchy that has been inept at responding to societal shifts. The youths rampaging through France's poorest neighborhoods are the French-born children of African and Arab immigrants, the most neglected of the country's citizens. A large percentage are members of the Muslim community that accounts for about 10 percent of France's 60 million people.

One of Rezzoug's "kids" -- the countless youths who use the sports facilities he oversees -- is a husky, French-born 18-year-old whose parents moved here from Ivory Coast. At 3 p.m. on Saturday, he'd just awakened and ventured back onto the streets after a night of setting cars ablaze.

"We want to change the government," he said, a black baseball cap pulled low over large, chocolate-brown eyes and an ebony face. "There's no way of getting their attention. The only way to communicate is by burning."

There is plenty of first-hand anecdotal evidence that lends some nuance to the situation on the ground. For example, Jérôme at the European Tribune provides some perspective, pointing out that this is not some apocalyptic "End of France" scenario, but rather a symptom of an underlying sickness and mistakes by the French government (for example: both police budgets and social activity programs have been cut heavily). Also, see Tim at Balloon Juice, whose wife is French and just returned from Paris. He makes the key point that these rioters rage not because they are muslim, but because they are french.

See Also Greg at Belgravia Dispatch, who offers his own lengthy and reasoned analysis of the political ramifications and likely outcomes. Greg is no apologist for muslim terror, but in his assessment there is a failure of society, not faith, at work here. I fully agree with his prescription that every rioter - no matter how young - must be prosecuted under maximum extent of the law. But "fixing" what is wrong with France is not as easy as banning more headscarves. It will require hard decisions about the economy and a repudiation of the stifling business environment which strangle opportunity and deny economic entry and participation to the under class. As Greg puts it,

It's time to shine a strong light right there at home, put aside the defensive, diversionary pseudo-narratives and deceptions, and get to the hard work of putting the nation on a better course (particularly the dismal employment picture). If not, openings to more radical avenues will likely result--whether of a rightist or leftist variety (more likely the former, I'd say).

Dave Schuler also has similar comments with a very helpful rundown of what we do know and what we don't know. There is a thoughtful discussion at Tacitus that is also worth reading.

But what of those who insist that Islam must be relevant in some way? Well, as far as cause, they are simply wrong. But their dogmatic insistence obscures the very real threat that these riots provide as an opportunity for Islamists to capitalize upon. Francis Fukuyama sounds the alarm for European home-grown Islamism in a much more restrained and productive fashion that the "Eurabia" rantings of Bat Ye'or. The antidote is more freedom, not less; more opportunity, not less. As Theodore Dalyrymple wrote in his now classic essay about the French immigrant ghettoes:

...among the third of the population of the cités that is of North African Muslim descent, there is an option that the French, and not only the French, fear. For imagine yourself a youth in Les Tarterets or Les Musiciens, intellectually alert but not well educated, believing yourself to be despised because of your origins by the larger society that you were born into, permanently condemned to unemployment by the system that contemptuously feeds and clothes you, and surrounded by a contemptible nihilistic culture of despair, violence, and crime. Is it not possible that you would seek a doctrine that would simultaneously explain your predicament, justify your wrath, point the way toward your revenge, and guarantee your salvation...? Would you not seek a "worthwhile" direction for the energy, hatred, and violence seething within you, a direction that would enable you to do evil in the name of ultimate good? It would require only a relatively few of like mind to cause havoc.

Prescient, but hardly eerily so, of Rezzoug's "kids" quoted above, eh? France has every right to require its citizens to be French. But every Frenchman - regardless of origin or creed - must be given a genuine share of Liberté, Egalité, and Fraternité.