Thursday, October 26, 2006

A Blessed Eid to All

In commemoration of Eid Al Fitr I decided to post these favorite verses of mine from the Quran (in English for all of you non-Arabic speakers).

Quran 93: The Glorious Morning Light

By the Glorious Morning Light,
And by the Night when all is still
Your Guardian has not forsaken you,
nor is He displeased.
And the Hereafter will be better for you than the present.
And soon will He give you that wherewith you shall be well-pleased.
Did He not find you an orphan and give shelter?
Did He not find you lost and wandering, and give guidance?
Found you in need, and made you independent.
Therefore, treat not the orphan with harshness,
Nor repulse that who, in need, seeks you
But speak of the blessings of the Lord

Quran 24:35; The Verse of Light

Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth.
His Light is as like a Niche and within it a Lamp enclosed in Glass;
the glass like a brilliant star: Lit from a blessed Tree,
an Olive tree that is neither of the east nor the west,
whose oil is luminous even though no fire has touched it:
Light upon Light!
Allah guides whom He wills into to His Light;
Allah sets forth Parables for men: and Allah knows all things.

Note: Allah is God in Arabic

I re-translated parts of these so that they "flowed" better in English. I noticed that many Quranic verses tranlsated into English have an issue with readability; they contain far too many words like "verily", "God doth guide", etc. - and a style of writing that tends to sound archaic at times. I therefore touched up the verses above a little bit in order to make them more readable to a western audience (and in my opinion even more true to the Arabic original).

On 9/11 of this year I went with a Jordanian friend to St. Marks church here in Seattle, where they were commemorating 9/11 with services that were to be given by representitives of all 3 Abrahamic faiths, entitled "Moving Forward Together". To my ears, the Islamic part of the service sounded a little bit too foreign, too "other" than it needed to be. The 'Sufi' part, with touches of Rumi, was much more palatible to a western audience than the other parts. There were even blond women in white robes chanting "Istaghfarullah" (I ask forgiveness from God). Kudos to them, I say.

But what really baffles me is when Imams read Quranic verses to non Arabic speakers in Arabic. The must think that surely the poetry and music from the original Arabic will somehow transfer and become apparent to the Americans. Well, guess what - it doesn't; It just sounds like a foreign language, and usually they drone on and on. Sadly, when they recite English-language translations of the Quran it also sounds a bit too esoteric, like a cross between Shakespeare and the Arabian Nights (is 'verily' an English word?). Seems to me like a more contemporary translation of the Quran is in order. Especially as I get the sense that many Americans really want to learn more about Islam and get to know more of what it really is all about. Come to think of it, a lot of Muslims want exactly that as well.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Announcing: Freewaregenius

For the past month or so I've been working on my brand new Freeware blog. Check it out at is a freeware blog that contains reviews and download links of some of the coolest legal free PC software out there. The basic philosophy behind the site is simple: quality not quantity. Unlike other sites, this freeware blog does not list every single free program on the planet. It will, however, present one to three of the best freeware program reviews for each category, written from the perspective of an average computer user. The blog also allows visitors to leave comments under each review in a forum-style conversation.

The idea behind came to me when I was clean-installing Windows on my wife's laptop. I made a list of all the software categories that I had to install ... viruskiller, antispyware, firewall, cd-ripper, dvd player, etc., and realized that for most of these I knew of a competent 100% free option that was often my top pick even when compared with commercial/shareware software. The vision behind is therefore to replace as many retail/shareware programs that I ever need to use with a first rate freeware alternative, such that one day every installed program that I use will be FREE (hence the freewaregenius slogan: one day all software will be free).

Click here to learn more about Freewaregenius, or here to go the Freewaregenius main page.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Obituary: Mohammed Ali Kurdi

My father and me. Posted by Picasa

It’s the 40th day anniversary since my father, Mohammed Ali Kurdi (Abu Maher), died of cancer on August 15th 2006. He was 78 years old.

He had a very dignified death. He was not in pain and was communicative and aware to the end. He lived a very full and rewarding life. We buried him in the same grave as his father, which is what he said he wanted.

Somehow, as if by magic, my father’s illness and death brought our family back together after it had been fractured by disagreements over the family business. It was as if he had sacrificed his body to heal the family that he loved so much, and all we could do is watch, helpless to absolve him of this ultimate sacrifice once it had been set in motion.

My father was an original and an eccentric man. He read a lot and always bought four or five copies of every book, in order to give them to friends should they express an interest. He seemed to have an encyclopedic knowledge of most everything, especially history. Upon meeting somebody he would always ask who their parents were, and always traced their origins. “Oh, you are the son of so-and-so. Your father was a clerk at such-and-such court, and in 1952 he was renting from so-and-so in Jabal Amman”. “Your father”, he would continue, “suffered and worked really hard to have his sons educated”, “but alhamdullilah you children have prospered and done well”. He would often get a dropped-jaw, wide-eyed reaction when he would relate to people stories about their family that sometimes they never heard before, or did not think that some stranger could possibly know so intimately. These interactions always created an instant bond with people.

My father, in fact, would trace most subjects to their origins 1000 years back in history. It was sometimes hard to get away from him when simple interactions would somehow evolve into the history of the universe. I often had to rescue hapless friends of mine from the unfolding 20 minute historical account that invariably followed their introduction to him.

And now lost forever is all this information, all this history, all this knowledge. Who will relate to us a first hand account of the early history of Amman now that you’re gone, baba?

Despite not being overly religious, my father had a very peculiar religious streak. “Most of those sheikhs you see with the beards (il-mashayekh wil-multaheen)”, he would say, “understand nothing about Islam”, with the implicit suggestion that he knew all about it. My father taught me that Islam was a misunderstood religion, even by its followers. His was a historic Islam that had originally spread and succeeded through its inherent poetic beauty, its inclusiveness and tolerance. His idealization of Islam came through the idea that since the inception of the faith the realm of Islam had been, by and large, one of the most tolerant, inclusive, and accepting of peoples of other faiths that lived within it. My father would relate to me what I did not know, that, in fact, through most of history Jews had been accepted and lived in peace in Islamic societies at the same time that they were being persecuted most everywhere else.

My father was, in a sense, a very liberal Muslim. He felt that the meaning of the faith was more important than the outward rituals, and cared deeply about a philosophical Islam that he seemed to intuitively understand, marked primarily by its inclusiveness and tolerance. I wish more of us were Muslims like you were, Abu Maher.

I am fortunate to have been greatly influenced by my father’s deep intellectual curiosity, his sense of fairness, his interest in others, especially foreigners, and his love of travel. It was a point of pride to him that by the time I was 16 years old he had already taken me to five out of six continents, including most of the countries of Europe and the Far East, as well as the US. It gave him great pleasure to count aloud the names of all the countries that I had visited. I was a very fortunate young man, and I could only hope that one day I will be able to do the same to my own son. My father set the bar so high.

I realize that my father was many different things to different people. To most of our extended family he was a moral bulwark that they turned to for support, especially financial support. He always helped people, and took particular pleasure in paying for the education of young people. To me my father was always gentle (which he wasn’t to everyone) and highly moral (which he always was). Even as I rebelled against him as a young man he was gentle with me. I realize that everything that I am today I owe to him.

By writing this I do not mean to idealize my father. He had his fair share of faults and made many mistakes. He belonged to a generation whose style of doing business was becoming increasingly outdated towards the end of his life; less powerpoint presentations and professional business culture than wheeling and dealing. Of course, he didn’t need to be anything else than what he was; he had accomplished a lot in his lifetime: a self made man who was amongst the first in our family to be university educated. He enjoyed being a Pharmacist and a Businessman. He left behind businesses that 200 families depend on for their livelihood, including our own.

He would also often try to help people in ways that he would find they didn’t want to be helped. I believe that it hurt him whenever he would extend a helping hand only to have it be rejected, which happened to him more times than it should have. I also feel that he was taken for granted by friends and family alike, who realized upon his death what he represented, and just how much he had meant to them. The outpouring of genuine grief and feeling after he died was heartening. We still grieve.

Baba I miss you so much. It hurts so so much to lose you. You are in my heart always.

If you want to read more about my father see Ahmad's blog entry.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Reflections on the war in Lebanon

I’m back in Jordan since two days, and it is clear that the war in Lebanon, predictably, has galvanized public opinion against the US for its support of what Israel has done. “This war should be a reminder to us that Israel is our enemy”, says a Jordanian whom I have always known to be a moderate and who previously supported peace and coexistence with Israel. If America is concerned with bolstering its Arab allies and pragmatic Arab moderates, it should think twice about the consequences of its unequivocal support for Israel.

The US and Israel seem happy to sacrifice the country of Lebanon for the fantasy of getting rid of Hizbollah. Whether they will succeed in doing so is yet to be seen, and in fact seems unlikely. The only thing that is guaranteed and that has already happened is the trashing of Lebanon, the destruction of its roads, ports, bridges, and most of its infrastructure, the destruction of whole villages in the south and whole neighborhoods in Beirut, and the killing of an estimated 1000 civilians and 3000 others maimed and wounded as of this writing. Not to forget the exodus of more than 600,000 Lebanese in fear, most of whom fled outside their country.

This is why this war, by any measure, is a despicably racist war: why is Arab blood so cheap? Why is it ok to destroy a country like Lebanon and kill a thousand innocent people in response to the abduction of 2 Israeli soldiers? If America thinks that this is a reasonable calculus then it is dead wrong.

How is it that the Israeli Army’s chief of staff can go on Israeli TV and get away with proclaiming that his army is “going to turn Lebanon back into what it was 20 years ago”, and later go on to threaten to blow up “a 10 floor building for every missile”. Does America not care that these aforementioned buildings will probably contain hundreds of innocent civilians and children? Does America not care to be associated with such belligerent revenge-driven bluster? Do Israelis not care that their army has stooped so low? Why are Israelis not appaled that their army is proving most efficient at incurring civilian casualties.

What the world needs is not the birth pangs of a new Middle East, but the birth pangs of a new kind of US Administration, namely one that has a Mideast policy that is distinct than that of Israel. This is needed for Israel's sake as well. I am not sure why the American administration does not or cannot seem to understand the very simple concept that at this point “why” the conflict started is much less important than “how” it is being conducted. Arabs wonder about the reasons why this Administration does not hesitate in giving a green light to turning Lebanon, a previously functional country with a western-leaning, democratically elected government, into another chaotic Iraqi-style black hole. Are our countries really that worthless to Mr. George W. Bush?

Hizbullah has already won in the eyes of most Arabs, simply by being able to muster a good fight with Israel and giving it an unexpected jolt. Sheikh Nasarallah, Hizbullah’s leader, is wildly popular and would probably be elected across the Arab world if it came down to it. Message#1 to George Bush: this is not good news. Message#2: America should think twice in the future before espousing the Israeli position hook, line, and sinker. Its about time the US started acting like a superpower instead of the consortium of special interests that it apparently is.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Great Article by Rami Khouri

The irony of it all is that, at the heart of it, Arabs and Americans share the same common malaise. It's called the Israeli lobby; it's called AIPAC. I love how Rami Khoury refers to this, in the article below: the "American orgy of diplomatic intoxication with the enticements of pro-Israeli politics. "

Americans should be aware: the unchecked influence of the Israeli lobby will always result in the U.S. foreign policy being lead, shaped, and defined by Israel. This in turn will mean one thing: there will not be an acceptable solution in the Middle East, one that is not disproportionally lopsided and favoring Israel. There will never be a strong U.S president that can call a spade a spade, contradict the Israeli version of reality, or uphold Israel to any high standard that might actually lead to real change.

Pity for all involved; Arabs, Israelis, and Americans, though they prefer to be blissfully unaware of what is done in their name.

Here's a great article by Rami Khoury of the Lebanese Daily Star:

Monday, July 24, 2006
A new Middle East, or Rice's fantasy ride?

By Rami G. Khouri Daily Star staff

American officials are very good at vernacular descriptions, but lousy at history and political reality in the Middle East. As US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sets off Sunday on her short trip to a Middle East that is increasingly engulfed in violent confrontations and political turmoil, she has described the massive destruction, dislocation and human suffering in Lebanon as an inevitable part of the "birth pangs of a new Middle East."

From my perspective here in Beirut, watching American-supplied Israeli jets smash this country to smithereens, what she describes as "birth pangs" look much more like a wicked hangover from a decades-old American orgy of diplomatic intoxication with the enticements of pro-Israeli politics.

We shall find out in the coming years if indeed a new Middle Easy is being born, or - as I suspect - we are witnessing the initial dying gasps of the Western-made political order that has defined this region and focused primarily on Israeli national dictates for most of the past half-century. The way to a truly new and stable Middle East is to apply policies that deliver equal rights to all concerned, not to favor Israel as having greater rights than Arabs.

Rice declared that Israel should ignore calls for a cease-fire, saying: "This is a different Middle East. It's a new Middle East. It's hard, We're going through a very violent time."
Behind the American position to support Israel's massive attacks against Lebanon's civilian infrastructure and Hizbullah positions is a sense - widely reported from Washington in recent days - that the Bush-Rice team wants to use this conflict to achieve short-term tactical aims and long-term strategic goals that serve the interests of America, Israel and their few allies in the region.

Short-term, the US would like Israel to wipe out Hizbullah, allow the Lebanese government to send its troops to the South of the country, ensure the safety of northern Israel, cut Syria's influence down to size, and apply greater pressure on Hizbullah supporter Iran. The US opposes a cease-fire, therefore, because, "a cease-fire would be a false promise if it simply returns us to the status quo," Rice said.

This diplomatic position to support Israel's attacks on Lebanon, coupled with rushing sophisticated precision-guided bombs to Israel from the US arsenal, indicates that Washington seriously aims to fundamentally redraw the political and ideological map of the Middle East in the longer term. If this means yet another Arab land goes up in flames and war, so be it, Washington seems to be saying. So we now have three Arab countries where American policies and arms have played a major role in promoting chaos, disintegration and mass death and suffering: Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon. You can watch them burn, live on your television sets.
Ironically, these were the three countries that Bush-Rice & Co. have held up as models and pioneers of the American policy to promote freedom and democracy as antidotes to Arab despotism and terrorism.

Washington's desire to change the face of the Arab world requires removing the last vestiges of anti-American defiance and anti-Israel resistance. The problem for Bush-Rice is that such sentiments probably comprise a majority of Arab people. Most of them flock to Islamist parties and resistance groups like Hamas, Hizbullah, the Muslim Brotherhood and assorted Shiite groups in the Iraqi government.

Syria and Iran are the most problematic governments for Washington in this respect. So there is further irony and much incoherence in the latest American official desire for Arab governments to pressure Syria to reduce its support for Hizbullah and other groups who defy the US and Israel. The numbing fact that Bush-Rice fail to acknowledge - perhaps understandably, given the alcoholic's tendency to evade reality - is that Washington now can only speak to a few Arab governments (in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and elsewhere) who are in almost no position to impact on anyone other than their immediate families and many guards.

Washington is engaged almost exclusively with Arab governments whose influence with Syria is virtually nonexistent, whose credibility with Arab public opinion is zero, whose own legitimacy at home is increasingly challenged, and whose pro-US policies tend to promote the growth of those militant Islamist movements that now lead the battle against American and Israeli policies. Is Rice traveling to a new Middle East, or to a diplomatic Disneyland of her own imagination?

If Rice pursues contacts in the coming five days that increase Washington's bias toward Israel, tighten its links with isolated, increasingly impotent Arab governments, and further alienate the masses of Arab public opinion, she will exacerbate the very problem she claims she wants to fix: the spread of violence and terror, practiced simultaneously by the armies of states like the US and Israel, by police-state governments in the Middle East who live by violence as a rule, and by non-state actors like Hizbullah and others like it.

On her long flight from Washington to Palestine-Israel Sunday night, someone should give Condoleezza Rice a modern history book of the Middle East, so that she can cut through the haze of her long political drunken stupor, and finally see more clearly from where the problems of this region emanate, where the solutions come from, and how her country can become a constructive rather than a destructive force.

Rami G. Khouri writes are regular commentary for The Daily Star.

Friday, July 21, 2006

A sober, sane article on the ills of the Middle East

This one from the Herald Tribune is worth reading:

Here's a quote:

"Israeli unilateralism is founded on the false premise that Israelis can attain peace and security without affording Palestinians their liberty and independence. Ten months after Israel's redeployment from Gaza, the escalating crisis throughout the Middle East demonstrates the resounding failure of this policy."

Monday, July 10, 2006

Zidane Explained

For those of you who are wondering what the hell happened with Zidane and the France/Italy world cup final .... everything you need to know is right here: