Monthly Archives: February 2010

Freedom of expression gone wrong

Couple of days ago our university chancellor sent the following email:

To the [campus] Community:

In today’s early morning hours, a disheartening and inexcusable act was committed on our campus when cotton balls were strewn at the front entrance to our Black Culture Center. Those guilty of this despicable action have not yet been identified, but [university] Police Department became involved immediately and is conducting an investigation.  This university is fully committed to tolerance and respect for every one of its members, and this kind of conduct will not be tolerated. I urge anyone who has information related to this crime to contact the [university] Police Department immediately at xxx-xxxx. I also ask you to join me in expressing your own individual concern and support to the members of our community who were the apparent targets. I have been informed that the Legion of Black Collegians is calling a [town] Meeting for Monday at __ p.m., location to be determined. 

[our university] celebrates the diversity of our community. This morning’s behavior offends us all.

________   ________

Chancellor

This disrespectful act was a shock to me because I have been in this campus for five years and I have never heard of such thing before. Scattering cotton balls in front of the black culture center, during the Black History Month, sends a strong hatred massage to this group of people. It is a reminder of a dark era in the history of the US, before the Civil War, when black people were enslaved and forced to work on cotton plantations. This act made our campus enraged by such racial incident.

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Cotton balls scattered in front of the Black Culture Center on our campus

To be honest if this hatred is against Muslims I can find a reason, somehow. Some Americans, since September 2001, are living in fear of what the US likes to call a “sleeping cell”. That is Muslims in America one day will kill all Americans when they get the chance. The movie Traitor, released in 2008, exploits this issue in a way to make Americans hate American Muslim. The movie talks about multiple suicide bombing plans to be performed by American Muslims. What was really awful is that those American Muslims shown in the movie were students, doctors, engineers, parents, etc. The movie wanted to teach Americans that their Muslim neighbor is a terrorist. Luckily, the movie didn’t do well because it was an unbelievable exaggeration.

But this is Hollywood. Let me talk about reality. Regardless of its overseas policy1 the United States as far as I know, is the only country in the world that can claim it is openness to all races, religions, colors, and languages.  This is because the many laws they have that take care of almost every aspect of life. For example, do you know that English is not the official language of the United States [source]. In some states, English is the official language and in others it is not [source]. Moreover, states that chosen English as official language made this decision as early as in the 80s and the 90s only.

It was a shock to me first time I learned that English is not the official language of some states. What does that mean? It means that you don’t have to speak English to survive in the United States. A public hospital is responsible, by law, in finding a translator for a patient who doesn’t speak English. In some cases, people over 50 are not required to speak English to get a citizenship. Some cities (e.g., Huston and New Mexico) and states with huge Mexican population have Spanish written where ever there is an English sign.

The term “politically correct” is widely used and practiced here, by many. To be politically correct means not to offend other gender, race, culture, religion, etc. The education system here is done in a way to emphasize the openness to others. Americans don’t ask you where you came from because of the political correctness thing. I am not a fan of the political correct practice because it also means take no action against people who spread hatred. When the Neo Nazi marched in our small college city couple of years ago, the entire city was on the edge. College students received emails from chancellors educating them about “Freedom of Speech”, professors talked about the issue in class, and the residents were well informed and educated about it in the local media. We were reminded that freedom of speech means that everyone got to say what he believes in even if his message is a hatred one, like the Neo-Nazi or the Ku Klux Klan. I remember at that time I was in a class with all foreign students. Our female Texan instructor told us that because of the country’s democratic law and freedom of speech practice the city could not tell the Neo-Nazi that they can’t march in the city.

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My point is with all these laws of equality and political correctness in the United States there are people that we can’t understand their mindset. As in any country you meet the bad and the good. There is no such thing as a pure sinless city. Even with education and awareness humans can still be disrespectful to others and worse they can be extremely violent toward the others.

My perspective of relationships between humans is a “Union” relationship not an “intersection” relationship. It means that we don’t need to find common grounds to love each other.  We should value our differences not destroy it.

 

1 I know many, including myself, don’t agree with the United States overseas politics but I am not talking about politics in this post.

A customer service experience with itoot.net

So, finally I got to be on toot. I was so happy and excited because I tried to submit my blog imagemany times but I never made it.  Being on itoot.net means that there are some people reading your blog and that your blog has potential to be worth reading. 

Anyway, two weeks after the great announcement that my blog, with some others, was accepted I found that my blog never made it to their front page. My blog was indexed in their website but never got updated. I contacted them to inform them about the problem. The next day I received an email that they will be looking into the problem. In less than 48 hours I received another email from them explaining to me what was the problem and that they managed to fix it. I had a problem with the date and time in my RSS feed. Now, this is what I call a great customer service AND they are doing it for free.

Thank you toot team!

Jus soli and on being an alien (2/2)

In the previous part of this post I wrote about the mistake the lady at the international center of my university made when she wrote in a form, I needed for renewing my driving license, that I am a citizen of Kuwait. She thought that I am a Kuwaiti because I was born in Kuwait.

After September 11, 2001 around 2002 or 2003 there was a new regulation, at that time, that all foreigners should register at the nearest immigration office. It was stated that “aliens” need to visit the immigration office once every year. Fortunately, this regulation didn’t last more than a year because the government found it is not convenient for both the foreigners and the locals. The number of the foreign task force and the number of foreign students in the US is so big they can’t afford to waste time and money with such policy especially that registering at the immigration office needs people to cross cities and waste the whole day and maybe more. I guess this is when they decided to replace this policy with the annual renewing of the driving license which is much easier (read part 1).

The process of registration at the immigration office takes half day at least. Forms to fill up, documents to provide, waiting in one room, then waiting in another room, and of course there is the INTERVIEW. I am not sure what they were thinking when they wanted foreigners to go over this process every year. It was waste of time and money.

During my interview at the immigration office, one of the questions the interviewer asked, while she was staring at my Jordanian passport, was “You were born in Kuwait but you don’t have a Kuwaiti citizenship?” I answered “yes”. But the interviewer already knows the answer this wasn’t a question to know about something, it was a kind of a sarcasm question. She had a mocking smile when she asked me this question. In my opinion, she has all the right to smile and to even laugh it out loud. Yes, I was born in Kuwait and grow up there until I was 15 yet I don’t have a Kuwaiti passport even if I lived there for 10 or 20 more years I don’t have the right to be Kuwaiti. So, yes this American lady had all the right to laugh at us, the Arab.

Kuwait is not the only Arab country that does not grant its citizenship to the new born children. I used to think that all Arab countries are against jus soli1 but a Tunisian friend told me that anyone born in Tunisia by default gets a citizenship. I am not very sure about this though but good for them if they do that.

Jordan is no exception and even jus sanguinis2 is not entirely practiced because as far as I know a Jordanian woman married to a non-Jordanian man can’t pass her nationality to her own children.

For countries that grant nationality on the grounds of jus soli I salute you and I tip my hat to you. You deserve all the respect and gratitude for your wisdom. You know when you grant your nationality to a new baby born he will consider you his home. He will love, respect, and defend you. On the other hand, I wonder how a country that does not consider a person who was born, grow up and lived in her soul to love her when she tells him you can live in my house but you are not my son. Meanwhile, I hope Jordan and Syria don’t go to war against each other otherwise I may end up fighting my Syrian nephews (my sister’s kids) in the name of nationalism.


1 jus soli: a rule that the citizenship of a child is determined by the place of its birth.

2 jus sanguinis: a rule that a child’s citizenship is determined by its parents’ citizenship.

The Shooting of Thomas Hurndall

image On April 2003, Thomas Hurndall, a British photography student and an activist against the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories was shoot in the head by an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) sniper. His parents went to Israel wanting to know how this could have happened.

The Shooting of Thomas Hurndall [trailer] is a movie based on this true event. Here is the plot of the movie from imdb:

“After Tom Hurndall is shot in the head in Gaza, his parents Anthony and Jocelyn arrive in Israel wanting to know how it could have happened. They expect sympathy and co-operation from the Israeli authorities, but are instead met with an official explanation that fails to tally with any eye-witness accounts, and a wall of silence. When an Israeli army report attempts to whitewash the incident, the Hurndalls decide the only way to establish the truth is to launch their own investigation into the shooting, a process which brings them face to face with both the Open-Fire regulations of the Israeli army in Gaza, and the soldier who pulled the trigger.”

For someone who lived most of his life 100 km away from Israel nothing is new in this movie. An Israeli soldier cold-blooded killed a civilian. I don’t want to undermine the movie. On the contrary, the movie is a mind blowing especially to those who, for some reason, don’t know about Israel aggression. The movie’s main objective is to convey to the world what happened to Thomas Hurndall and how the Israeli military court handled this incident.

On my perspective what was mind blowing is the FACT that there are Arab soldiers in the Israeli military and that the sniper, Taysir Hayb, who shoot Tom Hurndall was a – Muslim – Bedouin. I don’t have enough information about Arabs living in Israel but it seems they are not required to serve in the Israeli military [source]. Whatever is the living status of a man he should not earn money killing his own brothers, this is not a civil war. Knowing that there are Arab snipers in the Israeli military was totally new to me. But I have to admit humans never failed to impress me.

Arabian Gulf or Persian Gulf

Since I grew up and studied in Kuwait I learned that the body of water in that part of the world is called the Arabian Gulf. When I started reading books other than textbooks I found that it is also called the Persian Gulf. Years later, I found that there is actually a dispute between Iran and the Arabian Peninsula countries what to call that gulf.

Now, Iran is actually going mental about this dispute by forcing airlines to use the term Persian Gulf instead of Arabian Gulf or they will be fanned from Iran’s airspace [source]. To be fair to both parties “last month the Saudi-based Islamic Solidarity Sports Federation said it canceled the Islamic Solidarity Games due to the Iranian host’s use of the ‘Persian Gulf’ term.” [same source]

Since I don’t know much about this issue I am not taking side with one party over the other. But I think that since Persians were there long time ago that body of water should be called Persian Gulf. But it is just an opinion.

But, I found it absurd to force the world to call you a name that not everyone agrees on. It is like when England forced the world at sometime in history to be called United Kingdom of Great Britain. Who call it Great Britain anymore? What great about Britain, these days, other than their beautiful women and their very sexy accent.

Here is conversation from Seinfeld (The Maestro) that may help you understand the problem of naming:

JERRY So what about the “Maestro” stuff. Did he make you call him Maestro.

ELAINE Yeah, I called him Maestro.

JERRY You didn’t mind?

ELAINE Well, I did at first, but actually I kind of got used to it.

JERRY O.K. from now on I want you to call me “Jerry the Great”.

ELAINE I am not calling you “Jerry the Great”.

JERRY Why not you call him Maestro.

ELAINE He is a Maestro.

JERRY Well, I’m great.

Jus soli and on being an alien (1/2)

Foreigners, or aliens as some of us are called,  in the United States, or just this Midwest State, are issued a one year only driving license. This new regulation started couple of years ago only. It is very annoying to renew the driving license every year. For international F-1 students, we need to show or provide the following documents:

  1. Passport,
  2. I-20,
  3. I-94,
  4. Visa ,
  5. Certification of enrollment,
  6. Social Security Number,
  7. Proof of Residence (such as a utility bill), and
  8. $10.

Yesterday after getting all the documents ready I went to the Driver’s License Office. Luckily, no one mentioned that my visa is expired. Yet, I still didn’t receive my driving license it takes a week  in process. So, I hope things will go fine. I can understand that I need a valid I-20 but why I need a visa to get a driving license?

Anyway, this is not the main topic of this and the coming post. Last week, I went to the International Center on campus to collect my certification of enrollment. When I proof read it while I was there I found that they, mistakenly, wrote “Please know that ___________________, a citizen of Kuwait, …”. I told them that I was born in Kuwait but I am a citizen of Jordan. The nice new lady that works there thought that since I was born in Kuwait my citizenship should be Kuwaiti. Nope!

to be continued …

How do you think fasting will bring world peace?

Being the president of the Muslim Students’ Organization (MSO) in a university with student body close to 30,000 students is not an easy job. Every week I receive at least one email from students, taking a class in communication, or media, or sociology, or culture, etc., wanting to write a report about the Muslim students on campus or about the Muslim affairs. Other group of students I receive emails from are the campus newspaper reporters.

Following are three encounters with three different reporters:

1: Last Ramadan, a reporter wanted to interview me to ask questions about Ramadan, fasting, etc. One of her questions was “How do you think fasting will bring world peace?” I forgot what my answer was but I am sure it was nothing close to what I had in mind.
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2: Two weeks ago, I was contacted by one of the campus newspaper reporter. She wanted to ask me some questions about the Christmas day bombing plot. Mainly, the questions were about the new guidelines and the additional screening. Now, this thing happened two months ago, yet guess what was the title the reporter chosen for her article “Muslim students react to new flight policies”. I can understand that this title would be accurate if the Muslim students on campus demonstrated against these new flight policies or if we contacted the newspaper ourselves. In the contrary, the reporter contacted us and initiated the questions. So how does “react” fits in this article?
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3: Today, I got an email from another campus reporter. She wanted to know if she can interview me to ask few questions regarding my opinion towards a new student organization on campus called “__________  for Israel”. Now, what is the motivation behind this interview? What exactly she wants to achieve here?

The road from intelligence to insanity

Story: On February 2010 a biology professor (see photo below) killed three  professors and wounded other three at the University of Alabama at Huntsville during  a faculty meeting.

Motive: According to her husband “she felt she had been unfairly denied tenure.”

Alabama 

Conclusion: I will leave the discussion about her mental stability and her previous accusation of killing her brother to experts. [read more…]

But what is tenure track?

I wanted to write about the tenure track process long time ago. But there is a lot to say about this issue and I always procrastinate. So, may be now I can summarize few things here about this long and hard process:

  1. Five years (more or less) in PhD program. During these years a PhD student needs to pass  the qualifying exam, the comprehensive exam, his dissertation defense and many other academic related subjects.
  2. In many majors, a PhD holder can not apply for a faculty position without having experience after his PhD degree. So, he applies for postdoctoral  research position either with the same professor or work at a different research university who ever can pay him. Being a postdoctoral is just another way to put the PhD holders’ dreams on hold. It usually takes between one and 3 years and sometime may be extended to 5 years. The average salary of a postdoctoral researcher is usually less than a fresh bachelor degree graduate.
  3. After years of postdoctoral research in which he published good quality papers and earned experience working as a researcher, the PhD holder is hired at a research university as an Assistant Professor. As soon as he earns the Assistant Professor title he starts his tenure track which, depending on the university, is about  6 years long process. Tenure track is an evaluation process by the Department before promoting him to an Associate Professor. During these years he needs to show strong academic achievement such as publishing many papers, getting funds from different resources, etc.
  4. During the tenure track process, Assistant professors work harder than anytime in their lives. I have seen Assistant professors in my department working daily until 12 am and later and they are the first to be in the office in the morning. One of my former advisors, who was in his tenure track, used to email me at 11 pm requesting work to be done and ask me about the results in the next day at 9 am. And stories like these are endless. Why those Assistant professors work that hard? It is because if they didn’t get tenured they are fired from the university and they have to go to a less reputable research university and restart the process all over again. The tense of this period is affected by many factors. One factor I found really problematic is when the Assistant professor is a foreigner who is trying to settle with his family in the United States. Not having tenured means loosing his work permit. So, you can imagine the hardship those foreigner assistant professors are enduring before they get tenured.

 

To get tenure means promoted to an Associate Professor which entitles somehow job stability and security. So after all these years of enduring intense hard work could someone lose his mind if not get tenured?