A Look Inside the Caliphate: A podcast about ISIS by Rukmini Callimachi

I started listening to this podcast a few weeks ago and I can’t get over how great it was. I was really disappointed when it ended at only 10 Chapters. I was hoping it would go further and that Callimachi would keep following up on the aftermath of ISIS in the Middle East.

I’d like to hear more about ISIS fighters that are returning to Western countries and trying to avoid prosecution. I’d like to learn more about how Western countries are dealing with this problem, like, for example, how the UK is stripping some ISIS members of their UK passports. I’d also like to hear more “human interest” reports from people on the ground that were affected personally by ISIS. I’d rather hear it in an interview and investigative audio format than read about it later. Somehow, it seems more real and it’s certainly more engaging.

The Caliphate podcast itself is well done, engaging, and informative. If you have any interest in the Middle East, I highly recommend it. I do need to warn you that most of the episodes contain descriptions of extreme violence, sometimes narrated by the perpetrators of that violence in interviews and sometimes by their victims. It starts out with interviews of an ISIS member who returned to Canada, Abu Hussayfa (nom de guerre), and then moves on to other topics, including scouring the front lines for documentation.

I suppose what intrigued me the most about the podcast is how normal “Abu Hussayfa” sounds, considering what he did in Syria. I was also interested in how he tried to justify and excuse his actions. That seemed to be a trend among the people interviewed, which isn’t surprising in and of itself. The religious justifications he chose to use were what I found interesting.

I was surprised to find out just how bureaucratic and organized ISIS was. I had this idea in my head that it was organized in the sense of being a good fighting group, but the fact that they kept careful financial records, criminal justice records, and had a hierarchical administration was unexpected. I suppose it’s hard to picture ISIS, on the one hand, destroying historical sites for being “haram,” and on the other hand acting like a modern bureaucratic state.

Anyhow, again, if you have an interest in the Middle East you should really find time to listen to this podcast.

Regarding Open Borders

I’m all for helping genuine refugees and asylum seekers, but just opening up the US borders and letting everyone in the world that’s a “good person” come flooding in just wouldn’t work. It shouldn’t even have to be said that it wouldn’t work. It’s obvious. It’s common sense. Just on the face of it, how many “good people” do you think are out there that would pack up and move here? Hundreds of millions, more than likely. And you have to ask yourself, can the country actually support that many people? Is there space to just let everyone that wants to come here show up and claim a spot? What spot are they going to claim? What jobs are they going to take? Who’s going to support them all while they get settled in?

The US is only so big and only has so many resources and there’s no reason that this country, out of all the countries in the world, should take a fat dump on its citizens and prioritize foreigners or create unnecessary competition…just because they’re good people. Countries are established for the citizens of that country. Governments are established to promote the interests of citizens of the country, not the citizens of other countries while using its own citizens as a piggy bank. The United States of America is a country. It is a country. It is not a destination for everyone in the world that is looking to make a better life for themselves. The US is not obligated to take in everyone in the world. The US is not obligated to let someone remain in the United States just because they’re a hard worker. Being a hard worker doesn’t qualify someone for citizenship unless it’s a skilled job category that the US has identified a domestic shortage in, and even then someone in the country illegally wouldn’t qualify because they are in the country illegally

The United States has an immigration system that prioritizes skilled labor and family members and accommodates actual asylum seekers and refugees. It has a 100% fair, flat quota (which, by definition is not racist or prejudiced because it doesn’t prioritize or favor any one group), for every country in the world. It doesn’t play favorites. Everyone has an equal chance if they have a skill that’s needed. If they don’t, why is that our problem? The US isn’t here to provide shelter to everyone in the world.

No one is entitled to come to the US. No one. Immigrants, legal or illegal, do not have a right to citizenship. It is a privilege granted by the US government to desirable candidates. Those desirable candidates are defined in the Immigration Act of 1965. Take a look at the 1965 Immigration Act if you’re not sure what our immigration system is supposed to achieve. If you don’t think it’s fair, open a book (or even Wikipedia) and look at what it replaced. Also, open a dictionary and look up the definition of the word “fair”.

This country is falling apart and is far from #1 in any category except military power and that’s not ok. We need to get our own country together and stop worrying about foreigners who should be working to make their own countries better instead of putting all of their efforts into finding loopholes to bypass our immigration process.

The amount of money and effort and time being spent on frivolous asylum and refugee claims and deportations could be redirected into our education system (because it obviously needs it, judging by the state of public discourse on social forums), infrastructure, and caring for this country’s needy citizens. There are thousands of homeless people that could use programs to help them get back on their feet. There are thousands of school children that don’t get enough to eat each day. Countries need “me time” too, and this country needs time to focus on self-repair.

I believe that every immigrant that arrives here legally through the regular immigration process is entitled to pursue their interests with all the rights, obligations, and privileges that come with permanent residency and, if they choose, citizenship. I am 100% for legal immigration from all corners of the world and in favor of taking in genuine refugees and asylum seekers. However, I just cannot support illegal immigrants, no matter how good they are. Yes, the US is a nation of immigrants.

Yes, people migrated here before there were set borders and established immigration laws. However, this isn’t the 1600s. This is 2018. We have immigration laws and restrictions, like every other country in the world, and we have them to make sure the US continues to prosper economically.

Traffic Congestion and Reckless Driving in New York City

Wednesday, April 11th, 2018. W 39th St. & 6th Ave in Manhattan, New York City.

I was traveling straight in the right-hand lane when a Yankee Trails bus (lic. plate 41944-PC, perhaps, the video is sort of blurry) made a right onto 6th Ave from the left-hand lane and cut me off. I had to turn hard to the right to avoid having the bus hit the front of my car and probably rip the front fender off or worse.

This is obviously a violation of traffic laws and is reckless driving. Bus drivers in NYC just don’t seem to care about other vehicles on the road. Even MTA buses often cut people off or swing hard into an adjacent lane without waiting for traffic to clear, running other vehicles into oncoming traffic or causing them to have to slam hard on their brakes.

It’s ridiculous and this type of driving is consistent and constant in New York City. It’s not just the buses, either. A lot of people in personal vehicles drive the same way.

Take this driver, for example:

Every so often, Pix11 or NY1 will post a story on Facebook about traffic congestion and commenters offer a slew of theories and complaints. Those complaints have mostly targetted For-Hire Vehicle services, but I don’t see removing all for-hire vehicles as a legitimate or even reasonable solution.

Are there a lot of For-Hire Vehicles in the city? Yes, because there are a lot of people that need and use them. Do they cause a lot of congestion? Not really. Not compared to traffic accidents caused by people who drive like that Yankee Trails bus driver, or the person on Westend Ave in the second video. Or like all of the double and triple-parked delivery vehicles during the day that bottleneck traffic on main avenues and side streets.

Traffic congestion sucks, but much of that pain is self-inflicted. Legislating that deliveries only occur at night would be a quick fix that would dramatically ease traffic congestion during the day. That lighter traffic would probably lead to less road rage/stupidity, which would lead to fewer accidents.

But, that’s an easy, smart fix for average New Yorkers that doesn’t pander to business interests. It also doesn’t create an opportunity for the city and state government to screw New Yorkers with another tax, which they’re introducing on all for-hire vehicles fares below 96th Street starting in January 2019, supposedly to supplement the MTA’s budget. Being real, it doesn’t make sense to tax an unrelated service to make up budget shortfalls in the MTA. Being more real, that money will probably just line pockets and by summer of 2019 the MTA will be crying for more cash and raising fares again. Is anyone really surprised, though?

العربية: الجمعية الاسلامية الامريكية - مسجد ديربورن, 9945 West Vernor Highway, Dearborn, Michigan English: American Moslem Society Dearborn Mosque, 9945 West Vernor Highway, Dearborn, Michigan

Reactionary Historiography: Post 9/11 Muslim Communities and Immigrants

(Featured image of American Moslem Society Dearborn Mosque by Dwight Burdette)

The following is a historiography that reviews literature covering Muslim immigration and communities in the United States after the events of September 11th, 2001 in New York City, NY, USA. Because of how cut & paste into WordPress from a Word file works, you’ll find all the footnotes at the end of the page.


Books Reviewed

Abdo, Geneive Abdo. 2006. Mecca and Main Street: Muslim Life in America After 9/11. New York: Oxford University Press.

Bilici, Mucahit. 2012. How Islam Is Becoming an American Religion: Finding Mecca in America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Curtis IV, Edward E. 2009. Muslims in America: A Short History. New York: Oxford University Press.

Haddad, Yvonne Yazbeck. 2011. Becoming American? The Forging of Arab and Muslim Identity in Pluralist America. Waco: Baylor University Press.

Hussain, Amir. 2016. Muslims and the Making of America. Waco: Baylor University Press.

McCloud, Aminah Beverly. 2006. Transnational Muslims in American Society. Gainesville: University Press of Florida.


When the World Trade Center (the “Twin Towers”) in New York City was attacked on September 11th, 2001, many Americans were understandably shocked and angry, but they also found themselves asking, what is a Muslim? Why would they want to attack us?[1] Setting aside the problem of conflating all Muslims with terrorists, these questions revealed a vacuum of knowledge about Muslims and Islam in the United States. Further, there was a lack of understanding that Muslims were and had been a part of American society since before the United States was founded. The rhetoric that flooded popular media painted a picture of Islam vs the West[2] and reinforced the idea that there was a hard dichotomy between the two.[3] One could not be American and be Muslim, one could only be Muslim in America. Scholars from multiple disciplines saw this as an opportunity to produce literature on Muslim immigration and Muslim communities living within the United States to correct the narrative being constructed around Muslims and Islam. Because of this, much of the recent scholarship on Islam has been defensive and apologetic in nature, presenting Muslims in a way that normalizes them and introduces them as typical Americans to the rest of society. Recent scholarship has focused primarily on establishing a Muslim American identity, rather than on placing Muslim immigrants and immigration in a historical context.

According to Kambiz GhaneaBassiri, a scholar on the history of Islam in America, this type of scholarship is not new. Writing in 2010, he indicates that both before and after September 11th, 2001, scholarship on Muslims in the United States has been primarily anthropological and sociological, dealing with questions of assimilation and identity formation.[4] He goes on to say that the historical studies that do exist focus primarily on African American Muslims and on how non-Muslim Americans perceive Islam.[5] Further, because of the positioning of Islam as being opposed to the West, most scholarship on Muslims in the United States has focused on how they are faring in a “foreign” society rather than on how they are actively participating in American history.[6] Much scholarship on Muslims in the US also aims to teach non-Muslim Americans about Islam to counter xenophobia and to reposition Muslims as being a part of “us”.[7] However, this focus on Muslim voices excludes the voices of other groups that have interacted with them. What I mean by this is that ethnic identity formation is both an external and internal process.[8] Muslim American identity formation occurred and continues to occur within a wider American social context. Without adding the voices of non-Muslims to the narrative, as GhaneaBassiri writes, scholars “[dim] the signifiance of the larger American Islamic socio-historical context [in] which American Muslims have [acted] for nearly four centuries.”[9] Many of the books reviewed in this paper, including Hussain’s Muslims and the Making of America, which was published in 2016, fit GhaneaBassiri’s analysis of recent scholarship as being primarily focused on identity formation and assimilation. The two exceptions are McCloud and Curtis’s books.

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My Norfolk Island Pine isn’t dead so I committed to a new pot

Just before Christmas, I was in Trader Joe’s in Edgewater, NJ, getting groceries and I saw that they had small Norfolk Island pine trees for sale. We have a small apartment and we didn’t want to deal with the hassle of getting a real tree for Christmas, so we got a fake 3-foot tree that I could stuff back into a box and put away once the holiday was over. It’s not really the same, though, and I wanted something evergreen in the house, so I bought one of the Norfolk Island pines.

Plants in a Raskog utility cart from Ikea

Plants in a Raskog utility cart from Ikea

It’s really small. There are actually five different plants, all planted close together. It doesn’t have a very strong pine smell. At first, I was disappointed by that, but if I’m going to keep the pines all year long, that’s probably a bonus. The smell of evergreen tree might get old after a while, like using the same air freshener in your car for too long.

Before last summer, I’d only had two cacti as plants. The first died when I went to basic training for the Army in 1998 and I forgot to ask someone to water it. The second died in 2013 because the apartment we were in just didn’t get enough light and I wasn’t savvy enough to know about plant growing lights and little plant aquariums for succulents. I wanted to make our current apartment more green, though, both to improve the air quality and to try to connect our concrete-jungle life to nature in some small way. Besides our cats, that is. So, I picked up a vine plant that I already forgot the name of but seems pretty hardy and does well in low. I got three stalks of lucky bamboo. And, the Norfolk Island pine was our latest addition.

The vine and bamboo are pretty hardy. I feel like I’d have to try hard to kill them. I wasn’t sure the pine tree was going to make it though, especially since there isn’t that much light during the winter here. So, I was pleasantly surprised to see it still hanging on at the beginning of this month. I decided to commit to the plant and got a new pot, good potting soil, a clamp lamp and a grow bulb to offset the low winter light.

I think it looks great. One of these days, if we decide to buy a house, maybe I’ll be able to plant it in the ground. I wonder how fast they grow?