Saturday, June 4, 2016

4 Things I Learned When I Fired Someone For the First Time



I questioned myself over and over again whether I’m right to fire this person. Did I do enough as a manager? Have I tried giving enough support and guidance? Or are their shortcomings something I cannot fix and firing them is the final step after providing that support and guidance? Here’s what I’ve learned about hiring and firing someone who is fairly junior in the working world.

1. Have a more thorough interview process
If I had seen more of what they’re capable of in the interview, I might not have hired them in the first place. I had some tests in place, but after this experience I’m definitely going to up the ante. So ask yourself: Is there a way to test their skills? Request copies of their previous work (or request school projects from fresh grads), give them more than one test, and try to see evidence of their performance. I took every interview question I could find from more experienced coworkers, business books and magazines, and this junior performed really well in the interview: she looked good on paper and is a pro at social situations, really easy with her answers and body language, but the devil was in the details of her work, which I hadn’t looked at closely enough. 

2. Spend more time in the beginning investing in them
At a start-up, there never feels like enough time, especially in the early stages. My regular meetings with the team grew further and further apart, and when things really got tough I ended up delegating more and supervising less. I knew there were some problems, but they felt secondary compared to launching new projects and meeting business objectives. I’ve learned that I should have pushed all of that back and kept those regular meetings to provide that support. 

3. Set standards and deadlines for improvement, so that it’s easier to see when people are not meeting them. 
This seems obvious, but in my case I had a slightly indefinite deadline for when this person improves. They had started out as “good enough” and I just wanted them to stay and grow in the company; I didn’t want to consider firing them as an option. But after I implemented a more regimented meeting schedule, set standards for work and deadlines for improvement, I began to see results a lot faster and my answer crystallised: under more structured stress, the junior began to perform better in some ways but still failed to grow in others, and that was clear enough to see that that lack of growth in key areas meant that she wouldn’t be able to hack it in the long term.

4. Fire them early.
This sounds harsh, but it’s honestly the better option over dragging out a bad fit. If I had just let them go sooner within the first 4 months, both I and the junior would have benefitted from it: I would have saved more time by letting them go and finding a better fit sooner, and she wouldn’t have settled into the role and the company, and worst of all, settled into a substandard routine. 

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Cost of living, millennials and open letters.


Buzzword: millennial.

25-year-old yelp employee called Talia wrote an open letter to her CEO about pay and cost of living, then was fired. She also wrote this cracked article from a few years ago and I can only imagine how that adds to her current struggles.
29-year-old called Stephanie came along shamed the 25-year-old in her own open letter, before a 36-year-old called Sara destroyed the 29-year-old’s whiny piece.
Then a GQ millennial wrote this satire gem piece and ruined the 29-year-old and won the open letter millennial game.
(Cost of living in a post-crisis market is a real problem, but people get caught up on who threw shade and who won or lost these trending battles).
My new hero is Sara Lynn Michener




Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Day 3: Mini-challenge at Circuit Factory


Oh my days. I feel like I've been mauled by a bear, crawled out of my grave with broken bones, walked across a snowy tundra and exacted revenge for my son's death.

No oscars for me though, I've just been going to a gym class at 5am this week. Today is day 3 with a rest day in between. I'm shattered. The gym owner kept calling me "Khaleesi" to motivate me which I appreciate, and yeah, most days I am the mother of dragons, but today I felt like the mother of suck-ass, last of the race, breaker of burpees.

But at the same time I feel good. You gotta start somewhere, so I might as well start in the winter of my 20s, with my soft teddy bear stature and low stamina. Here's to better health.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Academic paper: The Role of Presidential Families in the United States (2011)


“I hope both of you will take up that work, righting the wrongs that you see and working to give others the chances you've had. Not just because you have an obligation to give something back to this country that has given our family so much—although you do have that obligation. But because you have an obligation to yourself. Because it is only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you will realize your true potential.”


In an open letter that was published in Parade magazine to his daughters Malia and Sasha, Barack Hussein Obama (president-elect at the time) expresses a father’s love to his daughters and simultaneously defines the ‘obligation’ they have as privileged presidential offspring (Obama, 2009). These two factors combined —a president’s love for his family and his family’s duty as residents of the white house – belongs to a set of social ideas that has shaped the image and expectations of the presidential families in 20th century America.
The goal of this paper is to assess how widespread ideals and values of the ’American family’ have become a standard to which the American public expects the presidential (or first) families to live up to. In a context of ever-changing household structures, family types and growing concerns about the strength and validity of marriage, scholar Andrew Cherlin claims that families in today’s America experience change at a frequency double or faster than their European counterparts (Cherlin, 2009, p. 10). But in spite of the wide variety of family experiences in America, the ideas that prevailed during the 1950’s continue to serve as the standards against which the American public measures the first family. Deviation from these standards generally earns a reactionary response from the populace.
The analysis is divided into seven parts. In the first section, I review the “problems” with families in America today based on the works of sociology and family experts. In the second part I will examine how ideas of the family are formed by looking closer at the 1950’s, a period in American history that most scholars believe set the standards of what “the perfect family” is; for this portion of the paper I will rely heavily on Elaine May’s text Homeward Bound (May, 1999). Part three addresses the feasibility of “setting standards” for family life and whether using the 1950’s family model is practical in the late 20th and early 21st century—this part of the paper will also discuss the racial facet of family life and how African Americans were legally and socially restricted from reaching those “family standards” at the time (May, 1999). By addressing the racial aspect of African American families, it underscores the significance of Obama’s election victory as someone from a marginalized group who could reach the highest position in US politics. In the fourth section of the paper, I analyze the legal changes that have taken place after the so-called ‘golden period’ of the 1950s, that is between the 1960’s and 1990’s (Cherlin, Public and Private Families, 2008). These legal reforms have led to a redefinition of individual rights (such as the alacrity of attaining a divorce). Part five leads me to families in America today, tying back in with the “problems” section in part one but with a deeper analysis and the proposed “solutions” scholars’ and experts’ offer for families today. In this part I will rely largely on Andrew Cherlin’s work. Part six of the paper I will segue into the presidential family, and how focus from the president extended to his family members (Kellerman, 1978). At this juncture I will use Barbara Kellerman’s typological framework in identifying the political roles of presidential families; and finally in part seven I will bring the Obama family under scrutiny, analyze where they “fit” in the experiences of ordinary American family life, how they break racial and social barriers as being the first African American family in the white house, and how they are generally perceived as a “nice” family. This last part will involve a myriad of primary sources (mostly popular magazines such as Times, Newsweek, GQ, Parade, etc) that highlights their family life and how the Obama’s are regarded as one that actually satisfies the “family requirements” of the 1950’s. My own analysis in the conclusion would be that the Obama’s stable family life is something Americans feel like they need from their leader and that as far as appearances go the Obama’s truly are a stable family—but one cannot deny the political benefits of having this appearance, and that the family is one aspect Obama is strong in and can use for political purposes for his reelection in 2012.
            “In no […] other country [sic] has marriage become a social and political battlefield [and] Nowhere else is the government spending money to promote marriage” (Cherlin, Marriage-Go-Round, 2009, p. 3). According to sociologist Andrew Cherlin, marriage is a central concern of family life in the United States and the concerns overlap into social and political spheres in ways unlike its Western counterparts in Europe. Kristin Cellelo states in her text “Making Marriage Work” that the fear of high divorce rates drove many Americans to look for formulaic solutions to “save” their marriages, and this transformed the nature of marriage into something that one can put “work” into—hence the title of her book, which is a double entendre for “saving” a marriage, and the process of which marriage is turned into a job (Cellelo, 2009). Both Cherlin’s and Cellelo’s work centers on the 20th century, and indeed over the century Americans have seen the divorce rate soar, drop in the 1950’s, then soar again (May, 1999, p. 13). Cellelo’s work also points out that expectations for marriage had also been raised with the boom of marriage advice since the 1920’s, as numerous “marital experts” guaranteed that if a couple (particularly women) “worked” at their marriage, the returns would be high. Ironically the transformation of a marriage into a “job” was intended by “marital experts” to actually lower expectations for marriage by pointing out the difficulties and obstacles a couple will face; but by providing a “job framework” for couples to work within, more people expected to succeed at working at their marriages, and when the rewards did not come quickly (if at all) then the chances of that marriage ending in divorce actually increased (Cellelo, 2009, p. 5).
            At the societal level, stress was put on the appropriateness of private and public behaviors, and works like Greer Litton Fox’s “Families in the Media: Reflections on the Public Scrutiny of Private Behavior” delineate the juncture at which these spheres intersect (Fox, 1999). Fox argues that in American society there are sets of behaviors that are considered appropriate in private or in public only, and the two are mutually exclusive. By enacting private behaviors in public, the public reacts by ‘punishing’ the offenders: either through condemnation or marginalization. The reverse is true as well, as a public ‘rewards’ people who correctly adhere to public norms in public, and for presidential families I find Fox’s insights highly relevant with the acceptance of the Obama family (a family that adheres to the appropriate/inappropriate norms) and the rejection of past presidents and their failure to adhere to these tacit rules (i.e. President Clinton).
            The second part of the paper will describe how ideals shaped in the 1950’s still prevail in a contemporary context. In Elaine May’s Homeward Bound, she explains how political forces contributed to the boost in marital confidence:
“[…] In the early years of the cold war, amid a world of uncertainties brought about by World War II and its aftermath, the home seemed to offer a secure private nest removed from the dangers of the outside world […] the self-contained home held out the promise of security in an unsecure world” (May, 1999, p. i)
            The main idea in her text is that as a result of fear and competition with the Soviet Union, Americans made the first “wholehearted attempt” to embrace traditional gender roles and nuclear family household structures as a way to strengthen themselves and their country (May, 1999, p. i). By focusing on ‘The American Dream,’ Americans had given themselves a goal to reach that would (in their minds) increase their standard-of-living way beyond that of their Soviet counterparts, thereby maintaining a status quo that capitalism is the better system, as it yields happier people. ‘The American Dream’ in a few short words is the goal of attaining a harmonious marriage where the husband works and the wife stays at home, a residence in the suburbs, and this residence is comprised of parents and two or three children. May states that by the 1950’s standard-of-living had indeed risen high enough for this to be a goal many Americans could achieve. Suburban development grew as more and more people moved, and class lines began to blur as working and lower-income classes moved into the white suburban neighborhoods (May, 1999, p. xviii). Furthermore ethnic distinctions also began to blur as Italians, Irish, Greeks and Polish families joined ranks with white protestant Americans in the suburbs, eventually merging as a Caucasian middle class that outwardly looked similar and practiced similarly when it comes to family life.
The third part of my paper questions how practical the family model of the 1950’s was, and how African Americans faced more obstacles than Caucasians did in attaining ‘the American Dream.’ The dream of moving to the suburbs was both directly and indirectly denied to African Americans in several ways: One, African Americans were on the “wrong” side of the law, which stated at the time that African Americans were not allowed to own property in some areas (May, 1999, p. xx). So while class lines began to blur, racial divides between Caucasians and blacks sharpened. Another reason African Americans were barred from obtaining that dream is due to socioeconomic realities. In contrast to the Soviet Union, the United States valued individuals over collective groups because they felt that any form of collectivism is representative of socialist tendencies, which is abhorred. Therefore, initiatives towards improving welfare in the US or other projects to elevate the poor were seen as too socialist and mostly obstructed. The Soviet Union used America’s race problems as an example of the failings of the capitalist West, which is why American leaders became lenient towards the civil right movement.  The government stance on this was to prioritize political freedom over economic equity and equality, so African Americans were allowed to march and peacefully demonstrate, but their socioeconomic standing is not helped. The civil rights movement provided political avenues for minorities to voice their concerns and asks for equal political rights. The belief that one only has to work hard enough to get what they want emerged from this era too, as political rights became more available to all. But the association went to a person’s socioeconomic standing too: If a person’s socioeconomic standing was poor, it was therefore believed that the victim did not try enough to improve themselves.
Besides racial barriers to attaining the dream, there were other problems with having one standard (or one dream) for everyone. Anybody that did not fit the suburban profile were stigmatized and ostracized, and this could range from a middle class Caucasian couple who are not able to have children, to a husband who lost his job and his wife must find work, to unhappy marriages, and beyond (May, 1999). There are more exceptions to the “suburban rule” than there are adherents, but this fact has not hindered the widespread support for the suburban family lifestyle.
         The fourth part of my paper goes into the period of the late 1970’s-1990’s where legal codes are written or changed to respect individual rights (Cherlin, Public and Private Families, 2008). After studies emerged on domestic abuse and high rates of violence between married couples as opposed to assault by strangers, the ability to obtain a divorce was made easier with time (Cherlin, Public and Private Families, 2008). The ideals of the 1950’s shed in light of cases of abusive or unhappiness, and the stigma surrounding divorce shrunk as more people found more reasons to end a marriage. According to a graph in Cherlin’s work “Public and Private Families,” divorce spiked in the mid-1980’s before declining a little and hit a plateau since (Cherlin, Public and Private Families, 2008). With more legal codes protecting an individual’s right, it was easier to leave a marital arrangement. While this had benefits for those who genuinely were in need of divorcing their abusive spouses, other people would obtain a divorce from things like dissatisfaction with the marriage (Cherlin, Public and Private Families, 2008).
            The fifth part of my paper will return to the “problems” that American families experience, but this time expert advice on how to “solve” those problems are provided. When it comes to marriage, divorce, cohabitation or lone parenting, Andrew Cherlin’s advice for Americans is to “slow down” (Cherlin, Marriage-Go-Round, 2009, p. 11). While there are government and social initiatives to get Americans married and stay married, Cherlin does not see stability by grounding two people in a union. He sees stability as asking Americans to consider their next steps in life and what their priorities are as an individual or a family member. Cherlin’s concern with stability lies with the children of America, as his research has shown that American children are twice or three times as likely to experience a household restructuring in their lives as opposed to children who are raised in Europe. Children who are raised in constantly-changing households often mean that the parent (or parents) is distracted with their personal lives, which leaves the child to his or her own devices. Cherlin expresses the importance of raising children in a stable environment with plenty of attention, as it leads to the healthy development and growth of America’s future societies (Cherlin, Marriage-Go-Round, 2009, p. 12).
            With the observations and insights provided in the first five parts, we can now observe how presidential families fair in this American context, and in particular the Obama family. Barbara Kellerman offers a typology for presidential family members in her work “The Political Functions of the Presidential Family” (Kellerman, 1978) and though somewhat outdated, her work is still relevant at identifying the roles of each family member today. She provides six typologies, but I will only use the ones that apply to Michelle, Malia and Sasha Obama.
            Before delving into the typologies, Kellerman first explains how presidential families entered into the attention of the public. She narrows the conditions for attention down to four factors: The growth of the imperial presidency; the impact of television; the increase in the number and importance of primaries; and the advent of the women’s movement (Kellerman, 1978, p. 303). Kellerman argues that because the president’s movements are followed, he has become in people’s view the personification of the US government, and his personal life becomes a mystery that people are interested in. Because his family is evidence of a personal life, they become a subject of interest. The impact of television has helped familiarize the president and his family to millions of Americans, bridging the distance between citizens and their president and creating a feeling of closeness for the people to the presidential family. Primaries are part of the electoral campaign process whereby a presidential (or reelection) hopeful would visit cities and towns and make campaign promises in exchange for support. This process literally brings the president home for some people, as they are able to personally approach the president-hopeful and ask their questions or even just to take a picture with them. The advent of the women’s movement has highlighted the role of the “first lady” as one that should be utilized in order to empower the women of the country. Because of this, the “first lady” comes under scrutiny that can sometimes rival that of her first husband (Kellerman, 1978, p. 304)
            With all these factors combined, the relationship and structure of the presidential family holds a lot of weight and real consequence for the people as well as the first family. Whereas a divorce or a rebellious teen may be a personal problem for most families in America, for the presidential family these can be seen as an occupational hazard (Fox, 1999). Under such scrutiny of the public the behavior of the first family is judged, and any indication that there are problems would call the president’s qualification into question.
            The roles that Kellerman defines for each member of the presidential family are created to handle the potential “public attacks” on the presidential family, as well as to support the president. Michelle Obama can be seen as fulfilling many of the roles defined by Kellerman: the decorative role of a presidential family member is one where they make the president look good, and Michelle as well as her two daughters fills this role. By accompanying him to primaries, speeches, and important events, the Obama ladies make Barack appear to be a friendly and happy family man with a sound support group. Michelle also serves the role as an extension of president Obama by appearing at events that the president could not make himself, or organizing some of her own. Her goodwill and appearance translates to that of the president, and even though he may be absent, her presence compensates for it. Michelle also serves as the humanizer, as she recounts personal stories of the president from the time before they were married. This serves to make the president less of a distant government figure and more of a personal individual that one could imagine meeting with. Finally, Michelle is seen (especially during the campaigns) as the president’s moral support, as images of them privately hugging behind the scenes flooded the media primarily through Arianna Huffington’s news/blog site “Huffington Post.” The image of an empowered woman in a suit hugging her presidential-hopeful husband doubles as a signal to feminists that her role is diverse, and to American families that feeling of a strong spousal relationship.
            Finally, the Obama’s must be evaluated based in the context of the history and various experiences of the American family. Somewhat ironically, the Obama’s are a picture-perfect representation of the ideal family model of the 1950’s: one with a heterosexual couple with their two daughters. The irony is that this family ideal was usually attributed to white families. Only a year after taking office, Obama invited his mother-in-law to live in the White House with the family, augmenting the nuclear family structure to a more extended family structure that closely represents the kinds of households African Americans usually live in. The racial barriers that the Obama family has broken are numerous; after two centuries the president no longer represents only the Caucasian constituencies but now the biracial ones. Born from a Kenyan father and a white woman from Kansas, Obama is the product of a long and rich heritage on both sides of the family. Through his maternal grandfather’s side specifically he can trace his ancestry back to prominent political leaders in US history.  He consolidated his African American image by marrying Michelle Robinson, a direct descendant of America’s slavery history. She has done much for his image as she is regarded as a fiercely talented and bright woman who in fact mentored him while he interned at a law firm. She is praised by many Americans for opting to take a modest role in the political sphere in order to raise her daughters in the private sphere, despite her political and professional experiences.
            Consequently, my analysis of the role of presidential families is that Americans expect them to lead not just as leaders of the country but lead as healthy families too. I believe that this is why whenever a presidential family has problems, the nation becomes divided between anger at their apparent mismanagement, or sadness at the difficulties they experience. According to Fox, families in the media are given a privilege to dictate and set the bar at how appropriate behavior should be, and I believe that the Obama’s have thus far been an excellent example of a healthy and supportive family. Going back to Cherlin’s concerns, perhaps the image of a stable family in the white house is exactly what families in America need as a model to take after in their own lives.
            Some skeptics claim that the happy family image of the Obama’s are a political tool to further Obama’s agenda as president, while others argue that the love the family has for each other is real. Whichever the case, it is true that Obama can only benefit politically from being a member of a functioning and loving family; while at the same time it can be said that the nation too can benefit from having a family like the Obama’s leading the nation and changing its policies with familial priorities like healthcare and education at the fore. Whether the Obama’s presence in the White House positively or negatively impacts the demographics of American family life is yet to be seen.



Bibliography

Bianchi, L. C. (2002). Continuity and Change in the American Family. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications.
Cellelo, K. (2009). Making Marriage Work. NC: The University of North Carolina Press.
Cherlin, A. (2009). Marriage-Go-Round. New York: Knopf.
Cherlin, A. (2008). Public and Private Families. Boston: McGraw Hill.
Fox, G. L. (1999). Families in the Media: Reflections on the Public Scrutiny of Private Behavior. Journal of Marriage and Family , 821-830.
Kellerman, B. (1978). The Political Functions of the Presidential Family. Presidential Studies Quarterly , 303-318.
Marilyn Coleman, L. G. (2007). Family Life in 20th Century America. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press.
May, E. T. (1999). Homeward Bound. NYC: Perseus Books Group/Basic Books.
Obama, B. (2009, January 13). Parade Magazine. Retrieved December 22, 2010, from Parade Magazine: http://www.parade.com/news/2009/01/barack-obama-letter-to-my-daughters.html
Huffington Post




Thursday, April 23, 2015

A Year of Reading Dangerously


I had a realization a few years ago that my reading is dominated by white male British authors. I wondered how I could ever challenge the hegemony if my reading is informed by them. Not that that there's anything wrong with white male British authors, but when your reading starts to look like David Cameron's class photo then it's time to re-evaluate.

For the men who kept me company though: Nick Hornby, John O' Farrell and Sir Terry Pratchett shaped my humor, Frank McCourt gave me Ireland in the 1930s, and Shakespeare ruled my GCSEs.

While these men governed most of my reading, the rest of my reading wasn't that bad. I also grew up with Amy Tan, Marjane Satrapi, and Khaled Hosseini. Now since my realization I am trying to treat my reading like an equal opportunity employer. Too many men? Pick up more books by women! (Gillian Flynn, Sue Monk Kidd, Katharine Stockett). Not enough foreign women or women of color? Get Marina Lewycka, Nikita Lalwani. Not enough India? Aravind Adiba's "White Tiger" and the difficult slog that is "Shantaram" (one day, I may just finish it). How about an autobiography by prominent African-American men like Malcolm X and President Obama's "Dreams of My Father"? Ok. Throw in the Lebanese-French guy Amin Maalouf in there with "Ports of Call" and "Samarkand." On my bookshelf, my leisurely reading is starting to diversify and engage in polite conversation by the water cooler.

I mean, it's still hard to avoid the white guys though (and men in general) they've had a head start for years and they're good. Dan Brown anything, Malcolm Gladwell, the Freakonomics guys, etc.

I just finished Dai Sijie's "Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress." It was a nice little romp through Mao's cultural revolution, centering around two young boys who were sent to a rural mountain to face re-education.

I think all my reading of Amy Tan's books raised my expectation for more detail and cultural context, but this book is pretty short and lays bare the emotional change the boys experience and the learned change the little seamstress experiences through her encounters with them.

I was a little surprised to see that the book is in fact semi-autobiographical! I love when authors surprise me like this with non-fiction wrapped in fiction. "The Invention of Wings" by Sue Monk Kidd was such an absorbing tale set 100 years before the abolition of slavery in the US that I was bowled over when I discovered that this work too has roots in non-fiction. Now that's a book that's been hard to top in terms of character development, emotional strength and climax. I've been reading book after book after book trying to relive the same feelings that book put me through and the only one that came close was Khaled Hosseini's "And the Mountains Echoed."

My aim is to continue on this reading enterprise, and my preference is always going to be for the cultural slant, the underdog, the misery, and the uplifting redemption of love.

Got any recommendations? Send them my way.


Thursday, January 15, 2015

Published on CounterPunch magazine

After months of writers' block, I've managed to write again. This time it's about the Charlie Hebdo events and the Islamophobia that followed.

4 Reasons Why 'Je Suis Fatigue' of Islamophobia.

(Originally published in CounterPunch magazine. Read the original article here).


In light of the attacks in Paris, it’s hard to be a Muslim and be able to grieve for the victims of the Charlie Hebdo shooting before the global focus is shifted once again onto how you are to blame because the perpetrators who did this did it in the name of your religion.
Here are some of the reasons why moderate Muslims are emotionally and mentally exhausted by recent events.

1: Muslims need to condemn/take accountability on the killings now!

Muslims have been condemning the actions of all extremists since extremists hurt more Muslims than any other group ever. Who do you think is most impacted by the existence of Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, Somali pirates and ISIS? Predominantly Muslims, followed by ethnic minorities across the Middle East and Asia like Christians from Mosul and Yazidis, lastly followed by innocent people in the West. If anyone wants these extremists to stop, Muslims would be the FIRST to benefit from the eradication of such groups.

This everyday extremism that takes place in our third world is only newsworthy once it gets to the first world. And when it does, the media is quick to turn around and demand an apology from Muslims, as a monolithic collective group, to defend and distance ourselves from the crazies who have been hurting us.

Let’s conveniently forget the deep-seated issue of how extremism has risen from the poor foreign policy decisions of war-mongers in the US and UK, or the remnants of colonialism. We as Muslims are tasked to take full ownership of the actions of these extremists because they incorrectly call themselves Muslims.

Guilty by association, all 1.6 billion of us.

In case you missed it, newsflash – ISIS has been killing everyone, including innocent Muslims. They targeted Charlie Hebdo because they were particularly loud and obnoxious about Islam, which leads me to my next point:

2. The extremist shooters targeted Charlie Hebdo because they’re against free speech. 

The media narrative has been that the shooters’ motivation to attack Charlie Hebdo is because they oppose freedom of speech. Attacking free speech is far too broad and vague of a thing for the extremist to be protesting, but the narrative has run that way because it’s beautifully simplistic isn’t it?

Muslims benefit from freedom of speech too. There have been numerous instances where Muslims could benefit from freedom of speech or other civil rights when they’ve been detained at airports or taken to Guantanamo bay or denied access to a lawyer.

The people shot at Charlie Hebdo were innocent and didn’t deserve to die, and they also reinforced the status quo vis-a-vis Islamophobia, anti-semitism, and racism. There are no buts, there is no victim blaming, they were disrespectful and had a right to be and didn’t deserve to die for being rude. A lot of people struggle to see it this way so soon after the shootings but this is true.

They shouldn’t be held as martyrs of freedom of speech, because it’s an insult to freedom of speech and the journalists and political prisoners who have actually braved their way around governments that severely punish you for speaking against them. Charlie Hebdo wrote and drew comfortably their office in Paris, not reporting on war crimes in the third world. Even within France their satire doesn’t touch upon important social issues such as Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” did, nor does it question political issues the way our favorite satirist Stephen Colbert from “The Colbert Report” does. Charlie Hebdo instead drew religious icons in explicitly pornographic positions and caricatured a black politician as a monkey once. How does that contribute to the noble cause of freedom of speech?

Charlie Hebdo enjoyed a great deal of freedom of speech, but I wouldn’t say that they stood for it. If anything, their content ran closer towards hate speech. Europe is experiencing a shift in right-wing politics as a wave of immigration continues in from war-torn countries, and instead of creating a dialog on how the growing multiculturalism in Paris can find harmony with each other or how the immigration issue could otherwise be resolved, the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo instead specialized in creating Islamophobic and racist content. In many first world countries Charlie Hebdo would not be published because their content is so offensive and, frankly, vile, as it was intended to be.

3. You’re either #JeSuisCharlie or you’re #JeNeSuisPasCharlie

The discussion on the Charlie Hebdo shooting has been polarized to either you’re either #JeSuisCharlie or #JeNeSuisPasCharlie. You’re either with us or against us. You’re either pro-ISIS and against free speech or you’re pro free speech and Islamophobic/racist/xenophobic.

At a time of crisis when solidarity and understanding is more important than ever, people are forced to choose between lionizing vile cartoonists who didn’t deserve to die and being against vile cartoonist and at risk of appearing unsympathetic at their deaths.


4. You could be #JeSuisAhmed

#JeSuisAhmed started trending once news broke that one of the response officers that was killed was Muslim. As one tweet succintly read, One tweet read, “I am not Charlie, I am Ahmed the dead cop. Charlie ridiculed my faith and culture and I died defending his right to do so.” For people who still doubt that Muslims condemn violence, remember that the first officer to respond and die in defending Charlie was a Muslim. And for people who continue to doubt where Muslims stand when it comes to terrorism, remember how Malala Yousefzai survived the Taliban in order to promote education for girls. Muslims condemn terrorism because it goes against the teachings of Islam and they are often victims of it, not just in the East but also in the West. Mosques have already been attacked in France following the Charlie Hebdo incident and a leading international human rights lawyer was asked if he supports ISIS, merely because he was Muslim.

Extremism continues to be appealing to troubled people within marginalized societies precisely because of the prejudice and intolerance they face trying to go about their daily lives in Europe and the US, and the troubled ones further abroad turn to extremism after a miserable existence under drones, militarization and occupation drove them to desperate measures. Progress against terrorism will only happen once we address the root causes, and not attack people through the tenuous association of religion.

So if you meet a Muslim in the following weeks and you want to talk to them about the Charlie Hebdo shooting, start with the assumption that they’re on the same fighting side as you. Otherwise, seriously just leave Muslims alone, we have an uphill battle fight to save our reputation of 1.6 billion people away from the handful of psychotic lunatics.

Khalisah K. Stevens is an American-Malaysian living in the Middle East. A graduate with a degree in International Relations and a minor in History, she follows current events and gender issues and champions multiculturalism to create a space for third culture kids (TCKs) like her.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Health milestone


Over a year ago I was skyping with a friend and her boyfriend. Her boyfriend said his back was aching even though he'd been sleeping well and eating healthy, so he didn't know why he was sore. I told him I was sore too but it was probably due to "my chain-smoking, over-eating and lack of exercize."

That got a laugh out of them, but the words resounded in my head when I went to sleep that night. I've known all along that these things weren't good, but saying it out loud for the first time made me wonder what the heck I was doing with my life. I'm in my mid-twenties, this is supposed to be the peak of my life, yet you'd sooner catch me huffing up the stairs than munching on a piece of broccoli. I cringed in the dark at the idea of becoming a contestant on those weightloss reality shows 10 years down the line, in my mid-thirties but looking much older and barely able to do simple things like walk around a park without a cane. And what of my travel plans, climbing mountains or canoing down rivers? Would I really let something like a stupid addiction and poor lifestyle stop me from that?

The next day, I quit smoking; cold turkey.

I don't know how it worked like that, how the stark realization stopped me in my tracks but it did. Later I would experience the withdrawal symptoms and I would always miss smoking, but I just stopped because the realization made me feel so stupid. Smoking is a well-documented unhealthy addiction that does your health and your wallet no favors, yet I continued for so long. My subconscious questioned me: 'if the health warnings can't stop you, then financially-speaking how much are you really willing to budget for bronchitis, respiratory issues, or cancer?'

Taken at a hospital in Malaysia

In my private shame and despair I just stopped smoking and considered that I was saving money from investments I wasn't willing to risk getting into any longer. I still miss it, but I feel better thinking of all the other useless things I could lose my money to besides medical bills (like money for parking tickets, or library fines).

Next, I still had to tackle my lack of exercise and overeating, but how? Unlike smoking, this wouldn't be stopping bad habits, it would be about creating good ones, which is monumentally much harder. Aside from a few school sports and one college semester when I did attend a circuits gym, I was never in the habit of working out. And eating? I love eating, especially at night and with huge portions of rice and pasta with creamy gravy.

I decided to seek out a friend who gave up her day job to become a personal trainer. Because we knew each other she gave me a rate for 12 classes and we decided to meet twice a week for 6 weeks at a local park.

During my first training session with Kelsey (not her real name), I was red and sweating within 5 minutes, and ready to throw up within 15 minutes. She let me gasp for air on the ground while she explained how my eating habits for the day was the reason why I couldn't push through the exercise. She was very sweet about it, so we spent the next half hour discussing meal plans and what I like to eat and when.

The advice she gave me was deceptively simple: Have breakfast everyday (eggs and fruits), have snacks (nuts and fruits or carrots), maximum half a cup of rice or noodles for your lunch, and salad or kebabs at night (minimal gravy/sauce/dressing). On work out days I had to be sure to have some snack at least an hour before, something like a banana, granola bar or a cup of skimmed milk (just anything that my body could draw on for energy).

The face of true health

It took about 3 weeks of this routine and exercise before I felt stronger and better inside, and 6 weeks to actually see a difference outside. I wasn't losing weight but I was becoming toned and dropped a pant size. I was losing inches in interesting places, like my back (so that my shirts fit better - no longer risking busting out of them like the Hulk) and under my chin. It was like watching slivers melt off of me a little here and there, and this was just toning up.


After my 6 week program I traveled for a month to Bangladesh and Thailand. I didn't exercise that month but I had zero access to processed and packaged foods; every meal was prepared with fresh ingredients and usually involved lots of veggies and chicken, so I lost 10lb in that time.

I can't tell you how much I love Thai food.
Probably more than life itself.
Possibly more than my family...


And now I'm back, and I'm doing my best not to fall off the bandwagon. Most days I get up an hour earlier to make an omelet before heading out to work, and I go down to my neighborhood gym for body combat classes.

My life has changed now, and my goal is to lose more weight while gaining muscle. I put my targets on my next birthday to acknowledge and allow time for this transformation to happen.