My Ordinary Heroes

Some of you are aware from my previous post about the fact that I suffer from Pure O OCD. This isn’t another post about that issue, as I’m not really a huge fan of talking about it. But I do want to write about the people in my life, who without doing anything at all, can sometimes turn a miserable day, into one that is bearable.

So if you’ve been following my posts from the beginning, you’ll not only know about the OCD, but about my inability to really find a place to fit in. The whole, too American for Egypt but too Egyptian for America thing. Making and keeping friends has never been my strong suit, and you combine that with the OCD, and you’ll understand why I don’t like staying in one place too long. Right now, I’m in Korea. I’ve been here for almost a year, and just like any year, its had it  highs and lows. But I want to introduce you to the people who, just by their presence, have made some rough days a little more bearable.

I live right by a massive church, and it is massive. Sundays are not my favorite day as the street gets really crowded. But there is a man who always waters the flowers by the church. I don’t know his name, and we don’t speak the same language. But every time he sees me, his faces lights up into a gorgeous smile. He has one of those smiles that when you see it, you can’t help but smile yourself as well. He has taken to asking me “Where are you going?” “Where did you come from?” And after ONE YEAR, I’ve finally learned to understand those two questions. But the thing is, every time I see him, I can’t help but smile. Even before he sees me. I’m so used to his smile, just seeing him now makes me smile, and sometimes after a long day, that smile feels like a stranger to your face. It reminds me of a Muslim Hadith. (The Hadith are the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad PBUH.) He said that even a smile in the face of your brother is an act of charity. It truly is.

There is a man who lives one floor below me, and he is always feeding some stray cats and kittens in the area. I don’t know his name, but he always jokes with me in Korean. Not being able to understand him, I nod along and smile, but then he invites me to watch him feed the cats, and there is something beautiful in seeing him care for these animals like that. Its a nice feeling to have, just seeing that small connection between him and these cats, and I always feel a little happier after watching his interactions with his cats.

There is a woman that I walk by on my way home. She sells fruits out of a cart. She always gives me a huge smile, and whenever I stop by to buy some fruits from her, she always gives me something extra. Whether its two apples I didn’t buy, or two extra oranges, its a small act that goes a long way.

The reason I’m sharing these stories is that you never know what a small act of kindness can offer someone else. You can give someone a smile, and that smile could make a bad day just a little bit brighter. But when they go home, that’s what they’ll remember about their bad day. That a nice person smiled at them. Sometimes seeing someone else smile can make you smile, and when that smile has been a stranger for a long time, it can be all the difference in the world, between a really miserable day, and one that’s not so bad.

I’ve been in Korea for almost one year. During that time I have a lot of happy memories and a lot of not so happy memories that I will now carry for the rest of my life. But there are people, good people, that entered my life. Whose names I don’t know, but looking back, I’m so glad that they are there. Because sometimes they are just what I need.

A Prison of My Mind

This is likely going to be the most personal post I’ve ever written. This is not easy to write about, but why not? Writing helps me clear my mind. Putting this out there will probably be of benefit to me.

Depression, anxiety, and a whole range of other depressing terms. I’ve called this many things over the years, until I realized that I have OCD. But you will understand why I’m so confused. I’ve always associated OCD with compulsions. Repeating actions over and over again, until things feel right. But what I’ve always suffered from was the “O.” Obsessions. I’ve got a form of OCD known as “Pure O.” This is when you have wave after wave of unwanted thoughts. Things you fear, thoughts that you don’t understand, and can’t really explain.

If I don’t want these thoughts, how come they are always visiting me, over and over again?

The things is, Pure O is a form of OCD that pries on your biggest fears, forcing you to think them over and over again. You don’t get much sleep. It can often drive you mad, trying to chase away these thoughts, and I’ve spent days in isolation and depression, trying to understand and trying to win this fight.

When I first found out what “Pure O” was, I was beyond happy. I understood what was happening, and I finally had something to call this. Not only that, I realized I wasn’t mad, or crazy. This was not so uncommon. But understanding the problem alone didn’t make it go away.

Because the truth is, there is no cure. This isn’t some mental illness that causes me to lose my abilities to function. This isn’t something that gets in my way of work, or relationships. It does however, remove joy from everything you do. Because whenever you go a minute free of it, it’ll strike again. And it doesn’t matter what you’re doing, the joy is usually gone.

Before understanding what this was, I’d tried many things to get rid of it. I’d try to isolate myself, and spend lots of time around people. I’d try listening to music really loud, and talking to myself over the thoughts.

And the thing is this, in the past, I was always scared to talk to people about this. And if you follow my posts, you already know what kind of American I am. I was scared of what people would think. I didn’t want them to think I was crazy, which is bad enough on its own, but being the Muslim American I am, I was scared that somehow that would be worse. He’s a crazy Muslim? And funny thing is, that was probably my OCD as well, continuing to isolate me. Learning that all this was just Pure O, again, I’ll always remember that night. I think that was the best night of sleep I’ve had in years and years.

I’m currently doing something that, while it hasn’t gotten rid of the OCD, it has worked better than anything I’ve tried before.

Whenever these thoughts come into my head, I acknowledge them, and I try not to fight them. I recognize that they are there, and I remind myself of one thing: It’s my choices that make me who I am. I let these thoughts in, and I continue doing what I’m doing. And although they return in different forms, that usually buys me some peace. And when you are never at peace with yourself, those moments mean the world.

It’s actually interesting, because there is a quote from Sirius Black of all fictional characters that actually helps me here. If you’ve read my previous posts, you might have picked up on the fact that I’m obsessed with Harry Potter. And this is one of my favorite scenes from all seven books, because I feel it speaks to me.

In the fifth Harry Potter book, Harry is depressed and is trying to isolate himself from his closest friends, the Weasley family, after their father Arthur was attacked. He pulls his godfather, Sirius, aside and confides in him. The scene goes like this: Harry is telling Sirius about the dream/vision he had, where he felt that he wanted to kill Arthur Weasley. And Sirius responds by telling him that we all have good and evil inside of us, and it’s what we choose to act on that defines who we are.

The fact that OCD is a reflection of my worst fears, the fact that these thoughts cause such anxiety and depression, should be a relief. But anyone with Pure O can answer that there is no relief.

I’ve gotten better at handling this.

Last year, I left my home country in pursuit of an adventure. No doubt OCD followed, and as all my friends and family were back home in the US, I ended up spending a lot of time alone. For a while, the Pure O intensified quite a bit. But in hindsight, I’m glad it did. Over this year I’ve been able to deal with OCD head on. In the past it was something I continuously forced myself to not address. Suffer but pretend its not there.

But it’s here. And it is not going to go anywhere. And that’s something I’ve made peace with. And that’s OK. We all have our battles and our struggles. I’m going to be fighting this for the rest of my life, and I’m at peace with that. I don’t want this to make me weaker.

I don’t know where I’m going to be in the future, what I’m going to do. But I hope that in the years to come, I can look back at this year and see progress. These issues aren’t easy to talk about, but I’m glad I wrote it down.

To progress.

Egyptian Politics (Quickly) Explained

So one of the questions I get asked the most by my friends is my opinion on the Egyptian political landscape. Coming from a politics background, and being an Egyptian by birth, people are often curious as to where I stand, what I believe in, and who exactly Sisi, the Brotherhood, and the SCAF are. This is, to the best of my ability, an unbiased piece trying to explain Egyptian politics since the fall of Mubarak in 2011. Now those of you who know me personally, or are familiar with the posts on this blog, know how I feel about Sisi. But perhaps this piece can explain why I feel that way about Sisi. I will, of course, offer the arguments that his followers give, and you be the judge of the Egyptian president. We ready?

Yep. We ready.

December 2010

So the story of the Egyptian revolution actually began outside Egypt: Tunisia. Winter 2010/11 witnessed the Jasmine Revolution, which was the first of many Arab Spring revolutions that year. Long time Tunisian dictator, Zinelabedine Ben Ali was overthrown, and he flew himself over to Saudi Arabia, where he has been living ever since.

The fall of Ben Ali had Egyptian activists calling for protesters to mimic the now legendary Tunisian revolution. This won’t come as a surprise to you, but the initial revolution in Egypt was successful. Hosni Mubarak was overthrown, and arrested.

Here is where things start to get confusing for a lot of people.

Pre-2011 revolution, most political activity in Egypt was controlled by a group called the NDP – Nationalist Democratic Party. The NDP was the ruling party of Mubarak, founded by his predecessor, Anwar Al-Sadat. The NDP was disbanded after the fall of Mubarak, and brand new political parties started emerging.

Now as new parties formed, as the nation began to plan for its free elections, the country was under the temporary rule of the SCAF – Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. Unlike most democratic countries, the Egyptian president didn’t actually have much control over the military. The Minister of Defense did, and the MOD chaired the SCAF. Made up of the country’s top generals, the SCAF was a government within a government.

The SCAF government wanted to rush through a revised and temporary constitution, making way for parliamentary and presidential elections. Most political forces opposed this – they had not had enough time to form an actual platform, appeal to voters, and get their names out there. One group of political movements supported this: the Islamists, mainly the Brotherhood. The Muslim Brotherhood was already a well known, and for their years of opposing Mubarak they were also a well respected, political movement in Egypt. Early elections would benefit them the most, as they had the most name recognition.

The SCAF/Brotherhood backed constitution passed, and the elections were held. The Brotherhood swept into power, winning parliament, before having the election results nullified, and barely winning the presidency. Which we have to touch on, as it is of extreme importance.

The Egyptian presidential elections of 2012. The single most important vote in Egypt’s history, a race that had five realistic contenders. They were as follows:

Mohammed Morsi, the leader of the Freedom and Justice Party. The FJP was the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Ahmed Shafik, a military leader and former prime minister of Egypt under Mubarak.

Hamdeen Sabahi. A socialist leader who honestly I have nothing good to say about him. The dude has flipped flopped so many times I don’t know if he’s actually two twins trying to convince the world that they are one person.

Abdel Moenim Abou El Fotouh. A former member of the Muslim Brotherhood, the centrist candidate was criticized for trying to appeal to everyone, and ended up not having a strong platform of his own.

Amr Moussa. Former Mubarak foreign minister, general secretary of the Arab League, and experienced diplomat.

Now I wanted Sabahi to win. I know. At that time, his ideas appealed to me. And I don’t disagree with what he preached then. I disagree with what he’s preached since then. He has gone from a socialist to a fascist and today he’s…I don’t know. I don’t follow him anymore.

But most of the pro-revolution camp was divided between two candidates: Sabahi and Abou El Fotouh. Shafik and Moussa were seen as too close to Mubarak, and Morsi was Brotherhood. That wasn’t actually the problem for him, because the secular revolutionaries had worked with the Brotherhood before. But ever since the Brotherhood sided with the SCAF, it broke the former goodwill that had been between the two camps.

The revolutionary groups couldn’t agree on one candidate to back, with many backing Sabahi and many backing Abou El Fotouh. The final election results were as follows:

Morsi – 5.7 million. Shafik – 5.3 million. Sabahi – 4.8 million. Abou El Fotouh – 4.2 million. Moussa – Under 2 million.

Morsi and Shafik went through to the final round of voting, and although the pro-revolution candidates won over 8 million votes, they divided it among two candidates.

In the election runoff, most pro-revolution groups backed Morsi, fearing the return of the military hard man with a Shafik victory.

Morsi was…weak. Although I openly supported the coup against him (we’ll get to that) he was not the dictator Mubarak was. He wasn’t the democratic Mandela that Egypt needed. He wasn’t a strong leader. He was a bad president. But he was better than his predecessor, and better than his successor. And as awkward as it is for me to say so about the Muslim Brotherhood, I will write the honest truth. Egypt was more open under Morsi than it was under Mubarak and is now. But he was not the ambition of the revolution. People didn’t die for an Islamist Egypt.

And so, they revolted. Again. And here, I believe, was our biggest mistake.

We should have waited. Morsi was an unpopular president that would have lost the planned 2016 elections against anyone. They could have ran an Algerian flag (Egypt’s rival in North Africa) and the Algerian flag would have won. Instead of waiting however, we came out demanding he resign. Which he should have, I’ll stick by that belief. He should have resigned when he saw that he was not wanted as president, but he didn’t. And as “revolutionaries,” we made the same mistake that we hated the Brotherhood for, years earlier.

We turned to the military.

The military and the SCAF were now under the command of a little known man named Abdel Fattah El Sisi.  He was quiet, and little information about him was public. In our desperation to overthrow the highly unpopular Morsi, the Egyptian revolutionary groups that attacked the Brotherhood for siding with the military, sided with the military. And being the hypocrite I was, I supported this move. Now I understand that I had no actual say, I was following this from the United States. But I sold my beliefs. I sold what I held dear because I didn’t like the president.

I stopped believing in democracy and allowed myself to fall into Sisi-mania. Let’s give unlimited power to a man we know nothing about. And Morsi was overthrown.

What followed was worse than anything from my darkest nightmares. Sisi was a monster. In a series of massacres that followed, Sisi went after anyone who supported Morsi. The largest massacre was at Rabbaa Al Adawiya square, where the Brotherhood had organized a rally of half a million to oppose him. Thousands were killed on August 14th, 2013, the largest massacre in Egyptian history. Human Rights Watch called it a worse massacre than Tienanmen Square.

Sisi was no longer a mystery. He was making himself very well known to the world, and it was clear he was no democrat. He didn’t believe in freedoms, in human rights, in choice. He believed in tanks.

In 2014 Sisi officially made himself president, in an “election” where he won 97% of the vote. During the campaign Sisi refused to debate his opponent, Hamdeen Sabahi from 2012, and his opponent wasn’t allowed to criticize him. Sisi refused to release an election platform and refused to give any public speeches. He won the election without campaigning, and without ever telling us what he even stood for.

And as soon as he was the official president, Sisi clamped down on Egypt so hard. Egypt has become notorious for its imprisonment of journalists, clampdown on all critics of the government, and a human rights catastrophe.

So what do Sisi’s supporters say about him? I promised to give their side, and here it is.

Sisi got rid of the Brotherhood. In their eyes, he is a reformer who is the best hope to defeat Islamism and radical terrorism. For some, he is a means to an end. He may not be great, but at least we’re getting rid of Islamism. For others, he is a savior. Saving Egypt from the Muslim Brotherhood, and returning it to its secular glory.

Now here is the problem with that argument.

Sisi isn’t anti-Islamism. He has allied himself with the Al-Nour Party, a far-right, Salafist political party. The Al Nour Party are light years behind the Brotherhood when it comes to politics. They are more right-wing than you can imagine. Here’s how to understand the situation: everything that right wing and ultra-conservative media outlets tell you about the Brotherhood, well, that’s the Al Nour Party. And Sisi allied himself with this group before ever taking office.

He isn’t anti-Islamist, he is anti-Brotherhood. And he’s anti-Brotherhood because they were in his way. In the way of his power.

So here we are today. Egypt’s revolution is dead. It won’t come back. Any hopes for a democratic Egypt will depend on a new movement rising up to challenge Sisi, a man who has turned out to be more brutal and ruthless than any leader in Egypt’s modern history. I don’t know what the future holds for Egypt, but it doesn’t look good right now. We are a people living in a the brainwashing machine that is the SCAF Egypt. Egypt is the playground of the military, and we will never be truly free, until the SCAF is disbanded and the military is brought under civilian rule. Now I’ve skipped over a lot of stuff that happened, trying my best to explain to you the political situation in Egypt. I skipped over the Maspero massacre, a military massacre of Christian protesters. The Brotherhood constitution. The Republican Guard massacre, a military massacre of pro-Brotherhood people praying. The sales of Egyptian islands to the Saudis by Sisi. I can’t write down everything that’s happened in the last six-seven years. But hopefully, this gives you an idea of why Egypt is the way it is today. Why we are in this position. Who Sisi, Morsi and SCAF are.

I’ll end this post with these parting words: don’t give up on us. Egyptians are kind people. They may be living in darkness now, but we’ve endured for seven thousand years. We’ve been on our knees and we rebuilt. We are resilient. Things don’t look good for the future today, but we don’t know what tomorrow will bring. We’ll be back.

A History Post: Conquering Rome

The following is a historical post written in a creative manner. This is telling the story of the conquest of Constantinople – from the POV of an Ottoman Muslim soldier. I had immense fun writing this. Enjoy.

————-

Dear Reader,

The following letters where found buried in the ancient city of Edirne. They are the writings of an old Ottoman military commander, who fought in the armies of successive Ottoman sultans. These letters are not in chronological order, and the writer is documenting events over a span of almost seven decades, as they happen. Some of these letters are flashbacks, memories of an experience the writer had previously, which he documented during the last days of his life. These letters are extremely rare, and extremely valuable.

Sincerely.

…..

30th of March, 1510, Constantinople

You are about to read an amazing story. I am writing from the castle of the Sultan Bayezid in Constantinople. Istanbul as the locals call it now. I am one of the soldiers who first entered the conquered city under the flag of the great Conqueror, Mehmet II. I had previously left my story hidden in my hometown of Edirne, and today I was able to retrieve it. I want to tell you the story of how an army that I fought in, turned the Turks from a sultanate, into a global empire. There were many things that we did, and many people that we saw. We fulfilled a great prophecy, and our sultan defeated the Eastern Roman empire. There is no more Rome. This is the story of the events, that led to the day we conquered Rome.

30th of March, 1452, Edirne

My name is Ahmet Omer. I am a young soldier in the Sultan’s army. I was born the capital of the Ottoman Sultanate, Edirne. This is also where I currently live. I am twenty-three years old, and the father of three. The sultanate has a new Sultan, and I am not sure how I feel about this. Sultan Mehmet II is the new sultan of the sultanate, although this is his second stint on the throne. I am not sure that I support a man younger than me leading our sultanate forward, but I will not voice my thoughts out loud. Our new sultan is currently troubled, as the Greek Christians continue to attack Muslims in our territories. There is rumor in the sultanate that the new sultan could be planning an attack on Constantinople. I do not want to seem like a traitor at a time like this, and I will effectively keep my mouth closed.

However, I think I know why the sultan wants to attack Constantinople. The Prophet Muhammad, Peace be Upon Him, prophesied that a great leader would conqueror Constantinople. He said that this leader will be an amazing commander, and that he will lead an amazing army.[1] No doubt that many Muslims have dreamed of being the ones to conqueror the great walled city. One of our Muslim predecessors, the Umayyads, had come close, but even they could not conqueror Constantinople. I wonder if I’ll ever live to see the day we conqueror the city! Perhaps I can be a soldier in that amazing army! What an honor that would be for a humble Turk like myself. Who knows what the future holds.

1st of March, 1453

             It’s been a while since I wrote any letters. The sultan has begun assembling the army. We are to set out towards Constantinople. With any luck, we are the army that was prophesized in the Hadith of the Prophet Peace be Upon Him. The sultan has amassed a massive army. The rumors flying around say that the army is greater than 100,000 soldiers. I cannot contain my excitement. For a young man from Edirne, the glory of Constantinople is something that I only imagine will shake history. I feel like we are on the verge of something great.

The trust in the sultan is not great. I must admit that the sultan is still a young man, and many of the elders here are hesitant about whether or not he can deliver us to victory. But I put my trust in God first, and in our soldiers second. I’ll trust that if this sultan is the prophesized commander, then he is more than capable of leading this Muslim Ummah forward.

Muslim Constantinople, 1510

             Looking back to our preparations, I cannot help but smile. What a moment that was. God was good to us, and our commander was truly amazing. Today, our life in the new empire is amazing.

Attacking Constantinople, 1453, The Beginning

             The fight for Constantinople is upon us, in the name of God. Our aim is to gain Constantinople, and to protect ourselves from Western attacks. The sultan began his ambitious plan by building a massive fort five miles off the coast of Constantinople, on the Bosporus River.[2] The fort was a statement, that he was here to fight, and that he was here to win. He had the fort built in a style that had it read the name: Muhammad. This was in honor of the Prophet Muhammad, Peace be Upon Him. The Greeks could not stop our sultan from building his fort, as our army was too large, and too strong. Their hope in this war is bound to be in their walls. As unconquerable as they may seem, our sultan has convinced that we can triumph. He has been seen speaking with a man of western appearance several times. I do not know who this man is, but it seems like he may hold the key to helping us conqueror the walls of Constantinople. Despite all the signs favoring us, and the weak position of the Greeks, a few Greeks thought they could attack our ships, but they were easily crushed.

The sultan spoke to us today. We are going to create a new Muslim empire, in God’s name. He led us in prayer, and I have to admit, moral is high. Any doubt I had in the sultan is fading, I believe he will lead us to do the previously thought impossible. It continues to hit me how young he is. How can a man so young be so convincing. No doubt the Greeks underestimated him. His youth and age are characteristics that they thought were in their favor, but he is hungry to prove himself, and I think that the Greeks will pay a heavy price for their underestimating our sultan.

The Sultan, 1510

             My opinion of the sultan Mehmet the Conqueror has greatly evolved. When he first became sultan, I doubted that I could follow a commander younger than I. Today however, I look back at the Conqueror, and I must say that it was the greatest honor of my life to serve under him. I read my letters from the days of the war, and I smile. Little did I know, little did Europe know, the man who this sultan was to be. I will, to the best of my ability, describe him as I remember him.

One thing that sticks out in my memory is the dominance of our empire when it came to European trade. Prior to the rise of our great empire, the European trading routes where dominated by Venice.[3] Naturally, our new conqueror, Mehmet II, wanted to make our empire the dominant economic powerhouse. By 1489, we had captured key areas. We captured Albania, Cyprus and Morea.[4] With Eastern Rome a thing of the past, Christian control over trade was broken. Of course, our dominance came at a price. The Venetians were not too eager to give up control to the Muslim Ottomans, and our great leader fought many wars against them during the years of 1463 to 1479.[5] During this time we had to make many key decisions. At this point in time, I had risen up in ranks, and I was an Agha. I played an important role in furthering the cause of the empire. We imprisoned many Venetian merchants.[6] This led to many concessions, and the Sultan wisely decided to ally himself with Florence. By helping Florence and giving Florence more economic freedom, the empire had a European ally, and the sultan was able to strengthen the economy of the Ottoman Empire.[7]

             Today is April 7th. We are now less than a mile outside the walls of Constantinople.[8] I don’t believe that what I am feeling is fear. I believe this is faith. The sultan has finally reveled his great weapon. We have managed to convince a great western engineer to join our great army, and he has designed for us massive cannons.[9] The sultan is convinced that these cannons will help bring down the walls of the city, and upon seeing them myself, I cannot help but agree! The cannons are magnificent. The sultan had them transported to our location in secret, while the Greeks slept. Imagine their horror when they would wake up to face the might of our new arsenal. However, we have yet to begin the battle. We are currently awaiting the arrival of our brothers on our fleet, and until they arrive, my sword will see no battle.

My history, 1510

             There are days when I think back to my childhood and aspirations. I had always wanted to live the life of a soldier. As an elder man, I look back at who I was, and I question whether or not I succeeded in becoming the man I wanted to become. My parents were not poor, but we certainly were not rich. I did not hang out with the elites of our society, nor did I want to. I was taught the art of war by my father and brother. They taught me how to hold my sword, and how to use my body when I fight. I quickly became the best fighter in our neighborhood. At a young age, I joined the army of Murad II. Although I never saw war under the leadership of the powerful sultan, I learned many things during my years of training. I appreciate my time in the military of the sultan, although I am thankful to his son, Mehmett II, for having given me the chance to shine. I was a standout soldier during the war against the Greek for Constantinople, and in the wars that followed. I rose through the ranks quite rapidly, and I was finally made an Agha during our wars against Venice. I was finally able to retire during the reign of the Conqueror’s son, and I have to say that I have enjoyed my life. I married the love of my life, Zeinep, and we had three wonderful children. I am very thankful to God for his blessings.

The Attack

After many days, we have begun our attack. Sadly, I write this letter having been here for almost two months. I have spent the last fifty days participating with my brothers in our fight for glory, but it seems that the walls of Constantinople remain as strong as they where fifty days ago. Our leaders are ordering us to keep our chins up, and to believe that we can succeed.

In late May, our sultan called for a council of war.[10] We would begin a final assault on the city of Constantinople. Either we take the city from them, or we fall as many of our brothers had fallen before us.

For multiple days, we attacked. We attacked them from every corner, from the land, from the sea, heroes and warriors would late try to imitate our soldiers. We fought until the walls of Constantinople, the indestructible walls, collapsed. Our army was so strong, that our sultan was able to easily walk into the city. During the confusion of the long days of the final assault, the Greek emperor died. There would be no power struggle. Our sultan had won. There was no longer an Eastern Roman empire, no more was Constantinople in the way of the Ottomans. A new world power had arrived, and the red Ottoman flag was finally, waving over our new capital city.

The Christians were allowed refuge, we did not bar them from their worship or business. Many of them left, but those who chose to stay where under the protection of our commander. He was the one who fulfilled the prophecy. The prophecy of the one he was named after, had finally come true. What a commander Mehmet the Conqueror is, and what an army our army is. We conquered Rome.

Ottoman Economics and Life, 1510

             I remember the wars we fought with the Venetians. Not only did we emerge as the stronger party, our sultan was forgiving. Remember this dear reader, wherever you may be, our sultan granted the Venetians special economic privileges. As soon as they stopped fighting us, and their wars ceased, we granted them economic liberty.[11] Our sultan was always an open man, and our merchants where people of all faiths. Among our ranks where even the most surprising group; the Greeks.[12] This may have come as a shock, but I wish to inform my reader that upon the conquest of Constantinople, our sultan granted the Greeks safety. He granted them the right to worship as freely as we, Muslims, did. He granted them the right to business, and it can be no surprise that many of our merchants where, in fact, Greek.[13] The Greeks where not the only people welcomed in our new capital, I heard from a high ranking Agha that the Sultan had reached out to the Jewish and Armenian communities.[14] He wished to invite them to our new land, how great was he! I greatly admire his desire to make our empire truly the greatest that the world has ever seen.

Greek Letters

Upon settling in my new home, I found a huge stack of Greek letters hidden in a cupboard. I must admit, that my curiosity has been satisfied, the letters give great descriptions for how Constantinople was before our great victory. How different where these Greeks, they built their homes around their forum.[15] Perhaps they greatly valued the public life. No doubt however, is a certain letter I found describing the sultan Mehmet II. The Greeks saw the sultan in a similar way to how I had previously seen him. They saw him as a young, inexperienced sultan, and one that that they saw as unlikely to pose them any serious threat.[16] Our Sultan had tried to be friendly with the Greek during his early days in power. I don’t doubt that he was considering what course of action he was going to take. More interestingly, the Greeks where more interested in having an heir to their Roman throne. Their emperor had married multiple times, and none of his wives had given him any children.[17] Not only where they not concerned by the new Ottoman sultan, their biggest concern was whether or not their emperor was going to have an heir! Many daughters where recommended to the emperor.[18] Despite my never knowing what would come of this, I managed to find records of the Greeks celebrating the death of our sultan Murad. No doubt a great leader, the Greeks welcomed his death as a good sign for their empire.[19] Our great sultan died in 1451. Their empire fell in 1453.

Conclusion, 1510

             This will be my final letter. I am old in age, I have out lived my sultan. During my life, I have experienced the joy of victory, the frustration of defeat. I lived under the reigns of three great sultans. Murad II, was a powerful man. He laid the foundation necessary for our sultan Mehmet the Conqueror to fulfill his destiny. Sultan Mehmet is the sultan who was prophecized about by the Prophet Muhammad, Peace be Upon Him. What an honor for me, having served in his great victory. Shortly afterwards, I rose in rank, and his son, Beyzeid, made me a powerful man in the Ottoman Empire. I retired satisfied, that my life was spent well. I spent my life serving my God and my country, and I believe that I have earned this retirement. I fear that I don’t have long to live, and the letters that I have been writing since I was a twenty three year old soldier end here. To whoever reads this after I am gone, I hope that you found my story enlightening. Perhaps one day, these letters will travel the world, and they will serve as documentary evidence for the greatest era in Ottoman history. It is time for me to leave. I hope that I can have enough strength, that I can get myself to visit my hometown one last time. Goodbye.

 

 

[1]  Franz Babinger, Mehmed the Conqueror and His Time, (Princeton: Princeton University Press 1978), 85

[2] George Finlay, “Mahomet II Takes Constantinople.” 1453

[3] Halil Inalcik. The Ottoman Empire. (New Rochelle, New York: Orpheus Publishing Inc. 1973) 132

[4] Inalcik, The Ottoman Empire, 134

[5] Inalcik, The Ottoman Empire, 135

[6] Inalcik, The Ottoman Empire, 135

[7] Inalcik, The Ottoman Empire, 135

[8] Nicolo Barbaro, “The Siege of Constantinople.” 1453

[9] Barbaro, “The Siege of Constantinople.”

[10] Julius Norwich. A Short History of Byzantium. (London: Viking 1997) 378

[11] Inalcik, The Ottoman Empire, 136

[12] Inalcik, The Ottoman Empire, 135

[13] Inalcik, The Ottoman Empire, 140

[14] Inalcik, The Ottoman Empire, 141

[15] Peter Arnott. The Byzantines and Their World. (New York: Palgrave Macmillan 1973) 66

[16] David Nicol, The Last Centuries of the Byzantium, 1261-1453. (Cambridge University Press 1973)  393

[17] Nicol, The Last Centuries of the Byzantium, 1261-1453, 393

[18] Nicol, The Last Centuries of the Byzantium, 1261-1453,  294

[19] Nicol, The Last Centuries of the Byzantium, 1261-1453,  394

…..

Bibliography:

 

Primary Sources:

 

George Finlay, “Mahomet II Takes Constantinople.” 1453

 

Nicolo Barbaro, “The Siege of Constantinople.” 1453

 

Peter Arnott. The Byzantines and Their World. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 1973

 

 

Secondary Sources:

 

Franz Babinger. Mehmed the Conqueror and His Time. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978

 

Halil Inalcik. The Ottoman Empire. New Rochelle, New York: Orpheus Publishing Inc1973

 

Juius Norwich. A Short History of Byzantium. London: Viking, 1997

 

David Nicol. The Last Centuries of the Byzantium, 1261-1453. Cambridge University Press, 1973

Gwangju

So I thought I would take some time out to write a little bit about the city that has become my home.

Just under a year ago, I left the United States, my home, my family, and all my friends. I was looking to start new in a brand new country, in Korea. The land of KPOP and kimchi. I had my eyes set on Busan, Korea’s second largest city, although that ended up not working out. Instead, I was sent to Gwangju. A city I had never heard of. Surrounded by mountains and lacking much wildlife, Gwangju was Korea’s capital in revolutions and baseball. A city that breathed politics, which was evident to me from the minute I set foot inside its borders.

I arrived just in time to witness Korea’s 2016 revolution – a massive uprising against the president of the republic at that time: Park Geun-hye. President Park was the daughter of a former Korean military dictator, and seeing that Gwangju was a city that revolted against military rule in 1980, she was unpopular before ever being sworn in. But a revolution against her corruption ensued, and the president of the Korean Republic was impeached. Impressed as I was, I was a little depressed over the results of the US election. It was my first time voting from abroad, and I fully expected my candidate of preference, Hillary Clinton, to win the presidency. I’m still upset with the fact that my country elected Donald Trump, I’m not sure the world will ever see us the same again.

But back to Gwangju. Gwangju is a quiet city. When it isn’t revolting, it’s eagerly awaiting the results of their baseball team, the KIA Tigers. The Tigers are crazy popular in Gwangju, and seeing their famous T insignia is common in this city, Tigers jerseys abundant and visible. Despite not being much of a baseball fan myself, Gwangju had me become a baseball fan. Gwangju made me a Tiger. What have you done to me Gwangju?

This city is truly silently beautiful. With a population of 1.5 million, this city is two times bigger than Baltimore, where my university was. But you would never guess that. While Baltimore is always busy, loud, radiant with smells and noises, Gwangju was the opposite. It was quiet, with plenty of walking space. Not many smells, not many noises. It was clean, unusually clean for a big city, and it was a bit unnerving at first. It wasn’t what I was expecting. My experience with big cities was noise. Loads of noises and smells. Unusual characters, and beautiful street art. Gwangju had…safe streets and quiet people. Buses where you could hear yourself breathe, and around the same amount of Arab restaurants as the Arab population in Siberia.

I love it. I loved it right away. It was so different. Not in Korea, this is, apparently, the norm. It was different to what I was used to. It wasn’t what I was expecting. And somehow, that surprise, made it more enjoyable.

A lot of this comes down to the culture of this country. Because I’ve been told that Gwangju is more open than most Korean cities, although I’ll have to take their words for it. Gwangju reflects the Korean values of silent dignity, respect and honor. Don’t embarrass yourself or your family. You won’t see many people acting out in public. You won’t see many crazy outfits. That’s not Gwangju. And while this obviously doesn’t apply to everyone, its clear that Korean traditions and culture play a big role in how this city and its citizens view themselves.

This city has become my home. I’ve fallen in love with Gwangju, and the people of Gwangju. They have a silent dignity to them. People who earn your respect. Their pride of heritage is evident, as their national flag hangs everywhere. You aren’t likely to forget where you are anytime soon. They are a curious bunch, often throwing question after question your way. You’re an open textbook to them, although there are days when I hate this. And I’ve loved them. And yes, while there has been a lot of stuff that’s annoyed me about Gwangju, there’s been many things that annoyed me when I was in Baltimore, and Egypt. But reflecting on what I’ve been through, I can safely say that my love for Gwangju easily outweighs anything negative.

Every city has what makes it special, and for me, Gwangju is special because of its political history. On most days I find myself downtown by the famous Asia Cultural Center, built on the site of the historic uprising of 1980. Koreans from all over the country make their way to the city for historical tourism. A massive amount of streets and parks in Gwangju pay tribute to the uprising, allowing you to always be aware of the city’s history. Old and young alike, Gwangju’s citizens are aware, and proud of their city’s history. And nothing matches the swagger of Gwangju when the anniversary of the uprising roars around.

I love Gwangju, and all I have to say to the city is this: thank you. Thank you for being my home. I hope what’s to come is better than what we’ve experienced. You’re a real gem of a city.

Go Tigers!

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I Am Peter Parker

This is going to be a very short post.

We are now days away from Marvel’s new Spider-Man movie, and I thought I would take this time to pay tribute to the superhero that got me into the genre. The first one I ever loved, and the one that I could relate to the most.

I got into Spider-Man when I was a kid in middle school. Tobey Maguire’s original Spider-Man was the first time I ever watched a superhero movie, and felt that I could totally relate. Peter Parker was the goofy, awkward, kid. Couldn’t talk to MJ, got bullied at school and at the bus stop, he wasn’t some Bruce Wayne type. He wasn’t cool and smooth. Sexy and wealthy. He wasn’t Clark Kent, some alien god. He was an awkward, young kid from New York, with no parents and little money. Scared and alone. I loved it. It’s the personality and character of Peter Parker that makes Spider-Man so special. He is the average teenage boy. He has the same worries, he goes through all the crap we all go through.

The 2002 Spider-Man movie got me into the genre. Over the years I’ve become obsessed with the characters of Stan Lee and Marvel. From Black Panther, an African superhero for us African fans, to Captain America. The epitome of good, Captain America was special because of his dedication to doing what was just. His superpowers  are not what make him special, they are what his tools to defend justice. And Bucky.

But despite all these amazing characters, nothing compares to your first love. And Peter Parker was my first love. Spider-Man 1, 2, AND 3. Yeah, I liked Spider-Man 3. What about it. And I’m so excited to see what Tom Holland has in store for us. By all accounts, he seems like a great guy, and his performance in Civil War was near perfection.

So as I eagerly await Marvel’s new Spider-Man, I just want to thank Tobey Maguire. Thank you for being the hero we all have inside of us. Thank you for proving that it’s not your money that makes you a hero. You don’t have to be a god from another realm. Much like Captain America, what makes Spider-Man special is what came before their powers. Their stories are easy to relate to. Even after all these years, the fanboy inside me screams with excitement and roars in anticipation of the new adaptation of the little-man hero. Because I, along with all the other awkward young men out there, will proudly go watch the superhero the represents us. Because we are Peter Parker.

Why I Love (and Hate) The National Team

I’m kind of a big sports fan. I grew up in a big sporting family, and I grew up learning and playing soccer and basketball. I’m passionate about my sports and my teams, always have been. But I never knew how passionate someone could get, until January of 2008. January, for those of you who don’t follow African sports, is when the Africa Cup of Nations is held, every two years. In 2006, Egypt had won the title on home soil, and entering into the 2008 tournament, most people were predicting that Egypt would lose their crown. Ghana, the amazing hosts, Cameroon, and the Ivory Coast were all viewed as stronger teams. In hindsight, they all were much stronger than Egypt, although the Egyptian teams from 2006-2011 played much more organized football than any other team in Africa. Not relying on a few star players, but outplaying their opponents with superior tactics and better team play. But maybe I’m a little biased. The point of all that was, to say, that I was in Africa for the 2008 African Cup. More specifically, I was in Egypt. And having lived all my life in America, I thought I knew passionate fans. I really did. Texas A&M have some inspiring fans. No one can accuse the Philadelphia Eagles fans of not caring. Green Bay is literally known for football, I’ve never heard anyone in my life ever talk about vacationing in Green Bay. And I can’t ever leave out the best fans in hockey, the Washington Capitals. My hometown lovable losers. So I knew passion, as defined by American standards, and while I expected the African Cup to be special, I never expected what I saw.

The Egyptian national team, nicknamed the Pharaohs, opened up their title defense against title favorites Cameroon. I didn’t think Egypt was going to win, but the entire country shut down in preparations for the game. And I mean SHUT DOWN. I’ll never forget walking to my grandmother’s house, where our family would gather to watch the Pharaohs, and seeing so many closed businesses. Empty streets, until you reach the packed cafes playing the game. National flags everywhere. In a country where people had little to ever look forward to, they all came together for that opening 90 minutes. Everyone talking, yelling, arguing about the match to come. Who should, and shouldn’t start? Can Egypt defend its title without its star striker, Mido? And then Egypt shut down. Because the game was on.

And the Pharaohs did not disappoint. As a matter of fact, they exceeded all expectations. And you don’t have to take my word for it.  Twenty minutes into their title defense, and Egypt was up 2-0 against Cameroon. 3-0 by the half, with Egypt surprising the title favorites with a 4-2 victory in the opening match. And with every goal, Egypt turned into the world’s largest festival. Within the walls of my grandmother’s small home gathered my family, in all its glory. No one could find a place to sit, and we were all sitting and standing on one another. But it didn’t matter. The cheers and screams were so loud I though we would get reported. Only for me to hear the screams coming from the people in the streets and from the neighbors and cafes. I’ll say this quite honestly. If you were in Egypt for the match, you would have known the exact score of the game, even if you went out of your way to avoid the match. Because with every goal, the streets would roar their approval. Every goal against us, the streets would roar with disapproval. It was phenomenal. And after all that, the Egyptian people weren’t even done showing off. Gathering at the major city squares, Egyptians would, in their thousands and thousands, stand together and celebrate their team’s success. It was like a super bowl parade, after every win. I’d never seen Egyptians happier. Until the next game. And the game after that.

Egypt went on to win their group, and in the knockout stages of the contest, they faced a respectable Angolan side. Angola played bravely, and while they gave Egypt a few scared, at the end of the day Egypt was too good. 2-1. On to the semis. And the single greatest sporting night of my life.

Egypt was to take on the Ivory Coast. With players like Yaya and Kolo Toure, Didier Drogba and Abdul Kader Keita, the Ivory Coast, nicknamed the Elephants, had the single best squad in the cup. Add to that the fact that they lost the 2006 final to Egypt on penalties, and you can see why people were expecting that this would be the night Egypt fell. Drogba’s revenge.

But it never happened. Instead, Egypt never showed up. In their place came a team of super aliens dressed in the Egyptian national team jersey. And they destroyed the Elephants. It was just mean.

I met up with my uncle about an hour before the game. I would often study with him, and as we were both excited for the match, our session that day was cut very short. However, despite the country preparing to shut down once again, he wasn’t optimistic. This was Didier Drogba, the king of Africa. This was the Elephants of the Ivory Coast. This was their revenge, and this was almost their home turf. We beat them in Cairo. But Ghana is country that borders the Ivory Coast. They would have the crowd, the familiar setting, and they were being inspired by arguably the best African player of his generation.

Egypt started out cautious, relying on Africa’s finest defense. But luck was on our side. It was on our side. Because at 11:40, Egypt struck gold. A deflected shot by Ahmed Fathi gave Egypt a lead that they took into the half. And as the nation around me prayed for our defense to keep out Drogba, the explosion came.

It was like nothing I’d ever seen before. Egypt’s midfield started carving sculptures in the Ivorian defense. One goal, two goals, three goals. Egypt stunned Africa, as the Ivorians bowed out losing 4-1. And what happened next was remarkable. The only night that eclipses that night in my memory bank in February 11th, 2011. The night Mubarak fell. This was passion. Like nothing I’d ever felt before. Like nothing I’d ever experienced. These eleven players were a nation on their own. The joy that they brought to the Egyptian fans was not something I thought was ever possible in sports. This was football at its purest, its finest, its best. I fell so hard for the Pharaohs. Never had I ever wanted a title more. This wasn’t a franchise or a club. This was an entire nation. My nation. And in a rematch against Cameroon, Egypt came through. A late goal by the legend that is Mohammed Abu Treika gave Egypt the win. It gave Egypt the title. Back to back.

I returned to America a few months later, and while there, I got to witness Egypt win the African Cup for a record third straight time.

I love sports. I love soccer. I love the American national team. And I actually feel more American than Egyptian. But not when it comes to soccer. Because nothing matches the passion of the Egyptians when it comes to their Pharaohs.

Yet, despite all that love, the Pharaohs have me feeling more confused than anything nowadays. You see, Egyptian football is highly politicized. And the Egyptian tyrant, Abdelfattah El Sisi, is heavily linked to the Egyptian national team. The problem with this, is that the Pharaohs are often used a symbol of the government. And anyone who doesn’t like the government not only has no place among st the Pharaohs, but in Egyptian public life. Our president is our God. He is Horus. He is Ra. He is Jesus. And I’m not speaking in hyperbole here either. He has been called a Messiah by the Egyptian media. Muslim scholars have compared him to Moses. He is above the law, and above the people. We are the slaves, and he is a God. And this post just took a remarkably dark turn, but here’s the problem with the Pharaohs. They are his team. They represent him as much as they represent Egypt. Their success is his success.

During the 2014 World Cup I was able to enjoy the success of the American national team. As did conservatives, liberals, black people, white people, Arab Americans, Mexican Americans, Irish Americans. The USMNT represented the American people. It didn’t matter whether you like Obama or not. Whether you were a Democrat or not. But in Egypt, it is different. And this is what I hate about the Pharaohs. I want to be a part of the most passionate fans in Africa. I want to support Egypt without having to worry about useless political slogans for a tyrant who oppresses and kills. But that won’t happen. The Pharaohs were Mubarak’s team. And as long as Egypt is run by a tyrant, their popularity will be exploited by whichever dictator sees himself as Egypt’s modern day Pharaoh.

So I’ll end my post like this. To sum up everything I just wrote, and to sum up everything I’ve felt:

Down with the Pharaoh, and up with the Pharaohs.

Crowd_in_Cairo_Stadium

20 Years.

Thank you.

JK Rowling has always been a great source of inspiration to me. Growing up with her books, I always felt like I had a home within the magical world of Harry Potter. I didn’t always fit in as a child, but at Hogwarts, I knew I belonged. That world she imagined became the dominant pillar of my childhood, and it’s incredibly difficult to believe it, but it’s now been exactly 20 years since the first Harry Potter book was published in the UK. So for the amazing experiences, the memories, and for the experiences more real than most on this earth, thank you.

I first heard Harry Potter when I was in the third grade. Our third grade teacher, Ms. Ross, would often pick out books to read to us. These were some of my favorite memories from elementary school. And I remember one student whose name is no longer in my memory bank, although I do remember that he was a friend of Taiwanese descent, asked her to read us this book titled Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. It was a little intimidating for us, as she had never before read us a book so large. But her decision to challenge us, as was her norm, changed my life forever. Over the weeks and months that followed, the story of Harry, Hagrid, Ron, and Hermione easily became my favorite moments in school. A fascination was born. I had finally arrived home.

I rushed to the library. The story continued didn’t it, and the Chamber of Secrets followed. What a story that was. As much as I loved the first book, this was so much better. I remember being stunned by the revelation that Tom Riddle was actually Voldemort. My absolute love for all things Oliver Wood. And the introduction of Dobby. To this day, I continue to wear mismatching socks as a tribute to Dobby. RIP you Free Elf.

Interestingly enough, this book also made me fall in love with the English language. There was so much new vocabulary introduced to me in this book, and it didn’t scare me away. Instead, it expanded my world. The castle began to feel more real than the halls of my school.

The Prisoner of Azkaban. That ending. That twist. Rowling had taught me to expect the unexpected from her. I couldn’t predict anything. I could only enjoy the ride. Hate Sirius. Love Sirius. Poor Peter. Damn you Peter! Wait, Lupin is a WHAT?!?

The Goblet of Fire. When I first read the Goblet of Fire, it blew me away. Every single thing that I loved in the Harry Potter series was taken up to 11. The fourth Harry Potter book remains special in my heart. Because while I ended up liking the sixth and seventh books better, this was the book that made me know. This wasn’t some really, really, great book series. This was now a major part of my identity. Harry Potter was now a permanent, wonderful, magical piece of my own story. What a book that was. What a story. The tournament. Harry and Ron’s friendship. EVERYTHING ABOUT MAD-EYE. You know how weird it was for me, going from loving Mad-Eye as a new favorite character, to the realization that it was he who had engineered EVERYTHING? I love, love, love, Goblet of Fire. JK Rowling, you magical writer.

The Order of the Phoenix. This was the book where I felt a stronger connection to Harry than any of the other six books. So much of what he was going through, of what he was feeling, I could familiarize with. It was the closest I ever felt to the character of Harry Potter.

Nothing needs to be said about the sixth book. Easily my favorite of the seven. I need not say anything about this masterpiece.

And the finale. Nothing could have prepared me for what I ended up learning about Dumbledore and Snape. If there was one thing I thought I’d never question, it was how I felt about Dumbledore and Snape. But hats off JK Rowling. You are, truly, a literary genius.

I love this world so much. I’m excited to see where it goes. I loved the Fantastic Beasts  movie, and I can’t wait to see what magic lies in the years to come. This world means more to me than anything I’ve experienced here on earth.

Because here’s my reality, and those of you who’ve read my previous posts would already know this, but belonging has never been something I’ve been good at. Often times people say having a foot in two cultures is like having the best of both worlds. For me, I would often feel like I didn’t belong in either. Too Egyptian for America. Too American for Egypt. I belonged in this world. And as a young child, struggling to find a home in a confusing world, growing up in two cultures that did not see the other in a positive light, belonging to that Magical world meant everything to me. And there were so many other stories and books that I had read before, and so many books that I’ve read since finishing Harry Potter. Hundreds of amazing authors that made my life magical. But nothing ever compared to this. I never grew out of it. I re-read the books all the time. I still buy and own the books, the movies. The plays and the screenplays. I go watch the new movies in the theater. And I re-watch them. Because whenever I hear Hedwig’s theme, whenever I see wands and spells, horn rimed glasses and scars, I know it doesn’t matter what’s going on in the world around me. Because I’m home.

And in the words of Dumbledore:

“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry. But why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”

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Yes, We Are Victims

I wasn’t sure if I was going to write this or not. But this is something I feel like I need to say. Please read until the end.

My Muslim identity has not always been something that I wanted people to know. All my life, I would get scared that if people knew I was Muslim, the assumptions would follow. I so hated those lines that we repeated over and over again. “Yeah, we don’t believe in terrorism, it’s just a few bad apples. I promise.” I hated that so much. I didn’t matter where an act of terror happened, if the people behind it were Muslims, then we all had a responsibility the next day to go out and assure people that all 2 billion of us weren’t in on it. And if there’s one thing we know about innocent people, it’s that every time something happens, they go out to declare their innocence.

We aren’t bad people. We’re like all people. We have the good and the bad. But unlike all people, we aren’t allowed to mourn our losses and our dead. We aren’t allowed to proclaim the truth about what is happening in the world, in regards to these Muslims who commit acts of terror. We have to bow our heads, and quietly accept that this is how we live.

Here’s the truth. We do have a problem within our wider religious community. That’s number one. We have allowed the once radical and fringe ideologies among our community to become mainstream. I’m referencing the Saudi/Gulf version of Islam. This has allowed for even more extreme groups to rise up. Once the extreme became mainstream, there needed to be a new extreme. We have a responsibility to kick this Saudi/Gulf extreme version of our faith out, once and for all. That’s number one.

Here’s number two. The truth is, the primary targets of these terrorist groups, a majority of the victims of terrorism in this world are Muslim people. And I know that might be hard to believe, but let’s think about this for one second. ISIS, Al Qaeda, and other extremist groups have attacked Western cities numerous times. They have killed the innocent in Manchester, and Brussels. London and Boston. California and Florida. And my heart aches as I write down the names of these cities. But we can count how many times they have attacked Western civilization. These attacks are a daily occurrence in the Middle East. They aren’t worthy of a news story, or a Facebook post. Because they are so frequent, people have become indifferent.

“ISIS attacked another Shia mosque? What, that’s their third mosque this week?”

“Well what can you do. That’s just what happens in Iraq.”

And don’t get me wrong. Don’t ever assume that I am belittling the suffering of non-Muslims at the hands of these barbarians. ISIS has made their hatred of non-Muslims clear. The attacks on Christians in Egypt and Iraq, their treatment of the Yazidis, forcing them to leave their homeland in search of refuge. These are barbaric people. This is a barbaric ideology. I could write a book on the reactionary minds of these people. But this article is focusing on one group today. Because sadly, I cannot write about all those who are suffering.

And there is one group ISIS hates above all else.

We, the non-ISIS Muslims.

We are the fake Muslims. The Muslims who like Western movies, who speak English, French, and Korean. We, the Muslims who like to travel and make money. We are what’s wrong with Islam. We ARE the war on Islam. And I hate the fact that I used the pronoun “we.” I have not suffered at the hands of these people, thank God. And I would never equate my emotions with those who actually lost their loved ones. But I promise, I’m getting to my point.

Look at what ISIS has done. Yes, they’ve attacked London. But they took over Libya. They attacked Paris. And took over Syria. They attacked Orlando. And took over Iraq. They attacked Manchester. And took over Sinai.

Their attacks on the west are not meant to be some takeover attempt. Killing innocent people in London is not going to make London a part of their “state.” It’s how they recruit. They portray themselves as some sort of resistance against the west. As a resistance against imperialism and colonialism. They want to incite a conflict in the west, that would alienate Western Muslims. They want to tell these people that they aren’t welcome in the West. Bomb Syria. Bomb Iraq. What happens when bombings begin? Innocent people die. What do they do with those images? Propaganda. The imperialist armies. Killing innocent babies. Who stands up to the imperialists? Why, they do of course! That’s their business in the west. They want to recruit. They know they won’t take over Paris or Orlando. But they can divide the people. They can recruit soldiers. And what do they do with those soldiers?

They wage wars in the lands they actually want to take over.

Iraq. Syria. Yemen. Libya. Egypt. Medina.

Every day they die.

Iraqis. Syrians. Yemenis. Libyans.

Every day they suffer.

Mosul. Raqqa. Sanaa. Benghazi.

Terrorism is a part of their lives. Terrorism is a part of their schedule.

Well, why don’t they condemn it? Why don’t they walk up to the soldiers with guns and weapons, and tell them that they don’t want them there?

“You’re not welcome here!”

Of course not.

Muslims aren’t the only victims of these people and their crazy ideology. We suffer, just like everyone else does.

I remember when September 11th happened, I was in the third grade. I remember the horrors of watching the events unfold on TV. They had let us out of school early. Just like everyone else, we mourned for our dead Americans. Just like everyone else, we lost people that day. Just like everyone else, we wanted justice.

But we weren’t everyone else. And this is point three.

Because we had questions to answer. We had our loyalties to be questioned. Were we loyal Americans? Were we a Trojan horse? What did we believe in?

We weren’t allowed to be Americans. Not without having our loyalties questioned.

And today we get asked.

“Why can’t the Muslims stop ISIS?”

How do you answer that?

“Well, they are. Those soldiers fighting them in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen and Egypt. Don’t you know that they are overwhelmingly Muslim?”

“What about the Muslims here?”

“In America? You want Ahmed to leave his job at Company Retrieverisk to go join the Iraqi military, even though he was born in Baltimore, his parents immigrated from Pakistan, and he has never agreed with their ideology or way of thinking?”

People think we can control them. That we can, somehow, stop them killing from our homes in America. Just call up ISIS. Just go tell the Imam to talk to them. What do you mean we don’t know where they are?

Because there is a secret about Muslims that a lot of people might not have realized. There is no secret whatsapp group where all two billion of us chat. It’s not like we have a connection to these people. We don’t know how to control them. They are not preaching their messages in American mosques. They aren’t preaching on the streets of Morocco. They recruit online, faceless, nameless. I can promise you this. If there was a secret Muslim connection to ISIS, you would have heard about it. 2 billion Muslims in the world. You don’t think one or two would sell that secret for money?

But back to Ahmed. Because if Ahmed has to go fight ISIS in Iraq, then perhaps Kevin has to go fight the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda. What’s that? Why is it his responsibility? He is a Christian after all, and they are an armed Christian terrorist group.

I’m sorry to anyone who has ever suffered because of these people. I’m sorry that this horror had to come from people who call their for war in the name of Muslims. But at the end of the day, we ARE their war. They see us as their biggest threat. We are the wrong Islam. We aren’t their only victims. But just like every other community fighting this war, we are also their victims.

For America

Anyone who knows me knows my passion for soccer. My love of the beautiful game, my beautiful game. I live for this game. And just like every other American who loves and lives soccer, I want to see America compete. I want to see a World Cup trophy in the US. I want packed stadiums, filled with passionate fans. The world to watch the MLS, for the world’s best players to want to come to America. I want us to be the best.

And that starts with the MLS. Major League Soccer is, have no doubt, an amazing league. The growth of the sport and the league, as I have witnessed it, is nothing short of amazing. I never actually believed that MLS could be where it is today. And people around the world poke fun at MLS, but look where we’ve come from. From nothing, we’ve built a league that is growing faster than any other. Over twenty teams now, new clubs being born from coast to coast, with our clubs building brand new soccer stadiums, selling out brand new soccer stadiums, and (occasionally) attracting world class talent, at a time when they could still play for Europe’s best. Giovincio and David Villa are world class players, no doubt they could still play in Europe. Not to mention Almiron, (ATL) Dos Santos, (LA) and Kaka. (Orlando)

If America is going to be a soccer powerhouse, the MLS needs to become a soccer powerhouse. And here is where my hypocrisy comes in. I enjoy watching MLS. I do. I lived in Africa for a year, watching local African football, and MLS offers a better product. It does. But it doesn’t match their passion. And the lack of passion in the MLS, led me to European soccer. So it’s hypocritical for me to talk about how we need to make MLS a great league, while I only watch it when there’s no La Liga or Premier League on. Which brings me to the point of this post.

I’ve decided to renew my passion in MLS. For America. For MLS to become a top league, it needs top dollars. And for MLS to make that money, it needs sponsors, tv deals, jersey sales. This comes when MLS becomes a major American league. When MLS starts rivaling the NHL and the NBA (more realistic than the top two leagues, the NFL and MLB) for fans and tv spots, then the MLS will become a financial powerhouse. There are cities where the passion of the MLS fans is something to behold. Orlando City SC, an intelligent, passionate, and exciting fan base. Portland Timbers. Traditions, titles, and an environment any player would be lucky to experience. Atlanta United, what an amazing addition to the MLS family! 50K fans a game?!? For an MLS game? Hats off Atlanta, I never thought I’d see the day.

And as much as it pains me, DC United, we ain’t there. Perhaps moving into a new stadium next year will help. Old RFK is too big, it’s falling apart, and the team isn’t very good this year. We can always hope that a new stadiums could breathe new life into our club and fans.

Back to my original point. America is slowly getting there. And Americans are slowly getting into soccer. I believe we have a better league system in America. With no relegation system in place, a playoff system that gives more clubs are shot at the title, and a yearly draft to ensure that the league remains competitive, I believe the MLS is a better league, structure wise, then the Premier League. As soccer grows, our fans will grow. As we start to rival the top sports leagues in America, we’ll draw the attention of the top players around the world. And when the MLS arrives, America will finally be the powerhouse I’ve always dreamed of.

And one more thing.

Vamos United.

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