The Vigilant Robot

a watchful eye of creative complexity

Expand Empathy; Erase Exceptionalism

Attacks in Paris happened today—terrible, hateful attacks that took many lives. It is very sad and unfortunate. I am crying. I am crying and I find it hard to stop. But it is not for Paris. I am crying for the silence—for the silence that fills the air and the internet day after day; the silence that proves to me whose lives are valued and whose lives might as well be dirt on the floor we sweep away into a garbage bin never to be seen again.

I’m so tired. Every day, the life of my people (broad usage here: all brown people, all Muslim people, etc.) does not matter. No one cares. Every day, they face violence, hatred. Every day. Some days they are able to escape, but those days seem few. Do you know what it is like to see family after family from non-Western countries die in terrorist attacks, whether it’s from groups like ISIS or countries like the U.S.A., and hear silence; then later, you witness an outpouring of sadness and an abundance of opinions and outrage when an attack hits a Western city, a city that you were told was worth seeing, that had some value?

Why do you believe that people living in your favorite tourist destination are more important than those living in the city you know nothing about? What makes you think that the other city isn’t worth seeing, that the culture is not important, or the people have no value? What exactly makes you think that it is okay if people die in other countries because you have nothing to do with it? Why do you not care about the people your own country murders? Why do you not care about the global terrorism committed by your own country?

Perhaps you think that violence in the middle east and elsewhere has been going on for so long that it doesn’t matter any more. Perhaps you think that there is nothing you can do about violence “over there” and amongst “those people.” Do you not think violence has roots? Do you think the average brown person wakes up and says, “Hey, I think today is a great day to kill some people”? You are mind-boggling. If you are American, you can do something to stop violence. The U.S. is the biggest perpetrator of violence; and this violence breeds violence from others. You can do something; you just have to care first.

violence needs no translation

violence needs no translation

When violent attacks in a western place occur, I log on to social media and see two things: 1. a barrage of prayers and solidarity hashtags and 2. racism, hatred, and threats of violence. When violent attacks in a non-western place occur, I log on to social media and see two things: 1. some of my friends expressing sadness and outrage and 2. silence from most.

Dear social media friends, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, whathaveyou:

My life does not matter to you. If my life does matter to you, does it matter to you because you know me? If I lived in another country, on the other side of the world, my life would not matter to you. I believe my life would not matter to you. I would be dead in a terrorist attack and you would be okay with that. If somehow I left my home from that side of the world to find a safer, and more promising place in the West, you would still not care about me. I would be dead in a terrorist attack, and oh look, suddenly I matter to you. Oh wait, I probably live in a refugee camp because I cannot afford a place to live, so you would still not care about me. In fact, you would harm me. You would blame me for the violence I, myself, fled. You would blame me and then you would burn me. You would burn me. And you would burn me every single day after that. You would also burn my family, my friends, and anyone who looks like me. And then you would go back to not caring about me, my family, my friends, or anyone who looks like me. Or believes like me.

That hurts.

It hurts to know that a majority of people don’t give a crap about your life because you’re not the type of person people want to care about. They don’t even know you, so why should they?

When we cannot find empathy—when we refuse to listen, see, or understand anything outside of our own lives, there will never be justice and there will never be peace. Ever.

Expand your empathy and erase your exceptionalism.

Loser? C’est Moi!

Since my last post was about March Madness and how bad I am at predicting the winners during the national championship, I decided I would update you and let you know how I did. I really thought this year I had chosen the correct upsets, but this image will show that I did no such thing.


Yes, loser. Loser me. I came last in our pool. It’s not like it’s a big deal or anything because the small amount of money goes to charity. Only the winner and loser got certificates, so hey, at least I can say that I received a certificate and that’s more than most people in the pool got, which is nothing. Ha!

Better luck next year. (I sound like I’m rooting for a Chicago team right now…which I always am…)

It’s March Madness

It’s that time of year again — March Madness, the exciting NCAA tournament. I always had fun watching college basketball; it seemed so much more exciting than the NBA (non-Jordan-Pippen-Rodman era). Playing basketball in jr. high all the way through high school, it’s a game I understand and greatly enjoy. It has been many years since I have actually played a real game of basketball, but I long to run up and down a court, playing close D and making steals. College basketball is a game of skill, fundamentals, and talent. It’s not about fancy moves and players showing off; of course that does happen, but it’s not a huge part of the game.

All that being said, it’s been years since I’ve actually sat down and watched a full college basketball game. In fact, the only time I watch basketball now is when the Bulls are on (can you really get enough of D Rose?), and I really only watch a few (thankfully, I get texts about the Bulls so I know exactly when they win or lose even if I miss the game). I am quite a busy person, so I don’t sit down in front of the TV much, and while I still think college basketball is exciting, my interest in watching has dwindled. I remember the pleasure of filling out a tournament bracket, carelessly choosing which upsets would occur and carefully picking the safe bets. It doesn’t really matter how much basketball you watch or how much knowledge of each team you have, anything can happen during March Madness, and that’s what makes it beautiful.

For the first time in a few years I have filled out a bracket; I thank a coworker for that! He eagerly created a pool where we each donate $5 and whoever wins gets to donate the money to the charity of his/her choice. Sounds good to me! I delighted in picking which team would win each game. I had to base my choices, as I usually do, on past performances (and I mean way in the past) and the teams I like. No matter how good Duke is, I refuse to ever write them down as the national champion simply because I don’t like them.

My brackets are often fairly terrible, and I am expecting the same this year, but I am also expecting lots of surprises and I hope my bracket captures them! Check out my bracket below and smile or laugh…or squint…or cringe, even. Apparently, my national champion pick is quite a bad one, but I have my hopes that Georgetown can take it all away. Anything can happen and I’ll see you at the end of it all on April 2nd.

Far From Home | بعيد عن الوطن

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“My father’s image appeared before my eyes, and I could hear his voice saying ‘When will we return home?’ My whole world came together. I was silent. I looked out at the greenery and mountains of Palestine. I could see Tel Aviv below. I wept out of affection and longing, and said softly, ‘Father, we shall return…’” —Leila Khaled

Since 2004, I have been collecting postcards from all around the world; my collection has one condition: the postcards must be sent to me from friends and family while they are visiting a particular destination. My goal, which will last a lifetime and never be fulfilled, is to receive a postcard from every country in the world and every state in the U.S.

Postcards allow us to live vicariously the visits of friends and family in other cities and countries. When we receive postcards we are able to create and recall memories by reading the message handwritten to us on the back detailing unique or typical excursions and/or containing generic sayings of “Wish you were here.” Before my father came to the United States from Palestine in 1967, he purchased postcards of the occupied homeland he was leaving because he was able to take nothing with him. To look at these postcards is to invoke memories not of tourism, but of struggle, longing, and the possible permanence of losing one’s home, simply through the image. My collection is comprised of places around the world that one can visit as a tourist or possibly inhabit, while my father’s collection is of a home to which he cannot return; the former is voluntary displacement while the latter is forced.

I have displayed my postcard collection chronologically in a single line with the body text transcribed into a continuous narrative below. At various intervals, I have placed my father’s Palestine postcards up high, disrupting the flow and forcing the viewer to look up. These postcards are in archival sleeves, showing past and preservation, remnants of loss and struggle. Included are three postcards that were sent to my father from relatives and a friend who were able to remain in Palestine after 1967.

Through image, text, and narrative, Far from Home reflects on ideas of (un)attainable geography and forced or voluntary displacement; the image of Palestine is always lingering, disrupting our travel in life as a constant reminder of an unreachable home.

The iTrend

The iTrend. You know what it is. That poor letter of the English alphabet. Used and abused. Letter number nine.

In case you have no idea what I am talking about, it is not a new Apple product, but my clever way of giving a name to the trend of placing “i” before everything. “i” is the new prefix for names, companies, products, etc. It all began with Apple’s introduction of the iMac in 1998. The “i” stood for “internet,” bringing the old Mac up to date with the web, but also stood for the Apple values we think of today: imagination, innovation, individuality, etc. According to Ken Segall, the creative director and person responsible for naming this big, blue Macintosh computer, Steve Jobs wasn’t fond of “iMac.” They came up with some more names, but “iMac” was the only one that resonated. While it slowly grew on Jobs, he never embraced it at the time. He placed “iMac” stickers on the computer to get a feel for its look and still didn’t embrace it. I suppose Jobs never took the stickers off because the name stuck even though he never truly accepted it, and so began the “i” trend.

iMac, iBook, iPod, iPhone, iWork, iLife, iPad, iOS 5, iCloud, iBooks, and iTunes are the popular Apple products beginning with its famous “i.” I have actually never heard of the iOS 5 software or iCloud or iBooks. Of course, I don’t and have never had a smartphone and the iOS 5 is the operating system used for the iPhone, iPod Touch, and the iPad. (Yeah yeah, I guess I still live in the stone age.) iBooks is obviously an e-book application meant for those same products. iCloud is a storage system often used for those same products, as well, but can also be used for computers. Browsing the iCloud website, I am pretty sure I would like to use this application. See how enticing Apple’s products can be? Even if you are tired of the “i” trend, it still grabs you.

There are probably a whole slew of “i” products and applications I don’t even know about. iTrend could very well be a product, too. In fact, Googling “iTrend” produces various results. The results on page one show that iTrend is an Apple product; it’s an application for the iPad! “iTrend” is also the name used for a clothing store for women and children, a design and software development company, and something I don’t quite understand. The iTrend application for the iPad actually looks very cool. Trend USA, a maker and distributor of stone and mosaic tiles, has created the iTrend for the iPad, which lets you design a room in your house by taking a picture and choosing tiles and wallpaper designs. It’s basically an application for interior design and I bet they have really cool mosaic options.

So, while I am sick of the “i” trend, Apple does make some neat and interesting products for consumers. Can we at least leave the “i” to Apple? It’s getting a little bit out of control. “i” comes before everything. How many non-Apple applications use the “i”? How many companies use the “i”? How many twitter handles use the “i”? How many people want to make something starting with the letter “i”? Leave it to Apple to start a trend, even one it probably didn’t plan. The naming of a piece of technology now transcends all genres of life. Do people feel original? Creative? Cute? Partaking in a trend is anything but those characteristics. The “i” wasn’t just a first person exclamation; it did have a point. The “i” has clearly been identified as an Apple thing to do; it is the Apple brand. Anybody using “i” is appropriating. Now that is all fine and dandy, but it’s gotten out of hand. Please, enough.

I don’t know how this has not gotten old yet. People are still wondering if they should put “i” before their domain name, before their company name, etc., knowing that it is a fad. The answer is no. What do fads do, but die? Yes, they come back at some point decades later, but I can’t imagine this trend ever coming back. It’s the moment of Apple, of technologies using “i,” and technology advances. So please, let’s move on.

Apple has even discussed whether to drop the “i,” but has decided to stay consistent. It has been over a decade of “i” products. They can drop the name. Their consistency has been clear. Now, let’s move on. It is not trendy any more, just overused and tiresome. I hope that when Apple comes out with a new product, and according to Tim Cook, the new CEO, it’s sure to be something that will blow our minds, it does not begin with the letter “i.”

Best use of the “i” Trend

The best use of the “i” trend has already been done. Nothing can top it, so let’s drop it. Mad TV’s hilarious skit tops the cake and it’s still very relevant today. The actor playing Steve Jobs states, “In the last three years, Apple computers has introduced ‘i’ technology that has changed the world,” and with each product he lists, the recognizable Apple “start-up” sound goes off: the iPod, the iMac, the iBook, the iPhone, the iPictureFrame, the iLamp, the iMicrowave, and the iVaccuum. He reveals Apple’s newest item: the iRack.

The audience members comment:

“The iRack looks unstable!”
“The iRack looks like something we shouldn’t be involved with! It looks like you put it together with no directions.”
“The iRack looks all shaky. You are going to fix it, right?”

The actor playing Jobs responds very cleverly to each and every comment. His final response, “This is the iRack as we intended. Mission accomplished.” He proceeds to put all of the previously mentioned Apple products into the iRack, and more hilarious comments ensue. As the whole audience shouts for him to take everything out of the iRack, he puts more and more. Eventually, the iRack looks very dangerous and unstable, starting a fire and engulfing the whole place. Nobody can leave because “there is no exit strategy.”

It ends with, “I want you all to stop focusing on the iRack, and start focusing on our newest product: the iRan!” We see the image of a shoe, the start-up noise sounds, and the skit brilliantly ends.

Returning to the land I’ve never seen

As I am writing and editing parts of my thesis, I would rather take a break and post an excerpt here. This is only a very small part of a draft that may change a little bit, a whole lot, or none at all. One of the reasons I feel like posting this now is because of Khader Adnan. As I read the words that I have written about Palestine, they conjure up the image of Khader Adnan, dying as he enters his 62nd day of his hunger strike in protest of his unlawful detainment and terrible treatment in prison. He is chained to a bed, dying as I write this. He has received no trial. Israel has not charged him with any crime. He has committed no crime, except that of being born a Palestinian.



Palestine is the embodiment of struggle, resilience, resistance, and liberation.
It is center of the world, the hole in the earth that is the answer to peace;
it is the stain of injustice and the mark of fortitude;
it is the root of solidarity amongst all uprooted peoples;
it is the educated, but mostly the educator;
it is
it is right; it is moral; it is just.
It is life.
I carry it with me everyday in every inch of my muscle, flesh, bones, blood, and soul.
I often carry it around my neck in white and black.
It’s often on my mind and it’s always in the back.
I carry it as a dream, as a cause, and as a goal.

I want to return to the land I’ve never seen. I pray I make it soon.

“You’re too political.”

I recall a day when I was showing a friend something on my laptop and he took notice of the image I chose as my wallpaper: 5.15.1948 written in a white, destructed-style font over a black background. He asked me what the date meant and I told him about al-Nakba, the Catastrophe, the day that Palestinians will never forget, when Zionist soldiers destroyed over 400 Palestinian villages and displaced three-quarters of a million Palestinians. It is the day known to some—and celebrated—as Israel’s Independence Day. My friend responded with, “You’re too political.”

I think back to various instances in my life where, in a group environment, I was labeled as the “political” person: the political employee, the political friend, the political [insert noun here].

Of course, some people assume that because one is political, s/he likes politics. Why would one constantly keep up with political events and situations if one did not enjoy doing so? Some people think that just because one is conscious of political affairs and often speaks about them, one chooses to live one’s life in such a manner simply because one’s main interest is in doing so.

Well, I hate politics. I do not enjoy reading about politics and politicians. I hate political affairs and being involved in politics. It’s not that I chose to be political, but it is simply necessary and a duty in response to the past and present and in action towards a better future.

For those who say I am too political, or label me as the political person:

I didn’t ask to be political.
Politics was forced upon me.
I didn’t ask for the Balfour Declaration or for the UN Partition Plan.
I certainly didn’t ask for the war in 1948,
nor for the war in 1967.
I didn’t ask for the displacement of my father,
or for his citizenship/stateless dilemma.
I didn’t ask to be born in a country where my people make up only a small percentage
and nobody can pronounce my name.
I didn’t ask for others to inquire about my relation to Saddam Hussein after the Gulf War.
I didn’t ask for the Oslo Accords.
I didn’t ask for the twin towers to fall, nor for the harassment that followed.
I didn’t ask for the Patriot Act, nor for the questions of allegiance.
I didn’t ask to invade countries for ‘weapons of mass destruction.’
I didn’t ask for my tax dollars to pay for the oppression of my people.
I didn’t ask for a fake Roadmap to peace.
I didn’t ask for a “Separation Barrier” to be implemented in my homeland.
I didn’t ask for extra airport security and laws that diminish rights.
I didn’t ask for war or for occupation or for racism or for statism.
I didn’t ask to be labeled a terrorist or a global threat.
I didn’t ask to be named non-existent and simply ‘invented.’
I didn’t ask for the false propaganda of mainstream media.
I didn’t ask to live amongst the brainwashed, the sheep.
I didn’t ask for intolerance and willful ignorance.
I didn’t ask.
It was given to me and I couldn’t give it back.
I didn’t ask.
I never asked to be political.
Politics was forced upon me.
I only ask for justice.
I demand it.


Plato: “Those who are too smart to engage in politics end up being governed by those who are dumber.”


Measuring Distance: Films on Palestine

Tonight at the Gene Siskel Film Center, Conversations at the Edge (CATE) hosted “We Began By Measuring Distance,” a series of experimental films by Palestinian women curated by Tirtza Even. Six films were screened, beginning with “Pomegranate” by Jumana Emil Abboud. It was a three minute color film of a hand pressing pomegranate seeds into the inside of an empty pomegranate held in the person’s other hand. The protagonist lodged the seeds into clearly demarcated indentations of where the seeds once belonged. Symbolizing the Palestinian Right of Return to their homeland, s/he would press hard on some of the seeds implanting them back into the pomegranate shell, fixing them back into their original home. When a seed popped out, refusing to embed itself in a particular area, s/he would pick it up and insert it in another area of its home. Unfortunately, in most cases, justice never comes about without violence along the way, without bloodshed. As the protagonist forced the seeds back into their original habitation, some of the seeds would gush their juice,  reddish-purple liquid squirting all over the pomegranate. The pomegranate is commonly cultivated in Palestine and I thought it was interesting to use such a fruit as a map symbolizing the territorial nature of the colonization of Palestine, the violence in the struggle for justice, and the Right of Return, stating that Palestinian refugees who lost their homes in 1948 and 1967 should be allowed to return, as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.

Following “Pomegranate” was a film by Basma Alsharif entitled “We Began By Measuring Distance” (the event took its name from this film). The film begins by speaking of boredom—”the worst of all evils”—the boredom one experiences after a place has been destroyed and one doesn’t really have anything to do. Because of boredom, the characters decided to play a game of measuring. They measured the size of various objects and even measured measurements. Two people stood between two trees holding up a white sheet in some way signifying a measuring tape and a projection screen. They began to measure the distance between places:

We measured the distance between Gaza and Jerusalem: 78km

We measured the distance between Gaza and Jerusalem: 67

We measured the distance between Gaza and Jerusalem: 48

We measured the distance between Gaza and Jerusalem: 17

We measured the distance between Palestine and Israel: Rome was not built in a day.

The numbers are reminders of the prominent years for the plight of the Palestinians. 1917 is the year of the Balfour Declaration, explicitly stating the promise to create a Jewish state within Palestine. 1948 is referred to by Palestinians as al-Nakba, The Catastrophe, otherwise known to Israelis as their Independence day. Over 400 Palestinian villages were destroyed and depopulated, leaving so many Palestinians dead and three-quarters of a million Palestinians refugees. 1967 is the year of the Six-Day War in which Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip declaring the whole state of Palestine under Israeli rule. These years are recognizable and are very unforgettable.

The film transitions into a juxtaposition of various images and music. Jelly fish and bombs, fish and women running were among the scenes contrasting one another. Sea life was placed next to video clips of bombs and white phosphorous falling over Gaza during the Gaza Massacre in 2008-2009. Accompanying these scenes was disturbingly positive music. I didn’t know how to feel. I have seen the exact same video clips of Gaza so many times and seeing them with the very music playing was a little bit unsettling, yet playing off the desensitization that we experience when we constantly see footage day after day of a place experiencing war and occupation and embroiled in violence. It ends with a woman in a look of shock and sadness, screaming voices of agony and Abdel Halim Hafez’s “Fortune Teller.”

Another one of Basma Alsharif’s films was screened, entitled “The Story of Milk and Honey.” The film seemed to take on a first person point of view of the filmmaker and her process of working, which is to collect all types of different information and somehow find use for it all later. It was humorous and enjoyable, and it also was telling of the absurdity and length of the Occupation. She juxtaposes love, with random people on the beach, with information about images and places, and finds that the strangeness of all of this actually represents the Land of Milk and Honey: Palestine. It does.

Next was Mona Hatoum’s “Measures of Distance” where she reads letters that her mother has sent to her while showing images of her mother’s naked body in the shower placed under arabic script. The only thing I would like to point out from this film is something Mona’s mother had said, “Being born in exile in a country that does not want you is no fun at all.” The feeling of fragmentation is embedded within such a person’s identity.

Annemarie Jacir’s “Like Twenty Impossibles”was also screened tonight. Annemarie and her friends are trying to make a film, but they must go through a flying checkpoint in order to get to their desired location: Jerusalem. The Israeli soldiers take them out of the car, tell them to stop filming, take their IDs, tells one of them he needs to pay a large fine because he has an Israeli ID and is in the West Bank (even though he is Palestinian), and one of them is about to be arrested because of some “crime” he committed. I enjoyed this film because it was hard to tell whether the characters were acting or if the situation was real simply because the absurdity of this situation actually happens in Palestine. What made me realize that the characters are actors is when one of the Israeli soldiers asks where Annemarie lives and she says “New York,” and he laughs and says that he is from Miami. It was bad acting, and funny, and I think it was meant to be this way to overemphasize the absurd and illogical laws of “return”: Jews can “return” from all of the world to a land they or their family have never seen, and Palestinians can’t actually return to the place that they are from. After the film ends, the rolling credits include an excerpt of Tawfik Zayyad’s poem “We Shall Return”:

It is a thousand times easier for you
To pass an elephant through the needle’s eye.
To catch fried fish in the Milky Way…
A thousand times easier
Than smoldering with your oppression
The spark of an idea
Like twenty impossibles
We shall remain.

After the screening, we had a Q&A/discussion session with Basma and the question was raised about whether the fact that all the films were made by women influenced the reading of the films. Some people felt it did, some didn’t understand the relevance of such a question. For me, gender isn’t something that I think about when I look at work made from Palestine unless the central theme is gender. While many in the West have the view that all Arab countries are the same and that women’s voices are completely silent in all of them, this is not true for Palestine. While yes, some Palestinian women are looked down upon by men for being an individual and pursuing the very things they want such as music or race car driving, this is something that should be dealt with within the community. Why is this relevant to the West? The West has its own inequalities to focus on, but would rather ignore it and shift the public’s focus to another region. In the West, and more specifically the United States, it doesn’t matter if you are a Palestinian man or a Palestinian woman, your voice is silenced. Women have been a large part of the Palestinian struggle since the beginning and both men and women suffer the effects of the occupation and oppression by Israel, albeit in some different ways. The common thread throughout these films is not merely gender, but the baggage of displacement, exile, and the wait to return.