Archive for the 'Personal' Category

The Foreign Pornographer

“What are you doing? Making poverty porn?” I asked.

It was a Sunday night here in Dhaka. I was drenched in sweat having nearly completed a 50 mile bike ride around the city. I was passing by the upper class part of town when I had to stop.

In the middle of the street, stood a foreigner taking a photo of the most crippled street beggar he could find – an elderly man with stubby deformed legs roaming around in a wheelchair.

Armed with a DSLR and lighting rig, worth more money than this beggar would see in his entire lifetime, the foreigner had the beggar pose with a photo of Ronald Regan in front of his face.

“Why Ronald Regan?” I asked the foreigner. He ignored me – pretending I wasn’t there.

I pedaled right next to him – putting myself between him and the expensive luxury SUV he had rode up in. I didn’t notice it at the time, but the car sported yellow license plates: a privilege reserved for diplomats and dignitaries.

“Excuse me – why Ronald Regan?” I asked again. The foreigner coyly shrugged. “Because why not?” he asked. “But why Ronald Regan? What are you trying to do? Besides make poverty porn?” I asked. He turned to me and smirked.

“That’s exactly what I’m doing” he replied.

His flippancy was astounding. It only got worse.

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Last Update Before P4A

The Project for Awesome (aka P4A) is an annual charity event done on YouTube. It’s organized by Hank and John Green. This was the video – quickly done with me and Jory – before that event. It was unscripted and basically showing another side to this school construction.

Just a reminder that The Uncultured Project has been nominated for a Webby Award. Please help it become the People’s Choice by voting for it here.

Burning Man in Bangladesh?

If you didn’t hear the news, The Uncultured Project has been nominated for a Webby Award! Please vote for it as The People’s Choice by voting here.

Money Doesn’t Build A School

This isn’t the story of how donations built a school. Donations don’t build school. Watch the video to see what I mean.

 

A Hindu Rave?

A Muslim’s Thoughts on 9/11

As a Muslim, I feel personally ashamed at what happened on September 11th, 2001. I know I shouldn’t be – I wasn’t (nor any Muslim I could possibly personally know) involved in that heinous act.

But Islam emphasizes unity. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Canadian Muslim, Arab Muslim, or a Bangladeshi Muslim. It makes me think: the 9/11 hijackers probably prayed in the direction of Mecca and fasted for Ramadan just like me.

Yet, the first thing that most Muslims around the world did was point out that the perpetrators of 9/11 don’t represent them or Islam. As if distancing ourselves from this minority within a minority makes it all better.

I probably don’t represent many (if any) Muslims when I say this but, pointing out that people who do violent and horrible things in the name of Islam don’t actually represent Islam isn’t enough.

At the same time, 9/11 isn’t something that can be “counter-balanced” through an equally sized positive act. It’s a scar that will live on in history. At least that’s what I feel. Many Muslims reading this are probably rolling their eyes right now.

I think, as a Muslim who feels like I do, all that one can really do is live their lives in the way that best represents one’s most sincere interpretation of the goodness, positivity, and peace-making that is within Islam.

These children in rural Bangladesh currently study in an open field (or, when attendance is lower, a small cramped Church building the size of a parking spot for a car).

It’s that belief that, for me, has brought me to this remote rural village in Bangladesh – where I am potentially the first Muslim to ever build a Christian (Catholic) School. In fact, I was able to come to Bangladesh to do this on a plane ticket paid in part by a Rabbi.

Me with Avraham Berkowitz in Brooklyn prior to flying to Bangladesh – partly on the Rabbi’s dime.

I don’t claim this modest school will change the world. It’s not meant to. Rather, all I want to do is create a tiny piece of the world I’d like to see. It’s a world where people embrace each other for their differences and get strength from diversity.

Bangladesh – in fact any Muslim nation – is better off with strong, protected, and thriving minority groups. This diversity enriches the Muslim world. Only through diversity, can we understand that which is different from us. And those differences curb our own personal extremes.

A Priest with the Catholic Church coordinates with villagers on construction of the school building, funded by people who have supported me and my work. This particular congregation’s approach to aid and development is well respected enough that they are the implementing partner for many major NGOs – including World Vision.

But beyond this village, beyond just Bangladesh, and beyond Islam – fundamentally, we enrich each other in this life not by merely co-existing but by seeing the value in each other’s existence. And, by helping each other grow, thrive, and prosper, we enrich ourselves.

Future students of this school participate in the ground-breaking ceremony. This school will serve Bangladeshi Hindus, Muslims, and Christians. And, given my family’s personal experience with the Catholic School System in Bangladesh, no student will ever be pressured or required to convert to Christianity.

Ultimately, this Catholic School will only serve a small handful of Catholics. It will mostly be helping local Bangladeshi Hindus. As the school teacher put it, “I’m Hindu, I plan to stay Hindu, I just want to teach”. You know what? I want to help her.

And so does the Priest who is helping to build the school.

And so does the Rabbi who sent a Muslim to Bangladesh.

And so does the Muslim who was insane enough to hatch this crazy idea.

And by helping each other, we’ve hopefully helped and enriched ourselves.

I couldn’t think of any other way I’d want to live my life on September 11th.

Controversial Comments on Circumcision

When I decided to start an ambitious interfaith project in collaboration with Christian and Jewish support, I knew I’d have to start being more vocal about my own Muslim beliefs and opinions. Some, like my criticism of Germany’s banning of infant and childhood circumcision, has stirred a heated debate.

Let’s see if I can bridge the gulf on this issue a little bit…

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