Wednesday, January 4, 2017

In the face of adversity...

I am currently on track with my reading goals for this semester as I am on my 6th book of this year finishing Ta-Nehisi Coates's masterpiece: Between the World and Me. Coates's lyrical novel motivated me to continue reading throughout winter break and delve into a new realm of literature - World War 2 Autobiographies - as I am currently reading Mein Kampf written by Adolf Hitler. The autobiography is a poignant novel that chronicles Hitler's early life, struggles, and introspective ideology as well as aspirations for the future of Germany. I chose to read this controversial novel not because I hold leftist leanings, but because I wish to attain a global perspective and understand the seemingly twisted ideology that led to so much violence, bloodshed, and mania. In my AP World History class, I believe we dehumanize and distance ourselves from leaders and issues that bring us grief, and through my understanding of Hitler and his struggles, I will have a greater appreciation for our current social and political structure.

Image result for mein kampf cover

Mein Kampf ("My Struggle")

Throughout the novel, Hitler addresses the struggles he experienced in his youth as well as the numerous German struggles in the aftermath of World War I. Hitler writes, “obstacles do not exist to be surrendered to, but only to be broken" (Hitler 21). The theme of his novel is shown clearly through this quote: one who works hard to fight obstacles will be more successful in the long run compared to one who gives in to the pain and surrenders. Germany's main obstacle in the 20th century came with the severe loss in World War I; Hitler kept his ideology that obstacles should not limit anyone or anything, so he dehumanized the Jews, homosexuals, and disabled in the horrendous Holocaust, a genocide killing over 11 million civilians. This was his solution to the tribulations Germany faced as he believed that these vulnerable groups were responsible for the intense German suffering after World War I. 

Hitler's interpretation of solving the German problems through genocide was a false narrative of his ideology of working hard to overcome barriers. Instead of working hard, in the face of adversity, to improve the conditions and infrastructure of war torn Germany, Hitler catalyzed communal action by blaming the Jews and other vulnerable groups in Germany for the devastation and loss in World War I. Ultimately, he was unsuccessful as he triggered World War II further crippling Germany. 

This message, given in 1923, continues to be applicable in the contemporary era as groups and individuals continue resorting to violence to solve their issues. A strong example of this is the Radical Islamic groups in the Middle East who turn to terrorism to solve their problems. These groups experience an impoverished life, exploitation from stronger countries, and, ultimately, hopelessness, provoking them to attack civilians and other countries, hoping that their problems will disappear. In the end, the fear from civilians and foreigners leads "peace seeking strongholds" like the United States and UN militaries to attack these terrorist groups continuing the violent cycle of despair replenished by fear instead of collaborating to solve their issues. 

I have applied Hitler's message of staying diligent and working hard to overcome obstacles many times in my life; for example, in 7th grade, I forgot to do a major grade essay in Texas History, and my grade dropped drastically. Instead of making excuses and procrastinating, I stayed up all night finishing the essay; in the face of adversity, I kept working hard regardless of the struggle of exhaustion. 

Hitler's message resonates strongly, and, as it did in the 20th century, it continues to be misinterpreted by groups who resort to violence as a solution. However, if one stays optimistic in the face of adversity, and works hard, he/she will be more successful in the long run compared to one who takes the easy route.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

What is the "American Dream"?

My reading goals this semester are on track: I'm reading my 5th book and have achieved my goal of reading an American Classic as I, just recently, finished Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. Furthermore, I am continuing to challenge myself in the realm of nonfiction by reading Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (BTW thank you Ms. Mayo for introducing this book to our 2nd period class encouraging me to read it). This novel is a letter to the author's adolescent son reflecting on his life as a black African American living in a society where he was constantly discriminated and marginalized against. Through the oppressive conditions Coates encounters in the dangerous streets and schools, he learns the truth about the "American Dream."

Between the World and Me

Throughout the novel, Coates addresses the disillusionment that Americans have about the "American Dream." Coates writes, "And you know now, if you did not before, that the police departments of your country have been endowed with the authority to destroy your body... I tell you now that the question of how one should live within a black body, within a country lost in the Dream, is the question of my life, and the pursuit of this question, I have found, ultimately answers itself" (Coates 9). The message behind Between the World and Me is shown very clearly through this quote: one who ignores the truth lives a very superficial and unaware life.

This quote is more relevant than ever today as the Black Lives Matter Movement disseminates through American citizens seen through the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, Keith Scott, and other innocent black citizens. 

When many think about the American Dream, today, they think of dinner parties, sleigh rides, and the "perfect" suburban life. This "Dream" may seem like something every American should strive for; however, it obscures the negative aspects of America including its racial injustices, child hunger, etc. Dreamers believe in the lies of America being "the greatest country in the world" and "equal for everyone." America is not the greatest country in the world, nor is it equal for everyone. Innocent minorities are being attacked everyday, children are dying in the inner city because of starvation, and depression in America is an epidemic. In addition, America has the 7th highest literacy rate, 49th highest life expectancy, 169th highest infant mortality rate, and 1st highest in number of incarcerated citizens. Furthermore, these dreamers continue to believe the lie, at the expense of minorities, LGBTs, and other vulnerable groups, instead of inciting change to help these discriminated people. 

For me, the "American Dream" is the equal opportunity for all American citizens regardless of race, sexuality, or gender. As Between the World and Me shows us, we cannot just dream of a perfect life for ourselves, but instead we need to incite the change to help those who are oppressed and discriminated, and that is the true "American Dream."

Video from "The Newsroom" that supplements my blog

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Long Search For One's Identity

My reading goals are going pretty well: I'm currently reading my 4th book, which is ahead of my initial goal of 2 books per semester. In addition, I am achieving my goal of reading an American Classic as I'm currently reading Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. The novel illustrates the sharp racial divide in America, during the era of racial segregation, through the harsh accounts of an oppressed African American who is searching for his identity.

Throughout the novel, the protagonist of the novel, is in search for his identity and, in this strenuous process, faces numerous internal and external adversities. The main character considers himself "invisible," and writes about his insecure identity: "you often doubt if you really exist. You wonder whether you aren't simply a phantom in other people's minds" (Ellison 2). The theme of Invisible Man is shown clearly through this quote: society may reject those who don't conform, but, in the long run, those who stay true to themselves become more successful than those who don't.

This quote, written in 1952, continues to be effective today especially in our society where "fitting in"  is crucial rather than being true to yourself. This theme, personally, is very important in my life as I have faced many episodes where it has helped me. In kindergarten at Kent Elementary, all the students were supposed to make a project showing their background and present in to the class. My parents were Pakistani Muslims, so when I presented, I was teased. Even in recess, my teacher knocked down my wooden block tower saying it is what my people had done to her buildings on September 11, 2001. Furthermore, I faced the struggle of conforming to society or staying true to myself, and surely I stayed true to myself. In the next few years of school, I was proud of my identity as a Muslim American. Through Ellison's harsh account of an African American living in segregated America, he presents the central theme that people should be true to themselves even if they are alienated from society.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Does Adrenaline Dull All Other Emotions?

These past few weeks I have been reading much more than I have ever read in Middle School or last year in High School. I am making my goal for reading 2 books by the end of the first 9 weeks and reading 30 minutes each night. I have finished 1984 by George Orwell and am halfway through a nonfiction story called Dispatches from the Edge by CNN Anchor, Anderson Cooper. It is a memoir of the tragic episodes of war, disasters, and survival that Anderson Cooper faces in his life notably the 2 accounts of tragedy in 2005: Hurricane Katrina and Nigerian Famine.

Epinephrine. The hormone of adrenaline. Manifested in every human's blood. Triggered at any moment: a piercing gunshot, an engrossing hurricane, or a famished baby. Can this hormone be so strong it dulls all other emotions?

In Dispatches from the Edge, Anderson Cooper, willingly, travels to appalling episodes of war, disasters, and survival to feel the adrenaline allowing him to escape the strong sense of pain in front of him, at home, including his father's death when Cooper was only 10 years old, and his brother's suicide 10 years later. In times of depression at home, Cooper leaves his home to go to tragedies such as the gruesome Nigerian famine where he visits ramshackle hospitals containing hundreds of babies facing malnutrition. In these visits, Cooper experiences a lot of adrenaline, and undergoes lots of violence and pain around him allowing him to desensitize and dull the pain he encounters at home, “The more I saw, however, the more I needed to see. I tried to settle down back home in Los Angeles, but I missed that feeling, that rush. I went to see a doctor about it. He told me I should slow down for a while, take a break. I just nodded and left, booked a flight out that day. It didn’t seem possible to stop" (142). Cooper's feeling of adrenaline could not slow down because, then, he would have to face the traumatic struggles at home.

I believe adrenaline and stress can affect the mind drastically decreasing the magnitude of other emotions. For example, if your cat passes away on Tuesday, and there is a massive earthquake on Friday, your strong feeling of grievance towards your cat will subside as you are in a stressful moment thinking about your own survival. There are many studies on this topic notably Walter Bradford's physiological theory of the "fight-flight reaction." This theory states that people forget all other emotions and solely strive to survive in times of adrenaline. The notion that adrenaline and stress desensitizes and dulls other emotions is very interesting and applies perfectly to this nonfiction novel.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

What is Freedom?

Currently, I am reading 1984, George Orwell's nightmarish vision of the future. Writing the novel in 1949, he envisioned a terrible dystopia with no individuality. Orwell lived through the eras of communism and totalitarianism in Spain and Russia, and saw the major flaws in it. Because of these firsthand experiences with the gruesome totalitarian system, Orwell wrote 1984 to urge irresolute Western European and American intellectuals that totalitarianism is cruel as the government has to take extreme measures to to sustain and increase power from the people. Orwell indirectly illustrates a realization of the communistic government in a modern sense. The citizens conform to society and have no freedom as the government watches every aspect of one's life including thoughts, and if a person commits a transgression, they will be vaporized. The absence of freedom and forced compliance of people to act based on instinct instead of thinking deeply evokes a sense of horror. This sense of horror accomplishes Orwell's main purpose for writing this allegory: depict the horrendous shortcomings of totalitarianism.

What is True Freedom?

Is it ...
The ability to think deeply?
Love someone or something greatly?
Say anything you want?

If this is freedom, then in 1984 freedom is not present as individuality has been abolished by the government. Citizens cannot think deeply or reflect on their lives as the Thought Police prohibits any thoughts that are not based on instinct. Furthermore, the government proscribes the feeling of love and desire. Since a young age, the citizens of Oceania are ingrained that love and sex is not acceptable. Lastly, the government forbids all citizens but the Proles, working class, from speaking their thoughts. Everything said is heard by the government. The only opportunity to talk is during the 2 Minute Hate where all the citizens are forced to congregate and express their hate for the government's enemies. As we see in this novel, the citizens are stripped from freedom by the harsh totalitarian government.

What do I believe true freedom is? My belief on freedom is that everyone should be able to do and think whatever they want but they have to follow the laws of the country and the ethics they believe in. Although it is legal to engage in class 1 or 2 drugs, a person's morals and ethics may refuse to partake in this dangerous, habitual activity that kills many people and destroys families on a daily basis.

The novel 1984 made me question what freedom actually is and how it can be used. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Journey to Greatness via Reading

Hello Internet!

My name is Ammar Dharani and I am a Sophomore at Hebron High School. I am very involved in the numerous clubs of Hebron High School including HOSA, DECA, and Marching Band. I have a brother, Azim, who graduated last year 1st in his class at Hebron High School, who is currently attending Duke University as a freshman. My brother gives me an inspiration to work hard in everything you do to reach greatness. Since we were young, we read so many books and spent our summers in the library when we weren't playing basketball. I enjoy reading Biographies, Realistic Fiction, and Science Nonfiction. Currently I am reading The Emperor of All Maladies, a book reflecting the history and memoirs of the most malevolent disease, cancer.  Reading has allowed us to know so much information about the world and have social skills that are incumbent for relationships.

Once I entered Hebron HS last year, my reading levels suddenly decreased; I was too involved during the day with school and band, and in the night with studying. Instead of reading 6-8 books a month, I read 2-4 books most were books that I was forced to read in school or for summer reading. My goal this year is to try reading books older than 150 years; reading these obsolete books will strengthen my skill of reading archaic pieces which is crucial for my upcoming years of high school and college. Specific books I want to read this year include 1984, The Catcher in the Rye, and Inferno. In conclusion, I want to read many books this year because, studies have shown, that a lot of successful people have read many books. Today I start my journey to success via reading.