Perhaps the most important part of literary criticism or analysis is that a work of literature is best understood once you understand who the author is. Once you shed light on who the author is, you can then understand what the literature is all about, as well as what the author is trying to achieve through their literary efforts.
Thus, I myself am interested in connecting my background and my life story with my assessment and analysis of international affairs, not just for my readers, but also for the sake of self-discovery and soul searching. While I have been prolific in my literary output since the coronavirus broke out in 2020, I often set aside everything to grope for answers as to what the impetus was for all this work. I don’t get paid to do any of this. Catharsis sheds light on the impetus better than anything else, which is why I will go back as far as I can in order to understand the present moment.
I was born in Queens, New York on December 1, 1988. My earliest memories as a child include my parents as a young couple that was incredibly happy to start a family. My father is a medical doctor, and my mother is a successful real estate developer and investor. I was told that I was able to start walking when I was nine months old. I remember learning the alphabet and writing at the age of three. My tutor was a Greek-American woman who lived in the apartment above us in Astoria, a predominantly Greek neighborhood in Queens.
I was four years old when my parents decided that it would be best to move out of New York City and move to Northern Virginia for my upbringing and for my brother’s upbringing. My brother is two years younger than I am. We moved to Alexandria, a city right outside Washington, DC. I remember going to preschool in Alexandria, and I remember my teacher, Mrs. Graves. She was a bitter woman with an incredibly sour personality. To say the least, I hated preschool. But luckily, within a matter of months, we moved to Centreville, a small town farther west of Washington than Alexandria.
That is when I started Kindergarten. Times were great. This was in the mid 1990’s, when the Cold War was over and Bill Clinton was president. Optimism was also at its peak. But after Kindergarten and the first grade, my parents decided to enrol my brother and I in a private school in Potomac, Maryland. It was an Islamic private school, operated by Iranians and affiliated with the Iranian government. Although the curriculum was approved by the State of Maryland and certified, we had Islamic studies classes and prayer times included in our daily schedule. But it was a shock for me as a child to have to transition from an American public school to a private school with a dress code and a heavily conservative religious environment.
Nevertheless, I performed well as an elementary student. I also skipped a grade. But that was until middle school, when I began to slack off and hang out with the pranksters and troublemakers. My experiences in this Islamic private school include both pleasant experiences and bizarre experiences that often leave me wondering whether it was right to have been put in that school in the first place. I often blame my parents for not having thought that through. I attended that Islamic private school from the second grade to the eighth grade. It was in the eight grade when 9/11 happened. I remember all of the students convening in the multipurpose room on the lower floor of the school that day, where the principal turned on the television and we all watched the twin towers as they were hit. We were all in shock. No one was happy about the images we were seeing. We all said a group prayer, and soon after our parents were called to pick us all up.
I remember my mother crying that evening as we were all keeping track of what was happening during what was perhaps the most fateful day in American history. My mother worked at the World Trade Center in a pharmacy when she first came to the United States in the early 1980’s, and it was hard to console her as she tried to make sense of what happened that day. All we had at our disposal for information on what was going on was the mainstream media. We relied on CNN and other mainstream outlets for clarification on why this tragedy happened.
Soon after 9/11, I began high school. I left the Islamic private school and was back in the public school system. I was not able to adjust properly in my first year of high school. I was struggling in my studies, and my worst performance was in Geometry. My Geometry teacher, Miss Gordon, wasn’t much of a help either. I often wondered what went on in her personal life that made her such a cruel and bitter person. But I got through the class with the help of a tutor who was a family friend and a genius with a very high IQ. He was in college at that time. My mother would pay him twenty bucks for about two hours of tutoring every other evening after school. He is now a gastroenterologist.
In high school, flashes of Islamophobia would come out of the white students I attended school with, and some of them were quite nasty. But overall, the experience wasn’t that bad. However, I was a below-average student. I would sleep through class more often than not, and I had a serious case of “senioritis,” where I would frequently skip class in my senior year, often with the permission of my parents. But on a number of occasions, I would skip class without anyone’s permission. I would often skip homework or copy off my friends just to get it done. My best performance was in my history classes. But that did not mean I enjoyed them. I was struggling to get by, and I hated the fact that we had to wake up so early just to get conditioned by the system to be a brainless pawn.
College in 2006 couldn’t come soon enough. Being able to choose your own classes and to have a balance between freedom and academic work enabled me to thrive for the most part. The freedom part did wonders for me. Not only was I performing well in my major (History and Government), but I was also getting paid by a friend to tutor him in a math class we were both taking. I was functioning so well, that I was actually tutoring a classmate in math.
Having a girlfriend and learning how to get on with women also came along in college. Although in high school my relationship with girls was tumultuous after a serious heartbreak, I was performing better with girls in college. Girls, partying, alcohol, and weed were hallmarks of my college experience. Before I burned out in 2009, I put in an application to American University’s School of International Service with a Concentration in U.S. Foreign Policy. After that, I burned out, and there was a one-year hiatus between the time I finished college in 2009 and began grad school in 2010. Part of the reason why I burned out — in addition to all the partying — was because I finished college at such a fast pace. I finished in three years as opposed to the four years that it usually takes. I was thrilled to have been accepted to American University in March of 2010, which was in the middle of my hiatus between college and grad school.
My first three classes in grad school — which I started in the Fall of 2010 — were on Afghanistan, Islam and Politics, and the history of U.S. foreign policy. My Afghanistan professor — Assem Akram — was the one professor who by far had the greatest impact on who I am as a writer. After completing an oral final exam — which I passed with an A — he accompanied me outside the classroom and we stood to have a long conversation in the hallway. He told me something that has stuck with me until now. He told me to never lose my independence as a researcher and a writer. He lambasted Afghan politicians for their crookedness and corruption, and he was sincere in his hope for my success down the road.
But in grad school, my personal life and my personal relationships would overshadow my academic studies. I wasn’t able to make the best out of my experience as a grad student, even though I was privileged enough to attend such a prestigious program. My personal relationships affected my mental health, and my mental health affected my academic performance. I was barely able to pass the program and receive my master’s degree in August of 2013. What I learned about myself through those ordeals was that I couldn’t get along with my own culture and community, namely, the Afghan community. A lot of it had to do with the breakdown in solidarity and social harmony within the community. I lost a lot of respect for a lot of people very fast.
Soon after getting my master’s degree in August 2013, I was in limbo. I didn’t know where I was headed in life or what I was going to do. My parents would not allow me to join the State Department’s Foreign Service because they knew it would mean going to Afghanistan, and they would not allow me to go to Afghanistan. Thus, I hit the books in solitude and began an intellectual and spiritual journey that has continued to this day. I read more books outside of school than when I was in school. I cut ties with virtually everyone that I knew growing up, with the exception of my parents and siblings, in order to dedicate myself to the intellectual and spiritual journey I was going through.
I self-published a book in January 2018 regarding international relations theory at the tender age of twenty-nine. The only thing that interrupted my focus on book writing between August 2013 and January 2018 was an arranged marriage that ended in a disaster and ultimately a divorce. Soon after I published my book in January 2018, Afghanistan’s Ambassador to the United States sent me an email through his secretary in March 2018, saying that he wanted to see me. So I went to the embassy in Washington with my sister. My sister was the one who connected me to the Ambassador. He got to know of me through my sister, who became friends with him through various Afghan Youth organizations. We sat in his office for tea and a very long conversation, which lasted almost two hours. He started off the conversation by asking me to sum up my book as briefly as possible. I told him that China is rising, and this one phenomenon is affecting international relations as a whole.
He grunted and absorbed that statement for a few seconds, and then he immediately changed the subject to Donald Trump. He said he had a gut feeling that Donald Trump would win the election in 2016 and that a number of Afghan-Americans he had met warned him before the 2016 elections that Trump would win.
After that, we chatted about a whole range of things, from mutual friends to other things. We laughed and we enjoyed the conversation very much. He then asked me if I wanted to work with him and his staff, but that he would have to be forgiven about the pay part because the embassy budget was tight. I told him I’m not in it for the money, and that I would love to help.
I assisted the Ambassador and his staff for six months. Finally, the Ambassador accepted a position as National Security Advisor in August 2018, and that is when I handed the key to the embassy back to the staff and called it quits. I didn’t know what to make of the experience. But what it did overall was that it made me lose faith in government. It also made me somewhat angry at America for putting so much energy and time into such a stupid enterprise. But I made deep connections with some of the staff at a personal level. Some of those connections have lasted, but some of them haven’t.
After taking a few months off after the embassy experience, I got married in the Spring of 2019, and in June of 2019, I started this blog. This blog has been my child in the sense that it has been my sole focus for the last two years or so, and I have been nurturing it ever since I opened it. At the start, I was sluggish in terms of my output. But for some reason, the coronavirus did wonders for me in terms of output. I was able to chug out 125 essays since April of 2020.
For the most part, the theme of my blog was American global hegemony. But this is an international affairs blog. Thus, I cover a whole range of issues. The criteria for this blog is a simple one: tell the truth and cover as many different subjects as possible. Self-education for eight years since coming out of grad school equates to an “exhaustive education” and an interdisciplinary approach. But what it also does is that it puts you on a middle path. You end up shedding your desire for anything other than objectivity and truth. You tend to balance elite and popular interests because you belong to neither side. Religion had a major influence on my middle path approach. Islam is known in Arabic as “Deen al-Wasat,” which translates into “The Middle Religion” or “The Middle Way.” Thus, as Muslims, we are obliged to strike a middle course or middle path between elite and popular interests, for the sake of balance, equilibrium, peace, and social harmony.
The upside of my life is that I get to do what I love to do, which is to read and write. The downside, however, is loneliness and depression more often than not. Many writers of a high caliber are lonely and depressed because they are not affiliated with any group or click. I happen to be one of those writers. I refuse to sacrifice quality for money. I gave up a chance to attend a strategy and intelligence program at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) this Fall in order to preserve my independence of thought and the quality of my writing.
Through social media, I received acknowledgement and love on a few occasions from a number of individuals around the world. Some of them are high-level people in society, and some of them are students and young people who simply wanted to show their admiration. Nevertheless, it was these folks who made me realize why I have done everything I have been doing since I can remember. It was for love.
Some people do things for money. Some people do things for power and fame. I do what I do for love. In the end, love is the only thing you need. Nature provides all else. As long as I receive love from my readers — even if they are few in number — it’s worthwhile. “Life is a game, and love is the prize.” And although I haven’t been able to recall or provide every single detail of my life in this blog post, I hope this gives my readers an understanding as to who the person is behind all this jargon.