Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Too annoyed to talk about Language


I think I might just go round conversing in Hindi to annoy people. After all I am a deshi expat who lives in London and so must be confused about my identity because it's all mish mash of Bollywood and English here so makes us cultureless by definition(!)

Actually think I might do the cliché thing and quote a bit of the Quran:

YUSUFALI: O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).

Monday, February 26, 2007

Mathematics in Islamic Tiling

OK, so I didn't write this article (below). But it would be super cool to be a science jounalist I think. Imperial actually offers science jounalism now and I am thinking maybe...

Medieval Islamic tiling reveals mathematical savvy
19:00 22 February 2007
Jeff Hecht

Medieval Islamic designers used elaborate geometrical tiling patterns at least 500 years before Western mathematicians developed the concept.

The geometric design, called "girih", was widely used to decorate Islamic buildings but the advanced mathematical concept within the patterns was not recognised, until now. Physicist Peter Lu at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, US, realised the 15th-century tiles formed so-called Penrose geometric patterns, when he spotted them on a visit to Uzbekistan.

Scholars had thought the girih were created by drawing a zigzag network of lines with a straight edge and compass. But when Lu looked at them, he recognised the regular but non-repetitive patterns of Penrose tiling - a concept developed in the West only in the 1970s.

Simple periodic patterns can be generated easily by repeating a unit cell of several elements, a technique widely used in tile patterns, but the rotational symmetry possible is limited. In the 1970s, Roger Penrose at the University of Oxford in the UK showed, for the first time, that "thick" and "thin" rhombus-shaped tiles could cover a plane, creating a non-repetitive pattern with five-fold rotational symmetry.

Shapes and sizes

Other researchers found that the atoms in certain materials can arrange themselves in similar non-repetitive patterns, which are called quasi-crystals. They are called this because they have a well-defined structure but the atoms are not spaced uniformly as in a normal crystal.

Lu discovered a wealth of girih designs with quasi-crystal patterns through an archive search of documented medieval Islamic architecture. He also found architectural scrolls describing how girih designs were assembled from five regularly shaped tiles, including a bowtie shape, a rhombus, a pentagon, an elongated hexagon, and a decagon.

"These are not quite perfect quasi-crystals," he told New Scientist, because the patterns show a few defects where a single tile was placed incorrectly. He suspects the defects were mistakes by workers putting together the design specified by the designer. "It's only 11 defects out of 3700 Penrose tiles, and each can be corrected by a simple rotation," he says.

The set of five girih tiles decorated, with lines that fit together to make regular patterns first appeared about 1200 AD, a time when Islamic mathematics was flowering. The designs grew increasingly complex, and by the 15th century produced near-perfect Penrose patterns found on the Darb-i Imam shrine in Isfahan, Iran.

Journal reference: Science (vol 315, p 1106)

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Deshi Identity & Rupa Dupa...Super?

First discovered Dr. Rupa Huq here.

From Desh, a lecturer in Sociology from Kingston with an impressive publication list - a well established individual indeed.

I got to meet Dr. Rupa Huq earlier this evening amongst a panellist discussion on the Bangladeshi Diaspora Identity. This was a broad topic, so people were shooting off at all different angles.

impressed me a bit. She probably would have impressed me a whole lot more if I could have spoken to her one-to-one without the rude interruptions from others, who felt the need to voice their opinions over mine, etiquette people! Anyway...

I liked the way she touched on the glorified portrayal of the Bengali identity which you got from the sasa-generations. Something along the lines of; we owe our heritage to Rabrindranath Tagore and Satyajit Ray - the clean, upper class, artistic types - the "good" ones that came out of Bengal. Also not forgetting, Ekushey February (ami ki buliteh pari...?)

Of course, for all those who know Tagore and Ray will know that they were actually from west Bengal, if we want to get technical, they're figures of India too. But it was somehow integral that they be kept as our heroes, because after all they were Bengali and the linkage of the language was important - ami ki buliteh pari...

It was significant that she mentioned this - just highlights the confusion amongst many Bangladeshis, the need for a national icon, force something that is not wholly representative onto ourselves. It's hard to get past Tagore and Ray because they are "internationally" recognised (Tagore and his Nobel and Ray and his Oscar) and we want that sort of recognition.

But also, 1971 came and followed Harrison's:

Bangladesh, Bangladesh
Such a great disaster
I don't understand
But it sure looks like a mess

(not forgetting Kissenger).

You wonder why people picked Tagore...
(cue: amar sonar bangla)

But things are changing. Bangladesh is surfacing more as an 'individual' as opposed to something 'borrowed.' Although it may be more attributed to things like:

Climate Change - Rising sea levels and the disappearance of Desh (the irony)
Professor Yunnus - Grameen Bank and the Nobel (the famous)
The war on want - Garment industry in Bangladesh and the likes of Tescos (the capitalism)

Not as ideal in terms of politics but as for recognition it's okay. It's part of the process. A country as young as Bangladesh needs to mature and it needs time, 35 years is not enough. Let's get up to 50 and see.

Rupa also said something that I agreed wholeheartedly with. The burden of representation. Ideally we don't want to be represented by anyone other than ourselves, but alas we get categorised and books such as Brick Lane become a study tool to understand British Bangladeshis.

So here is a formula for those who are thinking to make a certain minority their subject:
(minority + artistic expression) / mass consumerism =
vcreativity x responsibility^3
Apply it!

UK Bangladeshi diaspora - in fact and in fiction
click for larger image

However, Rupa was also neither a fan of White Teeth or East is East which was a little conservative. Whilst I couldn't read Smith I thought East is East was funny. I'm thinking maybe a marketing ploy - get on the right side of the Mosque? As she is one of the contenders for the Labour MP candidacy in Bethnal Green & Bow (currently held by George Galloway).

We still have to wait and see what Rupa is about. I welcome her to the political platform she'll be better than any other Jack (or Abdul) who gets the post. Although Rania, the Respect Councillor for Bromley-by-Bow, has her eyes set on the MP status too. Rania would be an ideal local candidate, on the other hand, any one of these women would be a step forward for Tower Hamlets.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The future of Bangladesh relies on creativity

Emerged out of a panel discussion yesterday at LSE.

(ok, my tabloid beginning is done, the rest could sound a little boring...)

Panellists included:
Omar Faruk, Barrister, Chair of Southwark Muslim Forum
Niaz Alam, Solicitor, Director of The Ethical Trading Initiative

Dr Kamrun Hassan, something to do with Education

Asif Saleh, Founder of Drishtiphat, a Human Rights NGO from Bangladesh

Chair: a moody PhD student from King's College London.

It was a Question Time sort of an affair on the future of Bangladesh but none of the panellists were actually a resident of Bangladesh (bar one maybe). It didn't stick to one agenda, Democracy and Theocracy were hardly the crux of the discussion, or maybe I missed it when I was dozing...


The only main point I could find interesting to mention is the need to understand the Sharia. Most of us are ignorant of religious doctrines (myself included) and well a lot of us don't favour Islamic Law given the examples that exist, ie. Saudi, Pakistan etc.

One of the points that came out of this was the need for the Muslim imagination to grow. To say Sharia will not work in Bangladesh because 'look at Pakistan and their rape laws' is a poor example (which was given).

We can take lessons from Pakistan, where they have gone wrong we can improve, where they have gone right, we can copy. There's not a great deal of difference between the two nations. We share a common history and a common culture, it could work. I don't think we should demonise the idea of a religious state, it could be better than what we have today.

At the same time, I don't think Bangladesh is ready for Sharia rule, it will be abused and it will be just another failing example of a Muslim state. Best we carry our initiatives through education, on the grass-root level as well as in higher level academia. Let Islamic knowledge grow before venturing into living by Islamic Law.
(Not that current laws are contradictory to Islamic laws I would imagine)

Professor Yunus

Another topic that came up was Prof. Yunus' new found interest in politics. With no background in politics it's questionable on how useful he can be. But from what we have of the zias and haisnas people welcome the change. What is destroying the morale of Bangladeshi politics is the personal rift between the AL and the BNP and Prof. Yunus and his Nagaric Shakti Party (the Citizen's Power Party) will be a breath of fresh air.

Politics in Bangladesh is pretty much based on personalities rather than ideologies (another issue that was discussed), don't think Bangladeshi politicians know what a manifesto is! I am hoping Prof. Yunnus will lead a way of a more sophisticated politics, in giving us an ideology or a manifesto which people can aspire too rather than hail joy bangla and Mujib or the other.


Personally, I felt we could have spoken more about the expats' role within Bangladeshi politics and the future of Bangladesh. This was touched on slightly but not enough. Exapts pour a lot into the Bangladeshi economy we should be given some mode of rights within Desh. The need of a Non-resident Bangladeshi vote is a way. There's a limit on what we can offer, none of us live there but we can influence and that could be our main strength.


All in all it was a good debate to have, particularly for those who are learning about Bangladeshi politics and history, they enjoyed it. The panellists gave sound arguments but really their wisdom cannot be used in Bangladesh. Maybe that was me expecting too much...

Saturday, February 10, 2007

About This Blog

attempt #7.