Strengthening Our Inner Universe

This has been a tough week. Tuesday’s election results were not shocking to me, but they were disappointing. It was a reminder that many (mostly white) Americans hate people like me — a brown Muslim female, the child of immigrants. It was a reminder that for now, I have to continue to worry about the safety and humanity of my loved ones. That things haven’t quite changed and we still have a long way to go.

On Wednesday morning, my mom told me to wipe away my tears and be strong. An hour later, I was greeted by colleagues with hugs. And yes, I cried again. It was the first time I had embraced anyone since the previous night’s news, and it was a relief to once more be in the presence of people who have open minds and open hearts. Today, outside the church that hosts the local Muslim community for Friday prayers, I was greeted by a group of non-Muslims — friendly faces giving smiles and welcoming me in. May God bless them.


In his sermon today, the khateeb explained that the biggest gap exists between not knowing and doing:

The only thing Allah has given us power over is our minds. You’re going to be asked about what you did and how you responded…

You consider yourself something small, but within you is the entire universe.

How do we take that inner universe and use it to take action? To fight fear? To do good? This fall marks 40 years since my dad first came to this country, seeking better education and opportunity. When I asked him yesterday how he was feeling, he told me that he still has hope, hope in the goodness of people. Before I hung up the phone, he reminded me as he always does, “Be brave.” That’s what I aim to do.

I am going to keep working hard, speaking up, getting to know others and having faith. And I ask others to stand with me and my brothers and sisters of all colors, creeds, genders and sexual orientations here and around the world — not just now in the aftermath of the election but at all times.

Whether it’s online or in person, use your power to tear down walls. Support the BLM movement. Stand with Standing Rock. Welcome immigrants and refugees with open arms. Have interfaith dialogue. Serve your community. Engage with your children’s teachers and other parents. Listen and see and read and understand. Be enraged but also have love. I implore you to use your mind for goodness.


Grieve now, but don’t lose hope. Know that change begins with you, with me, with all of us together. What happened this week, this year, this decade has not broken me or those I hold dear. If there’s one thing that Leslie Knope has taught me, it’s this:

I am big enough to admit that I am often inspired by myself.

Love and strength, y’all.

In Memory of the Victims of Rana Plaza

Today marks the one year anniversary of the worst disaster in the history of the garment industry. 1,129 people lost their lives at the Rana Plaza building collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh. 1,129 human beings.

The Rana Plaza collapse.

The Rana Plaza collapse.

"Final Embrace" by freelance photojournalist Taslima Akhter.

“Final Embrace” by freelance photojournalist Taslima Akhter.

Initial investigations found that the four upper floors of the building were constructed without a permit and that inspection teams had found cracks in the building’s foundation the day before. Even though workers expressed their worries, factory owners ordered them to come into work that day.

Workers in this building produced clothing for a number of retailers, including Benetton, the Children’s Place, Joe Fresh, Primark and Walmart. In response, many companies promised to make changes, but they divided themselves into two factions.

The European-led Accord on Fire and Building Safety, which partnered with several labor unions and includes companies like H&M and Primark, put together a binding agreement to establish a fire and building safety program in Bangladesh over the next five years. The program would cost about $3 billion, a reasonable amount for such successful companies.

Many American retailers, including Gap and Walmart, refused to sign the Accord out of fear that they could face legal liability. Pretty sad, right? They decided instead to form the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, through which members could voluntarily contribute to a safety fund currently standing at a mere $42 million and provide only $100 million in loans to improve factories.

Not only are the retailers not obligated to provide any of this money, but they lack worker involvement and completely control the inspection processes themselves. If you look at the Alliance’s website, you’ll notice that their inspection reports are not as detailed as those of the Accord and are even hard to locate.

It’s despicable that so many companies – retailers that you and I have probably shopped in before – are so unwilling to take legal obligations and to be as detailed and transparent as possible in order to protect the lives of millions of people.

Bangladesh is the second largest clothing apparel producer in the world, with 3.6 million workers employed in the ready-made garment industry. And Bangladesh has great laws in place. The Worker Rights Consortium’s Scott Nova told PBS NewsHour:

Bangladesh itself has reasonable standards on the books. They have reasonable labor laws on the books. They have a national building code. The problem is the national building codes in Bangladesh, the labor laws are works of fiction. They’re completely ignored by the factories who are serving the relentless drive of Western brands and retailers for ever lower prices of apparel.

When fast fashion overtakes factories, it leads to new hires, overcrowding, intense speed and pressure and a decline in safety standards. And honestly, much of the blame for such standards does lie with the retailers themselves. Yes, factory owners and regulations play a role, but when companies don’t make the effort to make sure their clothing is being produced in the safest conditions, they’re risking lives. They should do whatever it takes to protect workers, and for companies that earn millions and billions each year, this should not be a financial problem.

My heart has ached all day today, and it’s been aching for quite some time. I’ve devoted the final project of my graduate program to a strategic communication campaign through which a nonprofit organization can influence American retailers to implement a certain set of safety standards in its South Asian garment factories. It’s not much, but I do hope to share it with nonprofits who can work to make a difference.

In the mean time, what can you do?

  1. Sign and share petitions to the Children’s Place, Gap and Walmart to demand compensation for the victims.
  2. Sign a letter and take it to your nearest Children’s Place, Gap or Walmart. Ask to speak with the store manager, tell him or her why you’re asking the company to compensate the victims and ask that corporate headquarters is notified of your visit.
  3. Keep updated on the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, the International Labor Rights Forum and the Worker Rights Consortium.
  4. Keep sharing. Keep speaking out.

I Defended BuzzFeed Yesterday


I know, I know.

You see, I read an article on Medium yesterday about how BuzzFeed uses data and metrics to determine what content is shareable. It mentions a quote from BuzzFeed Founder and CEO Jonah Peretti, as published in Fortune:

It’s dangerous to only follow the numbers. I think there’s a lot of over-optimization on the web. You see this sort of ‘side boob’ trap or something, where you put some picture of a celebrity whose dress lets you see the side of her boob on the front of your website, and you say, ‘Wow! That gets a really high click-through rate.’ If you were a slave to the numbers, you’d start putting more stuff like that and more stuff like that and more stuff like that. And pretty soon you would have a site full of trashy, salacious garbage…

That’s why exploring lots of different kinds of content, and thinking about things on a human level and saying, ‘Is this actually good content, or are people just clicking this because they can’t resist clicking it because it’s a guilty pleasure?’ is important. You need to have creative, experimental people trying lots of different things. And then the data becomes meaningful.

Upon reading this article, a friend of mine argued that BuzzFeed is about numbers and that all BuzzFeed does is produce “garbage content.”

Buzzfeed doesn’t even create any content. They just take photos from others and add an obnoxious clickbait title.

I’ve heard the argument that all BuzzFeed does is try to get readers to share its content. And that’s why they always post stupid listicles, pictures of adorable animals and quizzes that aren’t even accurate (just ask Ellen DeGeneres). I know that BuzzFeed loves numbers. In fact, Forbes contributor Benjy Boxer wrote:

Upstarts, like BuzzFeed, take advantage of data analysis to build a new online media company, which blends ad buying (traditionally an ad agency business) and publishing… their core competencies is producing and selectively distributing content with a high viral coefficient.

I also understand that, as my friend pointed out, many times the site takes already existing articles and reproduces them as its own. This is a huge problem. Plagiarism is plagiarism, and if you’re going to attribute someone, you need to attribute them correctly.

But I also pointed out to my friend that BuzzFeed does produce actual content too.

Did you know the site has an actual news section? A politics section? A DC bureau chief? It even has reporters stationed right now in the Ukraine, Syria, Turkey and Egypt, as well as a new investigative unit and some pretty great longform writing (this piece on sexual assault in India was particularly interesting).

Jennifer Saba wrote for Reuters:

Less known outside media circles is BuzzFeed’s foray into serious journalism, which began two years ago when it hired Ben Smith, a former Politico reporter, as its editor-in-chief.

Headquartered in New York, BuzzFeed now has more than 150 journalists, an investigative reporting unit, bureaus in Australia and the United Kingdom, and foreign correspondents in far-flung places like Nairobi and the Middle East.

Its expansion comes amid a wave of investor interest in new media companies that are trying to capitalize on a decade-long wave of job cuts at newspapers, and new technology that has upended how news and advertising are produced and distributed.

Slowly growing its reporting units, BuzzFeed is producing content, and good content too.

Of course, it has its obstacles. At least one editor has defended its verification practices, which were attacked during the Elan Gale hoax. And can BuzzFeed be a credible news source when the top story on its homepage is just another listicle?

The site has its work cut out for itself, no joke. But it’s trying.