Irrevocablility torments
The mind struggles and the heart laments
Sight blurs, pretence fragments. 

In wakefulness, subconscience gnaws
In deep slumber, denial dissolves. 

Acquiescence, shrewdest of realms
Punishes with shadows in dreams
Unforgiving pricks of could’ve been.
Destiny, is still and always half-revealed
A lifelong irony that wounds and heals.

The Latest in Cyber Crime— for Dummies

Too big, too vague and too fast to catch up with, it’s interesting yet fearful watching governments trying to regulate this borderless, intangible space that we now spend so much of our lives in: the infinite cyberworld. Along with newer online services have come more sophisticated crimes but with the same timeless purposes: to steal, to scare, to damage, to defame, or to inflict loss.

Before I started my internship three months ago, I was almost as clueless about cybercrime as its countless potential victims: online shoppers, e-tailers, FB users, online banking customers, advertisers, governments and entire countries— let’s just say everyone! So here’s a list of some of the newest cybercrimes you just have to be aware of:

Corporate IP Theft/ Commercial Espionage

Earlier, hackers made money by stealing people’s credit card numbers and selling them online for around $6 per piece. The latest McAfee-SAIC study shows that cyber criminals are building a huge underground economy by stealing far more valuable intellectual property (IP): that of corporations.  Trade secrets – such as designs, formulae, product specifications and processes, as well as marketing plans, R&D findings and even source code are now being leaked by insiders or extracted by sophisticated hackers from poorly protected company systems and sold to competitors and foreign governments at enormous prices. In January this year,  Renault, the second-largest automaker in France, suspended three of its managers for allegedly selling information related to the company’s electric car program. In 2008, three people were convicted of stealing marketing plans from Coca Cola.

 Malware on FB

Malware, short for ‘malicious software’, is known in law as a computer contaminant, and includes varied forms of hostile, intrusive, or annoying software or program code. Malware consists of computer viruses, worms, trojan horses, spyware, etc. A computer worm is self-replicating malware which uses a computer network to send copies of itself to other computers on the network and it may do so without any user intervention. This is due to security shortcomings on the target computer. So the next time you see stories in your Facebook newsfeed showing your friends ‘liking’ outrageous pornographic videos, start thinking MALWARE!

Phishing and Whaling

Although not amongst the latest cyber crimes, what  ‘phishing’ actually means is a mystery for most. Phishing is a way of attempting to acquire sensitive information such as usernames, passwords and credit card details by pretending to be a trustworthy entity in electronic communcations like emails and instant messages. Communications purporting to be from popular social web sites, banks, auction sites, online payment processors or IT administrators direct users to enter details at a fake website whose look and feel are almost identical to the legitimate one.

Several recent phishing attacks have been directed specifically at senior executives and other high profile targets within businesses, and the term whaling has been coined for these kinds of attacks.

The latest prime targets of phishing are social networking sites— yes; sites where you connect with your friends, since the personal and login details entered in such sites can be stolen through phishing and used in identity theft that can in turn be used to facilitate other crimes including illegal immigration, terrorism, and espionage.

Cyber Warfare

The cyberworld is now officially recognized by the Pentagon as the fifth critical domain of warfare alongside land, sea, air and space. Cyberwarfare consists of  “actions by a nation-state to penetrate another nation’s computers or networks for the purposes of causing damage or disruption.” Cyberwarfare is waged through multiple techniques: espionage, sabotage of military equipment and systems, disruption and manipulation of national infrastructure, etc. Cyber espionage in this context is the act or practice of obtaining secrets from rival governments, competitors and enemies for military, political, or economic advantage illegally using IT. The US congress is currently considering the controversial “Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act 2010“, which if approved, will give the American president vast emergency powers over parts of the Internet.

The Past After the Future

It was one of those ritual trips to KLCC that students take while trying to deal with the short-semester boredom. As the LRT rolled on, the three of them sat watching the rain battering against the train windows… trees swinging wildly in the wind, cars caught in the jam below… and they began to talk about the train. What could possibly have existed a 100 years ago along the same route they were travelling on? People moved about on foot, rode animals, primitive carts maybe; taking hours to cross distances that we now cross in minutes. Their clothes, technology and food would have definitely been different from ours… ours developed, exotic and stylish; and theirs quite dull and monotonous. But what if, for a moment, we were one of those people who lived a 100 years ago that these bored friends were talking about on a train? Where exactly would we be as they spoke?

Somewhere deep below the ground, walked upon by millions of busy people. Rarely or never thought about. Our faces nameless, our positions taken over, our institutions and houses destroyed, our contributions ridiculously insignificant, our lifestyles outdated… our entire civilization buried. Our once existence on this earth would be imaginary.

Caesar’s dead for all you could care to know about him today. The mighty Pharaoh lies lifeless in a box somewhere in Egypt. The affluent Ottoman Empire has crumbled. And we would never ever know the multitudes of common people that lived during those generations. So too, we will one day be. Meaningless to those that live when we are dead.
If to learn from the past is to realise the true insignificance and temporariness of everything that humans have always cherished, it is also to marvel at the timelessness of the lives of revolutionary people throughout the ages.

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No Place Like Home

Just the thought of it ceases the rush around us, immerses us into beautiful memories and drowns our hearts in longing. Its comfort, security and love left behind, we embark on student life; living with strangers, keeping everything locked, managing budgets, planning where and how to get every meal, allotting time to do laundry and clean the room—rarely having time to think of it, yet many a times intentionally avoiding thoughts of it, but surely, it lingers constantly in each of our minds…

The advice of a father, the kiss of a mother, the laughter of a younger sister, the fights with a brother, the family discussions, the meals together, the airport reunions, the waking up to sumptuous breakfasts, the peaceful sleep knowing that everything’s taken care of for you… truly, there’s no place like home.

Screaming with the agony of loss, they held on to the corpses of their family scattered through the streets… drenched in their blood as they embraced them, crying for them to come back, this was the last exchange between too many parents and children, husbands and wives, and siblings in Gaza. Children sat crying around their mother’s body for four days, trying to wake her up, not understanding why she was sleeping so long. Orphans wept throughout the city, no one coming to claim them, not knowing that they had no one left. Thousands of others with throbbing gunshot wounds, hanging limbs or phosphorous burns flooded the hospitals, the doctors not sleeping for 15 days because the patients were too many. Every few hours there were fresh announcements of death in the wards, and another anxious parent or relative or spouse fell down with grief.

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The Nobodies

They’re everywhere, yet it’s as if they don’t exist. There are millions of them, yet they go unnoticed. There are over ten of them in every single day of yours, yet you look right through them. They are not angels or spirits, yet it’s as if they are invisible.

What do the prim lawns tell you as you walk to class every morning? What does a plate of roti canai say as you enjoy it? What do the new colors of the HS cafeteria say to you? Do you see something more than a clean table as you sit to eat or study? What does a clear road say as you drive along it? What about the bus that takes you to class?
Somehow, strangely it seems, our toilets are cleaned, our roads are cleared, our lawns are trimmed, our food is fresh, our walls are painted, our tables are wiped, we get to class on time… it all just happens. It’s all done.
By the Nobodies.

Thousands of us walk past them as they sweep early in the morning, but not even a handful can bother to smile at them or greet them. They drive so many of us to our classes, but it seems only a few of us don’t choke at the door and turn to say “Thank you, abang“. Yes they’re paid to cook our food, but why do the rules of courtesy not apply to them? Or perhaps they should have an ‘Honors Degree in Asian Cuisine’ from Harvard, then we’d thank them even if they burnt our food. As we talk about Ethics for Everyday Life over lunch, a nobody perhaps our mother’s age carefully cleans our messy table, wishing she understood us educated people. If she only knew how less we understood our own words.

Behind every stroke of new paint in HS is a person struggling to make ends meet and feed his family, behind every clean road is a person who always dreamt of owning a motorcycle, behind every washed toilet is a person juggling work, family and health, behind every hot meal are burnt hands… behind every comfort of ours are nobodies who wish to be noticed by the blind people they work for.

May Allah bless the nobodies of our world through whom He makes our lives comfortable. May He ease their burdens and cure our blindness. May He bless them with provision and us with the ability to be grateful, Aameen.

[First published in 2009]

Of Love, Commitment & Marriage in Islam

[A Marriage Sermon by Mirza Yawar Baig delivered at my cousin’s wedding.]

“And among His signs is this: He creates for you mates out of your own kind. So that you might find contentment (Sukoon) with them, and He engenders love and mercy between you: in this, behold, there are signs (messages) indeed for people who reflect (think!)” Qur’an 30:21

As I am sure most of you are aware, marriage in Islam is a legal contract. It is a contract between two people in the presence of witnesses the Best of whom is Allah Himself before whom this contract is made and to whom the ones making the contract will be accountable. It is therefore essential that they understand what they are contracting to do. I recited before you an ayah from the Qur’an where Allah speaks about the institution of marriage and mentions specifically three special features of the way He created it. He uses three critical words in this ayah:

The first word Allah used is the word Sukoon .

Allah said: And among his signs is this: He creates for you mates out of your own kind so that you may find Sukoon with them. So what is Sukoon? It is a word that we use in Urdu as well so I am sure all my friends who understand Urdu have an idea about its meaning. In Arabic, Sukoon is the opposite of Al – Haraka – or movement. In Arabic grammar the equivalent of the maatra on the letter is called Al-Haraka which tells us how the letter “moves” meaning, how it is to be pronounced. When there is a Sukoon on the letter it means that the letter remains as it is and will not move and will be pronounced in its original form.

Allah has used the term Sukoon as the first purpose of the marriage. He said that He creates mates for us so that we may find Sukoon with them. So that we may find contentment with them. So that we may find peace and tranquility with them. Not so that we now have a permanent sparring partner with whom to test our strength and show who has the upper hand. The first condition of the contract is that the spouses are undertaking to promise that they will henceforth lead their lives in such a way that they will make their companionship, their home, their being together and their support for one another a source of contentment and Sukoon for each other.

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I live in a miserable world.

I miss those days when there was no Facebook or Twitter or Messenger. Days of long letters to far away relatives and hours of phone conversations with friends without having to worry about credit running out, excitedly looking forward to parties where we could see our real faces instead of fake profile pics. Picnics in fields and parks when we’d hear and see lively animated chatter, where we played real games and not some ridiculous virtual farming. Days of real expressions of the joy of births and weddings and meeting, not the little black hearts and godforsaken smileys and socially obligatory “likes” that interaction has come down to. And definitely not the million fake poses that the best moments of our lives have become.

Relatives or friends or even family, we’re literally only virtually connected now. By cables and worldwide webs and wireless connections. Not anymore by blood or affinity or  love or childhood. And the worst part is, we feel better off this way. Hugging our darling, cherished computers and phones to sleep.