Monthly Archives: March 2015

Lessons from the Tunnel’s Tale


Exactly two days after posting “Retelling Tale of a Long Tunnel,” an FB friend sent me this private message: “Thanks for this post. It’s actually a wakeup call for me. J I’m still stuck up with my research proposal. With all these office works, I doubt if I could finish my master’s. Any piece of advice?”

Late night of the same day, I received another message from a Caribbean friend informing me, thus: “Salam. I’m now in my first semester of PhD. Any tips about writing dissertation?” And then just yesterday, an ‘online’ buddy and an ‘offline’ student at the same time told me as we bumped on each other in a nearby 7-Eleven convenient store: “Sir, we will appreciate if you could share some personal reflections on pursuing graduate studies.”

Let me share to you here three P’s as lessons from my tale of a long tunnel – Procrastination, PR and Perpetual Learning.

(1) Procrastination

Procrastination is better known to us as “mañana” habit or “I-will-do-it tomorrow” attitude. Rumi, the great Persian poet, elegantly castigates this ubiquitous bad habit in his magnum opus “Mathnawi-ye Ma‘nawi” (“Spiritual Couplets”). There was a person who planted a bramble along a public way. The thorny shrub took root, grew and became a nuisance to the wayfarers, so much so that they complained to the ruler. The ruler summoned him and asked him to uproot the bramble. The person promised to do so but kept on procrastinating. In this manner, as the days passed by, the plant became stronger while the person became weaker and older:

“The thornbrush (is) in (process of gaining) strength and (in) ascent;

Its digger (is) in (process of) aging and decline.

The thornbrush every day and every moment is green and fresh;

Its digger is every day more sickly and withered.

It is growing younger, you older:

Be quick and do not waste your time!”

Pursuing graduate studies should start from the end. What does it mean by ‘starting from the end’? That is, as soon as you are admitted to the graduate or post-graduate program, you are supposed to have already the blueprint of your thesis or dissertation. Be like our local traditional carpenter-cum-architect who has already the sketch of the house in his mind before starting his carpentry works. Be like a painter who has already finished his painting – mentally – before actually beginning his painting.

In short, you have to start gathering your data or reading materials for thesis as soon as you are enrolled. Thinking or deciding for your topic at the time of writing your research design or proposal is already too late.

(2) PR (Public Relations)

Chapter 6 (Forming Your Dissertation Committee) of Rita S. Brause’s “Writing Your Doctoral Dissertation: Invisible Rules for Success” has this heading quotation: “I realized that getting along with people was even more important than being academically talented.”

Simply put, thesis writing is indisputably an academic venture, yet a significant percentage of it is relational. It’s pubic relationship (PR). You have to deal with your adviser, and more importantly, your panelists. You have to know the internal dynamics within the department. You have to know the professional rivalries between and among the department faculty members, some of whom will definitely become your adviser and members of your thesis defense panel. Above all, you have to know the nuts and bolts of striking a balance in dealing with these varied, and often competing, players.

(3) Perpetual Learning

After successfully defending your thesis, make no mistake in thinking that graduation is the end of learning. It is supposed to be a continuous process that should commence in the cradle and come to end only in the grave. Learning is a confession. It is a confession of utter ignorance. It is a confession of knowing too little. Learning is an acknowledgment. It is an acknowledgment of insatiability of sipping the nectars of knowledge and wisdom. It is an acknowledgment that there is still a long and winding road ahead.

Most important of all, the two-, three- or four-letter titles (MA, PhD, Dr., Atty., etc.) appended before or after our names should not be allowed to metamorphose into even specks of atom of pride (kibr) in our hearts. One good safety bolt in this regard is this line of supplication in “Du‘a’ Makarim al-Akhlaq” (Supplication on Noble Moral Traits):

“Raise me not a single degree before the people without lowering me its like in myself, and bring about no outward exaltation for me without an inward abasement in myself to the same measure!”

(Picture courtesy of

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Retelling Tale of a Long Tunnel


This month of March brings a particular mirth and joy as we read in FB posts some friends finishing their graduate and post-graduate studies – not to mention the many graduation photos of FB friends’ elementary and high school kids.

With such feeling, I can’t help but retell my own tale of a long tunnel with the intention of sharing personal reflections and identifying moral lessons that may guide others before experiencing the same; hence, this marginalia…

Exactly within two years, I finished my master’s degree in International Relations at Shahid Beheshti University (formerly known as National University of Iran) located in northern Tehran.

During the oral defense for my thesis, one of my professors and members of the defense panel asked me to compare and contrast the impacts of a Middle Eastern political event, if there are any, upon a specific sociopolitical trend in Malaysia (a Muslim country whose official religion is Islam), Indonesia (a Muslim country without any recognized official religion), Thailand (a non-Muslim Buddhist-dominated country with considerable Muslim population in the capital and in the south), and the Philippines (a non-Muslim Christian-dominated country with considerable Muslim population in the south).

This question of Prof. Haji-Yousefi gave me an idea on what to write in my doctoral dissertation, and I really decided to deal on that topic. In fact, I had practically started gathering pertinent reading materials. After passing my two semesters of doctorate (2001) at Tehran University, however, I doubted if I could get any travel allowance to go to Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand to collect first-hand materials and conduct field interviews. Travel allowance for such purpose is not part of my scholarship grant, the concerned personnel of the Higher Education Ministry reminded me.

As such, I settled on pursuing a purely or largely library work for my dissertation. My keen interest at that time with post-positivist theories in International Relations seemingly augured well for this decision. The topics of my research papers in different courses illustriously expressed this personal interest in IR theories in general and post-positivist theories in particular: “Alexander Wendt vs. Kenneth Waltz: A Critique of Constructivist Theory’s Critique of Structural Realism;” “Human Rights in International Relations: A Methodological Survey;” “Iran vis-à-vis Other Regional and Non-Regional Players in the Post-Soviet Central Asia and the Transcaucasus: A Study of  Converging and Diverging Interests;” “The Globalizing Impact of Transnational Corporations (TNCs): The Case of Microsoft Corporation;” “Neorealist and Constructivist Accounts of Security Cooperation: A Comparative Analysis;” “Alexander Wendt and Kenneth Waltz on Power: A Comparative Study;” “Robert Gilpin’s Thought on International Political Economy: A Critique;” “Realism, Liberalism and Constructivism on Human Rights Norms: A Comparative Study;” and “The Principle of Self-Determination: Its Conceptual Shift in International Law.”

For the second time, I decided on what topic to deal with for my dissertation. This time I was determined to delve on the ongoing debate between Waltz’s 1979 magnum opus Theory of International Politics and Wendt’s 1999 major work Social Theory of International Politics that respectively represent structural realism and the positivist camp, on one hand, and social constructivism and the post-positivist camp, on the other. After taking up my two required courses in research methodology with an ultra-positivist and empiricist professor, however, I began to anticipate the difficulty for any post-positivist study such as mine to get approval from the septuagenarian professor who approves the methodological aspect of any thesis proposal submitted to the IR department. For this reason, even after taking and passing the required comprehensive examinations, I was hesitant to submit my dissertation proposal to the department.

As in previous years, I was able to buy approximately 100 book titles on various subjects at the 17th Tehran International Book Fair (May 4-14, 2004)—the biggest annual cultural event in Iran. A whole year of savings would make it possible to take this rare opportunity. Among this new collection of books, I first read An Islamic Utopian: A Political Biography of Ali Shari‘ati by a certain Ali Rahnema. Typographical errors of the book simply irritated my eyes which have been used then to proofreading voluminous books as part of my translation works at an international cultural institute. I then picked up Tim Jordan’s Cyberpower: The Culture and Politics of Cyberspace and the Internet (1999). Jordan approaches the discussion by highlighting what he calls “three levels or circuits” of power in the cyberspace, i.e. the power of the individual, the power of the social, and the power of the collective imagination or imaginary. He does so by adopting three concepts of power as his theoretical framework, viz. power as a possession by Max Weber, power as social order by Barry Barnes, and power as domination by Michel Foucault.

I finished reading this introductory book on the politics of the Internet in two days, without knowing then that it would catapult me to a final settlement of my dissertation topic but plunge me into a long dark tunnel of exploring a theory in sociology—and not IR—to account for a macro-phenomenon in the virtual world.

“Barry Barnes’ Theory of Power as Social Order: The Case of International Quds Day in the Cyberspace” is the tunnel.

Congratulations to all the graduates!

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2015 Now Rouz

2015 New Year Supplication

Sal’e now-ye hameh-ye tun pur-barakat va sarafraz bashad!

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Is ‘Gems Sigay’ a Kaleidoscope, Rainbow or Mosaic?


Kaleidoscope. Rainbow. Mosaic. These are three words which are commonly used to describe a high school reunion’s reorganization, and its subsequent gatherings and activities.

Kaleidoscope refers to a tube-shaped optical instrument that is rotated to produce a succession of symmetrical designs by means of mirrors reflecting the constantly changing patterns made by small objects. It depicts a high school reunion group that constantly changes its colors of activities. At one time, it is all about wining and dining, while at another time, it is purely community service and civic action.

Rainbow, as we all know, is a bow or arc of prismatic colors appearing in the sky opposite the sun and caused by the refraction and reflection of the sun’s rays in drops of rain. A high school reunion is said to be a rainbow if its planned activities are too high and too big to be implemented or realized. And after a long period, they will just remain as ‘planned’ activities.

Mosaic, meanwhile, is used to describe the art of creating images with an assemblage of small pieces of colored glass, stone, or other materials. This word portrays a high school reunion which determines a set of diverse activities and then takes small, yet constant, steps toward their realization.

Today, exactly three months (or a quarter year) after the first ever reunion 25 years after graduation in high school, it is worthwhile for CCSPC Batch ’89 (Gems Sigay) to assess the identity it tends to assume – a kaleidoscope, rainbow or mosaic?

Immediately after the reunion day, the following steps in building our Contact Directory have been proposed: (1) Maintenance of FB Group Page, (2) Listing of mobile contacts, (3) Grouping according to fields of endeavor or line agencies, and (4) Grouping according to locations. (It’s part of commitment to the first step that this nondescript has to join the FB community.)

The following guiding principles have also been suggested: (1) Managing the Batch shall be a microcosm of our ability to duly serve (a) others (batch mates), (b) our alma mater, and (c) the community; (2) Batch ’89 shall be a marketplace of different and differing ideas; (3) Transparency shall be observed in financial matters and motives; (4) Reunion shall be an avenue for community service and giving back of blessings; and (5) To aim big while doing the doable things no matter how small they may be.

With these proposed steps in building our Contact Directory and guiding principles, the scene of actions in the past three months is dominated by the following activities, among others: charity works, luncheon meetings, homecoming parties, reaching out to a sick batch mate, wedding events, funeral services, entrepreneurship seminars, birthday greetings, etc.

The coming months, until the next reunion, will determine if we could maintain this mosaic of small, yet diverse, activities and programs. We hope we can – and we will!

Categories: Community Service, Current Events, High School Reunion, Throwback | Leave a comment

Current Translation Project: “Philosophy of Ethics”


Murtada Mutahhari, “Philosophy of Ethics,” trans. Mansoor Limba (London: MIU Press, translation in progress), approx. 240 pp.

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An Act of Treachery


My translation venture started more than 15 years ago as I was working part-time in the translation bureau of an international cultural institute. During a short orientation meeting on the first day of work, I can never forget the bureau chief, who was also the head of the French Desk, sharing a French proverb which means, “Translation is treachery.”

Yes, translation is an act of treachery because no matter how good the quality of a translation piece is, it is still not the original text and it can never be. So, basically, the function of the translator is to minimize, as much as he or she can, the magnitude of this treachery being committed. This is done by engaging in what is called ‘meaning-based translation’ in contradistinction to the usual literal translation.

While recently translating the last chapter of Murtada Mutahhari’s “Fitrah: Man’s Natural Disposition,” which was also the most difficult part of the book to translate, I was armed with the following set of tools:

Farhang Moaser Persian – English Dictionary” by S. Haim (Tehran: Farhang Moaser Publishers, 2004)

“Farhang Maaref Persian – English Dictionary” by Fakhollahi Khodaparasti (Tehran: Farhang Moaser Publishers, 2006)

A Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic: Arabic – English” by Hans Wehr (Beirut: Librairie du Liban, 1980)

The Divan of Hafiz English – Persian,” translated by Henry Wilberforce Clarke (Tehran: Ketab-e Aban, 2005)

Tales from the Khamseh of Nizami,” translated by P.J. Chelkowski (Tehran: Peyke Farhang, 2003)

“The Metaphysics of Sabzavari,” translated by Mehdi Mohaghegh and Toshihico Izutsu (Tehran: Iran University Press, 1983)

Yes, these and a few other electronic books were my instruments then in committing the literary crime of treachery, which is euphemistically called ‘translation’.

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Forthcoming Publication: “Fitrah: Man’s Natural Disposition”


Murtada Mutahhari, FITRAH: MAN’S NATURAL DISPOSITION, trans. Mansoor Limba (London: MIU Press, forthcoming), 192 pp.

Its English translation is finished just today, al-hamdulillah.

It is expected to be published within this year or early next year, insha’ Allah.

About the Book:

“Fitrah: Man’s Natural Disposition” is a translation of the Persian book “Fitrat” (Tehran: Sadra Publications, 2006) by the great Muslim thinker and reformer, Ayatollah Murtada Muttahari. “Fitrah” is the theme of a 10-session lecture series given the martyred thinker in 1976-77 in the presence of teachers in Nikan School in Tehran, and apparently due to his involvement in the Islamic movement and his increasing social activities, it was not continued. With ample citations from the Qur’an and other traditional Islamic sources, Mutahhari discusses the concept of ‘fitrah’ or man’s natural disposition. The author does not confine himself to Islamic references as he continuously engages with the views of a wide range of philosophers including Plato, William James, Russell, Nietzsche, Marx, Feuerbach, Auguste Comte, Spencer, Will Durant, and Durkheim, among others. Mutahhari’s ontological discussion covers a range of issues, including the literal and technical meaning of ‘fitrah’, sacred inclinations, love and worship, and the evolution of human originality. He also examines materialism and provides a theistic approach to some issues pertaining to the theories on the origin of religion, evolution of human society, intrinsic and acquired guidance, and intuitive and sensory dispositions.

Murtada Mutahhari was a leading theoretician of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran. As an accomplished scholar of Islamic sciences, he played a pivotal role in forming the modern Islamic discourse which served as the foundation of the revolution. With close to ninety works to his credit, he is considered one of the leading thinkers of the global Islamic movement in the twentieth century.

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