Global Protest Movements and Gandhi

A few weeks ago, in Paris, I nearly got caught up with The Extinction Rebellion protestors getting teargassed right outside my doorstep. The country my family is from, Iraq, has been having protests have been going for months now with over 500 people killed. Lebanon’s Martyrs square, while full of protesters, has thankfully seen fewer killed. The Extinction Rebellion grows louder. It’s been about 10 years since the Occupy Wall Street movement and the Arab Spring. In 2003, I remember being 18 years old and speaking in front of 3,000 people against the Iraqi invasion. Growing up in a college town, protests and demonstrations were commonplace, yet I’m wary of jumping into the crowd these days, especially when the crowd is angry.

Each of these movements has so much history and potential positive action, yet somehow I find myself unable to understand my responsibility towards them. Make your voice heard is the idea. As Desmond Tutu once said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

“We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.”
— Elie Wiesel

There’s a word I’ve been struggling to identify. It describes a situation where the more effort you put into something, the more tangled up you become in it. That somehow, when you’re caught in barbed wire, it’s best to stop moving, rather than struggle further and deepen the burrs. Perhaps this is the excuse I give myself to not act, not support, not back, not chant, not take to the streets. This fog has only grown thicker as the protests movements have moved closer and closer to home.

In response, I’ve recently become obsessed with learning about Gandhi. I’ve known he was an inspiration to Martin Luther King Junior and Mandela, who both led movements shifted the path of history towards one of greater justice. Yet, I never depend on my relationship with his thinking first hand. It surprised me to see how he was initially so keen on serving the British empire, how duty-bound he felt to support them in their time of need. How strict he was with himself to do what he believed was true.

The movie Gandhi which came out in 1982, paints him in a picture where he seemed to act for goodness or to support India’s liberation movement. What inspires me is that he saw his entire endeavor as seeking the truth. It’s still resolving for me, yet I’m beginning to understand the threads he makes between truth-seeking, seeing the other as the self, and nonviolent noncooperation.

Gandhi’s first experiments in communal living started after reading Unto This Last by Ruskin. which is essentially an economic and political argument the crux of which is equal pay for all work and free schooling for all people. It led him to make some conclusions about self-sufficiency and to start building what later became known as his first ashram in South Africa. I’m finding that proto villages, eco makerspaces, earth ships, hacker farms, rural co-living spaces, spiritual permaculture hubs and other similar type spaces have been inspiring me more in these last years. Although considering them as a social alternative seems to lead to a strange future where educated, upper-middle-class and tech-savvy people flee cities to take the place of the rural people who just left the farms for a better 20th-century life. The continuation of that trend seems to pave the way to a dystopian survivalist version of the future with micro governments (mobs?) rule principalities.

Gandhi was nationalistic, and he believed in an India ruled by its population. The injustice of the British empire was apparent to him. What are the fundamental injustices behind so many of our modern-day protest movements? Growing financial inequality, corruption — which to me can be seen as related to inequality in that it’s a sort of jealousy described as a call towards fairness and potential ecological collapse. To my mind, these are caught in a quagmire. It’s a bit like an escalating feud. Power leads to economic and political gain at the expense of people and environment. Then in the process of removing the offensive force, people desire the same power and economic gains at the expense – yet again – of the natural world and quite possibly abusing another class of people.

Seek not greater wealth, but simpler pleasure; not higher fortune, but deeper felicity.

-Mahatma Gandhi

Gandhi had an interesting idea about the ethic of non-stealing. His perspective is that if you took any more than you needed for essential survival, you’re taking from someone else’s survival and hence qualified as theft and thus ate and owned very little. This sort of subsistence living may not be aspirational for many, and it may not need to be. There are smart people making arguments of abundance and wealth, for instance:

“Wealth isn’t about taking something from somebody else—it’s about creating abundance for the world.”
-Naval Ravikant

Image result for the world has enough for everyone need but not everyone greed

“The world has enough for everyone’s needs, but not everyone’s greed,”

Mahatma Gandhi

In different times of my life, I have dreamt of different dreams. One is of exploring the origins of reality and galaxies with a Dyson Sphere powering our class II civilization. The other is one where I realize how little I truly need to be happy, and enjoy life building paper microscopes with my hypothetical children.

I am full of questions and doubts about what a beautiful way to live is, and I am open to living those questions as honestly as I can. What I loved about learning about Gandhi’s life is how commitments he made were like steps on a ladder. That a vow was solemn and that once he made it, you could trust it as much as you could trust a sturdy ladder leaning on a cliff face. That Gandhi’s exploration of metaphysical truth led to an in-world reality that others could rely on him for as much as they could rely on gravity.

Gandhi’s belief in Ahimsa – non-violence to any living thing – led him to a practice of humbling one’s self. It’s in this way he saw himself in all others.
Ahimsa is related to how Gandhi practiced non-violent non-cooperation, otherwise known as Satyagraha which is comprised of these principles:

  • Nonviolence (ahimsa)
  • Truth — this includes honesty, but also means living fully for what is true, and agreeing with it
  • Not stealing
  • Non-possession or nor owning (not the same as being poor)
  • Body-labor or bread-labor
  • Not being afraid
  • Equal respect for all religions
  • Fighting with boycotts (not spending or buying from those who are a problem)
  • Others as well, check the article above

To wrap up. Our systems are broken for the people and the planet. Protests movements are sprouting up requesting change at many levels and in many countries (I include the rise of the right wing and fascist political developments as a form of protest, asking to be heard). Questions about minimalism retreating and/or the possibility of abundance value creation for ever more people pop up. These ideas in turn disturb the desire for abnegation – although there may be a path related to value creation as a humble act of service and not an ego driven vehicle and/or expression of self into world.

Here are some thoughts on protests and the future of some aspects of economics and politics. I would love to hear reflections.

Continuing my hunt for my adventures in truth, I’m staying on the Gandhi reading list, next onto Tolstoy!


Who are you being here?

What do our virtual environments bring out of us?

I had a dream a few nights before 2020. I dreamt about the early web and how inspiring it was. It could have been a fluke that I hit puberty while web was still shiny? Or was there something really different about source code you could read/steal, finding a friend with a static IP address and hosting our own Movable Type instance. I still recall meeting people on IRC and waiting 30 mins to download a .wav file of some poorly played guitar music. The low quality staticy music of Smelly Cat made me feel like a modern day Alexander Bell. It was magical.

I saved those files, I saved our chats. Our connection felt special and meaningful. Connecting from my basement room in Michigan to friends in New Zealand was like opening your eyes for the first time, grainy and low resolution, yet still in a strange way so much more real than what passes for connection on social media today.

What’s changed? Speed, resolution, availability, mobile phones. This article claims that the 2010’s have broken our perception of time, in part due to the non-chronological newsfeed algorithms twitter and facebook rolled out. Perhaps.

In my life, I confess, I was sold on the rise of the self, the idea of the influencer, the personal brand. I was told careers are dead and that to be safe I had to be famous. The more followers you have the more successful. That I had to have my own URL, that I needed to get on each social media platform early and post often to make sure that I got followers. Somehow it fell under “need” rather than “want”. That this is simply how to get projects going, this is how the “work” is these days. I believed it and it helped to dim the magic of the internet for me.

All is not lost though, I get fleeting feelings of connection when I post deeper content or make requests. I recently asked for book recommendations and was surprised to find some people still respond with insight there. Twitter as well. Today I had an incredible video chat with my friend Cesar in Hong Kong over 3G as he biked home, a technology which would have been mind blowing in 2002.

This makes me wonder if there’s a lot of beauty and magic //still// happening online. That perhaps all is not lost, and that there is a greater amount of it on Minecraft, in discord servers, or in decentralized communities. What if my online experience is a mirror of myself and I’m getting out of it what I’m putting in. There is a diversity of people online. If I contain multitudes, what about the multitudes themselves?

My friend Pavel and I had a pokey question about the value of creating content that no one reads, that’s harder to scale with a tweet, that’s more than 140 characters long, that has no picture attached, that doesn’t even have a singing emoji or gif.

Let’s take creation VS consumption. The tendency online for me is to trigger conversation rather than contribute. The tendency for me is to scroll or to go from one wiki link or article to the next, rather than to sit and contemplate or draw and share.

Architecture shapes reality, that’s for sure. Having a blog //is// very different than posting on facebook, that’s for sure. So it seems to me that first I need to determine first is who I want to be online and to find the enabling spaces that support that.

Who would you like to be online?

Here’s my commitment to trying to be who I want to be and sharing as I go.

Speaking at Ignite Ann Arbor 2

Ignite Ann Arbor
I’ll be talking at Ignite Ann Arbor 2 tomorrow. You can RSVP here Ignite Ann Arbor RSVP

Currently practicing my slides, I hope people follow me and can see a concrete image in what I’ll be proposing. Why gathering together in communities to build, share and talk regularly can fix what’s ailing our community. And what Benjamin Franklin would have to say about it. Doing what you think is most important is critical to working passionately and inspiring others to build with you. If you want a sneak peak at my slides, ask me for the URL. I’ll post the slides and video later, there’s a fun ending I don’t want to spoil. Come tomorrow and let’s hang out!


Words as sounds?

Sitting in my car a few days ago I had the strangest experience watching my brain attempt to deconstruct the way it parses it’s environment. I was attempting to listen to words for the sounds they were creating devoid of language and I absolutely could not. Unless I took a single sentence and turned off the radio I couldn’t just let the words wash over me without what felt like setting down roots that would drag as I pulled.

Try it, next time you’re listening to the radio, or your mother lecture you, try to hear her words for the sounds she’s making. I believe removing the human element from this essential interaction truely lays bare the awesome power of language. Vibrating air as telepathy.


-Bilal Ghalib

Glowtubbing – Glow in the dark hot tub

tEp is where I spend lots of my time and is filled with all sorts of magicians, mathematicians, musicians and makers. Recently during a rooftop lemonade party we set up a hot tub and filled with water at first, later I remembered I had some left over UV dye in the car, the colorful carnage that follows should not be replicated unless you fully understand the hazards:


So I’m currently living with my friend Alex in Cambridge. He’s leaving in a few days to go to Brazil, but I think I’ve arranged a new spot to lay my head. I’m just starting a new job with a startup doing some Ruby/Rails programming, and I drive a moped around town. It’s beautiful:Garelli

Project based posting maybe be slow, but there’s some new programming snippets on their way here. Be good.

Yours in awesome


From Austin to Phoenix to Home


Karate Chop!
Karate Chop!
That trip to the Austin Maker Faire was a tiny bit over my threshold for crazy. Still it was awesome to meet the people at and well…aparently I’ll be going to Boston in 2 weeks Nov 1st.
There’s a possibility I wont be getting 3 degrees, but that’s fine. I have stuff to do that excites me more. And everyone wins when I get excited about something.
There’s a passion of Bilal kinda flowing right now and no cup to hold it. Not sure where to put this overflow.