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Monday, June 13, 2005

More coffee and thoughts on departures....

As it happens, my extended stay at Roast yesterday was not my only coffeehouse experience for the day. Friend Niaz stopped by and we were soon off for a work-avoiding visit to Belfast City Centre which, in turn, led to a two hour or so stay in the cushy chairs at Starbucks. We obviously needed the break....

This is especially true for Niaz who is on the verge of defending his dissertation. On Friday a couple of us put him through a mock “viva”, which is what they call the defense before your Ph.D. committee. Niaz's dissertation in law argues for the compatibility of Koranic law and the provisions of international conventions on the rights of women. Pretty interesting and somewhat controversial stuff, and he puts forth a convincing argument for that compatibility if one renders a rather "liberal" interpretation of the Koran. Having watched Niaz develope this thesis over the past two years, I must admit to being pretty impressed with the logic and coherence of his argument.

My friendship with Niaz over the past two years has been one of the more interesting consequences of this two-year stint in Belfast. In many respects, it is a very odd friendship, characterized by vast differences in age, cultural and religious backgrounds, social and "lifestyle" tastes, and indeed differences in political views. What began as a very cold relationship has turned rather warm over the months not only through frequent contacts at the Institute (where we both have our offices), but also through some rather intense discussions that get pretty animated at times. Niaz is Pashtun and truly a 'Shah' who exudes a sense of pride mixed with interpersonal skills that make him stand out among others at Queens. If he lived in the US, I would be describing him as a Damon Runyon type character -- and in the most positive sense.

His friendship is of the kind that will make it extremely difficult at departure time next Monday. Having achieved the status of Babba among his friends, I'm certain this will be a long-standing relationship. But that won't make next week in easier....

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