Tag Archives: 2019

The Making of a Youthful Jihadi

Fatima Bhutto’s novel The Runaways  about the lonely, disenfranchised path that leads a young person to Jihad comes from a tragic, knowing place. Her aunt, Benazir Bhutto, was assassinated in 2007 by a fifteen year-old suicide bomber called Bilal, who detonated his vest full of explosives a few feet from Benazir’s motorcade.

The three runaways in Fatima Bhutto’s book like young Bilal, share the same searing alienation and angst over their identity.

Sunny, the son of Pakistani immigrants, detests his widower father’s Anglophilia. He knows he’s just a tongue away from being called “Paki”, and hates not being seen, his brownness always placing him at the invisible fringe of society. 

Anita Rose (Layla) is Christian, poor and fatherless. Her mother, a masseuse, soothes away the stress of Karachi’s rich memsahibs.  Meanwhile Layla watches from the sidelines, unseen, yearning to be acknowledged, but not even worthy of being addressed. Her ambitious brother is willing to trade anything, including his sister, to lift his family out of poverty. Her communist neighbor, the only father figure Layla has ever known, stokes the fires of rebellion in her.

The privileged Monty, a princely scion of Karachi’s ruling elite, is the weakest link, doted on by his mother but a disappointment to his father, and wildly in love with Layla.

All three are ripe for the picking. Sunny is the first to be indoctrinated into Jihadi consipracy theories by his cousin Oz. Layla’s tough, poverty-laced childhood turns her into a fiery rebel and a poster girl for the nascent Umma movement in Iraq. Her widely watched videos call on her Muslim brothers and sisters to rise for bloody revolution against the “Godless Infidels of Western Capitalism”. Monty is a terrorist by accident – his goal is to track down Layla, in Iraq and Syria if necessary – because his love sickness makes it impossible to live without her. 

Eventually, Sunny and Monty join forces as apprentice Jihadis in the Umma movement and cross the desert to Ninevah, where a terrorist offensive is about to be launched. The book progresses to a startling, chilling climax, involving the three protagonists.

Fatima Bhutto

Fatima Bhutto wrote two books of poetry before The Runaways and her gifted prose indicates that. Sunny, Monty and Layla draw the reader into their worlds intimately. She weaves these characters like spun silk – they’re mesmerizing and real and her eye for elusive, defining moments in life is impeccable: Layla riding a skinny Arabian horse on Karachi’s beaches while the lecherous owner keeps his eyes on her; Sunny posting selfies with his AK47 “Rita” in the desert – “Automatova Kalashnikova selfie for all you jihad peeping toms#AKLife#Ritadiaries”; Monty moaning Layla’s name as he tosses in his sleep on the desert sand while Sunny looks on in contempt.  

The books fails in the latter half because it lacks the intimate detail of the earlier narrative. We get contrived glimpses of the growing terrorist movement through jerky newspaper reports of fighting and jihadist troops, while Sunny’s sudden mutation into a rabid killer lacks credibility.

Bhutto creates a thought-provoking, absorbing world laced with irony, dark humor and a sense of vulnerability, as the novice Jihadis become pawns, misused and abused by their leaders. However, it fails to shed light on the why of Jihadism – why do millions of youth like Sunny, who also face the tribulations of racism and alienation, not take the leap into this dark, bloody ideology.  

Perhaps defining the why is not the author’s intent, since why is as elusive as a mirage in the desert.


THE RUNAWAYS. By Fatima Bhutto. Viking, 2019. £14.99. 432 Pages. Hardcover

Longlisted for the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature, 2019

Jyoti Minocha is an DC-based educator and writer who holds a Masters in Creative Writing from Johns Hopkins, and is working on a novel about the Partition.

Edited by Contributing Editor Meera Kymal




So Many Choices at Chabot College

Recently coming off of its largest graduating class in history, Chabot College is ready to help incoming students this fall find successful and meaningful careers. 

“In May, Chabot saw its largest graduating class in the college’s 58 year history,” said Dr. Susan Sperling, President. “Over 1,300 students completed associate degrees, plus over 500 certificates awarded. Once a student enrolls, it’s our job to help them reach their education goals. For some, it’s enhancing their current career choice with additional training; others are choosing to re-enter the workforce, change careers or take classes for personal enrichment. A large number of our student body are students who have just graduated high school and are taking the first, and in some cases final, step in fulfilling their dreams.” 

Part of assisting students in their pursuit of education is offering financial assistance to students who qualify. All students, regardless of immigration status, can take advantage of financial aid programs available at Chabot. DREAMers are encouraged to fill out the Dream Application, while non-DREAMers should take advantage of applying for funding through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to determine which programs are available to them. Programs include everything from the California College Promise Grant fee waiver to scholarships, federal work-study and other federally funded grants to help students pay their way through school. 

Securing funding will allow students to complete one of the dozens of programs or certificates available at Chabot. Students have so many programs to choose from, including Chabot’s newest nationally accredited programs include Early Childhood Development Associate in Arts Degree and Chabot’s Music Department recently became the first California community college to receive accreditation by the National Association of Schools of Music. Whether seeking a transfer degree in Business Administration, an Associate of Arts in Dental Hygiene, an Associate of Science in Interior Design, a certificate of achievement in Digital Photography or a certificate of proficiency in Inspection and Pipe Welding, Chabot has the classes students need and programs students want. 

Visit www.chabotcollege.edu to see what’s in store for you at Chabot. Fall classes begin August 19. 

About Chabot College Chabot College in Hayward is a comprehensive community college in the heart of a thriving, diverse community where students of all ages and backgrounds can get a high quality education at an affordable price. The college awards associate degrees and certificates, and specializes in university transfer, workforce training, and lifelong learning opportunities. http://www.chabotcollege.edu/


Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) Changes For 2018

Major tax legislation at the end of 2017 has suspended many prized deductions for 2018 through 2025, while cutting tax rates. Here are the details:

Altered and eliminated tax deductions

  • Personal exemptions. You can no longer count on personal exemptions, including dependency exemptions for children and other relatives. They are eliminated.
  • State and local tax (SALT). The deduction for state and local tax (SALT) payments is limited to $10,000 annually.
  • Mortgage interest. Mortgage interest deductions are modified, including eliminating deductions for home equity loan payments…unless funds from the loan were used to build, buy or substantially improve your home.
  • Miscellaneous expenses. The deduction for miscellaneous expenses, including unreimbursed employee expenses, is eliminated.
  • Moving expenses. Deductions for moving are eliminated (except for military personnel).
  • Casualty and theft loss. Casualty and theft loss deductions are eliminated (except for losses in federally declared disaster areas).

Enhanced tax deductions

  • Standard deduction. The standard deduction was nearly doubled to $12,000 for single filers and $24,000 for married filing jointly for 2018.
  • 20-percent business deduction. A new up-to-20 percent deduction is allowed for qualified business income (QBI) of pass-through entities, including sole proprietors.
  • Child Tax Credit (CTC). The Child Tax Credit (CTC) is doubled to $2,000 (with a maximum refundable amount of $1,400) per qualifying child.
  • Medical expenses. The threshold for deducting medical expenses is lowered from 10 percent of adjusted gross income (AGI) to 7.5 percent of AGI for 2018.
  • Alternative minimum tax (AMT). Favorable modifications apply to the AMT calculations, meaning far fewer taxpayers will be affected.


REMINDER: Rules have changed for these five tax breaks

New tax legislation provides numerous tax benefits for individuals for 2018 through 2025. But not all the changes are likely to align with your go-to tax strategy from previous years. Here are five big tax breaks that could leave you with a tax surprise come April 2019.

State and local taxes: The new tax law limits the deduction for state and local taxes (SALT) to $10,000 annually. This includes any combination of property taxes AND income or sales taxes.

Entertainment expenses: You can no longer deduct 50 percent of your entertainment expenses. But there’s still some leeway. According to a new IRS ruling, you may deduct 50 percent of food and beverages paid separately from entertainment like a basketball or hockey game. Also, a business can deduct 100 percent of the cost of its holiday party.

Miscellaneous expenses: The new law eliminates deductions for miscellaneous expenses, such as out-of-pocket employee business expenses. If possible, have these expenses reimbursed by your employer’s accountable plan. Generally, the expenses are deductible by the employer and tax-free to employees.

Kiddie tax: The kiddie tax continues to apply to unearned income above $2,100 received by a dependent child under 19 or full-time student under 24. But the new law puts more teeth into this tax. The kiddie tax is now based on the tax rates for estate and trusts. This generally produces a higher tax, so plan intra-family transfers accordingly.

Home equity loans: In the past, a homeowner could deduct mortgage interest paid on the first $100,000 of  home equity debt, regardless of use of the proceeds. The new law eliminates this deduction for home equity debt, unless the proceeds from the loan are used to buy, build or substantially improve your home. Fortunately, you may still deduct interest on the first $750,000 of acquisition debt acquired after December 2017.


Tax records needed for 2018 tax returns

  • Personal information: You still must provide your Social Security number (SSN), and SSNs for your spouse and dependents.  For electronic filing, you will need your CA driver’s license or state issued identification card.
  • Employment information: Have all Forms W-2 for you and your spouse. A self-employed person must report income from Forms 1099-MISC and Forms K-1, plus information for calculating the new deduction on qualified business income (QBI).
  • Child expenses: Provide information for claiming the increased Child Tax Credit (CTC) and Child and Dependent Care Credit. This may include details for a dependent care provider.
  • Investments: Include all information on various Forms 1099 for capital gains and losses (including cost/basis information), dividends and interest. Fortunately, this can often be scanned electronically.
  • Retirement plans/IRAs: Report contributions to plans and IRAs, the value of accounts and distributions received on Forms 1099-R.
  • Rental properties: This requires records of income received and expenses paid in 2018, including amounts, dates and places.
  • State and local taxes (SALT): Recent legislation limits annual SALT deductions to $10,000 for 2018-2025, but itemizers still need relevant records of SALT payments, especially for their California tax return, which does not conform to Federal limitations.
  • Charitable donations: If you itemize, you generally need records for both monetary gifts and donations of property, plus appraisals for property valued above $5,000.
  • Mortgage interest: Itemizers must have Forms 1098 for mortgage interest on acquisition debts that remain deductible.
  • Medical expenses: Collect records and receipts for medical expenses that may push you above the “floor” of 7.5 percent of adjusted gross income (AGI) for 2018.
  • Education expenses: Provide information required for claiming higher education credits, including Forms 1098-T.


Under the new legislation, you may not need records this year for miscellaneous expenses, many casualty and theft losses, moving expenses and home equity debts.

Please call, Shermin Tawni Alam of Alam Accountancy Corporation, PC at 408.445.1120 with questions about your particular tax situation.