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Money, Power, and People

Money, Power, and People
By Al Ibrahim • Issue #2 • View online
A little over a year ago, my bank of thirteen years decided to close down my account.

They did not give me a reason. And when I asked the person at the counter in one of the branches, they didn’t seem to know what I was talking about.
After a bit of googling, I found out that it might have something to do with a new anti-money laundering initiative, and Nigeria – the country whose passport I hold – is on a list of countries considered high-risk.
There’s a term for when value judgements are based solely on physical features. Features that the judges use to determine how the people with said features should be treated. If the people are worthy of respect. Whether or not they deserve the benefit of the doubt.
“Thirteen years I had this account with you,” I wrote to the unfortunate customer service representative that had my ticket. “If I had engaged in money laundering, you’d be the first to know, because you have intimate knowledge of every single sen that came in and out of my account.”
The data they had on me for over a decade was not important. It didn’t matter that I got my salary every month and paid my taxes from the same bank. It didn’t matter that I don’t get any irregular transfers into the account.
Eventually, I managed to open an account with an international bank, and I thought the whole saga was over. That is until a month ago when I tried to open a crypto account with Luno, and the app wouldn’t let me because –
There are certain regulations that we must comply with, including anti-money laundering and terrorism financing… and your application did not pass our banking partner’s requirements.
The first thing that did, unsurprisingly, was take me back to one of the most stressful times in my life. The time when I didn’t know if I could keep living here if I could no longer have access to financial services.
The second thing it did was remind me that my life in Malaysia will always come with a caveat. That no matter how long I live here, no matter how much I prove myself, my passport will always be my central defining feature.
Recently, a friend called me from Germany to tell me that they might be moving back to Malaysia. 
This is a Nigerian friend who used to live here – whose partner is from here – but who had to leave six years ago because they felt so stifled. 
Now that they have a kid and a German passport, they’re considering moving back to Malaysia because they would prefer to raise their children in a Muslim country. 
“I know my day-to-day experience won’t change that much,” my friend said on the phone, “but hopefully, now that I’m German, things will be a little easier for me legally.”
The passport you hold might not necessarily be a caste signifier, but it’s caste-adjacent. A passport signifies access. It signifies power. It tells other people – other governments – how you ought to be treated.
Your passport is all a government needs to determine whether or not they should consider you as a person.
Things I Make
8 Tips for Reading MULTIPLE BOOKS (At the Same Time)
8 Tips for Reading MULTIPLE BOOKS (At the Same Time)
I try to make a case for reading multiple books at the same time, which – honestly – I think is a no-brainer if you want to read more books.
This is my new project where I post a photo, video, or something I’ve written every day. It’s also an instagram.
Things I Like
Beloved by Toni Morrison
Kat and I read this for bookclub in March, and even though I thought I knew what it was about going in, it completely and utterly surprised me. I’ve never seen this kind of story told in this particular way, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
We’re not reading anything this month, but if you would like to read with us in May, the book is Ted Chiang’s Stories of Your Life and Others.
Marked | Netflix
I think this is a good introduction to West African facial markings for people not familiar with the practice. It doesn’t go all that deep into it, but I like that it centres the people with facial markings, and lets them speak for themselves. And at 20 minutes, it’s the perfect length for something to watch during your lunch break (which is what I did).
‎WeWork: or The Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn (2021) directed by Jed Rothstein • Reviews, film + cast • Letterboxd
Both this documentary and the podcast focused too heavily on Adam Neumann, which kind of makes sense because he’s such a character.
But the truth is that Adam is not that unique as a founder. I don’t think many founders in his situation – being given all that Softbank money and asked to go crazy – would have behaved differently.
The problem is the startup culture itself. The idea that it’s not enough for a company to just serve their customers and make a profit along the way. No. The company has to own the entire market share. The problem is that every startup’s goal is to become a unicorn, which, lest we forget, is a mythical creature.
When looked at outside of the reality tv-like schadenfreude of watching another Fyre Festival – this film is actually a very scary cautionary tale about the dangers of capitalism.
Opinion | The Author Behind ‘Arrival’ Doesn’t Fear AI. ‘Look at How We Treat Animals.’ - The New York Times
Something that I hadn’t thought about until Ted Chiang pointed it out, is that our fears surrounding Artificial Intelligence are actually fears about capitalism.
I recently started listening to German Hip-Hop, and this was a Spotify recommendation. One of those times when Spotify just gets it right. It’s political rap that reminds me of Lowkey, except in German.
Here’s a Youtube link to the track if you prefer.
And that’s all from this dispatch.
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Al Ibrahim

I'm a writer, photographer, filmmaker, and an all-around creative enthusiast based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

On the first Monday of every month (more or less, but more and more less these days), I send out a dispatch of some of the best things I've read, made, watched, learned, and listened to in the previous month.

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Sent with love, from KL.