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AL Jazeera Forum: ARAB YOUTH: POLITICAL ACTIVISM AND SOCIAL MEDIA

13/03/2011

Live blogging…

Libyan Activist Omar AbdalKarim Abushah speaking now: “The ideas were united, the internet played major role in the glorious rev. The media can finish its course in the countries that were able to liberate themselves. In Libya the situation is different. Questions have been asked, how come Libyans did not revolt earlier? We tried; the number of political prisoners in Buslin prison is evidence of this.”

“Gaddafi knows that the Libyan people ran out of tears because those tears had vanished because of the long suffering of the Libyan people.”

The first day we took the streets, there were two martyrs. This didn’t happen anywhere else. But victory is coming; we will be triumphant through our mother’s prayers.

Question to Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi : What made you turn away from the wealth of your surroundings (he was blogging from the UAE) and do the work you do?

Sultan: Geography cannot separate us from our brothers in Benghazi, Cairo etc. We are all the sons of one nation, and unless we stand behind out brothers we are cowards.

Question: What has changed in the mind of the Arab youth post revolution, socio-economic standards have not changed much, but the youth in Egypt have.

Asma Mahfouz (activist from Egypt): Now the Egyptian youth is proud to stand up, they believe that if they truly want to do something, they can carry out it. They are able to say that, “we want this” and “we don’t want that”. We are watching and cooperating with the transitional government, but if they do something we don’t like, we will say so…and in the future we will be able to choose our own government.

Questions from the Audience

Why don’t bloggers write in Arabic instead of French and English?

Sultan Al Qassemi: I translated a text from Arabic to English showing how crazy Gaddafi is. Next day I found the Washington Post and New York Times, quoting my blog. It took me so long to translate it. I salute the person who says we need to blog in Arabic.

Speaker from the audience: (addressing the Libyan speaker who alluded to African mercenaries in Libya) Try to be more specific when you talk about African supporting Gaddafi.

Muhammad Al Kassas: The mercenaries don’t represent Africa, only themselves. There was also a Tunisian mercenary, but that isn’t to say he was representing Tunisia.

Female speaker for Darfur: I am a woman from Darfur, are we as African people part of the revolution? We in Darfur cannot hear any echoes of our pain in the Arab world; we have found no support from Arabs. We want to have your support.

Asma: To the Sudanese and Darfurian sisters, we need to stand together and we want to support you and your cause, we are with you.

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Al Jazeera Forum:Can the Blogosphere Affect Societal and Political Change?

12/03/2011

Live blogging…

Al Jazeera host : “There has been a lot of analysis on the role of Social Media (SM) in Egypt and Tunisia, I think everybody can agree that SM played a role in the revolutions, but it was only a tool in which the youth, bloggers were able to utilize to bring change. Can this change be sustained? What will the role of the youth in Libya be? In Egypt we had a lot more bloggers, there was information overload, we don’t have the same relationship with Libya and to an extent our relationship with Libya is less personal as a result.”

“Criticism of bloggers is that they were middle class, elitist, lacked quality but we have seen that when bloggers took up a cause they were able to capture the attention of millions. The revolution was televised, tweeted and blogged but the heros of these revolutions is not Al Jazeera, FB or Twitter. It is the youth”

The panel is now discussing the role of bloggers post the revolutions in smaller groups. i.e will they remain a loose network of individuals or will they become more involved in traditional civil society, advocacy organizations or remain a loose network of individuals working for the common good?

Points that have emerged from the group discussions.

1- one of the interesting aspects of the current situation is the very evolution of the way in which people are interacting with these tools and the SM platforms are flexible enough for them to be used in crisis situations and can quickly revert to their normal use.

2-Centralisation at a high level… bringing down a regime using a distributed system is hard but its easy to disseminate a single message i.e. “Bring down the regime.” But after the revolution its even harder, developing policy, etc.

3.Public Sphere was traditionally centralised with TV and Newspapers. Now it is decentralised – it makes the public sphere stronger because everyone can have a say but also weaker because so many people are talking

4.The events in Iran showed people how to use SM when it comes to revolution and it was picked up by People on the ground in Tunisia, etc. They were taking videos, pictures, etc. to show what they were doing in addition to what they were thinking. This hasn’t only happened over the last few months… these thoughts have been articulating for years.”

5.The youth think there is no justification for a “Silent Majority”. With new technology not speaking out is no excuse.

—-
Malcolm Gladwell (not attending) said that Social Media can begin social change, but can it maintain it?

We are able to present the stories of People on the ground in Morocco. Social Media is like putting a Formula 1 Engine into the Revolution. If we didn’t have it I don’t think the revolution we’ve seen would’ve reached critical mass. – Hisham @

In Iran where there are no public platforms for people to speak freely, Social Media provides those platforms. You see discussions made around Facebook and Twitter which are totally taboo via any other media. – Iranian journalist Golnaz Esfandiari

Ramsay George – Social Media and All tools used in the past for revolutions are part of an ecology or part of a system in which information is disseminated on a large scales. In Iran they were using Cassette tapes and Xerox Machines, and today they’re using Facebook, Twitter and Youtube.

An economic explanation. Twenty years ago, reaching 50,000 people nationwide was expensive for activists. Now, it’s affordable. (From @Kabobfest)

@Wedady said he realised the power of Twitter when he saw what had happened in Iran, not so much its capacity to start a revolution but the effect it had on Western Media.

Social Media also creates a tie between expats and the people within the countries. This is also an important aspect.

LIBYA SET FOR A VIOLENT SHOWDOWN

23/02/2011

Al Jazeera screen grab

With an entourage of female bodyguards, a tent for a palace and his alleged obsession with a ‘voluptuous Ukrainian nurse’, Gaddafi has often amused observers, but there is nothing humorous about the dictator these days. His angry and incoherent speech last night is evidence of his volatile state of mind and the danger he now poses.

Wearing khaki robes, he spoke from outside the Tripoli compound that was bombed by the US in 1986. He invoked the spirit of resistance against a number of enemies ranging from foreign powers to Al Qaida to drug addicts in Libya.

Referring to himself in the third person he declared that ‘Muammar is the leader of the revolution until the end of time’ and that he would die a ‘martyr’ rather than step aside.
He alternated from reading his Green Book to waving it in fervour as he cited the constitution and threatened the protestors with the death penalty.

All the elements for a violent showdown in Libya are now in place. Backed into a corner, there is no doubt that Gaddafi will unleash hell in a desperate bid to cling to power. In his speech he claimed that maintaining the ‘integrity ‘of China was more important than the massacre of protestors in Tiananmen Square. Left to his own device that is exactly what Gaddafi will do.

Reports suggest that up to 300 people have lost their lives so far; the world can no longer stand by and watch as Libyans are slaughtered by imported mercenaries from other parts of Africa. Western governments took a long time to acknowledge the rights of Egyptians and to demand that Mubarak step down. The Egyptian army receives millions in military aid from the US and they showed restraint in dealing with the protestors: no such incentive exists in Libya. Time is of the essence, to avoid a massacre Western powers need to act with urgency.

Pope Weighs in on Facebook

27/01/2011

Pope Benedict XVI is the latest person to weigh in on the merits of social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. The pope’s speech – warning against depersonalization, alienation, self-indulgence, and the dangers of having more virtual friends than real ones- comes amidst a growing backlash to the meteoric rise of Facebook which has 59 million active users worldwide, with a further 2 million signing up each month.

The Pope’s statement was released on Friday, the World Day of Communications. It has created a furore online, with bloggers and journalist giving their reaction. Blogger Stephen Blackwell objected to the Pope’s warning about creating artificial public personas online, “Constructing an artificial public profile for oneself is precisely the point of social networking. Go check LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter right now and you’ll probably notice that everyone is awesome and fun and super smart and also not bad-looking. That’s because the social network is a tapestry of what we perceive to be the best parts of ourselves.”

However, the Pope’s words may find support in the unlikeliest places of all – academia, where a growing number of academics are speaking up against technology. MIT Professor, Sherry Turkle makes the same point as Benedict in her new book, Alone Together. Turkle’s argument is essentially that, “technology is threatening to dominate our lives and make us less human. Under the illusion of allowing us to communicate better, it is actually isolating us from real human interactions in a cyber-reality that is a poor imitation of the real world”

Emory University professor Mark Bauerlein, is equally forthright in his assessment of the adverse effect technology on young people. In his book “The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (Or, Don’t Trust Anyone Under 30) he states that, “Young people are mesmerized by new-age tools. Instead of using these tools to discover the world of politics, history, fine art and knowledge, they are using them for the only thing they seem to care about — themselves.”

The debate ignited by technology and how we engage with it is raging on and will continue to do so for some time. However, both sides will agree that it is good to see the Vatican opening up to social networks and modernity- the Pope’s Facebook page has 5,665 ‘Likes’ and the Catholic Church recently approved an iPhone app that helps busy believers keep track of their sins.

Islam Channel Violated Broadcasting Code

10/11/2010

Islam Channel has violated broadcasting code by airing programs condoning marital rape, justifying violence against women and describing women who wore perfumes as ‘prostitutes’, it was ruled by Ofcom earlier this week.

The media watchdog launched an investigation following a report published in March this year by the Quilliam Foundation, an anti-extremism think-tank which analyzed the channel’s outputs over a number of months before submitting a complaint

‘The ruling by Ofcom is welcomed and richly deserved. There should be no place for intolerance and hate-preaching in our society. It is only right that Islam Channel has been held to account,” said Talal Rajab, an outreach officer at Quilliam.

In response to the ruling the London based broadcaster stated that it does not condone violence against women or marital rape and argued that presenters’ words were taken out of context.

The channel was also criticised for lack of impartiality with its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Islam Channel denied the allegation and states that it had invited numerous guests to provide an Israeli viewpoint, however “few are prepared to accept the channel’s invitation to participate in programme discussions. We have been successful in persuading more moderate Israeli supporters to participate in discussions – but rarely on issues relating directly to Israel”

Islam Channel also stressed the importance of its right to freedom of expression “which is fundamental to allow the channel to broadcast an alternative perspective on current affairs in comparison to other mainstream channels”

Ofcom ruled: “Just because a particular viewpoint on an issue of political or industrial controversy or matter relating to current public policy is likely to be supported by the overwhelming majority of a channel’s audience (or various international and political institutions) does not obviate the need for broadcasters to comply with section five of the code [impartiality].”

Ofcom remains concerned and has called for a meeting with senior level management from Islam Channel to discuss its compliance process further in relation to the code.

Somali Week Festival- Female Authors Showcase Their Work

28/10/2010

Oxford House, the venue of the Somali Festival Week, is a delicious little gem steeped in Somali history. It’s started life as a small restaurant serving Somali food to the early Somali migrants who had came to the UK as sailors in the 1960s. It quickly went on to become a central part of the-then-small Somali community’s social life.

Over the years Oxford House flourished and gained a reputation as a place for artist, poets, and playwrights to meet and share ideas and thoughts. Today it continues to provide a platform for famous poets such as Hadrawi and Gariye who regularly frequent the place.

Every year, as part of the Black History month Oxford House holds a week-long festival to celebrate and promote Somali Arts and Culture.

As part of this month’s event, authors Nadifa Mohamed, Black Mamba Boy, and Yasmeen Maxamuud, Nomad Diaries, participated in the festival and discussed their literary journeys as well as reading chapters from their books.

Nadifa Mohamed has enjoyed great success with her debut novel Black Mamba Boy, published by Harper Collins. The book is a fictionalised account of her father’s boyhood journey through Sudan, Egypt, Palestine and finally across the Mediterranean and in to the UK.

The curious title of the book elicited a member of the audience to ask why she had chosen that title and what it meant. The author explained, “When my grandmother was heavily pregnant with my father, she was following her family’s caravan and she got lost and separated from the others. She sat down to rest under an acacia tree and a black mamba snake crept upon her belly before slithering away, leaving her unharmed. She took this as a sign that the child she carried would always be protected, and that’s how the title of the book came about.”

Yasmeen Maxamuud’s book, Nomad Diaries, tells the story of Nadifa (the name of her main protagonist, not to be confused with the above author) and her family. It documents the family’s changing fortunes, first as a part of the ruling class in Mogadishu and later on in Minneapolis as new refugees. The book highlights the complications of emigration and others social and cultural issues such as polygamy, marital infidelity and abuse, including rape.

Most of the characters in Yasmeen’s book have traditional Somali names and some quirkier ones such as Henna. She explains this is because she wanted “to use authentic Somali names, as opposed to common Arabic ones as a way of preserving the Somali culture. I gave Henna that name to symbolise her beauty and the joyous occasions in which she was born, it also serves to contrast with the hardship she would face later on in life because she was born to a minority tribe that is not accepted by other Somali tribes.”

The festival concludes on Sunday. Those interested in attending can download the program here.

An Unholy Alliance: English Defence League and the Tea Party Movement

24/10/2010

The extreme far right group known as the English Defence League (EDL) held a pro Israel rally outside the Israeli embassy in Kensington. Police and journalist were left waiting for hours as the shambolic organization saw the rally pushed back from the scheduled time of 10.30 to 1.30. After enjoying a boozy lunch at the local pub nearby EDL finally made a boisterous appearance complete with waves of anti Muslim placards, American and Israeli flags. Bemused cameramen were at times prevented from taking photographs, some members were aggressively camera shy while others relished the limelight and flashed toothless grins at the cameras.

Better late than never....but some members still haven't finished their beer

According to EDL spokesperson, Tommy Robinson, 27, the rally was held at the request of Rabbi Nachum Shifren from the US. “He hears the message we are trying to portray, to make a stand against Islamo- Fascism. He said he was coming over. Today we are demonstrating to show support for Israel’s right to exist.”

Rabbi Shifren is a regular speaker at Tea Party Conventions in the US. To thunderous applause he took to the centre stage at the EDL rally. Starting his speech in Hebrew muted the jubilant crowd into starring at him with perplexed, vacant expressions. The showman in him re-gained their attention by spewing forth virulent anti-Muslims sentiments, this time in plain English. He praised EDL as visionaries. “When your kids open the history books in the future, it will say the fight to regain England was started by you! We shall prevail, will not let them take over our countries!’ he shouted to the crowd.

Shifren also stressed the need to support Israel, “if Israel falls, we all fall” he warned, but his message of Jewish solidarity with EDL was undermined by the members of Jewish Socialist Group who organized a counter rally with only a line of policemen to separate the two.

The Jewish Socialist Group in front of the 'Unite Against Fascism' banner.

“There are very few Jews, whatever their feelings for Israel, who supports the EDL. Those people don’t represent us. Today the EDL’s target are the Muslims, tomorrow it will be others groups, the day after it will be the Jewish community themselves and those fools (Jews on the opposite side) who are under the flag of the EDL today will realize who the real enemy is, we just hope it won’t be too late. They are collaborating with Nazis, that’s what the EDL are’, said David Landau, speaking on behalf of the Jewish Socialist Group.