When is Glass Not Transparent?

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See end of post for an update on this item

Mauritanian journalist Riyadh Ahmed, who decided yesterday to blow the whistle on 27 of his colleagues and managers of print, electronic and audio-visual media (here or see image below) but declined to publish the documents and audio he claims he has as evidence of them accepting payments, seemed to have been scooped by an anonymous blog. In response, Riyadh Ahmed claims (or see image below) that the list on the blog is fake, and exhorts us to ignore it. What a fine mess.

We could ask: what evidence exists to show that the vast majority of Mauritanian media is independent or above corruption to begin with? Documents, tapes, etc could be mere confirmation of common knowledge, no more startling than Edward Snowden’s serialised revelations about state surveillance methods and programs that have been known of for years. My dear friends: distraction, not discovery, is the name of the game.

UPDATE 27 December 2013: On 24 December, Riyadh posted an apology (see image below) and retracted his intention to publish the list, citing the pleading of three associates, who had managed to persuade him that to continue would bring too much harm to their shared profession. The statement attracted a mixed reaction, including demands to publish regardless. A couple of days have passed now without further comment, so it seems that this distraction is over for now.

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When is glass not transparent? When it’s mirrored.

#Mauritania Citizen Journalists Robbed

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There’s a reason we call it “the struggle”, “la lutte”. Nothing can be taken for granted in a repressive situation, even things that should be simple are made difficult. Logic and convenience slide uselessly off the hunched shoulders of the oppressed.

For the majority of activists in Mauritania, our everyday reality is all too often an inaccessible and frustrating dream. The patchy internet, already reminiscent of 90′s dial-up, became even more unreliable after the recent decision by the biggest of the three service providers, Mauritel, to restrict access to certain IP addresses, such as the extremely popular Facebook network. A pair of youth activists – aware of the perils of being arrested and having your equipment confiscated or destroyed by the security forces –  had decided to try the official route, and were successful in applying for a press permit. They had only just begun to experiment with live streaming video of protests and opposition events to their “Akhir Khaber” Facebook page linked to Twitter (@akherkhabar1). It took months for them to reach this stage, and they worked hard to get there. No sooner had they achieved this technical achievement, than the Mauritel restrictions were implemented. So they battled again, finding a way to reduce video transmission quality and sourcing an alternative internet connection service.

Last Saturday, 23 June, they were filming the biggest opposition march yet in the capital Nouakchott. During the speeches, one of the guys, Ahmed, was up on the dais with the rest of the journalists and he managed to get in-person interviews with several of the party leaders. Just as the event was coming to a close, a group of troublemakers stormed the stage area, presumably acting under the orders of the regime. This created a precarious security situation and the official organisers had to ask everyone to show their ID. It was during this moment, after Ahmed put his camera down just long enough to get his ID out to show to the official, that the camera was stolen. They didn’t see who took it, and they have no idea what to do now. The cheapest replacement is $500. Cameras and mobile phones often have to be bought from outside Mauritania and shipped in, which pushes the cost up even further.

The saddest part of this story is realising they know they have no choice but to accept this. It’s pointless going to the police. The system does nothing to protect ordinary citizens. Insurance is unheard of, and if it existed, it would most likely be a scam. It’s not the first time they’ve had hard-earned possessions stolen, and they know it won’t be the last. It’s the same story across the whole of Africa, not only Mauritania.

Does Fashion Police Emo Death Squad mean Iraq is the new Iran?

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The hot news this weekend is that Obama has begun to tone down the animosity towards Iran. Most of the entertainment comes from watching the remarkable agility of media outlets in reversing their previous positions in order to follow suit.

Iraq Emo Death Squads

Iraqi activists said this unnamed teenager was brutally killed by religious police for having an 'emo' hairstyle

While pondering this acrobatic phenomena, I found this story in a UK tabloid about “emo” youths in Iraq being targeted and killed for their sense of style, which is apparently at odds with the desires of the Interior Ministry. The stories emerged on FaceBook according to the newspaper, which claims Iraqi morality police have rounded up dozens of youth and stoned them to death as punishment for their outlandish love of fashion in the form of spiky hair, skinny jeans and decorative items featuring stylized skulls.  It occurred to me that all those comment contributors we’ve rolled our eyes at over the past couple of years because they don’t understand the difference between Iran and Iraq are about to get a reprieve. It also crossed my mind that if the youth of any country have earned the right to feature skulls as a fashion emblem, it is surely Iraq, graveyard of the global war on terror.

The tale of emo kids being slaughtered is so strongly reminiscent of stories we’ve seen before about the Iranian regime repressing its youth, I wondered if I had caught the comment-poster community’s dyslexic virus and mis-read the headline. But no, it’s just a case of déjà vu. We are being mentally shifted towards the end of the media see-saw where Iran is not about to be bombed, it doesn’t have a nuclear weapon, and didn’t arrange those attacks on Israeli diplomats. And the cat is firmly out of the bag about how Israel and the noxious US-terror-listed MKO/MEK/PMOI/NCRI cult have been in cahoots this whole time.

This being an election year, Obama will be doing all humanly possible to distance himself from the revelations which are sure to follow. There are signs of an investigation starting, one which many would say is long overdue, into those prominent Americans who have accepted money from the MKO and have made public statements supporting them in glowing terms.

Iran Twitter Flag

There is also emerging news about some of the players in the psychological war as they describe it, designed to raise Iran’s profile in the media. Twitter was at one point a major theatre of operations for this psy-ops offensive. Twitter is still in active use as a platform for propaganda, but lacks the intensity and volume that spiked immediately after the June 2009 presidential election in Iran. So polished is the performance of these actors, that it is incredibly difficult to tell them apart from genuine activists. Indeed, they were able to recruit sufficient numbers of “regular” people to their cause that it created a social media shield: a virtual buffer to prevent detection and obscure their motives. And this is where the damage is done. Their misinformation and disinformation using blogs, websites and FaceBook pages under the “human rights” or “secular democracy” banners, false news reports, fake videos, doctored pictures, and their massive media campaigns, all deflect public attention and the media spotlight away from real activists, distorting their messages, diluting the response.

By using manipulation tactics to call for protests, pushing people to go out onto the streets in Iran, they caused the loss of dozens of innocent lives and stole the future from tens of thousands of refugees, forced to flee the chaos that followed. By posing as genuine “green movement” members, they wormed their way into private groups, spread malware to spy on activists, discredited genuine dissidents, and placed them at hugely increased risk.

Several thousand people have been detained in Iran, where they are mentally and physically tortured, and subjected to  excessive punishments and harsh sentences. If detainees are found to have been in contact with any of these agents provocateurs, the punishment is many more times as severe than if they are not suspected by the regime as being part of the “wave of sedition” engineered by the “hypocrites” (the IRI’s pet-name for the MKO). Even now, there are prisoners in Iran protesting their innocence because they still don’t realise that one of their supportive friends was actually a member of the hated MKO or one of their associates (whether knowingly or not).

I know this, through of my links to genuine activists and my work to maintain a database of prisoners in Iran, and because I am one of a handful of people, unpaid but highly dedicated, who have been observing the army of internet trolls whose mission (among other things) involved pretending to be part of a grass-roots “green movement” either in Iran, or playing the role of supporters outside. When we think of “outside”, let’s not overlook the nearest neighbour Iraq, home for many years to the largest group of MKO since their exile from Iran. To heighten my apprehension, Iran’s Minister of Telecommunications has just said Tehran is ready to transfer its “knowledge and experiences” in telecoms and e-government to Iraq.

Writing this post makes me sad and angry, because there are real issues in Iran and real Iranians who do actually have aspirations towards greater personal and social freedom, enjoyment of human rights, or even “secular democracy” if you will excuse me using one of the cult’s catch-phrases. Despite their best efforts, many of these people, and many others outside Iran, were completely taken in by what they believed was a source of help and support to highlight issues in Iran. I dread to think of the consequences of a similar campaign targeting Iraq in its far more fragile state.

I hope more facts about the disgraceful MKO-MOSSAD psy-ops programme which deliberately placed thousands of innocent Iranians plus their families, friends, and contacts around the world at risk is about to see some daylight at last. It would be too much to hope that the US government’s support, whether through funding, complacency, facilitation or compromise, that would obviously be essential to such a campaign, is also revealed. It would be naïve to expect that, having developed a taste for this exotic form of warfare, and presumably having also secured a huge budget, and a certain prestige for the programme’s leaders, this extremely effective and comparatively low-cost form of warfare will simply go away. To ensure it does not, a new victim is needed, and it could be that Iraq is the unlucky target.

This post is intended to make social media users who follow and support civil and human rights issues stop and think. Be cautious, be wary, be afraid. Me, I’m likely to stay angry a good long while.

Banned Valentines

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Iran's Valentine Ban

Iran's Valentine Ban

My son asked me if I was planning anything special for Valentine’s Day … ! Not for the reasons you or I might expect: I was definitely relieved after he explained, had been searching background information on Iran, and saw that they outlawed this day as one of many decadent Western traditions to be avoided at all costs. I told him about Mousavi and Karoubi, their wives and families, and the stifled attempt to call for a protest on 25 Bahman, which was Valentine’s Day last year. And I shared my resigned expectation that the only crowds on Iran’s streets this February 14, will be crowds of security forces.

I told him that I wondered if  some of them might be strategically positioned to obscure opposition graffiti – now in the form of symbolic flowers – from the public gaze, lest any citizen be confronted by such impassioned artistic expression and shaken out of the regime’s enforced Islamic Revolutionary reverie. (Thanks for the graffiti bouquet, guys!)

He said,

“Never mind, Mum, even if the entire population of Iran came out onto the street, overthrew the regime, and installed a communist state, it would still be completely ignored and overshadowed by Whitney Houston’s death!”

He’s learned, as I have, that there are two constants in the freedom equation: the relentless perfidy with which repressive regimes seek to crush even the tiniest bud of hope, of joy, of creativity, of resistance: “X”; and the transitory nature of the media’s lens: “Y” (or more aptly, “why?”).

The same is true in its different and yet achingly similar ways for Syria, where everything must be painted black and white, either or, despite a rainbow of alternative arguments and positions. For Bahrain, and I would also say for Saudi Arabia, where protests, police brutality, and a host of violations are blanketed in ignorant silence more suffocating than the clouds of tear gas in Bahrain, so large I always imagine they can be seen from space. For Tibet, so tired of being either ignored or patronised, I assume because major political powers are clearly terrified of getting on the wrong side of China, the world’s major creditor. For Yemen, for Mali, for Western Sahara, and for Mauritania, where it’s simply not in the Western powers’ interests to be paying attention to opposition movements, not when there are fascinating stories about terrorism or a food crisis to report, even if the opposition is real and the terrorists are fabricated. Frankly, the food crisis in Africa is so over-hyped, it’s making me feel queasy. And don’t even get me started on the tens of thousands of freshly-minted refugees. For Kashmir, Senegal, West Papua, and for all of you everywhere*, struggling to make your voices heard, I send you my love and respect, for Valentine’s Day and always.

*I realise I left a LOT of names out of this list but it would be like reading a world atlas if I mentioned every country by name. Apologies; you’re still in my heart.

Yes, Time Magazine Thinks Americans Are Stupid

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A screen shot of the U.S. and international covers for the Feb. 20, 2012 issue of Time Magazine.

You may notice something striking about this week’s American edition of Time magazine.

While readers in Asia, Europe, and the South Pacific—really, the rest of the Time-reading world—confront a serious profile about Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti and his role in the euro crisis, Americans are in for a special treat: a cover story called “The Surprising Science of Animal Friendships*.” (The asterisk leads to a footnote at the bottom of the cover that says, “BFFs are not just for humans anymore.”) With not one but two adorable dogs against a hot-pink background, this week’s Time really signifies the editors’ staunch commitment to serious, hard-hitting journalism, even if it means risking unpopularity.

Sarcasm aside: This is not the first time this has happened. In fact, Time faced ridicule for giving the rest of the world a cover story on the Arab protests while feeding Americans a cartoon cover about “Why Anxiety Is Good For You” only two months ago.

An athlete appearing on the cover of Time Magazine is a great honor. But apparently that honor only appears in the United States if it is a sport that Americans care about.

Lionel Messi, who recently won FIFA’s Player of the Year award for the third time is on this week’s cover of Time Magazine (right)But good luck finding that issue in the United States. In this country, Messi has been replaced by an image for a story on shyness.

Producing regional magazine covers is not new. Sports Illustrated often does this in preview issues, presumably to better promote that issue in different parts of the country. But in this case, Messi is not being replaced by soccer player with a more American appeal.

In the end, it is unclear who should be more offended, the sport of soccer for losing a chance to reach fans in the United States, or Americans whom Time may not feel are sophisticated enough to appreciate a soccer cover.

Time’s conviction that Americans only want to read feel-good puff pieces appears to be far stronger than any desire on the publisher’s part to sell itself as an important U.S. news source.

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