The Hat of Invisibility

May 13, 2014 § 3 Comments

salehBostjan Videmsek interviews Yassin al-Haj Saleh, former political prisoner and one of Syria’s foremost intellectuals, on ‘civil war’, sectarianism, and the geo-political conspiracy theories which render the people of the Middle East invisible.

Three years and three months into the conflict, Syria and its people have more or less been forgotten by international community, the media, even NGOs. How does this effect life on the ground and the conflict itself?
I do not approve of words like ‘conflict’ and ‘crisis’ in describing our struggle. The connotations of these terms cover up the responsibilities of the terrible situation in Syria, that of a regime that had been ruling the country for 41 years when the revolution started 38 months ago, and that killed perhaps 40,000 Syrians in a previous generation (between 1979 and 1982). There are many ways to forget the Syrian struggle; one of them is to refer to a vague and distant conflict. I think the sort of symptomatic forgetfulness you refer to in the question is only a continuation by different means of the coverage which speaks about ‘conflict’ and ‘crisis’.
Having said that that, life on the ground is affected by barrel bombs thrown from helicopters over civilian neighborhoods in Aleppo, by chlorine gas bombs thrown over people in Kafr Zeta near Hama, and by fighter jets bombing towns of the eastern Ghouta near Damascus. This affects life more than being forgotten by the international community, the media, and NGOs. People are not killed because they are forgotten. They were always forgotten in the past, then they revolted against their masters, and decided to remind all the world of their existence. They are being killed because they revolted, and they are being punished for their insistence on visibility by being forgotten again.

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Raging with the Machine: Robert Fisk, Seymour Hersh and Syria

April 25, 2014 § 33 Comments

Yassin al-Haj Saleh is a Syrian writer who spent 16 years in the regime’s prisons. In this exclusive for PULSE, Saleh, who has been described as the “conscience of Syria“, discusses the distorted lens through which most people are viewing the conflict.

In the West, Robert Fisk and Seymour Hersh are considered critical journalists. They occupy dissident positions in the English-speaking press. Among Syrians, however, they are viewed very differently.

The problem with their writings on Syria is that it is deeply centered on the West. The purported focus of their analysis – Syria, its people and the current conflict – serves only as backdrop to their commentary where ordinary Syrians are often invisible. For Fisk and Hersh the struggle in Syria is about ancient sects engaged in primordial battle. What really matters for them are the geopolitics of the conflict, specifically where the US fits into this picture.

On the topic of chemical weapons, Fisk and Hersh, completely ignore the antecedents of last summer’s attack on Ghouta .

A reader who relies exclusively on Fisk/Hersh for their understanding of Syria would never know that the Assad regime had used chemical weapons several times before the August 21, 2013 massacre in Ghouta. I was there at the time. I saw victims of sarin gas on two occasions in Eastern Ghouta and I met doctors treating them. The victims were from Jobar, which was hit with chemical weapons in April 2013 and from Harasta, which was hit in May 2013.

It is shocking that investigative journalists such as Fisk and Hersh know nothing about these attacks. They write as if Ghouta was the first time chemical weapons were used in Syria. Their credibility and objectivity is compromised by these omissions.

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The Eerie NGO Phenomenon in Kashmir

October 7, 2013 § Leave a comment

By Parvaiz Bukhari

(This article was first published by The Honour Magazine, April 2010, (pg. 16-20).)

Kashmir as an Integral Part of India.  Cartoon by Mir Suhail Qadiri

Kashmir as an Integral Part of India. Cartoon by Mir Suhail Qadiri

Conflicts have always allowed very suitable ecosystems for Non Governmental Organisations or NGOs to flourish in. Embroiled with armed insurgency for about two decades now, Kashmir has attracted a plethora of organizations. But going by the numbers, the region seems to have become a heaven for NGO activity.

There is no central register for the NGOs operating here, no guidelines or any overt accountability. Various estimates put the figure of existing NGOs up to 16,000. Apart from the office of the Registrar of Societies, NGOs are registered for various non-profit activities as trusts and voluntary groups in the district courts. Besides, many NGOs from across the country operating in Kashmir are not registered here.

All you need is five persons and a draft of bylaws along with a declaration of supposed objectives that is then registered in any district court where no count is maintained.

Just what is this huge mass of NGOs doing and who are the people who run them? What is the real intent and incentive for this NGO boom in a region that is still considered business ‘unfriendly’? Where is the funding coming from? A superficial enquiry reveals a dizzying range of unclear activity bordering on subterfuge.

Government employees, close relatives of bureaucrats, politicians, well-off families and people who have been a part of counter insurgency think tanks, run a number of NGOs in the Valley. Kashmir Foundation for Peace and Developmental Studies (KFPDS) run by a former militant commander, Firdous Sayeed Baba alias Babar Badr, has been on the scene for many years now. Babar and four other former militant commanders were the first to enter into dialogue with New Delhi in 1995. He is also known to be very close to the former Intelligence Bureau (IB) chief A S Dullat, who for many years earlier and during NDA regime served as New Delhi’s point man on Kashmir affairs. « Read the rest of this entry »

Glenn Greenwald schools the BBC on the role of journalists

October 3, 2013 § 1 Comment

And of course speaks about the NSA, Snowden, PRISM and much else.

The London Review of Books on Syria

October 2, 2013 § Leave a comment

An improvised weapon in Aleppo

An improvised weapon in Aleppo

Robin Yassin-Kassab

I wrote to the editor of the London Review of Books concerning their Syria (and Libya) coverage. There’s been no reply, so I’m posting the letter here.

Dear….

…….(introduction)…..

Watching the representation of the tragedy in the media has been almost as depressing as watching Syria burn. As someone with strong leftist and anti-imperialist leanings, it’s been particularly galling to find that ‘leftist’ commentary on Syria has often been the worst of all. Large sections of the left have wholeheartedly embraced the very discourse that they resisted during the War on Terror years – that of ‘terrorists’ and al-Qa’ida conspiracies explaining all. Leftist journalists have paid little or no attention to the regime’s blatant and deliberate instrumentalisation of sectarian hatreds, but have focussed on, and exaggerated, the backlash. Robert Fisk has gone so far as to embed himself with the regime army, and to (grotesquely) interview survivors of the Darayya massacre in the presence of the perpetrators of the massacre. Many leftists have convinced themselves, against all the evidence, that the American-led empire has been conspiring against the Syrian regime since the start of the revolution, that this is a re-run of Iraq. Tariq Ali even appeared on Russia Today (near the start) to explain that America was trying to take over Syria but Russia was protecting the country. Russia – the imperialist power which is arming and funding the regime as it commits genocide.

I subscribe to the London Review of Books because it’s by far the best written, most incisive, most reflective, and bravest British publication. Publishing Walt and Mearsheimer was a great move. On the middle east, Adam Shatz is always excellent, well-informed, interested in teasing out a complex truth. Much of the coverage of the revolutions has been eurocentric and orientalist, however. I agreed with novelist Hisham Matar when he called ‘shame’ on Hugh Roberts’s very long Libyan piece which at no point attempted to see things from a Libyan perspective. Rather, it cast the Libyans as passive agents, pawns in the hands of the devilishly clever white man. And on Syria, commentary has been statist-leftist, as if this were an amusing chess game between regional and super powers rather than a struggle for freedom and a genocide, with only one side receiving sustained imperialist aid. I wrote in brief about Patrick Cockburn’s orientalism here.

Glenn Greenwald on the state of American journalism

June 29, 2013 § Leave a comment

Glenn Greenwald speaks at the Socialism 2013 conference. He is introduced by Jeremy Scahill.

The solutionist impulse and digital theology

April 18, 2013 § Leave a comment

My review of Evgeny Morozov’s To Save Everything, Click Here, published in The National

In her celebrated January 2010 statement on “internet freedom”, Hillary Clinton chided countries such as China, Tunisia, Uzbekistan and Egypt for placing restrictions on internet access. The then-US secretary of state affirmed her government’s conviction that “the more freely information flows, the stronger societies become”, because “access to information helps citizens hold their own governments accountable, generates new ideas, encourages creativity and entrepreneurship”.

Not long after, the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks obtained a trove of information revealing US military and diplomatic conduct in Iraq, Afghanistan and the rest of the world. Information flowed freely. But the US government appeared somewhat less convinced of its capacity for strengthening society. Access to WikiLeaks was restricted in many government agencies; Amazon, MasterCard, Visa and PayPal were persuaded to withdraw their services; and students and government employees were discouraged from sharing Wikileaks information on pain of jeopardising career prospects.

Internet freedom, it turned out, was not a sacrosanct principle. It failed to resist the intrusion of profane political concerns. As an analytical category independent of political and social constraints, the internet produced stirring rhetoric, but shorn of its obfuscating theology, it proved subject to the imperatives of power as much in the United States as in Uzbekistan.

This disconnect between the reality of the internet – the physical infrastructure, with its platforms, protocols and utilities; its promises, perils and limitations – and the idea of “the internet” – as a fixed, coherent and unproblematic phenomenon that is open, public and collaborative – enables two dangerous tendencies that are the subject of Evgeny Morozov’s To Save Everything, Click Here: Technology, Solutionism, and the Urge to Fix Problems That Don’t Exist.

The first he calls “solutionism” – a preoccupation with spectacular and narrow solutions to complex social and political problems. The second is “internet-centrism” – a conviction that “the internet” heralds a revolutionary era, a time of profound change in which old truths have become obsolete.

You can read the rest here.

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