An edited version of this article first appeared in the Centre of Global Policy’s The Navigator.
Friendly Sirens and Deadly Shores
By Muhammad Idrees Ahmad
As the US prepares for another high stakes election, the outcome is likely once again to be influenced by a third party: Russia. But only if the electorate cooperates.
Ahead of the 2016 election there were frequent mentions of Russian interference, but its possible impact was generally dismissed. Democrats were convinced their candidate would win; and Republicans, resigned to the same, treated Russia as a side issue. The outcome jolted everyone. Because of this, no one is discounting the threat this time around. But the underlying causes that helped Russia succeed have grown deeper. There is now greater awareness about Russian tactics, but the means for resisting them are weaker.
In the myriad investigations, few stones have been left unturned about the methods and scope of Russia’s intervention. But while Russia has shown ingenuity in using digital propaganda, its success derives less from methodological sophistication than from structural vulnerabilities. To have any hope of countering Russian “active measures”, it is important therefore to understand not just the dissemination of propaganda, but also its reception. Propaganda, ultimately, is a cooperative enterprise. It feeds on existing biases. It requires both an active audience, which already shares the propagandist’s assumptions, and a larger, passive audience, which imbibes it based on the legitimacy accorded it by the active audience. People are susceptible to propaganda because it offers affective rewards and reduces cognitive labor. That is why any discussion on how it functions needs to begin with why it works.
Continue reading “How Disinformation Works”
(Photo: Fadwa Suleiman at a protest in 2012 photographed b Thibault Camus for AP)
By Farrah Akbik
It was as if I were stepping onto the page and walking into Satis House¹. A decrepit old house perched upon a ridge in Al Kiwan, overlooking the Ottoman Railway that snaked down towards the Barada. A house that echoed former glory and youth that was now a mausoleum to my two great aunts and their stale virginity. Siba and Amina were as dilapidated as their abode. Two spinsters forgotten by time, mixed in with their trinkets and clutter, dressed impeccably to mirror each other. Pressed pleated skirts, bespoke handmade shoes from the Armenian cobbler, silk scarves perched upon their heads. I sat there in awe of them as they followed my aunt to the kitchen making sure she didn’t whisper any evil omens into the coffee pot. The threadbare nets billowing like Miss Havisham’s² decaying wedding dress in the heat of the Damascus breeze. The walls hunched over struggling to carry their weight, as if waiting for Siba and Amina to leave. ‘This is what awaits young girls that are too highly strung!’ my aunt Rabia whispered in my ear. Siba placed two gold bangles on my eight-year-old wrist, her sinewy witch-like fingers travelling up to my face as she examined me intently. ‘She is dark like her Moroccan mother, but tolerably pretty.’ It was common enough for remarks to be made about my appearance as if I were not present, and with time it became apparent what was expected of me.
Patriarchy was a bitter poison that I couldn’t swallow. Born and raised in England, I arrived in Damascus at the age of sixteen. Everything was a shock to my system, and nothing more than having to run the gauntlet of the restrictions of my sex. It was summer and my aunty Zahra was ecstatic at the prospect of having a new charge to marry off. I remember the heavy oak lounge door sliding open – my cue to totter in in a pair of hideous heels hastily bought the day before, trying to balance the mandatory tray of tar-like coffee as the potential groom and his mother stared at me intrusively. He was a pompous doctor of 32. ‘What are your ambitions in life?’ he asked. My face burned with humiliation as I felt him lay judgement. What I should have said is, ‘It’s my ambition to one day write an article so I can highlight what an imbecile you are!’
Continue reading “Satis House: On a Women’s Revolution”
By Rashad Ali
Since the 7/7 terrorist attacks in London, it has been commonplace to hear it argued that the “root cause” of terrorism is Western foreign policy: and specifically, the interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Radicalisation is not monocausal. Ideological, personal and psychological factors all have a role to play in the process. But if we are to note the occasions where grievances related to Western military action have been used by Islamist demagogues, we should also acknowledge Western refusal to intervene as a recruiting sergeant for terrorism.
Think of the Bosnian and Kosovo tragedies. Think also about the current situation in Syria.
My political development began during the horrors that followed the dissolution of Yugoslavia. We watched the genocide in Bosnia unfold, on TV, before our eyes. It was this experience that led so many of my peers from radicalisation to political violence and Islamist extremism.
Continue reading “Bosnia, Kosovo, Syria: Western Inaction and Radicalisation”
By Mathew Foresta
The far-right is as active as ever on social media and host companies have been gallingly slow to respond. This negligence reveals their complicity.
“I would say probably YouTube has been the least responsive in terms of getting rid of the stuff,” said journalist David Neiwert, author of “Alt-America: The Rise of the Radical Right in the Age of Trump.” He singled out the comments sections as particularly troublesome.
Other experts pointed out certain users of the video sharing site as being especially problematic.
“Why in the world is Red Ice TV still on YouTube,“ said Air Force veteran Daryle Lamont Jenkins, Executive Director of the anti-racist group One People’s Project.
The Sweden based Red Ice is operated by the married team of Henrik Palmgren and Lana Lokteff. The racist, anti-Semitic, xenophobic, and fascistic operation currently boasts over 334 thousand subscribers on the site. It evolved from its beginning as a peddler of conspiracy nonsense to the major platform for bigotry it is today. So major in fact that that Congressman Steve King retweeted Lokteff in September 2018.
Continue reading “How Social Media Companies Enable the Far Right”
Editor’s note: An edited version of this was published by the Times Literary Supplement. (Photo: Anna Pantelia)
By Muhammad Idrees Ahmad
The only surviving example of William Shakespeare’s handwriting is preserved at the British Library in the manuscript of the play The Book of Sir Thomas More. Shakespeare’s contribution to the co-authored play is a speech by deputy sheriff Thomas More addressed to a mob rioting against immigrants. He appeals to mob’s empathy by inviting them to imagine themselves in the shoes of the “strangers”, exiled from home.
What country, by the nature of your error,
Should give you harbour? Go you to France or Flanders,
To any German province, Spain or Portugal,
Nay, anywhere that not adheres to England,
Why, you must needs be strangers, would you be pleas’d
To find a nation of such barbarous temper
That breaking out in hideous violence
Would not afford you an abode on earth.
Whet their detested knives against your throats,
Spurn you like dogs, and like as if that God
Owed not nor made not you, not that the elements
Were not all appropriate to your comforts,
But charter’d unto them? What would you think
To be us’d thus? This is the strangers’ case
And this your mountainish inhumanity.
Over four centuries later, empathy for the stranger remains an uncertain virtue. Since 2015, when the media elevated refugees to the status of a “crisis”, their influx has sharply declined (from a peak of over 221,000 in 2015 to less than 11,000 in 2018). However this reduction has yet to be acknowledged in the fevered registers of Europe’s political discourse. Immigration—or, rather, its perception—is roiling an entire continent, empowering the right and seducing even left-wing populists into xenophobia. The consequences have been catastrophic, in political, economic, and human terms.
Continue reading “The Strangers’ Case”
Full lecture of Professor of University of Manchester Oliver Richmond, in front of School of Politics, in Prishtina.
The Global South Unit for Mediation (GSUM) has the pleasure to present the interview with Prof. Oliver Richmond, Research Professor in International Relations, Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Manchester. In his interview, Richmond discusses the limitations and possibilities of transformation in traditional approaches on peacebuilding, as well as the role of institutions in the Global South, like GSUM, in the promotion of change. The interview was conducted during the third edition of the GSUM Winter School, organized in July 2016, in Rio de Janeiro, in which Oliver Richmond participated giving the course “Approaches to Peacebuilding”.