Earlier this month the Guardian reported a military parade in Esfahan marking Iran’s Army Day in which military placards warned of the dangers of Western cultural influence. Emphasis was given, in a sort of ‘what will they think of next’ way, to a poster warning of the “damages of the Facebook internet site” – pictured here. The image certainly does seem strange – until you look into the context. The Iranian regime have been talking about a “soft war” being waged against it by a “cultural NATO” intent on undermining the ideology of the Islamic Republic for a while now. Ridicule and claims of paranoia have hitherto been the primary response from the West – this is regrettable as some of the underlying issues are of key importance for contemporary foreign policy, and the internet’s role in political change.
Typical of Western reports about Iranian concerns over ‘soft war’ is a recent AP article, which uses the term to contextualise Iranian schemes as various as a “hack-proof communications network for [the IRGC’s] high-level commanders”, possibly involving – shock horror! – “special relay towers and passcodes” (something surely recognised universally as a military necessity); fear of “internet espionage and viral attacks from abroad”; the attempt to “choke off opposition outlets at home”; and accusations that internet tools like Google and Facebook are instruments of espionage. The first two examples obviously reflect the understandable sense of being besieged the Iranian regime feels and hints at countermeasures we would expect any sovereign state to take – the leap to internal repression in the later examples seem to go beyond this, however in terms of taking defensive measures against foreign states, they can be conceptually situated on a threat continuum that goes from Stuxnet right through to Twitter.
This Wednesday, May 2nd, Guernica Editor in Chief Joel Whitney will be moderating “A Reporter’s Perspective on War” with Polish journalist Wojciech Jagielski in Brooklyn, New York. Part of the PEN World Voices Festival, the discussion will chronicle ongoing conflicts and the tolls they take upon those who live in their midst.
Jagielski is the recipient of several international awards. His work has covered the Caucuses during the collapse of the Soviet Union (A Good Place), the Afghan regimes (Praying for Rain), and Chechnya (Towers of Stone). His forthcoming book, The Night Wanderers, examines how the Lord’s Resistance Army preys upon Ugandan youth.
I haven’t been writing about Syria at my previous pace. The time is not right.
This is a time for Syrian internet activists, those still surviving, to send us their videos. It’s a time for gathering evidence – although no more evidence is needed.
It’s a time for reporters to write, for committed foreign journalists to smuggle themselves inside and tell the tale. (You could call the murdered journalists martyrs, because they chose to go to a place where they knew they might die, and they did so for the sake of the truth.)
People who have specific human stories to tell should tell them. I hear the occasional story, and I might relay some of them; but I am not there. I am observing from Scotland.
This time is the beginning of a long process of creative mulling for those who will eventually produce novels and films concerned with the tragedy.
Most of all it’s a time in which people scream and suffer and die, a time to wait for the next explosion, or the next kick at the door, or for the return of the rapists, or for the next shriek of pain and humiliation from the neighbouring cell. It’s a time for burying children at night, hastily, in silence. And the suffering continues with glacial inevitability. Fate doesn’t seem to plan an end to it, not yet.
Returning last week from an instructive three weeks in Pakistan, I was detained briefly at Islamabad’s chaotic airport after an X-ray machine showed two highly suspicious music CDs and a USB memory stick in my check- in bag.
The music was of Mehdi Hassan, my favorite singer in South Asia, and the USB was part of a PR packet given to me by a Bangkok hotelier. It didn’t matter. For nearly three hours, two men in shalwar kameez — members of one of Pakistan’s intelligence agencies — supervised customs and immigration officials, and even the staff of my Middle Eastern airline, through an extensive scrutiny of my bags and the many visas in my passport.
These plainclothed, thuggish-looking men seemed to confirm the popular Western stereotype of Pakistan’s “deep state,” a vast subterranean network of soldiers, spies, and militants-for- hire that actually runs the country while the state fails to provide health care and education to a largely poor and illiterate population of nearly 190 million. Continue reading “Pakistan’s Unplanned Revolution Rewrites Its Future”
Once again, we encourage readers to tune in to this excellent program produced by the Tax Justice Network. Hosted by Naomi Fowler, each 15 minute podcast follows the latest news relating to tax evasion, tax avoidance and the shadow banking system. The show will feature discussions with experts in the field to help analyse the top stories each month.
In this month’s episode Taxcast looks at Amazon’s tax affairs, the global tax cut race to the bottom, India tackling tax havens and the miners in Zambia who pay more tax than the multi-national mining company.
This is a very significant moment in American television history. Over a year back Bob Simon of CBS’s 60 Minutes had provided first glimpses to an American mainstream audience of the Palestinian lives being disrupted by Israeli occupation. He now returns to the Holy Land to debunk Israeli claims (made most recently by Israeli ambassador Michael Oren) about the thriving Christian presence in the historic lands. If you can ignore Simon’s statements about the security allegedly being provided by the wall, you’ll find the last couple of minutes, where he makes the generally composed Michael Oren squirm by confronting him over his attempts to suppress the 60 minutes investigation, quite satisfying. You can measure the significance of this segment from the fact that Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself got involved in attempts to pressure CBS into abandoning the investigation; it has since been described by Israeli officials as a ‘strategic terror attack‘, and ADL has issued an official condemnation.
Meanwhile, our friends at Jewish Voices for Peace have launched a campaign to thank 60 Minutes for its hard-hitting coverage. We’d encourage all readers to take a few minutes to sign their petition.