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A Revolution in Iceland? Who knew?

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Here’s a stunning example of how little our media tells us about the rest of the world.  This article is extremely relevant to events occurring in America now, yet I don’t believe that anyone has heard the remarkable story that has unfolded in Iceland.  This story represents a lot of very interesting points of discussion–that on democracy v. capitalism, civic responsibility, and on the role of new media. 

What I find fascinating is the following:

To write the new constitution, the people of Iceland elected twenty-five citizens from among 522 adults not belonging to any political party but recommended by at least thirty citizens. This document was not the work of a handful of politicians, but was written on the internet. The constituent’s meetings are streamed on-line, and citizens can send their comments and suggestions, witnessing the document as it takes shape. The constitution that eventually emerges from this participatory democratic process will be submitted to parliament for approval after the next elections.

Icelanders are writing their constitution ON-LINE! Talk about democracy. Not only that, but they revolted over the attempted bank bailout there until they won the right to write a new constitution.

Who would have ever thought that the internet would be used in such an official democratic process?

The unpredictability of immigrant life

About a year ago, I watched a fascinating movie called, My Son the Fanatic.

The plot of the movie revolves around Parvez, an immigrant from Pakistan who drives a cab in England and is a tolerant, secular Muslim. Parvez is caught off guard when his son, Farid, who has grown up in England, converts to fundamentalist Islam. The movie captures Farid’s journey from guitar-playing university student to religious extremist and Parvez’s struggle to maintain a role in his son’s life.

The 1997 movie is based on Hanif Kureshi’s short story of the same name. Raka Shome and Radha S. Hegde reference the short story in their chapter, “Postcolonial Approaches to Communication: Charting the Terrain, Engaging the Intersections.”

“The problem is this,” Farid tells Parvez, “You are too implicated in Western civilization.”

Shome and Hegde write that, in the story, “Immigrant father and son are pitted against each other in a strange reconfiguration of West and East in an unexpected order. In contradiction to all linear models of immigrant lives, the scene captures the alienation that comes from unexpected quarters, the emergence of the political in everyday immigrant lives.”

I haven’t read Kureshi’s story, but the movie version really resonated with me. It paints a complicated picture of immigrant lives and reveals how much each character longs for a sense of belonging.

The movie begins with Farid madly in love with and engaged to an English woman who is the local chief inspector’s daughter. Farid calls off the engagement after he realizes that his fiancée’s father detests his family. He turns to religious extremism almost as an effort to comfort himself. It’s clear that Farid wants a new identity and wants to be part of a group of people who won’t reject him because he is different.

What’s unexpected about the movie is that Parvez is the happily assimilated family member who shamelessly enjoys Western culture. He drinks alcohol, listens to jazz music and falls in love with a prostitute named Bettina. But this character hasn’t given up on all tradition. As the hard-working patriarch of the family, Parvez argues that he deserves respect.

When My Son the Fanatic was released in the late 1990s it apparently didn’t get much attention. Watching the movie now is almost eerie because it so aptly foreshadows the rise of Islamic fundamentalism.

It also demonstrates, as Shome and Hegde discuss in their chapter, the complexities of postcolonial and diasporic lives under the conditions of globalization. They write, “Identities blur, overlap, and are contested within spaces that are neither coterminous nor coeval.”

The characters in the movie play well-known parts (such as, the hard-working immigrant father) but they also possess unique characteristics. Maybe what I enjoyed most about this movie is that it doesn’t shy away from portraying people’s hypocrisies and flaws.

For example, the dogmatic Imam in the movie who shuns Western culture reveals that he wants British citizenship, which throws Parvez into a rage.

New York Times film critic A.O. Scott revisited this movie last February and provides some insightful commentary in the clip below. In his review, he says that the movie is ultimately about, “how nothing people do is predictable.” I completely agree.

Global Citizenship

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In Lina Khatib’s article Communicating Islamic Fundamentalism as Global Citizenship, the author makes the argument that Islamic fundamentalism is a new form of patriotism—a new kind of global citizen. As Khatib asserts, the global and local are constantly interacting. The result is seen as either a homogenization of cultures (resulting in cultural integration or unification) or a heterogenization, not only in the sense that cultures are diverse but also that they may clash. Khatib says that there are two arguments about the nation in a globalized world: first, that it is becoming obsolete, and is being replace by cosmopolitanism; the second, is that the nation is being strengthened because the global is viewed as a threat to the local.

Khatib argues that Islamic fundamentalism articulates itself within (not in opposition to) processes of globalization defined as “those processes, operating on a global scale, which cuts across national boundaries, integrating and connecting communities and organizations in new space-time combinations, making the world in reality and in experience more interconnected.” She goes on to say that Islamic fundamentalism is revitalizing force within the processes of globalization, not aiming at negating global reality but at shaping it.

In her discussion of how the internet plays a role in Islamic fundamentalism, Khatib states “Cyberspace is another space and not a substitute space. Existing local and global power relations are thus extended to this new space, rather than being displaced from the physical one.” Ultimately Khatib makes the point that Islamic fundamentalism is neither an example of cosmopolitanism nor patriotism but articulates a new patriotism that is relational and negotiative within the processes of globalization.

I found this article to be very interesting, particularly the idea that Islamic fundamentalism is not anti-globalization but in fact has adapted to function at both the local and global level. Additionally, the ability of IF groups to utilize the internet to place themselves on equal level as nations and international organizations is impressive, even if you disagree with their message.

More Questions than Answers

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http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/future_tense/2011/11/salman_rushdie_and_facebook_s_pseudonym_policy_.html 

This is a super interesting article that was posted on Slate last Thursday that discusses the blurring of the line between citizen and consumer.  It poses some relevant questions:

Do we want to preserve anonymity to help dissidents or do we want to eliminate it so that corporations stop worrying about cyber-attacks? Do we want to build new infrastructure for surveillance—hoping it will lead to a better shopping experience—that would be abused by data-hungry governments? Do we want to enhance serendipitous discovery, to ensure exposure to new and controversial ideas, to maximize our ability to think critically about what we see and read on the Net? Or do we want to build computers that would conduct autonomous searches on our behalf—only to pitch us the latest sales deals, recommend restaurants in the neighborhood, and feed us one answer instead of many? Do we want the Internet to remember everything that happens online, or do we want to introduce some noise and decay into our digital archives as they—and we—age?

The article discusses the complexity behind the creation of a civic Internet, as well as issues of regulation.  I wonder what the civic identity of the Internet would look like.  I mean, is this really possible?  I do agree that we as a civic unit need to take control of the Internet as the article argues, for we are becoming victims of regulations that many of us don’t like, well at least I’m skeptical of–see: the necessity of having a Facebook account to obtain a Spotify account, the mandatory registration on every website these days.  I mean, do I really need to register myself just to post a comment on some random website on Ukrainian civil society?

Are we at a luxury in the US to not really have to worry about Internet anonymity? In places where internet surveillance is a threat to personal security, isn’t the mandatory use of a legitimate id (ie. on Facebook and Google+) dangerous, especially for people of influence?  If this is the direction we are moving, will it stifle future movements like those in the Middle East that were successful because of anonymity?

Maybe, in fact, the internet is becoming obsolete, and moving in the direction of apps.  I know I get my weather, check my bank account, email, read my news get directions, buy music, convert currencies, find restaurants, etc, all using apps.  I less and less need to use my internet browser. 

This post isn’t really making any one point, but rather left me asking more and more questions.

Network Power

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When discussing network power our class discussion always seem to come back to the advent of new technologies and the networks they’ve created. Facebook, Twitter, MMORPGs, blogs—all of these things have created online communities that span the globe. Facebook connects friends and families around the world. MMORPGs allow people who are geographically separated to develop friendships and communities. Twitter helped participants in the Arab Spring realize that others felt the same way, and assisted in organization. And while these networks are indeed powerful socially, I would argue that it is only when the community chooses to take additional action and meet in the real world that these networks acquire actual power.

Facebook, Twitter, LiveJournal—these communities are real and have power. They bring people together, can provide support, and have power to introduce ideas to the populace. However, I think that in the case of the Arab Spring, or OWS these networks provided a launching point for the group. Without the online networks the movements would probably have not been successful. Yet without the real world actions, the network would have had no power.

Why the obsession over “unbiased” Media

In his book The Myth of Media Globilization, Kai Hafez argues against the CNN-effect , saying that “…..the influence of the media on poliitics is negligible, particularly in relation to international conflicts that touch upon vital national interests.  At such times, even in democratic states, the major print and broadcast media tend to take on the role of government propagandists over the short term, rather than de-escalating political conflicts.”

He uses the leadup to the Iraq war as an example of this.  Now, I may veer off-topic, but I can understand why this happens. Not only that but I see it as inevitable as reporters and journalists are people…..their bias gets magnified during times like the aftermath of September 11, or the lead-up to the war in Iraq. In the case of Iraq, while clearly there was support in the media, I wouldn’t go as far as saying it is always propaganda. I think there was bias, but not an intent to deceive.  I have the print edition of the Washington Post from Thursday February 6, 2003 in front of me right now (I always buy newspapers for major world events as collectibles or future gifts).  This is the day Sec. Powell made the case before the UN. In the coverage section, there was fair coverage and presentation of others such as the “Arab World” or from Dominique de Villepin the then French Foreign Minister. I mean I don’t know we have the benefit of hindsight, the intelligence available was strong enough that it convinced the British…..

What I’m more interested in hearing is….why is there an aversion to opinionated media in the USA? I read an awesome article in the Atlantic a few weeks on this issue:

It may seem like a good idea to avoid the “perception of bias” by insisting that media employees hide who they are from the audience. Perhaps it was once even tenable. It no longer is. To build your credibility on viewlessness is to concede, every time an employee of yours is shown to be a sentient, opinionated person, that your credibility has taken a hit. To tout and enforce your viewlessness is to hold your own reputation hostage to reality; it makes your credibility, the most valuable thing you have, vulnerable to every staffer’s Tweet, or incriminating Facebook photograph, or inane James O’Keefe hidden video sting operation. She claims to be neutral, but look, while out at a dinner with friends we caught her on camera saying that she thinks Obama is a better president than was Bush. See! She was hiding her liberal views from us all along!

Who is even fooled at this point?

Lastly, back on this topic if you have time read this 2003 piece from Slate on ‘journalists & neutrality in a war zone’ it’s an interesting read if the 2003 Iraq war is one of your interests.

Al Jazeera English and the American Perception

The article “Al Jazeera English and Global News Networks” states that “the longer viewers have been watching Al Jazeera English, the less dogmatic they are in their thinking and thus more open to considering alternative and clashing opinions.”

I’m basically writing this entry to say that I agree with this statement.

I’m interning this semester at Al Jazeera English, and have become an avid viewer of its programming. In my own humble opinion, I find it the best news out there. It is truly world news. Unlike American news, it doesn’t focus days or weeks on one inconsequential story (Michael Jackson, Casey Anthony, etc etc). It shows the viewer not only what is going on around the world, but also gives them the context they need to understand what they are watching. It also has a slightly different viewpoint; because it is not American, it doesn’t automatically view things through an American lens, often showcasing the other side of the story (such as in its portrayals of the Middle East.) In fact, its symbol, that beautiful curling Arabic that looks like fire, means “The opinion and the other opinion.” Both sides of the story.

What I think is really interesting here is the perception  of Al Jazeera in America. Even my own parents had that mystified look on their faces when I told them where I was working.

“But isn’t that like…extremist television? Doesn’t it just focus on the Middle East?”

On the ten year anniversary of September 11, Al Jazeera English wanted to speak with some students at a Texas high school to get their thoughts on the last decade. The school wouldn’t let them on school grounds. To many people, Al Jazeera is still considered “Islamic,” or “terrorist” television.

I say, with as much delicacy as I can muster, what utter bullshit.

Where did people get this perception? Oh right, American media. Though it has since recanted its statements, much of the media has blackballed Al Jazeera over the years, likening it to extremist groups. That seeped into public consciousness, and it is only now, after five years on the air and online, that Al Jazeera English is finally starting to gain a foothold in the American viewers’ minds as smart, interesting, and unbiased reporting. As it should.

So I guess the point of this post is to say, what are you waiting for? Go watch some AJE. (And be sure to check out the documentary program Fault Lines, which starts airing at the end of November!)