Global Voices

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Massive Saudi Police Presence on the Day for Women Driving

Traffic police checkpoints were set up on roads in all major cities to ensure that all drivers are male on October 26, the day chosen for defying the government ban on women driving. Since the campaign was launched, the Saudi Interior Ministry hasn't been clear on its position. For a long time, ‘society’ was to blame for banning women driving, but after multiple campaigns demanding lifting the governmental ban, this doesn't seem to be the case.

On October 25, an official from the Interior Ministry phoned women activists to warn them from participating in the campaign. al-Hayat newspaper reported [ar]:

أكد المتحدث الرسمي لوزارة الداخلية اللواء منصور التركي لـ«الحياة» أنه وفقاً لما سبق الإعلان عنه في شأن ما يثار حول قيادة المرأة السيارة واستناداً إلى نتائج المتابعة الأمنية، أجرت الجهات الأمنية المختصة اتصالات بمن ظهرت منهن بوادر تحريض أو مشاركة في شأن المبادرة – التي حددت غداً السبت موعداً لانطلاقها – لافتاً إلى أنه تم اشعارهن بأنه لا تهاون في تطبيق النظام متى ما ارتكبت المخالفات.

The Official Spokesperson of the Interior Ministry has confirmed to al-Hayat that, following the previous announcement regarding the call for women driving and as a result of security investigations, the security authorities have called those who were engaged in incitement for Saturday's initiative. He stated that they were notified that the regulations will be enforced whenever a violation occurs.

Some women have even reported police surveillance, like activist Aziza al-Yousef:

Since the early morning, two cars have been following me everywhere. They even attended a funeral at [King] Khalid Mosque.

Furthermore, harsher-than-usual punishments were imposed on those who were caught driving:

Confiscating the car for a week, a 900-Saudi-riyal (USD 240) fine and a written pledge [not to drive] are the punishments of ladies who drive. I wonder if a young, short boy drives what will be the punishment. :)

Despite this, activist Hala al-Dosari reported:

50 women drove and 18 women were stopped.

May al-Suwan recorded a video of her experience driving on October 26 that received over 130,000 hits:

The Saudi governmental newspaper al-Riyadh had on its first page the following:

«26 أكتوبر» مر بهدوء.. وحملات التحريض باءت بالفشل

October 26 passed quietly. Incitement campaigns failed.

Saudi Twitter user Mishari al-Ghamdi commented on the coverage of governmental newspapers:

The newspapers that attacked the campaign today are the same ones that our extremist brothers call liberal and Western-oriented.

Historian Abulaziz al-Kheder commented on the effects of the campaign by tweeting:

The most be affected by this campaign is…the official position.

Saudi women plan to continue to push for their right to drive.

via Global Voices » Feature

Labels: ,

The Codefather


Barbadian Alan Emtage, inventor of the world's first Internet search engine. Photo by Michael Rhodes. Used with permission.

“I wrote a piece of code that gave birth to a multi-billion dollar industry. I didn’t make any money off of it, but I wouldn’t change anything.”

Uttered by a man with a Barbadian lilt, those were the opening lines of the Huffington Post video released last April that introduced many in the Caribbean to Alan Emtage, the 48 year-old computer scientist who did indeed write the piece of code that gave birth to a multi-billion dollar industry called Internet search.

Whenever we use a search engine such as Google, we’re referencing the work of Emtage, who, in spite of only recently being discovered by his home region, is a bona fide tech pioneer. His invention, in 1990, of Archie, the world’s first search engine, figures in any respectable account of the history of the Internet.

Born in Barbados in 1964, Emtage was raised in an extended family that instilled in him a strong curiosity and “capacity for discovering stuff”. Especially influential were his mother’s aunts. Aunt Constance Inniss, a science teacher and headmistress of St. Gabriel’s School, encouraged him to listen to the BBC’s science programs and took him fishing on the sea wall near the family home at Carlisle Bay, where they’d discuss what they saw and caught. Emtage remembers her once waking him at 3am to see a comet.

At Harrison College, one of Barbados’ elite secondary schools, Emtage found himself in another positive learning environment. He followed the science track, pursuing Maths, Physics and Chemistry at ‘A’ Levels, and was attracted to computers fairly early on, acquiring a Sinclair ZX81 with a whopping 1K of memory during a visit to the UK in 1981. But computers weren’t an automatic first choice as a profession. At McGill University in Montreal, where Emtage went in 1983 after winning a Barbados Scholarship, several career options presented themselves. He considered majoring in Meteorology, and after coming near the top of the class in an introductory course in Geology he was personally wooed by that department’s chairman.

Emtage admits he chose computer science by a process of elimination. Uninspired by the prospect of “spending my time up in the Tundra poking around for diamonds”, or languishing in “a radar station in St. James” as a meteorologist in the Barbados, he also felt that computer science was a career with legs. “In 1983 we were at the bottom of a fairly bad recession and computers were one of the things that looked promising, at least from an employment point of view,” he says.

After completing his undergraduate degree in 1987, Emtage entered McGill’s Master’s program. As a postgraduate student and sysadmin (systems administrator) in the university’s IT department, he enjoyed a privileged position, with access to the latest in computer technology and a unique vantage point on the nascent phenomenon called the Internet, not to mention membership in a community of expert programmers. The mid-1980s to early 1990s were an exciting time to be a computer science major at a North American university, particularly a prestigious one like McGill. The university had the first Internet connection in eastern Canada and the second in the country. Microcomputer prices were dropping and companies like Sun Microsystems and Steve Jobs’ NeXT Computer were targeting the higher education market; NeXT made what was then its largest ever sale when McGill purchased 50 of their machines.

Still, computers back then were a far cry from what they are today. Computing tasks were carried out by a central mainframe computer, a massive machine usually housed in a general-purpose computing facility. You submitted your task to the mainframe, where it sat in a queue awaiting its turn to be processed. Computer scientists like Emtage spent hours waiting for printers to crank out their jobs on massive sheets of dot-matrix paper.

This was the context in which Emtage wrote the code that would become Archie, the world’s first search engine. His job as sysadmin involved finding software for students and faculty, which meant manually searching computer archives on public servers, a tedious process if there ever was one. Emtage wrote Archie to automate the process and make his own life easier: “Rather than spending my time logging on to FTP sites and trying to figure out what was on them, I wrote some computer scripts that would do the same thing, and much faster too.”

That, in a nutshell, is what’s happening behind the scenes each time we do a Google search, but when Emtage developed Archie in 1989 it must have seemed like magic. Word about the tool spread rapidly thanks to Emtage’s colleague Peter Deutsch, head of McGill’s IT department, who suggested they make the tool public and allow external users to log in for themselves. Archie went viral across Canada, then the world. “There was a lot of pent-up demand,” Emtage says. “Everybody was like ‘Oh my God—of course! Why didn’t we think of this?’”

Others had in fact come up with similar ideas, as is often the case with scientific discoveries. “I had several people, very soon after the fact, tell me that they were doing similar things for themselves but that they had never taken the path to making it public,” says Emtage. “I just happened to get there first and, as there was no commercial competition at the time, there was no incentive for them to replicate it.”

In 1990, Emtage and Peter Deutsch formed Bunyip, a company designed to market a more robust commercial version of Archie—also the first Internet startup in history, in that it was the first company designed expressly to sell an Internet-related service.

As Deutsch had a family, it fell to Emtage to do the work of promoting Bunyip and Archie. “I had an amazing experience travelling around the world to conferences and meetings, meeting all of the people who created the Internet,” he says. As a founding member of the Internet Society and member of the Internet Engineering Task Force, Emtage worked alongside figures such as Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Vint Cerf and Jon Postel.

But the revolution ended up passing Bunyip by. Montreal had a few tech companies, but lacked Silicon Valley’s nurturing ecosystem and community. Emtage and his partners held differing views regarding outside investment in the company (he was in favour). In 1996, a burned-out Emtage left on a three-month backpacking trip around the South Pacific; on returning to Montreal in late 1996, he resigned. A stint working for a Bunyip client lasted a year, after which he joined Mediapolis, the New York web design firm that has been his home for the last 15 years.

Alan Emtage skydiving in Brazil. "Computers are my profession. But they are not my hobby."

Alan Emtage skydiving in Brazil. “Computers are my profession. But they are not my hobby.” Photo courtesy Alan Emtage.

About the alleged missed opportunity to have cashed in with Archie and achieved near-bottomless wealth and fame, Emtage is both modest and philosophical. “Sure, I’d love to have been a billionaire,” he says. “But you don’t get to twist one knob of the time machine and make one thing change: twisting that knob changes everything else. It is not necessarily clear to me that I could have become a billionaire. If I had patented those technologies, perhaps. It is also possible that I would not have been visionary enough to word the patents broadly enough. The first past the post do not necessarily become the most successful. Google was by far not the first search engine, or even the first web search engine. They just did search so much better than their predecessors that they were able to create a multi-billion dollar industry out of it.”

It’s also possible that the quality-of-life trade-offs involved in becoming a billionaire would not have suited Emtage’s temperament. Contrary to the geek stereotype, computers aren’t his life, or even his hobby, as he’s quoted as saying on the “Greatest McGillians” web site. After the dotcom crash of 2000-2001 and the events of 9/11, Emtage and his three partners at Mediapolis took the decidedly un-billionaire-like decision to scale the company down from 17 employees to just the four of them.

The arrangement has given Emtage the freedom to pursue his passions—travel and photography—and spend time at his cottage in idyllic Provincetown, Massachusetts. Also to take a keen interest in certain aspects of technology and US politics. “Off the top of my head I can think of myself as being a minority in four or five different ways,” he says. “And the Internet is my baby, in sense that it’s only five years younger than me. So I have a great interest in intellectual property law, which I think it fundamentally broken, and civil liberties.”

But being part of a four-man outfit also means that there’s “nobody to bump it up to,” Emtage says. “It’s weird for some people that as far along as I am in my career, or in age, I’m still coding and I’m still talking with clients. But I don’t want any of the other stuff. I don’t want to deal with the corporate bullshit and office politics. These are three people that I know very well and I’ve worked with for many years. I know plenty of people who are miserable in their lives—I just try not to be one of them.”

Georgia Popplewell (@georgiap) (is a writer and media producer from Trinidad and Tobago, and Managing Director of Global Voices. A version of this article originally appeared in Caribbean Beat Magazine.

via Global Voices » Feature

Labels: ,

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Saudi Women Gear Up To Defy Driving Ban

Dozens of women have shared videos of themselves driving on major roads and highways across Saudi Arabia ahead of October 26, a day they plan on defying the ban. The videos are available here

Dozens of women have shared videos of themselves driving on major roads and highways across Saudi Arabia ahead of October 26, a day they plan on defying the ban. The videos are available here

Since October 26th has been chosen as a day for defying the government ban on women driving, Saudi women have uploaded videos of themselves preparing for the day. Opponents, on the other hand, sought government harsh enforcement of the ban calling it a “conspiracy” and describing it as a “demonstration” in a country were demonstrations are strictly prohibited.

The campaign's YouTube channel and Instagram profile were filled with videos and photographs of women driving in major roads, and others that are getting trained for driving.

Nasser al-Omar, one of the major conservative Islamist clerics in the country, tweeted [ar]:

Do those who call for women driving understand that they are serving the enemies of this country by getting it into chaos and corruption when it badly needs security, faith and stability?!

al-Omar, and other clerics, tried to visit the Royal Court yesterday, October 22, but they were not given an appointment. In a video recorded outside the royal court [ar], al-Omar said that those who call for women driving “are not taking the legitimate method” (referring to defying the ban, rather than asking the king to repeal it).

The Interior Ministry issued a statement [ar] today, October 23rd, saying:

وعطفاً على ما يثار في شبكات التواصل الاجتماعي وبعض من وسائل الإعلام من دعوات لتجمعات ومسيرات محظورة بدعوى قيادة المرأة للسيارة، وحيث إن الأنظمة المعمول بها في المملكة تمنع كل ما يخل بالسلم الاجتماعي ويفتح باب الفتنة ويستجيب لأوهام ذوي الأحلام المريضة من المغرضين والدخلاء والمتربصين، لذا فإن وزارة الداخلية لتؤكد للجميع بأن الجهات المختصة سوف تباشر تطبيق الأنظمة بحق المخالفين كافة بكل حزم وقوة

Regarding what has been circulating in social media networks and other media channels about forbidden gatherings and demonstrations for women driving, the regulations in the kingdom prohibit whatever violates civil security and calls for temptations of harm-seekers and those with sick dreams. For that reason, the Interior Ministry assures everyone that the specialized authorities will enforce the regulations on those who violate them with firmness and vigor.

The campaign organizers have been insisting that they were not calling for any demonstration:

For those who promote that we are calling for a demonstration on October 26, we want to inform you that we had tirelessly repeated that there will be no demonstration, and this will not weaken our will.

Saudi blogger Fouad al-Farhan compared the statement of the Interior Ministry to Egyptian Armed Forces General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi's statement 48 hours before overthrowing President Mohamed Morsi:

The statement of the Interior Ministry regarding women driving is similar to el-Sisi's that gave a chance for all parties. Each party interpreted the statement as being in their favor.

Amnesty International has also called for signing the campaign petition:

via Global Voices » Feature

Labels: ,

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Saudi Prisoners’ Children Put Into Solitary Confinement

Following the cancellation of Saudi prisoners’ Eid visits, their relatives organized small gatherings to protest the sudden decision. Gatherings are strictly prohibited in the absolute kingdom, but the ban has been continuously defied by the prisoners’ relatives, and most of the women and children who participated in the gatherings have been arrested since October 17. The children were even ordered to be in solitary confinement.

One of the arrested children, Humam al-Rushodi, whose father is a prisoner. via @e3teqal

One of the arrested children, Humam al-Rushodi, whose father is a prisoner. via @e3teqal

The one woman who was released because of her child's health condition tweeted about their arrest in front of the Governor's Office [ar]:

They told us: “Wait,” so we did. Then they brought buses and the special forces attacked us from one side and the female prison guards from the other like if we were about to murder their prince.

Umm Abdulla Al Harbi also reported that one of the prisoners’ relatives, Maha al-Duhayan, was beaten and had her hand broken:

…They shut my mouth so that I don't speak and they hit Maha al-Duhayan very hard and they even pushed her and she fell on her face…

This launched a very large condemnation within the Saudi Twittersphere against the Interior Ministry's aggression. The women, including al-Duhayan, were denied calls, visits and access to lawyers. Her son tweeted:

I have been under the sun during the past two days trying to get into the open doors, but I got no where. An official from the Bureau [of Investigation and Public Prosecution] promised me a call, but he didn't fulfill his promise.

On October 20, a group of women and young men organized a sit-in in front of the Buraydah Police Administration to demand the release of their relatives. They, too, were shortly surrounded by police forces and arrested.

Just in: Emergency forces surround those taking part in the sit-in in front of the Police Administration and beat the participants – women and young men.

Among those who were arrested were two of Mrs. al-Duhayan's sons, Yasser and Rayan.

I just got out from the General Investigation Bureau to inquire about my mother's case. I was shocked to receive a call from my brother, Rayan, saying that he was arrested with my brother Yasser.

The detained women and men are still prohibited from contacting the outside world. The under-age detained relatives were given a visit, but the prison officials told [ar] a family member yesterday, October 22, that they had orders from Bureau of Investigation and Public Prosecution to hold each child in solitary confinement for the next five days.

via Global Voices » Feature

Labels: ,

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Reflections of Eid in Syria's Art Scene

Syria’s rising talents and distinct voices share their views on Eid Al Adha, refusing to celebrate the festivities while the number of casualties and refugees continue to rise due to havoc.

On the one hand, musician Wael Alkak experiments with traditional Syrian folk music in his latest track, entitled, “Eid Song,” which was inspired by Tammam Azzam’s “Bon Voyage” artwork.

The song has one repeated lyric that builds up as we go. It roughly translates to:

No one can withstand anyone,

because everyone is sad.

No one can withstand anyone,

because everyone has lost (x2).

No one is left to withstand anyone,

considering everyone has lost.

No one is left to withstand anyone,

considering everyone has runaway.

The track seems to reflect the general nonchalant feel towards Eid, and how people in Syria are perhaps running out of patience. Nevertheless, Alkak's song follows a pattern of pessimism displayed by other Syrian artists as well. Below are a few examples:

Done by Maher A. Husn. It reads, "We do not want your Eid."

Done by Maher A. Husn. It reads, “We do not want your Eid.”

Done by Wajdi Saleh, entitled, “No Eid while our kid is a martyr,” referring to children martyrs of Ghouta.

Rising artist Sedki Al Imam approaches Eid with jest

Rising artist Sedki Al Imam approaches Eid with jest

Caricature by Husam al-Saadi shows Bashar Assad butchering Syria's map as though it were an Eid sacrifice.

Caricature by Husam al-Saadi shows Bashar Assad butchering Syria's map as though it were an Eid sacrifice.

Suzan Yaseen paints "The Martyr and the Eid Dress."

Suzan Yaseen paints “The Martyrs and the Eid Dress.”

Mohannad Hamawi wraps Syria's Eid in a bloodied gift.

Other artists tackled the humanitarian side of the conflict and focused on refugees:

Hani Abbas sketches a Ferris wheel with refugee tents

Hani Abbas sketches a Ferris wheel with refugee tents

Syria's art scene is nothing if not involving commentary from Kafranbel's people. Twitter user Racan tweets their latest poster:

However, there is an embedded message that could be understood from such art, and that is: Syria's hardship is throttling what remains of the nation and it needs help. Prominent writer Amal Hanano explains the dire reality that people are enduring in Syria, as meat, for instance, has become far too expensive for many to afford.

Through design, the Syrian Revolution Multimedia Team asks that people donate their Eid sacrifice to Syria, making it art with a cause:

Done by the Syrian Revolution Multimedia Team, who are urging people to send their Eid sacrifice to Syria. The sheep says, "Send me to Syria they need me more there."

Done by the Syrian Revolution Multimedia Team, who are urging people to send their Eid sacrifice to Syria. The sheep says, “Send me to Syria they need me more there.”

Even those in diaspora feel Syria's ache, finding it hard to celebrate, as Omar Kuptan puts it:

Others are dreading the distance:

However, among the pessimists and the realists arises a voice wishing Syria a blessed Eid in beautiful typography and bright colors, as though saying, this too shall pass:

By Abdo Meknas

By Abdo Meknas

And pass, it shall.

Copyright of photographs used in this post are to their respective owners, used here with attribution.

via Global Voices » Feature

Labels: ,

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Australian Catholic Cardinal Center of Child Sexual Abuse Scandal

This Human Rights post is part of Blog Action Day on 16 October 2013.

Two sisters were repeatedly raped by their parish priest in an Australian primary school. One later committed suicide. The other became a binge drinker and is disabled after being hit by a car. Their parents want laws to make the Catholic Church look after victims properly. Their mother told the story in her book Hell On The Way To Heaven.

Since its publication in 2010, action is finally being taken. There are currently three government inquiries in Australia into institutional responses to sexual abuse of children.

As Clerical Whispers reported in May 2013, the State of New South Wales investigation followed police whistleblower Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox's allegations of Catholic church cover-ups in the Hunter Valley region.

In the State of Victoria, the Family and Community Development Committee of parliament has the task of reporting:

…on the processes by which religious and other non-government organisations respond to the criminal abuse of children by personnel within their organisations

The committee was set up after admissions by the Catholic hierarchy of forty suicides among 620 victims of child sexual abuse by its clergy. It is due to report in November 2013.

Then Prime Minister Julia Gillard established the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in late 2012. The commission is examining:

…how institutions with a responsibility for children have managed and responded to allegations and instances of child sexual abuse.

…any private, public or non-government organisation that is, or was in the past, involved with children, including government agencies, schools, sporting clubs, orphanages, foster care, and religious organisations.

Despite the broad brush of the terms of reference, the Catholic church has taken the brunt of public criticism so far. In particular, the Archbishop of Sydney Cardinal George Pell has been the centre of the controversy for his approach to offenders and victims over an extended period. His appearance at the Victorian committee in May 2013 created a storm when he admitted church cover-ups.

Ian Richardson's reaction was typical of the twitterverse:

Rock in the grass was incensed by the Cardinal's moralising:

Sam Butler made the inevitable comparison with Rupert Murdoch’s evidence in 2011 to the British parliamentary committee concerning the phone hacking scandal:

It was just one of a multitude of tweets linking to well-respected journalist David Marr’s report for the Guardian.

Meanwhile Cartoonist Jon Kudelka had his usual eye for The Details:

Kudelka - The Details

Cartoon – The Details. Courtesy Jon Kudelka

At The Conversation blog Judy Courtin assessed Pell’s apology:

If we were to rate his performance as an actor with his apology he would have just passed as an actor. The apology, along with any empathy or compassion, was entirely lacking.

Subsequently David Marr has written an in-depth essay for the September Quarterly magazine: The Prince: Faith, Abuse and George Pell (Essay 51):

He [Pell] knows children have been wrecked. He apologises again and again. He even sees that the hostility of the press he so deplores has helped the church face the scandal. What he doesn’t get is the hostility to the church. Whatever else he believes in, Pell has profound faith in the Catholic Church. He guards it with his life. Nations come and go but the church remains.

Jeremy von Einem's tweet is representative of the general reaction to Marr’s essay:

John Lord captured the revulsion and the anger that many readers felt:

Whilst reading it I had to stop many times and reflect on the enormity of the sins of the fathers. More than once I shed a tear whilst uttering the word, bastards.

But this essay is as much about Pell (I don’t feel the need to be particularly aware of protocol and use his title) the man as it is about child abuse. When all is stripped back we see a man of very little love for flock but great love for the institution of church, the privileges that come with it and the power it commands. Consequently Pell is adored by the church but despised by the people.

Cardinal Pell responded to the essay with a written statement:

A predictable and selective rehash of old material. G.K.Chesterton said: ‘A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; a bad novel tells us the truth about its author. Marr has no idea what motivates a believing Christian.

The Prince has its critics. Andrew Hamilton is consulting editor at Eureka Street, the online publication of the Australian Jesuits. In his analysis Marring the Cardinal's image he sees the essay as “elegant” but “unfair”:

The limitations of Marr's account are the obverse of its virtues. It is not a dispassionate judgment but a prosecution brief. It sifts Pell's motives and words but not those of his critics, and simplifies complexities.

Kate Edwards at Australia Incognita is a critic of Cardinal Pell but thinks Marr missed the ‘Real Story’:

The article provides no new insights on the Cardinal's various disastrous interactions with victims and the laity in relation to the scandal; no new insights into just why he and many others in the Church were so reluctant to listen or act. To me that seems a great shame.

Despite being the central player in the sordid history of abuse and cover-up, the Catholic Church was not first case study off the rank at the Royal Commission public hearings. That dishonour went to the Scouts, reinforcing a long-held stereotype.

The Catholic Church’s Truth, Justice and Healing Council has made a lengthy submission to the Commission’s Towards Healing processes. Meanwhile, an appearance at the inquiry by Cardinal Pell is eagerly awaited by both critics and supporters.

Outside the Victorian inquiry, support group CLAN (Care Leavers Australia Network) spoke for people brought up in “care”:

Care Leavers Australia Network outside Victoria's Parliament House

Care Leavers Australia Network outside Victoria's Parliament House. Courtesy CLAN website

The Royal Commission is expected to take several years to complete its investigations and make recommendations to the Federal government.

via Global Voices » Feature

Labels: ,

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Nobel Peace Prize Fails to Pacify

The prestigious Nobel Peace Prize 2013 was awarded to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). The Committee declared:

[The OPCW and its relative conventions] have defined the use of chemical weapons as a taboo under international law. Recent events in Syria, where chemical weapons have again been put to use, have underlined the need to enhance the efforts to do away with such weapons.

Social networks were stunned by what followed as the Committee was unable to reach out to the winner:

This wacko situation, which emerged yesterday (October 11) was highlighted by The Next Web which greeted the OPCW:

That’s right, the folks behind the Nobel Prize turned to Twitter — which started out as a place to tell the world what you ate for lunch and other such frivolities – to let OPCW know it needed to get in touch.

Let that reality sink in for a moment.

The Washington Post wraps-up this year's missed calls by Nobel Prize winners.

Similarly to last year's winner, the decision of the Norwegian Nobel Committee drew huge attention and sparked dellusional comments as the list of nominees counted a series of high-profile individuals such as 16-year-old Pakistani Malala Yousafzai.

Indeed, requiting the OPCW was a surprise even for some Nobel watchers. In the past days, Malala Yousafzai, the pupil who risked her life to campaign for female education, was considered a contender for this year's Peace Prize. Malala supporters were in dismay after the Committee broke the news, and disappointment innundated the social networks.

Ironically, yesterday was also the International Day of the Girl Child, created by the United Nations to promote education for girls. Prior to the Committee's announcement, Curt Rice, outspoken commentator promoting gender equality especially in science and technology among others, hoped:

Indeed, out of 44 women having received a Nobel Prize since 1901, only 15 have been awarded for Peace, and often one prize has been shared between at least two female winners. Males thus clearly outnumber Nobel prizewinners. Despite the Committee's arguments that gender doesn't matter, Rice urged it to take gender into account and to do so in a respectful fashion:

We can’t have a disproportionate number of single male prizewinners, and then make up for it by dividing a depreciated award among several women one year. The committee should not improve gender balance by creating a fire sale on female activists.

Of course, Malala Yousafzai not getting the Nobel Peace Prize does not make everyone out there unhappy:

Another edgy stumbling block is the identity of the winner. For a second successive year, the prestigious award goes to an organization rather than to individuals, succeeding to 2012 Peace Prize which went to the European Union leading many to question the rationale behind the Committee's decisions:

Zeynep Tufekci, assistant professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, takes however a firm stance in favour of the OPCW getting the reward:

What the world is desperately lacking, and the Nobel Committee, for once, rewarded, is the kind of boring, institutional work of peace that advances the lives of people. Everyday. Little by little. But without which lives are shattered and countries crumble (as they do now).


[T]he celebrity has moved on, the cameras have moved on, and those under-appreciated bureaucrats, technicians, the planners, the institutions that improve lives of millions of people, everyday, get dismissed, underfunded, even ridiculed. Hey, they are just bureaucrats and technocrats! Yes, one by one, they are just that. But as institutions they are what the world needs much, much more of.

Some find the Committee had missed the momentum for awarding the OPCW with the Peace Prize:

Clearly sarcastic comments about the Committee's decision also flourished, acknowledging that the OPCW won the Prize “because its director [Üzümcü] has three umlauts in his name,” or clarifying the “selection committee to chose India's official entry for Oscars and the Nobel Peace Prize Committee think the same way.”

Beyond sarcasm and the institutions-not-individuals decision is an important consideration: was the OPCW rewarded for its work behind the scenes since 1997 or was the Nobel Peace Prize an attempt of subtle political communication? Some think the OPCW did not seriously do its job. More importantly, a wide number of commentators both in social and mainstream media have made a link between the OPCW's prestigious reward and recent massacres in Syria proven to be caused by chemical weapons, arsenal whose destruction the OPCW is overseeing. The Nobel Prize Committee (unconvincingly) denied such allegations:

As Jenan Moussa, a renowned journalist having extensively covered Syria, others also doubt the alleged missing link between the Peace prize and Syria's chemical disarmament process led by the OCPW:

Syrian protestors from Kafranbel, known for drawing witty cartoons and posing for photographs with them with uncovered faces, posted their opinion denouncing the Nobel Committee's decision:

Facing the backlash, OPCW director announced that Syria will join the OPCW as the 190th member state, a declaration that, surprisingly, has not drawn much attention. The OPCW did not, however, address opinions that hailed Russian President Vladimir Putin's role in letting the OPCW in Syria. While some consider requiting the OPCW with the Peace Prize is “in line of flawed discourse that Obama & Putin ‘avoided war’ in Syria,” netizens seriously highlighted Putin's involvement in the ongoing effort to dismantle Syria's chemical weapons:

Such reactions follow up an initiative announced by Russian public figures nominating President Putin for Nobel Peace Prize 2014. Ladies and gents, make your games for who will get the (less and less prestigious, more and more divisive) award next year:

via Global Voices » Feature

Labels: ,

Friday, October 11, 2013

India's Women to Take on Fear, Harassment and Sexual Violence in “Action Hero”

Blank Noise, a volunteer-run community project that seeks to confront public sexual harassment, or eve teasing as it is known in India, has launched a reality game called the Action Hero meant to tackle the fear that many Indian women have toward their cities.

According to the project blog, anyone and any number of people can participate in the game, which is played simultaneously across cities, countries, towns and time zones. The player will have to be equipped with a Twitter account and a basic mobile phone that allows him or her to receive text messages with instructions and tasks, and also has to start from a location that is unfamiliar to him or her.

The website explains why this game is necessary:

At Blank Noise we have largely used the web space to build dialogue on the issue of sexual violence. We announce events, build participation, work towards growing a community of men and women who take ownership and responsibility of sexual violence. We intervene across spaces with multiple forms of media (live street actions/ t shirts/ posters/ sound installations/ interviews) but rely largely on the web to build testimonials of sexual violence. There are spaces and communities this blog space hasn't accessed. That's also where we count on you.

Imge courtesy Blank Noise. CC BY-NC-SA 2.5

Image courtesy Blank Noise. CC BY-NC-SA 2.5

Founder of Blank Noise Jasmeen Patheja explained the game further to the Indian Express:

The Action Hero Game is designed to deal with fear and to make the ‘action hero’ player acutely aware of his or her presence in his or her city. Through the ‘tasks and challenges', it enables new behaviour, thus building new associations and memories with a public space.

She further explained to the Deccan Chronicles:

Jasmeen Patheja, the originator of Blank Noise explains that being defensive and hyper alert does not lead to “feeling safe” and that was when she conceptualised the idea. She says, “We keep ourselves safe by building defense rather than making it familiar.” The project hopes that each individual has the ability and power to influence change in one’s society.

On October 5, 2013, the game was played in these cities of India:

View Action Hero Game #1 in a larger map

Anjali Manakkad from Bangalore described what tasks were she given and how she responded. Her fourth task was to sit and stare at the clouds:

I went to one of the benches down the road and I left my camera pack on the side and I stretched myself and bent my head backwards. This was actually very peaceful and no one seemed to be curious or mocking by my actions. I don't know if anyone really noticed me as I was looking up most of the times. But I knew for sure that no one was sniggering or talking about me as I heard a few footsteps pass me by with no reaction.

Laura Valencia, a participant, said in an article in The Alternative:

The first few instructions were straightforward. I walked with my arms swinging, sat in a place and got comfortable, and made small talk with strangers. As time went on, I found myself less obsessed with checking to see if a new instruction had come as I sank into playing the game. I found my temporary happy place about two hours in while standing on a street corner and giggling.

Action Hero Game 1. Image courtesy Blank Noise. CC BY-NC-SA 2.5

Action Hero Game 1. Image courtesy Blank Noise. CC BY-NC-SA 2.5

In the Blank Noise Action heroes blog, participants shared their reactions:

Action Hero Ash thought:

The funny thing about all this is our general attitude to it. It is something that we women expect to experience. We ‘modern’ women may have stopped taking it lying down, and take action when we can. Nevertheless, it’s a sad fact of life that eve-teasing is a normal part of life. We Bombayites even considered ourselves luckier, because at least we weren’t like our sisters in Delhi – who’d travel in busses with their arms crossed at their chest, pointed needles poking out of their fists at either side!

The next game is scheduled for October 19, 2013. To register for free, email

via Global Voices » Feature

Labels: ,

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Court Ruling in Discrimination Case Puts Caribbean First

In March 2011, a Jamaican national arrived in Barbados on holiday – but instead of the typical visitor's welcome, Shanique Myrie was subjected to a cavity search, kept in a dark room and subsequently deported, even though she was carrying no illegal substances. Claiming that her rights as a CARICOM citizen had been trampled upon, Ms. Myrie hired lawyers and a year later, the case was being heard before the Caribbean Court of Justice. Jamaican blog Active Voice took note of the “landmark” case, making the point that the issue of class was playing a key role in the hearing. Back then, the blogger, Annie Paul, explained:

This landmark case is not only about nationality, it’s also about ‘class’, the ungainly elephant in the room no one wants to explicitly mention. It is important to portray Myrie as ‘decent’ ‘respectable’ and ‘sober’ because the image of Jamaicans in the region is overwhelmingly influenced by the higglers, DJs and hustlers who often represent the face of Jamaica, visiting, even migrating to other countries, where they are not always welcome.

Why? because these enterprising but capitally-challenged individuals (ie owning little capital, whether financial or social) often violate all the dearly held norms of ‘decency’ ‘respectability’ and ‘good taste’ with their choice of garments, raw speech and boisterous behaviour. They regularly transgress the zealously guarded borders of civility and decorum as much as the borders of nation states which under the new Chaguaramas Treaty they now have a right to breach.

Perhaps this was why Myrie was given the finger when she arrived in prim and proper Barbados, regionally glossed as ‘Little England’. Not just because she was Jamaican but because she was perceived to be a particular kind of Jamaican.

Last Friday, the court ruled in favour of Shanique Myrie – and bloggers have been taking about it. Today, Propaganda Press posted the executive summary of the ruling. The Support Shanique Myrie Facebook page was also full of status updates and comments about the favourable judgment:

Shanique won, we all won, justice is served we r free to move abt OUR caribbean!!

Luther Tull wrote:

Congrats to Ms Myrie, U stood firm against a state n won, some of these officers don't seem to think that people have basic HUMAN RIGHTS n abuse what authority they have, so this victory is for all the people of the caribbean who were abuse n was scared to challenge the state.

Jersey Jersey quipped:

…looks like Barbados may have to pay some money that we cant (sic) afford. Civil Servants again, we need to be like Greece, fire them when they don't perform

The Facebook page, unsurprisingly, kept diligent track of the events, and was very clear in the understanding that the case was also about the state of regional relations. Quoting from a Jamaica Observer editorial, the page administrator posted this update:

All of this has raised questions about the value and relevance of Caricom to the citizens of its 15 member countries.

Indeed, these events have created resentment and an inclination to dismiss Caricom as nothing but a government ‘talk shop'. The governments themselves have not done enough to address the problem, which, if a solution is not found, will undermine the worth of Caricom to many of its citizens.

On January 28, the highly regarded former prime minister of Jamaica, PJ Patterson, publicly asked at a meeting of the Rotary Club in Guyana: ‘What purpose does the Caricom passport serve if travelling within the region is still like an obstacle race?’

This post explored the issue even further:

As a Jamaica[n] living in Barbados, I must say that we all need to look beyond our nationalities and face the issue for what [it] is. Whether the young lady is telling the truth or not, this incident should be used by both states to take an internal look at its domestic policies and address the various issues with prudence. Issues such as, to what extent are we truly committed to free movement?

Is there proper legislation in place to ensure that Immigration officers, Customs Officers, Police and other civil servants do not usurp their powers? I can attest to ill treatment from Barbadians at the airport too, but one could proffer that this is exemplary of immigration officers all over…or not?

The point is that we need to train our public personnel to address each other in a cordial manner and to not constantly overstep their boundaries. There is an underlying problem that we must address, and it has very little to do with Jamaicans backing Jamaicans and Barbadians being Xenophobic…we need to reassess the extent to which we are committed to integration and to earning rather than demanding respect.

Finally, Barbados Underground wrote an in-depth blog post about the outcome of the controversial case:

The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) decision between Shanique Myrie and Barbados…continues to resonate across the region – editorials, talk shows and on the streets. What is evident is that members of Caricom need to better manage how we promote freedom of movement given our obligation under the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas (RTC).

Loud by its silence has been the reaction of Barbados to the decision. The DNA of the Barbados government is to be slow in deliberation. One wonders though if the Prime Minister sees a need to demonstrate a departure from the norm given the psychological punch Barbadians have taken since the decision was delivered.

There is general acceptance that Immigration, Customs and Police officials in Barbados need to be more efficient in the execution of their duties. The Myrie matter hopefully has embarrassed the country enough to drive needed change at our borders. The bigger issue arising from the CCJ decision is the protocol which ALL Caricom States must establish to allow Caricom nationals to cross borders…

The post went on to question the wisdom of a free market economy

There are lessons coming out of the EU experience which exposes the weakness of a free market. There are the borders of member countries whose economies are stronger which will be bombarded. There is currently discussion in the UK about floating a referendum to decide on the whether to leave the EU. Until then its borders continue to be peppered by the Easter Europeans.

There is something wrong with the Caricom free market model when there is mass movement from the largest members to the smallest.

…and ended with more questions than answers:

Now that we have this decision how will Jamaica treat with the Haitians? How will Barbados respond to the CCJ decision? Hopefully it will not ignore the CCJ Order…

via Global Voices » Feature

Labels: ,