Friday 3 December 2010

Worrying about Wikileaks

I originally wrote this for my blog at Reuters AlertNet, where it ran on 3 December 2010.


With the number of pages of media commentary about WikiLeaks now possibly exceeding the original 250,000 cables in question, we seem to have almost every possible angle in play. Still, amid all the chatter, one consideration is missing.

Thoughts on the leaked cables themselves have been a mix of amusement, embarrassment, boredom and excitement. Opinions of Julian Assange and his actions have ranged from simplistic tributes to primitive calls for his assassination.

Friday 10 September 2010

With Media Like These, Who Needs Enemies?

I posted this on my Reuters AlertNet blog on 10 September 2010, following a Florida-based pastor's threats to burn a copy of the Koran. The whole thing was a downward spiral of stupidity: the hateful ignorance of a book-burner, the lunacy of the world media for giving Terry Jones any attention at all, and then, six months later when the act finally happened, the mob violence that killed several UN workers in Afghanistan in some bizarrely conceived retaliation. Altogether, you might call it one of humanity's more embarrassing moments of recent years... But while you may not expect any different from religious extremists, it was the role of the world media that most shocked me. I received some criticism for attacking the media response like this, but I stand by the argument in full: news outlets have power and therefore responsibility.


Looking at the dismal output of the international media in recent days, the only thing one can say is, shame on the lot of you.

The international media has elevated a non-entity lunatic to the heights of worldwide stardom in nanoseconds. Someone with a near-zero base of public support who wants to upset as many people as possible has been given multiple tribunes from which to incite hate and possibly violence.

Every even moderately sane public figure has spoken out against the preacher's intentions -- and with the media pushing the story at full bore, this has meant top-level political leaders, who presumably have better things to do, having to waste time damning the obviously damnable. Are they now expected to do this for every nutter who raises his head?

About the only public figures who didn't take this clear and sensible stand were the editors in newsrooms around the world. Why didn't they dismiss this story out of hand like most of the world managed to?

"But it was a story, so we had to cover it", will be the reply.

Nonsense. You made it a story.

Friday 28 May 2010

Dining with al-Qaeda

I penned this book review for my Reuters AlertNet blog on 28 May 2010.


Let’s start with full disclosure: I work with the author of this book. So, yes, I’m likely to say good things about it.

But, to be honest, I would anyway, because what my colleague Hugh Pope has done in Dining with al-Qaeda: Three Decades Exploring the Many Worlds of the Middle East, is at once revealing, convincing and, um, sort of fun.

The first two adjectives won’t surprise anyone who knows Hugh or who is familiar with the reputation he earned for serious reporting from the Middle East over decades. The third, well, let’s save that for now...

Monday 24 May 2010

PAX: A New Idea in Conflict Prevention?

Another blog post I wrote for Reuters AlertNet, this 24 May 2010 piece describes a project with some fascinating potential. I've been loosely involved with them as a kind of advisor ever since.


I had a fascinating meeting at Google in London this morning. Attended by some very senior journalists, former top-level government officials, and representatives of NGOs, universities, and think tanks, the three- or four-hour session looked at a proposal for a new way to approach conflict prevention.

Called "PAX", the idea is to gather SMS, images and video from the general public in areas of conflict (in the style of FrontlineSMS and Ushahidi), and combine that with satellite imagery to form a massive open database that could be accessed to help pressure key governments and others into preventative action.

Sunday 16 May 2010

HIV/AIDS Foundation Working with a Regime That Locks Up AIDS Activists?

This post originally appeared on my Reuters AlertNet blog on 16 May 2010, and it was then updated a couple times.


On 10 May, the Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR) was one of many organisations that signed a public letter to US and UN officials protesting the Uzbek government's wrongful imprisonment of Maksim Popov, an HIV prevention educator, psychologist, and director of a small NGO in Uzbekistan. As is typical for this oppressive regime in its approach to any independent activity whatsover, Popov was sentenced to seven years imprisonment as a result of his HIV prevention efforts.

Strange then that amfAR is organising the high-profile Cinema Against AIDS 2010 next week with event co-chair "H.E. Amb. Gulnara Karimova" -- ie, the daughter of the Uzbek dictator Islam Karimov and currently Uzbekistan's ambassador to Spain. Karimova's name disappeared from the amfAR web page for Cinema Against AIDS 2010 for a short time -- perhaps in response to contacts by other organisations who signed the letter -- but it is somewhat strangely back again.

Wednesday 12 May 2010

Forgetting a Massacre

This short piece appeared on my Reuters AlertNet blog on 12 May 2010.


Tomorrow, 13 May, marks the fifth anniversary of the Andijan massacre in Uzbekistan, when state security forces opened fire on mass demonstrations, killing some 750 civilians. The regime in Tashkent would like everyone to forget about it, of course, and they spent a long time after the event hunting down witnesses and threatening them and their families into signing false confessions in a series of show trials.

The EU's record shows they are willing to forget, dropping sanctions over the years without any of their initial criteria being met, including the call for an independent investigation into Andijan.

Thursday 29 April 2010

The High Price of Five Years of Forgetting

This article appeared in the European Voice on 29 April 2010.


"The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting". Milan Kundera's words should haunt Europe on 13 May. The fifth anniversary of the massacre in Andijan, a town in eastern Uzbekistan, ought to remind decision-makers, particularly those in Berlin, how the EU first raised the hopes of the victims, and then dashed them.

Wednesday 28 April 2010

Today's Unknown Dissidents

I originally wrote this for my Reuters AlertNet blog on 28 April 2010.


In the Boston Globe today, columnist Jeff Jacoby asks an interesting question: "Why aren't democratic dissidents as well-known in the free world today as the dissidents who challenged the Soviet empire were in the 1970s and 1980s?" But the answers offered only go part of the way to explaining the phenomenon.

Inevitably, the issue arises of competition for space online: in a 72-zillion-Tweets-per-minute world, today's dissidents "struggle to be heard". It sounds a reasonable argument at first, but it quickly breaks down under analysis.