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.