Monday, July 28, 2008

The New Yorker: Way Over Americans' Heads

I know I'm a bit late on covering the topic of the New Yorker's controversial cartoon cover of Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, but given my journalism background, I felt the need to comment.

I first heard of the controversy on the morning news and as the image of the picture in question appeared on my television, I couldn't help but put my head in my hands and groan.

Not because I was offended. Not because I really think Obama is a Muslim terrorist and his wife is an aggressive militant. But because I know that there are Americans out there that do have these misconceptions about African Americans and Muslims. Unfortunately, not all of us are able to make that distinction between satire and reality.

Jon Friedman from MarketWatch was exactly on point when he wrote in his Media Web blog:

The magazine is sticking its finger in the eye of every bigot who hates the Obamas because they're African-Americans, every racist who seeks to polarize the electorate and every ignoramus who mistrusts the senator from Illinois without examining his record and background.

The New Yorker was indeed satirizing the ignorance of Americans who are quick to make generalizations and stereotypes without examining the underlying issues. But, as I suspected, there are many out there who will look at this magazine cover and say, "Look, Obama really is a Muslim terrorist!" It didn't take long for me to find videos on YouTube supporting this but I refuse to draw attention to specific ones because regardless of my political views, there is no need for such bigotry, hatred and stereotypes based on religion and skin color. If you so desire to seek such commentary, it'll be easy enough to come across.

Now the issue at hand is the New Yorker's role in publishing such a controversial cartoon. Journalism provides commentary on society, and a liberal publication such as the New Yorker is known to do that through its cartoons. But, given the sensitive nature of the cartoon and the inability for some to make the connection that it is satirical, should the New Yorker have expressed more caution? Where is the line of responsibility drawn?

I can't really say I have any solid answers for that and I'm pretty sure no one really does. The magazine cover has the potential to reinforce these negative stereotypes but as journalism, it is a great piece of social commentary. It's not the New Yorker's fault that some people can't get past their own biases and Obama unfortunately has to go on damage control over issues that are irrelevant to his presidency. In addition, Muslims have to fight off the stereotypes they've been battling since 9/11.

Then again, this controversy in itself proves the New Yorker's point in the first place.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Bashir's Indictment Brings Mixed Views

Following up on the indictment of Sudan's president Bashir, a more in-depth look into reactions around the world is necessary and it looks as though the majority are leaning against the ICC's decision.

The Economist published a great piece that captured the teeter-tottering question of whether this will actually help Sudan or indeed hurt it even more:

"Will things get bloodier if the indictment goes ahead? It is not clear either way. Last year the court indicted the minister for humanitarian affairs in the Sudanese government, together with a janjaweed leader. There was certainly no reduction in the violence then, but nor did it get worse. Nor is it clear how the UN Security Council will react. Justice must give way to peace, pragmatists cry. But there can be no lasting peace without justice, idealists reply."

Reactions from bloggers in Sudan, the rest of Africa and other regions offer a sobering view on the genocide charges with fear looming about what will become of the already unstable nation. Global Voices Online compiled this extensive look into the blog world. I'm not even going to try and summarize because they provided such an in-depth collection of the overall opinion floating around that it's best if you take a look for yourself.

But I will draw attention to some who have come to the defense of the indictment to provide a more balanced debate. Support of the decision has surfaced in Kenya with this article reporting that Kenyans believe Bashir should appear to the ICC to state his role in the genocide. An editorial that ran in Kenya's Daily Nation called the move "the single most important development in the long struggle to end the mass slaughter in the Darfur region," because it will send an important message to leaders across the world--including the U.S.:

"American forces in Iraq have been accused of activities verging on war crimes. There will be some who think President Bush should also be in the dock."

Other supporters have included human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Refugees International who issued this statement on Reuters, citing the decision as "correct and necessary." HRW issued a press release also voicing support.

The general argument on the human rights front is that this indictment will send a forceful message along with becoming a catalyst to end the atrocities that are occurring.

I'm teeter-tottering on this myself.

This is the first indictment on the Hague's behalf and the concept of ownership can be extremely powerful--as discussed in my posts about satellite imagery making a compelling argument for human rights abuses. Being held responsible for acts of genocide is just another facet to that ownership.

But it's necessary to take into consideration the dire consequences this could have, which bloggers throughout Africa, including the Sudanese, are rightfully expressing concern for. Not only may this result in backlash from the Janjaweed against civilians but also the UN peacekeepers and humanitarian aides.

It's too early to determine whether the indictment will have any positive effect on the crisis in Darfur but all situations need to be carefully weighed as the ICC moves forward.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Sudan President Faces Charges of Genocide

According to the Washington Post today, President Omar Al-Bashir of Sudan could be charged with acts of genocide by the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. It would be the first time the Hague has charged a sitting head of state with war crimes.

Evidence of genocide will be issued by ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo on Monday, leaving open the possibility of an arrest warrant for Bashir.

This is a major step in the Sudan crisis but there is apprehension from UN officials who fear that this may cripple peace efforts with the country and endanger peacekeepers. The other issue to examine is that Bashir has continually resisted peacekeeping efforts and has failed to live up to agreements with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

It's a bit of a hairy situation given the vulnerable condition of the country and the political situation. African Loft offers an interesting analysis of the situation noting that along with the safety of UN peacekeepers the role of China and Russia in the crisis is crucial. China is a large supplier of guns and ammunition to Africa while Russia, who has shown support for several tyrannical African leaders may be influential in working against the ICC's charges.

The story should be interesting as new developments unfold. In the end, all politics aside, there is a need for some type of action to be taken.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Anonymous Texts Helping To Fight Crime

I've often written about how text messaging or SMS can be utilized for human rights, as it has been in projects like Ushahidi in Kenya and Sokwanele and Kubatana in Zimbabwe. Apparently, a trend in using SMS to fight crime has been emerging right here in the United States.

Just over a year ago Boston became the first city in the nation to allow citizens to send in tips to its anonymous hotline, Crime Stoppers, via text messaging.

More cities are starting to implement similar systems, according to the Associate Press which reports that Tampa, San Francisco, Seattle, Denver, Indianapolis, New Orleans and Detroit have all jumped on the bandwagon.

The texts are virtually impossible to track since they pass through a server that encrypts cell phone numbers before they get to police. This, along with the ease and popularity of sending text messages, makes it an ideal way for police to receive tips, especially with younger citizens who rely on texting just as much as they do speaking to communicate.

With successful human rights campaigns using SMS internationally, it only seems logical that a system like this could be used to report crime on a national level.