Monday, August 25, 2014

A bleak future of Islamophobia & Islamic extremism

The kidnapping and murder of American journalist James Foley has shocked many people around the world. The killing by Muslim extremists has also rekindled the debate concerning what the West should do to curb the growing tide of fundamentalism.

Whilst most academics and Muslim leaders say that the majority of Muslims are peaceful, there are a growing number of Muslims who are angry at Western foreign policy and exploit the Koran for their own purposes.

Religious interpretations

The interpretation of religious texts is often disputed, be it the Bible or Koran. Some words are taken literally, whilst others are softened or even ignored for convenience. Indeed the commandment "Thou shalt not kill" is not always observed even by Christian societies who take part in conflicts around the globe.

Hebrew texts make exceptions and allows for justified killing in the context of warfare, capital punishment, and self-defence.

The Koran too, makes clear its stand on killing. ""Do not take any human being's life which God has declared to be sacred other than in (the pursuit of) justice: this has He enjoined upon you so that you might use your reason." [Quran 6:151]

However, it comes down to interpretation and the twisting of words. Jews might seek justification in its texts that allows killing in times of war. Meanwhile Islamic extremists might suggest that their executions and murders are only carried out in the "pursuit of justice".

Whilst many Christians discard parts of the Bible, deeming certain sections to be incongruous with current times, some Muslims take the whole of the Koran very seriously.

Graven images & blasphemy

For example, the Bible states, within the Ten Commandments that one should not make a graven image or false idol. In Exodus 20:4-6 it says, "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me."

There are similar tracts in the Koran too. But whilst most Christians no longer take no issue with images of Christ or even depictions of God, for Muslims their attitude is very different.

There are conflicting opinions whether Islam prohibits graven images. Not all Islamic traditions ban images of Mohammed. Indeed some are pretty lax about pictures of lesser figures. For Muslims, the rule against depicting God and the prophets comes from the Hadith, a collection of sayings and actions attributed to Mohammed.

A few years back a cartoonist in Denmark drew pictures depicting Mohammed and drew ire from both radical and moderate Muslims alike [tvnewswatch: Trouble flares over Mohammed cartoons].

But whilst some Muslims condemned the cartoonist only with words, others threatened both the artist and Denmark with violence [tvnewswatch: Denmark faces financial crisis in wake of cartoon row].

Extreme opinions

Years before 9/11, the Taliban destroyed massive Buddhist statues in Afghanistan. They were seen by the ruling Taliban as being false prophets - false idols that demanded their destruction. Indeed the Taliban's war on art was inspired by the Koran which is often interpreted as forbidding the portrayal of living things.

"Personally I agree with the destruction of the Buddhist statues," one Muslim tells tvnewswatch. This was no flippant remark. Kadeer, a man aged about 40 and living in Shanghai, spoke passionately concerning his beliefs.

As he sat sipping an espresso coffee, he spoke of how he supported the actions of the Mujahideen and justified their actions saying, "How many times must we be hit before we react?"

Like many 'extremists' he insisted that no-one in the Twin Towers were innocent and are all were guilty of propping up the imperialist machine that is America. It is up to the US and the enemies of Islam to call a truce first, Kadeer insisted.

In spite of such views he says that Muslims are nonetheless peaceful. "What does Salaam Alaikum mean?" he asks. "It means peace be upon you," he explains.

Speaking very animatedly and with conviction, Kadeer, a Jordanian now living in China for the last 14 years, says that his views are not of a small minority of Muslims.

"I'd say around 60% of Jordanians support the Mujahideen". Though this cannot be verified, it does give an indication of how much anger exists in the Middle East directed at the West concerning their perceived interference in foreign lands.

But he calls for change not just in the West, but everywhere. Leaders everywhere exploit their citizens and that needs to change before there's peace, Kadeer says.

Kadeer is just one man amongst many who are angry at the West. And while he seemed unlikely to launch terror attacks himself, his views expressed were certainly unnerving. But there are others who not only hold such views but willing to stage violent attacks.

Suspicions and divisions

In Britain there is a significant Muslim population and in recent days they have been become the focus of suspicion. There is a fear, especially amongst the predominantly white indigenous population, that all Muslims are a threat, despite claims to the contrary.

And reports that up to 500 British jihadists have left Britain to fight in Syria and Iraq only raise levels of distrust.

The likes of extremist groups such as Al Muhajiroun and protagonists such as Anjem Choudary, Abu Hamza and others don't help the cause of moderate Muslims who insist they are not a threat to Britain and its way of life.

Losing hearts & minds

An article published in the Independent on Sunday reported that Muslims were themselves to blame. "We share blame for creating jihad generation" a Muslim strategist claimed. a former senior Muslim Army officer suggested that many young Muslims in British inner cities had been left disenfranchised by society.

During the early throes of the War on Terror which began soon after 9/11, there was much talk of "winning the hearts and minds" of Muslims around the world.

That policy has largely failed, claims Afzal Amin, a former army officer and chairman of the Armed Forces Muslim Association. And he says there must be more efforts to "defeat the coherent message of international terrorists who've hijacked religion for their own ends".

Young British Muslims' disenfranchisement is exploited by radical Islamic groups who point to the faults of NATO and its allies. The torture and prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib, the disproportionate number of civilians killed in Iraq and Afghanistan and the US backing of Israel has not helped.

Syria and Iraq have now become bases for the new 'al-Qaeda' while Britain has become a recruiting ground and outpost [Telegraph].

The West justifies its continued military action in Iraq and elsewhere saying groups like ISIS pose a threat to the region and western interests. Militants continue their 'jihad' saying that they are merely "seeking justice" for Western crimes against Muslims.

With no side willing to call a halt to hostilities, extremism is only likely to grow with each allied strike. Conversely, each terrorist attack, beheading or atrocity will only cement the resolve of the West in what seems like a never ending War on Terror.

Britain's Home Secretary has promised new laws to combat the rise of extremism [Telegraph]. However, such laws may do little to strike at the deep seated causes. Indeed the future may well be one of increased Islamophobia and Islamic extremism.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Saturday, August 23, 2014

China uses Foley murder, Ferguson riots as propaganda

Chinese media has capitalised on the murder of kidnapped journalist James Foley and the riots in Ferguson, Missouri as a propaganda tool.

Certain sections of the press in China have exploited the incidents to criticise US foreign policy and point a finger at the disquiet and ethnic divisions that exist in some parts of the United States.

On August 20th, soon after video  emerged showing Foley's execution by Islamic extremists in Iraq, Beijing-based finance magazine Caijing and Hong Kong-based Phoenix Media both published posts on their official Weibo accounts about the US journalist.

Half truths

"The American reporter beheaded by ISIS blamed the US government for the tragedy," Caijing's Weibo post began. It then quotes Foley as saying, "I call on my friends, family, and loved ones to rise up against my real killers: the US government," who ordered recent air strikes targeting ISIS.

Whilst Foley did utter these words, Caijing crucially neglected to point out that ISIS militants had forced him to read them aloud in front of the camera.

Phoenix Media's Weibo post followed in a similar vein and posted several photos of the execution including a partly censored photograph of Foley's body lying in the desert.

"US negligence"

The state-run Global Times, known for its nationalist editorials, took another tack, intimating on its Weibo account that Foley's death resulted from US government negligence towards its own citizens. The Global Times asked rhetorically on its official Weibo account, "No matter where you are, can you always rely on the U.S. military?" and followed with a nose-picking emoticon.

Public screenings

Meanwhile in Beijing a large TV was used to display footage of the execution interspersed with riots in America that followed the shooting dead of black teenager Michael Brown by a police officer. Edited into the video loop were clips of "happy families skipping in front of various Beijing landmarks" and "photographs of local school children holding handicrafts and helping old people."

"This type of juxtaposition is fairly common in China," says George of That's Beijing, adding that images of peace and prosperity in China are typically contrasted with clips of violence around the world, promoting the narrative that "chaos looms beyond our pleasant and safe borders."

According to another online source, the video was unlikely to be mandated by the state. Dr. Xu Wu, an associate professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism, told Quartz that if the government had the intention to use foreign violence as propaganda, it wouldn't just be in Dongzhimen in Beijing. "You'd see it across China…everywhere," he said.

However, the screen in question often shows broadcasts from the state run channel CCTV. Furthermore there was an official looking logo shown on the bottom right of the screen, which we've as yet been unable to identify.

Anger from citizens

Whilst the state media may be trying to exploit troubles abroad, Chinese citizens were outraged both by the murder of Foley and some of the media reportage.

"Global Times, how despicable," wrote one user. "All day you use a magnifying glass to look for dirt on other people." Another user asked sarcastically, "I wonder what the Chinese government would do if you, Little Editor, were kidnapped."

Across Chinese social networks there were  expressions of horror at Foley's death and anger at the extremists who killed him. Many called his killers "monsters" or asked for a moment of silence for war correspondents. Some users posted pictures of lit candles on Weibo as others wished for peace in the Middle East.

Reports: Foreign Policy / IBT / YouTube

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Friday, August 22, 2014

Social media provides battle ground for terrorists

Social media is increasingly being exploited by terrorists to disseminate graphic videos, images and messages from around the world.

But the very size and automation of such networks is making it difficult for the companies concerned to control.

"Heart of their jihad"

"Social media is at the heart of their jihad," says Steven Stalinsky, executive director of the Middle East Media Research Institute. Indeed by posting a video showing the beheading of kidnapped journalist James Foley on YouTube the terror group achieved far greater publicity than it may have achieved should they have posted it on a jihadist website.

News of the beheading spread like wildfire across social media, with users viewing the video and sharing the link on other sites. Meanwhile the hash tag #JamesFoley almost immediately became a trending topic on Twitter.

Instilling fear

The posts are intended to instil fear, attract new recruits and raise money for such terror networks, and to some degree it is working. Groups like ISIS have received huge publicity and instilled fear amongst many Western populations and politicians alike. From reports it seems clear that many British Muslims have left to join these radical groups. It is believed that some 500 British jihadists are fighting in Iraq and Syria, with half that number coming from London alone.

And whether directly or indirectly through the use of such tools as Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and Skype, ISIS have built up a massive wealth estimated to be in the region of $1 billion.

Online battle

Curtailing the use of these social media platforms by terrorist groups is difficult. While YouTube, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook all have rules about what can be posted, it often requires users flagging up content before the companies can act.

Eileen Naughton, the new managing director of Google in the UK, explained that while the video concerned was "really troubling", YouTube, which is owned by Google, deals with a deluge of data every minute, making it very difficult to immediately remove content.

Indeed the video remained online throughout much of Tuesday 19th August before being taken down after being flagged for being in violation of YouTube policy concerning "violent and disgusting content". In a statement the company said that while it defended "everyone's right to express unpopular points of view," it draws the line on several subjects, including pornography and bomb making.

"Terrorist organizations have moved their online presence to YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other social media outlets," Gabriel Weimann, a University of Haifa professor, said in a recent report on terrorism and social media. "They have turned to the new media not only because counterterrorism agencies have disrupted their traditional online presence but also because the new media offers huge audiences and ease of use."

Breaking terror laws by watching

However, ordinary users of these social networks run the risk of being labelled a terrorist or breaking terror laws. Scotland Yard's Counter Terrorism Command, SO15, has said it will be investigating the video and has warned people against viewing the graphic footage themselves.

Meanwhile, a Metropolitan Police spokesperson said, "We would like to remind the public that viewing, downloading or disseminating extremist material within the UK may constitute an offence under Terrorism legislation."

Social media backlash

There have been some examples of self policing and citizens themselves reporting links. Twitter and Facebook users soon began posting pleas to not watch the content, calling it horrific, sickening and shameful. The hashtag #ISISMediaBlackout also became popular.

But last night it was clear that the battle lines were moving as jihadists began posting on Diaspora and JustPaste.it.

In the four-minute, 40-second video, posted on YouTube, James Foley kneels in the desert in an orange uniform as a masked man dressed in black stands beside him. Foley recites a statement calling the US government his "real killers" and disavowing his American citizenship before he is beheaded.

There was mixed opinion about whether one should watch the video, law breaking aside. Channel Four News reader Krishnan Guru-Murthy suggested that simply by watching one was giving ISIS the oxygen of  publicity and submitting to their intention of spreading fear.

"Spreading a video, or even watching it yourself and telling people about it, is simply doing exactly what IS and al-Qaeda want. It is, in effect, helping them," he argues.

However, he tended to skim over the fact that while most media did not show the video, by reporting its content they were still "telling people about it" and thus in Krishnan's own words "helping them".

The video may have been an attempt to stop Western aggression, but it will likely have the opposite effect. There is a danger however that anti-Islamic tensions may rise inflaming already volatile relations between Muslims and the general population in parts of Britain, Europe and the US

Reports: BBC / Channel 4 News / Guardian / TelegraphIBT / Vice News / Emergency Management / Press TV / Guardian / NY Post / Register / Channel 4 News

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Good Samaritans hard to find in China

Five people have appeared in a Chinese court charged in connection with the beating to death of a woman in a McDonald's restaurant earlier this year.

The woman, 37-year-old Wu Shuoyan, is alleged to have been killed last May simply for refusing to hand over her phone number to cult members [Sky News / BBC / Telegraph / Guardian / Straits Times / Tomo News - YouTubeYouTube - viewer discretion advised]. But just as shocking as the woman's murder was that people in the restaurant stood watching rather than stepping in to help. In fact some even attempted to fim the incident on their mobile phones.

Outrage

The murder, filmed on CCTV and on mobile phones, sparked outrage across China. The incident also triggered much soul searching as many Chinese netizens questioned why no-one stepped in to help the woman as she was repeatedly hit with a broom handle [Shanghaiist / D Mail]. 

The fact that nobody stepped in to help is not unusual. Indeed there are countless examples where people have ignored people in distress or need of help.

Child left for dead

In October 2011 Chinese media and internet users voiced shock at a hit-and-run incident involving a two-year-old child who was left injured in the road as passers-by ignored her [BBC ]/ D Mail / YoutTube - viewer discretion advised / Wikipedia].

The girl was hit by a van in the city of Foshan in central Guangdong province. But instead of stopping to help the child, the driver sped off. For minutes the girl laid on the road as several pedestrians and vehicles passed the girl without stopping. Then another vehicle drove over her before a rubbish collector finally helped came to her aid. Sadly the girl died a few days later [BBC].

Those that passed by were described as shameful by one local shop keeper [BBC].   

Ignoring sex assaults

The same month a man sexual assaulted a woman in full view of passers-by. But instead of helping the woman members of the public in Tianlin Road in the Xuhui District of Shanghai stood and watched with some filming the spectacle on their mobile phones [Ministry of Tofu].

As regards such incidents described above there is a fear by some people of getting involved. In seeing a violent incident many people perhaps understandably fear for their own safety. But when it comes to seeing injured toddlers on the street, the psychology is a little more difficult to explain. Some might fear litigation and culpability. Indeed in road accidents few people are willing to come forward as a witness. There are also cases where good Samaritans have found themselves in trouble. In fact China is notorious for its poor treatment of good Samaritans. There have been incidents in China, such as the Peng Yu incident in 2006, where those who helped people injured were accused of having injured the victim themselves [China Daily / Bloomberg / Alvinology].

Hysteria

The fear of becoming involved has grown to almost hysterical levels. In early August Shanghai commuters fled in panic after a foreigner feinted on a subway train. As they did so there was a near stampede and several people were knocked over in the rush [WSJ / YouTube].

There have been similar occurrences in other cities too. In June, six passengers were injured when a passenger who had fallen ill and fainted created a panicked rush to vacate Meihuayuan Station in Guangzhou [Xinhua].

The same month, a fight Guomao station in Beijing resulted in another mass stampede causing some people to fall to the ground in the commotion.

Such panic and hysteria has prompted the state news agency to call for an emergency response [Xinhua]. However, it needs more than "crisis management education" and an understanding of what to do in an emergency. Some of the scenes reported at subway stations and shopping malls are a direct result of the heightened concern over a spate of terror attacks across the country.

Indeed a rumour that someone was "slashing people with a knife" at a shopping mall in Shenzhen City in May caused a panic resulting in 12 injuries.

Possible causes

There is an inbuilt psychology amongst many Chinese not to get involved in another person's business, be it a road accident, fight or injury. Some Chinese say that it could partly be explained by years of communism where people were expected to be subservient to the state. In order to avoid trouble, especially during the Cultural Revolution, people would keep themselves to themselves and keep their noses clean.

The younger generation is less affected by the past, but the big focus on money and success has created a society where people avoid any interaction with others unless it is required of them. Even in work, few question what is asked of them even if they have grievances in order to avoid trouble.

It has to be said that there are cases in the West where similar incidents happen [China Daily / NBC / China Smack]. However, in China it is becoming more commonplace, and good Samaritans are harder to find.

Some countries legally oblige people to help others in need of help, though there are cases where such laws are ignored [Wikipedia - Good Samaritan Law]. China has discussed the possible introduction of such a law but legislation has yet to be passed [China Daily]. However in August last year Shenzhen became the first region to introduce such laws on a local level [SCMP]. It remains to be seen whether legislation can change the deeply ingrained mindset of many Chinese people.


tvnewswatch, London, UK

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Man arrested over Tilbury Docks container death

A man has been arrested on suspicion of manslaughter in connection with the death of a man found inside a shipping container in Essex on Saturday.

The 34-year-old man, from Limavady in County Londonderry, was arrested just after midday today [Monday 19th August] on the A1 at Banbridge on suspicion of manslaughter and facilitating illegal entry.

He is currently in the custody of the Police Service of Northern Ireland [PSNI] ahead of being returned to England for questioning by Essex Police.

Essex Police have now named the dead man as 40-years-old Meet Singh Kapoor. Initial post-mortem tests have proved so far been inconclusive. Thirty four survivors include 10 men, nine women and 15 children were also found in the container on Saturday. Their ages ranged from one to 72 years of age and are of Afghan Sikh origin.

They are all in the care of the Home Office after being questioned by police and are reported to be seeking asylum in the UK.

The group had arrived in the UK on Saturday on a ship from Belgium and were said by police to be victims of people trafficking. They were discovered after dock workers heard banging and screaming coming from one of the containers [Sky News / BBC].

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Murder probe after illegal immigrants found in Tilbury docks

A dead man was among 35 immigrants found in a container at Tilbury Docks early this morning [Saturday 16/08/2014] after "banging and screaming" alerted the crew.

"homicide" investigation

And now Essex police have launched a "homicide" investigation following the discovery.

The man was discovered with 34 sick children and adults hiding in a container on a P&O ferry. The Norstream, a Dutch registered cargo vessel, had departed Zeebrugge in Belgium at 21:44 on Friday [15th August] and arrived at Tilbury shortly after 05:00 on Saturday.

Dehydrated

Some of the immigrants, believed to be of Indian origin, were suffering from severe dehydration and hypothermia. Amongst the group were 7 children. Seven ambulances were sent to the scene and removed them to various local hospitals. Eighteen patients were taken to Basildon Hospital, nine to London Whitechapel Hospital and seven to Southend Hospital.

The roll-on roll-off ferry was carrying 64 containers, 72 trailers and five lorries and drivers and police spent much of the day checking that other containers did not harbour any other illegal immigrants.

Police were called to the scene after the people were discovered as the containers were being unloaded at 07:35 by Port of Tilbury authorities.

"People trafficking"

At a press conference on Saturday afternoon Superintendent Roe described those discovered in the container as victims of "people trafficking". He said they had been in the container a "significant amount of time" and that now police were working with international agencies to establish their movements prior to arriving in the UK.

South Basildon and East Thurrock MP Stephen Metcalfe described the incident as "tragic". Speaking to the BBC he said, "The fact that so many people appear to have travelled so far and are so desperate to get into the UK - either on their own or being trafficked is really very sad."

The Conservative MP said it was important "to get to the root causes of what is motivating people to go to such extreme lengths to travel from other parts of the world to get into the UK" and tackle people-trafficking.

[Sky News / BBC / Daily Mail / Mirror / Express / Telegraph / Guardian / Independent]

tvnewswatch, Tilbury, Essex

Saturday, August 09, 2014

On demand TV opens up a brave new world

There is a revolution happening in the way that television content is consumed and commissioned.

No longer are viewers obliged to watch what broadcasters schedule. With more and more on demand services, and the facility to stream other content to the TV screen, viewing habits are rapidly changing.

But there may be a price to pay for this convenience and accessibility.

On demand

Companies like Amazon and Netflix now offer TV on demand services. Subscribers can choose from a wide range of films and given their broadband speed can cope, the content is streamed to their 42" TV in their living room.

Sky, in Britain, also offers similar services to its subscribers, enabling people to view programmes and films outside the normal schedule.

In the last year there's also been an upsurge in devices such as Chromecast, Roku and Apple TV which allow users to pull in content to less Smart televisions or those which don't have an Internet connection.

Users of Google's Chromecast can, for example, stream Netflix subscriber content, YouTube videos, programmes via BBC iPlayer or films purchased in Google Play.

Roku offers slightly more content, with Netflix, NOW TV, Sky Sports, ITV, Demand 4, BBC iPlayer and BBC Sport being just a few of its available services. Apple TV offers a similar service to both the above with iTunes video content replacing that of Google Play.

Whatever service or platform one opts for there are several things viewers will be tied to. With regards the Apple TV and Chromecast routes, users will be tying themselves into an ecosystem if they decide to 'buy' movies.

Growing content

There is a drawback with all such services and that is a feeling of information overload or an overwhelming choice.

Once upon a time British television consisted of only a single BBC channel, expanding later to two BBC channels and one commercial channel. By the 1980s Channel Four joined the list with Channel Five arriving by the late 1990s. For those prepared to pay extra, satellite and cable brought hundreds of channels to the small screen.

However, viewers might still find themselves missing their favourite programme or find that broadcast times did not fit into their schedule. Thus, with the advent of fast Internet connections, on demand services were born.

Targeting audiences

In the past, broadcasters could only guess the popularity of a certain programme through surveys and by providing a select group of people a box which would log a family's television habits.

Such information is useful to advertisers and those selling commercial slots. Advertisers are interested in targeting as many people as possible, and broadcasters are in the business of making as much money back from their programmes as possible in order to fund new productions.

With the advent of on demand TV there are big advantages for the consumer, advertiser and programme maker.

With every click, online services can log how users consume content. They can see what is watched, how much and when. Just as Google and other search companies target Internet users with tailored advertising, so too can the likes of Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Google Play, Apple iTunes.

Privacy concerns

Within a few years it is likely that such companies will have a massive database of family viewing habits and interests.

This may be useful to the average individual as they are offered films and programmes which closely resemble their interests. Indeed such profiling already exists with Google Play, Amazon and other online trading stores offering suggestions and recommendations based on previous purchases or browsing habits.

These offerings sometimes fall wide off the mark, but this profiling will get better in time as companies refine their techniques in collecting and analysing user information. In fact in the future these companies may know you better than you know yourself!

There is a downside to all this tailored content, other than giving up our privacy. There was once a sense of community when there was only a choice of three of four channels. Conversations at work or down the pub might often revolve around a recently broadcast television programme.

Now, with hundreds of channels, DVDs, and on demand streaming television, the chances of a person having seen the same programme as you is dwindling fast.

In many households the news does not have the same importance it once did. In fact families will often only pick up a newspaper for the television schedule.

Television has long been blamed for killing the art of conversation as families sit in stoney silence watching the box for hours without saying anything to each other. The children's charity I CAN, in a 2007 survey, said the TV is affecting young children's ability to string a sentence together as parents increasingly spend more time watching TV and cleaning around the house than they do talking to their children [Daily Mail]. Of course it's not just the TV. The whole online, interconnected world we now live in - with Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, Google+ and others, is actually making people less social rather than socially connected.

Even if one can muster up the strength to drag oneself away from the TV, the topics of conversation down the local pub are dwindling fast. However, with nothing to discuss concerning a recent TV show or major news story, at least we British can fall back on our usual topic of discussion - the weather [BBC / Globe & Mail].

tvnewswatch, London, UK