Saturday, 1 July 2017

Society between Fake News and WhatsApp knowledge

Donald Trump’s inauguration brought with it the term most used by this president and his office yet. The term ‘Fake News’ has been used by Trump and his team to oppose, debunk or slam any question they do not wish to answer. For the sake of clarification, this term means the spreading of false information that is manipulated to look like credible journalism mostly made possible and aided by social media. We have witnessed the leader of the Free World accuse prominent news agencies of falsifying information yet while viewers gawked at Trump’s administration the truth remains that most people around the world cannot distinguish between what is real news and what is fake. 

Recent studies have shown that people tend to deem a piece of news false if its content stands in opposition to their ideological views and beliefs. Today the line between what is real and what is fake in the world of news has been well and truly blurred. The rapidity with which great quantities of information are dumped on people has created a silent infectious disease of mass confusion. This bombardment has left consumers of information exhausted, no longer having the energy to sift through the murk to discover the truth in a world of falsity and this is where the ailment of our society lies. People worldwide are receiving millions of fragmented stories, headlines and manipulated images on an hourly basis ranging from politics to health and even religion. 

Message applications such as WhatsApp allow for the circulation of such information to the masses relying on a snowball effect starting from a single person’s contact list. The forwarding hysteria knows no time constraints for one could receive said message at any time of the day or night as if the fate of humanity depended on it. These ‘news/informative’ pieces whose origins are unknown and writers almost always anonymous are taken as truths thereby making their way into day to day conversations and even used as advice for self-medication remedies. The result is a culture that is guided by questionable information offering a shallow and debatable knowledge of the world.  

As a direct consequence of this ‘surface-scratching’ culture we are witnessing the professional journalistic, scientific and educational institutions suffer for if readers no longer care about fact-checking, credibility or references where does that leave the entities that dedicate their entire resources towards their procurement? 

It is indeed a sorrowful state that even in highly educated societies this affliction seems to be taking hold, a state that demands the valuing and aiding of credible sources. People must refuse to be a cog in the ‘Fake News’ churning machine by putting a halt to their instinctive forwarding habits for it is one thing to learn something false and another thing entirely to aid in teaching it as truth. 

If a topic intrigues you, learn more about it, if a news piece moves you then find out the details and when approaching a conversation please do not make WhatsApp knowledge your only point of reference. 

A society is but a sum of its parts and if its most crucial one, its knowledge, is although not lacking but has become tainted then a society’s future will be too. The stream of information that cuts through a society is ever-flowing; at times even flooding the world, much of it needs to be filtered because just like the rest of our planet we have managed to dump our waste in that too.

This article was first published in The Gulf Today newspaper on 26 Feb, 2017
Arabic version of this article was published in Al Khaleej newspaper

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Off Arab screens millions marched for women

HE position of Arab women is very much still fragile in many countries in the region. We are witnessing more and more young Arab girls lost in translation between what they are told are the ideas of a foreign culture and that of fundamental rights. Much of the atrocities that are committed towards Arab women occur partly because the victim does not know that she has a basic right for her body to be hers, for her privacy to be respected and for her education to be a necessity not a privilege she receives if it is financially possible after her brother has been educated. The education system is neglecting feminist teachings and has failed to highlight the importance of gender equality and the issues that need to be discussed and rectified with regard to achieving a harmonious culture where both sexes are perceived equal. This is when the media must pick up where schooling left off yet it is evident that the Arab media too is casting a blind eye on the issues pertaining to women’s rights and gender equality in the Arab world.

On a day when a massive number of women and men around the world rallied to bring forth these essential issues that not only affect people but entire countries’ moral and economic conditions most Arab news channels failed to broadcast the event. Now, if it were a small crowd in some part of the world one would give these channels the benefit of the doubt and assume that on this first day of Trump’s presidency eyes would be projected elsewhere. But how can a rally like the Women’s March that saw numbers exceeding projected expectations, backed up by powerful female celebrity names and infecting countries all over the world be ignored? The sheer magnitude of the march that closed roads and delayed transportation in major cities across the globe only reaffirmed the idea that Arab news channels intentionally ignored this movement. This rally for female solidarity that happened only once before in modern history, when the Suffragettes moved for the right to vote, and nothing like it has been seen since, did not register as important for these news stations to highlight. 

Our Arab mothers and sisters are suffering from injustices like domestic violence, sexual harassment, child marriages and honour killings, some are still fighting for their right to drive or travel without male custody therefore our powerful Arab media was not only expected to broadcast this particular one of a kind Women’s march it should have held panels to dissect the issues being brought forth in order for the Arab world to better understand that gender equality is not an idea that one believes in, it is a planned movement that requires an enormous effort on the part of both men and women to reach. This march was not about American women it was about all women, it portrayed an image of solidarity on a massive scale. It was a peaceful march that flowed like a sea of pink and it was glorious. For a woman like myself who at an early age was attuned to the injustices that the patriarchy had enforced on women and had spent many a sleepless night worried about the ways of this unbalanced world, watching the march, I could only wish my young eyes had witnessed something like this unfold, even if only to reassure me that I was not alone in my thoughts, that the actions my young mind deemed unfair were in fact so, and that the world as I knew it could in fact evolve. The more feminist readings one delves through the more you come to see that the movements have spread out and lost touch with one another, soon they had even started to fight amongst each other and it is at those times that one loses hope that a united front will ever be recovered from this wreckage of feminist ideas. The Women’s March had restored my faith as I am sure it has introduced the young generation to the new wave of feminism. A feminist movement that was made up of both sexes and all ages and creeds, one that did away with the arguments and stood arm in arm for a greater cause, a cause which the Arab media did not wish to project.

During the Egyptian revolution, it was quite evident that the women who organized and rallied against corrupt governments played a pivotal role in the future of Egypt, it was an example of the power of the female movement. The Women’s March did what it set out to do and that is to show the sheer magnitude of passion that the female voice can project and most importantly, for our future generations, it has shattered the falsity of the patriarch myth that women do not support other women. The Women’s March showed that women in fact do support their sisters and that men do too. This is an image that should be projected to the entire world so that all those who have had their rights taken away just because they were born of the opposite sex do not remain silent and so that all those who believe they have a right to deny someone their equal existence realise they are gravely mistaken. It is shameful that Arab television channels denied the Arab world from joining in the celebratory essence of this historic march for the Arab world has nothing to fear from the empowered Arab woman, it has everything to gain. 

This article was first published in The Gulf Today newspaper on 25 January, 2017
Arabic version appeared in Al Khaleej newspaper 

Obama’s win gave young America hope, Hillary’s loss gave it a voice

here are moments in history that one remembers not only as fact independent of circumstance but as moments that are whole inclusive of all their surroundings. In these moments one will recall not only the historical fact they had lived through but the exact place they were at when they heard it. I think it is safe to say that for most of the modern world Donald Trump’s scalding victory is one of those moments we will not soon forget. The reactions around the world differed, some laughed sarcastically, others uttered concern but there was one distinct sound heard by all, it was the sound the United States made as it gasped at the blow dealt by its own democracy. America had shot itself in the foot, shell-shocked it was frantically trying to assess the amount of damage its choices had caused. 

The American people woke up to a disquieting realisation, one that hit the young generation harder than it had the rest. Trump’s victory meant that his rhetoric of hate and racism was one that echoed harder and farther than many imagined, it reiterated that America now stands not for freedom or liberty but for segregation and constraint. This was the generation that grew up listening to a rhetoric of hope galvanised by the Obama campaign, this is the generation that had hoped and was now witnessing the embodiment of all they hoped against materialising. The images broadcast the sheer pain and disappointment in their young faces, as they stood in shock, after the election results were announced. It was incredibly moving because one could see through their expressions that it was not Hillary’s victory they sought, it was the triumph over Trump’s ideals they longed for.

This massive blind-side was a result of many factors still being analysed and discussed weeks after Trump took to the stage and in a somewhat subdued demeanour recited the words he had never uttered during his two-year campaign. The world watched a softer Trump, a more gracious and docile Trump who seemed overwhelmed and more surprised than the rest of us at this favourable result. 

The failure of the media to portray the darker side of America has led to the underestimation of the impact Trump’s hate-filled campaign would have. The Trump campaign capitalised on a misunderstood, somewhat forgotten America that the younger generation had no idea existed and, if they did, not in such a vast majority. Identity politics geared towards this materially deprived and culturally isolated America, which has grown substantially under the radar as a result of economic instability and lack of educational funding, gave them a label and certain admirable traits factoring in an ethnic heritage and in turn succeeding in creating a single crushing entity aimed at the prior government. They were fed up with the hyperbole of the Obama administration that promised economic stability and better employment opportunities, and saw Hillary as an extension of the same arm. 

Witnessing the results of the US presidential elections was reminiscent of Egypt’s 2012 elections when an exhausted and angry Egyptian people chose to either abstain or vote against the old regime resulting in the victory of the Muslim Brotherhood representative, Mohamed Mursi. The shock culminated in an immense rally that saw hundreds of thousands of, mostly young, Egyptians rallying for his impeachment. Today we are witnessing a sight, that has not been seen in the United States since citizens rallied to impeach Richard Nixon some forty years ago. People rallying across the country to impeach Trump, their chants reaffirming that Trump is not their president.

Young Americans who saw their country as a symbol of cultural and religious diversity and truly believed it to be the land of the free are now dealing with a different reality. A reality that has chosen hate, misogyny and racism as its core values and that has spoken loud and clear for the rest of the world to hear, albeit considering America’s foreign policies its image to the rest of the world is one that is not far from that. Nevertheless, it has now, with Trump at the helm, become outspoken about it. It seems that after 8 years of the Obama administration preaching unity and inclusion for all a backlash was brewing under the fires of wars thousands of miles away and a highly globalised world moving at hyper-speed, leaving most of America reeling and finding solace in a sense of warped nationalism. 

The long-term effect of Hillary’s loss could be more beneficial to the future of America than one might think. For if Obama’s reign placed hope in the hearts of the young and instilled in them a belief that differences must be embraced then Hillary’s crushing defeat has awakened them to the harsh realities of a hopeful indifference and raised their voices in opposition of all those ideals that would not only darken their future but the future of the entire world.

This article was first published in The Gulf Today newspaper on 22 November, 2016
Arabic version of this article appears in Al Khaleej newspaper

Friday, 21 October 2016

The curious case of a Syrian refugee solved by the UAE

Time and time again the UAE has proved that there are no borders to the humanity of its leaders who at the mere knowledge of Sinjab’s case moved to offer him a safer life with no petitions or pleas needed 

n a daily basis the media is saturated with news about refugees escaping imminent death, heading towards unknown borders in hopes of finding a semblance of what their lives used to be. We read reports on the unfathomable numbers who will never reach the refuge they sought instead are drowned by the very waves they hoped would lead them to it. At times it seems as if the whole world has become a refugee and the few of us, who are privileged enough to wake up to the sound of an alarm clock instead of a siren, those of us who are enveloped by a veil of safety many of us fail to appreciate, have become desensitised to the migrating numbers, to the images of the dead, shrugging them away as a collective misery that this ailing part of the world must endure. 

In a sea of human beings, it is difficult, at times even impossible, to see the human as being. This is where the obligation of the media lies, where it must shed light on the afflicted person and bring them to light as an individual and not a statistic. In a report done by the United Arab Emirates’ Al Khaleej Newspaper one such case was brought to the forefront. The story of Khaldoun Sinjab, a Syrian refugee residing in Lebanon, who at the age of 17 was rendered quadriplegic by a diving accident. Sinjab was not always bed-ridden for prior to this debilitating accident he graduated top of his class in Damascus and was a champion swimmer on the Syrian national team. Yet while the accident paralysed his body it did not halt his spirit for Sinjab continued to study, with books propped up on a glass table he managed to master the English language and become proficient in computer programming. He later found a job and married, persevering through every curveball life threw at him. Sinjab continued to live life as one should, one day at a time and to the fullest of his abilities. As the war in Syria began to rage Sinjab was uprooted, like many, from his home and sought refuge in neighbouring Lebanon and while he continues to work he is continuously fearful for his life for in Lebanon electricity can shut down for almost 12 hours a day and with his complete dependence on a ventilator the threat of death by suffocation is very much an everyday reality. 

There are many petitions online for Sinjab’s relocation, he has applied for refuge to Canada and the UK but his case has been rejected on the grounds that if he is employed then he is not in dire need of relocation. Such is life now, a person becomes a figure on a chart and falls victim to a technicality. For years Sinjab’s endless pleas to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) have gone unanswered until his salvation came from a place he never sought. 

After the report on Sinjab was published in the United Arab Emirates his case was immediately taken up by the government who has followed up on his condition and has taken no more than a few months to relocate him and his family to Abu Dhabi where he is currently being overseen at the Cleveland Clinic. The efforts of His Highness Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed and the immediacy in response of the UAE’s diligent Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed has shown that the UAE media’s voice is not only heard but also heeded. Time and time again the UAE has proved that there are no borders to the humanity of its leaders who at the mere knowledge of Sinjab’s case moved to offer him a safer life with no petitions or pleas needed.

Upon landing, although exhausted from the flight and overwhelmed by the number of medical crew there to assist him, photographers were moved to see the wide-eyed smile that was drawn on Sinjab’s face.

It is at times like these that this writer does not only consider herself lucky but immensely proud to be a daughter of this greatly humane nation. 

This article first appeared in The Gulf Today newspaper on 21, October, 2016
Arabic version of this article appeared in Al Khaleej newspaper

Sunday, 29 May 2016

UAE curriculums must lift the veil off female thinkers

As a young student enthusiastic about literature my school’s curriculum although included great works, it was noticeable to my young mind even then that they were mostly by male authors, poets, and philosophers. Being a young Arab girl the only rare glimpses of female works came in the form of novels by the Bronte sisters and other Western greats, and while I drank every drop of their ink I was mostly left unsatiated and ever yearning for a familiar female voice. For all the genius of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights neither their authors nor their protagonists shared much in common with this young Arab girl, although the cultural restrictions of England’s 1800s might have slightly resembled some of the aspects we as women lived through at the time, neither the political backdrop of my surroundings nor the struggles of my region were reflected in their foreign works, these women had never even felt that distinct burning that only the Arab sun can leave on one’s skin.

I experienced first hand the drought that our school curriculums suffered from when it came to the female mind. It left me searching for it on the stacked shelves of my school library and making the effort to hunt for those names that were not being introduced to me by the system. It is an ongoing search for after the many great female Arab minds that I have read I am still discovering greater ones that somehow I have still not come across. Since then the number of female Arab minds who have contributed generously to the literature, political and philosophical landscape of the region has more than doubled, yet the eager young ears today are still oblivious to these voices.

The UAE has seen impressive, one could even say unimaginable, advancements in all sectors and has cemented its position as a cultural hub for aspiring thinkers, artists and musicians from across the region and beyond. The Emirati woman has been offered opportunities that other women in neighbouring countries can only dream of, worse yet have to fight for, but it is not enough to give the opportunity without cultivating the mind. It is essential for the young generation to not only know that women can do anything they aspire to they must also understand the mindset that brought them there. Let them interpret and critique the ideas that brought about change, teach them to compare the poetry, the language and the stories and arm them with positive female examples that counter the assembly line of clich├ęs the media has to offer.

Impressionable young students must be given true examples of the Arab woman through her own words, and when I say students I do not mean young girls alone for in order to raise a generation that truly believes in gender equality it is the young boys that have to listen first, those boys who will grow up to have female rivals at every stage of their professional careers. In order to foster greater respect for their future interactions as equals at par with each other in every way we must introduce them both to those female thinkers, those female warriors who have fought to create a distinct voice, that voice that emanates from an agony, a sense of injustice and suffocation from years of silence, that no male thinker, no matter how great, can mimic.

This article was first published in The Gulf Today newspaper May 29, 2016
Arabic version of this article was published in Al Khaleej newspaper

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Syria — Is there anything left to salvage?

Since 2011 economists have been adding up the accumulating costs of the ongoing war in Syria. Year after year they have been recording the numbers that have come to point directly to the impending demise of the Syrian economy and studying what seems now an imaginable way to recovery. The latest estimate revealed by the World Bank predicts that $180 billion is needed to rebuild a war ravaged Syria. Another study by World Vision and Frontier Economics estimates that the war is costing Syria $4 billion a month in lost growth. The war has seen Syrian schools, hospitals and major infrastructure turned into rubble and with only 43% of the medical facilities functional the estimated life expectancy at birth has dropped to 15 years. World Vision is warning that without an internationally agreed reconstruction strategy ready to be implemented when the war is over, Syria’s fate would be no different than that of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Planning, reconstructing and rebuilding are all words that bring forth a ray of hope in an otherwise grim reality, a reality whose facts show that this hope is far-fetched. After the fall of Gaddafi’s Libya the United Kingdom alone has spent 13 times more on bombing than rebuilding the country. The United States Department of Defense boasts a daily cost of $11.5 million spent on bombing Iraq and in 2009 was spending about $7 billion a month in Afghanistan. Considering that history shows us time and again dark precedents we are almost promised a battered Syria that will not recover for at least another 50 years. The problem with history is that it tends to repeat itself and if mankind fails to learn from it then one after the other every Arab country is destined to perish.

Brick and mortar can be calculated, measured and rebuilt but what of lives lost? What of a nation of nomads that are roaming the world begging to be sheltered? What of the psychological damage that has befallen them as a result of this senseless chaos?

The cost of war is like an immeasurable tremor that knows no borders, its shockwaves reverberating across the world resulting in universal suffering.

Analysts have said the devastation caused by the Syrian war has reached World War II levels. With that in mind and the fact that there are mini wars happening in almost every other Arab country, that was unfortunate enough to be seduced by a false spring, this region is in fact going through the world’s third war. Once the dust settled on the Second World War much of Europe and Asia lay in ruins, there was nothing left to rebuild and the year 1945 was dubbed “Year Zero”. Millions dead and millions more had fled their homes seeing the birth of a new term, the DP, or “displaced person.” In modern day terms it would be what is known to us as the “refugee.” Once again history shows us that while the terminology changes the vicious cycle of war is more or less the same.

The end of the Second World War saw great cities such as Warsaw, Tokyo and Berlin reduced to piles of ash and in our reality the great cities of Baghdad, Tripoli and Aleppo have succumbed to the same fate. The end also brought about the creation of new world superpowers, the once mighty Japan and Germany looked to be beyond recovery which left ample room for the United States and the Soviet Union to flex their political muscles. The war in Syria has resulted in an undeniable power shift in the Arab world as well where we witness the weakening of Iraq, Libya and Syria to have made room for other less geographically dominant countries to take the helm.

Nevertheless, what was once Europe’s dark reality of defeating Adolf Hitler was now well behind it, recovery was possible for them because they bound together forming a grand alliance that had one thing on its agenda, the resuscitation of Europe, all of Europe. If Syria is to rise from the ashes it needs a united Arab world which has one thing on its agenda, not the falling of a dictator for we have seen many of those fall, but the reemergence of a prosperous Arab nation, one that is not reliant on foreign aid but is self-sustained and set on its way to become powerful once again.

Let us assume that this hypothetical situation is not a mirage and that its existence is well within reach, the question remains, what would our history books teach? Will the truths be taught so that our future generations could learn from our past or will it be ignored, skipped over to better times just like post World War II Europe did, where Italy neglected to mention its fascist past and France’s history pages were freed from the pro-Nazi Vichy period?
History is not always pessimistic for if World War II Europe has taught us anything it is that the rebuilding of cities is possible and the mending of a nation’s spirit can be achieved and therefore we remain hopeful that the new Arab powers will strive to sift through the ashes and salvage what they can to bring back what was lost and breathe life into what we thought dead.

This article was first published in The Gulf Today on 24 April, 2016
Article also appeared in Arabic in Al Khaleej Newspaper

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Generation ‘Share’ knows nothing about privacy

It used to be that when one wanted to keep a conversation private all they had to do was shut the door, when one felt strong enough about a memory it was locked in a drawer and when moments were utterly precious they were appreciated instead of being documented for future enjoyment.

Those days are long gone, for the private generation is dwindling to make way for generation ‘share’. It is evolutionary I suppose, but with all the moments, memories and conversations being streamed, beamed and uploaded into clouds has the idea of privacy been mutilated? Slashed at and cut through by the hands of all the Tweeters, Instagramers and Snapchatters out there?

Having to explain to a child of today, who has learned to swipe before they can speak, that certain aspects of a person’s life must remain private for the preservation of one’s sanity is almost frivolous. At one point in time privacy was so sacred that the world agreed to make it a fundamental human right, we agreed then we forgot. The need for privacy is a universal human condition that is essential to the growth process of a human being yet somehow our obsession with sharing has blinded us to the most human of behaviours.

It used to be that the world had to come up with ingenious ploys to pry information out of our clenched hands. Privacy pirates even resorted to reverse psychology deploying efforts to convince us that having access to our information is in fact for our own safety. No schemes needed now for we divulge all without a care in the world, without a moment’s thought, because life is not lived if it’s not being shared.

Steve Jobs’ Apple Inc. was recently under fire for refusing to unlock and extract data from an iPhone at the request of the FBI. While the debate raged on whether or not Apple should adhere to the FBI request most people did not really care whether or not a company could hack into their personal devices and retrieve any information they wanted and more of them believed it was being done already! Let’s face it, nobody ever reads those lengthy privacy agreements and none of us really know what we are accepting when we eagerly click the ‘I Agree’ option on any of these products. We do that not because we are incapable of reading but rather because the lure of technology is such that it has made us indifferent about our once revered privacy.

The messaging service WhatsApp, which has been operating since 2010, has only last week assured its one billion users that their “private” conversations have now become “safe”. What that means for us users is that six years’ worth of private, intimate or critical information have been up for grabs to anyone, to WhatsApp’s defence they do mention that in their privacy agreement which of course none of us have read.

The question here is not whether or not companies are keeping our data secure once they have acquired it but rather do we really care if they are? Because in a world where one is identified and rewarded not by their productive input but rather for how much of their private lives they are willing to reveal, the more you share the more you become. And so it is inevitable that the day has come when we write about privacy with such nostalgia, analysing it as we would some unearthed fossil of a creature our human eyes had never fallen on. Our children might never understand why their parents’ conversations should not be broadcast and that their future selves would probably regret publishing every thought that ran through their young heads because privacy is a concept that must be relearned in an age where it has become a currency that cannot be cashed.

This article was first published in The Gulf Today newspaper on 17 April, 2016
Arabic version of this article appeared in Al Khaleej newspaper

Society between Fake News and WhatsApp knowledge

Donald Trump’s inauguration brought with it the term most used by this president and his office yet. The term ‘Fake News’ has been used b...