The state of counter terrorism


I’ve been investigating the UK’s use of counter-terrorism legislation – particularly in the form of executive power – for a number of months now.

It’s been a busy few weeks in particular. The Home Secretary, Theresa May, forced through a provision contained in her Immigration Bill that would allow her to strip the UK nationality from terror suspects even if that rendered them stateless – “a form of punishment more primitive than torture”, in the words of the US Supreme Court in the previous century.

The Bill ping-ponged between the House of Commons and the House of Lords, with the latter proposing further scrutiny on a power “beloved of the worst regimes of the 20th Century”, according to one peer. The government then offered what it termed to be a “compromise” measure – that, instead of cross-house scrutiny on these executive powers that would “remove the right to have rights” from people suspected of wrongdoing, the government would pick its own reviewer of the legislation. This reviewer – which crucially is not referred to in the Bill as “independent” – would issue a report on a three-yearly basis, the contents of which would then be laid before parliament after the Home Office has had at it with a redactor. In other words, rather than further investigation of the legality or feasibility of the power to render people stateless, the government will now get to choose every three years what it divulges in public over the measures.

Still, it could have been worse. There is currently no independent review of deprivation of citizenship or the stripping of passports by Royal Prerogative orders – both executive and nominally counter terrorism (CT) measures – and May wanted to assume the mantle of ultimate arbiter of individuals’ fate with zero accountability. The examination of the power in the Lords has helped at least avert this state of affairs.

Periodically, the UK’s Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC) reports on the state of terrorism and counter terrorism within its borders. The latest instalment, published last week, has some interesting admissions.

For example, under the Terrorism Act (2000), Schedule 7 orders (which you may have heard about) give the police the ability to detain and interrogate anyone for six hours at a time in the name of national security. One is then forced to answer questions without any presence of legal counsel; you can go to jail for three months if you claim your rights and refuse to cooperate. There is no need for any law enforcement official to even suspect you of involvement in terrorism to invoke Schedule 7. The HASC says this power is used an average of 60,000 times every year.

In addition, the report tackles the issue of passport stripping, which the Home Secretary can do under Royal Prerogative power – an antiquated provision that can be used in a variety of situations but in a CT scenario, I was told by one MP, “had withered on the vine” until Theresa May was appointed. We are told that since April 2013 the “public interest” part of the power – in reality used for national security – have been used 14 times since April 2013. It is thought that these measures relate to Syria and the number of Britons travelling there to fight against Bashar Al-Assad.

The HASC welcomed passport stripping but added:

However, we note that its use is not subject to any scrutiny external to the executive. We recommend that the Home Secretary report quarterly on its use to the House as is currently done with TPIMs and allow the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation to review the exercise of the Royal Prerogative as part of his annual review.

The current Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation is David Anderson QC, who is remaining tight lipped for the time being on the issue.

Returning to deprivation of citizenship, the HASC’s findings might well have influenced the minds of some MPs (although, in reality, not many) had it appeared before last week’s parliamentary debate on the Immigration Bill. As it turned out, the report was published two days after the Bill passed its final reading. The committee criticised May’s fixation with a man called Hilal al-Jedda, who is the primary reason why the Home Office wants to make suspects stateless in the first place. His back story is here.

Anyway, here’s what the committee had to say:

We have grave concerns about how effective the deprivation of mono-citizenship powers will be. Drafting legislation on the basis of an individual case lessens the impact of the legislation because the exact circumstances are unlikely to repeat themselves. We support the Minister’s commitment to the power being used sparingly. We recommend that the Government endeavour to use the power only when the person subject to the decision is outside the UK.

This is an interesting one, since individuals who have been stripped of their UK citizenship while abroad (the vast majority under current legislation) have trouble accessing legal advice or appeal funding and in reality are cut adrift abroad, not afforded protection or rights or anything approaching safety. Still, the HASC is concerned primarily in keeping the UK “safe” and – despite a significant body of legal opinion saying that making people we believe to be so dangerous stateless, while abroad and without any ability to challenge the ruling, will not make us safer – its mind is clearly made up. Terror suspects? Someone else’s problem.

Gabriel García Márquez: 1927-2014

He could make you feel defunct in one devastating line. One image, one bathetic glint. He’d take a simple, quotidian process and instil in it the banal devastation of life. The essential coda of our existence. By the time the end came his thoughts had become so distilled, his turn of phrase so unthinkingly epithetic, that his final contribution to this earth was both myopic and magisterial, axiomatic and astrological at the exact same time: “I couldn’t tell you because I don’t know who I am yet.”

Everyone will have their own memories of Gabriel José de la Concordia García Márquez. Be that as a faithful student, or having overheard something witheringly beautiful you didn’t even know came from him, his words have reached us all (something he treated with half revelry, half bemusement).

Márquez began writing as a journalist, something evidenced by his first work, The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor, and his last, the autobiographic Living to Tell The Tale, via the wondrous and at times super-realist News of a Kidnapping. He never lost that essential kernel of truth in any of his work, no matter how seemingly surreal or metaphysical. We know of the pixie dust anthropomorphism of One Hundred Years of Solitude and the Shaggy Dog meanderings of Love in the Time of Cholera. What made Márquez unique was his total, unflinching willingness to confront the moment, with all the potentiality, the fear, horror, ecstasy and indescribability of living, one second at a time. I’m not going to be so churlish as to suggest that his two most famous works were also his most formulaic, because that would carry with it the association that following formulae is an uncreative pursuit. It all depends on the formula.

Yet his work changed from piece to piece. He could write you into a frenzied, somnambulant state (The General in His Labyrinth) or to Thanatotic ecstasy (his 2009 Farewell Letter). He did “Thriller” better than any crime writer (Chronicle of a Death Foretold) and beat the pants off any graphic novelist in his forlornly lascivious Memories of My Melancholy Whores.

On the subject, a friend once said of Love in the Time of Cholera that Márquez was brilliant until he talked of sex – an odd and controversial thing to say about the man who wrote extensively of hyperbolic physical encounters. I agree with this in some way. Sex as a spectator is essentially one thing, and all-too-often as a participant another: Funny, and fleeting. Márquez did both, without shame or self-consciousness.

There was a passive nostalgia in much of his writing. Characters are in their pomp for a fleeting series of encounters and then relive those through long and ever increasingly incoherent declines. His view of love followed suit: An instant of iridescence that sears the eyes and leaves that unfocused, sun-spot effect on everything you see thereafter, like a reverse Dylan Thomas. His treatment of love was that of a solar flare. A high water mark. It tempers all that comes in its wake.

For those who denounce Márquez as too corporate or too assimilated: They should have paid better attention to the one book of his they’d read. One Hundred Years of Solitude is not a mere phantasmagorical sex manual; Márquez rails against colonialism and globalisation with the ferocity of a guy who single-handedly brought down the King of the Banana Republic. Through fiction. He was a vehement advocate of Columbian independence from his earliest days writing in Cartagena. As a contemporary of Latin American autocracy, he knew what it meant to live a life confined to paroxysms of personal passion and longing. Here he prefigured Junot Diaz, Roberto Bolaño and Juan Gabriel Vásquez, among others. In his later years, he felt his age, and the designation society placed on it, keenly and with terror.

As I tweeted when I heard of his death (in classic Márquezian fashion, a death he’d confronted and foretold): Reading Márquez for the first time made it feel like everything you’d read before was in black and white. He wrote in colour. He was the embodiment of and inspiration for Tony Kushner’s epic valediction: “Don’t be afraid; people are so afraid; don’t be afraid to live in the raw wind, naked, alone…”

His work showed a mind that never forgave, never forgot and never ceased to hope; his heart was the boldest and most starkly beautiful there was. Gracias, Gabo.

‘My citizenship was everything to me. Now I am nobody’

I’ve spent quite a lot of time in recent months working on a story, which was finally published in today’s Independent. There is a fuller version on OpenDemocracy.

The UK is stripping British terror suspects of their nationality. This normally happens when an individual is out of the country, stranding them in a foreign land with zero protection and negligible appeal rights. I spoke with one of the 41 people who have had their British citizenship revoked.

Two years ago, he was working and living in southeast London. He sent money home to his wife and kids in Pakistan. He’s now stuck in the tribal areas of Pakistan, without work or the means to support his family. He fears he will be killed by the Taliban.

All of the work on the deprivation of citizenship by the team at the Bureau of Investigative Journalism can be found here.

Saudi designates the Muslim Brotherhood as terrorists

Saudi Arabia today designated several groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood, as terrorist organisations. In a continuation of Egypt’s policy of lumping a political organisation in with terrorist groups such as Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, Saudi pointedly included Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS in its list alongside the Brotherhood. The inference is clear: We view the Brotherhood as the same as or worse than the guys who cut out hearts and chop off heads in Syria.

The timing of the decision is also overtly political, coming a matter of days after a GCC spat involving Saudi whipping the Gulf states it controls to admonish Qatar over the latter’s foreign policy. (Qatar remains an avid supporter of the Brotherhood).

It is an act of untrammelled chutzpah for Saudi Arabia to designate anyone a terrorist organisation. The Kingdom funnels arms to “bad” rebel groups in Syria, and has a long history of plausible deniability when it comes to allegations of providing terrorist networks with arms and cash in Lebanon, SomaliaIraq and Afghanistan, among potentially many others.

And, in lumping in the Brotherhood – an organisation that officially renounced violence in the early 1970s – in with JAN and ISIS, Saudi continues Egypt’s odd but telling lack of differentiation between Islamist groups. Cairo continues, for example, to blame the Brotherhood for attacks publicly claimed by Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, a group that once accused Mohammed Morsi of apostasy. It’s worth pointing out that the junta running Egypt also considers peaceful protesters and journalists terrorists these days, too.

I have no doubt that having peaceful political groups democratically elected is a much anathema to Riyadh as it has proven to be to the military and liberal establishment in Egypt. This might explain why both seem unwilling or unable to separate a popular political movement from hardened jihadist takfiris. It is tempting to draw the conclusion that the non-elected governments of Saudi Arabia and Egypt fear democratic civilian legitimacy as much as they do actual terrorism.

The rush to reject Russia Today

There is a peculiar type of arrogance latent in the way we in the West react to news. We assume that because we control media spending – and have for so long controlled the news agenda – that we automatically control the truth. Any counter argument or riposte is ridiculed and propagandised by those of us who simply know better.

Take for example the following lines, provided by a friend of mine on the demonisation of South American leftist leaders by the American press. (The essay is 3000 words and contains myriad examples of this, but you’ll have to wait a little while for full publication on what will be a news site). All are quotes from Washington Post profiles:

Former President of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez was “a brutal dictator.” Rafael Correa is the “autocratic leader of tiny, impoverished Ecuador.” Evo Morales, President of Bolivia since 2005, seeks “to import Chávez’s authoritarian socialism.”

Now, the idea of one man’s terrorist being another’s freedom fighter notwithstanding, the preponderance of new, English and foreign language satellite news outlets in recent years has gone some way towards breaking this type of western-facing journalese. The kind of reporting where value judgements go unchallenged because we rarely question that which reinforces our view of the world – even though journalism should aim to increase one’s view of the world in scope, rather than reiterate existing comprehension.

That said, there is still a glaring predilection in the “mainstream media” (and here I should point out that news wires are notable and noteworthy exceptions to this) towards simply laughing off counter-narrative coverage. The kind provided, for example, on the Ukraine crisis by Russia Today, the Kremlin-owned news channel. (Full disclosure: I have appeared on Russia Today and find it personally an interesting counterbalance to much of the rest of the news).

Because RT offers a narrative (and it is that – a narrative) that directly contradicts the narrative taken up by the vast majority of English-speaking media – i.e. that the protest-led ousting of the elected president was facilitated by sheer democratic force of numbers alone and is no way related to years of Western overtures or funding of opposition groups  –  and because it provides evidence in doing so, it has attracted attention and derision in equal measure from the west.

Take for example the resignation of an RT anchor live on air. This has been pounced upon by news channels who view it as increasing evidence that the channel’s editorial staff are forcing more and more ludicrous claims upon its anchors. It follows an outburst from another anchor who said live on air that Russia was wrong to invade Ukraine (precisely the type of subjective reasoning opined by reporter after reporter in the west with minimum questioning). The latter was reported to have been sent on a fact-finding mission to Crimea and while that has been made to sound like Stalin era banishment, it is hardly, say, comparable to that reputable western outlet CNN, who fired long-time anchor Octavia Nasr for tweeting that she admired a widely-admired dead cleric. Martin also turned down the trip, because hey, it’s not like she was expelled there.

By way of further comparison, Phil Donahue of MSNBC and Peter Arnett of NBC were fired for criticising US invasion of Iraq. Dan Guthrie of the Oregon Daily Courier and Tom Gutting of the Texas City Sun were fired for criticising the US war on terror after 9/11. Award winning editor Tim McCarthy was dismissed as editor of the Hew Hampshire Courier for doing likewise. RT fired neither Martin nor Wahl.

Much coverage also fails to mention that the RT anchor in question then went on to criticise US foreign policy equally as vehemently as she did the invasion of Crimea.

Today another image has been doing the rounds. It purports to show a map from RT depicting Crimea (the little yellow peninsula) as part of Russia already – which Crimean parliament agrees on, but that’s another story.

rtcrimea

And so we’ve naturally been guffawing all day about that.

Firstly, it’s not like any western news outlet ever makes stupid mistakes with maps.

CNN

And secondly, RT’s map was nothing more than a demonstration of what Russia’s map would look like if the vote in Crimea took effect.

It’s just a shame for those who immediately assume the worst from non-western news sources that the truth is far less hilarious that the conclusions they jump to.

Correction: This post originally said that Brian Walski of the LA Times had been fired for criticising the war in Iraq when in fact it was because he had doctored images while covering the war. 

The UK government wants to make people stateless

I discuss deprivation of citizenship with Russia Today’s Afshin Rattansi last month. 

The UK Home Secretary Theresa May has sought a last minute amendment to the Immigration Bill that would allow her to make anyone she suspects of acting ‘contrary to the interests’ of Britain stateless.

She currently has the power to strip the UK nationality from people she suspects of acting in a manner ‘not conducive to the public good’, or if an individual has gained British citizenship on fraudulent grounds. And the government has used these powers – which are wielded entirely without judicial oversight – to strip the citizenship of 41 British nationals since 2002 (20 last year alone).

The Home Office says these powers are only exercised as a last resort and are never used arbitrarily. But that’s not the case. An investigation I’m working on with The Bureau of Investigative Journalism shows that on at least one occasion May deliberately waited until a national left the UK before removing his citizenship, effectively rendering him in exile in Sudan. On another occasion, May ignored the advice of her security services to strip a man of his British citizenship a second time.

There is virtually zero political opposition to this amendment. The Bill is going to be debated for around a month, from tomorrow, in the House of Lords. There are rumblings that some peers will seek a further amendment to the Bill, ensuring that the judiciary is involved in the decision making process for all citizenship-stripping orders. Without this amendment – and as is currently the case – in the words of one lawyer I spoke to last month, the UK is stripping people (the vast majority of whom have never been so much as charged with an offence) of their British nationality by ‘executive fiat.’

House of Cards Season 2 Episode 1 Review – with Austin G. Mackell

In what might have been the most anticipated TV event since the final episode of Breaking Bad, the second season of House of Cards was released on Valentine’s Day. It did not disappoint. The following is a real-time email review of episode one between myself and fellow pop culture harlot Austin Mackell. Above, Austin and I discuss the show with Kenny Laurie. CONTAINS SPOILERS. 

Patrick

to:

Austin

Date: Fri, Feb 14, 2014 at 10:17 PM

Subject: HOC se2e1

We need to talk.

Austin

Yeah holy shit.

I watched it twice.

Patrick

So there’s no point avoiding the episode’s (and quite possibly the series’) biggest moment. You wrote at the end of season one how you weren’t convinced by the opening scene, where Congressman Frank Underwood kills a dog. Where do you wanna start with him killing Zoe?

Austin

I liked it is the short answer.

I was slightly disappointed because I thought the writers had actually started to address the issues we discussed about their treatment of her character in the previous series, specifically, that she was presented as a sex object, and that her work as a journalist mostly seemed to revolve around trading sexual favours for scoops. This might seem strange as the first scene after the credits is her as she is lying passively, getting fucked from behind by her boyfriend and would-be defender. After this however (and I know there was much more to the that scene than just sex – but let’s leave it for now…) she seems to start to kick into gear. This is marred for me by her breaching journalistic protocol by lying to the manager of the restaurant where Rachel worked, about who she was and what she was doing.

This reminded me of the scene in the first season where she recorded her boss “the Hammer” without telling him. To secretly record conversations with colleagues, even during a dispute, would be something that would be thrown back at her in a way that never happened. Zoe is meant to be at least a little bit smart right?

This is also an issue regarding (and ok ok i’ll cut to the chase) the scene where Frank kills her. It does seem a little stupid of her to go to him without even informing her colleagues, and then over to the only part of the platform where he could conceivably pull it off.

It can be made partially believable if one accepts that Zoe just couldn’t imagine Frank (or whoever might have been behind him in those shadows) doing a thing like it, but hey, I did.

That might have been because you mentioned a non-specific Big Twist to look forward to. Despite this and the other reservations I mentioned above, I think it was a nice way to up the stakes, and the shooting (of the whole episode) was done in a way that created a real sense of suspense for me throughout.

I think my favourite part was the pig kill monologue in the BBQ place… I jumped when he slammed the table.

You?

Patrick

It’s not often you get a genuine mouth-on-the-floor moment from any series – or at least not so soon into a season. Think of all the suspense and anticipation that’d been brewing for months before the mood of ep1 (as you say, that “created a real sense of suspense throughout”) had even been established. We’ve been going over various permutations in our heads and – myself especially – all those permutations involved Frank and Zoe in some capacity.

I was all geared up for a real sort of Woodward and Bernstein investigation all the way to the White House and I was very interested in how Zoe’s proximity to Frank would either accelerate or allay that. That’s all gone now. We have to reevaluate the whole paradigm of the series. But, yes, you’re right, some things remain the same or even more uneven, most notably the treatment of the female press corps.

You wrote about how all the female journalists in HoC were intent on, to quote Janine “fucking their way to the middle”. Now we have the most dynamic female character – the most enterprising, at least – dead, and the veteran hack scared into the outback of Ithaca. It’s left to Lucas to pull the remaining strings, and I just think that’s less plausible. (He’s a bit of a drip that was counselling caution right up until Zoe was murdered). But it’s early days and I think the success of the first episode will rest on how well it can continue the narrative without its second protagonist.

I do totally take the point of journalistic ethics and Zoe’s relative lack, but I think her subsequent subterfuge is perhaps justifiable, if a little desperate. It was a really high stakes game and I think she didn’t realise (as I too did not) how high they really were. Which makes me wonder: If Frank wanted this story to go away, why kill Zoe? Why not the prostitute, who’s all but dispensable at least from the POV of those on the Hill? Kill a journalist in broad daylight, in public, or off a hooker using Doug Stamper’s curious physical strength in the privacy of a Maryland bedsit?

I’ve moaned before how HoC has virtually no dramatic irony. In casting Spacey as the all knowing character, and, through soliloquy, the omniscient narrator, it never really felt like any development was totally unexpected. FU makes it his business to know everything and anticipate every move. That doesn’t always happen (the lost house vote in season 1 being a good example) but it’s always a collection of eventualities that one feels Frank has at least anticipated. The writers did well I think by doing away with Frank’s soliloquies until the end of the episode with the effect being the production of a real “holy fuck” moment.

House of cards1

I too liked the pork death dialogue and, as ever in HoC, what appears at first witty interchanges actually become maxims for character behaviour. “The humane way to do it is to do it quick” is something Frank appears to have taken to heart.

So what now? Frank’s still our main character and narrator. Do we hate him? Should we? Who’s side are we on?

Austin

Before we leave the topic of Zoe’s murder, I guess the reason I like it is that it I’m always excited by a TV show that is prepared to make big changes, and this is surely that.

What’s more, I anticipate another one I think you have missed. “why kill Zoe? Why not the prostitute, who’s all but dispensable at least from the POV of those on the Hill?”

I see a fission coming between Frank and his enforcer. I think  NAME is in luuurve with the stripper.

Dun dun Darrr…..

Patrick

Doug? Yeah, he’s used a fair bit of his disposable income on her already and has shown excellent taste in take out cuisine. Frank relies hugely on Doug. He’s SEEN stuff. That’s a wrinkle I look forward to.

In terms of TV shows prepared to make big changes, I can’t help but think of The Wire. Killing D’Angelo early on? He had it coming. The death of String? Same. What really gets me more than any of the others on each rewatch is Omar. You really invest in him and think that he (along with Bubs, you’re hoping) might be the one who gets out of this whole rain of shit intact. Not so. As I tweeted last night, Frank killing Zoe would be like McNulty killing Kima in Se2E1. Perhaps it’s more like Avon killing Kima, given they’re on different sides. But even David Simon didn’t kill off Kima.

I admire the gonads, I just fear (and this will become apparent in episodes 2 and 3) that the narrative will have to delve into the world of the implausible to keep up the external threat to Frank. We’ve talked briefly about the internal threat.

Forgive the repeated question, but what do we think of Frank now? It’s not often you have an objectively bad lead guy. Even Walter White did it for the “right reasons”. But Frank. He’s just Macbeth, right?

Austin

I like the way the character has settled into a solid psychopathy (and yeah – my notes contain the word EVIL in big capital letters like that, though that referred to both frank and Claire- [ok sub wow- just wow- we’ll get back to it]), I think it (along with the excellent timing you mentioned above) helps make the soliloquies more spooky.

I kind of see the darkness of Frank’s character as a metaphor for The Darkness In Washington, and in that regard like that no punches have been pulled.

A lot of people I know really liked the show the Black Mirror, in particular the episode where the prime-minister fucks a pig on live television.

I actually really didn’t because it failed, I thought, to give an adequate portrait of power, which as far as I can tell mostly gets more and more terrifying the closer you get to it.

I do want a serious protagonist to back, actually, and hope the show provides.

I’m still half praying for a Helen Thomas tribute character to show up and kick everyone’s ass, but might feel cheated if it all ends up being such a tidy morality play.

What would be your big hope for the season in the wake of this big black begining?

Patrick

It’s hard to see the series as a playout between pure good and pure evil and I think the writers have been very good in ensuring that any good or bad (morally speaking) move by any character is calibrated entirely by vested interest. The thread I see is what Macbeth calls “vaulting ambition”. Everyone is after aggrandisement and so The Darkness, in Washington, as you put it, is thick, but evenly spread.

That being said, if everyone is kind of a bad guy, that means that we as viewers are more inclined to back characters that do evil for good reason. Jackie Sharp has this down to a tee: she is necessary evil.

I guess I hope to see a rally by the journalists, and I include Janine in this, who I refuse to believe will acquiesce, especially given the lengths the writers went to to show us her professional background. I’d also like to see a return (and this happens a little in eps 2/3) of the lobbyists. Tusk is the obvious one but Remi also. I loved how HoC told it like it is (lobbyists run the place) without putting too fine a point on it in season 1. Remi, remember, offers the sexual frisson with Claire (and I think I dislike Claire more than any other character, save possibly Tusk). I’d be disappointed in the writers if this avenue isn’t explored more – just as I’m still baffled as to why they’d bother including Frank’s homoeroticism in the library without seeing it through. Like Rawls going to the gay bar in The Wire. Never draw your gun unless you intend to use it.

At some point we need to talk about Claire. Where do we place her? Lady Macbeth?

Austin

Actually, Claire opens up interesting possibilities for me.

When she threatens the pregnant former employee’s health insurance, then offers her the company… that might be an expression of what is meant to be the expression of some redeeming quality?

Could frank also be about to save the world or something and it is all pure utilitarianism?

Could that even be pulled off in a way that isn’t cartoonish?

Then again… I didn’t like The Watchmen at first for the same reason (it seemed to endorse an absolute dedication to the principle of the lesser evil, and along the way the idea it’s ok to lie and kill if you Decide it is Right)  but it has stayed with me…

I hope the writers surprise me.

Patrick

The scene that seals it for me is when the news of Zoe’s death is read out on TV and Claire just nonchalantly continues to comb her hair. She knows. Frank knows she knows.

I can’t see any redeeming quality for Claire, I’m afraid. “I am prepared to see your baby wither and die” is the language of a character who is either mean or acting mean and neither really appeal. At the same time, she’s one of the few empowered female characters. At least she has agency. It’s her power (over Francis, over Remi, over Gillian) and it will be fascinating to see what she uses it for.

Jackie Chamoun photos: Lebanon outdumbs itself

Lebanon’s media has a fine tradition of stupidity, incitement and McCarthyism. It vilifies the weak (foreigners, domestic workers, gays, sex workers) and lionises the strong (“politicians”). I’ve covered this before.

So it won’t come as much surprise to see the reports in the last few days that claimed a topless photo shoot done several years ago by a Lebanese skier, Jackie Chamoun, (to promote her sport) was “scandalous” and had shamed Lebanon in the eyes of the world. I won’t link to the photos, nor shall I shame some websites who have clearly not only shared all the pictures in question with SEO friendly headlines and search words, but have also gone through the video accompanying the shoot and taken screen grabs of the skiers when they are at their most topless. Although I’m tempted.

As has been pointed out, Lebanon’s media morals are currently so skewed that it is totally fine for multiple channels to show the disembowelled corpses of suicide bombing victims, but not fine, apparently, for a grown woman to bare some flesh.

It’s heartening to see the response such reports have provoked, with Lebanese Twitter and Facebook users springing to Chamoun’s defence. Gives one some hope for Lebanon (which rapidly drains out of one after two minutes in front of the news). Chamoun has issued an apology, which I suppose is entirely her prerogative (although speaking personally I’d have preferred a three word response that starts “go fuc…”).

In a giant middle finger to the victims of car bombs and decades of infrastructural decay (things for which resources and time should be allocated) Caretaker Youth and Sports Minister Faisal Karami announced he would be investigating Chamoun’s photo shoot. There is even talk of her being banned from competing in future olympics. Which, if does happen, is about the most perfect analogy of Lebanon’s “misplaced priorities” I’ve seen yet.

Two things:

Lebanon’s Ministry of Tourism has repeatedly produced promotional videos essentially centred on the bodies of Lebanese women. I’ve covered this before, too.

As I wrote a few years back:

There is an argument to say there is little wrong with a country using its natural assets (Lebanon is still poor in resources, and will remain so until the government can agree on what to do with natural gas and oil reserves in the east Mediterranean) to boost its economic draw. As long as the women in the commercial are consensual, what is wrong with flashing their flesh to promote Lebanon? After all, plenty of countries flaunt their female beauty stocks in a bid to draw beach-dwelling binocular users to their shores.

Not plenty of countries, however, display the same level of hypocrisy by on one hand encouraging grabby men to come and ogle their women while denying those same women basic rights enjoyed by men.

Here’s one of those videos for your perusal:

Lebanon has even before taken to the pages of Playboy to flog its women. Anyway. It’s transparently hypocritical to promote women as physical specimens while simultaneously denying them equal treatment in every facet of professional and familial society, just as people without boobs shouldn’t get to tell people with boobs what to do with them.

Secondly, I urge everyone to read this report about the Lebanese ski team and how it has had to overcome unimaginable managerial incompetence, corruption and fecklessness to even make it to the Olympics. Any Olympics.

One might think the media might be, I dunno, proud of a young professional who – like many, many citizens of Lebanon – has had to struggle and fight in the face of downright ineptitude and obstructiveness to achieve their ambition. But as you know by now, that’s not how Lebanon – least of all the politicised media – does things. It’s waspish, petty, self-righteous and stupid. Put that in a tourism video.

Egypt to Britain: May makes us look liberal

It’s not often the threads of my enquiries, disparate as they are between the Middle East, drones and people being deprived of their citizenship, come together in one easily digestible post. But then it’s not often that an Egyptian newspaper comes out with something as wonderful as this:

MayEgyptThat’s an Egyptian state-affiliated newspaper using the example of Theresa May, who recently won parliamentary approval to strip anyone suspected (not convicted) of a crime to have their nationality removed even if it renders them stateless, as proof that the junta that oversaw the deaths of 1000s of protesters and the arrests of dozens of journalists – is liberal.

You have to admire the chutzpah of the Egyptian media in calling out the UK Home Secretary for her mistreatment of terror suspects (in Egypt they are simply shot rather than quietly rendered in permanent exile). But it should stand as a warning to May: When you’re deemed too extreme for Egypt, it might be time to reassess your values.

 

Mistreated African migrants persecuted as they return home from Israel

Here’s a story I worked on with Maeve McClenaghan. Israel has for a number of years been cracking down on the rights of African migrant workers and refugees and has recently taken to offering them money to return home (although this is an unofficial policy, so far as I understand).

This is the tale of one Sudanese man who, fleeing mistreatment, racism and abuse in Israel, tried to return home:

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jan/06/israel-refugees-protest-sudan