A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘iraq

[BLOG] Some Thursday links (1)

I’ve accumulated more than a few links in the past couple of weeks. I wanted to share them, in two posts, before I left Toronto on a week-long vacation in Prince Edward Island.

  • Acts of Minor Treason’s Andrew Barton shares a vintage photo of Toronto’s Union Station from 2010, before the massive construction on Front Street that transformed the scene.
  • Bad Astronomy’s Phil Plait notes that the very large majority of stars in the night sky are quite likely to still be alive, not having died in the mere tens of thousands of years (at most) it has taken for their light to reach us.
  • The Burgh Diaspora’s Jim Russell notes that German attitudes which force women to choose between motherhood and employment aren’t going to work in the long run.
  • Centauri Dreams suggests that landing sites on icy Europa’s chaos regions are likely to give probes access to its biologically interesting water oceans, and notes the serious problems associated with focusing lasers for interstellar solar sails across light years of space.
  • Crooked Timber’s Chris Bertram notes the hardening of British attitudes towards migrants, while John Quiggin notes the role of nepotism in the centres of globalization.
  • The Dragon’s Tales has plenty of interesting links: one suggesting that known exoplanet systems seem to follow Kepler’s law, another suggesting that habitable exomoons are likely to orbit at least part of the time outside of the local stellar habitable zone if they’re to avoid overheating, and a third one mapping the genetic legacies of different ancient migrations to the Western Hemisphere.
  • Eastern Approaches notes the new cosmopolitanism and experimenting of Polish cuisine and chronicles the destructiveness of the continued alienation and even oppression of the Roma of Hungary.
  • Far Outlier’s Joel notes the growing popularity of baseball in the late 19th century Kingdom of Hawai’i and chronicles the origins of smallpox inoculation among the beauty practices of Circassian female slaves.
  • A Fistful of Euros’ Alex Harrowell makes an argument that independent satellite surveillance played a role in the decisions of France and Germany not to involve themselves in Iraq. Commenters dissent, suggesting that an Italy equally plugged into Franco-German networks didn’t care about the intelligence.
  • Joe. My. God. notes that a bare majority of Taiwanese now support same-sex marriage, and comments approvingly about American gay conservative Jamie Kirchick’s calling out of Russian homophobia on Russia Today at the expense of his career with that station.

[LINK] “Syria: Inventing a Religious War”

Facebook’s Conrad linked to Toby Matthiesen‘s post at the New York Review of Books blog about how Shi’ite international support for the Syrian government is a consequence of very specific choices made by the Syrian government to acquire Islamic credibility for the Alawite sect whose members dominated the Syrian elite, and international allies.

Since late May, pictures of Hezbollah militants standing amid the ruins of al-Qusayr, the former Syrian rebel stronghold, have offered dramatic evidence of the extent to which foreign Shia fighters are shifting the course of the Syrian war. To many observers, the Lebanese militia’s entry into the conflict has shown definitively that it has been a sectarian war from the outset. According to this view, Syria’s Alawite sect, to which the Assad clan and its security forces belong, is “quasi Shiite,” a fact which accounts for the government’s alliances to Iran and Hezbollah; while Syrian rebel forces are overwhelmingly dominated by the country’s aggrieved Sunni majority, now backed by the Sunni governments of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey, along with various foreign Sunni jihadis.

But Bashar al-Assad is head of an ostensibly secular Baathist regime and many Shia think that Alawites are heretics. Why exactly is Hezbollah getting involved, and is this conflict really rooted in religion? The answer to both these questions may lie in a suburb of Damascus called Sayyida Zainab, the site of an important Shia shrine and since the 1970s a haven for foreign Shia activists and migrants in Syria. Today, Hezbollah forces, along with Iraqi Shia fighters, defend the suburb. Though the story of Sayyida Zainab is little known in the West, it may help explain why what began as a peaceful uprising against secular authoritarian rule in 2011 has increasingly become a war between Shia and Sunni that has engulfed much of the surrounding region.

Sayyida Zainab—located some six miles to the southeast of central Damascus—is named after the daughter of the first Shia Imam, Ali Ibn Abi Talib. While Zainab is allegedly buried there (Sunnis believe she is buried in the large Sayyida Zainab mosque in Cairo), the site is less important in the Shia tradition than the shrines in Iraq and Iran. In fact Sayyida Zainab only became a site of mass pilgrimage in the 1980s and 1990s, when a large shrine was built around the tomb with Iranian support.

By the time I did fieldwork there in 2008, however, the suburb of around 150,000 people had become a meeting ground for Shia from around the world. During the summer months, the foreign Shia population would reach tens of thousands, with up to one million pilgrims visiting Sayyida Zainab every year. There were clerics and students from the Gulf, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Africa, and South-East Asia, among other places. Publishers of cultural and religious magazines from Iraq and the Arabian Peninsula were having late-night discussions in the bookshops opposite the shrine. Young religious students were sitting in the Hawza Zainabiyya, a large center for Shia religious study there, or in one of the other smaller religious schools reading and discussing with their mentors. Iranian pilgrims could pay with Iranian currency, their thousand-tuman notes with the iconic picture of Khomeini bundled in the hands of the street vendors.

It was a world apart from the coffee houses and government buildings of central Damascus, where the old rhetoric of secular Arab nationalism still dominated, and at the time, I found it difficult to fathom the government’s reasons for allowing a suburb full of foreign religious students and clerics to flourish. Most Syrians I met had never been to Sayyida Zainab, and whenever I told people I was going there, they advised me not to go, complaining about the Iranians and Iraqis living there and arguing that it didn’t belong to the Syria they knew. Only after the Syrian uprising began in 2011 did it become clear to me that Sayyida Zainab was a crucial part of the alliance with Iran and Arab Shia militias that has until now allowed the Assad regime to keep the upper hand in the civil war.

Written by Randy McDonald

June 18, 2013 at 2:36 am

[BLOG] Some Wednesday links

  • Acts of Minor Treason’s Andrew Barton photographs the Gibraltar Point lighthouse and wonders about the Toronto Islands.
  • Bag News Notes visits Iraqi Kurdistan and the survivors of Saddam Hussein’s gassing of the Kurdish city of Halabja.
  • At Behind the Numbers, Mark Mather notes that the projected size of the American population in decades hence has decreased owing to the recession-related fall in the birth rate.
  • Eastern Approaches notes the church-sponsored attack on a gay pride protestin Georgia, its implications for law and order in Georgia, and the impact on Georgia’s reputation abroad.
  • Geocurrents’ Asya Perelstvaig goes over the fluctuating Russo-Finnish border regions.
  • GNXP’s Razib Khan argues that devoting ten thousand hours to practising a particular skill, as described by Gladwell, won’t do anything if one doesn’t have the requisite talent.
  • Language Hat notes an article on the life of Alice Kober, one of the linguists who helped decrypy the Minoan script Linear B.
  • Open the Future’s Jamais Cascio wonders how astronomers would recognize artifacts of a supercivilization–Dyson spheres, FTL warp bubbles, et cetera–as artifacts.
  • Window on Eurasia’s Paul Goble notes that many Russian nationalists are opposed to integrating with post-Soviet countries, particularly in Central Asia, that are currently de-Russifying.

[BLOG] Some Tuesday links

  • Over at the Burgh Diaspora, Jim Russell takes a look at Japan’s system of higher education, with a proliferating number of institutions and faculties but collapsing numbers of students, and argues that financially viable higher education systems will need students beyond their immediate catchment area.
  • Crooked Timber’s Henry Farrell starts a discussion about post-democratic governments such as Italy’s recent Monti government and elsewhere, and wonders what response there can be apart from an inchoate populism.
  • The Dragon’s Tales’ Will Baird links to a paper suggesting that the greenhouse effect has been mitigated in the past decade by the sulfur dioxide from volcanic eruptions.
  • At False Steps, Paul Drye contemplates the abortive joint ESA-Russia effort at an Ariane-launched spaceplane, the Kliper.
  • Geocurrents’ Martin Lewis notes, with some local distinctions, the contrast between a broadly secular and liberal minded core Egypt (Cairo and the upper delta) contrasted with a more conservative rest of the country.
  • At The Power and the Money, Douglas Muir expects the Syrian civil war to continue for a good while yet.
  • Towleroad reports on Lech Walesa’s homophobic statements, denounced even by Walesa’s own son.
  • Understanding Society’s Daniel Little sees reason for concern about the long-term effectiveness and academic credibility of the French university system.
  • Window on Eurasia’s Paul Goble notes, via others, the alienation of western Kazakhstan–rich in natural resources, more conservative, but subordinates–from the remainder of the country.
  • Yorkshire Ranter Alexander Harrowell reminds his readers–proponents of the Iraq war, too–of the broad consensus in the United Kingdom against the 2003 invasion and its sequelae.

[BLOG] Some Friday links

  • James Bow comes out in support of today’s strike by Ontario teachers.
  • Beyond the Beyond’s Bruce Sterling links to an article describing how NASA archivists tried to recover data from a 1960s lunar orbiter.
  • Centauri Dreams has two posts on habitable exomoons, the first on gas giants in the habitable zones of other stars and the second on the requirements for moons to be habitable. (They would need to be roughly a quarter the mass of the Earth.)
  • Daniel Drezner likes the idea of a United States-European Union transatlantic free trade agreement.
  • Eastern Approaches notes the directions of Slovakia’s foreign policy.
  • Norman Geras links to a blogger who suggests that, if Saddam Hussein stayed in power in Iraq, the Arab Spring in that country could have been bloody. (Look at Syria.)
  • Understanding Society’s Daniel Little takes a look at the idea that different generations have different experiences.
  • Window on Eurasia reports on a Russian writer who notes that the North Caucasus and its population cotninues to identify as Russian, and shares in Russian experiences. No separatism there.

[LINK] “Syria border standoff a new front in Iraq-Kurdish rift”

Patrick Markey’s Reuters article analyzing the tensions between autonomous Kurdistan and the Iraqi central government over their respective approaches to the Syrian civil war–Iraqi Kurdistan is closely allying itself with the anti-central Syrian Kurds, at least, while the Iraqi central government dominated by Shi’ites doesn’t want the current Iranian-allied government to be dislodged–makes for cheery reading. Oil makes things wonderfully complicated, too.

Might we yet have another Kurdish war in Iraq, or maybe even a broader conflict?

Over a few days last week, Baghdad and Kurdish officials separately rushed troops to the Syrian frontier, ostensibly to secure it against unrest in the neighboring country; but the mobilization brought Iraqi Arab and Kurdish soldiers face to face along their own disputed internal border.

Washington intervened and a potential clash was avoided. But the standoff opened a new front in Baghdad’s already dangerously fragile relations with the Kurds in their push for more autonomy from central government.

“We don’t want to fight, we are both Iraqis, but if war comes, we won’t run,” said Peshmerga Ismael Murad Khady, sitting under a straw awning to ward off the sun, the battered stock of a BKC machine gun pointing not towards some foreign border but at fellow countrymen manning the Iraqi army post.

Just visible are Iraqi army trenches and tents beyond the empty stretch of road that is now a de facto no-man’s land in this small frontline. Nearby, local cars kick up dust as they take sidetracks to skirt the two posts.

Behind the Peshmerga, a title that means literally ‘those who lay down their lives’, a battery of Kurdish 122-mm howitzers directs its barrels towards the Iraqi line. They are part of the heavier armour reinforcements Kurdistan and Iraq drafted into the disputed area just a kilometre from the Syrian border.

Always a potential flashpoint, tensions between Baghdad and Kurdistan escalated after U.S. troops left in December, removing a buffer between the Iraqi Arab dominated central government and ethnic Kurds who have run their own autonomous area since 1991.

Iraq’s national army units and Peshmerga have faced off before, only to pull back before clashes as both regions tested each other’s nerves, lacking however any interest in confrontation.

Iraq’s Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki, a Shi’ite muslim, and Kurdistan President Masoud Barzani have sparred more aggressively since America’s withdrawal, as Kurdistan chaffs against central government control.

At the heart of their dispute are contested territories claimed by Iraqi Arabs and Kurds and crude reserves now attracting majors like Exxon and Chevron to Kurdistan, upsetting Baghdad, which says it controls rights to develop oil.

Though autonomous, Kurdistan still relies on Baghdad for its share of the national oil revenues.

Kurdistan is growing increasingly closer to neighbour Turkey as it talks about ways to export its own oil and not rely on Baghdad. Maliki’s government accuses Kurdistan of violating the law by signing deals with oil majors.

Written by Randy McDonald

August 9, 2012 at 9:47 pm

[LINK] “Syria border standoff a new front in Iraq-Kurdish rift”

Patrick Markey’s Reuters article analyzing the tensions between autonomous Kurdistan and the Iraqi central government over their respective approaches to the Syrian civil war–Iraqi Kurdistan is closely allying itself with the anti-central Syrian Kurds, at least, while the Iraqi central government dominated by Shi’ites doesn’t want the current Iranian-allied government to be dislodged–makes for cheery reading. Oil makes things wonderfully complicated, too.

Might we yet have another Kurdish war in Iraq, or maybe even a broader conflict?

Over a few days last week, Baghdad and Kurdish officials separately rushed troops to the Syrian frontier, ostensibly to secure it against unrest in the neighboring country; but the mobilization brought Iraqi Arab and Kurdish soldiers face to face along their own disputed internal border.

Washington intervened and a potential clash was avoided. But the standoff opened a new front in Baghdad’s already dangerously fragile relations with the Kurds in their push for more autonomy from central government.

“We don’t want to fight, we are both Iraqis, but if war comes, we won’t run,” said Peshmerga Ismael Murad Khady, sitting under a straw awning to ward off the sun, the battered stock of a BKC machine gun pointing not towards some foreign border but at fellow countrymen manning the Iraqi army post.

Just visible are Iraqi army trenches and tents beyond the empty stretch of road that is now a de facto no-man’s land in this small frontline. Nearby, local cars kick up dust as they take sidetracks to skirt the two posts.

Behind the Peshmerga, a title that means literally ‘those who lay down their lives’, a battery of Kurdish 122-mm howitzers directs its barrels towards the Iraqi line. They are part of the heavier armour reinforcements Kurdistan and Iraq drafted into the disputed area just a kilometre from the Syrian border.

Always a potential flashpoint, tensions between Baghdad and Kurdistan escalated after U.S. troops left in December, removing a buffer between the Iraqi Arab dominated central government and ethnic Kurds who have run their own autonomous area since 1991.

Iraq’s national army units and Peshmerga have faced off before, only to pull back before clashes as both regions tested each other’s nerves, lacking however any interest in confrontation.

Iraq’s Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki, a Shi’ite muslim, and Kurdistan President Masoud Barzani have sparred more aggressively since America’s withdrawal, as Kurdistan chaffs against central government control.

At the heart of their dispute are contested territories claimed by Iraqi Arabs and Kurds and crude reserves now attracting majors like Exxon and Chevron to Kurdistan, upsetting Baghdad, which says it controls rights to develop oil.

Though autonomous, Kurdistan still relies on Baghdad for its share of the national oil revenues.

Kurdistan is growing increasingly closer to neighbour Turkey as it talks about ways to export its own oil and not rely on Baghdad. Maliki’s government accuses Kurdistan of violating the law by signing deals with oil majors.

Written by Randy McDonald

August 9, 2012 at 5:47 pm

[LINK] Two links about social networking undermining journalistic practice

I’ve come across two very considerate essays examining the ways in which social networking bypasses existing journalistic networks and the ethics of their so doing. Jeff Jedras in “Vikileaks and the death of the journalist as news gatekeeper” at A BCer in Toronto talks about the potential for good in removing the shackles of the journalistic establishment from public discourse, while Zeynap Tufekci in “The Syrian Uprising will be Live-Streamed: Youtube & The Surveillance Revolution” at Technosociology talks about the potential bad that comes from allowing every atrocity to be preserved and recorded in minute detail.

First, Jedras. “Vikileaks” refers to @Vikileaks30, a Twitter account created by an unknown person after Canadian Public Security Minister Vic Toews introduced Bill C-30, the Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act. An amendment to the Criminal Code that would give police sweeping powers to intercept individuals’ Internet communications without warrants, the bill was harshly criticized by opposition; Toews responded by saying that opposition MPs could “either stand with us or with the child pornographers.” @Vikileaks30–traced by the Ottawa Citizen to someone operating on the grounds of the House of Commons–then appeared and began tweeting extracts from Toews’ 2008 divorce. Unfettered by the traditional reticence of Canadian journalism, Vikileaks30 revealed that Toews’ marriage apparently came to an end after he fathered a child with his children’s babysitter. After being this revelation, and much scathing criticism besides, it looks like the Conservative government is going to amend this.

Jedras’ view? This, ultimately, is good, since things can’t get hushed up.

What really interests me though is the reaction of the proverbial “main-stream media” to the Vikileaks story, with an Ottawa Citizen piece attempting to trace the IP address of the “@Vikileaks30 leaker” spurring endless speculation and demands to identify the person or persons responsible. It should be noted that had @Vikileaks30 given their documents to a journalist who chose to publish a story based onthem, then the media would be reminding us how important it is to protect the confidentiality of their sources. Even competing outlets wouldn’t try to unmask another journalist’s confidential source. That’s just not cricket, old boy.

[. . .]

Journalists made judgment calls every day on what is news and what isn’t, what people have a right to know, and what isn’t relevant. It’s part of the job in one sense; there’s always more news than column inches or air time. And they see it as a public service. But no one elected them as the arbiters of good taste. They’re accountable to no one but their publisher and the shareholders. It’s a lot of trust, and a lot of responsibility.

The internet, blogging and social media are changing all that however. Now you no longer need a printing press or a television or radio station to publish information to the masses. Anyone with an Internet connection can publish anything they want, and potentially find an audience. And the market will, in away, make its own judgment on its news worthiness. I people find it relevant,they’ll share or re-tweet it and the news finds a wider audience; if they deem it inappropriate it will wither and fade away, perhaps after first being soundly condemned.

What it means, though, is that the role of the traditional media as gatekeeper is drying, if it’s not already dead. With their breadth of reach and size of audience, the regular media is still the fastest way for news to be disseminated to the wider public. But thanks to social media, even if the press deems something“un-newsworthy,” if it gets enough traction online they eventually have no choice but to cover it anyway.

Tufekci’s concern, in contrast, is that the preservation of everything–including every atrocity–and its potential for global transmission will make it impossible for people to forget. Her paradigm is the 2007 filming of an honour killing of an Iraqi Kurdish girl by her Yezidi co-religionists seems to have led directly to al-Qaeda bombings that killed hundreds of Yezidis.

One may wish that stoning death of Yazidi Kurdish young girl Du’a Khalil Aswad in 2007 was never discovered on Youtube, but that seems so trivial compared to wishing that she was never killed in such a cruel, brutal fashion. She was, though, for the alleged crime of seeing a boy of a different faith. She was murdered somewhere early in April 2007 and the video started circulating widely later that month. A few weeks after her killing, and a few months after the video was discovered and made headlines around the world, a series of bombings shook Yazidi villages near Mosul, resulting in about 800 deaths and more than 1,500 injured—making it the single biggest episode of mass killing in an act of political violence since September 11, 2001. While the culprits were never discovered, most observers traced the events to the tensions that began with the video of her death and ended in Al-Qaeda style car-bombs.

The fact that the event was filmed and uploaded to the Internet is quite striking, too, considering the community. The Yazidis are a mostly Kurdish speaking religious group in the Middle East who keep to themselves as much as they can. The reasons for their protectiveness is lengthy and complicated but is related to the fact that a central figure in their faith, Melek Taus is accused of being identical to the Muslim figure of Satan. Having faced much prosecution, and also having a contentious faith in a contentious region, Yazidi society is predicated upon keeping outsiders out and practices strict endogamy—no marriage with outsiders.

Du’a Khalil, just 17 years old, crossed just that line with her alleged relationship with, and rumored conversion to Islam. For that, she was dragged by a few dozen men who proceeded to beat her to death as she curled up on the ground, bleeding. The shaky and grainy video, which I saw in bits over the space of a few days as I could not bear to watch in in a single sitting, shows at least *three* people recording her stoning with cell phones. It is quite stunning to think—not only are they killing her –this secretive, closed society which managed to survive for thousands of years by being so guarded and cautious— her killers felt like they should film this. And, more, upload it to the Internet.

Tufekci, thinking particularly of the huge volumes of material–video, audio, text–coming out of Syria as the incipient civil war takes hold, wonders what will happen in other conflict regions.

I have more questions than answers. What does it mean that everything –ranging from the most trivial but especially the non-trivial– has such a great chance of being available worldwide? Does this level of documentation make it more likely that the international community will be compelled to react to atrocities–which will likely come with higher and higher levels of documentation? Or will this, too, become just background noise, similar to famines or disease in Africa have become for most of the world (except the victims, of course)? Does the level of documentation and surveillance make it harder to establish processes like the Truth and Reconciliation efforts in places ranging from South Africa to Guatemala? Will this amount of documentation of atrocities make divisions even more likely and pernicious–as the ability to forgive often needs some level of forgetting? And the Internet, it seems, does not forget. Will this all make regime bureaucrats more likely to defect—as “I was just pushing paper and had no idea all this was going on” has become an even weaker defense? Or will they cling to power to the very end as much as they can, knowing their victims and survivors have much evidence as well as awful reminders of their crimes?

I don’t have the answers but I’m quite convinced that we’ve entered an irreversible point in terms of documentation of our lives, including death and destruction—not just baby pictures and trips, parties and graduations. There is no going back. And tools matter just as wars with nuclear weapons are different than wars with bows and arrows, a world with cell-phone cameras in every other hand is different than a world which depended on traditional journalists and mass media gate-keepers for its news.

As a commenter at Technosociology points out, the critical issue is whether human compassion will keep pace with human technology.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 21, 2012 at 3:59 am

[LINK] Two links about social networking undermining journalistic practice

I’ve come across two very considerate essays examining the ways in which social networking bypasses existing journalistic networks and the ethics of their so doing. Jeff Jedras in “Vikileaks and the death of the journalist as news gatekeeper” at A BCer in Toronto talks about the potential for good in removing the shackles of the journalistic establishment from public discourse, while Zeynap Tufekci in “The Syrian Uprising will be Live-Streamed: Youtube & The Surveillance Revolution” at Technosociology talks about the potential bad that comes from allowing every atrocity to be preserved and recorded in minute detail.

First, Jedras. “Vikileaks” refers to @Vikileaks30, a Twitter account created by an unknown person after Canadian Public Security Minister Vic Toews introduced Bill C-30, the Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act. An amendment to the Criminal Code that would give police sweeping powers to intercept individuals’ Internet communications without warrants, the bill was harshly criticized by opposition; Toews responded by saying that opposition MPs could “either stand with us or with the child pornographers.” @Vikileaks30–traced by the Ottawa Citizen to someone operating on the grounds of the House of Commons–then appeared and began tweeting extracts from Toews’ 2008 divorce. Unfettered by the traditional reticence of Canadian journalism, Vikileaks30 revealed that Toews’ marriage apparently came to an end after he fathered a child with his children’s babysitter. After being this revelation, and much scathing criticism besides, it looks like the Conservative government is going to amend this.

Jedras’ view? This, ultimately, is good, since things can’t get hushed up.

What really interests me though is the reaction of the proverbial “main-stream media” to the Vikileaks story, with an Ottawa Citizen piece attempting to trace the IP address of the “@Vikileaks30 leaker” spurring endless speculation and demands to identify the person or persons responsible. It should be noted that had @Vikileaks30 given their documents to a journalist who chose to publish a story based onthem, then the media would be reminding us how important it is to protect the confidentiality of their sources. Even competing outlets wouldn’t try to unmask another journalist’s confidential source. That’s just not cricket, old boy.

[. . .]

Journalists made judgment calls every day on what is news and what isn’t, what people have a right to know, and what isn’t relevant. It’s part of the job in one sense; there’s always more news than column inches or air time. And they see it as a public service. But no one elected them as the arbiters of good taste. They’re accountable to no one but their publisher and the shareholders. It’s a lot of trust, and a lot of responsibility.

The internet, blogging and social media are changing all that however. Now you no longer need a printing press or a television or radio station to publish information to the masses. Anyone with an Internet connection can publish anything they want, and potentially find an audience. And the market will, in away, make its own judgment on its news worthiness. I people find it relevant,they’ll share or re-tweet it and the news finds a wider audience; if they deem it inappropriate it will wither and fade away, perhaps after first being soundly condemned.

What it means, though, is that the role of the traditional media as gatekeeper is drying, if it’s not already dead. With their breadth of reach and size of audience, the regular media is still the fastest way for news to be disseminated to the wider public. But thanks to social media, even if the press deems something“un-newsworthy,” if it gets enough traction online they eventually have no choice but to cover it anyway.

Tufekci’s concern, in contrast, is that the preservation of everything–including every atrocity–and its potential for global transmission will make it impossible for people to forget. Her paradigm is the 2007 filming of an honour killing of an Iraqi Kurdish girl by her Yezidi co-religionists seems to have led directly to al-Qaeda bombings that killed hundreds of Yezidis.

One may wish that stoning death of Yazidi Kurdish young girl Du’a Khalil Aswad in 2007 was never discovered on Youtube, but that seems so trivial compared to wishing that she was never killed in such a cruel, brutal fashion. She was, though, for the alleged crime of seeing a boy of a different faith. She was murdered somewhere early in April 2007 and the video started circulating widely later that month. A few weeks after her killing, and a few months after the video was discovered and made headlines around the world, a series of bombings shook Yazidi villages near Mosul, resulting in about 800 deaths and more than 1,500 injured—making it the single biggest episode of mass killing in an act of political violence since September 11, 2001. While the culprits were never discovered, most observers traced the events to the tensions that began with the video of her death and ended in Al-Qaeda style car-bombs.

The fact that the event was filmed and uploaded to the Internet is quite striking, too, considering the community. The Yazidis are a mostly Kurdish speaking religious group in the Middle East who keep to themselves as much as they can. The reasons for their protectiveness is lengthy and complicated but is related to the fact that a central figure in their faith, Melek Taus is accused of being identical to the Muslim figure of Satan. Having faced much prosecution, and also having a contentious faith in a contentious region, Yazidi society is predicated upon keeping outsiders out and practices strict endogamy—no marriage with outsiders.

Du’a Khalil, just 17 years old, crossed just that line with her alleged relationship with, and rumored conversion to Islam. For that, she was dragged by a few dozen men who proceeded to beat her to death as she curled up on the ground, bleeding. The shaky and grainy video, which I saw in bits over the space of a few days as I could not bear to watch in in a single sitting, shows at least *three* people recording her stoning with cell phones. It is quite stunning to think—not only are they killing her –this secretive, closed society which managed to survive for thousands of years by being so guarded and cautious— her killers felt like they should film this. And, more, upload it to the Internet.

Tufekci, thinking particularly of the huge volumes of material–video, audio, text–coming out of Syria as the incipient civil war takes hold, wonders what will happen in other conflict regions.

I have more questions than answers. What does it mean that everything –ranging from the most trivial but especially the non-trivial– has such a great chance of being available worldwide? Does this level of documentation make it more likely that the international community will be compelled to react to atrocities–which will likely come with higher and higher levels of documentation? Or will this, too, become just background noise, similar to famines or disease in Africa have become for most of the world (except the victims, of course)? Does the level of documentation and surveillance make it harder to establish processes like the Truth and Reconciliation efforts in places ranging from South Africa to Guatemala? Will this amount of documentation of atrocities make divisions even more likely and pernicious–as the ability to forgive often needs some level of forgetting? And the Internet, it seems, does not forget. Will this all make regime bureaucrats more likely to defect—as “I was just pushing paper and had no idea all this was going on” has become an even weaker defense? Or will they cling to power to the very end as much as they can, knowing their victims and survivors have much evidence as well as awful reminders of their crimes?

I don’t have the answers but I’m quite convinced that we’ve entered an irreversible point in terms of documentation of our lives, including death and destruction—not just baby pictures and trips, parties and graduations. There is no going back. And tools matter just as wars with nuclear weapons are different than wars with bows and arrows, a world with cell-phone cameras in every other hand is different than a world which depended on traditional journalists and mass media gate-keepers for its news.

As a commenter at Technosociology points out, the critical issue is whether human compassion will keep pace with human technology.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 20, 2012 at 10:59 pm

[BLOG] Some Friday links

  • Crooked Timber’s John Quiggin takes a cue from Yemeni instability to wonder what the American relationship with Middle Eastern states should be. (He concludes that controlled disengagement from the doomed regimes is inevitable.)
  • Eastern Approaches’ author is unimpressed by the ongoing Polish-Lithuanian disputes over the exact position of the latter country’s Polish minority, noting that it detracts from the security of both countries.
  • The Global Sociology Blog wonders why American veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from significantly higher rates of PTSD than their British counterparts.
  • GNXP’s Razib Khan reports that the recent astonishing statistic claiming that 46% of Mississippi Republicans would like to make interracial marriage illegal is actually quite plausible. Luckily, Mississippi seems to be an extreme outlier even in its region of the United States.
  • Slap Upside the Head notes that, in place of gay-straight alliances, Catholic school boards in Ontario have instituted tolerance discussion groups which somehow never get around to discussing homophobia.
  • Finally, at the Volokh Conspiracy, Eugene Volokh observes that an Americna court ruled that a university was well within its First Amendment rights to identify Turkish diasporic group information on the Armenian genocide as unreliable.
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