The World Tomorrow (Episode 8: Cypherpunks – Part 1): chatty conversation about online surveillance, loss of privacy and reclaiming online freedoms

Julian Assange, “The World Tomorrow (Episode 8: Cypherpunks – Part 1)” (Russia Today, 5 June 2012)

Yes, you read that right and it’s not a typo: Cypherpunks is a movement that originated in the late 1980s by activists aiming to improve individuals’ privacy and security and to act for social change through the proactive use of cryptography and who set up the Cypherpunks’ Electronic Mailing List to achieve those ends. In this discussion which spans two episodes, Assange shoots the breeze with Jacob Applebaum, a staff research scientist at the University of Washington and developer and advocate for the Tor Project, an online anonymity system to fight government and corporate surveillance and Internet censorship; Andy Mueller-Maguhn of the Chaos Computer Club in Germany who also runs a company called Cryptophone; and Jeremie Zimmermann of the citizen advocacy group La Quadrature du Net which is a European organisation defending online anonymity rights and encouraging awareness of government regulatory attacks on Internet freedoms. The episode available on Youtube.com and the Russia Today website lasts about 27 minutes but a transcript of the 90 minutes of the first part of the interview is available online.

The discussion ranges from obvious topics like Facebook and its role in facilitating government, corporate and military access to people’s privacy and personal information to the extent that Andy says, quite justifiably in a way, that Facebook users are the product and the client base is the advertising companies and other agencies interesting in using the information Facebook users post to their accounts with the network; to the changing role of computer hackers in the online world and their responsibility in creating online tools and encouraging their use for democracy and open exchange of information, and for fighting surveillance, invasion of privacy and repression through the violation of privacy and use and manipulation of personal information. Issues that arise include the increasing complexity of information technology and companies’ deliberate attempts to make understanding this technology difficult by designing IT hardware in such a way that people will have problems opening it to look at the components and see how they all fit together, among other things; the militarisation of cyber-space, IT hardware and even the language used in describing IT concepts and cyber-systems and structures; and how people might win back online freedoms, rights and privileges. Online surveillance of people’s activities and information by governments and other agencies arises again and again to the extent that as a theme it completely dominates the conversation.

More conversational than a formal discussion or interview, the foursome are chatty and meander from one topic to the next so that viewers really have to concentrate hard to follow the direction of talk among the quartet of hackers and media activists. The Cypherpunks guys mention Wikileaks and Assange’s previous work as a hacker in the 1980s quite a bit in a slightly fawning way.

It’s a pity that the episode doesn’t show or have Assange asking Applebaum, Zimmermann or Mueller-Maguhn what they recommend people should do to reduce their online exposure to government, corporate, military and other surveillance, and to resist attempts from those agencies to control their activities or capture information about them. Zimmermann’s admission that he doesn’t use Facebook points to one way people can reduce their online vulnerability to privacy violation. Twitter and Google are mentioned as enabling surveillance and encouraging people to surrender their privacy and information to unknown agents and so avoidance of both, where possible, should be considered.

The discussion ends on the participants more or less agreeing that decentralisation of power and control and people reclaiming that power and control and creating their own information networks are best though no ideas or suggestions are thrown about as to how such decentralisation and reclamation might proceed.

Fukushima Fallout: even-handed survey of situation in northeast Japan, one year after the earthquake / tsunami / nuclear meltdown disaster

Kathy Hearn, “Fukushima Fallout” (101 East / Al Jazeera, 8 March 2012)

A year after the combined earthquake / tsunami / Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant explosion and meltdown disaster in northeast Japan in March, 2011, very little has appeared in the news about how the country is coping and whether there’ve been moves to prevent another nuclear plant catastrophe. This documentary by Kathy Hearn, made for the 101 East program on the TV news channel Al Jazeera, goes some way towards explaining what’s been happening in Fukushima and surrounds, what the Japanese government has been doing (or not doing), what the Tokyo Electric Power Company has been doing (or not doing) and what ordinary citizens have been up to and how they have been coping. Hearn travelled about northeast Japan to interview Fukushima residents and refugees, a TEPCO spokesperson, an actor-turned-activist, some politicians, a researcher and others about their views on the nuclear disaster and what they believe Japan should be doing with the Fukushima reactors, other nuclear reactors around the country, and its future energy needs.

Hearn provides some voice-over narration and appears sporadically throughout the documentary: her style is straightforward and low-key, sticking to presenting the facts she finds. She allows her interviewees to speak for themselves with English-language translators speaking over them where needed. Throughout the film, various issues in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster arise and pop up periodically: the ragged psychological health of the Fukushima residents and refugees, many of whom are suffering stress, uncertainty and depression; the continuing leakage of radiation from the stricken reactors into the environment and the panic and other reactions this causes; the inaction and obfuscation by the Japanese government and TEPCO; and what to do about the country’s remaining nuclear reactors. All these issues and others are linked: the longer the government and TEPCO delay doing anything significant to the Dai-ichi nuclear complex, the more frustrated and upset people in the affected areas become. A researcher is shown teaching Fukushima residents how to take matters in their own hands and not rely on the government for help that might never come; a volunteer, Kenji, delivers donated bottled water to elderly residents and teaches yoga as a way of helping people to cope with stress.

The film moves at a steady clip and features some beautiful nature vistas in parts. There is a sickly kitsch Oriental music soundtrack but most of the time it’s not obtrusive. The narrative frequently takes the point of view of the interviewees and zigzags smoothly between individual points of view and an overarching general survey of the situation in Fukushima and Japan.

While the documentary tries to be even-handed in its treatment of its interviewees and of TEPCO and the government, neither condemning nor praising anyone, it’s hard not to be angry at Japan’s leaders and TEPCO for concentrating so heavily on nuclear energy production and neglecting other forms of energy production such as solar energy, wind energy, tidal energy and geothermal energy. The United States also must share some of the blame for pressuring Japan in the late 1940s and the 1950s into adopting nuclear energy technology as part of the American Cold War strategy to use allies to counter the power of the Soviet Union.

Perhaps the film could have gone much further and looked at ways in which Japan is developing alternative forms of energy production and by doing so, ended on a more optimistic note about the country’s future. As is, Hearn’s presentation is an interesting and informative survey of the post-3/11 nuclear meltdown disaster and of how people cope with on-going stress and uncertainty in the face of a dithering and ineffective government.

 

The Stark Truth: Interview with Joseph Fasciani – an informative and valuable hour with social credit / small-scale capitalism advocate

Robert Stark, “The Stark Truth: Interview with Joseph Fasciani” (Voice of Reason, 27 April 2012)

With the global financial industry coming under greater public scrutiny and people beginning to question the assumptions underlying debt-based financial systems, perhaps it’s time to investigate social credit as a possible credible alternative to a system in which to create money, it is created as debt and thus automatically births an unequal relationship in which the lender has power over the borrower. In this episode of “The Stark Truth”, Robert Stark discusses social credit with US-born Canadian writer / poet Joseph Fasciani and various issues related to or deriving from it. The interview is highly informative though at times tough-going as I’ve already discovered with previous “The Stark Truth” episodes; if listeners’ attention wavers even for less than a minute, the thread of conversation can be lost very quickly as interviewer and interviewee range over a very wide territory of all things monetary. Fasciani has a strong interest in monetary systems, especially alternative monetary systems, and his enthusiasm for social credit and alternative economic ideas such as distributism is reflected in the depth of his knowledge about these and in his articulate speaking manner.

Although Fasciani spent the first 26 years of his life in the United States and was a successful self-employed businessman in California, he emigrated to Canada in 1969, dissatisfied with the direction of society in his native country, and much of what he talks about with Stark is about Canadian society, especially society in British Columbia and Alberta, and Canadian politics. He traces the history of social credit in Canada, how for a while it was successful and how ultimately the Canadian government under Prime Minister Brian Mulroney in the 1980s throttled it by privatising so many public institutions and corporations. The fact that the social credit movement was dominated by charismatic individuals or families with few if any of the principles of social credit written down did not help the movement either. Fasciani also explains how social credit works in Canada; to me, a couple of examples he uses to illustrate its workings seem the same as what the Australian government does except here in Australia the “social credit” is called a “tax rebate”. So Australia has also been following social credit principles and I did not know that!

Interesting topics discussed include a theory on why US President Abraham Lincoln was killed in 1865 – it was apparently nothing to do with conventional explanations of John Wilkes Booth’s motivations and possibly everything to do with the President’s attempts to control money creation and supply in defiance of private banks – plus banking and finance in the Roman empire, Austrian economics, the need for small-scale capitalism, a social service tax on alcohol and tobacco (which together are responsible for 40% of health care costs in Canada), US retailing giant Walmart and the rise of Barack Obama from obscurity in Chicago to the White House and the incestuous relationships of money, as Fasciani puts it, backing him. On each topic, Fasciani dives straight into the deep end and if it weren’t for his plain style of speaking, I’d have been totally lost on several topics he speaks on.

Fasciani is a surprisingly humble man, saying at the end of the interview that he hopes Stark’s listeners gained something out of what he said for nearly an hour. Wow, there is so much to be gained just from five minutes of his time alone! Googling his name, I could not find if he had a website but he is on Facebook and has written several articles for various websites including an essay “Gaza is our Guernica” in which he deplores the Israeli genocide of the Palestinian people.

The World Tomorrow (Episode 7: Occupy Movement): a lively discussion which cuts out before the really interesting parts

Julian Assange, “The World Tomorrow (Episode 7: Occupy Movement)” (Russia Today, 29 May 2012)

Unfortunately the transcript of this episode is unavailable so this review is based on the half-hour video clip made of the interview which was filmed in the former Deutsche Bank building in London, due to the number of people who turned up to make this episode. Here, Assange interviews the leaders and organisers of the Occupy Wall Street and Occupy London movements. The program splits into two parts: the first part looks at how the Occupy movement arose and the second part attempts to chart out a likely future path for the movement.

The leaders of the Occupy movement link it to the Arab Spring uprisings that originated in Tunisia and spread to Egypt and other parts of the Middle East. Issues that arise during the activists’ conversation include the role of social media in the spread and maintenance of the Occupy movement and people’s realisation that the role of the nation-state in the early 21st century has changed radically from what’s usually taken for granted – a political, social and economic entity that expresses the culture, beliefs, hopes and identity of the people who inhabit its space – and that public policy in nations is not necessarily determined by their politicians on behalf of the electorates who vote for or support them. Several streams of influence have fed into the Occupy movement so it is a multi-cephalic hydra that responds to different political and economic environments in many ways yet whether in London, New York or elsewhere, the movement’s strands have some values and goals in common. The movement is particularly grounded in a historical and economic context: among other things, the Global Financial Crisis in 2008 exposed some of the workings and the agenda of the global banking industry and enlightened many people as to the true nature of capitalist society and its institutions.

One diversion from the discussion of the nature of the Occupy movement  comes halfway in the film where Assange mentions Bradley Manning, the US military whistleblower who supplied thousands of US cables to Wikileaks and stresses the way in which US authorities have used him to warn people of the consequences if they follow his rebellious example. The topic isn’t dealt with in much detail but segues into a talk about how Occupy has developed its own forms of media to bypass the official mainstream news media.

An interesting topic Assange raises is Occupy’s preference for using public space instead of underground cyber-networks to spread its message and agenda. This issue continues for several minutes and the activists explain why they prefer to use and dominate public spaces and land. Conflicts that arise between groups within Occupy and between Occupy and the police are dealt with in different ways by the movement in London and New York, depending on the severity of the reaction towards Occupy from the authorities.

The video cuts out before Assange and his guests can discuss the future of Occupy which is a blow. Generally though the conversation meandered quite a lot and some issues were dealt with in considerable depth and others only sparingly. The Occupy activists spoke well and were sincere and passionate about their cause. Had I had access to the transcript, I’d have been able to judge whether this is one of the better episodes in “The World Tomorrow” series but the conversation was quite lively and convivial.

 

 

The Stark Truth: Interview with Marc Armstrong – the case for public banks

Robert Stark, “The Stark Truth: Interview with Marc Armstrong” (Voice of Reason, 7 May 2012)

With recent public anger at the behaviour of large private banks over the last 30 years across the world, it’s time to revisit the idea of publicly owned banks that accept deposits and lend money purely to fund the production of goods and services. In Australia, all major banks are now privately owned and only the central bank, the Reserve Bank of Australia, is owned by the Australian government. In the United States, there is one publicly owned bank, the Bank of North Dakota, which funds public infrastructure projects in a state that has experienced rapid economic growth and has the lowest employment rate in a country where most states have struggling economies and many people out of work. In this episode, journalist Robert Stark interviews Marc Armstrong of the Public Banking Institute which advocates the creation of public banks at state and community level and holds the Bank of North Dakota as an ideal to emulate. The interview can be found at this link.

Armstrong makes a very strong case for public banks as major agents that stimulate investment and activity in an economy suffering downturns and credit crunches, and which moderate economic growth and prevent over-heating in the form of runaway inflation and a “two-speed” economy aka Dutch Elm disease in which some booming industries encourage capital flight away from other industries which then slump, affecting jobs and employment and other industries that depend on them. Throughout the interview Armstrong points out how public banks help economies climb out of recession, empower small businesses, create flexibility and adaptability in an economy and devolve power away from centralised institutions and give it back to communities. He points out that China has  a central public bank that serves the people and finances major infrastructure projects.

The Bank of North Dakota gets considerable attention as the US’s only major public bank and Armstrong notes that it is 100% state-owned. He talks about the history of the BND, how it was founded by farmers and the fact that the bank has so far been able to keep out-of-state corporations away from North Dakota’s agricultural industries. He notes that North Dakota has always had a strongly populist tradition and that the idea of public banking is not a “leftist” or socialist idea as some people to think but, on the contrary, has a strong libertarian appeal in that it enables communities to regain control of their money supply and use it in ways that benefit their members. Indeed, he notes that the US Constitution provides support for having public banks as creating money and regulating its value is a sovereign task of US Congress and such activity is best done through a people’s bank.

Stark asks intelligent questions from the viewpoint of Californians as he lives in the state itself and, at the time of the episode’s broadcast, the California State Assembly currently had AB2500 before it, this bill being a proposal to reintroduce public banking in the Golden Gate state. Armstrong answers questions clearly and well: the man not only knows what’s there to know about public banking, he is a Very Big Believer in the worth of public banking. At the end of the interview, Stark asks Armstrong to plug his organisation, the Public Banking Institute, and Armstrong runs through a list of activities and symposia being held to promote public banks.

This is a very important interview for all Americans and for others living in countries where public banks either don’t exist or used to exist and where private banks are held in contempt due to a history of exploitation based on debt. In case listeners are not convinced of the claims Armstrong makes for public banks or miss much of the interview – it is very involved and people must be able to follow the medium-fast flow of conversation – they can always visit the Public Banking Institute’s website or attend any activities and symposia hosted by the organisation.

The Stark Truth: Interview with Anatoly Karlin – enjoyable if demanding interview with rising young intellectual

Robert Stark, “The Stark Truth: Interview with Anatoly Karlin” (Voice of Reason, 4 May 2012)

I’ve been visiting Russian-American political analyst Anatoly Karlin’s blogs Sublime Oblivion, AKarlin.com and Da Russophile since late last year so I was keen to hear The Man speak on Robert Stark’s program on the Voice of Reason network. The interview is available for listening at this link. In the interview, Karlin discusses some of the posts he put up recently on AKarlin..com: race realism versus race denial; disparities in IQ levels among different human populations or races and the implications for future economic development and national wealth; homophobia and why homosexuality exists in all human societies despite its apparent uselessness for the survival of the human species; and the geography of global human capital and potential as measured by average PISA scores for mathematics, science and reading achieved by 15 year old students and what these say about IQ levels in populations.

Karlin seems a bit nervous during the interview with a few “ums” and “ahs” throughout but once he starts explaining his posts, he becomes more assured. He starts off explaining why and how he started his blogs which examine trends in politics, economics and culture across the world that are likely to determine what the future will be like and which countries, cultures or economies will be dominant. The kinds of questions Stark asks Karlin perhaps reflect his audience’s political preferences: he asks Karlin what he thinks of US presidential candidate Ron Paul’s attitudes towards the question of race. A quick look at past interviewees on The Stark Truth: Voice of Reason website reveals a wide range of political, social and economic viewpoints among them but the common denominator is that they are people whom the mainstream media wouldn’t touch with a six-metre barge pole.

Stark and Karlin spend a lot of time discussing issues of race and race realism and in particular proponents of race realism like liberal-leaning Robert Lindsay and the more conservative Steve Sailer. The conservation then segues into physical and cultural differences across nations and gets quite funny when Karlin explains to Stark that a world map actually exists of average penis sizes among nations. After a break halfway through the interview, the discussion moves to the geography of human capital. Stark quizzes Karlin on the high PISA results achieved by Chinese students, especially those by Shanghai-based students, compared to the low results achieved by students in oil-rich countries such as Kuwait. Near last on the agenda is homophobia, what feeds it and homophobia’s likely cultural roots in Western societies. Other topics discussed include freedom, Karlin’s own freedom index and how the United States, the United Kingdom and other selected countries (like Israel!) rate on that index. Yep, there is a definite hidden political agenda behind Stark’s questioning though it is not necessarily sinister; Stark is interested in why Russia rates as a more democratic state than China despite China being more capitalist in its economic orientation and in how the Palestinian question influences Israel’s ranking.

The discussions can be quite dry and listeners do have to pay a lot of attention but there’s not much in the interview that isn’t also in the posts on Karlin’s blogs. The posts often feature colourful graphs and maps, many of which Karlin creates himself (and some of which I found I could create too when investigating and comparing infant mortality rates for Australia, Russia and several other countries while reading one post on Da Russophile), plus there are comments forums populated by a bunch of regular visitors including Yours Trolling Truly and occasional wanderers.

I enjoyed hearing the interview though it is demanding and listeners do need to concentrate on following the subject threads.

 

The World Tomorrow (Episode 6: Rafael Correa): Ecuador as microcosm of Latin America in struggling for democracy and social justice

Julian Assange, “The World Tomorrow (Episode 6: Rafael Correa)” (Russia Today, 22 May 2012)

Halfway through the series, Assange must have read my mind telepathically as his interview subject for Episode 6 is President Rafael Correa of Ecuador and the general theme of the interview is Ecuador as a microcosm of Latin America in its struggle to bring democracy and social justice to its citizens and throw off domination by its own political and economic elites and by the West (predominantly the United States). Correa is an enthusiastic and passionate interviewee who fervently believes in his cause and destiny as the focus for his people’s desire for change and improvement. He is sympathetic to Assange’s plight – at the time, Assange had already spent 500 days under house arrest – and among other things the two discuss Wikileaks’ role in exposing the Ecuadorian mainstream media as complicit in aiding the country’s elites in concentrating and maintaining power and what remedies to undertake to ensure that the Ecuadorian media serves the people instead of a select privileged few. Inevitably Assange and Correa also dissect Ecuador’s relationship with the United States, how the United States has treated Ecuador (and by implication the rest of Latin America) and what the Obama government should be doing to address and satisfy the American people’s demands for democracy and social justice as expressed by the Occupy movements.

As with previous episodes, the episode seen on Youtube.com shows only excerpts of the interview; a full transcript in English and Spanish can be seen at this link. There is far more interesting information in the transcript about a near-coup in September 2010 that could have threatened Correa’s life and how this coup links to a far more serious problem about the role of the media and journalists in maintaining a corrupt political, social and economic order in Ecuador. Correa expounds at some length about how Ecuador’s mainstream media, largely private and controlled by large corporations and banks, has resisted calls for democracy, the rule of law and social justice, and has allowed its owners to hold the country’s major political, legal and economic institutions to ransom. Journalists have acted as shock troops leading the charge in the repression of people’s rights and freedoms. This news comes as something of a shock to Assange and me though really when I consider the state of the news media in Australia and in other Anglophone countries, this should be no surprise at all: the news media in Australia has consistently supported large private interests and encouraged the general public to support politically conservative parties. Is it any surprise that Australia’s early 20th-century reputation as a socially progressive country quickly faded away? Assange suggests to Correa that the solution is for his government to break up the media monopolies and cartels and to ease market barriers of entry to allow small publishers and individuals to make themselves heard without fear of penalty; Correa replies that Ecuador is already discussing a new law regulating its media to enable public government and community organisations to launch radio and TV stations to compete with private broadcasting interests.

An important topic discussed is leadership which Correa defines as the capacity to influence others and to be the focus for change and people’s aspirations for a better life and for justice. Interestingly Correa sees his leadership role as serving his people in fighting poverty and injustice. Assange and Correa discuss US President Barack Obama with respect to his leadership so far of the United States and his ability (or not) to respond to the American people’s demands as expressed through the Occupy Wall Street movement.

The interview ends on a positive note and a little joke as Assange warns Correa against assassination. In its truncated version, this is a highly informative and very revealing interview, and definitely one of the better episodes in this series.

The World Tomorrow (Episode 5: Moazzam Begg, Asim Qureshi): series is becoming repetitive and a little disappointing

Julian Assange, “The World Tomorrow (Episode 5: Moazzam Begg, Asim Qureshi)” (Russia Today, 15 May 2012)

At last Julian Assange gets a real cosy conversation with both interviewees bunkered down with him in his house prison. Moazzam Begg  is a British citizen of Pakistani origin who was detained in both the Bagram Theater Internment Facility and the Guantanamo Bay detention camp for three years by the US government until his release in January 2005.  He and Asim Qureshi, a former corporate lawyer, run Cage Prisoners Ltd, a human rights organisation working to raise public awareness of prisoners still trapped in Guantanamo Bay prison. The talk is part-interview / part-discussion as Assange sets the agenda in a general way and Begg and Qureshi answer his questions and probing to the best of their ability.

Begg and Qureshi are polite and articulate interviewees who are open about what it means to be Muslim and to witness for their fellow Muslims and struggle on their behalf. They discuss the concept of “jihad” and what “submission” to God means to them personally as Muslims. Assange questions the men at length about how they reconcile their beliefs in Islam and their concept of an Islamic caliphate with social justice and living in the modern world. The three range across many issues facing Muslims in the world after the World Trade Center attacks on 11 September 2001, in particular the Arab Spring events, and how Muslims across the Middle East and northern Africa are continuing to push for democracy and social justice and move away from repressive dictatorships supported by foreign powers. Finally Begg and Qureshi talk about why they formed Cage Prisoners Ltd and why they want to continue agitating for the rights of people still trapped in Guantanamo Bay prison and similar prisons around the world.

The episode is a very condensed version of what the men actually talked about; a full transcript is available. Reading the transcript, I discover that Begg is quite knowledgeable about the history of British repression of the IRA and early support for mujahideen fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s and Colonel Gadhafi in Libya in 2011, and how current laws in the UK being passed to restrict Muslims’ rights and to spy on them can very easily be used against the rest of the British population. There is mention of Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born imam who was killed by a US drone strike in Yemen in 2011 and what his death represents in the context of the US becoming a criminal police state that kills people before they’ve even been charged with committing crimes. There is also talk about Western hypocrisy in the conduct of the War on Terror and the demonisation of al Qa’ida.

Assange still can’t quite get his head around the concept of “submission” to God, taking “submission” very literally whereas I suspect that for most Muslims, “submission” refers to accepting God and religion with all its disciplines and strictures in their lives, and the spiritual peace and assurance that come with that acceptance. I am disappointed that Assange didn’t ask his interviewees more details about what Cage Prisoners Ltd is doing to publicise their cause and how the general public in Britain can support the organisation’s activities.

Interestingly near the beginning of the talk, Begg mentions that while in prison he heard the sounds of a woman screaming next door and was told the woman was his wife: he does not say which prison he was in at the time but if he had been in Bagram when he heard these sounds, it’s very likely that he had been hearing Dr Aafia Siddiqui, the Pakistani “Grey Lady of Bagram” neuroscientist, arrested with three of her children while in Pakistan in 2003, and imprisoned and subjected to horrific abuse for five years while the children disappeared. In 2008, Siddiqui was arrested in Afghanistan and while in custody, supposedly shot US soldiers guarding her; for this, she was forced to stand trial in the US in 2010 despite being severely ill and was convicted of all charges against her. At this time of writing, Siddiqui remains in jail, having been sentenced to 86 years’ imprisonment; two of her children were returned to her family and the third child is now known to have died during her initial 2003 arrest.

Overall this episode was a good introduction to Moazzam Begg, Cage Prisoners and the work they are doing but beyond that, I’m afraid there’s not much really substantial that hasn’t already been dealt with in previous “The World Tomorrow” episodes. The series is starting to sound repetitive with constant references to the Arab Spring, Tunisia and Egypt, and while the fight for democracy and social justice in the Arab world is important, the concept of the series was intended to be more inclusive of ideas and concepts going beyond current events.

The World Tomorrow (Episode 4: Nabeel Rajab, Alaa Abdal-Fattah): a lesson in how to be a human rights activist / revolutionary

Julian Assange, “The World Tomorrow (Episode 4: Nabeel Rajab, Alaa Abdal-Fattah)” (Russia Today, 8 May 2012)

In this episode, Assange interviews two human rights activist revolutionaries, Nabeel Rajab of Bahrain and Alaa Abdal-Fattah of Egypt. At the time of the interview, Rajab had been menaced by police and government authorities who had tried to arrest at home while he was in the UK visiting Assange; after the interview, Rajab returned to Bahrain and was almost immediately detained by the authorities. Abdal-Fattah was under house arrest and forbidden to travel so he participated in the interview through a Skype connection. The interview took up three hours but only 28 minutes made it to video and this video constitutes the basis for this review.

Both interviewees are very articulate about their respective countries’ politics and the general politics of the Middle East. Rajab provides a quick short history of Bahrain: the country has long been ruled by one family with Western support (mostly British as Adam Curtis’s post “If You Take My Advice – I’d Repress Them” on his blog reveals) while the desires and needs of the Bahraini people for democracy go ignored. The media organisation Al Jazeera supports the Bahraini government and does not report on the meddling of Saudi Arabia in Bahraini affairs; ergo, Western media also ignores the situation in Bahrain and how Saudi Arabia undermines Bahraini sovereignty. Rajab admits that fighting for freedom and democracy involves a heavy cost but he is willing to fight to the utmost to achieve abstract ideals.

Abdal-Fattah describes the various crimes he has been accused of, to the extent that he finds humour in the list of crimes that make him appear super-human, being in two or more places at once and single-handedly taking on two platoons and stealing their stash of weapons. He discusses the current state of the Arab Spring uprising in Egypt and how it seems to have stalled with no clear direction. The interviewees move onto different aspects of the revolutions in Bahrain and Egypt including the role of social media and technology in spreading and exchanging information among different groups fighting for freedom, and the impact of the revolutions and the interviewees’ own experiences with the police and government authorities on their own families. Interestingly, far from being cowed by threats and harassment, the families resolved to resist the authorities. Even the role of football clubs in the Egyptian revolution got a mention – and you thought football clubs were good only for soccer hooliganism!

Apart from Nabeel’s opinion that Iraq is a democracy and that Russia and United States should speak with one voice on the situation in Syria and should help that country, I didn’t find much to fault what the two interviewees said. I do think that Nabeel is looking at Syria and Libya in a naive way, equating the struggles in those countries with the struggle in Bahrain, and not appreciating that these countries have had very different post-1945 histories from his own in spite of a shared language and to some extent cultural heritage. At least he said that the Syrians must be allowed to decide for themselves what government they want without interference from outside. The trio also discussed politics and democracy in the United States and the United Kingdom, finding much in those countries that paralleled the repressive rule in Egypt and Bahrain, but this part of the interview failed to make it to the 28-minute video presentation.

As it is, the video is a mere shadow of what the men ranged over and abruptly cuts off Abdal-Fattah while in the middle of talking about his son. I hope that Assange will be able to edit the three-hour interview he did and upload this to the Russia Today website. The 28-minute interview can be viewed here and the full three-hour transcript can be read here.

 

The World Tomorrow (Episode 3: Moncef Marzouki): human rights and open government getting short shrift

“The World Tomorrow (Episode 3: Moncef Marzouki)” (Russia Today, 1 May 2012)

In this episode, Julian Assange interviews Moncef Marzouki, the President of Tunisia and a former human rights activist who was imprisoned by previous President Ben Ali in 1993. The underlying theme of the interview is how Marzouki will stay true to his ideals and continue to champion freedom, democracy, openness and accountability, and govern Tunisia effectively in a world of hypocritical Realpolitik. In contrast to Episode 2, this third installment is very low on pyrotechnics: Marzouki is a cool, calm and articulate speaker and his manner is gentle and courteous.

Assange begins by asking Marzouki about how he survived prison which included four months in solitary confinement, and gradually moves onto questions about openness in Tunisian society and what role Marzouki will play in encouraging that openness and accountability, then onto issues of regional North African / Middle Eastern importance such as the political turmoil in Syria and the possibility of Tunisia giving asylum to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. It is intriguing that Marzouki prefers to sidestep talking about Bahrain, an equally oppressive state as Syria but supported by Tunisia, and criticises Hezbollah’s Secretary General Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah for supporting al-Assad and considering Israel’s government and its actions as the greater threat to political stability in the Middle East. One might wonder if Marzouki has his priorities right in downplaying Israel’s role in fomenting discord between itself and its neighbours. Surely if Marzouki is still committed to supporting human rights and condemning governments that violate them, he should be just as harsh on the Bahraini government as he is on the Syrian government?

Further into the interview, Marzouki admits as President that he has limited political powers which often clash with and compromise his beliefs as a human rights activist.

Other questions Marzouki dodges include one on recent Tunisian government censorship of the Internet in Tunisia and whether he is willing to open past intelligence files to the general public. It is curious that he would open secret intelligence archives to historians but not to the people on the basis that such knowledge could be dangerous and lead to personal vendettas over issues that can never be healed … why not throw open the files to the public and at the same time initiate a reconciliation process in which crimes can be forgiven and appropriate compensation be made?

The issue of double standards in relation to the United States’ stand on human rights, co-existing as it does with that country’s recent record on torture and illegal incarceration of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay prison, is raised briefly. Marzouki notes an occasion where he was invited to the United States to speak on human rights issues and meet a person in the White House whom he suspected to be implicated in Guantanamo Bay prison abuses. Naturally he refused to meet this person but I wonder if he had met him and agreed to make public speeches … wouldn’t it have made some impact on the American public if Marzouki had met the person and told him off for his hypocrisy and for having blood on his hands?

The questions Assange asks are not very searching or challenging to Marzouki and the journalist frequently gives Marzouki the benefit of the doubt. Curiously he doesn’t throw any curveball questions to Marzouki in the way he did to Nasrallah. Assange accepts Marzouki as a genuine democrat who consciously strives to live up to his ideals every day as President. Assange doesn’t realise that by dodging the issue of Bahrain’s treatment of dissidents, Marzouki has already shown himself as compromised and perhaps dependent on the US and other Western powers for political survival.

The interview can be viewed on Youtube here and a transcript of the interview is also available.