Archive for Racism

KONY 2012 or PHONY 2012?*

Posted in Human Rights, Politics, Racism with tags , , , , , , , on March 8, 2012 by innothingwetrust

*Title inspired by Russia Today

This KONY 2012 thing has gone what internetophiles and YouTube types call ‘viral’ seemingly overnight. For those of you who have not yet seen what this is about, the link to the video is below. Just so you know, it is nearly 30 minutes long, but it is well worth watching:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y4MnpzG5Sqc

I was at first encouraged at the fact that what is clearly a very important cause has gained such worldwide recognition. There is no question: what has been happening in Uganda, DRC, CAR and Sudan for two decades now is absolutely appalling and there can be no argument against someone – whomever you deem that to be – stepping in and doing something about Joseph Kony and the LRA.

I was also encouraged by the slightly more measured reaction to the video which considered possible downsides of the campaign and highlighted potentially dubious outcomes of supporting it. Such arguments can be found at the following link. These are also well worth reading:

http://visiblechildren.tumblr.com/ (scroll down – the original post is at the bottom and the author’s responses to readers’ responses are on top)

I must first take issue with some of the points raised in this critique. Firstly, Chris Blattman’s point about the ‘White Man’s Burden’ is offensive and totally irrelevant: a worthy cause is a worthy cause is a worthy cause, no matter who is advocating it. Moreover, this movement has gained support from all over the world from people of all cultures, nationalities and races. Just because it was started by Americans, doesn’t mean it is just a bunch of empowered self-righteous philanthropic honkies. To rubbish the movement because of what he sees as a ‘saviour attitude’ is absurd and focuses on entirely the wrong side of the story, concentrating on the credibility of the activists rather than the plight of the victims. If children are being taken from their families and forced to kill, who cares who is trying to stop it happening? It is important only that someone is trying – no one has more or less legitimacy to do so. To claim the opposite is downright idiocy.

Secondly, I would dismiss the criticism that Invisible Children (IC) has spent a lot of money on film-making. The film clearly has extremely high production value, but I’m convinced that this quality has directly led to a far greater following. No amount of money can be deemed too much when the lives of so many thousands of kids are at stake, and if they had to blow some on an expensive, professional video to make their point, that’s fine with me because the undoubted added exposure will yeild much, much better results in terms of action taken.

However, there are some good questions asked. The ‘KONY 2012’ campaign is so professional, slick and convincing that it is easy to see how such a well-oiled media machine has gathered so much pace and notoriety. However, it is so emotive that many people don’t even think about whether the people to whom their few notes a month go might not themselves be so spotless. If the allegations in the article by Grant Oyston are true – firstly that the Ugandan army (UPDF) have themselves committed numerous rapes and lootings, secondly that IC have defended them and thirdly that some of the donation money goes toward funding the UPDF – then you have to question whether your dollars, pounds, yen or euros are going to the right place. There is also a very interesting point raised regarding IC’s support of a military intervention approach. This would not be so much of an issue in normal circumstances, but the huge spanner in the works here is that most of Kony’s bodyguards are the very children that the cause is trying to save. Such a militant mission would undoubtedly result in the deaths of some of these children, which is the opposite of what is trying to be achieved. IC has already responded to most of these criticisms which you can read here:

http://s3.amazonaws.com/www.invisiblechildren.com/critiques.html

They strongly deny that they have defended the UPDF’s human rights abuses or that the Ugandan government sees any of their money, and they have reiterated the transparency of their finances which is all great. They don’t really address the military approach issue though, so it is still something to think about. Also, posing for a photo with guns was pretty silly and their explanation that it was a ‘joke’ wasn’t as convincing as their film-making. But still, their rationale and certainly their intentions seem sound from most of these rebuttals.

Although I am happy to see something important take center stage on Facebook et al., I also wish to condemn those outskirt-dwelling snide web-surfing snipers who contribute nothing to the topic except unhelpful sarcastic comments and ‘hilarious’ memes (memes???? I’m becoming one of them!!!!!). If their aim is to expose perceived ‘slacktivism’ (the act of raising awareness of causes solely through free and minimal-effort methods, such as liking, sharing and status updates on social networking sites which does very little to affect any actual change but leaves the slactivist with a sense of self-gratification and smugness), then my aim is to expose the fact that their ‘reaction-to-a-reaction’ is an utter waste of time and no different to that which they are attacking – call it ‘la-zeal’. My friend Alistair Bremnath put it well: ‘Slacktivism’ is better than ‘DoingFuckAlltivism’. Surely their ill-informed knee-jerk reaction to the sudden support for KONY 2012 is no different to the ill-informed knee-jerk reaction of those supporting it, except that the former camp is achieving nothing while the latter might actually contribute toward something good. If the slacktivists are on their high horses, then the la-zealots are just lying down on the floor. The answer is to walk sensibly between them.

I do get where this negative reaction comes from. It is kind of annoying to see people whose status yesterday was ‘dnt b talkin shit at me if u dnt no wot ur talkin bout get a fukin life fuk sake’ or ‘OMG just saw Joey Essex in Tescos’ suddenly become human rights activists. There’s an irritating insincerity about it. But still, if you’re going to insincerely spread the word about something, better it be something like this.

The final sentiment of Grant Oyston’s critique rang very true however: this is about Joseph Kony, not KONY 2012. You do not have to give money to IC in order to create awareness or pressurise governments into action. Their posters are not exclusive, copyrighted official merchandise – you can make your own. And, as IC themselves point out, word of mouth is free. If you do wish to contribute to IC however, then I see no problem with it. Just make sure you’ve read all the info first and aren’t just reacting like Pavlov’s Dog. That goes for the nay-sayers as well.

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Make Bradford human

Posted in Advertising & Television, Other, Philosophy, Racism, Religion with tags , , , , , , on March 2, 2012 by innothingwetrust

A response to Channel 4’s provocative documentary, ‘Make Bradford British’ (Thursday 1st March, 21.00 – 22.00, C4)

What does it mean to be British? Speaking English? The ability to queue? Knowing the words to our national anthem? Or does such a sense of ‘belonging’ simply mean caring about the country in which you live? My grandmother once said that ‘Britishness’ was about ‘law and order’. If this is simply the case then Britons are far more widespread than our own fair Isles and in fact include inhabitants of any civilised, developed country. The answer, of course, is a mixture of the above and a lot, lot more. But why is it so important?

We humans seem to be obsessed with making sure that everything fits into some definition. It’s as if we just can’t sleep at night knowing that there is something or someone avoiding categorisation, that any item dwelling outside these parameters will instantly cause total chaos. I’m sure I wasn’t the only person watching Channel 4’s documentary ‘Make Bradford British’ with mixed feelings.

The setup of the program is that 8 Bradfordians of differing races, religions, ages and backgrounds are brought together under the same premise: they have all failed the government’s ludicrous ‘Citizenship Test’ (I took a version of the test and got 11/24, which would qualify as a ‘fail’). The inhabitants of Britain’s most segregated city are forced to live together in a house (at least this week) and discuss/ discover what it means to be ‘British’ today. My knee-jerk reaction, and what is still my overriding feeling regarding the topic, was ‘bloody hell, who cares what it means to be British?’. Now obviously, a lot of people would respond to this question claiming that they care, thank you very much, and that it is an important issue! Well, you’re going to have to convince this sceptic.

The focus of the first part of the program fell on Rashid, an incredibly devout Muslim who must not only pray 5 times a day, but must go all the way over to his Mosque to do it. All 5 times. Every day. I felt that Rashid came over actually as a really nice guy. At no point was he confrontational or even defensive in the face of the annoyance and total disbelief of his peers in the house, and he retained good humour and an endearing personality throughout. However, as nice as he seems, he appears also to be as thick as two cleveland steamers. This is exemplified in his assertion that praying at the Mosque as opposed to just at home will assure you of “25 to 28 times more reward from God”. Like the statistics have somehow been published from the 2006 Census of Paradise. His response to Sabbiyah – a female Muslim housemate who can’t believe that he will not let her pray with him because she is a woman – is that she should ‘ask her scholars’ and that they will tell her that it is not right. People ingrained in a belief to this extent, I fear, will never actually think for themelves. If your response to a problem is to consult only the thoughts of others then you will never have any of your own. A waste of a human mind. This isn’t a religion thing, it’s just being stupid.

However, the documentary – and Rashid’s housemates – try to imply that his constant back and forth between the house and the Mosque is somehow a barrier to his integration into society. No it’s not. It is no more a barrier to social integration than a workaholic’s long hours at the office or a soldier’s 2 year tour of duty. The real barrier is that people define Rashid immediately by his harmless – if questionable – religious activity, and that this definition does not constitute ‘Britishness’. It is absolutely the case that the surface judgements of others who see only his ethnicity, faith, clothes or beard block his integration, not his faith itself. If, to be British, one has to be a certain religion, then count me right out. Not just because I am an atheist, but because I would not want to be a part of such a country.

It is also the case that for whatever reason, people of all ethnicities can’t seem to see the wood for the trees when assessing their neighbours. If we’re not willing to mingle because we can’t fathom how people of differing skin tones could ever find any sort of common ground, then the question of what ‘British’ means pales in comparison to what is clearly a far greater problem of simple racism – from all sides, not just the ‘natives”. People must not just be ‘willing’ to interact: there must be no question over interaction in the first place.

Then there is Jens, a 71 year old white man living in an exclusively white area of Bradford. Some might excuse his shocking language by using that ridiculous and never justifiable adage, ‘he’s from that generation’. However, his casual references to ‘Paki-bashing’ and calling fellow housemate and Mr.T lookalike Desmond a ‘black bastard’ could easily have come from a member of the younger generation who might also try and explain away such comments as ‘banter’ in a similar fashion to Jens. The meaning of these phrases is lost on such people – at no point does Jens question why such a phrase as ‘Paki-bashing’ even exists and the obviously abhorrent connotations of that idea, he simply argues that the useage was innocent. Even if this were true, of all the innocent phrases out there to drop into conversation… I don’t buy it Jens.

All of these characters claim to be British through and through and display the tired old signs of pointless patriotism which people love to wear on their sleeves and red-tops love to pin to their front pages as a badge of honour. Patriotism is, ultimately, a pledge of allegiance to a plot of land – a plot which has been settled upon by certain people who have developed a certain set of laws, values and idiosyncrasies. However, since abstract ideas such as ‘values’ do not exist tangibly, they can be taken with you wherever you go. If patriotism was defined simply as an affinity with these ideas, it would be merely a philosophical issue and not also a socio-political one. The one constant with patriotism is a locality – a plot of land. The question is not ‘what does it mean to be British?’, but ‘why is it so important for everyone residing in Britain to share some common characteristic?’.

This isn’t necessarily the rhetoric that it appears to be (and mostly is). I actually think that it is key for people to share certain characteristics, but that these have absolutely nothing to do with what nationality a person considers themself to be, what religion they follow, whether they or their parents were born inside some imaginary line or whether they know a country’s history. The things all humans should share are adherance to the law, an open, logical mind, tolerance of others (or, even better, the sheer absence of the idea of tolerance in the first place – you should ‘tolerate’ without it even being a thought), to believe and do what you want as long as it doesn’t harm anyone else and – most importantly – just don’t be a criminally useless neanderthal thug. You might have to read between the lines with that last one. Those should be the ground rules for any society. Anything on top of that (drinking tea, fish & chips, street parties, Hugh Grant, Hugh Laurie, QI, the Monarchy, architecture) is optional.

In constantly asking what constitutes ‘Britishness’, we are ramming people into labelled boxes and dividing them. What people fail to step back and see is that all of these boxes – Asian, African, Tall, Female, Muslim, Bald, Jew, Pensioner, British, Youth, Male, Polish, Chinese, Fat – all reside in one larger box labelled ‘Doesn’t Really Matter’. So perhaps I am as guilty of pigeon-holing as anyone else – I just think the fewer ‘holes’, the better. Maybe if people got up out of their confines and mingled together in the communal trough – much like Bradford’s ridiculous segregated communities should – they would discover that it is far more productive to forget all the differences and misunderstandings and realise the one thing that we have in common  – we are all human. Once we have all gotten over ourselves and established that fact, maybe then we can begin to indulge in a national identity.

But that’s just too simple I guess.

Episode 2 of ‘Make Bradford British’ will be shown on Thursday 8th March, 21.00 – 22.00, C4.

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