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Fake News Daily

Heads are spinning. Is this real news or fake? How can you tell? Are 100 million refugees really flooding the EU? Did Obama really spend $5 billion on a programme to re-educate regular working class Americans in the ways of socialism? How many businesses did Donald Trump successfully run? People are finally questioning the validity of news stories, and with Kellyanne Conway’s infamous ‚alternative facts‘ gaffe, people are also questioning what constitutes facts and truth. 

I fear this will not last very long. A mainstream name for a public phenomenon is a good start, as it of course allows people to draw attention to the problem. However, since there are no defined parameters for what constitutes ‚fake news‘, it can be used by anyone to discredit news they don’t like. For example, while it might be legitimate to criticise content-producing sites for putting out lies such as ‚Muslims celebrate on 9/11 in New York‘ (since that verifiably never happened), the term ‚fake news‘ is thrown about by man-baby-president Donald Trump to describe: 

a) News he does not like. 

b) Real-world phenomena which are not being covered and/ or not covered accurately (for example crowd sizes). 

The latter is particularly problematic, since it uses the term ‚fake news‘ to mean ‚absence of news coverage‘, whereas the term ‚fake news‘ more properly should mean ’news which is demonstrably false, and knowingly produced as such‘. Both trends are of concern, since ‚fake news‘ then quickly becomes a pejorative for all news which does not paint the president (or whatever powerful figure/ institution) in a good light; It also puts media into the conspiracy-category („Well, buddy, you know, the real news is what they’re not telling you“). 

Well, the truth is, the news isn’t blind. Mainstream media outlets are biased and are tailored towards specific audiences; They have specific corporate donors which determine the particular spin a story should have. Public opinion is shaped by the media. But this is everything Noam Chomsky told the world about in Manufacturing Consent. What we need to remind ourselves is that fake news, also, is old news. While  media outlets are shaped by their audiences and donors, they also do try in earnest to produce accurate, quality reporting. The Guardian, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Haaretz, The New York Times are some examples of this. 

Fox News, the British Daily Mail, Bild and others are, on the other hand, typically fake news institutions. There’s no easy way to say this: They just make shit up. That’s why Wikipedia won’t accept the Daily Mail as a reliable source of facts – remember, not some ridiculous media upstart like Breitbart or whatever – but an old paper which has a massive circulation and online readership. They just make shit up. 

Fake news doesn’t always look like fake news. Sometimes it looks real. So there are some things we as consumers of news can do to guard ourselves against the onslaught of imaginary facts:

  1. Pay for good news. Conservative, liberal, hugely conservative, massively centrist – there are plenty of reliable news sources you can pay for, whatever your political persuasion. Paying for this news helps combat fake news.
  2. See the real conspiracy. The real conspiracy is in the aforementioned book by Chomksy – and it’s kind of obvious to see. There’s no real conspiracy against ‚far-right groups and news‘ – there’s simply a reason some things don’t get said. That reason is, it doesn’t help anyone understand anything, and more often than not, far-right news is just made up. 
  3. Use multiple media sources: Don’t just get fixated on one. Use social media to diversify opinions if you want. But, real, reliable people. Not @fascistdickhead or whatever. Seriously. 
  4. Think. The most important one. Before setting what we’re told down into a narrative, have a think about what we’re told. 
Resisting Nauroz

Arrival of spring marks the beginning of New Year in Western Asia, Central Asia, the Caucasus, the Black Sea Basin and the Balkans. The first day of the New Year ‘Nauroz has been celebrated in many traditional ways in this part of the world for centuries. There are, however, resistance to these traditions from more orthodox and extremist forces who see it as a pre-Islamic era practice that needs to be dropped.

This year, the day fell on Tuesday, March 21. On this very day, a group of students associated with the Islamist party- the Jamiat-e-Islami Pakistan, stormed a Nauroz party on the Punjab University campus. The ‘Islami Jamiat Talba’ beat those gathered there to welcome the New Year, and set their belongings on fire. The IJT is a right-wing student body that often operates in university campuses across the country as the de facto moral police. IJT members have in the past objected to Valentine’s Day celebrations and the playing of music at certain cultural events.

The day is meant to embrace each other, celebrate the gifts of nature and promote the culture of coexistence.

In Afghanistan for instance, people prepare ‘Haft Mewa’ (the Seven Fruits) on the New Year’s Day-made from seven different dried fruits served in their own syrup, for the friends, relatives and neighbours who visit each other’s homes on this day. Similar traditions of sharing happiness exist in Iran, the Central Asian states, Turkey, Iraq, Albania, Armenia, China, Georgia and many other countries.

In some countries, the farmer community are commemorated for their services throughout the year.

None of these practices disrespect any religion or community. As part of UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, Nauroz belongs to everyone, and those trying to resist it with force, and impose their agenda violently needs to be stopped.

Possibility of piracy resurgence and why the world should listen more to Somali people

The recent hijacking of a Comoros flagged bunkering tanker with 8 Sri Lankan crew onboard by pirates in Somali’s coast has ignited debate on the possibility of return attacks which nearly crippled the all-important shipping industry five years ago.

There has been a lull in piracy cases in the troubled Somali waters since 2012 thanks to the concerted and coordinated efforts of navies allied to the North Atlantic Treaty Organizations, NATO who have been patrolling the region.

Having managed to keep the waters safe, the navies pulled out of Somalia last December. Three months later, the pirates struck. And while the latest attack is a departure from the previous ones, seeing as no ransom was given and it only lasted a few days, it has however exposed fundamental issues that calls for both local, regional and global intervention.

For starters Somalia coastline stretches over 3,300 kilometers, making it the longest in Africa which explains why it is strategic for majority of companies across the globe. Somali also sits in the Horn of Africa which is a prime zone for global trading partners. For example most of the trade between the European Union and its key trading partners like Japan, Asia, India and China takes pass through this route on a daily basis. In fact data shows that approximately 30 per cent of the world’s oil, which includes natural gas from the Persian Gulf destined for Western countries, pass through the Horn of Africa on a daily basis.

But the coastline also offers some of the best fish. For a country however recovering from decades of war, the locals have found a lifeline in fishing. Now they accuse the government of the semi-autonomous Puntland region of allocating fishing licenses to international companies with little regard to the locals. In fact one fisherman described the scene at night as “looking like Los Angeles at night due to so many lights from ships and boats.” Another fisherman was quoted by the media as saying that the world should be prepared for more piracy attacks since there has been a surge of illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing activities in their waters.  Indeed a UN report approximates that over $300 million worth of seafood is stolen from Somalia’s coastline every year.

In the period between 2007  and 2012, when piracy reached unprecedented highs in East Africa especially in Somalia, it was reported that pirates cost the world $7 billion in ransom with an approximated 1,000 people taken hostage.

To forestall such a repeat calls for a wholesome strategy that goes beyond security deployment. Most of those seeking livelihood in Somalia waters are locals, some even reformed pirates whose only source of income lies in the waters. The newly installed government of Somalia, while licensing international fishing companies should also ensure locals benefit from a resource that is in their own land. Regional bodies like Intergovernmental Authority on Development. IGAD, must also step up their resolve in helping Somalia find homegrown solutions to local problems like piracy while the international community must coalesce around the new Somali regime and offer practical solutions that seems to reward locals. Only then will locals join in fighting piracy and stemming its mutation.

No end in sight for populism despite Wilders disappointment

Europeans who advocate integration and multiculturalism breathed a sigh of relief at the outcome of last week’s Dutch elections. The xenophobic, far-right Freedom Party received a lower-than-expected vote, which left many analysts rejoicing over a “defeat of populism”.

However, the failure of Geert Wilders’ party is not so obvious: it increased its vote to 13% and consolidated itself as the second largest party in the Netherlands.

In addition, one reason for Wilder’s disappointing results was that other parties have taken over his agenda, notably on issues such as immigration and border control. Thus, Wilders may not have enjoyed the expected vote, but worryingly many of his ideas have already stretched into the moderate right and to the centre.

In the final weeks of the election campaign, the xenophobic rhetoric even reached the winner of the elections, incumbent liberal prime minister Mark Rutte, who days before the election banned rallies supporting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and ordered the expulsion of the Turkish Family Minister. Controversially, Turkish politicians were in Europe campaigning to win votes from the diaspora in a referendum that would drastically enhance Erdogan’s powers. For many analysts, the diplomatic fall-out with Ankara and the exchange of accusations between the Dutch and Turkish presidents in fact benefited the leader of the liberal party.

Nonetheless, dangers remain on the doorstep of Europe. A significant part of the European population are less than keen on receiving immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers. Moreover, many are fearful over security, connecting migrants with terrorism; a train of thought stirred up and driven by rising extreme-right politics. As high-risk elections in France and Germany draw closer, politicians across the continent must up their game in the intense battle against populist nationalism.

Dutch courage needed for European fight

So the Dutch prove that while they are not exceptionally right-wing, they are still pretty right-wing. Mark Rutte will be able to continue his premiership by forming a new coalition government, with Geert Wilders somewhat out of the picture. While this is a blow to populist rightwingers the world over, it’s barely a scratch on hardline conservative governments, which in both tone and policy actually reproduce the same ideals that the Wilders’ party propounds. There will be curbs on migration, cuts in tax and a more bullish tone towards foreigners, but you know, Rutte will be a lot nicer to the EU.

Is this a good thing? Yeah. Kinda. Obviously it’s better than having an exceptionally rightwing zombie in charge of a leading European country – but it’s not that much better. It’s a bit like having an exceptionally zombified rightwinger – someone who maybe, kinda, sorta, also, somewhat – probably – believes the same things, but is a little less charismatic, and somewhat more amenable to public tastes.

However, with French elections looming, I believe the contrary to a Rutte is needed. Not in terms of policy – obviously I would love it if an angel of a socialist won, or a much maligned SWJ, or a beautiful, saintly leftwinger who fights poverty by day and structural inequality by night, takes every holiday to remember the colonial oppression and oppression of women on which present day prosperity is built – but this is unlikely. Instead, according to many forecasters (which we have all learnt to distrust) project a narrow victory for a Centre-Right or Centre-Left candidate, with Le Pen taking it all the way to the second vote.

No, what I believe is needed is a kind of equal to Le Pen in populist appeal – just someone who believes and fights for justice for all, and someone who doesn’t waste time arguing about ethnicity and religion and cultural history and political correctness and Jews and Europe and all that other boring conspiracy stuff. No, I would love it if we were able to strategically position ourselves as people who fight for people – which is what many and most of the people on the left do – yet the message does not get through. Instead, we are marked as people who fight for rich people and university-educated people and institutions which oppress poor people. What I want is someone unafraid to connect with people, and someone savvy enough to push through their policies. Take Jeremy Corbyn as a negative example: The guy has all the right policies, but he does not know how to even stand-up straight at the podium, which means, no matter what he thinks or believes, his message does not get through.

This is a key lesson for the left – which I think is super unpopular for many people: Beliefs and policies don’t win elections – popularity and appeal and connection and storytelling do.

Hospitals remain military targets in Afghanistan

Last week’s horrific attack on Afghanistan’s biggest hospital in the capital Kabul used both by the civilians and the security forces has further dismayed the nation that has been copping with violence since decades. The attack, claimed by Daesh has left 49 people dead, most of them civilians, while over 80 got wounded, but many more are left with wounded souls.

The Afghan forces managed to neutralize the four attackers around seven hours after the hospital close to the diplomatic enclave was stormed. The tales of horror emerged much later when the survivors later spoke to the media. Eye witnesses saw the bloodthirsty assassins disguised as the hospital’s medical staff shooting indiscriminately, throwing grenades all over and even stabbing patients lying in beds. Afghanistan lost a number of its bright and emerging doctors on this day, and above all received another blow to the hopes for peace in the country that has been under war-like situation for more than four decades now.

The Human Rights Watch (HRW) has pronounced this attack as a ‘War Crime’. In a statement issued on Thursday, the HRW said attacks directly targeting health care in Afghanistan have increased sharply since 2014. It has cited a recent report by the International Committee of the Red Cross (IRC) that has noted some 240 attacks in 2015 and 2016 that killed or injured medical personnel and closed, damaged, or destroyed medical facilities, eroding the healthcare system in Afghanistan. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) documented 119 incidents where healthcare facilities were targeted in 2016.

The Taliban and other insurgents were responsible for the vast majority of these incidents, though Afghan security forces have been responsible for raids on clinics, or have used medical facilities for military purposes, it added.

Ironically, the main player in this conflict i.e. the U.S. had also contributed instead of preventing such attacks. On 3 October 2015, a United States Air Force AC-130U gunship attacked the Kunduz Trauma Centre operated by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), or Doctors Without Borders in the northern Kunduz province which killed exactly 42 people; the same death toll for the latest attack claimed by Daesh on the Sardar Dawood Khan Hospital in Kabul.

It makes this quite obvious that such places where humanity prevails over all other identities remain unsafe in Afghanistan from all parties engaged in this ferocious conflict.

Time to crack the whip on illicit financial flows in Africa

In the last 50 years Africa has lost more than $1 trillion in illicit financial flows which include criminal activities like drug and human trafficking, animal poaching, theft of oil, corruption and unethical business practices by multinationals.

The figure as recently quantified by African Union’s high level panel on illicit financial flows indicate that on average Africa loses more than $50 billion dollars every year to this illegal flows, denying the continent the much needed capital to tackle some of its most biting problems like poverty and underdevelopment.

In fact according to the Africa Development Bank, Africa needs approximately $50 billion each year to address its infrastructure needs, money it would easily find if such illicit flows were nipped in the bud.

Multinationals have been accused of fanning the unethical behaviour, from the timber sales in Mozambique and Liberia, the mineral production in DR Congo and export of crude oil in Nigeria. At the heart of this, is transfer pricing and profit shifting which ensures that these companies are able to hide revenues therefore absconding their fiduciary duty of paying taxes.

Former South African president Thabo Mbeki who chairs the African Union panel on illicit financial flows captured it aptly when addressing Pan African parliament.

“The information available to us has convinced our panel that large commercial corporations are by far the biggest culprits of illicit outflows, followed by organized crime. We are also convinced that corrupt practices in Africa are facilitating these outflows, apart from and in addition to the related problem of weak governance capacity.”

The tough economic times and the changing global geopolitics mean that donor countries are scaling back funding to African countries. This therefore portends that Africa has to look inwards to finance its needs, which it comfortably can.

But it has to make some bold and unpopular decisions including strengthening institutions that can track where these resources are being lost, and passing tough legislation to net and severely punish offenders, irrespective of their stature. It also calls on African leaders to pile pressure on their international partners to assist in this war. Most of the illicit finances end up in havens like Panama and British Islands.

Nigeria’s president Muhammad Buhari made one such bold step when he visited former British Prime Minister David Cameron and urged him to assist him recover money that had left Nigeria illegally and was stashed in UK.

It is indeed a war that requires concerted effort, but one that Africa should be willing to actively take up for the sake of its people.

Human rights concerns rising in Hungary (again)

„Border hunters“ are the latest anti-immigration initiative carried out by the conservative government of Hungary.

After a six-month special course, up to 3,000 Hungarian police and army units will soon start monitoring Hungary’s borders (especially with Serbia and Croatia) to strengthen immigration control. This marks the boundary of the Schengen zone, where hundreds of thousands of migrants have entered Hungary since 2015, most fleeing persecution or conflict such as the Syrian civil war. Although the majority have gone to other European Union countries, the nationalist government of Viktor Orbán remains steadfast in its aim to stop the migrant flow.

Besides from totally disregarding international laws on the rights of asylum seekers, Hungary’s move is “deeply inhumane”, as warned by Amnesty International.

After erecting an impenetrable fence along the Southern border, the Hungarian parliament has now passed a package of amendments that tighten existing asylum regulations, which will allow systematic detentions in container camps. According to the new law, Hungary will be able to immediately send back migrants to the other side of the border and can even charge migrants to cover their detention costs.

The new Hungarian measures further damage migrants’ prospects, since they have a strong psychological impact on those in aid seeking European support. Earlier, Budapest had rejected the refugee quotas imposed by the European Commission. This time, Brussels must demonstrate to the Hungarian government that such measures will have consequences.

POCs don't destroy civilisations, crazy politicians do

I am what people call a ‚person of colour‘. My parents were Indian immigrants to the UK in the 70s, and I grew up in Britain, and now live in Germany. Hence the label – if I was born in India, I guess I’d be called Punjabi, or a Jat, or a Sikh, or something. First born son. 

OK, so POC it is. A morally-neutral but still weird-sounding term to describe me and others in a socio-political context. How do POCs vote, what do POCs buy, what generational differences exist in POC communities etc. This is all kind of OK – the obvious things annoy of course, why the hell am I a POC, what is a white person then, a non-POC? An antiPOC? Maybe just a P. But that’s a matter for the ‚best language for an imperfect world‘ debate. I don’t want to get involved in that. 

Instead, I want to say, as a POC, one of the most unbelievably infuriating things to see and hear, is to be blamed for the downfall of an entire civilisation, and watch on the sidelines as those very same people doing the blaming (nonPOC) take apart that civilisation brick by brick. 

Take Steve King, for instance. The Republican congressman for Iowa tweeted support for Geert Wilders, yesterday: “Wilders understands that culture and demographics are our destiny. We can’t restore our civilisation with someone else’s babies.”

OK, let’s pretend for a second we’re ok with the word civilisation. Let’s be ok with the weirdly cutesy-wutesy phrasing of someone who clearly has white supremacy on the mind. The weird thing about this is actually the word ‚restore‘. Restored to what? Restored to the time before multiculturalism, of course. Restored by whom? NonPOCs like Steve King. 

This is a seriously telling insight into the mind of the extreme-right wing (Steve King is also a fan of Le Pen, has made known his support of AfD, he’s so predictable it’s pointless to say he probably/ definitely likes to go as Hitler for Halloween because you know, everyone feels it’s ok on this day! aah hahah ahah…): They really do ideologically believe that when they act rashly, threaten to destroy the EU, tear up social-securities, stir-up hate – that they’re doing God’s work. I mean, up until recently, I thought a lot of what they said and did was merely hot-air, pragmatically blown across this and that political landscape to get attention and votes (I’m sure some of it still is). 

But now I think I’m actually taking seriously the view that these people really believe that: a) Destroying the political landscape and replacing it with an ethno-national state is a good thing, and b) it is POCs that are destroying the state and communities etc. It’s really kinda annoying. 

I used to think that racism was my problem: I’m brown, right. But then I realised that it’s a white problem – in this society at least. I mean, I’m not the one losing sleep about whether my house gets robbed by some POC or my daughter marries some POC etc. I don’t have dinners where my main topic is, really guys, come on, what do we really think? In the same way, homophobia is a heterosexual problem, and sexism a man’s problem. Even if we should prioritise the victims, the complexes exist in the mind of the perpetrator. And even something does come about, where there are no more POCs in Europe, and the great days are returned, and everyone eats turkey on Christmas day in the magical castle, the world will have been destroyed to get there, and it won’t have been destroyed by a POC.