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Art and freedom of expression

28 Mar

Our consideration of the human rights in any country should include the freedom of artists to express their heart, writes Deeyah Khan – a critically acclaimed music producer, composer and an Emmy award-winning documentary film director – in this statement she submitted to the United Nations in March 2014.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=lnAL5dvvS34]

Art is a powerful form of communication which has a unique ability to transcend cultural and linguistic boundaries, an exploration of what it means to be human. Art can be brash or sublime, basic or intricate, and is one of the first forms of human expression and which remains rooted in the creative potential for innovation and transformation. It has an extraordinary capacity to express resistance and rebellion; protest and hope. It can start conversations; it can bring subjects into the public sphere, expose abuses and to point towards new worlds: to touch people in a deeper and more affecting way than academic and political discourse, to move us to tears, to laughter and to action. There is a reason why artists, intellectuals and women are usually the first targets of oppressive regimes, of fundamentalist groups and of reactionaries of all stripes, who cannot bear any positions that threaten their perceived monopoly on truth or which expose their corruption and cruelty.

So, where art is transgressive, it is decried as immoral, seditious or contrary to religious rules. Artists are silenced by many means, from harassment to imprisonment, from censorship to accusations of blasphemy; which can itself be a death sentence. This precious human resource is formed from deep continuities with our artistic traditions with the fertile exploration of new forms to make up the glorious potential of creativity: surely one of the pinnacles of human achievement and experience. The English radical poet Shelley considered poets to be the unacknowledged legislators of the world: the future is in the present as the plant lies in the seed, he said; and art has the potential to realise this future, a future of equality, diversity and unity. In this sense, artists should be considered providing a vital, but under-appreciated contribution to the functioning of civil society.

Artists everywhere, and in all periods, have taken a role in standing up for human rights and human dignity through their explorations of the human condition, particularly in times of unrest, oppression and chaos. It is no wonder that its liberating and unbounded potential to speak truth to power is feared by those who remain invested in the suppression of the human spirit. Where the media is controlled, art becomes the last voice of freedom; more trusted than official outlets, a channel for dissidence, a telling of alternate histories, alternate futures. Where women’s voices are silenced, women’s self-expression is an act of defiance, of refusal of the strict limitations of gender roles. Where societies are based in fear and oppression, art is a seed of hope for a better world. The creative process itself generates a sense of inner liberation which lays the seeds for calling for broader liberties. Art is a form of expression which is often one of the most available, even to the poorest individual: the tools required can be as simple as a voice, a pencil or a humble drum.

The potential for change that art can bring is shown by the extraordinary means taken to crush it: such as attacks by militant religious extremists on artistic expressions and artists in countries such as Mali and Pakistan. Last year almost 20 artists were killed. Thousands more were censored, or persecuted. Many incidents are never made publicly known – those who experience daily threats from fundamentalists in Northern Mali, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan or who are victimized by the internal conflicts of Syria or Sudan, amongst many other assaults upon artistic freedoms the world over.

When musicians, who are questioning political repression and corruption through their music, are imprisoned in Russia, Turkey, Vietnam or Tunisia, it is an attempt to silence voices, which can document oppression and express hope, and dictators wish to conceal their oppressions as much as they wish to stamp out hope. During the early days of the uprisings in the Middle East, for instance, musicians – like ‘El General’ of Tunisia – played an essential role as truth-tellers, exposing political and financial corruption as well as providing rallying anthems, providing a sense of solidarity and unity to those on the street. In the words of a rapper from Gaza, who has since been forced into accepting protection by Gothenburg City Council: “I am the CNN of the street”.

The first ever UN report on freedom on artistic expression and creativity published by the UN Special Rapporteur in the field of culture last spring was a long-awaited achievement, raising many crucial questions, calling upon governments to take action; and for violations to be recorded. However, international reports on violations of human rights tend to focus on media freedom, to the exclusion of other forms of expression. The vitality of artistic creativity is necessary for the development of vibrant, plural cultures. Artists – in the words of the Special Rapporteur – “have proven their ability to bring counterweights to existing power centres in many developing countries and inspire millions of people to discuss, reflect and mobilise”.

Organisations such as Freemuse, Arterial Network and the National Coalition Against Censorship have been established to document violations, but in comparison to the numerous organisations documenting and defending freedom of expression for journalists and more conventional political activists, artists have few organisations to monitor violations worldwide, and to provide support to people at risk, and to lobby for the changes in laws which limit the freedom of expression and for the changes in policy which would make states take responsibility for the protection of artists and of artistic freedoms.

The freedom of expression has become a focal point of clashes between groups in society, reflecting internal conflicts whether these are religious, cultural or political conflicts in nature. Pavlos Fyssas, known as Killah P, an activist against fascism, used his rap music career to criticise the rise of the Golden Dawn neo-Nazi party, in Greece. He was stabbed to death by a party member. While the attention of the international media has focussed on the restrictions upon Chinese artist Ai Weiwei and the imprisonment of punk activists Pussy Riot, somewhat out of the media eye, several of Mali’s world famous musicians joined forces in creating awareness of the cultural disaster of the country.

It should not be the case that only the persecution of famous artists raises outrage: a barely literate Afghan wedding musician threatened by the Taliban deserves the same support and the same attention as globally known artists, even though these rarely attract the same diplomatic attention. In a world which fears women’s participation, and women’s voices, being a woman and an artist is itself a political act, an act of resistance against the strict gender roles and limitations placed women in our world. For more than 30 years, Iranian women have not been permitted to sing solo, nor to perform before mixed audiences. We also need to recognise that it is not necessarily only the state or fundamentalists who pose a threat to free expression: for some, particularly women, the threat against their safety comes from their own relatives. Pashtu singers like Ghazala Javed, killed by her husband after she filed for divorce; Shamim Aiman Udas, killed by her brothers in a so-called ‘honour’ killing at a time when Pashtun militants were engaged in a campaign of harassment of musicians.

The marginalization of women artists, the censorship of free expression, the harassment of artists, has effects beyond those who are victimised and their families, it impoverishes debate, and delimits some of the most profound expressions of the human spirit. I believe that art is as necessary to democracy as a free press. And yet it is suppressed across the world, sometimes in more discreet ways than through the violence expressed against individuals in Mali and Afghanistan. Art is suppressed through the institution of blasphemy laws, through the high pressure tactics of special interest groups who consider their own sentiments more valid than freedom of speech, leading to subtle and devastating self-censorship; where those who distribute and market art, through galleries, publishing houses and concert venues, are rendered fearful of the implications of the most iconoclastic forms of art, which are often the most generative.

Art and freedom of expression are vital elements of any functioning democracy, and priceless human treasures. Our consideration of the human rights in any country should include the freedom of artists to express their heart. The persecution of artists must be recognized as political rather than as a facet of tradition or faith: as acts of repression against dissidents, differing from more overt political activism only in the method of expression; methods which are as old as humanity and deeply engrained into every culture and tradition, which have moved, inspired and unified people for generations. As a woman, and an artist, I believe in the power of art to bring about social change, and I believe that it is in our common interest as human beings to ensure that artists have the freedom to speak out; to release the plant from the seed.


Deeyah Khan wrote this statement about the role of art and artists in civil society for her presentation at the United Nations Human Right Council in March 2014. But, as it can be seen on the video above, because of time constraints and personal preference, Deeyah eventually decided to leave the manuscript and just speak from the heart.


» We recommend you also read this compelling and well-written story about Deeyah’s life as an artist:
Rebel filmmaker & music producer Deeyah shares life on International Women’s Day

via Arts Freedom

‫إرشادات يجب اتباعها في حالة استخدام السلاح الكيماوي‬‎

13 Sep

فيديو تحذيري في حال تم استخدام الكيماوي مرة أخرى في أي منطقة بسوريا، يرجى النشر على أوسع نطاق

What if change never comes?

31 Aug

Are you waiting for change? Change that was promised to you in the last election campaign, or the one before that, or even earlier? What if that change never comes? The clips in this video highlight something we all know but either ignore, or feel powerless to change. Politics is losing its appeal, the lines are blurring, and political leaders, regardless of their party affiliation, seem to be singing the same tired old tune.

Having allowed ourselves to be seduced by bold political promises ay election time, when we look back we often see that, in reality, very little has changed. Certainly it feels like there have been very few significant changes for the better in recent years. It’s common to see articles complaining about how “they” – usually meaning one or other political leader – have failed to introduce beneficial changes, while at the same time introducing unexpected changes that have a negative impact, or are imposed on us without consultation. However, what should ultimately determine genuine change at the political level, is the extent to which we, as individuals, want that change. It should depend on whether we are willing to accept change, and the costs or benefits it brings.

But we also know that people do not always welcome or enjoy change. Much of the time, it scares them and makes them feel anxious and insecure. Even beneficial changes, like getting married, having a baby, or starting a new job, are among the most stressful events in our lives. The politicians making those bold speeches about “change” know this too. In fact, they rely on it to prevent people complaining about broken promises, or banding together to demand consultation on important changes, or campaigning to repeal new laws that represent abuse of power.

If you really want ‘change you can believe in’, start by believing in your power to think and reason for yourself. Learn how to step back and resist the impulsive urge, or urgent authoritative command, to jump to conclusions or follow the herd. Give yourself permission to not have an opinion, at least until you have had time to consider all the evidence and to think critically, outside of the margins of the information being presented to you. Be OK with “I don’t know yet” or “I’m not sure yet” and even with “I might never know.” You don’t have to believe everything you hear or read. You don’t have to be a “follower” just because someone else is a “leader.”

The strange part is, we all accept that we don’t and can’t have the answer to absolutely everything, but we can easily be swayed to react in a certain way whenever we are reminded of just how much we don’t know, or if we are made to feel threatened. These are cheap vaudeville tricks, which have earned their place in the entertainment industry, but they can take on a darker aspect when used by statesmen, media, or corporations, to manipulate public opinion. Uncertainty is not the enemy, it’s one of the most fundamental principles of life. Don’t give it up without stopping to think or question.

keep-calm-and-hakuna-matata

Source

Forged or Real? Leaked Documents: U.S. Framed Syria in Chemical Weapons Attack

27 Aug

From the Daily Mail:

Britam Defence, David Goulding and Philip Doughty
PUBLISHED: 18:59, 18 April 2013 | UPDATED: 18:59, 18 April 2013

An article on 29 January reported allegations on the internet that the US Government had backed a plot to launch a chemicals weapons attack in Syria and blame it on the Assad regime.
The reports made reference to an email said to have been from David Goulding, the Business Development Director of Britam Defence, to company founder, Philip Doughty. The email had been published on the internet after Britam’s computer system was illegally hacked in Singapore. It referred to a proposal that Britam would deliver chemical weapons to Syria for enormous financial reward and suggested that the directors were willing to consider the illegal proposal.
We now accept that email was fabricated and acknowledge there is no truth in any suggestion that Britam or its directors were willing to consider taking part in such a plot, which may have led to an atrocity.
We apologise to each of them and have agreed to pay substantial damages.
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/article-2311199/Britam-Defence-David-Goulding-Philip-Doughty.html

 

On August 21st, 2013 chemical weapons were used the Syrian conflict yet again. Western powers, the U.S. and France in particular enthusiastically didn’t hesitate for even a moment to take advantage of the tragedy, decrying it as a crime against humanity and using it as a springboard to announce their preparations for military strikes against the Syrian government.

Make no mistake this was a crime against humanity… but the gas was NOT used by the Syrian government, it was used by the NATO backed rebels. In this video we’re going to show you definitive evidence to support this claim and we’re going explain the U.S. and NATO’s motive for committing such an atrocity. The leaked documents that we are going to be presenting are available for you to download yourself. You’ll find a in a link in the description to that download and you’ll also find links to the mainstream articles we used in our research.
—–
Leaked Britam Defence Syrian documents for download:
http://www.amazon.com/gp/drive/share?…

Chemical weapons confirmed in Syrian conflict:http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/story/20…

U.S. helped Saddam as he was using chemical weapons on Iran:http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles…

CIA and Mossad both say the Iran hasn’t even made the decision to seek a nuclear weapon: http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy…

Iran and Syria confront US with defense pact:
http://www.theguardian.com/world/2005…

Iran already sending troops to Syria: http://rt.com/news/iran-troop-deploym…

The proxy war in Syria: http://www.globalresearch.ca/americas…

The U.S. funneling weapons to rebels through Qatar:http://www.bostonglobe.com/news/world…

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2012…

Russia opposes arming militants in Syria:
http://www.presstv.com/detail/2013/05…

Russia warns Syria/Iran Crisis may go nuclear:http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/0…

UK Quatar plot to frame Syria for Chemical weapons:
http://www.presstv.com/detail/2013/01…

The March 19th, 2013 Sarin Attack:
Israel and the U.S. blame Assad:
http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/headlines…

Obama’s red line: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/world…

U.N. launches their own probe:http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/0…

According to the U.N. investigation the March 19th chemical weapons attack turned out to be committed by the rebels:http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middl…

Russia agrees: http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/0…

The August 21st, 2013 Chemical Attack:
Syrian soldiers enter rebel tunnels, find chemical agents
http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/0…

Video from attack apparently shows the rockets were small and primitive:
http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/0…

Iran says they have proof rebels used chemical weapons:
http://news.yahoo.com/iran-says-proof…

Turkey finds sarin gas in homes of suspected Syrian Islamists
http://rt.com/news/sarin-gas-turkey-a…

FSA says they are going to use chemical weapons from now on:http://www.israelnationalnews.com/New…

This formation is also posted here: http://pastebin.com/het2kc19

stormcloudsgathering.

Amnesty International UK Blogs: A Map of Non-Violent Activism in Syria

2 Jul
The interactive map shows the non-violence activities within the Syrian uprising © Omar al Assil

Non violent resistance in Syria? Don’t make me laugh. Those trying to topple Assad are all cannibals and head choppers….or so the likes of the academic “Angry Arab”, Asad Abu Khalil would, it would seem at times, try to convince you.

The reality is Syrians in their tens of thousands continue to resist the Assad regimes brutality (and sometimes resist certain armed opposition groups) through non-violent methods of staggering diversity and creativity. The extremely grim and brutal reality which regime apologists and quite often the mainstream media present is but one, extremely narrow perspective of what is going on in Syria. It is far from the whole truth.

A Syrian activist friend of mine, Omar al Assil, has recently produced a beautiful, interactive map of non-violent resistance in Syria. It was created with his colleagues in the Syrian Non Violence Movement including their members inside Syria.

I mention Abu Khalil as he was the first to respond to the map when the social commentator, Sultan Sooud Al-Qassemi posted it on his Facebook wall on June 21. Abu Khalil responded smugly: “Very convincing. Is there a special color for beheadings?”.

Pulse Media’s Muhammad Idrees Ahmad responded eloquently in the same thread to Abu Khalil’s customary inelegance: “He wants you to make blanket generalisations; to make no distinction between the Syrian majority who oppose the regime peacefully, the minority who defend themselves with arms, or the few who commit unpardonable crimes. They must all be judged by the standard of the lowest among them. Find the most criminal action, and extrapolate it onto the whole opposition.”

That extrapolation is a common reaction by many who only want to amplifythe negatives of those opposed to the Assad regime. Indeed it is the regimes strategy to not just amplify the negatives but exterminate the positives – quite literally when it comes to Syrian human rights defenders. The map and what it shows is a shining example of how many Syrians are peacefully resisting the regimes wide scale human rights violations and trying to build a brighter future. It’s a work in progress for sure and many more activities and initiatives will be added in the coming days and weeks.

I recently wrote about Omar and his colleagues in the SNVM and the campaigns training they have taken at Amnesty International. These activists, some inside Syria and some outside are despised by the regime and their apologists. Why? Because they are not committing human rights abuses – instead, they are campaigning against human rights violations and abuses. They are using methods which the regime and its apologists know are effective in the long term. They are genuinely fighting for a Syria for all – one which seeks to respect and protect the human rights of all Syrians. This confounds the regime narrative of blood thirsty jihadists rampaging and pillaging across Syria.

Omar got the idea to create this wonderful map when he was preparing a presentation for a peace group in Somerset, England. He wanted to list all the alternative newspapers and radio stations that started during the revolution and wanted to visualise it properly.

He told me he found an algorithm to visualise networks which was perfect to visualise the non-violence activities of the uprising. From there he formed a team consisting of SNVM members who started to collect the vast amounts of data about the grassroots activism in Syria.

Maimouna Alammar, who was arrested with her husband when she was pregnant with her daughter in the first days of the revolution, worked on this from inside Syria. She was key to this mammoth data collection operation and another SNVM member, Nisreen Alzaraee , translated the information into English. The project was in development for 3 months as there was so much activism and campaigning to document.

Omar said to me “It was very difficult and challenging to collect this amount of activities. We decided also to include some overview about each item in the map and a link to its website/Facebook page. Maimouna was working from inside Syria and most of the time she worked offline and without electricity to finish the project because of the difficulties to access the internet due to constant power outages”.

For Omar, the main objective of creating this map is to show the Syrian people and the rest of the world how powerful and widespread non-violence is within the Syrian uprising. He wanted to document the hundreds of activities involving tens of thousands of people to show a wider perspective of the revolutionary mosaic. This in turn would help challenge the narrative that all those opposed to the regime are “terrorists”.

Omar said “In the SNVM we believe that there is still a room for peaceful struggle and creativity amid all this chaos. Many people thought that the non-violence came to an end and this is a small step to show them that it is still there and they are using it or working with it on daily basis. So mainly it was to motivate people and the other aim is to document all these activities so interested people can have access to it easily.”

Omar and the SNVM plan to keep updating the map every fortnight. It is an excellent work in progress – regime apologists or indeed anybody that justifies human rights abuses, hate this sort of thing which makes the experience of navigating this map so much sweeter.

So check it out, especially those who think those opposed to the regime’s crimes against humanity are medieval barbarians only looking to munch your heart out.

PS for the techy minded, Omar says “the diagram is based on the Force-Directed Graph algorithm which automatically place nodes depending on their relations. Some of the tools used to generate the diagram are: Gephi, Sigma,InteractiveVis project by JISC and Oxford institute of technology. I did some coding using HTML and Javascript. The add/modify form is based on Form+ powered by Google Apps Script”

 

via Amnesty International UK.

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