Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Photo Consciousness XX

Ruth Coppinger TD, speaks outside the Dáil at a 'Repeal the 8th Amendment' protest

Sophie Loscher - 'A certain slant of light' - 2014. First published in the University Observer, 18th Nov 2014

Monday, 22 December 2014

Irish Water Charges Protest #2

Two men talk at the locked gates of the Department of Finance in Dublin city centre

A garda driving a detention vehicle signals to a colleague out of frame

Monday, 8 December 2014

I am not qualified to do this

The New York Times have published an essay by Tony Blair where Blair outlines his views that democracy is in need of change.

Edits and suggestions have been made where necessary.

The best method to view the suggestions is to click on the first page and then scroll through the essay in gallery view.

Alex Nunns of the Red Pepper carried out this process on an essay by Tony Blair in June of this year. His examination of Blair's essay on unrest in the Middle East is available to read here.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Reducing the Impact of War on Civilians

This article was first published in the University Observer on the 18th of November. Photographs from Adam Ferguson and Balazs Gardi accompany the original article.

White clouds from an incendiary round explode on the crest of a hill in the Korengal Valley in Afghanistan. Still taken from video shot from the perspective of US soldiers.

The human capacity to inflict suffering on one another occupies a primary role in the history of mankind, with the use of force being the chosen method for dictators and international aggression. With the establishment of a number of international organisations over the past half-century such as the European Union and the United Nations, a growing effort is being made to limit the horrors of war. The consciences of political leaders are more frequently being called into question on the damage wreaked on ordinary people by the demands of war.

A philosophy underlying international conflict is that nations are allowed to defend themselves from threats in a way that protects the citizens and borders and to use force when necessary. The rules of war stemmed from efforts made in the late 19th century by Swiss campaigner Henry Dunant on behalf of soldiers injured and left neglected between the French and Austrian monarchs. Deeming that these young men deserved greater respect, he sought stronger regulations regarding their treatment. This campaigning went on to form the basis of the rules of war known as the ‘Geneva Conventions’ which regulated conflict between two nations. They set out requirements for states relating to their behaviour towards ordinary civilians, soldiers, and prisoners of war.

While the legal definition of protection that should be afforded to people is clear, how these rules are enforced by countries involved in conflict may be not so apparent. The implementation of good practice falls into this contradiction where armies are allowed to kill people during a war, but they must do so in a humane manner. The apparent logic of this situation is that if conflict between humans is inevitable, then it would be better to regulate for it and to reduce the amount of suffering to the lowest number of people possible: the soldiers who consented to participating in the conflict. A major issue over the past century is the weapons used to wage war, in particular weapons that inflict massive suffering and trauma to the victim and have crippling effects long after conflict is over. Cluster bombs, chemical weapons and incendiary weapons have this effect because of their indiscriminate nature. While conventional weapons like bombs and bullets can be aimed with more discretion, the small explosive charges in cluster bombs, toxic gasses and fire can’t be controlled as easily and inflict wounds that are exceptionally difficult to treat and have life-long effects.

Campaigns to end the use of weapons like these have been organised by groups such as Human Rights Watch (HRW). With a panel of detectives and academics that specialise in the rules of war, along with weapons technology experts, they carry out investigations in war zones to interview victims and eye-witnesses, as well as assessing any photography or video evidence available. The head of HRW’s arms division is Harvard law lecturer Bonnie Docherty who started working with the group in 2001. “My start date was supposed to be September 12th, 2001 so the day after 9/11. That sort of shook things up and threw whatever they had planned out the window. Six months later I was in Afghanistan researching cluster munitions which was the first major weapon I’ve worked on and as time went by I’ve expanded to working on other weapons such as incendiary weapons.”

After seeing horrendous images emerge documenting the use of incendiary weapons during World War II and in Vietnam, pressure increased on the international community to regulate war to reduce effects on civilians. The international Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons law which was introduced to reduce their impact has been implemented, but it is not without flaws. “We argue that because white phosphorus has horrific effects where it burns to the bone and it reignites days later when it’s exposed to oxygen, the definition should be based on the effects of the weapon rather than what its design is. That’s our first concern about the international law that we’re trying to change.”

While international legal measures protecting civilians have developed over time, the reality of the situation is that some countries such as Syria continue to manufacture its own weapons or rely on old Soviet-era stockpiles to target their own people as well as anti-government rebels. “In terms of the injuries and the long-term effects, the pain must be excruciating so I think there’s a strong argument that it’s as problematic for soldiers as it is for civilians.”There are immediate, short term risks that civilians face as well as long term issues that can have a permanent effect on the minds and bodies of people as well as the environment around them. While incendiary weapons are intended to set fire to their target and can be used against military equipment, their use against humans has terrifying consequences. One such example is white phosphorus (WP); a waxy, sticky compound that burns generating thick, white clouds of smoke that can have legitimate screening purposes, like being used to reduce visibility to hide troop movements. A number of countries have WP in their arsenals, with Israel using it in Palestine and United States using it in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In a report published on the 11th of November, HRW presented new evidence outlining the indiscriminate attacking of civilians, which provides no military advantage. The testimony of Dr. Sahleyha Ahsan, a doctor who was working in a hospital north of Aleppo is included in the report. Bombs dropped by the Syrian air force had landed in the courtyard of a school, killing thirty seven people and injuring over forty others. “Three bodies were in a pickup truck outside in the hospital courtyard. These bodies, of three female students, were unrecognisable due to the severity of the burns. It was also impossible to tell that they were in fact female but I was informed by hospital staff that they were. They had been in the direct hit area of the bomb”. Docherty, author of the report commented “It’s disturbing that there’s new use. As well as that there’s ongoing use in the Ukraine and shows that urgent action is needed to address these issues. It’s not just a legacy of the Vietnam War. It’s something that’s been used today”.

Photographic and video evidence has emerged of US forces in Afghanistan using WP in both the north and south of the country. Press photographers who were embedded with troops saw WP being used repeatedly. Adam Ferguson, an Australian photographer who worked in the Korengal valley on the northern border with Pakistan talked about the attitudes of US soldiers who were fighting in the region. “I never saw any maliciousness. There’d never be anything like “oh, we’re going to burn people” or anything but “we’re just going to use it for creating a smoke screen.””

In the Helmand province in southern Afghanistan, US photographer Balazs Gardi embedded with US troops. “I did talk to soldiers back in 2006 about those ‘Willie Pete’ mortar rounds. They used them in combination with high explosive rounds; a method they called ‘shake and bake’”. The ‘shake and bake’ technique is the combination of high-explosive that causes an over-pressure effect, bursting lungs and tearing human tissue as well as setting fire to cover and hiding positions.

The level of fighting seen in the Korengal valley attracted a number of photographers and filmmakers to the area. Footage from a fire-fight in 2009 on the Donga Spar filmed from the perspective of soldiers shows an attack-helicopter patrolling above a group of coalition troops. The soldiers crouch in a small mountainside home, firing at an unseen enemy above them. Visible in the foreground is a small homestead, within a couple of hundred metres of the WP impact zone. Machine-gun fire from the helicopter is directed at the top of a ridgeline, kicking up clouds of dust before two large explosions of fire and smoke burst from the top of the hill. Long streaking pillars of bright white smoke emerge from the clouds, falling through the air; the distinctive feature of white phosphorus use.

A specialist for HRW confirmed that the footage of the attack did show evidence of white phosphorus. Docherty pointed to the risks that militaries take in using these weapons. “Our particular mandate, because of our work for Human Rights Watch we have a humanitarian approach I think it’s important for countries to remember what’s used against other troops can be used against their own troops. It has to be asked are such exceptionally cruel weapons appropriate against combatants?”

This approach of using footage is sometimes unavoidable to corroborate evidence of how wars are fought. Where possible, HRW send teams of researchers into the areas where fighting is taking place to investigate. In a recent case in the Ukraine, “Our methodology would be to go to the site, to the town and do a combination of talking to witnesses, victims and finding out their perspective and what we found in the Ukraine were pieces of incendiary weapons were left and you can corroborate the witness evidence with the physical evidence”. Where fighting is particularly fierce, the use of multiple digital sources from a range of social media sources can be used to identify exact locations and protagonists as it happens. Satellite imagery in conjunction with photographs and video can provide evidence where situations that are too dangerous for investigators to be physically present.

This new technique with modern technology empowers civilians and increases transparency. “Our preferred approach is to get our own researchers on the ground, but I think with this technology, with proper corroboration, we can document effects in real time. We want to do comprehensive reports after the war but we also want to stop things while they’re happening. The fact that we can get more access to what’s going on in the middle of hostilities where we can’t get our own researchers in is very helpful.” The rapid technological change that has occurred with the spread of publicly available technology like smart phones and internet access has challenged hegemonic power in the international sphere and is increasingly applying pressure to change military practice.

“There’s growing recognition internationally that these weapons are unacceptable. As our report outlines, there’s been a growing number of statements at places like the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) where they condemned use and we’re hoping that they’ll condemn use by Ukraine at this time. It’s also come across in Israel’s apparent decision to not to use incendiary weapons in their 2014 operations in Gaza. And obviously it used them widely in 2009, but those kinds of changes are showing that the international stigma is taking effect.”

Despite the difficult nature of the work carried out by HRW and the visible trauma inflicted on victims, Docherty stays positive about the changes that are coming about. “I’ve seen it with cluster munitions, I’ve seen it first in 2002 in Afghanistan and no one thought, well, not no-one, but prospects seemed grim that they would ever absolutely ban them, and gradually, with documentation and growing stigma and legislation we finally got an absolute ban on cluster munitions.” The international legal progress is important, the emphasis remains on those directly affected. “When you talk to these people you realise how much it matters to them, to the victims and the witnesses and it’s just a reminder that you have to be patient because it really matters to these people.”

The struggle for peace is making progress, through documentation and campaigning of powerful actors by groups such as HRW in combination with the work of deeply committed journalists such as Adam Ferguson and Balazs Gardi. The banning of particularly harmful weapons will have long-term benefits for ordinary people, soldiers and international relations and is a positive reflection on humanity in an era tarnished with violence.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Youth Leadership: the One Young World Conference

Former President of Ireland and High Commissioner for Human Rights at the UN, Mary Robinson

As former president of Ireland, Mary Robinson shared the stage of the One Young World Conference with Kofi Annan to discuss intergenerational climate justice and the inequity facing the world’s poorest people on the main stage in the Dublin Conference Centre, downstairs in the demonstration hall, Pepsico, Volkswagen and Lenovo stands were manned by teams of promotional staff who were working to provide the most positive perspective of their companies. Upstairs, at the panel discussions, a broad swathe of some of the most well-known representatives from the sphere of human rights spoke on behalf of the world’s most vulnerable people to young people between the ages of 18 to 30 from over 180 countries on local and global problems.

In a conference with as stark contrasts present as this, it presented some of the worst and best aspects of the contemporary situation regarding unrestricted capitalism; that the private automobile industry would use the opportunity to market to the future generation of socially-engaged future leaders, as ethical visionaries encouraged them at the same time and in the same building to work for a fairer future.

A woman uses a laptop in a corporate sponsorship area

Within this mix of speakers and private promoters, there was no clear guiding principle on where the organisers of One Young World stood regarding their conference. This lack of a clear direction lingered in their attitude towards attendance. Tickets to attend the conference were priced at over €3,400 and delegates hoping to attend were advised by the conference to seek sponsorship to help cover their costs. Instantly, those who can’t afford the fee or who live in countries where the ticket price is several times the average yearly wage face a noticeable barrier from attending.

Dylan Kaplan, a delegate from Washington DC who was recognised by the organisers for his winning essay on technology and the public in government and the possible methods for reducing barriers to participation was someone who was fully aware of this dichotomy, “It’s creating this idea of exclusivity that makes people want to come, so they’ve to figure out how to fund themselves to come. If they said that this (the One Young World Conference) was completely free, as crazy as this sounds, they would probably have less people coming. So people want to pay more money; they want to find someone else to pay for it”. Many of the speeches were available through a livestream and were archived to view online. The conference also promoted the use of online media to access some of the ideas being shared.

Hugh Gardner, an urban planner from Australia, spoke on what he perceived as setting One Young World apart from other conferences, “The things that we go to, it’s all corporate and really you don’t get that diversity of views. I think what I like a lot about coming here is that you get exposure to so many forms of change and so many different organisations and ways of doing things.”

Amir Ashour of Madre, a human rights campaigner from northern Iraq

With speakers like Amir Ashour, who campaigns for LGBTQ+ rights in northern Iraq, those at the front line of human rights defence were represented at the conference. Ashour, who grew up in the Kurdish city of Sulaymaniyah in the northeastern region of Iraq spoke to the conference on the extreme violence used to target individuals in the gay community in annual campaigns in the region. Speaking to Ashour afterwards, he spoke about the need for the revaluation of human rights in media coverage of violence, “Don’t only focus on those that are terrorists, because those terrorists are damaging the life of those Muslim countries as well. It’s not like they’re only affecting life in Western society. They’re affecting the local society as well.”

Amongst this group of well-funded and supported young people, those that we spoke to were unanimous in their desire for a fairer world. Global business clearly wants to remain a part of the lives of those involved in the shaping of the social and economic structures of the future. While the ethical considerations of partnering with groups like Diageo at a conference for positive social development is uncertain, there was clearly a strong demand from the individuals involved for a more equitable society.

This article originally appeared in the University Observer, on the 28th of October, 2014.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

The Differentiation of Terrorism in the Media

In contemporary portrayals of terrorist violence, there emerges various genres and niches for the application of labels, trying to project some level of apparent understanding onto an amalgam of politics, history and propaganda. It's this attempt at "knowing" something; the process of presenting a theory and defining narrative that fulfils a purpose for an audience. There is a desire to feel that one "understands" an event, a person or a motive. However, the predominant linear-narrative based presentation of social history throughout the hegemonic media of the West lacks the capacity to deal with non-normative values and cultural positions. This is inherently problematic for communities who are currently or historically excluded from fully participating in society.

Two terrorist attacks were chosen for comparison: the killing of two soldiers in 2009 outside Massereene Barracks in Antrim and the killing of Lee Rigby in London in 2013. These events were objectively similar in important ways: the targets were members of the British armed forces and were stationed within the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom. They were attacked during peace-time and in public. Those killed were all citizens of the United Kingdom, male and in their twenties. The attacks fell within the definition of ‘terrorist act’ as set down by the relevant legislation.

The Massereene Barracks murders occurred on March 7th, 2009, when two armed men shot at a group of soldiers and pizza-delivery men outside a military barracks in Antrim. Two soldiers were killed and four others were wounded. The armed men fled the scene and escaped. The Real IRA claimed responsibility for the attack in phone-calls made to Samaritans and to an editor with the Sunday Tribune.

The location of the attacks in Northern Ireland and South East London

Lee Rigby was killed in South-East London by two men, Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale on May 22nd, 2013. After hitting the soldier with a car and stabbing him repeatedly, the two men waited at the scene, describing their motivation for the murder with members of the public. When police arrived, the pair attempted to attack them and were shot and wounded. At their trial they were found guilty of murder, with Adebolajo receiving life imprisonment and Adebowale receiving 45 years imprisonment.

There were several differences between the attacks, in their modus operandi and the individuals involved. The Massereene attacks were carried out using two assault rifles, whereas in the killing of Lee Rigby, a car was used as a weapon in combination with a selection of knives. The individuals or groups who claimed responsibility are also different. The Real IRA has a relatively long history and complex organisational structure in comparison to the two men who claimed responsibility for the killing of Lee Rigby, who could be considered non-professional terrorist individuals. The Massereene murders differ from the murder of Lee Rigby in that a number of people were tried for offences related to the event but no successful prosecutions were made for the murders. (Marian McGlinchy was found guilty of aiding in the commission of a terrorist offence. She purchased a phone used to claim responsibility.) This difference largely stems from the actors’ willingness to be challenged by police in south London, rather than attempt to escape as what occurred in Antrim.

The Portrayal of the Attacks in the Media

By establishing characters, events and the “story”, the media provides the framework for the public’s consumption and understanding of an event. In the aftermath of the attacks, news outlets, government representatives and private individuals were providing statements on what occurred. There are a number of reasons why the media coverage from the two events were different:

The Massereene Barracks attack took place on a Saturday night, outside a military barracks on the edge of a town. No photographic or video footage of the attack or its aftermath appeared in the media. The geography limited the number of witnesses as well as prevented the generation of citizen-journalism type media. It was a different case in the killing of Lee Rigby: the attack took place in the early afternoon in an urban area of London; ensuring that the attack would be witnessed by dozens and the event would be photographed and filmed by citizens. Footage of the attack was aired across news channels that evening, with some warnings provided due to the graphic nature of the scenes depicted – a young black male, with bloodied hands holding several knives speaking directly to the camera with the body of Lee Rigby visible in the background in some of the footage.

In both events, statements from a wide range of political actors were made to the media. In that moment of heightened attention, the construction of a portrayal of an actor is first formulated – and it is in this situation that agendas are made public and views outlined. In the wake of the Massereene Barracks shootings, Northern Ireland Secretary Shaun Woodward said: “The contrast between those who serve the community and those who would destroy it could not be clearer. The people who did this will be pursued and they can be assured that they will never be able stop political progress in Northern Ireland".

Downing Street declared that the attackers “wish to ignore the wishes of the overwhelming majority of the people of Northern Ireland and attempt to derail the peace process”. Peter Robinson, the First Minister of Northern Ireland gave a statement strongly condemning the attacks “[T]he events of this evening are a terrible reminder of the events of the past. These murders were a futile act by those who command no public support and have no prospect of success in their campaign.”

The Republican movement of Northern Ireland also came out strongly against the attack and reiterated the need for those who seek to achieve political goals will only be able to do so through non-violent means. Gerry Adams said “It was wrong and counter productive. Those responsible have no support; no strategy to achieve a united Ireland…Our responsibility is to defend the peace process and the progress that has been made to achieving national and democratic rights." Martin McGuinness addressed the attacks and framed them in a contemporary setting saying “that war is over”. Use of language like “barbarism”, “cowardly” by Peter Mandelson and “cold-blooded” by the Defence Minister John Hutton generate an image of the attackers; at one stage frenzied and at other times a calculated murderer, machine-like in their criminality.

A statement which stands out amongst these statements was Ian Paisley Junior’s comment which likened the attack to something that happened "in foreign countries, places like Basra…There are people who have been intent on murdering police officers or soldiers, or someone else, to strike home and galvanise support for some mad cause".

Throughout the statements reference is made to three concepts; firstly: criticism of the acts, secondly, those involved as isolated, “mad” individuals and thirdly, within a political and historical narrative of a struggle for self-determination. In the media flowing from this event, the focus was on the political nature of the attack and how the motivations of the attackers was out of sync with those they claimed to be acting on behalf of.

The Killing of Lee Rigby

Between March 2009 and May 2013, the media environment altered as new technology altered the way news was produced and shared. The proliferation of smartphones as well as changes in reporting dynamics may have contributed to this, as well as the very public nature of the killing of Lee Rigby in comparison to what occurred in Antrim.

Reaction from the political sphere in relation to the killing of Lee Rigby were immediate. David Cameron, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom hoped to portray a nation standing in unity against a terrorist threat, saying “The people who did this were trying to divide us. They should know that something like this will only bring us together…This was not just an attack on Britain and on the British way of life, but it was also a betrayal of Islam and on the Muslim communities who give so much to our country.” Muslim groups in Britain also responded to the murder, with he Muslim Council of Britain stating “a barbaric act that has no basis in Islam and which we condemn unreservedly.” The Association of British Muslims also commented on the events to the media and said that because of their behaviour, it "removed them from Islam, because there is [sic] no grounds to justify attacks of terrorism". These Muslim groups joined politicians in labelling the behaviour of the two attackers as violent extremism.

Some politicians also commented on terrorism and Britain’s foreign policy. Natalie Bennett, leader of the British Green Party pointed to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the impact it was having on the perception of the country abroad and internally. She said “[if] we’re going to stop that happening again in the future, one of the biggest things we have to do is stop regarding ourselves as the world’s policeman.” This discourse about the spread of instability in the Middle East, along with the negative attitudes towards the British presence there took a lesser role in the media portrayal of the terrorist attack relative to other leading figures' comments. Rather, the primary issue considered by leaders was a reflection about the unity of the British nation and the betrayal of Islamic values.

Statements made by Protagonists

Claims of responsibility generally follow terrorist incidents as the attackers’ agenda is proliferated by the media and can promote their cause. It allows terrorists to justify their actors before the public, which is essential for groups who act in secrecy. Protagonists in both occasions made statements to through the media in the immediate aftermath of the attacks.

Suzanne Breen, editor of the Sunday Tribune was contacted by the Real IRA, using a recognised codeword. In this communication, the spokesman for the group claimed that the pizza delivery men who were also injured in the attack were legitimate targets for servicing the British Army. The nature of the attackers’ perspective and how they viewed their victims was seen in the statement released to the Sunday Tribune that evening. “We make no apology for killing British soldiers while they continue to occupy Ireland. Nor do we apologise for shooting the pizza delivery men who were collaborating with the British military personnel by servicing them.” The language of the caller is couched in the rhetoric of a politically motivated group as well as how the group choose to identify themselves; the “Real Irish Republican Army” – Irish Republican – that is, an ideology based around nationality as well as a political ideal.

A claim of responsibility was made by Michael Adebolajo just moments after the attack on Lee Rigby. In a video captured by a passerby, he points to the deaths of people living in predominantly Muslim countries by British soldiers which compelled him to act. The underlying concept of ummah (from the Arabic for 'community' or 'brotherhood') underscores his arguments. In Adebolajo's statements, there appears to be a commuted sense of betrayal, hurt and humiliation from those directly affected by British foreign policy in the “war on terror” in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the United Kingdom's participation in air-strikes in Libya on to him. Expanding on his rhetoric, Adebolajo states to the camera: “The only reason we've killed this man today is because Muslims are dying daily by British soldiers…Why does that mean you must follow us and call us extremists and kill us? Rather, you lot are extreme…When you drop a bomb, do you think it picks one person?”. The words of Adebolajo suggest that his concept of social identity extended beyond traditional philosophies of community.

There are two narratives presented by the media generated from the attack. The first narrative was constructed by David Cameron. He stated that the actors were “betraying Islam” and Muslim communities; implying, that the terrorists’ primary motivation was Islam. The second narrative, laid out by a politician much lower in the hierarchy of opinion was that of Natalie Bennett. This second narrative was that UK foreign policy has a role in radicalisation and leads to extremism becoming more relevant to disenfranchised opponents of British foreign policy.

In David Cameron’s speech, reference is made to British foreign policy. But, rather than acknowledging the accusation made in the claim of responsibility by Adebolajo, Mr. Cameron clouds the issue, associating Islam and terrorism and portraying the protagonists as isolated actors: “Britain works with our international partners to make the world safe from terrorism. Terrorism that has taken more Muslim lives than any other religion…and the fault for them lies solely and purely with the sickening individuals who carried out this appalling attack.” The association made by Mr. Cameron is that fault for this terrorist act lies within a dogmatic sphere flowing from individual religious extremism. Flowing from the killing of Lee Rigby, a pronounced sentiment of government-led association between terrorism and Islam along with the individualisation of responsibility to isolated extremists is present.

Direct Contrasts in the Portrayal of Objectively Similar Events

Two events with objectively similar results were given different constructions by those in the political hierarchies commenting and analysing them. The social and historical context of two divided communities and international politics were repeated throughout the comments related to the Massereene attack. When commenting on the killing of Lee Rigby, it was David Cameron’s statement about working with Britain’s “international partners to keep the world safe from terrorism” that there appeared to be the greatest disconnect by Mr. Cameron between the terrorists’ message and his perception of the event. David Cameron framed the event as one based around religion, while the protagonists attempted to frame it in relation to power structures in international relations. It is only in Ian Paisley Junior and Natalie Bennett’s comments are made referencing UK intervention abroad. Even so, these insights remain sidelined and reflect minorities in political discourse.

In the aftermath of the Massereene attacks - the political statements focused on the aims of the paramilitary republican agenda of the removal of British soldiers from the North. The focus was not on religious difference, despite the historical background having a Catholic/Protestant division. There is a broad political consensus now that division largely stemmed from issues relating to sovereignty, self-determination and political representation. After the Massereene attack occurred, Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness made references to the lack of a coherent strategy by the attackers in a perceived ‘war’.

It is in this differentiation that the contrasts become most apparent: the Real IRA were ignoring the ‘overwhelming majority’ of people in Northern Ireland. They are (1) an “army” and (2) acting on behalf of a disenfranchised minority. The men who murdered Lee Rigby however were “sickening individuals”, who betrayed Muslim communities. The Massereene attack was framed by politicians as a majority/minority issue and the killing of Lee Rigby as a societal/individual conflict. Political leaders' inability to clearly communicate what community the killers of Lee Rigby represented who is responsible for the killing of Lee Rigby and from what community they were from stigmatises ordinary Muslims and alienates further those who empathised with the attackers.


Within this discussion of violent extremism, the public framing of actors is constructed by government commentators. While the events are objectively similar, they are portrayed in a different way. Groups can be portrayed as militant and rational while another is presented as violent and irrational, thereby legitimising one with historical and social significance and delegitimising another as devotees to some mad cause. By misconstruing terrorist actors’ message, the reality of a situation is misrepresented. British foreign policy has a real impact on modern society, regardless of how political thinkers would like to ignore the perception of their acts abroad.

In an era where technology is restructuring community dynamics beyond traditional geographic and social boundaries, it may be the case that the modern Western conceptualisation of the freedoms of the individual and the limits on the state will be cast into doubt. The philosophical freedom of the individual to act in as self-determining way has reached its zenith when the concept of participation in armed conflict is in question. In developed Western countries, engaging in warfare is allowed and promoted, as long as it is against a declared state enemy. In an age of digital transboundary communities, non-nation state actors challenge the state's ability to manage non-orthodox threats.

This lack of self-awareness undermines government response to issues and threatens the progressive inclusion of minority groups into a well-functioning, healthy society. The media’s role in this dynamic is to allow the construction of government agenda and aids in the proliferation of a thematic concept of an actor. The effect of this will be seen in the way marginalised and disenfranchised groups behave in the future.

This essay was originally completed as part of the coursework for the Law and Contemporary Politics course in the final year of my Law degree at UCD. It appears here in an adapted format.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Stand.ie's 8x8 Festival

Focusing on development issues inside and outside of Ireland, the 8x8 Festival hopes to shed greater light on the structures and challenges experienced by people as the world around them changes. With a range of events occurring across campuses around Ireland, including workshops with film makers and photojournalists, photography exhibitions and film screenings the event aims to provide a new perspective on dominant narratives surrounding development.

The photography exhibition pictured above is in place outside the Berkeley Library in Trinity College, Dublin from the 6th to the Friday, the 10th of October. The selection includes photographs from Marcus Bleasdale, Jim Xu and Sally Hayden and will also be on display in other universities on later dates.

More information is available on the festival website.

I was asked by Gráinne Carley of Suas to participate in a working group for the selection and organisation of some aspects of this festival. I would like to thank her for including me in this project; it has given me far more than I could ever hope to contribute. 

Friday, 29 August 2014

Silencing the Discourse on Violence

In the wake of the murder of journalist, James Foley, the British Metropolitan Police warned that those who shared the video of his execution would be at risk of prosecution. While the statement is considered to be primarily aimed at those who seek to glamorise or promote extremist violence, the alarmist nature of the statement is concerning for for those involved in the discourse and analysis of violence. The threat of prosecution, left unqualified by the Police was questioned by a number of journalists and lawyers, including legal commentator for the Financial Times, David Allen Green.

In the construction and interpretation of the law, clarity and transparency is necessary. Statements like that of the British police force impinge on the capacity of journalists and society generally to access the information that help them gain a greater understanding of the world around them. As a blog that has analyzed and attempted to deconstruct issues relating to violence in the past, the need for press freedom and access to the imagery and other media related to conflict is essential. Otherwise, the realities of these situations is left uncommunicated.

The role of the media is to assess and provide perspective on socially important issues and the foreign policy of powerful nations is one of these. The front page of the Sunday Times' News Review on the 10th of August published an essay by Prince Harry on his time in Afghanistan. Prince Harry had recently established a sports event for soldiers who had lost limbs fighting in Afghanistan called 'Invictus'. He said 'Loss of life is as tragic and devastating as it gets, but to see young lads - much younger than me - wrapped in plastic and missing limbs, with hundreds of tubes coming out of them, was something I never prepared myself for.'

Prince Harry participated in the war in Afghanistan as an Apache attack-helicopter pilot, which provides close air support for ground troops by way of missiles and explosive bullets. The Sunday Times facilitated his demonstration of his lack of understanding of the impact of his actions and gave the reader an opportunity to assess the power of indoctrination into a singular way of thinking. Prince Harry appeared self-absorbed and unaware of the implications of his actions.

The free media provides a way for people to express themselves and for others to examine them. The film 'Collateral Murder', published by Wikileaks, contained footage shot from an attack-helicopter's imaging device during an attack in Baghdad in 2007 in which over ten men died, two Reuters journalists were killed and two children were struck by machine gun rounds. The world was provided with an opportunity to see the procedure used by American forces when attacking groups in urban areas. By providing access to the rules of engagement in use by US soldiers, Wikileaks and those who shared the video were in many ways engaging in the same activity that the British Metropolitan Police Force would describe as illegal under Terrorism legislation.

If the media are unable to share and critically analyse the actions of those who participate in conflict, it becomes more difficult to provide alternative narratives to a state representative's perspective. When the media become at risk of prosecution or any form of non-state violence for sharing arguments and media that counter a dominant agenda, the capacity to inform and reflect is damaged and limits our ability to improve the world we live in. The death of James Foley and other journalists such as Austin Tice, who have paid the most extreme price for attempting to document conflict, only highlight the absolute need to protect and encourage a free media.