Friday, August 31, 2012

It’s “Once in a Blue Moon” tonight

The Blue Moon in the Dubai sky tonight
Tonight is a “Blue Moon” night and you can use the expression "Once in a Blue Moon" à gogo today.

The saying is used for a rare, absurd or impossible event, for when was the last time you saw the moon turn blue?

According to modern folklore, a Blue Moon is the second full moon in a calendar month. Usually months have only one full moon, but occasionally a second one sneaks in. Full moons are separated by 29 days, while most months are 30 or 31 days long; so it is possible to fit two full moons in a single month. This happens every two and a half years, on average.

The Farmers' Almanac defined “Blue Moon” as an extra full moon that occurred in a season; one season was normally three full moons. If a season had four full moons, then the third full moon was named a “blue moon.”

The idea of a Blue Moon as the second full moon in a month stemmed from the March 1946 issue of Sky and Telescope magazine, which contained an article called “Once in a Blue Moon” by James Hugh Pruett. Pruett was using a 1937 Maine Farmer’s Almanac, but he simplified the definition and wrote:

Seven times in 19 years there were -- and still are -- 13 full moons in a year. This gives 11 months with one full moon each and one with two. This second in a month, so I interpret it, was called Blue Moon.

But the moon can turn blue, even green…

A 1888 lithograph of Krakatoa's eruption (Wikipedia)
In 1883, Indonesian volcano Krakatoa exploded. Scientists liken the blast to a 100-megaton nuclear bomb. Fully 600 km away, people heard the noise as loud as a cannon shot. Plumes of ash rose to the very top of Earth's atmosphere. And the moon turned blue.

Krakatoa's ash is the reason. Some of the ash-clouds were filled with particles about 1 micron (one millionth of a meter) wide -- the right size to strongly scatter red light, while allowing other colors to pass. White moonbeams shining through the clouds emerged blue, and sometimes green. Blue moons persisted for years after the eruption.

Other less potent volcanoes have turned the moon blue, too. People saw blue moons in 1983 after the eruption of the El Chichon volcano in Mexico. And there are reports of blue moons caused by Mt. St. Helens in 1980 and Mount Pinatubo in 1991.

So the key to a blue moon is having lots of particles slightly wider than the wavelength of red light (0.7 micrometer) -- and no other sizes present, which is rare. But volcanoes sometimes produce such clouds, as do forest fires. Ash and dust clouds thrown into the atmosphere by fires and storms usually contain a mixture of particles with a wide range of sizes, mostly smaller than one micrometer, and they tend to scatter blue light. This kind of cloud makes the moon turn red; thus red moons are far more common than blue moons.

Although it will most probably not be blue tonight, we can still enjoy our second full moon this month, maybe while listening to Frank Sinatra…

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

In support of Internet freedom in Jordan

Jordan is today (August 29) staging a country-wide Internet blackout to protest two censorship articles the government is due to pass this week – new amendments in the online media law and the new censorship decision for pornography websites.

I am joining the protest and Internet blackout in the same spirit I protested against SOPA/PIPA -- the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the U.S. House of Representatives, and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) in the U.S. Senate  -- because I oppose censorship. I believe in freedom of speech and in keeping the Internet open and free.

It is also consistent with two events in July that cemented this yearning and defense of a free Internet: The Declaration of Internet Freedom and the landmark July 5 vote by the United Nations Human Rights Council (A/HRC/20/L.13) endorsing a resolution upholding the principle of freedom of expression and information on the Internet.

An article in Wamda says the “the new policy… will strongly hinder local media, entrepreneurship and development in the country.” 

Wamda, which is a platform designed to empower entrepreneurs in the MENA region, writes: “The major threats are twofold: first, the amendments would force every single website to register with the Journalism Syndicate.”  This, sources say, “would potentially subject it to assessment of whether it is consistent with ‘Jordanian culture.’

“Secondly, the law would make website owners liable for the content posted in their comment sections. Any comment deemed offensive could incur fines some say are around 10,000 JD ($14,000), which could immediately shut down a web-based startup. The daily cost of moderating a website, not to mention an entire community of user-generated content like those on famous Jordanian pioneers d1g or Jeeran, would quickly become astronomical."

New site 7oryanet (Freedom, O Internet) is encouraging today’s blackout to raise awareness about the amendments before the deadline. It offers up-to-date information on the law's developments, also including information on how to protect against pornography.

7oryanet explains the protest action on its site:

Last week, specifically on Wednesday 22 August, Jordanians woke up to the shocking news that the Government of Jordan approved a draft bill amending the Press and Publications Law for the year 2012 that will include online media under the umbrella of the legislation. The law restricts Internet Freedom and will affect negatively the digital rights of Jordanian citizens.

The draft was swiftly sent to the Parliament, and it was discussed during the extraordinary session on Sunday 25 August. A second hearing will be held on Thursday 30 August. This is why we’re holding this blackout and need your support.

Why should you support the blackout and why is the law devastating to Jordan:

  • Censorship The law allows the head of Press and Publications to block any international website that is in violation with the law. This means non-Jordanian sites can be blocked for any reason.
  • Limiting freedom of speech the law also censors and monitors your comments, which will be monitored and censored! Website owners will be responsible for the comments posted by citizens, thus having to censor user comments themselves. They also have to store all comments for a period of at least 6 months.
  • Ambiguous The provisions of the law are very ambiguous, it states online media, which could include based on the government’s discretion: social networks, photo and video sharing sites, blogs and more
  • Restrictive The law puts a lot of limitations on websites, which disturbs freedom of speech, not only does it force websites to register and become members of the press association, appoint a chief editor, and pay membership fees, it allows courts to prosecute any website!
Related posts:

Activists Plan Blackout Tomorrow to Protest ICT Censorshipin Jordan – Wamda, August 28, 2012

Wednesday Blackout: Jordan Moves To Censor The Internet, AgainThe Black Iris, August 27, 2012

For a free and open Internet – July 12, 2012

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Lesson from the birds and the bees…

No, no… You thought this was a post about “those” birds and bees!
The idea of the birds and the bees came about as I looked up while having a cup of coffee at my workplace’s garden.
I spotted a beehive.
Next to it was a Common Myna on a tree branch guarding its nest.
Both were doing what they do, living side-by-side and coexisting.
It brought to mind a few lines in Samuel Coleridge’s sonnet “Work Without Hope,” how fascinating it is to observe nature at work and to set up a contrast between the busy natural world and us.
Coleridge wrote in 1825:
All Nature seems at work. Slugs leave their lair — 
The bees are stirring — birds are on the wing…
And I, the while, the sole unbusy thing, 
Nor honey make, nor pair, nor build, nor sing… 
Work without Hope draws nectar in a sieve, 
And Hope without an object cannot live.
For without hope, there can never be success.
Traditionally, the birds and the bees is a metaphorical story sometimes told to children in an attempt to explain the mechanics and good consequences of sexual intercourse through reference to easily observed natural events.
This was satirized in The Simpsons cartoon show, in the episode Homer vs. Patty and Selma that was first broadcast in February 1995 (S6, Ep. 17). The episode includes a scene featuring 10-year-old Bart Simpson in happy mood:
Bart: What a day, eh, Milhouse? The sun is out, birds are singing, bees are trying to have sex with them -- as is my understanding...
Oddly for such a common saying, the origin of this phrase is uncertain. Coleridge’s poem is most often cited as making the link between birds and bees and human sexuality.
So, who coined and first used “the birds and the bees” as the generic name for euphemistic sex education?Do you know?

But back to my cup of coffee…
The  Common Myna
The Myna is a very “common” bird in Dubai and the UAE. It is an omnivorous with a strong territorial instinct that has adapted extremely well to urban environments.
I know firsthand how territorial it is. I’ve been attacked by it several times on my morning run when passing under a tree where it was nesting. The one at work also dives down as I pass, supposedly protecting its nest too.
It is not a pretty bird. It is almost violent and doesn’t sing all that well, but it is said to be an important motif in Indian culture and appears both in Sanskrit and Prakrit literature.
The Common Myna’s calls include croaks, squawks, chirps, clicks and whistles, and the bird often fluffs its feathers and bobs its head in “singing.” It screeches warnings to its mate or other birds in cases of predators in proximity or when it is about to take off flying.
Common Mynas are believed to pair for life. They breed through much of the year depending on the location. It is a hollow-nesting species in trees or artificially on buildings, in recessed windowsills or low eaves.
The pair I was observing has nested in a recessed vent in the wall of the villa.
The range of the Common Myna is increasing at such a rapid rate that in 2000 the IUCN Species Survival Commission declared it one of the world's most invasive species and one of only three birds (the other two being the Red-vented bulbul and European Starling) in the top 100 species that pose an impact to biodiversity, agriculture and human interests. Its aggressive behavior is considered to contribute to its success as an invasive species.

As I finished my coffee while watching the Mynas having their afternoon bath, I didn’t like them any better, but I had to admire their resourcefulness, tolerance and coexistence with the bees.
It was a good lesson for the day.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

I agree with Obama: Rape is rape

No comment! 
For once, I totally agree with U.S. President Barack Obama for describing Rep. Todd Akin’s remarks about rape “offensive.
For the first time in ages, I was watching the news on TV when the president said, “Rape is rape” at a White House press briefing on Monday (August 20). He called the comments by Akin, a Republican candidate for Senate in Missouri, “way out there.”
Defining rape, Obama said, “doesn't make sense to the American people and doesn't make sense to me.”
“What I think these comments do underscore is why we shouldn’t have a bunch of politicians, the majority of which are men, making decisions that affect health of women,” he added.
I also watched, openmouthed, the American Senator say in the interview with a local Fox affiliate, the St. Louis-area station KTVI, released on Sunday that, in cases of “legitimate rape,” pregnancy is rare because “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
Although both GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney and vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.) rebuked Akin and sought to distance themselves from the remarks, the Obama campaign said Ryan supported a constitutional amendment that would ban abortion in all instances, including in the case of rape. It also said Ryan, who opposes abortion except in cases where the mother’s life is in danger, had worked with Akin on tough anti-abortion rights legislation.

“The underlying notion that we should be making decisions on behalf of women for their healthcare decisions... that is a significant difference in approach between me and the other party,” Obama said at the White House briefing, although he did not go as far as to say Romney and Ryan were associated with Akin’s comment.
 “I don’t think they would agree with the representative from Missouri, which was way out there. [Akin] was nominated by the Republicans in Missouri, so I’ll let them deal with that.”
Romney distanced himself from Akin in a statement issued Sunday through his campaign and in a Monday interview with National Review Online, in which he called the comment "insulting, inexcusable, and, frankly, wrong."
Meanwhile, Akin is hanging on. The candidate for Senate in Missouri offered a controversial explanation for why he is against abortion in an interview posted Sunday. He said in he believed pregnancy from rape was rare because of biological reactions to "legitimate rape."
"It seems to me, first of all, from what I understand from doctors, that's really rare. If it's a legitimate rape the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down," he said.
He added that if pregnancy did occur, there should be repercussions for the rapist, but not the unborn fetus. "Let's assume that maybe that didn't work or something. You know, I think there should be some punishment. But the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child."
His campaign released a statement in which Akin said he "misspoke," but stood by his opposition to abortion.
"In reviewing my off-the-cuff remarks, it's clear that I misspoke in this interview and it does not reflect the deep empathy I hold for the thousands of women who are raped and abused every year," he said.
"I recognize that abortion, and particularly in the case of rape, is a very emotionally charged issue. But I believe deeply in the protection of all life and I do not believe that harming another innocent victim is the right course of action."
He was trying to justify his view that abortion should be banned in nearly all cases -- no exception for rape, incest and life of the mother.
The question is: Are Akin’s views only his or are they more widespread? That is the scary thing…
As he is an elected representative, the burden now rests on those who have the choice and the power to vote him in or out of office – the American public.
Related posts:
Lebanon to protest rape law -- January 8, 2012

Saturday, August 18, 2012

World Humanitarian Day: Think Syria

Tomorrow, Sunday, is World Humanitarian Day, a global day to celebrate humanity and the spirit of people helping people.This year it also coincides with Eid al-Fitr.
With so many conflicts around the world, I dedicate this World Humanitarian Day to Syria and the suffering of civilians in that country that has claimed the lives of thousands of men, women and children and has displaced tens of thousands more from their homes.
Disregard for international human rights and humanitarian law has led to a “severe internal displacement crisis in Syria, as the conflict intensifies,” according to the UN Expert on the human rights of internally displaced persons. Chaloka Beyani, expressed deep concern about the situation of the estimated 1.5 million people internally displaced by the ongoing bloodletting in Syria.
It is also a day to remember all the humanitarian organizations and workers on the ground that are trying to help those affected by the Syria revolution. They are mostly volunteers, local and foreign, a number of who have already been killed in Syria.
Communities and organizations across the globe -- from Dubai to Paris, Bangkok to Panama City and Addis Ababa to New York -- will mark World Humanitarian Day through commemorations and public events. 
This Sunday, August 19, let’s rise together and do one thing for another human being. Even a smile can go a long way… Let’s make our mark, and say, “I was here.”
World Humanitarian Day is dedicated to recognize humanitarian personnel and those who lost their lives working for humanitarian causes. It was designated in 2008 by the United Nations General Assembly as part of a Swedish-sponsored GA Resolution A/63/L.49 on the Strengthening of the Coordination of Emergency Assistance of the United Nations, and set as August 19.
It marks the day on which then Special Representative of the Secretary-General to Iraq, Sérgio Vieira de Mello and 21 of his colleagues were killed in the bombing of the UN Headquarters in Baghdad.
Beyoncé, the UN and humanitarian aid organizations have launched a global campaign to shine a spotlight on humanitarian work and encourage people around the world to get involved by doing something good for others.
The World Humanitarian Day music video for Beyoncé’s song “I Was Here” was filmed in the UN General Assembly Hall in New York in front of a live audience. It will be released globally on August 19.
When Beyoncé took the stage, dressed in a skintight sequined white gown, the screens, which spanned from ceiling to floor, lit up with images of different regions around the world struck by disaster while the faces of humanitarian workers flashed. Beyoncé and songwriter Diane Warren are donating the video to the campaign.   
“World Humanitarian Day celebrates humanitarian work,” said Valerie Amos, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs. “I hope everyone will pledge to complete at least one humanitarian action -- however great or small -- through Together we can create an unprecedented awareness of the plight of people affected by crises around the world.” 
The campaign website provides everyone with an opportunity to unite and share his or her individual acts of good. On August 19, the campaign aims to reach no less than one billion people in a day with a single message. 
“We all see the headlines and we think, what can I really do to help?” said Beyoncé. “World Humanitarian Day is an opportunity for all of us to work together to make a difference. This is our time to leave our mark on the world and show that we were here and we care.” 
It takes only five simple steps to support World Humanitarian Day.
1.  Visit
2.  Click on “Show Your Support”. 
3.  Choose to support World Humanitarian Day via Twitter, Facebook or both, and get the word out to your friends and followers.
4.  Continue tweeting and posting in the lead-up to August 19.
5.  On Sunday, August 19, make your mark by doing something in your local community, and watch as everyone’s World Humanitarian Day messages are simultaneously shared around the world. 
In the past decade, more than 700 humanitarian workers perished while providing life-saving assistance to millions around the planet.
Humanitarian action stems from the establishment in the 19th century of codes of conduct during armed conflict. States were determined to create equilibrium between humanitarian preoccupations and States’ military exigencies in the context of modern warfare. Since 1949, the Geneva Conventions at the origins of International Humanitarian Law seek to formally protect people who do not actively participate in conflict but also to restrict war tactics. Sixty years on, the Conventions are almost universally ratified.
A new phenomenon increases the defenselessness of those in need of assistance -- the deliberate targeting of aid workers, forcing the cessation of aid operations in certain regions. “Sadly, since 19 August 2003, there have been numerous other assassinations of individuals and further bombs,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay says. “Killing those who are trying to help others is a particularly despicable crime, and one which all governments should join forces to prevent, and -- when prevention fails -- to punish.”
World Humanitarian day honors those who made the ultimate sacrifice, and pays tribute to those who continue to help people around the world, regardless of who they are and where they are.
Everyday we see and hear images and stories of pain and suffering, but we also find acts of kindness, great and small. World Humanitarian Day is a global celebration of people helping people. What will you do today?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Hail Mary

Our Lady of Lebanon at Harissa

And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail,
thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee:
blessed art thou among women. [Luke 1:28]

Today is Eid al 3adra, the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary to Heaven.
The acceptance of the Mother of all Mothers into the glory of Heaven is seen as the symbol of the promise made by Jesus Christ to all enduring Christians that they too will be received into paradise. 
John 14:3 -- one of the scriptural bases for understanding the dogma of the Assumption of Mary -- quotes Jesus as telling his disciples at the Last Supper, "If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and will receive you to myself; that where I am, you may be there also."
According to Catholic theology, Mary is the pledge of the fulfillment of Christ's promise.
The Hail Mary is one of the most powerful prayers because it is believed Jesus cannot neglect the intercession of His mother’s demands. The first miracle Jesus performed at the wedding at Cana is often cited, as in John 2:1-11, when Mary told Jesus, “They have no more wine.” He turned water into wine.
Eid al 3adra today falls again, as it did last year, during the Holy Month of Ramadan. Both Christians and Muslims will celebrate Our Lady – or “Maryam” in the Holy Qur’an.
The mother of Jesus has a distinguished and honored position among women in the Qur’an.
The 19th of the Holy Book’s 114 chapters is titled “Maryam” – the only surah named after a woman. (See Glorifying Virgin Mary in Ramadan -- August 15, 2011)
May our Heavenly Lady, bring peace, solace and love to all.
And may the Mother of all Mothers shower us, especially the needy, sick and infirm, with her Blessings:
Hail Mary, full of grace,
the Lord is with thee;
blessed art thou among women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners,
now and at the hour of our death.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Awaiting Ramadan’s Laylat al-Qadr

Laylat al-Qadr prayers at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)
“Whoever stands (in prayer) in Laylat al-Qadr while nourishing his faith with self-evaluation, expecting reward from Allah, will have all of his previous sins forgiven.”
[Abu Huraira, Sahih Bukhari]
Today, Ramadan 23, 1433, the Holy Month is into its last few days. Muslims pray that the time they devoted to fasting, prayer, renewal and reflection, as well as the lessons learned will carry them through the year.
The last 10 days of the month anticipate Laylat al-Qadr (Night of Destiny or Night of Power) that is described in the Qur’an, Surat al-Qadr (Chapter 97):
In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful
We have indeed revealed this message in the Night of Power.
And what will explain what the Night of Power is?
The Night of Power is better than a thousand months.
Therein come down the angels and the spirit, by Allah's permission, on every errand.
Peace! Until the rising of the morn!
Tradition holds Laylat al-Qadr is the night the first revelation of the Qur'an was sent down to the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH).
Muslims seek Laylat al-Qadr during the last 10 days of Ramadan, particularly on the odd nights -- the 23rd, 25th and 27th.
The Prophet said, "Whoever stays up (in prayer and remembrance of Allah) on the Night of Qadr, fully believing (in Allah's promise of reward) and hoping to seek reward, he shall be forgiven for his past sins." [Bukhari and Muslim]
Muslims worldwide spend these last nights in devotion, retreating to the mosque to read the Qur'an (Itikaf), reciting special supplications (du’a), and reflecting on the meaning of God's message to them. It is believed to be a time of intense spirituality, when angels surround the believers, the gates of heaven are open, and God's blessings and mercy are abundant.
Aisha (RA), the wife of the Prophet, narrates that He said:
“Look for the Night of Qadr in the odd nights of the last 10 nights of the month of Ramadan.” [Sahih Bukhari, Volume 3, Book 32, Number 237]
Aisha adds: “I asked the Messenger of Allah: 'O Messenger of Allah, if I know what night is the night of Qadr, what should I say during it?' He said: 'Say: O Allah, You are Forgiving and Generous and You love to Forgive, so forgive me.'
It is believed the revelation of the Qur’an to the Prophet Mohammad occurred in two phases, the first phase being its revelation in full on Laylat al-Qadr to the Angel Gabriel (Jibreel) in the lowest heaven, and the second being its verse-by-verse revelation to the Prophet by the Angel. The revelation started in 610 CE at the Hijra cave on Mount Nur in Mecca. The first Sura to be revealed was Surat al-Alaq or Surat Iqra. This night is also believed to be the night when God decides everyone’s destiny.
Those who can afford to devote their time stay in the mosque for the final 10 days of Ramadan. This worship is called Itikaf (retreat). They observe a fast during the day and occupy themselves with the remembrance of God, performing voluntary prayers and studying the Qur’an, day and night, apart from the obligatory prayers, which they perform with the congregation. Food and other necessities of life are provided for them during their stay in the mosque.
The faithful will now be awaiting Laylat al-Qadr today Ramadan 23 (Saturday 11 August), on Ramadan 25 (Monday 13 August) or the most likely on Ramadan 27 (Wednesday15 August) -- the last odd nights of the Holy Month.
The Qur'an describes Laylat al-Qadr as a night that is more valuable than a thousand months. 
According to Sahih Bukhari (Volume 3, Book 32, Number 233), as narrated by Abu Salama:
I asked Abu Sa'id, and he was a friend of mine, (about Laylat al-Qadr) and he said, "We practiced Itikaf (seclusion in the mosque) in the middle third of the month of Ramadan with the Prophet. In the morning of the 20th of Ramadan, the Prophet came and addressed us and said, ‘I was informed of (the date of the Night of Qadr) but I was caused to forget it; so search for it in the odd nights of the last 10 nights of the month of Ramadan. (In the dream) I saw myself prostrating in mud and water (as a sign). So, whoever was in ltikaf with me should return to it with me (for another 10-day period),’ and we returned. At that time there was no sign of clouds in the sky but suddenly a cloud came and it rained till rainwater started leaking through the roof of the mosque, which was made of date-palm leaf stalks. Then the prayer was established and I saw Allah's Apostle prostrating in mud and water and I saw the traces of mud on his forehead."
May all your prayers be heard and answered. Happy Eid.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Daily hell of citizen journalists in Syria

Fatima Khaled Saad

OCTOBER UPDATE: I am devastated to learn that Fatima Khaled Saad is feared to have died under torture. The Syrian League for the Defense of Human Rights believes she passed away on Tuesday, October 23, at a Damascus branch of the General Security Directorate. See "Young Syrian female activist dies under torture."

With traditional media officially locked out of Syria since the start of the revolution there in March 2011, citizen journalism has taken over the mantle, at a great cost.
It is through citizen journalism that news, photographs and videos of what is happening in Syria are now relayed to the outside world, at the heavy cost of detention, torture and death.
One of the latest citizen journalists to have been arrested in June is Fatima Khaled Saad based in the Syrian port city of Latakia.
Reporters Without Borders says, “It seems Saad’s only crime was to have possessed recordings of songs praising the uprising by Syria’s youth.
“She has been subjected to a great deal of physical and psychological violence during her arbitrary detention, which must end. We call for the immediate and unconditional release of Saad and all the other journalists and citizen journalists detained in Syria.”
Security officials arrested Saad, her father, Khaled Saad, and her brother during a search of their home on June 28. They seized her digital camera, memory card and telephone. Her father and brother were released but Fatima Saad was rushed to Latakia military hospital after being mistreated during a lengthy interrogation by intelligence officers.
On July 17, she was transferred to the headquarters of the military intelligence branch in Damascus where, according to some Reporters Without Borders sources, she is being held in Section 291.
“The way the regime tends to treat its opponents is grounds for concern about Saad’s fate. It is clear that the nature of her past activities is such that her life could now be in danger,” it notes.
Reporters Without Borders has launched a #DeadTweet campaign to take us into the daily hell of citizen journalists.
To pay tribute to the unprecedented number of citizen journalists who lost their lives to send out pictures of the uprising, Reporters Without Borders and its advertising agency JWT Paris, through a unique live Tweet, are bringing to life the experiences of people who find ways of circulating information amidst danger.
The Assad government has killed at least 38 citizen journalists and media workers since the start of the uprising in Syria in March 2011.
Their only crime was to disseminate information and spread the truth about the bloody crackdown that is still in progress against the Syrian people. Their main weapons are mobile phones and the Internet.
The #DeadTweet campaign poster
The #DeadTweet campaign image shows a lifeless hand covered in earth and blood. Next to it, there is a smart phone with a QR code on its illuminated screen. When it is scanned, a Twitter-style application starts up, taking the user into the live tweet of an imaginary citizen journalist in the midst of the conflict in Homs. The application shows his final minutes in detail through his feed. Events gradually take an unexpected turn until the final outcome.
The press and poster campaign uses the QR code to raise awareness about citizens’ efforts to cover conflicts in countries where authoritarian governments impose a media blackout by trying to shut out foreign journalists. When journalists can no longer do their job, these citizens are an essential information link and play their part in informing the world, sometimes paying the price with their lives.
The past few weeks have been particularly deadly, with around 10 citizen journalists killed since late May, says Reporters Without Borders. June saw the death of an unprecedented number of citizen journalists who sacrificed their lives to provide video footage of the uprising, the crackdown and now the military operations by armed groups fighting the ruthless Assad regime. Among them:
  • Mohamed Sami Al-Kayyal, arrested June 27 in the coastal city of Tartus.
  • Wael Omar Bard, killed June 26 in Jarjanaz, 40 km south of Idlib.
  • Hamza Mahmoud Othman, fatally shot by a sniper in Homs on June 21.
  • Ali “Al-Jedd” Othman, Hamza’s brother, the citizen journalist who ran the Baba Amr press center in Homs until it was destroyed last February and who was then captured by intelligence officers on 28 March.
  • Bassim Darwish, died June 15 from the injuries he sustained two days earlier in an explosion while covering the air bombing of Rastan, a town 30 km north of Homs. He was one of the founders of the Rastan press center and had covered many demonstrations in the region as well as the regular army’s operations.
  • Ayham Youssef Al-Hariri, a 35-year-old father of five and anti-government activist since March 2011, fatally injured by the blast from a shell in Deraa on June 13.
  • Abdelhamid Idriss Matar, a 22-year-old student of agro-food engineering at Baath University in Homs, fatally injured by a tank shell as he filmed an assault on Al-Qussair, a town 25 km south of Homs, on May 31.

Reporters Without Borders barometer
Reporters Without Borders already reported the deaths of two other citizen journalists: Ahmed Hamada in Homs on June 16 and Khaled al-Bakir in al-Qussair on June 10.
It also condemned the deaths of two citizen journalists in detention, Hassan Mohamed Al-Azhari and Rami Ismael Iqbal.
Arrested in Latakia on April 13, Azhari was transferred to an intelligence agency prison in Damascus. His family was told he died in detention -- probably under torture -- on May 17. Aged 24, he was one of the founders of the Coordinating Committee in Latakia, where he filmed demonstrations and the government’s crackdown.
Iqbal, 28, died in detention following his arrest last December 21, but it is not known exactly where and when he died. A citizen journalist since the start of the uprising, he filmed local developments and fed information to foreign media. He was first arrested on March 20, 2011, for giving an interview to the BBC and went underground after his release.
The concept of citizen journalism -- or public, participatory, democratic, guerrilla, or street journalism -- is based upon the testimony and reporting of the news by the public.
Citizen journalism critics claim it is unregulated, subjective, amateurish and haphazard in quality and coverage, which is, I think, precisely its value.
Abraham Zapruder, who filmed the assassination of President John F. Kennedy with a home-movie camera, way back on November 22, 1963, is sometimes presented as a forefather of citizen journalists.
Time magazine's cover in 2007
Thanks to the Internet, we’re all now able to share information globally. It is this power that is threatening, especially in times of war and conflict. What you could only get through newspapers and television, is now available instantaneously online through blogs, podcasts, streaming videos, social media networks and web-related platforms. You just need a smartphone, a laptop and an Internet connection.
My thoughts and prayers are with Fatima Khaled Saad, Bassel Khartabil, Tal al-Mallouhi and the hundreds of political prisoners, prisoners of conscience and citizen journalists currently held in Syria. May they all be back with their families and online before long.
Related posts:
Free Bassel by Jillian C. York – June 30, 2012
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Jailed Syrian teen defines terror  February 17, 2011
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Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Starting my days with Sheikh Zayed

Bidding the late Sheikh Zayed good morning and good night every day

It is a bit confusing to read about the anniversary of the demise of HH Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan on August 7 when he actually passed away on November 2, 2004.

But the Emirates News Agency (WAM) points out that today marks the 19th day of Ramadan 1433 -- the eighth anniversary in the Hijri calendar of the death of the UAE’s founding father.

It is an occasion for me to celebrate the beloved leader who is the first person I “see” every morning and the last one at night. That’s because I live close to an immense portrait of His Highness on Dubai’s Sheikh Zayed Road.

WAM’s piece, in today’s Gulf News (see link below), rightly says Sheikh Zayed remains “a role model not only for the whole of the population of the UAE, citizens and expatriates alike, but also for the whole of the Arab world, remembered for his tolerance, determination and commitment to the building of a better life for his people, as well as his emphasis on the need for loyalty to the nation.”

His guidance and wisdom would have been greatly appreciated in these turbulent times in the region.

Whatever the dates, I am lucky to start my day by bidding the late Sheikh Zayed good morning, sabaho and bonjour. I take inspiration from his lifetime achievements and set off to tackle whatever comes my way.

Related reading:

Mohamed Al Junaibi’s Blog Digitally Sane: Zayed… the father… the nation-builder… the unforgettable