Sunday, 17 June 2012

Am I a Hypocrite?

I find it somewhat ironic that my project, which laments the influence of media, is published online. As much as I have gone on about how media can be dangerous and manipulative, I will say that the internet is a truly amazing place. Over the course of my blogging experience, I have been inspired by the interaction I've had with other bloggers. The opinions and questions in the comment section have been eye opening and thought provoking.

I believe that media should be used as a tool, not a weapon. Media has infinite potential. The notion of positive conscious media working to unite the global community excites me. I hope that reflection upon the past (i.e. the coverage on 9/11) will spark a discussion on the role of media in our lives and the ways in which we can begin using media in a more positive fashion. While technology presents challenges, it also presents opportunities. I am skeptical, curious, excited and intrigued by the evolution of media today. Websites like Wikileaks are changing the way millions of people view the world and global issues. As time goes on, it will be interesting to see what the results and possible ramifications of this sort of media are. Writing the blog helped me find my voice in this often overwhelming place called cyberspace. I am grateful to anyone who has taken the time to read my sometimes long-winded musings about such a complicated social justice issue. This project has opened my eyes to a world of possibilities, both in the physical and virtual world. Even if only in small ways, I hope that readers have had a similar experience with my blog. The blog has allowed me to "show" and not "tell" my project to my peers. Instead, it has posed questions and opened discussions which will hopefully continue to develop long after I have retired my fast-typing fingers from the keyboard. 

30,600,000 Google search results

The issues associated with the war in Iraq reflect the downfalls of the human condition. The course of events that followed 9/11 exposed the dangers of media persuasion and the risks individuals and countries alike will take for a chance at power.

I chose to blog about the war in Iraq, because I was fascinated by the complexity of the issue. The answers to my questions took time and care to answer. Exploring the root causes of the war in Iraq, although difficult, was rewarding. Through my studies, I gained a greater understanding of the complexities of International relations and began to view the similarities between the U.S. and Canada in a new light. While skimming through 30,600,000 search results, countless books, and hundreds of database articles drove me crazy; in the end it paid off.

I strive to be a responsible, educated, "conscious" person and global citizen. In order to accomplish that goal, I have to gain an understanding of how the world works. I know that as time goes on so will the course of human evolution. I sense and see the changes that are occurring in the World. I often wonder about the future and think about the responsibilities and "burdens" that lie ahead for my generation. I believe that history repeats itself. Consequently, I believe that understanding history is an integral part of preparing for the future. In studying the war in Iraq, I have learned not only of atrocities that once took place; but also of viable solutions for a peaceful future.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

What I learned from Roger Waters

Last weekend, my parents gave me tickets to Roger Waters' "The Wall" for my birthday. Like many re-touring rockstars, Waters came with a message of peace. His show featured multiple political messages and thousands of pictures of fallen soldiers from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The whole show was accompanied by dazzling 3D video projected onto "the wall".  One particularly striking sequence was shown during the song "Run Like Hell". A parody of the iPod lower case "i" concept is used to show social intolerance, stakeholders in war, and propaganda. The white headphones symbolize propaganda, belief systems, and social "traps" that prevent us from bettering ourselves and the world. If you're interested there is a high quality video from the show here:

Waters' choice to make a political statement, while inspired, was not surprising. However, the crowd's reaction to him was. Being in a crowd of 40,000+ people all understanding and angry about the injustice highlighted in the video gave me a small glimpse at the possibilities of positive media and the influence of celebrity. As a musician, I am always interested to see how celebrities and fellow musicians tie their art in with social justice issues. This concept ties in with my previous post on solutions. By nature, human beings look up to celebrities and power figures. If the people we look up to promote a message of peace, so will we take on those ideals. Unfortunately, the same can be said for people who promote violent messages. Seeing "The Wall" gave me a newfound concept of digital media and music's place in the political arena. 

Despite my best efforts, I can be very cynical. Seeing celebrities like Bono or Angelina Jolie on TV talking about peace doesn't often inspire me to listen or take action. A few months ago at a reunion show by Swedish hardcore punk band "Refused", I was actually somewhat irritated by the lead singers approach to addressing his political platform onstage. Nothing that he said was offensive or even gratuitous. I was just bothered by the way his anarchist message randomly interrupted his otherwise calm and thoughtful stage banter. Perhaps its just me, but these types of scenarios turn me cynical. However, in the case of "The Wall" the message worked. Waters' understated delivery made his political messages more palatable. The video was thought provoking and engaging. At the end of the show, after the wall came down, a teenaged Middle-Eastern girl wearing the white headphones appeared on the small remaining part of the screen. In slow motion, she removed her headphones and raised her hands up victoriously. At that point, the entire stadium erupted into applause and cheers. It was then that I realized how engaged I had been in the message and how the video had really spoken for itself without the anarchical 'rah-rah' commentary from the lead singer of the band. 

My experience at "The Wall" brings me back to my thesis on media misrepresentation. Over the course of this blog I have aimed to explain how media has the power to make or break society. I have found that there is no simple formula for successful positive media. However, what I do know is that when an audience is held accountable and engaged in depiction of global issues, pandora's box opens, we take off our proverbial headphones and the discussion begins. 

Friday, 1 June 2012

"Waiting for Superman"

The holy grail of society is a solution to global conflict and crisis. Come election time, a slew of shined up politicians grace podiums around the world and promise just that. Time after time, voters put their trust and reliance into politicians who, time after time, fail to follow through. Often politicians and "the government" take the blame for this. However, I believe that the fault truly lies on the common people. We are 7 billion people, each a part of the complex of global society. Yet often I wonder, are we working for eachother or against eachother? What can be done, if the "villians" in this saga are ourselves? Where is our hero? 

I believe that when we see a politician grace the stage and promise "solution" we project the superhero image onto them and all of a sudden they take on God-like responsibilities (which later prove impossible to fulfill). Take current U.S. President Barack Obama for instance. During his campaign, it was hard to determine which was stronger: Obamas celebrity status or his political presence. He was on talk shows, made into pop-art and trending all over social media. Soon after his election, it became clear that Obama's promise of change would be harder to achieve than it seemed. A year after his election, support for Obama wained. Was this because he was doing a poor job as a politician? Had he lied just like all his predecesors in hopes of getting into office? No. Obama simply wasn't saving the world in the superman like manner that Americans had envisioned he would.

In the case of the war in Iraq, a solution is hard to determine because the blame cannot be placed on any one party. Consequently, I feel it is imperative to examine the role that the global community played in the War in Iraq. Terrorism, in essence, is the act of instilling terror. The attacks on the World Trade center achieved this effect. However, it is interesting to re-evaluate the source the terror sprung from. At first glance, the blame can be put on Al Qaeda. However now, years after 9/11, I am beginning to view the course of events through a new lens. I have begun to factor in the role of the media in the terrorization of the world. My research has provided me enough evidence to choose a suspect of my own.So I believe our hero who, had they acted properly could have prevented the War on Terror and provided solace in a time of global turmoil is the American Media.

Watch this clip from Fahrenheit 9/11. Start at 8:29.

Media is the most influential institution in North American society. Each day we are bombarded with advertising, news updates, and social media feeds. The technology (smartphones, facebook, twitter, online news, blogs, youtube etc.) we use today, provide a vast array of opinions which influence our own ideals and values. While media can be positive and beneficial; it is often harmful, misinforming, and confusing. Post 9/11, CNN and ABC News among other networks began covering the war in Iraq and the hunt for terrrorists. The program titles involved words like "Terror Watch!" "The Fight against Terrror" and "American Heroes". Images of flames, explosions, and a soundtrack of grunge guitar rock were all parts of the over-exagerrated program intros. The programming on television perfectly echoed the idea that no one was safe. 

As I mentioned before, I feel that the solution to the war in Iraq begins with ourselves. It is evident that the idea that "the Government will take care of it" is not realistic. If we want influence on what happens in our world, we must take charge of our own ideals and values. A nation full of sheeple will not change anything. Being cognizant of how media affects us is invaluable. Carrying cell phones, watching tv, and having a constant social media audience at your fingertips; comes with responsibilities. In 2001, we let the media control the evolution of our thoughts and ideals. The result was fear, racism, and a lack of dialogue. Assumptions and misunderstanding arose. This problem was fixable and the solution fell upon ourselves.

It has taken years to re-adjust the prejudices that were formed as a result of the media's coverage of the war in Iraq. Sadly, some people will carry those beliefs for life. This story should be a lesson to us all. I think sometimes we forget that not everything the news says is 100% accurate. Human beings are impressionable. We don't always see how powerful that is. Media is as much of a tool as it is a weapon. If used improperly, it can have detrimental  impacts on massive amounts of people at an alarming speed. Before we take in media or formulate ideals based on media, we must check in on our own beliefs and emotions. Ultimately these are the only tools we have to determine how we feel about each issue life presents. We must remain vigilant. For on occasion, we get the opportunity to be superheroes. 

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Pointer Fingers

People around the World remember where they were on the morning of 9/11. I was 7 years old, eating cinnamon toast for breakfast before school. I remember the phone ringing, the blood draining from my mothers face, and a sudden flurry of activity as she rushed around the house turning on all the radios and TV's. I remember watching in confusion as the second tower fell to the ground in real time on the screen. At seven years old, the concept of global conflict is a hard one to grapple with. Today, I still face the questions I formulated over a decade ago on the morning of September 11th. I think the most prominent question I have is  WHO did this and WHY? I have already begun to address the "why" questions in my previous blog posts, so in this one I am going to explore the "who" questions that have taken me over a decade to understand.  

Front page of the New York Times September 11, 2001

Perhaps the most convoluted topic in the argument of "who was responsible for 9/11" is the role of President Bush. There are many activists poised with "9/11 was an inside job" stickers ready to put the blame on Bush and the United States government. There are political analysts, who have said they do not believe Bush had any part in planning the attacks. There are film-makers and journalists who angrily speak of the "warning signs" the US was given, and Bush's lack of interest in reading reports foreshadowing the attacks. Everywhere I turn, someone is pointing a finger at someone else. Largely, the blame is placed on the United States government. For the sake of this blog post, I am going to try to play devil's advocate. Which is a difficult role to play when there are so many "devils" on the playing field.

After 9/11, the first target was placed. This fell on Osama bin Laden, the Saudi founder of Al-Qaeda. His bounty was set at $25 million dollars by the FBI. In August 1996 bin Laden had issued a "Declaration of War" against the U.S. Bin Laden was the "guest" of the Taliban in Afghanistan until the U.S. drove them from power in Nov. 2001. Al-Qaeda set up terrorist training camps in the war-torn nation, as it had previously in Sudan. 

Osama Bin Laden
Source: STR/Reuters
Under the Bush administration, two million U.S. troops were deployed over the course of the War in Iraq. However, the real stakeholders in the conflict were not high profile politicians, radical terrorist leaders, or brave young American soldiers. The true stakeholders, who would suffer tremendously through the harsh reality of war for the next decade, were the Iraqi people. In 2009, Canadian author Deborah Ellis published a book entitled Children of War. The book contained hundreds of personal stories from children living in Iraq during the war. Here are three quotes that stood out in particular for me.

Source: Amazon

 "It's possible that we may soon be living in America.. I don't know how I feel about living in America, seeing the American flag every day. These are the people who destroyed my country, and they are over there across the ocean living a good life. They destroy things, then they forget about it and have a good supper and watch television... The Americans cut down trees in my country, and we will be looking at trees still standing in America. The Americans bombed our bridges, and we will be walking across bridges still standing in America. They killed children in my country, and we will be going to school with children who have never known troubles. I don't like to think about it."
Hibba, 16. Page 23-24.

"There was a lot of resistance in our area to the American troops. This wasn't because our area was full of terrorists. This was because people didn't like to see foreign troops trying to control their country. How would Americans or Canadians feel if there were Iraqi troops on your streets, and these Iraqi troops broke down doors and tried to tell you what to do?"
 Masim, 15. Page 91

"I wish we could use music somehow to stop war. Maybe it sounds silly, but instead of picking up a gun, soldiers should instead pick up a guitar or a saxophone or a trumpet. They could have battles with music, to see who could make the best music. That would make the world much, much better." 
Yeman, 13. Page 124 

These raw, candid depictions of war through the eyes of children made me realize that war is not (no-pun-intended) child's play. Waging war is a serious act of violence which impacts the lives of millions of people. Children in Iraq were often unable to attend school or go out walking in their neighborhoods during the war. Families were torn apart and forced into poverty. On the American side, it has been reported that 30% of soldiers deployed to Iraq, suffered post traumatic stress disorder within 4 or 5 months of returning home. 

Even though the war is over now, I still find myself plagued with questions. Given all of the information I have collected, I cannot help but ask "Was it worth it?"  The War in Iraq, brought chaos not only to the Middle East but also into the homes of North Americans. Post 9/11, I noticed a shift in the North American mindset. This shift favoured racism towards people of Middle Eastern descent. Middle Eastern people faced difficulty getting through airport security and were unjustly viewed in a negative light. This issue falls back onto the media. Media is arguably the most influential stakeholder in today's society. Media has the power to instill hatred and implement peace. In the case of 9/11, the mainstream media did nothing to establish an environment for peace keeping. Instead, it rallied the viewers of the World in preparation for the violent decade to come. The more I think about it, the more I can see how media's disproportionate power over society has negative affects on our lives. I have come to the realization that perhaps the solution to global conflict is sitting in our living rooms, and inside the pockets of our clothing. Now that the War in Iraq has ended, we must move forward in a manner which prevents dark elements in history from repeating themselves. I am intrigued by the notion that media, if used correctly, may have the power to do just that. I'll speak more on that in a later post. For now, I'll leave you with a question: "Can war be moral? Is there any justifiable reason to wage war in the first place?" Leave your comments below. After all, everybody loves a little controversy.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Cue Confusion

In December 2011, President Barack Obama declared the War in Iraq officially over and announced the withdrawal of thousands of American troops from the war torn country. In an article written by Greg Jaffe for the Washington Post entitled "Did the Iraq war have an iconic ending?" Jaffe depicted images of post-war reunions from previous conflicts. "The 1945 Life magazine photo of a sailor planting a kiss on an unsuspecting woman in Times Square captured the joy at the end of World War II." These sepia-toned descriptions evoked a sense of nostalgia within me and for a brief moment turned what was a brutal massacre into a romanticized moment in history. Shortly thereafter, the honeymoon was over. After searching "causes of the Iraq war" I received 20.6 million search results. Perhaps my most poignant finding was a response to a Yahoo answers question. The question read "Why did the war in Iraq end?" The first commenter said "I'm still waiting for the answer on why it began." Herein lies the dilemma. 

The famous "sailor kiss" picture.
Life Magazine, 1945
While researching the War in Iraq, I have hit a sizable wall many, many times. I find myself continually faced with the question of why the Americans went to Iraq in the first place. I am not quick to jump to conspiracy theories. Consequently, I find it hard to believe that the lives of thousands of innocent civilians and soldiers were lost solely over oil. However, upon further inspection, I have come to the sickening conclusion that this may have been just the case. Over the span of the 9-year war, the Americans located NO Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq. What they did find, was a poverty stricken country full of courageous individuals trying to go about their everyday lives while living in the war zone they inflicted. 
George W. Bush and his father were both in the oil business in America. During the 1990's, Salem Bin-Laden, Osama's older brother, was an investor in Arbusto Oil. Arbusto was started by George Bush. One of Bush's earliest financial backers was James Bath. Bath served with President Bush in the Texas Air National Guard. Bath has a mysterious connection to the Central Intelligence Agency. According to a 1976 trust agreement, Salem bin Laden appointed James Bath as his business representative in Houston. Bath's relationship with the bin Laden financial empire and the CIA was made public in 1992 by Bill White, a former real estate business partner with Bath. White informed federal investigators in 1992 that Bath told him that he had assisted the CIA in a liaison role since 1976 - the same year former President George Herbert Walker Bush served as director of the CIA. White told a Texas court in 1992 that Bath and the Justice Department had "blackballed" him professionally and financially because he refused to keep quiet about his knowledge of an Arabic conspiracy to launder Middle Eastern money into the bank accounts of American businesses and politicians. 
In the movie Farenheit 9/11, Michael Moore narrates a brief section over a video of President Bush on the morning of 9/11. Bush, visiting an elementary school, becomes glazed and non-responsive upon being informed of the attacks occurring in New York. During the footage, Moore asks "What was Bush thinking about while he sat there? Was he wondering if his Saudi friends and business partners from the Middle East had betrayed him?" In my research, I began to see the link between Bush and the bin Laden Family. Now, do I think Bush was privy to the attacks on 9/11 or had some connection to them? Absolutely not. However, I do feel that his ties with them created somewhat of a dependency which hindered the process of identifying the organizers behind 9/11. For instance, after the planes  hit the twin towers, airports shut down and no flights were allowed to leave the United States. However, on September 11th, several private aircrafts were hired by the United States government to fly members of the Bin Laden family visiting America back home to the Middle East. The Bin Laden's were not questioned, or even put through standardized security checks before the flights. As we all know, security measures since 9/11 have increased and made it more difficult and cumbersome for the average person to travel. Why then, was the Bin Laden family permitted to fly without any trouble at all while the rest of the nation was put on lock down? 
George Bush, on the morning of 9/11 being informed of the attack on
the World Trade Center while visiting an elementary school in Florida.
Credit: Reuters/Win McNamee/Files
Truth be told, I don't know what caused the Iraq war or why it started. I could go on forever naming facts and pulling up reports but I believe that no one will ever truly know why the war started or who the real mastermind behind it was. I can see that 20,600,000 google search results have tried. All I know, is that I've come to realize that there is nothing romantic about war. No sepia-toned memories can erase the atrocities. No yellow ribbons or bumper stickers can make violence justifiable. Where innocent people are killed, there is no glory. And when a President can wage a war without justifying it, I see the repercussions of the human condition. I feel that somewhere at the heart of the U.S./Iraq conflict there is greed. Admittedly, Iraq is an untapped market of oil. If nothing more, the U.S. may have invaded the country just to get their chance at the jackpot. I want to believe that there is more to it then that. That the U.S. thought they were doing something for the greater good. But quite frankly, I just don't see it. If there's one thing I've been reminded of over the course of my research, it is that at our biological cores, human beings are animals. 

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

The 'Era of Terror'

On January 20, 2001 George W. Bush was inaugurated as the 43rd President of the United States.  Unbeknownst to him, this moment marked the beginning of a convoluted and tragic era. Bush's presidency would arguably be the most controversial in America's history; laden with unimaginable violence, media misrepresentations, and an overall sense of fear and confusion. 
On election night of 2000; Florida, a swing state, was announced to have elected Democratic candidate Al Gore for presidency on mainstream TV networks across America. Several moments later, counter information was presented by Fox News announcing that Bush had, in fact, taken the state of Florida by a mere one precent over Gore. Upon this information being released, other news stations apologized for the confusion and also changed the state of Florida to have favoured Bush. Controversially, the man who announced Bush's election in Florida at Fox News was none other than Bush's first cousin John Ellis! Even more suspicious is the fact that Bush's brother, Jeb Bush, was the Governor of Florida at the time of the election. Furthermore, the chairwoman of the Bush campaign, Katherine Harris, was the official vote tallier for the state. During the campaign, Harris had hired Data Base Technologies to remove voters from the voting list. At the time, this action was supported by the notion that the removed voters were convicted criminals. However, upon further investigation, it was found that the only commonality between these voters was that they were of Black or Hispanic descent and were likely to have voted against Bush. Essentially, things weren't going well and Bush hadn't even been sworn in yet!

Jeb Bush and Katherine Harris
Source: Associated Press

The outcry of independent media and Americans suspicious of the scandal was quickly dampened by the mainstream American Media and ALL members of the American Senate. The House of Representatives saw many (predominantly African-American) representatives beg the senate to consider investigating Bush's win in the state of Florida. With the signature of a single senator, their requests would be honoured. They received no signatures. 
Bush spent an alleged 42% of the first eight months of his reign as President on vacation. So lets fast forward through the details of his golf career, time spent on his farm in Texas, and pictures of him petting his beloved Scottish Terriers Barney and Miss Beazley; and begin on September 11, 2001. A day that shook the world to its core and opened up Pandora's box to the frightening reality of the consequences ignorance can have. As the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre fell that morning, so crumbled the principle of peace and humanitarianism which had been valued and upheld by the American people for decades. The World entered into the age of terror. Trust dissolved. Suddenly, our neighbors became suspects and our foreheads suddenly felt like target circles. 

September 30, 2001: Bush declares 'War on Terror'
Source: Win McNamee/Associated Press

With nowhere to turn and a longing for answers, Americans found refuge in media. The message they received was concise and confident: terrorists from the Middle East have come to attack the most powerful country on Earth. A sudden sense of “US and THEM” was established. A classic scenario of “good guys” versus “bad guys” was laid out before them. The only problem was that the “bad guys” suddenly encompassed entire countries thousands of miles away full of civilians who had never been seen or heard by many Americans. Suddenly, “terrorists” could be characterized by the clothing they wore or the religion they practiced. With a terror agenda of their own, the Bush administration pushed forward and spread their message of security threats across North America. With the help of corporately managed media, and the motivation of oil money; the U.S. proudly marched its way into a 21st century nightmare, also known as the “War on Terror”. 

“Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists”

George W. Bush
September 20, 2001