The Worlds Reaction
The response to the recent attacks in France has been a mixed one. World leaders and media pundits have flocked to condemn the killings. Vigils have been held across France and the world, defying this apparent assault on our freedom of expression. While many Muslims have been forced to distance themselves from the attacks, due to a fear of reprisals from a growing far right.
However, my intention today is not to vindicate Muslims for the crimes of these men. Nor is to condemn the attackers, who are just one facet of a political struggle for power in the Middle East. My contention is with the conflicting values we seem to place on a human life.
On Wednesday last week, 10 civilians and two police officers were killed by French gunmen of Algerian descent. These two men had been trained in Yemen, a country that has been targeted with US drone strikes since 2009. Within days they were made to pay for these crimes with their lives, in a dramatic hostage situation broadcast across the globe (in full HD of course).
In comparison, back in Yemen two years earlier, 12 innocent people were killed when a US airstrike hit a wedding convoy. But the US government refuses to acknowledge its role in their murder. Two years have passed and there is still no justice for these nameless people. Still no justice for the thousands of innocent Iraqis, Afghans, Yemeni’s and Pakistani’s killed during our supposed war on terror.
My question is simply, why?
Why is it that the loss of an innocent life thousands of miles away does not move us in the same way as those in Paris? Why does the death of journalists in Palestine not cause us to cry out in defence of Freedom of Speech? If every life holds the same objective value, then by standing by those killed in Paris, we must also stand by all those innocent lives lost, irrespective of who pulls the trigger.
The value of a human life
Even when confronted by truths such as these, many of us react with indifference at the loss of innocent lives in such countries. “We are good, and they are evil”, is the kind of one-dimensional thinking used to justify such murders. When Islamist militants are thwarted in distant lands, many of us commend the actions of our armed forces, rather than question the collateral damage incurred. But when a domestic attack takes place, we are moved to tears, anger and retribution. These are, ironically, the very same feelings that compel those in such war torn countries to seek out a similar kind of vengeance.
To some extent, this reaction can be explained as a biological mechanism. While philosophers are free to explore moral questions about the value of a human life, we must also look at how in practice people make this judgement. This is known as Descriptive Ethics. By doing so, we gain an insight into why foreign deaths of non-combatants, such as those killed in drone strikes, is often met with indifference in the West, whereas domestic attacks, such as those is Paris, stir up defiance and sorrow.
By combining the study of Morality with Evolutionary Biology, we start to see the emotional adaptations that influence our moral judgments and behavior. Peter Singer, a prominent ethicist, argues that “evolutionary theory can make a contribution to this debate” by offering us “reasons for believing that some of our emotional attachments are deeply rooted in our nature as intelligent, long lived primates, or even in our nature as social mammals.”
He argues that we as human beings find it easier to empathise with those who fall within certain proximity of our daily lives. As a result, we tend to place a greater value on the lives of our own kin in comparison to our neighbours. In a purely practical sense, this instinctive desire to protect our loved ones ensures the survival of our own genetic lineage. Yet despite this, our neighbours life still holds more importance than a strangers, perhaps because we consider them a friend. So here we can see a clear dichotomy begin to arise – a hierarchical manner in which we value the lives of others, based on moral intuitions acquired through evolution.
Put very simply, we tend to place a greater value on the lives of those who we see ourselves in. Yet with the Enlightenment and universalism – the idea that all sentient life has universality in experience – followed natural rights, then human rights, which bound together notions such as freedom, equality and justice, declaring them inalienable rights of all human beings. To reach such enlightenment ideals however, we had to first break ourselves from this innate way of thinking. So when we use our rational minds, we conclude that any loss of innocent life, irrespective of the context, ought to be met with the same kind of defiance that was shown in response to the Paris attacks.
When innocent people are killed in war, it is not considered murder, but callously labelled “collateral damage”.
Since 2004, an estimated 3212 people have killed by drone strikes in Pakistan. Only 2% of them killed intended targets. The rest are civilians such as women and children. What differentiates this kind of collateral damage from the 17 murders that took place in France?
Some make the distinction that a terrorist attack is a deliberate act of violence on innocent people, while collateral damage is an unintended consequence of warfare. But they are similar in that both cause needless deaths for the political interests of a minority.
War is waged knowing that there will be noncombatants killed, and in that sense, there can be no accidental killing on the battlefield, but only an expectation that some innocent people will die. When noncombatants are killed in drone strikes then, it is no more an accident than an inevitable consequence of war, and therefore no less intentional than the murders committed in France earlier this week.
By allowing such military operations to continue in countries like Yemen and Pakistan, we facilitate extremism by providing a moral justification for groups like Al-Qaeda and ISIL. There is no doubt that the rise of jihadism is in part due to western influence. US backed coups and foreign control of natural resources has led to an anti-western sentiment in these countries. We can extend this thread of causality back to the conquest of Mesopotamia during the Great War, and the subsequent partitioning of the Ottoman Empire. The events that followed, rightly or wrongly, have to led to the volatile situation we see in the region today. Decades of extreme poverty, political repression, and poor education have created a fertile breeding ground for violence. To some extent therefore, we are culpable in the proliferation of extremism at home and abroad.
Thus the lessons we ought to take from this tragic event is that when we escape the constructs of our own subconscious mind, and the biological mechanisms that underpin our thinking, the deaths in Paris only highlight the hypocrisy of our actions, given the thousands killed and injured over the past decade. Similarly, by allowing our governments to continue hostilities in these distant lands, we are partly culpable for the inception and proliferation of these extremist movements. I want to stress that this is not a justification of Islamist aggression, but a call to all who stand by Charlie and by human rights, to use this incident as a catalyst to end all the human suffering caused by our war on terror. So while arguably justice has been restored in France as of yesterday, and calmness will quickly follow, for many millions elsewhere, the nightmare still continues…
This is an essay I originally wrote earlier this year for “OpenDemocracy, Transformation” but was not published.
The expanding circle
I grew up in an area of northeast London marred by economic underdevelopment, drugs and crime. I never really understood the problems that existed around me while I was growing up. When I was old enough to be out late, I would often see a middle aged man that sat by the night time revellers outside an old Irish pub, asking for change and searching for cigarette butts. At first I would try and avoid him, as would most other passer-bys. But that all changed one cold and wet night while walking back from a friend’s house.
It was late – 2am I think – and all the shops were all closed apart from a drive through McDonalds a five minute walk up the road. I saw him curled up by a wall, soaked to the bone and huddled under a sleeping bag. I turned back around and headed to the store, bought a cup of tea and took it back to him. He shook my hand and thanked me, while a warm look of gratitude stretched across his face. A conversation soon began that ebbed and flowed like any good conversation ought to. He told me his name is TJ, and that he’d been homeless since he was 16. That night TJ and I became friends.
So you may be wondering, why am I telling you this story? Perhaps the cynical reader may consider this to be a form of egotism. But my experience with TJ is important in that it sparked an interest in charitable giving. While a cup of tea is by no means a life changing gesture, from this initial act grew a desire to form a long lasting change in the world around me. Fast forward to today and I am now actively involved in a number of charitable organisations. Yet I found that as my interest in giving grew, so did my scepticism of how effective charity was in instigating meaningful change. I started to ask myself difficult moral questions, such as, why are we obliged to help? Who deserves our assistance? And most importantly, how can we instigate the most effective change?
The Effective Alturist movement
To begin to answer some of these questions, we must first turn to the work of the Australian bioethicist Peter Singer. The Drowning Child analogy plunges us into a simple thought experiment – if a child is drowning in a shallow pond, and we can save their lives with little harm to ourselves, are we morally obliged to do so?
From this very simple analogy came the subsequent conclusion that we are obliged to help everyone within our power, including those in distant lands unbeknownst to us, when there is little comparable harm to ourselves. This is based on the premise that all lives hold equal importance. To achieve the most effective outcome, we must then consider all causes and actions, and act in the way that brings about the greatest positive impact. In a sense, the act of giving becomes an investment in utility – an attempt to maximise the collective happiness of society, and reduce suffering of all as best we can.
Since these ideas first took shape, a great deal of effort has gone into turning this vision into a tangible reality. After the release of his 2009 book, The Life You Can Save, Singer and one of his Princeton University students founded a non-profit with the same name. The organisation informs the public of the facts underlying the third sector, and promotes community participation in activities it argues reduce poverty and economic inequality. The Life You Can Save also encourages people to publicly pledge a percentage of their income to highly effective aid organizations. Singer suggests this to be around 1 per cent of a person’s income. As of writing, over 17,000 people have pledged publicly.
Giving What We Can is a similar organisation inspired by the work of Singer. Founded by moral philosopher Toby Ord in 2009. So far the organisation has over 600 members, $300 million pledged, and seven chapter across the UK. Ord himself has capped his income at £20,000, and donates everything he earns above this to the most cost-effective causes.
As it stands, evidence suggests that only three per cent of donors give based on the relative performance of charities. This is a concerning statistic when we consider some of these organisations can be hundreds of times more effective at alleviating poverty than others. For instance, it costs thousands of dollars to train guide dogs in the developed world, while treating onchocerciasis, a major cause of blindness in the developing countries, costs just a few dollars per person.
If the average citizen from a developed nation was to donate 10 per cent of their income to the most effective causes, 7000 children could be cured of deadly parasitic infections a year, and the lives of countless others could be greatly improved.
So while viral appeals such as the ALS Ice Bucket challenge, or Cancer Research’s #NoMakeUpSelfie, have both been very good and generating popular support, the question remains, are these really the causes we ought to be donating to? While giving to these charities will undoubtedly improve the lives of many, we could theoretically generate more good by investing in combating malaria, which kills over half a million children every year, or tuberculosis, which is among the top three causes of death for women aged 15 to 44, according to the WHO
Both these organisations, along with many others, are attempting to transform the way in which we look at philanthropy. Proponents of Effective Altruism advocate the use of evidence and reason in working out the most effective ways to improve the world. They suggest we do this by making more informed decisions by using a non-profit charity evaluator such as GiveWell, or Giving What We Can’s research on the effectiveness of charities.
What makes a cause effective?
But this poses the question – does this mean we shouldn’t donate to any of these comparably less-effective causes at all? While this is not directly the case laid out by the EA movement, it seems that this would be the logical conclusion of their arguments.
So who defines what is a worthy cause to give to? Ultimately such judgements are based on the research these organisations conduct. But even so, in practice, responding to an emotive cause makes it difficult to take a wholly impartial view, and certainly there are many nuanced factors that affect our decision of why to give and to who.
Critics argue that the ideas outlined by Singer and his followers are objective views from detached scholars, which seemingly fail to take into account this context surrounding acts of charity. Effective Altruists argue we should give because we reason it to be an effective cause. But it is not the effectiveness of a charity that motivates people to give, as the evidence shows, but instead, biological mechanisms such as a feeling of love, a sense of injustice, empathy, guilt, or other social pressures (such as giving for prestige in some philanthropist circles).
Critics have dubbed this push for impartiality as “elitist”, and that the movement gives a particular emphasis on a small number of global health and nutrition charities. If we were therefore to adopt this viewpoint, there would be little apparent reason to invest in emergency relief, domestic causes, or the arts.
For instance, the thousands of pounds I was given by media charities could have been used to save lives in a developing country. The collective benefit to humanity would therefore far outweigh my need to acquire a profession. However, there is a less obvious benefit here, in that I can now use the skills I have learnt to bring about a tangible change in the long term, perhaps through activism and volunteerism. Similarly, the money I spent on buying my homeless friend a cup of tea could arguably have a far greater effect if given directly to a starving child in Ethiopia. Yet it was this action that sparked an interest in charity, which will continue to lead to further giving in the future.
The result therefore is that the consequences of acts of charity are often hard to quantify, and ultimately in an attempt to produce the most effective change, we may stifle social progress instead.
A deep rooted problem
Singer argues we must look beyond the evolutionary qualities that restrict our circle of compassion to those we share common bonds, and take an egalitarian, impartial approach to giving. As he puts it in his 2004 book, One World:
“In a society like America, we should bring up our children to know that others are in much greater need, and to be aware of the possibility of helping them, if unnecessary spending is reduced. Our children should also learn to think critically about the forces that lead to high levels of consumption, and to be aware of the environmental costs of this way of living.”
Yet even in a developed nation like America, there are high levels of inequality that frustrate this process of transformation. Namely, it could be argued that to truly absolve the world of extreme poverty, we must first address the underlying mechanisms that cause this unequal distribution of resources in the first place. Partly this means having a more equitable society, something Singer himself argues for. It is easier to foster this kind of collectivist sentiment for instance, when our society by and large is well educated enough to think abstractly about such issues, or similarly, have the financial security necessary to devote to tackling global poverty. But to reach this goal, we need to invest our time and energy into transforming our own societies first, before any effective action could be achieved on a global scale.
So herein lies the problem – critics have lambasted the EA movement for trying to work within an inherently flawed system. For instance, David Brooks, a columnist for The New York Times, criticized effective altruists who adopt an “earning to give” strategy. This means individuals are encouraged to work in finance and other high-paying, arguably unethical industries, if that money can be used to serve the poor. This Robin Hood-esque approach may seem to many of us to be a morally grey area, but the consequentialist would argue that the ends justify the means.
While it is easy to be critical of seemingly less-effective forms of charity, it is my view that we must take this sentiment of giving and nurture it using the doctrines of empiricism and impartiality. But we must refrain from condemning those who choose to give to less effective causes, the consequences of which can be hard to quantify. For example, while my act of kindness to my homeless friend may not create any significant lasting change directly, recognising this feeling of love and empathy for you fellow human being is the first step towards making an effective change, just as it has been in my own life.
In other words, to become an Effective Altruist, you must become an altruist first. Love is a biological mechanism that applies to those we share our immediate lives with, but we must strive to expand this feeling and break it free of its biological moorings, by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures. We must also seek to address the underlying issues that cause poverty in both the developing and developed world – the social and economic forces that lead to intergenerational poverty, and the tragic consequences it entails.
In a show of questionable journalism at best, and blatant deception at worst, several major news outlets have mistaken a piece of satire as a genuine call for the banning of the children’s show Peppa Pig.
News outlets including the Metro, IBTimes and Daily Mirror, have all published highly inaccurate and defamatory articles about a supposedly Bradford man who posted a satirical video on Youtube on the “Dangers of Peppa Pig to Muslim Children.”
The video, which is clearly labelled as parody, was quoted extensively in these reports.
The Metro’s report, published on September 5th, states:
The ban Peppa Pig campaign appears to have been started by Zayn Sheikh, from Bradford, after he found his youngest child Abdullah watching the ‘abominable creature’.
He was even more disgusted when the child informed him he no longer wanted to be a doctor, but instead wanted to be a pig.
In a video uploaded to the Facebook page, Mr Sheikh explains: ‘For us Muslims it is very important that we do not eat meat of the pork.
‘It is completely wrong that our kids are being shown these things on TV.’
Mr Sheikh instead proposes replacing the pig with an ‘Abdullah the cat’ cartoon.
He said: ‘Children still need cartoons to develop their minds. I propose we introduce Abdullah the cat. I think that if we had a good Muslim cartoon then our children would be better Muslims.’
However, according to messages on twitter, Zyan Shiek is not his real name and he is not from Bradford. His real name and location are still unknown, apart from his username MBAM Ummah.
Within the description of the video posted on Ummah’s Youtube Channel, BritishMuslim Comedy, he clearly states that he is not in fact the instigator of the petition or any Facebook pages.
He said: “This video is obviously a parody. I have NOT made the page ‘Muslims Against Peppa Pig’ or any other Facebook pages of the sort.
“This country’s possible future downfall is 1 million times more likely be down to the rapid multiplication of the mentally deficient like you who have failed to spot the satire rather than immigrants who have been unlucky in the accident of birth and have since then decided to move here for better prospects (just like you would in their shoes),” he added.
Ummah’s video was originally uploaded to his Youtube account on June 11th, but was later re-uploaded to a channel called United Midlands on August 22nd, who have posted two other questionable video’s about Islamic extremist.
Their profile picture also bears the motto, “Realists not racists”, and appears to be a group affiliated with the English Defence League.
After becoming aware of the reports, Ummah published a new video labelled, “Dangers of Peppa Pig Part 2”, in which he responds to the backlash surrounding his original clip.
He said: “Of course there is a reason I am making this video and now and not in the past.
“It is because the Metro, which is a paper I like to read, has published a story that someone is trying to ban Peppa Pig today, which came up in my facebook feed and many of my friends have been telling me about.
“The only person that I see in that video talking about banning Peppa Pig is me in a parody version of myself.
“That wasn’t serious, they are inventing people.”
Ummah accused Amy Willis, a journalist at the Mail Online and Metro UK, of writing “nonsense in a newspaper which I respected up until this point”.
“It’s a bit suspicious that all your articles seem to be against Muslims,” he added.
The articles have gone on to fuel a huge outpouring of hate for Muslims, including offensive images and statements found on a group called “Peppa Pigs against Muslims“, which currently has over 6000 followers.
These include an image of bacon inside a Quraan and a pig on top of a Kaaba, an important holy site for Muslims, and have acquired thousands of likes and comments.
Comments range from accusing Muslims of being paedophiles, that they have sex with animals, and other derogatory remarks.
Initially it was claimed this page was in response to the group supposedly set up by Ummah, yet evidence indicates that the “Muslims against Peppa Pig” page (which has now been taken down) was set up as a parody, including the petition.
However, similar pages were set up by anti-Muslim activists with the aim of smearing Islam.
“I think it’s disgusting,” said Ummah, “that newspapers can try and even try and defend such a page, by making it seem as if it is a defensive action”.
“I demand an apology from both these papers for taking this story out of context and using it to fuel anti-Muslim hatred.
“Whatever is going on in the rest of the world is not do with us regular Muslims in the UK because we’re just like any other people, we’re normal people just trying to get by.”
The IBTimes, Metro and Mirror have been contacted but have yet to respond.
Note: This report was orginally written for the East London Guardian-Series.
A social enterprise aiming to increase the supply of organic food in Redbridge is due to open a new educational site in Barkingside.
Starting from September, people will be able learn about growing their own organic fruit and veg on a patch of land off Horns Road, Ilford.
Toni Dipple, the founding director of Organic Ilford CIC, said: “Our aim is to provide locally sourced organic vegetables across Redbridge from small scale farms.
“By buying and producing locally you are helping to support the community and environment.”
Along with educating the public, social enterprise Organic Ilford have been offering a selection of locally produced jams, chutneys, eggs and freshly picked fruit and vegetables since May this year.
They now have over 40 regular customers with three collection points across Ilford.
Toni and her volunteers received a £6000 grant in June from Transform and Redbridge Council to create the education site in Barkingside.
The Organic Ilford box scheme has been guided by the Growing Communities Start-up Programme, which works with groups across the UK to help set up community-led box schemes.
Kerry Rankine, Assistant Director at Growing Communities said: “We’re really delighted that the scheme has taken off in Ilford.
“Toni and all the volunteers are really doing an amazing job,” she added.
For a long time I dreamed of starting my own business, and I’m sure there are many of you out there who feel the same way.
So what is stopping most of us from realising this ambition? A family to support, bills to pay, the complexities of daily life – quitting your nine to five to pursue a dream can seem like a big gamble.
But there is another way my friends. If you have the determination to succeed, save money, and organise your time effectively, you can start a business while working full time. This is exactly what I have done and it has been incredibly satisfying. Not only are the financial risks severely diminished, but I’ve had greater freedom to experiment and take risks.
So enough preaching, on to the good stuff. I’ve been on a quest to find some top tips from business owners and experts, who perhaps like yourselves someday, started selling their wares while working full time.
1. Get support – work as a team
Taking on a huge task yourself can be daunting, overwhelming, and just downright impossible. But when I first started out I was lucky enough to have a friend to work with.
In my own experience, not only did this lessen the burden, but it also made the process so much more fun. While your ultimate ambition may be to fly solo, if you want to build a successful start-up without quitting your existing job, you’re going to need support.
“It’s difficult to start a business on your own,” said Anees Ikrahmullah, owner of a small start-up called Centre Spot Events. “Having the help of a friends makes it easier to get stuff done. Just be careful who you work with though – I’ve seen failed businesses ruin friendships before.”
Alternatively, you could find a mentor or enlist the help of volunteers. Offering a few close friends free pizza and beers for an afternoon of their help is not such a big request, and can be great bonding. I find most of the time your buddies are willing to help.
2. Make the most of the internet
There are a tremendous amount of free resources out there for you as an aspiring business owner. The internet will be your greatest ally in this journey. In fact, you’ve already taken your first step. Websites like AllBusiness can provide the vital information and support you need to get started.
“When I first started out I had no idea what I was doing,” said Miten Sudra, a student and co-founder of ThriftyPanda, a media agency in London. “If it wasn’t for the valuable resources I found online, the tools and guides for start-ups, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
Managing your online presence will make or break your business. Get to know about blogger outreach and SEO, start a website using free CMS such as WordPress and merchant plugins like WooCommerce. Make sure you analyse your traffic using Google Analytics and see how effective your website is in converting visits to sales. Investing in a website means you also don’t need to rent out a store. Digital marketing is cheap, effective, and can be managed remotely. Get smart – work less but more effectively.
3. Organise your time effectively
Your greatest challenge will be how to manage what little time you have. Certainly your social life will suffer unless you plan ahead. Use tools like Google Calendar to set yourself a schedule. Allocate time to work on your business, but also, time to spend with your loved ones. Use idle time to your advantage. For example, spend your lunch hour at work replying to important emails or managing your social media accounts.
“Fill your time productively,” said Daniel Berwick, owner of SkadooshFitness and a personal fitness Guru. “I found discipline to be the key to success. In my line of work it comes naturally. But even so, there is always the temptation to slack off when you could be getting stuff done.”
You may even want to dedicate parts of your scheduled time off work to getting important projects done. You will have fragmented time and as such these periods will be vital to taking big steps. Use Saturday to work on your business, take Sunday off to relax. Try to find a balance that suites you.
4. Reach out
Speak to your boss at work to discuss your plans. See if there is anything they can do to accommodate you. Reach out to other small start-ups that you can work with. Individually you are too weak to compete with big business, but collectively you can offer that personal touch while cutting down costs.
“Reaching out and forming a network of likeminded associates will help you get your name out there,” said Faisal Maiy, who runs a real estate agents called Steptons. “People will help if they like you and feel that it is a reciprocal relationship.”
Human beings are inherently empathetic creatures, but it’s important to remember that it’s a two way street – you’ve got to be willing to work with people towards a common goal. Making allies can help you cut corners and ultimately save on precious time.
5. Save, reinvest, and grow
It’s time to start penny pinching folks. While working a nine to five definitely removes the economic risks of starting your own business, it may mean growth will be slow. This is because you are simply constrained by limits on time. But a quick way to boost growth is by investing money instead. You can do this by taking steps to sort out your personal finance. Setting a savings goal can help you realise your business dream. With the money you save, you can inject the extra cash-flow into your business to get the ball rolling.
“It’s all well and good making money, but it’s what you do with it that counts,” said Zubair Patel, a business analyst from London. “You’ve got to be smart with your profits and savings, so reinvest wisely.”
After a few months you might want to think about hiring a part-time employee. You can even hire remote PA’s or a virtual assistant from countries like India to save on money. The key is thinking creatively and having a long term vision. Aim to reinvest as much of your profit back into your business for maximum results.
6. Get motivated, believe in yourself
For this last tip, I want to tell you a personal story about my older brother. After our father passed away when we were very young, my immigrant mum struggled to look after our family of four. Being dyslexic, he dropped out of school and soon turned to a life of crime, eventually getting caught and spending several years in prison. It was a difficult period for all of us.
“I struggled for a long time,” said Naeem, who is now the owner of Accurate-Alarms, a UK based security firm.
“After losing my dad when I was a kid, life was always tough. When I went to prison, I lost everything I had, and struggled to come back from the brink. But after getting out, I was determined to change my life. I worked a minimum wage job, used what little savings I had, and committed myself to my business. To anyone out there who’s in a similar situation, my advice to you is this; just believe in yourself.”
The moral of this story is don’t let your past failures, worries and insecurities hold you back. All of us have greatness buried deep inside of us. Be prepared to take risks, but also be ready to take the rough with the smooth. What I’m getting at is, when life gives you lemons, start selling lemonade on ebay.
To all those who have been thinking about starting their own business, I hope this post has inspired you to give it a shot. There are many obstacles ahead of you, but I know you can overcome them with hard work, positive thinking, and effective planning. Try to save what money you do make and invest some time in sorting out your personal finances. If you have any more advice for aspiring entrepreneurs, or a question to ask, drop us a message in the comments section below.
Note: This post was originally written for openDemocracy.
The Palestine-Israel conflict poses a moral dilemma for journalists. But being objective does not necessarily mean being neutral, and being fair does not mean refraining from making a judgement.
As reporters swarm the besieged streets of the shrinking Gaza strip, there has been an inundation of harrowing images and reports throwing Israel and its motives into utter disrepute. Palestinian mothers crying in anguish over the death of their children, families searching through rubble for survivors, hospitals littered with blood drenched casualties of the Israeli war machine – these images swell up inside us contempt for the perpetuators of such crimes.
Yet despite the international condemnation, the motives for these actions have been a hotly debated. I have even found it to be a polarising topic within my own circle of friends, despite most of them being strongly against the killing of innocent civilians. Was it the kidnapping of the three Israeli teenagers? Are they looking for tunnels or for revenge? Is Hamas rocket fire to blame?
Disregarding the constantly changing narrative (and the fact most of these reasons have been largely discredited), social media has been rife with accusations of propaganda from both sides. I myself have been accused of spamming pro-Palestinian articles on /r/worldnews – an internet community that has been targeted by pro-Israel groups such as the JIDF.
So the question remains – is it morally acceptable for reporters to pick a side? Certainly as journalists we have a duty to be impartial when reporting the facts, even though this can be argued to be a futile task. Any effort to disseminate news on a contentious issue will inherently cause accusations of media bias, “because journalists are human beings and journalism is not an exact science,” said Hilary Aked, writing for OpenDemocracy in 2012. “There is a great deal of truth in the assertion that to some extent one’s critique will depend on how the conflict is viewed,” she added.
We are emotional beings at our very core, and view all issues through the lens or prism of our own emotional sensibilities. And so it is of no surprise then that many of us turn to social media to express our outrage when we feel an injusticehas occurred. Quite simply, a significant majority of those who stand by the Palestinians do so because it is difficult to watch an injustice and not speak out. This is in itself a biological response, and is universal to humanity. For over a century now academics have studied this very issue, using anthropological and historical evidence to conclude that this sense of injustice is found everywhere, spanning across all cultures and periods of human history.
The process of evolution itself has carved this sense into humans. Those who witness others being subjected to injustice often respond as though it was an act of aggression towards themselves. This can be a powerful motivational condition. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote it in 1963: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
Despite damning evidence of disproportionate aggression and international war crimes, many Israelis argue that they are the ones who have been demonised, and claim it is they who are in fact the victims of injustice. In turn many such persons choose to discredit opposing views as unduly partisan. But can it really be the case that those all over the world who all condemn the violence – international bodies, humanitarian organisations, world leaders, and so on – are simply liars, paid shills, or anti-Semitic?
In 1956, Leon Festinger and two colleagues released a classic work of social psychology that studied this very kind of unwarranted belief. When prophecy fails follows the story of a small cult that wholly committed themselves to an apocalyptic prophesy told by a woman named Dorothy Martin. She claimed to have received a message from a fictional planet, which revealed the world would end in a great flood before dawn on December 21, 1954. What they found was that some of the group became increasingly dogmatic in their beliefs when the supposed prophesy was unfulfilled. The authors described this as a coping mechanism, and was one of the first published cases of cognitive dissonance – the discomfort one feels when confronted by information that conflicts with or significantly alters their worldview.
Fast forward half a century – in 2013, Dan Kahan, a professor at Yale Law, gave compelling evidence to the source of this diminished ability to reason. His paper, entitled Motivated numeracy and enlightened self-government”, demonstrated hard evidence of motivated reasoning, a symptom of cognitive dissonance and part of this coping mechanism. His conclusion, as described by journalist Chris Mooney, is that partisanship “can even undermine our very basic reasoning skills…. [those] who are otherwise very good at math may totally flunk a problem that they would otherwise probably be able to solve, simply because giving the right answer goes against their political beliefs.”
Essentially, Kahan found that even when presented with the facts, motivated reasoning leads people to confirm what they already believe by ignoring contrary data. As summarised by Marty Kaplan, writing for AlterNet:
“It turns out that in the public realm, a lack of information isn’t the real problem. The hurdle is how our minds work, no matter how smart we think we are. We want to believe we’re rational, but reason turns out to be the ex post facto way we rationalise what our emotions already want to believe.”
This finding is very problematic, for if we are to come to any kind of truth on this matter, or any issue in fact, we must open our hearts and minds to honest and open discourse. As objective observers we must accept that there is propaganda from both sides, but quite often this fact is used to validate unreasonable beliefs.
For instance, to assume Hamas have the same capability as Israel and its allies when it comes to disseminating propaganda seems wholly illogical. From government backed Hasbara to organisations such as CAMERA, this battle of hearts and minds has not been fought on a level playing field. It is only due to the concerted efforts of activists and the public at large that world opinion is now firmly on the side of the Palestinians. This change is largely attributed to the advent of the digital age and the feeling of injustice we have touched upon.
Some argue that as reporters we have a duty to remain neutral in such conflicts, and certainly, this is reflected in the ethics of journalism, particularly when it comes to broadcast in the UK. In his paper, Delivering trust: impartiality and objectivity in a digital age, Richard Sambrook, a professor of journalism at Cardiff University and BBC journalist for three decades, outlines some of the key issues surrounding objectivity after the advent of the internet and social media. In the papers abstract he states:
“The ideas of impartiality and objectivity – at the heart of serious news journalism for most of the last century – are now under pressure and even attack in the digital a…Today, in the digital age of plenty, notions of special responsibilities being placed on those with a public voice, and different approaches for print and broadcasting, are rapidly breaking down. As the disciplines of impartiality and objectivity disintegrate, there are increased signs of propaganda, entertainment and fiction seeping into journalism. Broadcasters, regulators, politicians, and journalists are struggling to make the solutions of the last century fit the changed media characteristics and conditions in the new century.”
Through the course of the paper Sambrook proposes a number of principles to help journalism adapt to a world that increasingly demands partisan reporting. He calls for “a growing need to encourage critical awareness of the media” within the public that equips them “with the knowledge and tools to understand what they are consuming”:
“There are currently serious concerns about the quality and practices of news media and their impact on public debate. These principles, supported by greater media literacy, can help us navigate in the new digital world of information abundance and deliver journalism that is trustworthy and fulfils its public purpose.”
Yet despite our need to place an emphasis on trust and objective reporting, we as human beings have a moral obligation to, and often feel a strong impulse to, put an end to perceived injustices perpetuated on innocent victims. Martin Bell, a BBC Foreign Correspondent during the 1992-1995 Bosnian War, said: “You can be fair to everybody, but you can’t stand neutrally between good and evil.”
Sambrook writes that Martin embraced “bystander reporting” while avoiding moral equivalence between the opposing sides. He says:
“Impartiality does not have to strip reporting of moral judgement (as distinct from personal opinion) as long as there is strong evidence to support it…Independence of mind, clear sourcing and evidence, accuracy, openness, and honesty are all characteristics of impartiality as well – and none of these qualities are necessarily require a report to be morally agnostic…In the circumstances of genocide, or a climate of hate speech, it might be argued that the discipline of objectivity (if not impartiality) becomes even more important … [as these] encourage free debate.”
Being objective does not necessarily mean being neutral, and being fair does not mean refraining from making a judgement. While the two may be interlinked, when the facts are laid out in front of us, free of political spin and misleading narratives, the truth does not and should not allow us to remain impassive. Ultimately if we truly believe in a practicable solution to this war of attrition, we must be objective when looking at the facts, but also brave enough to speak out against the injustices these facts reveal.
As so eloquently put by Peter Benenson in 1961, the founder of human rights charity Amnesty International:
“Open your newspaper any day of the week and you will find a report from somewhere in the world of someone being imprisoned, tortured or executed because his opinions or religion are unacceptable to his government … The newspaper reader feels a sickening sense of impotence. Yet if these feelings of disgust could be united into common action, something effective could be done.”
Note: This post was or originally written for the Journalism Diversity Fund (JDF), a charity which aims to increase social mobility in news rooms.
So let me tell you folks, this past year has been quite a journey. From the frequent bouts of despair, to those rare moments of unbridled elation – the life of a wannabe is at best, unpredictable, and at worst, pretty shitty (to put it bluntly).
But all jokes aside, with this post my intention is not to tell you about all the cool stuff I’ve done, or how much I’ve enjoyed the course. Instead, I hope to teach you my most important lessons learnt to date, from all from the mistakes I’ve made on this journey so far (of which there have been many, I can assure you).
So here’s my Buzzfeed-esque list of things I definitely recommend you don’t do, because I’ve been foolish enough to do them all.
Lesson 1 – Don’t doubt yourself
One of the main problems I’ve faced is something that plagues us all – that ever looming voice of self-doubt. And research has shown that of the biggest challenges working class children face is a lack of self-confidence.
So my first lesson to you is believe in yourself. Don’t be afraid to approach that stranger in the street for a vox pop. Don’t worry about putting yourself out there, such as asking for placements, or pitching a story.
Whatever it is that you’re feeling worried or anxious about, just remember that there’s no room for second guessing or hesitation in this business. So just go for it – what’s the worst that can happen?
Lesson 2 – Don’t be lazy
The famous philosopher Bertrand Russell once proclaimed, “I think that there is far too much work done in this world.” This was, until last year, a statement I stood by wholeheartedly.
My aptitude at ineptitude had stuck to me like a bogey on a wall, and it’s been a struggle breaking many years of bad habit. And while I’ve always been good at thinking about doing things, making those dreams a reality required me to be proactive.
So please, take it from me, do not hesitate to instigate, because you have to work to make your ambitions a reality. And there are no two ways around it – you have to work hard. Pull up them socks and get to typing friends.
Lesson 3 – Never be afraid to admit you are wrong
I remember reading a NYT article a while back, claiming that a big reason why people argue is to simply win the argument, and not find any objective truth.
Similarly, when we receive criticism, it’s easy to get defensive and blame someone else. It’s even easier to berate yourself over failure. But when we fail or come short, it’s a chance to look at ourselves critically. If you can’t be self-critical, you’re never going to achieve any real lasting success in life.
Whenever I should make a mistake, “I do not fail”, but “I succeed in finding out what does not work.” So while it may be difficult not to feel despair or even resentment whenever you do bollocks something up, try to be cheerful instead, because at least now you know not what to do.
So those are my top tips folks. I hope I haven’t patronised you too much with another questionably “useful” list that seem to be so prevalent on the internet. And while this blog post was mainly written in jest, I sincerely hope that you take some value from it (all three of you who’ve made it this far that is). But I’d also like to add that there is no set way to how things are done. Like many of you, I am also feeling my way through, tentatively creeping along this seemingly perilous path ahead. What I’m getting at is – I think you will also learn your own lessons in your own way, as I have learnt mine so far. And if I can do it, so can you.
Lastly, I would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to the JDF for giving me this opportunity. Despite not having a phone or a computer, I was still able to make it through the course with the lifeline this charity has so graciously given me. If you’re thinking about becoming a journalist, then I wholeheartedly recommend you give them a shot, you won’t be disappointed. And a big thanks you to Lambeth College for offering me a place after I was turned down by News Associates. I am happy to report their risk has paid off.
Good luck to you all, and thanks for reading.
This is a short film I made for my video journalism module, about the murder of a Romanian immigrant who was working as a sex worker in Ilford, East London.
Find out more: http://www.ilfordrecorder.co.uk/news/crime-court/mariana_popa_murder_killer_jailed_for_29_years_1_3660062
Note: Originally written for the Ilford Recorder.
Growing up in Ilford is by no means plain sailing.
Booze, drugs, and gangs – there’s plenty to get you off the straight and narrow from an early age.
But don’t let that fill you with despair folks, because for every crooked criminal on our streets there are dozens of ambitious youngsters trying to get ahead.
One such person is 23-year-old Anees Ikramullah, who recently started his own business, Centre Sport Events, a sports events company based in Goodmayes.
When he’s not organising football tournaments he works for Interactive, a charity who promote disability equality in sport.
Anees graduated from the University of Essex in 2011, after which he worked a year at Wembley Stadium as a tour guide operator.
He says the experience gave him a lot of confidence.
In 2013, after a year of hard work and a meagre income, he successfully attained a Masters degree in Sports Management from London Met University.
“I’ve always been involved with football since a young age,” said Anees. “I learnt a lot from setting up tournaments for London ASPA, but felt there was a need for a tournament with a social ethos as well as competitive play.”
Anees’ first event took place last month at Dagenham Goals.
A total of 12 teams took part with a cash prize of £100. But he’s not wasting time revelling in his success, and has another tournament planned for June 1.
“Some say I take too much on, but there’s nothing I enjoy more than providing a platform of opportunity and enjoyment for others through Football.”
Up the road in Seven Kings, 20-year-old Uzman Kkurshiv runs the Coffee Hut, a café that has gained quite a following since it opened in January last year.
The young entrepreneur has settled into life as the manager of a busy restaurant, taking orders, managing the books and everything else that comes with the job.
“I originally wanted to get into property management,” he said, “but then me and my dad opened the Coffee Hut.”
While his dad may have funded him, Uzman is no stranger to the rigours of enterprise.
“My dad just supervised us – me and my brother. Ahmer would deal with staff and I sorted out the orders.”
That all changed however, when his older brother, Ahmer Kkurshiv, 25, got married and moved onto to another job. Uzman said he struggled on his own at first, but he persevered nonetheless.
“From when he left it’s been up and down, but my dad has been behind me the whole way.”
Despite building up the business himself, Usman doesn’t plan on staying at the Coffee Hut for too long,
“On the whole it’s been a great experience, but what I want to do now is use what I have learned to take on other challenges.”
Further afield, Daniel Berwick, a personal fitness trainer and bodybuilder, started his own urban gym in February.
Skadoosh Fitness, located off London Road in Romford, is a studio gym which offers personal training with an urban twist.
Daniel uses various techniques that try to bring a fresh approach to fitness, using battle ropes, kettle bells, and rubber tires to put the fun back into fitness.
“I want to take away the boring aspects of working out and turn them into challenging and rewarding sessions,” he said.
Originally hailing from Chadwell Heath, the 23-year-old first got into bodybuilding after leaving school at just 16.
After trying his hand at various jobs, and even training to be a plumber, Daniel decided to pursue his dreams in 2009, and started out as a personal trainer at Ilford’s Fitness First.
He excelled quickly however, moving on to Virgin Active after a year where he was also given the title of service manager.
But Daniel says that starting his own business was always his ambition.
“It’s something I always wanted to do,” he said.
“Start small, dream big.”