Jillian C. York

Jillian C. York is a writer and activist.

Month: June 2012 (page 1 of 3)

Free Bassel

This morning, I learned that a friend, Creative Commoner, and colleague–in the most congenial sense of the word–has been detained in Syria since March 15. From freebassel.org:

On March 15, 2012, Bassel Khartabil was detained in a wave of arrests in the Mazzeh district of Damascus. Since then, his family has received no official explanation for his detention or information regarding his whereabouts. However, his family has recently learned from previous detainees at the security branch of Kafer Sousa, Damascus, that Bassel is being held at this location.

Bassel Khartabil, a Palestinian-born Syrian, 31, is a respected computer engineer specializing in open source software development, the type of contributions the Internet is built upon. He launched his career ten years ago in Syria, working as a technical director for a number of local companies on cultural projects like restoring Palmyra and Forward Syria Magazine.

Since his arrest, Bassel’s valuable volunteer work, both in Syria and around the world, has been stopped. His absence has been painful for the communities that depend on him. In addition, his family, and his fiancée whom he was due to marry this past April, have had their lives put on hold.

Bassel Khartabil has been unjustly detained for nearly four months without trial or any legal charges being brought against him. — freebassel.org

I’ve only met Bassel once myself; he was part of our Arabloggers community, at the second meeting at Beirut in December 2009. We compared our collections of Creative Commons t-shirts and snapped a photo together:

Last night, I had a macabre late night discussion with a friend who has experienced threats for her own exercise of free expression. She showed me photos in her iPhone of activists she’d met in the past, all of whom have since been detained. As it turns out, each photo was taken for the sole purpose of having a smiling photograph in case each activist was detained.

I can’t say that I had the same foresight, but in hindsight it both intrigues and saddens me how many friends I made in that Beirut hotel, in that very same meeting, have been subject to serious threats–or worse–in the past year. My count right now exceeds five. I took photos of all of them.

As for Bassel…make noise. Talk to your journalist friends. Write about him. Don’t let his bravery go forgotten.

The Story of #FPWomeratti

On June 18, Foreign Policy Magazine (to which I subscribe) issued its annual list of the ‘Top 100 Twitterati‘.  The list was good, if predictable, certainly a helpful way for foreign policy wonks new to Twitter to find some conversation partners.

What this year’s list was seriously lacking, however, was women.  Though I did not check every gender-ambiguous Twitter handle, readers commented that there were somewhere between nine and fifteen–out of one hundred–women on the list, placing women between 10-15% of the total.

Lots of women simply weren’t having it: By Monday evening, there was conversation bubbling on Twitter as to why women had been so left out of the equation.  Was it that FP’s editorial team is primarily male?  While true, a glance at their own follows on Twitter demonstrates that their influencers are fairly well-rounded.  More likely, the list was compiled relatively quickly and the first people that come to mind are men. How unfortunate, yet indicative of a problem that goes far beyond the editorial staff at Foreign Policy.

After a bit of back-and-forth on Twitter, I created a Google Doc and–along with @lisang, @katrinskaya, and about fifteen other women from all over the world–started creating a list of women, by women, and for everyone. Using the hashtag #FPwomeratti, we crowdsourced contributions.  We also got the attention of several journalists: This morning I woke up to pieces from Mashable, RFERL, and others.

Our efforts quickly went viral and the doc–editable by anyone–was shared on Twitter.  While the contributions kept pouring in (we stopped counting at 212 women!), Foreign Policy editor Blake Hounshell also took notice and invited us to submit a curated, refined version of our collaborative list.  Lisa, Katrin and I banded together and came up with something we hope you’ll like; that list is now up on FP’s website (you can also view the list of 212 women here).

While I think our list is pretty great, it’s just a start. There are plenty of foreign policy-minded women to whom we lack access (because of language or other reasons), for one, but more importantly, I hope that our efforts will translate into an increased awareness next time around. Many thanks to FP for recognizing the need.

A Tale of Two Sheherazades

Sheherazade is a particularly lovely name, evocative of the legendary 1001 nights.  It was unfortunate, then, when news emerged that the former Assad aide newsanchor Barbara Walters had bent over backward helping held the name: Sheherazad Jaafari.

More unfortunate, however, is the low to which several prominent newspapers sunk in trying to cover the story.  Always trying to be quickest to scoop, a number of newspapers culled the Internet for images of Ms. Jaafari to use in their articles…and came up with the wrong one.

Will the real Sheherazade please stand up?

The Sheherazade Jafari in this image is not, in fact, the Assad aide but a PhD student at American University writing her dissertation on women and conflict resolution in Muslim-majority countries.  Canada’s National Post* presumably found this Sheherazade, thought “Muslim, academic–good enough!” and went ahead with the photo.  The American University academic and human rights advocate–whom I spoke to before writing this post–tells me that her likeness has now turned up in place of the other Sheherazad’s in a number of places on the web, and she’s been contacted for stories by Russia Today, among others.  In one instance, a video of Sheherazade (the AU academic) received a comment raving: “hang her and her father…both are documented accomplices in crimes against humanity in Syria…ARREST them now!”

Surely, Ms. Jafari the academic (not the aide) will be able to move past this, explain the situation, and move forward with what by all accounts looks like a promising career.  Of her situation, she says:

Certainly, I’m not the only one who has experienced this – it’s a problem of our Internet era, but also, I wonder, some continued racism/ignorance toward those with names that sound foreign in our Western context, as if the world of nearly 7 billion couldn’t possibly have more than two Nedas or Sheherazades, and there’s no need to fact check before rushing to make claims and publish an article.

Contrast Ms. Jafari’s story with that of the tale of two Nedas: In 2009, Neda Agha-Soltan was brutally killed during the uprising in Tehran.  Once again, the media–in an attempt to get the story “done” quickly–identified the wrong woman, plastering the likeness of another Neda–Neda Soltani–all over the media.  In that case, however, the damage was far worse than that felt by Ms. Jafari: Neda Soltani–that is, the living Neda–received death threats, forcing her to seek asylum in Germany.  Amazingly, her image is still being used by various organizations, most notably the Israeli group StandWithUs, which still erroneously uses Soltani’s image in their “apartheid” campaign**:

Wrong Neda.

In my view, these errors are far more insidious than when the media (myself included) fell for the Gay Girl in Damascus story…in that case, there was little reason for journalists subsequent Katherine Marsh to suspect anything odd, including the use of another woman’s photos (though my sympathy for Jelena Lecic obviously still stands).  These two cases, particularly the latest, are simply sloppy, shoddy “reporting”.

I’m not familiar with other major incidents like these, and I’m thus inclined to side with Ms. Jafari when she suggests that ignorance toward those with foreign-sounding names is amongst the culprits here, along with sheer and utter laziness.


*The National Post changed the photo and issued a correction, but only after the print version had been released.

**I’ve attempted to contact them about this numerous times, to no avail.

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