The Normality Beyond A Disability

This article was originally published at Right Now: Human Rights in Australia

Ugly-cropped

Ugly: My Memoir | Hachette

Ugly-coverWhen Robert Hoge was born he did not spend his first month bonding, as babies do, with his parents, in particular with his mother. Instead, he spent the first month and five days in the nursery in a hospital in Brisbane while his mother decided whether or not to bring him home to become a part of her family’s life.

Robert was a special baby; he was born with a tumor that had formed during the early development phase. It affected his appearance and was compounded by the fact that his legs were also deformed. By his own admission he became an instant member of the “Ugly Club”. Keenly aware of the limitations that Robert would experience socially, emotionally and physically, his mother soon became his biggest advocate and became determined that he would live a life similar to that of his siblings – with access to education, healthcare and everything else a growing child could want for to ensure a successful, fulfilling and happy life. Robert went home to meet his siblings and from then on was a member of the Hoge family.

Ugly: My Memoir is the intimate tale of Robert Hoge from birth through to university and on to his own journey of having a child. Not one for letting his physical disabilities interfere with living life, Ugly is a unique deeply moving story about Robert and his family, for it illustrates how disability can be overcome to an extent through the support and love of family and friends.

Robert is encouraged to take up opportunities as they arise and becomes involved in all aspects of social life that he can – indeed, sometimes too enthusiastically such as the time he took off his prosthetic legs to go faster down the toboggan ride which very nearly killed him. The narrative is engaging and honest and it is an enjoyable and interesting read, not just for the medical insights into operations to deal with his deformity, but for the picture it paints of growing up in suburban Australia where childhood and adolescent crushes are as abundant as late nights at university – in other words, his disability was never a disabling factor in him living and loving life.

Robert Hoge shows us that some forms of disability need not inhibit the ability of a person to achieve what they want in society. His strength of character and ability to go after what he wants proves this – in fact, his experiences make him more determined to achieve what he wants from life.

Without the strength and advocacy of his family and those who supported him along his journey in his early years things may have turned out differently for Robert. Even now, having a disability often means being subjected to opinion and actions that exclude a person from actively participating in relationships and situations within society. In Ugly, Robert illustrates the normality of his being – his disability is just on the surface, his strength and humility is what makes him a human being, and that’s something that all of us share regardless of our physical representations.

Bursting Veil Misconceptions

This article was originally published at Right Now: Human Rights in Australia
What Is Veiling cover image cropped

Book review by Maya Borom

What is Veiling? | Edinburgh University Press

Front cover of the book, What Is Veiling?In the past month Australia has appeared preoccupied with ‘the veil’. The burqa, the niqab and the hijab have been catapulted somewhat unkindly into mainstream media due to misinformed political opinions, fear of the unknown or the ‘other’, and general misinformation about the role that it has in Muslim culture, society and religion.

Given the current environment in Australia and arguably the Western World, Sahar Amer, Professor and Chair of the Department of Arabic and Islamic Studies at the University of Sydney, is well placed to write a book on Islamic veiling that will introduce readers to the history and complex socio-cultural practices surrounding it in an accessible, easy to read way.

What is Veiling? is a fascinating read that traces the history of the veil from urban Mesopotamia to discussion of hijab references and it’s meaning in the Qur’an, to Islamic fashion and everything in between. When Amer talks of veiling, it means everything from the burqa to the Oman burgu (metal face veil), the leather lithma from the Gulf region and the Senegalese moussor’s (headscarf). Veiling is a diverse practice that attracts many opinions and the book aims to deepen the reader’s understanding of it through a careful exploration of the past as well as analysing contemporary practices and attitudes – from Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

Divided into three parts, the book not only explores Muslim attitudes to the veil, but also critiques Western approaches such as the popularity of Orientalist imagery that helped define an image of the stereotypical Middle Eastern woman of the nineteenth century – the medium changing to film once the power of Hollywood became evident. In fact, Amer points out that “Only since the nineteenth century has it been an integral part of Euro-American discourses on Islam and the Middle East”.

Indeed, she notes that negative attitudes to veiling in Europe have resulted in the banning or restriction of the burqa or niqab in numerous countries such as France with threat of imprisonment or fines of upwards of $38,000 or Belgium where it is banned from all public spaces. Such vehement opposition to a practice that has, as Amer points out, roots in traditions other than just Islam is worrying and indeed frightening. She also looks at veiling practices in the United States from a civil liberties or human rights perspective noting, in particular, the battle between the notion of freedom and the constitutional protection afforded to citizens under the First Amendment to issues of national security and distrust arising from 9/11 onwards.

The last part of the book is devoted to veiling and women, touching upon themes such as the early feminist movement in Egypt in the 1920s to stand-up comedy like The Hijabi Monologues which tried to move past audience fixation on the hijab to focus it on the woman underneath and their personal stories. Amer is also careful to include the fine arts and visual representation of veiling from Muslim artists challenging orientalist representations of themselves. The book presents both sides of the coin – women who veil and women who do not – so as to present a holistic picture of the complexities surrounding the practice.

What is Veiling? is an excellent resource that provides the reader with a great foundation on which to explore issues surrounding veiling – it is accessible, contemporary and provides recent examples about the practice, which is essential if one is to come to an understanding how veiling fits into the modern world.

Book Review of The Tribe

This article was originally published at Right Now: Human Rights in Australia

STORIES OF A MISUNDERSTOOD, FAMILIAR TRIBE

The Tribe cover

Book review by Maya Borom

The Tribe | Giramondo Publishing

Much has been made in the past couple of weeks of Muslim cultures in Australia, pointing towards their difference rather than similarities. Rhetoric that encourages an attitude of ‘us’ and ‘them’ and breeds religious and cultural intolerance and misunderstandings.

But what happens to Arab-Australian children who are born in Australia but whose parents and family have strong ties to their homeland? Are they any less Australian than those born to Anglo parents? Are they conflicted as to where they belong and do they seem themselves as part of a wider ‘Australian’ community?

In the fictional book The Tribe by Michael Mohammed Ahmad, we are offered a glimpse into the world of a young Arab-Australian who is growing up with the traditions of his family whispered in his ear and the culture of contemporary Australia at his immediate doorstep. Written from the perspective of Bani at age seven and ending at eleven, the narrative is honest in his observations of family and school life, and it’s this honesty that allows the reader to relate instantly to the themes in the book. Universal themes such as love, death and everything in between that shapes and makes families what they are.

The Tribe is divided into three chapters, each covering an important part of Bani’s family life, from his strong relationship with his grandmother, to a family wedding, and finally to something every family goes through, grief at losing a loved one. Ahmad has captured the essence of a boy on the cusp of young adulthood and opens up a world seen infrequently in Australian fiction – and in doing so invites the reader to recognise the same issues and emotions that befall families regardless of their socio-cultural or religious background.

Ahmad’s book is an interesting read, due in equal measure to the personalities of his characters as well as to the exploration of Arab-Australian culture in a fictional setting.

The Asylum Debate Put Simply

This article was originally published at Right Now: Human Rights in Australia

Refugees-cover

Book review by Maya Borom

Refugees: Why Seeking Asylum is Legal and Australia’s Policies Are Not | NewSouth Publishing

'Refugees' book coverThe aim of Jane McAdam and Fiona Chong’s book Refugees: Why Seeking Asylum is Legal and Australia’s Policies Are Not is to educate the general public on the often complex and highly emotional issue of asylum seekers and how Australian law and policy is often at odds with it’s international legal obligations.

McAdam and Chong state from the beginning that the book is intended to appeal to a general audience. It’s not overtly academic in nature nor is it too simplistic in it’s approach to such a controversial issue in Australia. It also draws on examples from real refugees to illustrate the decisive and devastating impact of current Australian law and policy on those who are most vulnerable and who should, under international law, be protected.

Refugees sets out to introduce the reader first to the international definition of refugee, and by extension discussing the rights that are inherent with such recognition. It then moves into a discussion of temporary protection visas and whether these are consistent with Australia’s international legal obligations to provide permanent protection to refugees. McAdam and Chong take the reader on a logical journey of discovery, from identifying refugees to offshore detention and to “turning back the boats” – topics that pervade much of mainstream media and which has disturbingly, in Australia, resulted in the major political parties fighting to create the most inhuman asylum policies and laws imaginable.

The book also seeks to dispel common myths around seeking asylum that has gained media traction and is promoted heavily by the successive Australian governments, such as the idea of the “economic migrant” and Australia being “flooded” by asylum seekers. McAdam and Chong are careful to provide evidence against these claims so that the reader is able to independently verify their veracity.

Refugees frames Australia’s approach to asylum seekers in a way that is easy to read and approachable – this is essential given the controversial nature of the topic and hopefully lends itself to being read by not only those interested in human rights and Australia but also those wanting to know a little bit more about Australian refugee law and policy and international law but was always afraid to ask.

Muhgal India: Art, Culture and Empire by J. P. Losty and Malini Roy (review)

From: Parergon
Volume 31, Number 1, 2014
pp. 267-268 | 10.1353/pgn.2014.0020

From the period 1526 to 1858, the Mughals ruled over the Indian subcontinent and produced an outstanding number of manuscripts and paintings, from portraits of young princes to calligraphic hangings. A selection of these are reproduced in Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire where J. P. Losty and Malini Roy have lovingly assembled some of the best representations of Mughal art and manuscripts from the collection at the British Library and presented them as a visual statement of the prowess and artistic achievements of the once-great Mughal empire.

A comprehensive Introduction focuses on the history of key Mughal rulers to provide background to the commissioning of artworks and manuscripts. Chapter 1, ‘The Emperor Akbar’s Patronage’, describes Emperor Akbar’s expansion of the imperial studio and discusses the possible influence of European prints on local artists whose own style was a mixture of Indian, European, and Iranian elements. A beautifully illustrated painting ascribed to Dharm Das (1595–96) and entitled ‘The Man Carried Away by the Simurgh’ is a wonderful example of the eclectic style.

Chapter 2, ‘Mughal Patronage in the Seventeenth Century’, focuses on Akbar’s eldest son Salim who favoured small-scale intricate works as opposed to the large paintings and manuscripts that were created under his father (p. 80). He appears to have been fond of paintings depicting moments in his life, using the medium as a way of presenting his living memoirs.

Throughout the text, narratives are attached to each piece of artwork and so provide for an exhaustive timeline of Mughal rule in India. Chapters 3 and 4 concentrate on the eventual decline of the artistic tradition that the Mughals became world renowned for: artists started focusing on simple, singular portraits rather than being commissioned for huge, impressive pieces and, despite occasional reinvigoration of the studio and artists, it succumbed to Europeanised naturalism and lost the individualistic lustre it once held.

Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire presents a visual feast of Mughal rule as depicted in art and in manuscript and is one that is sure to delight both art and history lovers, if not for the representation of artistic skill then for the visual representation of an empire’s history.

Afghanistan from the Cold War through the War on Terror by Barnett R. Rubin

This article first appeared in the London School of Economics and Political Science Review of Books

Barnett R. Rubin’s Afghanistan From the Cold War through the War on Terror is an essential read for those interested not only in the socio-economic and political history of Afghanistan but also for those interested in the role that foreign powers can have on a state, writes Samaya Borom. Essays cover human rights, security, the narcotics trade, and post-conflict statebuilding.

Afghanistan from the Cold War through the War on Terror. Barnett R Rubin. Oxford University Press. April 2013.

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Not long after the 24th of September 2001, a Central Intelligence Agency operative carried $3 million in cash into the Panjshir Valley to disperse money to Afghan commanders to try to overthrow the Taliban and to ensure strategic alliance with the United States. After the funds were initially dispersed, the CIA Counterterrorist Center dispatched $10 million more and as the cashed up commanders exchanged their USD funds for local currency they flooded the market, devalued the dollar and effectively crippled Afghanistan’s economy.

The insights revealed throughout Barnett Rubin’s Afghanistan, from the Cold War through the War on Terror come from essays collated over more than a decade whilst Rubin was employed by the Council of Foreign Relations and the Center on International Cooperation at New York University, and crucially while he was also acting as a consultant to the United Nations mission to Afghanistan. Rubin is a world renowned political science expert, if not the expert, on Afghanistan and it is his intimate understandings of the country and the international and domestic political forces that have shaped it (and continue to shape it) that make this book a must read.Rubin’s previous book, The Fragmentation of Afghanistan: State Formation and Collapse in the International System detailed the troublesome period of Afghan political history from the 1978 coup to the fall of Najibullah and the subsequent mujahideen taking Kabul. His newest collection of essays on Afghanistan cements his standing as a pre-eminent scholar of contemporary Afghan political history. The introductory chapter provides an illustration as to how deeply involved Rubin is with the country, from speaking to refugees camped by the road after fleeing fighting in Kabul to attending a meeting of the US State Department shortly after the 9/11 attacks and listening to intense debate about the role the US could or should play in nation building.

Though the book was written over a timespan of ten years, a common thread exists between the essays in that Afghanistan and its people have been shown to have suffered tirelessly and often needlessly at the hands of people and groups funded by powers that work towards an unseen strategic roadmap. It is a subject that Rubin revisits in most essays and is backed up with comprehensive evidence or references so that the collection is not merely looked upon as a collection of memoirs but rather a solid reference material in its own right.

An elderly Afghan man at an International Red Cross Distribution camp. Credit: United Nations Photo. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

In the chapter “Blueprint for Afghanistan” Rubin explores how the country’s lack of monetary transparency or accountability allowed for international terrorism to gain a foothold in the region. Increased global awareness of the country saw a decrease in domestic participation in governmental and non-governmental institutions. The increase in external interest in ‘assisting’ Afghans to build institutions often saw donor and non-governmental agencies establishing themselves with relatively little frameworks in place to ensure that the requisite Afghan participation in activities occurred. The appearance of external groups on local real-estate markets was often disastrous and Kabul saw rent increases from $100 to $10,000 per month to accommodate the influx – to the detriment of local establishments who were unable to compete with the inflation and had to either move elsewhere or dissolve.

This chapter segways nicely to “The Politics of Center-Periphery Relations in Afghanistan”, co-researched with Helena Malikyar, an independent researcher and writer based in Kabul with extensive experience on governance related projects with the United Nations and USAID. It argues that the current administrative approach of the government is not a new approach, and that the country often looked to foreign support in order to maintain balance and control. This background proves essential in moving forward through subsequent essays that broach topics such as the difficulty in crafting a Constitution as a roadmap to re-establishing government institutional processes, and implementing and deploying a successful strategy to deal with insurgents where the occupying foreign forces disagree with local government.

The essays covered in the book vary in length and detail, however are all clearly well-researched. It is common for Rubin to include figures and graphs where referring to economic indicators or reconstruction efforts and these help to paint an intimate image of the Afghanistan he so clearly feels deeply about. Rubin’s professional standing, both at the international and domestic level, afforded him access to people and areas outside of the normal writer/researcher gaumut and this has allowed him to present material rich in observation as well as facts. The essays themselves work seamlessly together which is fortunate for the reader as it provides an authentic aggregated view of Afghanistan.

Barnett R. Rubin’s Afghanistan From the Cold War through the War on Terror is an essential read for those interested not only in the socio-economic and political history of Afghanistan but also for those interested in the role that foreign powers can have on a state.

German Jihad: On the Internationalization of Islamist Terrorism by Guido Steinberg

This article first appeared in the London School of Economics and Political Science Review of Books

Guido Steinberg argues that since 2007, the German jihadist scene has become Europe’s most dynamic, characterized by an extreme anti-Americanism, impressive international networks, and spectacularly effective propaganda. In German Jihad, Steinberg interprets the expanding German scene as part of a greater internationalization of jihadist ideology and strategy, swelling the movement’s membership since 9/11. Samaya Borom has nothing but praise for this work at the forefront of terrorism studies. 

German Jihad: On the Internationalization of Islamist Terrorism. Guido Steinberg. Columbia University Press. July 2013.

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An astonishing three out of four pilots responsible for the 9/11 attacks came from a terror cell in Hamburg, Germany. Though jihadists were active in Europe before 2001, relatively little research had occurred on the movement as it was perceived to have a domestic socio-political agenda, rather than a global agenda. The attacks on the United States shifted the perception of Al-Qaeda as an exclusively Arab organisation concerned with domestic struggles to one that was seen as transnational with a global outlook. It soon became apparent that cells were working within Europe, and since 2007 Germany is considered to be one of the hotspots of the jihadist movement, resulting in serious domestic and international implications – not only in areas of law enforcement and security but socially, culturally and politically.

The central premise of Guido Steinberg’s book, German Jihad: On the Internationalization of Islamist Terrorism is that the internationalization of the current jihadist movement only began after the events of September 11, 2001 and, that, since then, the movement has matured, internationalised, and profoundly altered its characteristics. He argues that as a movement, it is no longer solely concerned with domestic (traditionally Arab) matters and sees instead an opportunity to attack those states that had traditionally been outside of their purview and indeed outside of their domestic reach. This ideological shift resulted in recruits being radicalised in their own countries first before proceeding to reach outwards for training and further instructions.

Since the attacks on the world trade centre, terrorism research – particularly that on the rise of jihadism in the west – has increased markedly from pre 9/11 levels. Works such as Russell Burman’s Freedom or Terror: Europe Faces Jihad or Peter Neumann’s Joining al-Qaeda: Jihadist Recruitment in Europe provide a much needed overview for those interested in European terrorism. Steinberg’s contribution to the field of terrorism studies however goes further than a general overview, as his focus is almost exclusively on Germany, or German nationals and their involvement in jihad. By specialising in this niche field, Steinberg is able to bring a unique perspective to the motivations behind the growing jihadist movement in Germany, and how these nationals link into the wider global jihadist movement. The book is thorough both in its research and in its focus on Germany as a key player in the cultivation of European jihadists. This no doubt stems from the fact that the author is one of Europe’s leading terrorism experts and was an advisor to the Federal Chancellery in Berlin on international terrorism issues.

Steinberg’s introductory chapter, ‘Unlikely Internationalists: Putting German Jihadism into Perspective’ provides an overview into the beginnings of the internationalisation process, starting with the 1990s alliance between Osama Bin Laden and current al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri and moving towards Germany’s involvement in Afghanistan in late 2001. It sets the pace for the second chapter ‘Two Hamburg Cells: A History of Jihadist Terrorism in Germany’ which details Al-Qaeda’s presence in Germany itself as early as 1998. Given that the group was only created ten years beforehand, the fact that a leading operative was arrested in Munich is significant and Steinberg carefully draws out the relationship between jihadist groups in Germany and their significant counterparts internationally.

The book offers key insights into the internationalization of German jihadism and pays particular attention in providing case studies as evidence of the growing movement. In Chapter three, provocatively titled ‘A Second 9/11: The Sauerland Plot’ Steinberg introduces the reader to the story of three young German men who went on to hatch a terrorist plot against the German state of Rhineland-Palatinate after extensive training with the Uzbek IJU in North Waziristan in Pakistan. It follows their metamorphosis from young disaffected German nationals to jihadists researching potential bombing targets. Steinberg plots their movements from several countries including Germany, Turkey, Syria and Afghanistan to illustrate the international nature of the movement.

The same level of detail is paid in additional chapters of the books, including Chapter seven, ‘The German Taliban Mujahideen’, in which Steinberg details how propaganda and communique by the group left an indelible impression on the German public shortly before the elections in 2009. Chapter 9, ‘Germans in the Taliban Stalingrad: Fighting the Kunduz Insurgency’, highlights the growing issue of trans-terrorism where German nationals are deployed willingly to Afghanistan to join the jihadist movement. Given the recent Al-Shabaab attacks on the Westgate Mall in Kenya that involved nationals flying in from outside the country to participate, the internationalisation of the movement is worrying and clearly deserves more attention and research in the field. Steinberg is clearly at the forefront with this contribution.

Steinberg’s German Jihad: On the Internationalization of Islamist Terrorism is an impressive piece of research that distinguishes itself from the plethora of terrorism research currently available. The ability to focus so comprehensively on the German connection in highlighting the internationalisation of Islamist terrorism is remarkable – and illustrates how the tendrils of terrorism reach far and wide.

Dissent and Revolution in a Digital Age: Social Media, Blogging and Activism in Egypt by David Faris

This article first appeared in the London School of Economics and Political Science Review of Books

Dissent and Revolution in a Digital Age is essential reading for those interested in online activism, inasmuch as it provides a case study for Egypt as well as potentially for the rest of the world, writes Samaya Borom. This book tracks the rocky path taken by Egyptian bloggers operating in Mubarak s authoritarian regime to illustrate how the state monopoly on information was eroded, making space for dissent and digital activism. 

Dissent and Revolution in a Digital Age: Social Media, Blogging and Activism in Egypt. David Faris. IB Tauris. March 2013.

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The keen interest in the role that social media played in the lead up to the dramatic ousting of president Hosni Mubarak during early 2011 in Egypt was evident in virtually every media outlet and news organisation worldwide. Images of revolution were splashed across television screens, media devices and online and were coupled with commentary concerning the willingness of the Egyptian people to be frontier digital activists. Yet what wasn’t reported was the pre-existing intimate relationship that the Egyptian people already had with social media, and how these historical relationships forged the way for the more open types of communication that characterised the Arab Spring and ultimately, lead to the fall of the Mubarak regime in 2011.

David Faris‘s book Dissent and Revolution in a Digital Age: Social Media, Blogging and Activism in Egyptconcentrates on political events in Egypt between 2005 and August of 2011- a time when multi-candidate elections were held and there was a consensus that Egypt was becoming more open to ideas of government transparency. Of course, because of the nature of the socio-political landscape, quantitative data and metrics about the use of social media during this time was notoriously difficult (if not impossible) to obtain, so Faris relied on a qualitative approach through in-depth interviews with bloggers, activists, journalists and others. Data was also obtained via the American University in Cairo, the Middle East Monitor and by personally attending conferences, meetings and strikes, which together provides for comprehensive coverage of the use of social media throughout Egypt.  The breadth of scholarship undertaken is undoubtedly related to the author’s doctoral dissertation, from which this book originates.

So why did Faris choose Egypt as a case study on social media use and activism? The answer lies in the fact that Egypt has, at one time or another, promoted total exclusion from the internet to then allowing and encouraging e-commerce. Faris is not the only one to have chosen Egypt as a case study; indeed, others have written on State involvement in Egyptian media, such as Marc Lynch in Voice of the New Arab Public: Iraq, Al-Jazeera, and Middle East Politics Today, who describes how in the 1990s the government gave control of media content to Islamic conservatives in an attempt to control public speech (p.85). What Faris manages to do in this book however is to describe how Egypt has shifted historically between web exclusion and liberal inclusion and thus is able to provide a fascinating comparison to similar authoritarian regimes.

A live twitter symposium at Tahrir Square, Cairo. Credit: Lorenz Khazaleh CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Faris’s speciality is concerned with how the internet is regulated and the role that government has in dealing with online activism. From this, he looks at the role of digital activism and how it effects change. In this sense, chapter two ‘A Theory of Networked Revolt: Social Media Networks, Media Events and Collective Action’ works as the theoretical foundation of the book and provides an adequate overview of network theory and illustrates how the relationship between Social Media Networks (SMN), media events and political mobilization should be understood.

The increased use of SMN tools to organise opposition against authoritarian regimes is discussed in chapter four, ‘New Tools, Old Rules Social Media Networks and Collective Action in Egypt” which uses case studies to illustrate the impact that technology can have when attempting to bring about political or social change. The case study concerning the Egyptian judiciary is of particular interest and acts as a representation of the type of democratization ideal that was sweeping through the country prior to January 2011. SMNs are demonstrated to have played a key part in the mobilization processes and as blogs increased in size as well as capacity to comment, they helped spread key information about protests, dates, arrests and the like. Faris not only celebrates the successful use of tools of Social Media Networks, he also acknowledges their weaknesses and limits which is essential in understanding such mobile activism. It is clear that such networks cannot be claimed to be solely responsible for the mobilization of people against all issues and this is discussed in detail when Faris looks to protests against the State of Israel for the invasion of the West Bank in 2002, the Lebanese war in 2006, and the ongoing Gaza occupation.

It is clear that Faris has three distinct theories about the role that SMNs have in being able to alter the power dynamics in authoritarian regimes. Discussed in the lead up to chapter six ‘We Are All Revolutionaries Now: Social Media Networks and the Egyptian Revolution of 2011’ Faris first details the importance of sharing information about issues and circumstances, he then illustrates the relationship between digital activists and activism, and between independent media outlets and practitioners, and finally discusses how the network can provide a framework for real-time engagement, organization and coordination. This approach creates a solid understanding for the reader on SMNs and their use in Egypt as Faris approaches the revolution of 2011. As the reader navigates through chapter six it is increasingly clear that such networks were not only used as a means by which to comment on topics and events that had historically been ignored by State run media organizations but as a way of forcing about governmental change – the case study of ‘We Are All Khaled Said’ (a blogger who was tortured and killed for posting video of corrupt police) provides such an illustration.

As the book journeys through the Egyptian landscape of 2005 to 2011 the reader is offered comparison case studies so as to provide a broader context to SMNs in the geo-political world. This proves to be especially pertinent when the Arab Spring uprising in Tunisia begins and is still raging around the time Faris is concluding the book. There is no hiding the fact that Faris is outspoken in his support for digital activism – indeed he argues that digital activism is the only way forward in terms of ensuring global democratic politics. Dissent and Revolution in a Digital Age is essential reading for those interested in online activism, inasmuch as it provides a case study for Egypt as well as potentially for the rest of the world.

Profits of Doom Book Review

This article was originally published at Right Now: Human Rights in Australia,

Christmas Island. Photo credit: Antony Loewenstein

CHRISTMAS ISLAND. PHOTO CREDIT: ANTONY LOEWENSTEIN

By Maya Borom

The drive by governments to privatise what are usually key governmental functions, such as refugee processing and detention, reform and prison, and health care is one that is being mirrored around the world — with the big winners being transglobal/multinational corporations.

In his book Profits of Doom: How Vulture Capitalism is Swallowing the World Antony Loewenstein provides case studies on how corporations such as Serco and  G4S make a profit from activities that were traditionally provided by the State. In the opening chapter, “Curtin Immigration Detention Centre – Cash for Care”, Antony visits the RAAF base, once referred to as “hell on earth” and the place where the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) have opened a refugee camp to house mostly male detainees. It’s an interesting glimpse into the bureaucratic processes of running detention centres that the vast majority of the Australian population will never have to think about — yet the effects of such transglobal companies ripple throughout society. The chapter details how a corporation such as Serco can manage to run multiple detention centres in Australia with relative autonomy and transparency and segues nicely into the second chapter, “Christmas Island: Prison in the Pacific”, where he witnesses a boat of refugees heading to shore.

Loewenstein devotes a substantial part of the book to Papua New Guinea (PNG), recently in the news because of the Australian government’s decision to send asylum seekers to Manus Island. It’s obvious that the Australian decision is the least of their problems when its natural resources are being plundered in the name of big business — as well as by states competing for power in the region. The ability to get up close and personal with characters from grassroots organisations to provincial governors means that Loewenstein is able to present a different viewpoint to that of the prominent happy and carefree images of PNG that grace corporate publications. It’s easy to see just how applicable the term ‘disaster capitalism’ is to the country and easier still to see the type of influence it will have in terms of real socio-economic benefit to the majority of the inhabitants of PNG (sadly, very little).

Of note too are the chapters on Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Haiti where the line between contractors and governments get mixed, and where for the most part the law becomes blurred and the need for transparency flies out the window. In Afghanistan, the US State Department awarded contracts worth over one billion to DynCorp in a bid to build up local security forces, while in Haiti 500 million of the 1billion in humanitarian aid was handled by the US Department of Defense — this was also directed to contractors. The book’s case studies have uncovered the covert players in what appears to be a game to control States — and Loewenstein’s arguments that the erosion of democracy is being met with relatively little fanfare or care by the world media becomes stronger and stronger as the reader progresses.

Profits of Doom: How Vulture Capitalism is Swallowing the World is written in a conversational narrative and this lends weight to the book as a whole. Loewenstein is interested in trying to tell the stories of those people involved in, caught up in, living in, experiencing and struggling against massive corporations and their ideologies, and juxtapositioning this against the organisations that seek to control most aspects of governmental functions.

It is a confronting read but one that should be on everyone’s list, lest you are aware of who really controls the purse strings around the world.