People of Gaza: When They’re Not Being Killed by Israel

Do an image search for ‘Gaza’ and hundreds of gory, bloody photos will pop up instantly. That’s the face of Gaza we see on the screen. I won’t post those pictures. But many don’t seem to realize that Gazans do have better things to do than be constantly hounded, pounded and terrorized by Israel (and yes …I said ‘terrorized’). These photos are the ones we don’t usually see. These are the people of Gaza.

laundry

“Yeah, I hear we’re grounded too …” (source: PressTV, Iran)

bodybuilder

“I am …Ironman!” (source: Haaretz)

pageant

“What do you mean curtsy?” (photo: Islamic Relief)

"And the forests will echo with laughter" (photo: Ruqaya Izzidien)

“Farmer by day, SuperSanta by night …” (photo: Ruqaya Izzidien)

"My lips are sealed. Promise." (photo: joegaza, flickr)

“My lips are sealed. Promise.” (photo: joegaza, flickr)

Birds born in cages think flying is an illness (credit: Samir Kishawi)

“I know what you did last summer” (credit: Samir Kishawi)

Say a little prayer for you (source: roarmag.org)

“Say a little prayer for you …” (source: roarmag.org)

Candies make me forget that my fav shirt says 'old age' (photo: )

Candies make me forget that my fav shirt says ‘old age’ (photo: Sarah El-Khoudary)

Cart-pooling for school (source: AFP)

“Slow down, lady! This is a no-speeding lane” (source: AFP)

"Why do children have to turn into teenagers?" (photo: Khalil Kamra/AP)

“Why do children have to turn into teenagers?” (photo: Khalil Kamra/AP)

easter

“Why! This Easter is most unorthodox!” (photo: joegaza, flickr)

"I'm Moe ...these are Larry and Curly" (photo: joegaza, flickr)

“I’m Moe …these are Larry and Curly” (photo: joegaza, flickr)

"Most of my heroes don't appear on no stamps" (photo: Ibrahim Abu Sharkh)

“Most of my heroes don’t appear on no stamps” (photo: Ibrahim Abu Sharkh)

 (photo: Omar Liu)

“I’m going to smile, and my smile will sink down into your pupils, and heaven knows what it will become.” (photo: Omar Liu)

happy1prayCaptions are my own. No offense is meant.

Communication for Development: Where’s the Love?

public-1

Linked from LinkedIn

Some weeks back, I caught a glimpse of the above advertisement in an excellent post at Geopatra’s blog. It’s brief and to-the-point. Even witty.

The ad recognizes the good you want to do. Your volunteering spirit. Your altruistic inner beast. But it also tries to point out the futility, even stupidity, of your clicktivism. The ‘key message’ from the creative brief could well have been, “it’s extremely idiotic to give thumbs ups to African children with limbs blown off. Really? Give it to us: we’re the Merchants of Charity.” (you can have that one for free *Merchants of Charity* – you next, big NGO-donor hybrid). It’s guilty of being too self-absorbed. But worse, it engages in clicktivist-shaming. And that concerns 98% of us.

  • Behavior Change Communication (BCC) – aka Communications for (Social) Change, aka Communications for Development – and erroneously equated to Information, Education, Communication (IEC) – has taken roots over the past 20 odd years. It concerns using communications tools and techniques to change people’s behavior. BCC has been extensively applied in Least Developed Countries to promote health, education, nutrition and other social issues.

The question for behavior change professionals is: will a shaming approach really prompt people to action? From the advert above, we can tell that it already assumes that its audience is aware of the issue (say, children injured by landmines) and is also acting to change the situation. They may just be taking a wrong route to it.

While I do not thinking shaming is the way to go – I want to take a minute and appreciate the fact that this ad aims for an emotional response. I will argue that this is one key thing that Crisis Relief got right. They, or their agency Publicis, recognized that for an audience that’s largely aware, an emotional response is only a requisite for behavior change.

The above is a recognition that is crucially missing in Bangladesh’s social & development communications. Walking along the trail of earlier information-awareness focused models, many practitioners (and approval authorities) have failed to acknowledge the indispensability of emotional approaches to Behavior Change.

The result is an abundance of information in BCC materials that is neither fully understood nor fully retained by target audiences. In the posters / fliers to the Left, mostly from the 1980s, we notice a distinct IEC approach. Notwithstanding the attempt to create a notion of ‘an affectionate father’ in a nation where Fathers are the strong & silent type – there seems to be a lot of information to retain.

There’s a stark lack of understanding of, and experience with, the very people we’re trying to reach. Reducing the people we’re trying to engage to ‘Target Audience’ can pose a challenge. Target Audiences are often defined in terms of their average age, income, expenditure, calorie consumption or education level. Yet, often we forget, or neglect, to consider the values, sentiments, aspirations and dreams of our audience. Do they care about the economy? Do they view more children as a sign of prosperity? Would they migrate to towns if they could? Does the Environment concern them on a personal level?

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Stories, songs, music and colors – the creative side of communications – is often buried under ridiculous jargons, gender-sensitive language and obscure politically-correct terms. Evoking emotional responses ranks very low in the list of communicators’ priorities. I won’t deny that sometimes excessive information stems from voluminous, unending Terms of References. Or, ironically, briefs. And these, in turn, are products of hybrid teams that consist of everyone starting from the Project Directors, Nutrition Experts, Sanitation Experts, field staff and overseas consultants. Each working with his/her own agenda, fills up the communication brief / TOR with technical information that they want to teach / preach. It is in this whirlwind of agendas that ‘emotions’ get lost.

‘Recognition’ may be a better incentive than ‘subsidized HIV tests’. ‘Fear of Emasculation’ may be a bigger deterrent to vasectomies than the ‘Cost of the Procedure’. “Living with malnutrition’ is better than ‘admission of malnutrition’. ‘Allegiance to political dynasties’ trumps ‘citizen charters’. – Such emotional responses are vital to recognize, especially for a country as irrational and as traditional as Bangladesh. People need emotional incentives to change the way the behave, and have been behaving for generations. And communicators’ first task is to understand the human beings behind the demographic data.

Cheating Cats

Okay, first off – this is not a ‘how to’ listicle about ways to cheat your cat out of leftovers. Or quality time. (Though the latter sure warrants some research funding.) This is an attempted-monograph about cats; that cheat.

Cats are often thought of as opportunistic, selfish pets.

Cats are often thought of as opportunistic, selfish pets (photo: catstagram)

1. Background: in 2012 – as part of a joint University of Georgia and National Geographic project – researchers put “kitty cams” on 55 pet cats to analyze their movement, behavior and motivation. Now, if you are, like me, a largely normal person, you’re wondering “why?” – the answer is that they’re ‘studying the impact of cats on urban wildlife along with risks they face outdoors’.

2. Findings: breakthrough came in the form of the revelation that cats spend a lot of time under cars, inside of sewers, climbing fences, making catcalls …basically, doing cat-stuff. Wildlife ecologist and research leader Kerrie Anne Loyd was surprised that only 44 percent of the cats exhibited hunting behavior and even fewer, 30 percent, successfully captured animals. So, all those afternoons when our pet cats disappear and stay past lunch-time – what are they up to? What are they eating?

Here’s where it gets really interesting.

Cats cheat on their owners. Not in an sexual way, but in terms of food and comfort and human affection. “A lot of cats were found cheating on their owners,” a researcher said. “In that they were spending a lot of time with other families, and were fed by other families and slept on the beds of other families.” It’s like a traveling salesman (excuse the stereotype) maintaining two families in two towns. But with neighboring houses. Which of course, doesn’t work for the mythical traveling-and-cheating-salesman archetype. But I digress.

Rumor has it that Comdrade Lenin's cat was once stroked by Trotsky

Rumor has it that Comrade Lenin’s cat was once stroked by Trotsky.

3. Bottom Line: if you want loyalty, get a dog.

4. Commentary: so, the research concludes that cats cheat and are, possibly, selfish. And I have a problem with this conclusion. Central to my argument and the concept of ‘Cheating’ – is the notion of Social Contract.

4.1 Social Contract for Dummies: All men are made equal. So, no one has a natural right to govern others, and therefore the only justified authority is the authority that is generated out of social agreements, covenants or wait-for-it …contracts. So, social contracts are essentially expressions of the Collective and geared towards the Collective Good. Social contract arguments typically say that we have agreed to surrender some of our freedoms and submit to the authority of the ruler or magistrate (or to the decision of a majority), in exchange for protection of our remaining rights.

So, human societies have certain developed (unwritten) pacts / agreements about how to live together in some kind of order. The most basic covenant, the social pact, is the agreement to come together and form a people, a Collectivity. Parents agree to care for children. Gentlemen agree not to rob one another’s private property. We collectively accept ‘Marriage’ to imply an absence of fornication and adultery. Many such agreements or pacts make sure that humans don’t relapse into the State of Nature.

4.1.1 State of Nature for Dummies: the State of Nature, is a hypothetical situation where men are naturally and exclusively self-interested. Every man for himself. They don’t care for disco either. Resources are limited and there’s no authority. Given these conditions, (Thomas) Hobbes concludes that the State of Nature would be unbearably brutal.

In the State of Nature, every person is always in fear of losing his life to another. They have no capacity to ensure the long-term satisfaction of their needs or desires. No long-term or complex cooperation is possible because the State of Nature can be aptly described as a state of utter distrust. Because people want first and foremost to avoid their own deaths, the State of Nature is a state of perpetual and unavoidable war. And it is this terrifying possibility that makes Social Contract so necessary.

Now, back to cheating cats.

Many people own cats.

But what does it mean? To ‘own’ a cat? Or any other animal? Can we really ‘own’ animals? Did the animals agree to this arrangement where they are ‘owned’ by a member of a different species? Did an Ambassador of Cats declare that they would surrender the freedom to sample a neighbor’s goodies in return for guaranteed housing, soup-kitchens and healthcare? That they would remain ‘loyal’ to an owner? – The obvious reply to the last four questions is ‘no’.

Ownership of pets is only in our minds. We think we own them. They don’t. It’s a one-sided contract (and therefore, null and void). A cat, to state the obvious, is not bound by Social Contract to recognize, let alone remain loyal to, an owner. And if there’s no commitment to loyalty, there can be no cheating.

(Society’s) Common Will is said to represent a unified, fruitful and ethical direction for Progress. But why do we insist on imposing human ethical constraints on cats? What makes our frame of Reference applicable to all other species? The solution must be that the action of cheating-cats must be evaluated not from an ‘ethical’ – but a ‘survival’ – perspective. Perhaps cats just think of their owners’ houses as urban food-sources. One of many. To them, neighbors’ houses are the same. In fact, cats may not be able to distinguish between owners and neighbors.

Yes, we give cats showers, vaccine shots and bucket-loads of attention and approach ownership of their very Existence – but as rational beings, we also do it for our own satisfaction. Just like the cats cheat for their satisfaction (perhaps cats, as rational and self-interested creatures, have their own Social Contract and it entails feeding from as many sources as possible). So, before we can call cats ‘cheaters’ or ‘selfish’ – we need to take a long look at the mirror. And this holds true not only for cats, but for all species, races, ethnicities and genders. What, you ask, is the takeout? I’d argue there are two:

  1. To recognize our daily biases, we need to understand what/who shapes our thoughts and
  2. On the Internet, it’s possible to discuss anything under the pretext of discussing kitties.
Cat's outta the bag, yo!

Cat’s outta the bag, yo!

Naked As We [Be]Came (NSFW)

Going naked for an audience – and yes, I hesitate to call it ‘nudity’, which somehow gives it an artistic hall-pass – used to be a desperate measure. But these days, it has become the default trick of all ponies – even if I do intermingle ‘nakedness’ and ‘ponies’ in the same thought-stream. Such is its pervasive nature.  There is nakedness in music, movies, sports, activism, politics, exercise, cooking – well, any activity that you can think of. Except showering. For that, there’s a frosted glass barrier.

frosted

Thou shalt not peep at a showering female.

In my mind, one can sunbathe topless or take a nudie selfie all (s)he likes: but doing that to the benefit of the peeping-tom next door or tweeting that selfie – is where I draw the line.  Hence, the instances of nakedness I pick here are essentially meant for cultural delivery-systems, meant for an audience. Let private nudity thrive in all its rightful glory.

***

Legend has it that in 11th century Coventry, a chaste, noblewoman was utterly torn by the excessive taxes levied by her husband, the Earl of Mercia. Repeatedly, she pleaded with him to lower the taxes. But he wouldn’t. Finally, tired of her nagging – he agreed, but only if she would ride through the town on a horse, butt-naked. Clearly, the dastardly Earl had underestimated his wife Godiva. Lady Godiva urged her people to shut their windows and eyes on the fateful day and took a long, naked ride through the streets for the sake of the commoners.

Lady_Godiva_by_John_Collier

Lady Godiva – painting by John Collier

Serves the Earl right, I say! The chaste and pious Lady Godiva’s riding nude in public remains one of the enduring legends involving public nudity used for a selfless cause. I hold her a beacon of light in such dark ages.

***

But as the ages got brighter, the beacons have gotten dimmer. Nakedness has gotten …easier. ‘Meh’ to be precise! Millions are putting out their naked images – through films, press, social-media, advertisements and other questionable means. The truth is: the market for nakedness has stabilized, gained some respectability even! There are now its champions and worshippers. Thousands of blogs and sites will lap up a snap of your beaver. Millions will shower labels like ‘empowered’ only if a girl bares her body (unfortunately, male nudity is yet to rise above the label of ‘public indecency’).

car

I think, male nudity just doesn’t sell as well. Biologically, men are much more inclined to see women uncovered (than vice versa). The more, the merrier. Perhaps, getting women to disrobe is an all-gender effort. And it’s not unfair to say that some women commoditize their sexuality …because, let’s face it, it has tangible value. Besides, the social consensus on what constitutes ‘female nudity’ is much more stringent than it’s verdict on ‘male nudity’. Therefore, much of the nudity we’re exposed to is that of females’. 

fashion

Presumably, a ‘hat’ or a ‘tat’ model (photo: Daily Mail)

All forms of culture feature nudity to some extent. Some, like fashion, are integrally linked to clothes/bodies and have the latitude to manipulate it. The same could be applicable for modeling, lingerie, nude art (not met-art though), yoga etc. All-pervasive nudity in the rest of popular culture is curious, and at times, disturbing.

americanbeauty

No one has looked at Mena Suvari quite the same after ‘American Beauty’ (photo: metro.co.uk)

The first form that comes to mind is ‘movies’. It is quite unthinkable that a girl will excel in the industry without disrobing. Going naked is just evening out the field. I can probably name actresses who haven’t disrobed on screen: Julia Roberts, Scarlett Johansson, Christina Hendricks and Isla Fisher. Right? And maybe a couple of others (just wait and see what happens with ‘Under the Skin‘ where Scarlett Johansson goes nude for the first time). Yes, some roles demand nudity. Other instances just boost ratings. The thumb rule seems to be: weaker stories need more nakedness.

The global ‘celebrity worship’ culture means that movie-stars are encouraged to expose skin from an early age. All sorts and ages of celebrities are invited into commercial nudity. You can act? Get naked. You play the guitar? Get naked. You are a wrestler? Get naked. It’s so excruciatingly cliche! Great Britain recently banned an ad featuring Dakota Fanning because it ‘sexualized a child’. But more former child stars are stripping down to announce, “hey, I’m 18, it’s okay to objectify me now”. The sexualization is constantly priming young girls for future nudity.

Sexualization: occurs when someone’s sense of their own value is based solely on sex appeal or that individual is held to narrow standards of attractiveness. It happens when a person is “sexually objectified” — made into a “thing” for others’ sexual use. 

The cause-and-effect relationship between ‘celebrity status’ and ‘nudity’ can become so blurred that it all condenses into a steamy, raunchy, slippery exploitative mess. So, some have managed to become celebrities by baring/sexualizing themselves. Kim Kardashian, who reportedly made $65 million from her sextape, is the biggest example. Paris Hilton, Tila Tequila, Farrah Abraham, Katie Price aka Jordan are following suit.

Lucy Lawless nude on Spartacus: Blood and Sand

Lucy Lawless nude on Spartacus: Blood and Sand

Once upon a time, TV programming used to be safe for family viewing. But no more! TV shows like Rome, Boardwalk Empire, Spartacus and Californication are really milking television’s newfound freedom.

HBO’s Game of Thrones has taken female nakedness to a new level. Viewers have seen every conceivable kind of nudity on it – including naked ‘harlots’, inebriated orgies, public nudity, older women baring breasts, incestuous bathing scenes and smoldering nudity with dragons.

Unlike with movies, television shows brings nudity into our homes, into our living rooms – where children / teenagers are exposed to it. Resultant objectification, normalizing nudity and body-image issues are just the beginning.

And what of music? Where have all the guitar-strumming, shy, gentle darlings gone? And whose bright idea was it to replace them with glitter-smearing, oft-stripping, boob-jousting, bra-busting, over-the-edge gyrating-twerking teenage girls on the stage? We knew Shakira wasn’t lying when she testified to the truthfulness of her hips. But Robin Thicke sure crossed a line with Blurred Lines (NSFW video), which wasn’t even a very good song.

nakedness in music

Today’s young musicians are adept in packaging (semi or full) nudity with their music. (Photo: billboard.com)

Starting from Queen to Alanis Morissette, Madonna to Momsen, Duran Duran to Britney Spears – plenty of singers are throwing skin into the mix to fuel the fire. It sells. Why else are lyrics like “And that’s why I’m gon’ take a good girl, I know you want it, I know you want it, I know you want it, You’re a good girl, Can’t let it get past me, You’re far from plastic, Talk about getting blasted” (‘Blurred Lines’ by Robin Thicke) getting 313,088,351 views on YouTube?

Photographer Spencer Tunick is best known for getting thousands of people to strip and pose for his 'art' (photo: caminoalart.blogspot)

Photographer Spencer Tunick is best known for getting thousands of people to strip and pose for his ‘art’ (photo: caminoalart.blogspot)

And all this talk of ‘selling’ – brings us to Advertising. With a over decade of experience in the field, I now know that my colleagues constantly use (female) nudity to aggressively push useless but sexualized crap into your shopping cart for a premium. I mean, men’s underwear can portrayed as sexy, right?

Style: "70's look"

And going nude for PETA to protest fur clothing is quite clever.

Nude Supermodels in Anti Fur Campaign Poster for Peta - 1994

But why coffee? Who drinks his/her coffee naked? Well, I mean …during daytime? And what couple rolls around in and showers each others with coffee beans? Why are they risking chafing by stray beans lodged in inconvenient orifices?

adsNakedness is hounding sports too. The World Naked Bike Ride has spread to 70 cities in 20 countries. ‘Naked Running’ is a legit sport with its annual calendar of events. Naked marathons, Olympics and volleyball are all out there. But because of the dynamic nature of sports, much of the sexualization is carried out off-field. WWE Divas are constantly nude on magazines and videos. Female olympic athletesOlympics skiers, footballers’ wives, tennis stars …pretty much any girl who has gotten close to sports, has considered the option.

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Video games are filling up with nudity. Sports-related magazines are also jumping in with some full-on nudity. And lastly, no matter how hard people try to concentrate on the game, there will always be a girl who’s taken off her shirt in the gallery or is running naked through the field. And then, on ESPN, we have 3 seconds of the best kind of nakedness: the unexpected kind.

group sports

Sports stars go naked for ESPN’s Body Issue

Citizen activism has had its injection of nudity too. It comes in the form of ‘Femen’. For those who don’t know, ‘Femen’ is an “international women’s movement of topless female activists”. They write strange stuff on their boobs, hide in bushes and then ambush opponents with their naked bodies and shrill demands. The objective may be ‘submission from annoyance’.

"My pussy, my rules" cries a Femen protester in an anti-abortion rally (photo: femen)

“My pussy, my rules” cries a naked Femen protester in an anti-abortion rally (photo: femen)

So, regardless of the issue, Femen activists primarily expose their naked bodies and create disruption to draw attention. And interestingly, they care deeply about disrobing Muslim women and ‘free’ them from whatever evil that causes them to wear clothes.

FEMEN_FRANK151

*stumped for caption* (photo: Femen)

The implication is clear. Activism and it’s causes are often not sexy: clean the bay, save the rainforest, help the tortoise, rescue the gnomes …I mean, it gets tedious. And nakedness is the cheapest and laziest way to make such issues sexy. It’s not unlike stand-up comedians making fart-jokes to get a quick laugh.

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Get hooked on sustainable fishing; pose nude (photo: fishlove.co.uk)

Some weeks back, a New York pulp-fiction appreciation club realized the PR value of nudity and promptly shed their tops. This time, to ‘make reading sexy’.

book

Who would’ve thunk a few topless women were going to fuel the Reading Revolution of 2014? (photo: HuffPost)

Many of the women photographed hadn’t even managed to get their hands on a book yet, but were comfortably naked in the park, browsing through picnic baskets. These were young girls. They wanted to make a difference. It was misguided marketing that led them to bare their bodies instead of sharing a book or put together a literary festival. But the publicists got it right. They knew bare skin would break through the clutter and get this teeny movement on the world’s radar. But chances are, people aren’t even reading the articles, let alone books. End result: books: no; boobs: yes, please. And this result is symptomatic (if you know).

***

tweet

Nakedness on social media (which, please note, is by definition a type of ‘media’) is worse because this means having a 2-way conversation with (mostly) real people. A number of celebrities have tweeted naked photos. Some have cried foul too!

The abundance of nude selfies has given rise to users like this, who are constantly collecting, collating and tweeting amateur nude photos to the world. The most bizarre instance has been the American Airlines tweet, where a the company ‘mistakenly’ tweeted the NSFW photo of a nude woman shoving an airplane model into …erm, better you use your imagination.

On WordPress too, we have our naked blogs e.g. with designated ‘Boobdays’ for posting new photos of the bloggers’ boobs. But that’s the kind of thing that, I think, has its uses. If nothing else, it shatters notions of the ‘body-ideal’.

 ***

American Apparel Maks

Bangladeshi-born ‘Maks’ poses for American Apparel (photo: Daily Mail)

Earlier this year (2014), an American Apparel advert featured a topless, Bangladeshi, Muslim girl, Maks, with the words ‘Made in Bangladesh’ typed across her breasts. The infamous CEO refused to explain why she was topless, how the ‘Bangladeshi’ association was relevant and why they delved so deep into her (doubtful) Muslim upbringing.

But the advert went viral within days: some said she had disgraced her country and religion. Others appreciated her anatomy and defended her right to show it off. Still more thought it an insult to millions of conservative, hard-working women of the Bangladeshi garment sector.

Nakedness is slowly turning into a cultural trope: “if you (figuratively) suck at what you do, or if you stink of mediocrity – just take off (your) clothes”. This is the postmodern maxim for success. Top to bottom, clothes are being removed with reckless abandon for the benefit of viewers, followers, fans and lowly voyeurs – and this, cannot but have a socio-cultural trickle-down effect.

So, do some close-minded conservatives, like me, make a big deal out of nothing? Is nakedness a non-issue? Yes, we do make a fuss. Is it a laughing matter? I’m not too sure about that. Remember Seth McFarlane’s prevented-from-being-performed-by-traveling-through-time song “We Saw Your Boobs” in the Academy Awards ceremony? Ever wonder why it caused such an outrage?

“(The Boob Song) reinforced, over and over, that women somehow don’t belong. They matter only insofar as they are beautiful or naked, or preferably both. [...] MacFarlane’s opening musical number, “We Saw Your Boobs,” might as well have been a siren blaring, “This isn’t for you” … Actual gender equality is a ways away, but I’d settle for one four-hour ceremony where women aren’t being actively degraded.” – Margaret Lyons

Would the reaction be the same if the song had been about actresses’ eyes or lips? The answer is a categorical ‘No’. Nudity is specific and sensitive. First, let’s acknowledge that ‘Nudity’, as a commodity, is both manufactured and consumed. Given prevailing ideas about (im)modesty, performing / tweeting in the nude has a hidden cost. For a woman, it has social implications; it entails morality, modesty and character judgments that measure individuals against social benchmarks and rank/score them accordingly.

Another interesting fact is that Nudity quickly diminishes in value. The first nude tweet is electric! The second has great shapes, but the third is plain boring. More people would prefer to see a nude Jennifer Lawrence over a nude Pamela Anderson, right? That’s because, as the woman’s (perceived) modesty plummets, the utility derived from naked imagery also falls. The more modest and restrained the subject, the higher the value of her nudity.  In brief: commoditizing Nudity, invariably devalues it.

skin As for consumers of nudity and exposure, a deluge of skin can’t be absorbed in large quantities by a society, without affecting what it means to be naked. And at both ends, it is often sexist, dehumanizing and degrading. Why? Because, it’s got to do with the essence of femininity (just as male genitals have to do with the essence of masculinity). And we are all more than our stripped, naked bodies. If every coffee advert and every inane protest begins to use naked females to shout, “Here, look at me! Hear my story, I’m naked” – then the uncovered female form just becomes a currency for buying attention. And that is the textbook definition of ‘objectification’.

When society and culture turn women’s bodies into objects, this creates a climate where “violence and exploitation of women are both tolerated and tacitly encouraged.” It makes it easier to mistreat women when they have the status of objects rather than people. 

So: is more nudity a problem? I think, yes. Going naked every time we want to be noticed or heard, can only diminish the marginal utility of Nudity. If the girls of Femen, much to the chagrin of the man who founded them, keep facing disappointment, they’ll feel the need to level up. Breast-baring just won’t cut it any longer. If nakedness becomes ubiquitous in twenty years, where do we go from there? What do we do to make people listen?

Go deeper

50 Facts That Challenge What You’ve Been Told About Muslims (Policymic)

Muslims. 

If you’re Pamela GellerBill Maher or Ayaan Hirsi Ali, then you’re most likely obsessed with stereotyping them, stirring fears about them and making blanket statements about a rather large and varied group of people.

And if you look to the mainstream media, it might be easy to see why this oversimplified version of Islam persists: Particularly after 9/11, Islam is usually coupled in coverage with references to terror attacks and political groups, as well as ridiculous calls on Muslims to apologize for terror attacks (as if there’s a spokesperson).

While terrorism in the name of Islam is an unfortunate reality of today’s world, it is ignorant to paint all Muslims — more than one billion people — with the same brush.

Muslims come from all walks of life all over the world and perhaps it is time to understand what that really looks like. Here are 50 facts about Muslims today that show that it’s not just offensive but also inaccurate to assume that all Muslims are the same.

1. Worldwide, there are 1.6 billion Muslims. That number is expected to increase by 35% in the next 16 years, rising to 2.2 billion in 2030.

Pilgrims circling the Holy Ka’aba (photo: AP)

2. Sixty-two percent of the world’s Muslims live in the Asia-Pacific region and only 20% live in the Middle East and North Africa.

3. Even though Indonesia boasts the world’s largest population of Muslims right now, Pakistan is expected to surpass that number in the coming years.

4. Most Muslims aren’t actually Arab. In fact, fewer than 15% of the world’s Muslims are Arab.

5. America comes in 84th place in a global ranking of women elected to government cabinet positions. It comes after Muslim-majority nations like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iraq, Sudan and Saudi Arabia.

6. Edible Arrangements, with close to 1,200 locations worldwide, was founded by Tariq Farid, a Muslim American entrepreneur.

7. The fastest-growing religion in Ireland is Islam.

8. Malaysian pop star Yuna has garnered fans from across the globe and the talented singer is taking the U.S. music industry by storm.

9. Zaytuna College is the first liberal arts college built on Islamic principles and it’s located in Berkeley, Calif. Its first-ever class just graduated.

10. The world’s youngest female president, Atifete Jahjaga, is the current leader of Kosovo and her country’s first female Muslim president.

11. A counterpart to the Miss World pageant, Miss World Muslimah, held annually, judges participants from around the world on piety, smarts, health, beauty and ability to be role models. Last year, a contestant from Nigeria won.

12. Many modern surgical instruments are of exactly the same design as those invented in the 10th century by a Muslim surgeon called al-Zahrawi.

13. The first Muslim to reach outer space, in 1985, shattered a few stereotypes: He was a Saudi sultan.

14. In 2006, the first Muslim woman made it to space — and she was the first Iranian female space tourist.

15. Laleh Baktiar wanted to clear up gender misconceptions that appeared in previous translations of the Quran, so in 2007 she became the first woman to translate the Quran into English.

16. At 20 years old, Iqbal Al Assaad is the youngest medical doctor. She graduated from high school at 12.

17. The Sears (now Willis) Tower in Chicago was designed by a Muslim American architect.

18. In the UK, Muslims are the country’s top charitable donors.

19. In fact, Muslims give the most out of the world’s religions.

20. Bollywood’s biggest maestro, A.R. Rahman, converted to Islam in 2006.

21. The pioneer behind microcredit and microfinance, Muhammad Yunus, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize that year too.

22. Muslims are Happy in the UKGazaIstanbulLebanonEgypt and Sudan.

23. The name “Muhammad” is the most common name in the world.

24. Shirin Ebadi, Iran’s first female Chief Justice, was the first Muslim woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

25. Some researchers argue that Muslims came to the Americas before Christopher Columbus, in the 700s.

26. The world’s second-largest Muslim congregation is the Bishwa Ijtema, which gathers in Bangladesh. The largest is the Hajj in Saudi Arabia.

27. America’s most popular food cart in 2013, with almost 50,000 Foursquare check-ins, is The Halal Guys in New York City.

28. The global Muslim fashion industry is estimated to be worth $96 billion dollars.

29. This has meant a surge in Muslim female designers and entrepreneurs globally have ensured a thriving hijab (Muslim headscarf) fashion market.

30. The show Little Mosque on the Prairie was the first to show a balanced representation of a dysfunctional Muslim community in Canada. We’re still waiting on a similar show in the U.S.

31. There’s an increasing market for meat that’s both halal and organic

32. UMMA Clinic, the first Muslim-American-founded community-based clinic in the U.S., provides health care and treatment to all and was started by medical students.

33. Muslim women from countries like the U.S. and Bahrain have competed in the Olympics, taking part in competitions like tennis, fencing, taekwondo and archery.

34. Dr. Oz not only has our hearts with his medical advice, but he’s a Turkish-American Muslim too.

35. Shaquille O’Neal announced he was going on the Muslim pilgrimage in 2010.

36. And let’s not forget Akon or T-Pain, who came from Muslim families.

37. Coffee was a Muslim invention.

38. So was the modern check.

39. The thing that makes selfies possible was invented by Muslims, too.

40. Albania is the only European country whose population is more than 90% Muslim.

41. Pakistani youth decided to break a Guinness world record in 2014 by forming the world’s largest human national flag. By official count, 28,597 people showed up to take part.

42. Muslims have been living in China for the last 1,400 years. They live in every region of the country.

43. Amid distrust for Muslims and Islam, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and George Washington argued that America should be open to Muslim citizens, office-holders and even presidents.

44. The new Ms. Marvel is a Pakistani-American teenager from New Jersey — and she isn’t afraid of her identity.

45. Hijab isn’t something all Muslim women wear and it certainly doesn’t define them.

46. Everyone’s favorite singalong, “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen, includes the word “Bismillah”, Arabic for “In the Name of God.”

47. Ten percent of all American doctors are Muslim. That’s beside the fact that the hospital is the invention of Muslim-majority nation Egypt.

48. Ann Osman is the first female Muslim pro MMA fighter.

49. In China, the oldest all-female mosque has existed for the last thousand years — and the leader is a woman too.

50. This should be obvious by now: Muslims aren’t monolithic.

Source: policymic; written by: Laila Alawa

Laila Alawa is a Muslim feminist, writer and cultural critic who has been published at The Huffington Post, The Guardian, Patheos, The Islamic Monthly, and serves as the founder and editor of Coming of Faith. She’s previously worked at Princeton…

Gabriel Garcia Marquez: An Epic of A Life, Hardly Undermined by the Fact of Death

“Amputees suffer pains, cramps, itches in the leg that is no longer there. That is how she felt without him, feeling his presence where he no longer was.” - Gabriel García Márquez, Love in the Time of Cholera 

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Tonight, I am feeling the presence of the master of Magic Realism and my favorite author Gabriel García Márquez. As you all know, Márquez passed away in Mexico City on Thursday at the age of 87. 

In 1982, he became the fourth Latin American author to win the Nobel Prize. When he accepted the award, he said, “(Latin America is a) source of insatiable creativity, full of sorrow and beauty, of which this roving and nostalgic Colombian is but one cipher more, singled out by fortune. Poets and beggars, musicians and prophets, warriors and scoundrels, all creatures of that unbridled reality, we have had to ask but little of imagination, for our crucial problem has been a lack of conventional means to render our lives believable.” The statement makes all the more remarkable Marquez’s achievements in the literary genre of Magic Realism, where fantastical elements are inserted seamlessly into real situations. 

For me, Márquez lives on in his magical world of lonely dictators and revolutionaries, banana republics and yellow flags of Cholera, firing squads and melancholy whores, collar-wilting mornings and deaths foretold. I hope, in the end, he found the glory of dying for love. To end with a famous line from one of his books,

“What matters in life is not what happens to you but what you remember and how you remember it.”

Save the Rich

How long must the Rich sacrifice that last bit of opulence? Why can’t they catch a break? Why are the Poor so needy? Why so …erm …so …poor? When all signs of what is wrong with the world doesn’t get through – epic ballads remain the only way.
But, are the Poor listening?

Reciprocity

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(Painting from Patsober.wordpress.com)

What Reader roams the city where reading books is frowned upon and reading Minds, outlawed? Where the vast wonders of the youngest minds are handcuffed to workstations and leveraged by merchants?

What Wanderer stops at the porn & pamphlet stall selling Happiness that dies a slow death at his feet? Where Neons drown out the moon and diesel engines silence lovers’ quarrels?

What Chronicler walks into houses where the gold is safe but the children, hungry? Where upbringing is outsourced and hugs, scheduled?

What Spirit stays rooted in the graveyards full of broken promises and freshly-baked memories? Where Remembrance is a rare thing, but incense-sticks, common?

What Seeker investigates minds that have withered and speech that has dried up under the pretense of Custom? Where hands are tied by Doubt and eyes, taped by Propriety?

‘Each looking to give to the Light’ – this, the prophets offer. And may favor be returned unto them: the Reader be read, the Wanderer, discovered, the Chronicler, eulogized and the Spirit, remembered.

For, what else does the Seeker seek, if not to be found?

Bob Dylan’s Music Video is 50 Years Late. But It’s Worth It!

‘Like a Rolling Stone’ Interactive Music Video (Full Version)

Bob Dylan has just released the much-awaited music video to his timeless classic, Rolling Stone Magazine’s Greatest Song of All Time and my all-time favorite song ‘Like a Rolling Stone’. But it’s not just an ordinary video. It’s also a TV screen where you can flip through channels, without stopping the song.

The stations you can flip through include a cooking show, The Price Is Right, Pawn Stars, local news, a tennis match, a children’s cartoon, BBC News and a live video of Dylan and the Hawks playing “Like a Rolling Stone” in 1966 – Rolling Stones Magazine.

“I’m using the medium of television to look back right at us,” director Vania Heymann told Mashable. “You’re flipping yourself to death with switching channels [in real life].” Adds Interlude CEO Yoni Bloch: “You’ll always miss something because you can’t watch everything at the same time.”

I am absolutely ecstatic that this brilliant, epoch-making song got such an intriguing, provoking video.

More on the interactive video and coinciding releases

Kony: Riding the Rogue Wave

If you were on social media in 2012, chances are you have heard of Joseph Kony. Yes, he’s the villain from that inspiring video dubbed Kony2012. Remember how it went viral in 5 days? And then suddenly people were saying Invisible Children Inc. had probably pulled a fast one? I just discovered my March 2012 article on Kony2012 and went browsing to find out where the hunt for Kony was.

It turns out that, even at the end of 2013, people think there’s more money to be made by selling (the ghost of) Kony. Adventurer journalist (yes, that’s a thing) Robert Pelton is crowdfunding a trip to locate Kony. If you didn’t know, ‘crowdfunding’ is another word for begging; but it’s classier because its a clever portmanteau, politically-correct and reeks of things high-tech.

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Robert Pelton provides his own pictures: seen here in full adventurer-gear and a journalistically detached mood (photo: dailybeast)

There are certain challenges still. Firstly, Pelton doesn’t know where Kony is. So he’s planning to go to four African countries, but won’t tell anyone which. If you ask me, I don’t think he’s decided yet. I’d recommend Kenya …for the safaris. And pygmy-land if that’s a country. The one vital clue Pelton does have is Kony’s name. It’s Joseph Kony. And Pelton will try shouting ‘Kony! Kony!’ in front of the 21000 villages he’ll come across.

The fact is, even Pelton doesn’t know why he should find Kony (when trained US Special Forces haven’t). In fact, he has “no agenda” at all. He’s just going. If he finds Kony what happens from there is “up to Joseph Kony”. Of course, Pelton doesn’t think he will surrender. No one else thinks that either. Pelton can’t arrest him, because he has no mandate. In fact, there’s nothing to suggest that the country’s soldiers (or Kony’s rebels) won’t riddle him silly …with bullets.

What Pelton has got right is the advertising part. He is raising mo… ahem, crowdfunding – the media side of his project, so people can follow, film and post about his adventure. He will be taking a filmmakers, journalists, medics, security and translators. The moment it’s beginning to look like a circus, he claims, “what we’re trying to do is not to use people’s misery as entertainment, but we’re trying to solve their problems.”

Good thing is Pelton has raised only $8407 out of his goal of $450,000.

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My Daily Star article on Kony2012 (from March 20, 2012)

In February 20, 2012, the San Diego based not-for-profit organisation Invisible Children Inc. uploaded its superbly-produced, uplifting 30-minute documentary ‘Kony 2012‘. Their goal was to get 500,000 views and eventually, get the Ugandan guerrilla leader Joseph Kony arrested by 2012. Six days later, it reached an aggregate 100 million views – faster than other pop-culture phenomena like Susan Boyle (9 days) or Rebecca Black (45 days). Kony 2012 is now the most rapidly disseminated human rights video ever.

Long story short, in 2003, three filmmakers including Kony 2012 director Jason Russell travelled to Africa to document the Darfur genocide. There they learned of the rebel LRA’s war against the government, decided to do something and formed the non-profit organisation, Invisible Children. The Kony video, directed and narrated by Jason Russell, features clips of his time spent in Africa and footage of Russell’s conversations with his son. The video details Kony’s history followed by instructions to spread the video and donate to the organisation. The rest, is far from history.

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Kony2012 promotional poster

The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) is a Ugandan guerilla group inspired by a breed of Christian Fundamentalism and aims to establish a theocratic state based on the Ten Commandments. The LRA, declared a terrorist group in 2008, has long been accused of abduction of children who have been used as soldiers and sex slaves. Its leader Joseph Kony is a shaman of a warlord, a self-proclaimed Spokesperson of God, a husband to 88 women and a war criminal of the worst kind. He remains wanted by the ICC and hunted by US Special Forces in four Central African countries.

Kony 2012 is not just a video but an online vigilant campaign with a ‘join the revolution’ appeal, capitalising on viral media content. It set Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, blogs, news sites, YouTube and Vimeo afire with the hottest new supervillain. The hashtags #kony2012 and #stopkony became globally trending terms on Twitter, some ranking higher than the new iPad! In addition, virtual stores were selling posters, campaign buttons, posters, bracelets, stickers and other merchandise to help people organise demonstrations and voice their support for Invisible Children’s viral campaign. The promotional ‘Cover the Night’ event entails virally spreading Kony 2012-related media in major cities from sundown on April 20th, 2012. All major news outlets including CNN, BBC, Reuters, Huffington Post, The Guardian have covered the Kony story till date.

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Invisible Children, which is an advocacy organisation, also (albeit adroitly) targeted celebrity ‘culture makers’ and as Kony 2012 went viral, celebrities like Justin Beiber, Bill Gates, Kim Kardashian, Nicki Minaj, Taylor Swift, Rihanna and Emma Stone were retweeting and endorsing the campaign. Oprah Winfrey’s (9.7 million Twitter followers) endorsement sent hits skyward. The White House press secretary announced that President Obama (who appears to support the movement in the film) had praised the people who responded to this ‘unique crisis of conscience’ and pledged to continue the disarmament of the LRA.

***

Of late the Kony campaign has fallen victim to the Icarus Syndrome – its overwhelming success being its biggest problem. Fame has brought scrutiny and eventually, helped uncover certain inconvenient facts. The LRA, it seems, is a problem of a bygone era – reaching its height during the 1990s. Remnants of Kony and LRA were finally pushed out of Uganda in 2006 and have now become quite insignificant. The ‘Nodding Disease’ is a much more potent threat to Ugandan children. The LRA numbers are estimated in the hundreds and not the 30,000 as the documentary suggests. The content and tone, which doesn’t consider Ugandan audiences, has been dubbed insensitive, frivolous and misleading.

Chris Blattman, political scientist at Yale, stated Invisible Children’s programme ‘hints uncomfortably of the White Man’s Burden… the saviour attitude’. Another Ugandan journalist asks what justifies such a massive production campaign and lucrative donation drive? Invisible Children expertly ‘commodifies white man’s burden on the African continent: Buy a bracelet, soothe some guilt’.

Ugandan Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi got on YouTube to declare ‘the Government of Uganda is acutely aware of the grievous damage caused by Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army. We do not need a slick video on YouTube for us to take notice.’ Mbabazi has also taken to Twitter to invite the targeted celebrities to come to Uganda and see the country for themselves.

“I just hope it sows the seeds of a new generation with a real interest in how Africa and its people can progress, in understanding why the world is like it is, not ‘lots of Africans just kidnap and kill each other, but white people can help.” Duncan Green, Head of Research at Oxfam GB

Invisible Children’s rather irresponsible, albeit supercharged, campaign has drawn a lot of flak. Their fundraising attempts have attracted attention to their financial practices. According to their own financials, Invisible Children spends a whopping 70% of its funds on production of films, overseas travel and staff salaries – the rest going to direct services. The organisation has defended its expenditure saying it’s not a typical aid-agency – but an advocacy firm.

At the height of the controversy, Jedidiah Jenkins, Director of Idea Generation at Invisible Children, suggested that their film had been developed for school children – and shouldn’t have been subjected to the scrutiny of The Guardian. Recently, director of the film Jason Russell was found running about in an indecent state, arrested and admitted to an institution. His family claimed that widespread criticism had brought on the episode.

what-if-jason-russell-going-crazy-is-secretly-a-publicity-stunt-to-bring-more-attention-to-kony-2012

We need not wait till 20th April to realise the campaign has gone viral. That Kony 2012 is unleashing so many exuberant activists, albeit armed with very few facts, leads one to wonder the secrets of this success. Which is just too bad because this campaign has the makings of a truly transformational development-communication experiment. Still, their strategies may be replicated in development and health communications as social-media gains momentum in Bangladesh. Social-media movements like those against BSF Brutality and Tipaimukh Dam can learn from Invisible Children. Leaders can learn how to channel youthful energy to worthy causes. They seem to have got the basics right.

The easiest answer may be that Kony 2012 engenders the most timeless, most tried and tested recipe in communications or story-telling: a villain, a problem, a solution and a hero. Invisible Children first created their own story – a bunch of passionate development workers with a dream. They mainly targeted young, white students – change-maker types-playing on the cultural ‘white savior’ complex. The distinction between dichotomies of ‘us vs. them’, ‘young vs. old’, ‘propaganda vs. activism’ helps the audience identify with the cause. It may not be Kony that drives them – but rather a need to belong. Youth cutting across geographic boundaries and ideology by way of social-networking is a potent motivational force too. The audience, young and probably first-time involved in anything that smells like activism, is ripe. Green of Oxfam points out that ‘(Kony 2012) adds dollops of Hollywood feelgood schmaltz to that equation – ‘we can do it!’ ‘Hey, they’re just like us!’ ‘Feel the love!’ ‘Kids are cute!’.’ They are, in fact, speaking the language of the youth. And explaining as though to a child (the film-maker’s son Gavin) helps (over)simplify the issues too.

The setting is a distant Uganda, a land of perceived misery and murder that can never graduate without the white man’s development work. While condescending, it actually appeals to a genuine sense of philanthropy in idealistic, young people. At a time ripe for activism, Invisible Children started out with a specific villain: Kony …not a faceless affliction like poverty, war or AIDS. His crime is against children – the global charity-magnet. The message is clear and concise: stop Kony. How do you do this? Simple: make Kony famous. In this ingenuous ‘you can run, but you can’t hide’ assault, audiences are not passive viewers – but active campaigners – heroes, who are to stop Kony. There are very specific, actionable instructions in achieving this: share video, buy bracelet, give money.

The goal is clear: get Kony arrested; the strategy is simple: make Kony famous; the deadline is set: end of 2012. That’s more than enough direction. And with his sort of clicktivism, people can engage in without hampering their everyday lives. And lastly, the optimised mix of virtual networks, social media and merchandising helps access and motivate the specific audience and greatly expedites the single success factor for the campaign: reach. That Kony 2012 has gone viral like it has – is not coincidence, its elementary.