The Rohingya movement, as seen by a journalist in Burma

Children at an unregistered Rohingya refugee Camp in South East Bangladesh. Photo by no_direction_home.

Previously published by VICE

Heather Marsh is an activist working within the #RohingyaNOW movement.

Last Sunday, the Internet was temporarily shaken up by a campaign designed to highlight the plight of the Rohingya people of Burma. On Twitter, the hashtag #RohingyaNOW was aworldwide trend for more than two hours, peaking at the top spot. Two in-person demonstrations were held (and livestreamed), one for several hours in front of the CNN building in LA. Plus, an article about the campaign made the front page of Reddit.

Most dismissed it all as a cute trick, a one-day initiative amplified by the Anonymous and Occupy collectives and human rights activists around the world wanting to raise awareness. Instead, it was a milestone in a campaign that has been running for many months, an idea we have had for years and an introduction to our next phase.

Since the second Rohingya massacre in October, the Burmese people have watched the world ignore or misrepresent what many experts are calling a genocide. President Thien Sien has been on a world tour where he has been met with open arms, receiving a 21 gun salute in Australia and $5.9 billion of international debt cancelled. Canada has opened its first ever Burmese embassyand multinational resource corporations are queuing for contracts. No one is in the mood to bring up genocide, even when a third massacre was openly planned for this month.

The difference social media can make in public awareness was highlighted last fall as violence in Gaza was covered in great detail, and violence in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burma almost not at all. The activists behind the latest campaign believe in grass roots journalism where everyone speaks their own story. If a population of 800,000 people are in refugee camps and villages that look like concentration camps and are completely cut off from communication, what then? They die silently? Not if the Internet can help it.

On March 10, we started a crowdsourced campaign to help boost grassroots journalism from Burma. We have used crowdsourced funding to purchase airfare for two established independent journalists familiar with the Rohingya story. They flew there and we are now working to get as many long distance interviews with locals set up as possible. In the last week, the campaign for the Rohingya has expanded against violence in the rest of Burma as well.

I spoke with journalist Assed Baig about why we felt it was necessary for him to go to Burma in person and what he has seen.

“As a ‘westerner’ I have certain privilege and protection,” says Baig. “I am working with local journos. Using their expertise and crediting them without landing them in jail. We need to report in context, socially, historically and take in the balance of power. We shouldn’t wait for death to take place before we report, we should shine a light on shit that is going to go down. Call power to account. Be the voice of the voiceless. Sounds cheesy, but it is true.”

Baig says he is “of Kashmiri origin, working class background, had to work damn hard to get where I am today. My mum still doesn’t speak English!” and he has experienced media bias. It is important to give people their own voices. “They report themselves and we listen. They are not ‘poor brown people’ these are real people, with names, lives, feelings, and they have a right to be heard.”

Baig is referring to Meiktila refugees who fled to Mandalay to escape the violence. He was given pictures of the massacre in Meiktila by people who were there, from their own cameras. “There are pictures of charred remains. People driving and walking past. Their family members have fled so there is no one to bury them or even identify them.” Baig also spoke to a fourteen year old who saw people beaten to death, and then burnt, as he and others hid in some houses and watched the slaughter.

A 17 year-old student told him about running for his life in Meiktila. He told him: “We saw the younger children falling over, the older kids had to help them. “I’m not sure where some of my other friends are.” Baig showed him the pictures he had from a local journalist. Some were teenagers. Two had massive gashes on the back of the neck, as if hit by a machete. They all had been lying out for three days before someone took the picture. The boy touched the screen and struggled to speak. “That’s my friend,” he said “and this one, those are Osama and Karimullah.” The rest of the bodies were burnt beyond recognition.

These are the stories we set out to tell, but Baig has found others. A convoy led by monks has set out from Yangon and is en route to Meiktila. On board are students and others, Muslims and Buddhists together, bringing food, water and good will to the displaced people still camped in the Meiktila stadium and elsewhere. Buddhists and student groups from Mandalay city launched a rescue operation saving hundreds of lives in Meiktila when the violence started. People who have lived peacefully side-by-side for years are helping each other and standing up against extremism and intolerance.

Rights organizations and witnesses have accused the military of complicity or participation in the last two massacres. Many sources in Burma have worried the violence is being incited to justify a return to military rule, a spectre which reared its head this week with martial law surrounding Meiktila. Baig quotes a Muslim in Yangon who said: “the military want to assert their power, and want to prove they are the ones that can restore order. They are using us as to prove their point.”

Follow Heather on Twitter: @GeorgieBC

Follow Assed Baig on Twitter: @AssedBaig

2013: Wishes and predictions

Here are my wishes and predictions for 2013. Have a wonderful New Year’s and may we make great progress in 2013.

Dying

Centralized media: Not just corporate media but also celebrity livestreamers and bloggers, collectives, leak platforms, book publishers, etc. Media now belongs to everyone, news will come from those it is happening to, every person will be a news outlet.

NGO’s: After centralized media, the next institutions to go should be NGO’s. Society’s challenges are for society to deal with directly. If people are in need of assistance, they can ask the world directly.

UN: See above. We can speak to each other now. In the future, epistemic communities, farmgate importing and shunning can replace UN sanctions and resolutions.

Intellectual Property: Credit must be given and compensated, but intellectual property rights must die. The sooner copyrights and patents are gone forever, the sooner we can get on with creation and health, knowledge and prosperity will be available to all.

Institutions: Officially designated institutions will eventually be replaced by open, transparent, idea and action driven systems.

Group affiliation: The root of all evil in society, the cause of wars, the justification for human rights violations. ‘Othering’ must end.

Immigration: See above. All people need the basic human right to move freely and live and work where they choose. People are not illegal.

Still here and growing

Anonymous: By any other name, Anonymous as an idea and a system of collaboration will continue to create new society.

Resource states vs corporations: Governance by user groups will take over governance by corporations, resource corporations will continue to be nationalized and then control will be fought for locally. Communities will reclaim their homes and agricultural land from corporations and states.

Twitter: for better or for worse, Twitter and other social media tools will become global society. We need to replace them with free, secure, p2p software now.

Celebrity: More powerful for more meaningless reasons than ever in history. We need to think of how to manage celebrity influence to not create a new strange oligarchy.

Paranoia and xenophobia: In all times of great change, many people panic, stockpile weapons and fear and loathe ‘others’. Hate has reached intolerable levels as we have already seen in the numbers of people happy to condone baby killng and torture.

Tolerance: will also reach unprecedented levels as we find the society we have been deprived of for so long and begin to communicate.

About to appear

Justice: Laws founded on principals for the benefit of society, consistent social contracts, and a consistent, unbiased, accessible system of enforcement.

Women: Anonymous since forever, photoshopped out of all history and current events, women have been behind revolution and change in every country in the past years. Decentralized media has given them a voice for the first time in history; this will make this revolution very different from all the ones in the past. ‘Women’s issues’ are about to become mainstream issues, women’s solutions will start to be heard over men with guns.

Makers: Every 20 years or so, people’s innate drive to create overcomes consumer advertising, and we are due for this cycle. Time to bring back free stores, hacklabs, neighbourhood commons gardens and more; this time let’s make it last and become the integral part of society it is meant to be.

Me the people: No representatives, no hive mind, we are ready to hear from the individuals.

CryptoParty Melbourne

Hello CryptoParty. My name is Georgie online, Heather Marsh to some people and other things to other people. I would like to talk to you all a bit about privacy and anonymity. We all know privacy is essential in high risk activism, but it is so much more than keeping bloggers from being killed. Privacy is for us all, it is a right we used to have and most people do not realize we have lost it, or that we ever had it.

Most people in democracies feel that freedom of the press is essential in a democracy; this is because we need information about our government in order to participate in a democracy. This freedom has been turned on its head so that people now feel they have the right to see Kate Middleton’s breasts but not foreign policy documents. It’s the other way around. Foreign policy documents are subject to censorship that is not compatible with democracy. Kate Middleton has been subjected to surveillance in violation of her right to privacy. The news obsession with celebrities and their private matters is there to distract you from the real news which they are not showing you. They tell you what US president Obama’s daughters wore to school when we really need to know if he is going to bomb Iran.

In our grandparents day they had a wonderful thing called mind your own business. They did not give their first names to people they had just met. There were layers of trust you went through to get to know someone and you owned the truth about yourself. This expectation of privacy for individuals is gone and we need to bring it back; transparency is for public organizations and actions which affect the public, not for our private lives. Perfect strangers will now demand any detail of your life and feel they have a right to it. We know the surveillance culture has won when snooping is a virtue, equated with being open, honest, and having nothing to hide while a request for privacy is met with shock and hurt and group shunning. We need to start refusing to provide personal data as much as we can, privacy is a basic right and if we do not use it we will lose it. We have lost it.

It has been proven enough times, famously by Julian Assange and Bradley Manning but in many other cases as well, that authorities do not need to see any transactions or have evidence of any criminal activity to destroy your life; it is enough that you pull attention, that they are aware of your existence. The fact that you are doing nothing wrong or illegal is no protection if you have attracted the attention of someone with power or mental instability. Governments are not the only people on the internet; if you start expressing opinions you will find far more interesting opposition as well. Anonymity, once lost, can never be regained; even if you have no intention of ever expressing a controversial opinion, privacy should become a habit, like brushing your teeth.

Besides the safety aspect, online anonymity is cherished by internet dwellers as the only means to pure thought exchange, where ideas can be judged on their own merits, unclouded by preconceived judgements based on unrelated data.

I started out as a programmer, and there was a time where even just my voice would have made anything I said instantly discredited, people only listened to opinions on programming or politics from baritones and tenors. That is still the case in some circles, there is a reason my online names are usually sexually ambiguous or male. Alan Turing, one of the fathers of computer science faced the same obstacle when it became widely known that he was homosexual; there is a very sad quote from him, “Turing believes machines think. Turing lies with men. Therefore machines cannot think.” We have lost far too many brilliant ideas because of bigotry against the place they came from. Many women in history would never have been published if they did not publish as men; many brilliant thinkers have been attacked based on irrelevant personal data such as race, age, or opinions on unrelated topics and their ideas have been lost. Until we live in a world with no bigotry, anonymity is the only way for these voices to be heard.

In order to move to an idea driven system, away from a personality based one, we need to all stand up for privacy for us all. Crypto parties are an amazing initiative; Privacy is fun; Tor and PGP and OTR are very fun to use, and when you are comfortable with them, maybe you will also tell the next person who demands personal data from you to mind their own business which is also fun. I hope you all have a great evening!

World War III: A picture

     Member and observer countries of Non-Aligned Movement plus Russia are in blue.

Exactly two years ago, I started this blog with a post about A Stateless War which discussed an upcoming conflict of “The military industrial complex against the anonymous cloud, with an ignorant populace as the prize.” That conflict is largely behind us: few in the world are as ignorant as they were two years ago, and we are beyond the point where information alone can correct the social and political disasters we see around us.

Based on our current still entirely alterable trajectory, by the end of 2012 it will be apparent that we are in a new war, this time involving states. World War III will do as a name, or we can call it the Military States against the Resource States. Of course that sounds like something we’ve been in for decades; the difference is it is starting to look a lot more two sided.

Since the Cold War, the world has been socially controlled by methods which may have been lifted from Hollywood high school movies. The US state cables showed us a world in which the United States largely controls all international forums and debates with a mixture of threats and bribes and a circle of allies who do not dare risk expulsion from the inner circle by disagreement. The inner circle has largely echoed the previous imperial world, with IMF loans replacing direct occupation, but potential membership is held out as an incentive to others as well. Countries such as Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) are invited to the bigger parties, and given trade deals, military sales and social protection in exchange for their support of the inner circle. The BRICS countries then wield their own social power in similar fashion in their own regions.

As in all Hollywood movies, stability for the inner circle ends when the bullying gets out of hand. When social ostracization becomes so extreme it threatens actual survival, as it does for Cuba, Palestine, Iran, Somalia, North Korea and others, when no negotiation short of complete obliteration of self is acceptable, the entire social structure is threatened, more so as more members are outcast. The world has watched as Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine and many others have been inhumanely tormented with no possibility of reprieve or negotiation and no defence from any stronger nation. If extreme bullying such as that detailed in the Palestine Papers is combined with any sudden unexpected weakness in the bully or strength in the bullied, the result is predictable and instant.

And so it has been.

The weaknesses in the US and other NATO countries have been very well researched and documented in recent years, but except for the obvious economic collapse they have not received widespread discussion. Here are some other points that may become key very soon.

1. The US does not actually control their own military or intelligence and the private corporations that do, do not operate from patriotic loyalty and are available to the highest bidder. They do not work if they are not paid. Many are not even citizens of the US. Not just the people, at the highest ranks, but even the military hard assets are frequently privately owned.

2. US trade relies heavily on intellectual property and increasingly draconian laws to protect and increase the value of that property. Intellectual property is a concept, not a good, and it does not exist if trade partners do not acknowledge it. Even loan interest typically comes with a contract and some trust which will be lost if the contract is broken; there is nothing to be lost by people who refuse to pay for intellectual property. For years the industry has tried to make the case that if intellectual property were not copyrighted and patented, creative activity would halt, but the open source and pirate movements have proven the opposite to be true. Since it is very rarely the creators who control the intellectual property rights to their own work, or have the resources to fight infringement, the moral argument that creativity ought to be compensated by IP laws is also very weak. This leaves the G20 countries, US particularly, with no protection other than force and increasingly controversial extraditions to claim income from intellectual property. In a time of war, this would be a very precarious basis for trade, particularly since the US is the sole beneficiary of the extreme laws today and the rest of the G20 would benefit from a relaxation of IP law.

All of the statistics on this site are very interesting. Here are a few:

74% of exports– or $1 trillion– are driven by American IP-intensive industries. (Global Intellectual Property Center: “IP Creates Jobs for America,” NDP Consulting, May 2012.)

Among the 27 tradable industries, only six industries reported trade surpluses—five of which were IP-intensive industries, generating an average $14.6 billion in trade surplus each year. (“The Impact of Innovation and the Role of Intellectual Property Rights on U.S. Productivity, Competitiveness, Jobs, Wages and Exports,” NDP Consulting, 2010)

G20 economies have lost 2.5 million jobs to counterfeiting and piracy. (Frontier Economics, Estimating the Global Economic and Social Impacts of Counterfeiting and Piracy, February 2011.)

India and Pakistan both made the “Top Ten Source Countries” this year due to seizures of counterfeit pharmaceuticals. Pharmaceutical seizures accounted for 86% of the value of IPR seizures from India and 85% of the value of IPR seizures from Pakistan. (Customs and Border Protection, Intellectual Property Rights – Seizure Statistics: Fiscal Year 2011)

3. As the world’s most capitalist economy, the US has arguably the least societal support in the event of a collapse. Years of competitive and unhealthy consumerism, in which consumers are divorced from production, in the world’s most addicted and most incarcerated population create a societal helplessness not seen in most places. All of the G20 countries have favoured corporations over people to the extent that surviving in a collapsed economy is difficult to impossible without rewriting many property ownership and usage laws.

NATO.PNG

NATO countries are in green.

The Acronyms and Isolation

As in the prelude to the past world wars, many economic and defence treaties have been negotiated over the years to protect US dominance in each region. A favoured bullying tactic has been to exclude countries from these international clubs to cripple their economies and ability to defend themselves. There has been increasing activity to combat this practise.

The United Nations and all of its arms have served to protect the inner circle on a global level. In 1961 the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) was formed to represent countries not aligned with either the US or the USSR. In the Havana Declaration of 1979, Fidel Castro identified the purpose of the organization to ensure “the national independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity and security of non-aligned countries” in their “struggle against imperialism, colonialism, neo-colonialism, racism, and all forms of foreign aggression, occupation, domination, interference or hegemony as well as against great power and bloc politics”.

The 120 member countries of the Non-Aligned Movement represent nearly two-thirds of the United Nations’s members and contain 55% of the world population before adding the 21 other observer countries. The Summit last week in Tehran included representatives from 130-150 countries, shown in the map at the top of this article. (There are only approximately 192 countries in the world.) Attendance at the highest level included 27 presidents, 2 kings and emirs, 7 prime ministers, 9 vice presidents, 2 parliament spokesmen and 5 special envoys as well as the Secretary-General of the UN. Resolutions included condemnation of the blockade of Cuba and the Paraguay coup, support to Argentina regarding the Malvinas, known in the UK as the Falklands, support to Ecuador over the UK’s threats to its embassy, calls for transformation of the United Nations, calls for the US to stop its illegal drone attacks in Pakistan, calls for disarmament and much more. The reaction in the NATO countries was to ignore the Summit except when deriding its relevance, but it is hardly possible to seriously deny the relevance of a gathering of over 7000 people from the top levels of approximately 150 countries creating a final resolution which included over 700 clauses on world policy. If these countries were all to leave the UN, or begin to vote as a bloc at the UN, there would be a split between NAM countries and NATO countries.

There are many lesser alliances that have worked to enable US and NATO domination in past decades. One of the oldest alliances, created in 1948 out of previous pan-American alliances formed since 1826, is the Organization of American States. This is the organization the US used to create an embargo on Cuba in 1962, an embargo refused only by Canada (who was not a member till 1990) and Mexico. In 2013 there will be 41 member states in the OAS. In 2004 the Cuba-Venezuela Agreement was signed and it proposed an alternative to the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). The alternative coming out of the Cuba-Venezuela Agreement is known as ALBA and now includes eight (soon to be eleven) countries. In 2008, the 12 member Unasur agreement, which includes a defence treaty, was signed, and in 2011 CELAC was created. CELAC members include all members of the OAS except the US and Canada.

In 1947 the Rio Treaty (TIAR) was signed for ‘hemispheric defense’ and was later invoked by the US against Cuba. During the Malvinas (Falklands) war, the US sided with the UK, and during the Iraq war only four countries joined the US. Mexico and Canada are not members, all members of ALBA withdrew in June of 2012, and the treaty is now largely ignored in favour of the Unasur defence agreement.

These new organizations come amid objections to the US and Canada preventing any resolutions from going through at the OAS. These two countries have repeatedly blocked resolutions agreed to by all of the rest of the 35, such as inclusion of Cuba, new solutions to the drug war and solidarity with Argentina over the Malvinas/Falklands. The OAS is a consensus based organization, so it can and has been run, in the words of Venezuela’s Chavez, as a ‘dictatorship’ by those who refuse to negotiate, the two NATO countries.

In August of 2012, an emergency meeting of the OAS was called to decide whether to hold a second meeting to discuss a resolution on the embassy dispute between Ecuador and the UK. The US and Canada (and Trinidad & Tobago) argued against a subsequent meeting and were overruled this time by a vote. After a weekend of hurried meetings of ALBA, Unasur, and others, the OAS meeting in Washington DC was held and also put to a vote. The US delivered a sullen agreement and Canada a more petulant refusal, but in a population of 33 the one consensus breaking vote was irrelevant. While media in NATO countries concentrated on the resolution itself, calling it largely ineffective, the resolution was not the point. The two countries which had ruled the 35 country bloc with their vetos were this time made irrelevant. The message in both the vote and the rhetoric was clear; if the OAS is to survive in any form and not be replaced by CELAC, the NATO countries will no longer be permitted to simply block resolutions.

The two countries which excluded Cuba from the OAS have become, as a direct result of an organization started by Fidel Castro, the two that are now themselves excluded. The countries that have lobbied for sanctions against Iran have been ignored by the 120 members and 21 observers of the NAM which have selected Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as the current chairperson. In 2015 the chair will be handed over to Venezuela, another arch-enemy of the US as the organization continues to define itself along lines set out by Fidel Castro in 1979. Ecuador, a member of ALBA, Unasur, CELAC and NAM as well as many other alliances, has already threatened sanctions against the UK over the Malvinas/Falklands.

The NATO countries are suddenly in very real peril of having sanctions imposed against themselves. How real is the threat of solidarity among NAM members? Within days of the summit, Canada had closed the Iranian embassy in Canada and Netanyahu was berating Obama over not delivering stronger ultimatums to Iran. Iran does not think that is a coincidence.

parthnerships

NATO Partnerships

Does the 1% need the 99%?

It is very evident that in terms of population and resources the side I will call the NAM countries are in a superior position. It is equally evident that in terms of military, the NATO countries are vastly superior; NATO countries control over 70% of the world’s military spending. So while resource trade embargos could quickly plummet NATO countries into what they would probably consider dystopia, or a state resembling that of the global south, NATO countries could also use their military to wipe out populations in the NAM countries, using unmanned and even autonomous drones, and they could create embargos by blocking trade between NAM countries.

What is the loyalty between the NATO countries? How many will stand together in the face of embargos? In the case of the intelligence, defense science and technology sharing countries, particularly the countries known as the five eyes, their governments’ loyalty to each other has been shown to be similar to that of a gang or a cult. What they know of each other is probably enough to ensure allegiance unless their governments are completely taken over by new people and trials started for crimes against humanity and war crimes. More importantly, their corporate ties are far too strong to break. At the moment they are too invested in protecting each other for a split.

Japan’s spat with China coming at this time may put them firmly on the five eyes’ side. Or not. Japan rejected bilateral or regional agreements for many years and has far less explicit ties than most countries. As the third or fourth largest economy, they may also be able to afford independence. And their biggest trading partner is still China. Trade relationships are handy to help us make predictions, although they are by no means the whole story, potential trade relationships may be an even bigger influencer at this point as many countries try to back away from troubled economies.

The key then becomes whether individual NATO countries feel it is easier to back a new BRICS led empire, or back the existing US empire, since none of the core NATO countries is strong enough to build a new empire on its own and their corporate powers will not back a real democracy. At this moment, none have shown any inclination to prefer a BRICS led NAM alliance, but the EU members may be far too preoccupied with matters at home to involve themselves in global issues, on either side. Many NATO partners will choose individually as they have conflicting agreements, while some like Israel are easy to predict.

The corporations control the money and therefore the military and the NATO countries. The people provide labour for the corporations, including the military. There are far more people than the corporations and the few who control them actually need for labour, but the world in general is facing an imminent shortage of young people to care for their aging populations. Whether care for aging populations will be a priority remains to be seen. Automated warfare has made it much harder for people to regain control of their own military. The general populaton would have to track the few people who control the corporations, the governments and the military and regain control by removing control from those who hold it currently.

What is the power of the people over the corporations? On the NATO side, very little to none. On the NAM side, that is possibly the most interesting place to watch, which countries, if any, will attempt co-operative governance which benefits people ahead of corporations, and whether that will break the NAM alliance in two or even completely disintegrate it into many civil wars. Or even possibly work in some countries, and if some countries do implement governance by the people, will it look again like communism, with a corrupt central core and a corrupt military required to stop the capitalist imperialists from invading, or will there be a new model? If there is a new model, how will it stop the corporate invasion?

The NAM countries are hardly a unified bloc either. While they are largely all against NATO dominance, most of them (particularly BRICS countries) want a ‘multi-polar’ world, or a world with multiple tyrants including themselves. Outside of BRICS, the smaller countries want a place for the elite of every country. There is no real political representation of control by the people which has any power at this moment. How can governance by the people gain control in this conflict?

Who will win? At this point, it hardly matters. If NATO wins it is status quo, if some form of NAM wins it will quickly become the new NATO, using the threat of the old NATO to justify its own imperialism. This is the pattern we have seen in every revolution since the beginning of society, sometimes appearing instantly, sometimes edging forward in a few decades.

How can we create real governance by the people out of this conflict?

The word crisis is derived from a word meaning ‘turning point’. For all the crises we think the world has been through, there is very rarely a turn. Indeed, history can appear more like an inexorably straight path with predictable periodic bumps. The tools to effect a real change are available now, but real change would require a real direction and goals. Without these, this revolution will end as all the others eventually have, with new tyrants.

The latest crisis will disrupt every corner of the world. By the end of 2015 we will have either a new system or new tyrants. For us to create real change from this, there needs to be a working venue, an uncensorable place to communicate both locally in person and globally online. There needs to be a new system of collaboration that will be stronger than the systems of governance we have had so far. We need a system that can react quickly and powerfully enough, with enough knowledge and expertise, to allow collaboration on a massive scale and still provide enough autonomy for local governance.

I will be writing a lot about both the communication and the collaboration soon, starting here.