The Migrants’ Fifteen Minutes of Fame

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On 2 September – just a month and a half ago – the world was horrified by the mass publication of a graphic yet undeniably honest image of a Syrian toddler’s body, washed up on the shores of Turkey. Already bogged down by the incredible influx of refugee migration, world leaders were pressed to find a solution – and fast. Global media, often sensitized to publishing images of dead bodies, was swamped with images of the migrants’ struggle, from being lost at sea, to threatened by authorities, to arriving off the trains in Germany with rounds of applause.

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Fast forward to mid-October, media has undoubtedly slowed down on the uptake of this imagery, with snippets of updates on policy decisions, or migrant shootings and deaths. For global news media, the story held a shocking appeal for selling out newsstands that lasted several weeks. But for the subjects of this story, the tragedy that peaked in papers was just the beginning of a lifelong struggle.

 

As an avid engager in international relations and media (as should be abundantly clear by this blog), the migrant crisis immediately caught my attention, but it became a much more personal and connected story for me when I came across an Afghan refugee. He was my cab driver on a long trip from Heathrow, and when he told me he had a refugee status here in the UK, I couldn’t help but spark a profound conversation on his experience. The man told me of how he came to the UK stuffed in the back of a truck (funny enough, this didn’t seem to phase him at all and was in fact a more mundane part of the story for him). He told me of the interview process he experienced with British authorities – ten hours in a room being questioned everyday, a formality that landed him with a diagnosis for depression. Having worked in government in Afghanistan, it was ruled that his life was in danger should he return, and the man had now held refugee status in the UK for eight years. He told me about his citizenship test and showed me the book he was studying in preparation. I glanced over it, noticing chapters on ‘How to interact with your neighbors as to be a good member of a community’, or details of British history (something I am fully willing to admit I know nothing about despite my own ability to live and work in this country as an immigrant). Even with the hardship this man had endured, he was unbelievably optimistic about his future. He could not wait to get his passport, so that he could once again travel, and even return to Afghanistan to help his country. He told me about the value of education, how he wanted his children to go to school in the UK. All the while, I couldn’t help but reflect on the monumental difference between our experiences as immigrants in this country.

Meanwhile the political battle of how to manage the nearly 600,000 migrants who have reached the EU so far this year continues – an ongoing saga of Eastern European leaders tightening up borders with Western European leaders balancing an image of diplomacy with conservation. According to the BBC, The EU has now backed an action plan with Turkey, agreeing to re-energize talks of Turkey joining the EU (a debate which I predict will slowly whither away yet again). And though attention has been predominantly on the effects in Europe, countries closer to the battlegrounds have seen far greater numbers: NPR reports that 1.9 million refugees have gone to Turkey, and 1.1 million to Lebanon. But while these talks occur in the offices and conference rooms of the world, what happens to the hundreds of thousands waiting in limbo for someone to seal their fate? Are there prospects of hope for the future, or are they doomed to be lost in the flood of headline stories soon to overshadow their plight?

Unfortunately policy outcomes tend to work off political agendas, and so often function in the short term – not the lifespan of the migrant community. It is therefore essential that policymakers and global leaders establish a solid groundwork to build off of into the future. After all, the fate of this generation of migrants is bound to set new standards and make a strong statement for those affected by the wars and tragedies of the future.

An article on the story of a Syrian refugee in Lebanon:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/31/syrian-refugees-lebanon_n_4568617.html

A newscast demonstrating the continual movement of war torn populations:
http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2015/09/02/europe-migrants-crisis/71562286/

 

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Oh, ISIS, Where Art Thou?

In July, a father and son trip to the mountains turned into a mother’s unimaginable nightmare. Her son’s father calls to inform her the two have entered Syria with the intent of following ISIS. The 8-year-old boy, now returned to his mother, is one of several children to be taken by their parents to ISIS-occupied regions. Cases have appeared in France, Morocco, and Germany, among others. ISIS’ persuasive recruitment tactics not only condone adult professionals to join them in their mission against Western values, but to bring children and build a future generation of followers. As the organization continues to operate in Syria and Iraq, the reach of its media undeniably spreads far beyond those borders. How is it though that this guerilla group has successfully utilized media more so than ever seen in these types of organizations? And why, after months of shocking media releases, has it slowed down?

Still from English-subtitled ISIS media campaign

Still from English-subtitled ISIS media campaign

While mainstream media notably covers graphic videos of beheadings that threaten Western hostages, there has been an array of videos advocating their cause. One recently ordered for followers to kill disbelievers, civilian or soldier, in countries that have allied to defeat the terrorist organization. But is there a brilliant mastermind behind these videos, formatting and strategically using social media to promote the organization? Or is it simply crazed amateurs that sporadically create and distribute media without an end goal?

According to Channel 4 News’ Kamal Kaddourah, ISIS is highly dependant on the moderation of media both coming out of ISIS and coming in to ISIS-occupied regions. Aligned with typical authoritarian regime behaviour, the organization aimed to control all pictures and film, and forbade filming in all of their controlled areas. Despite tight restrictions, ISIS has also been quick to respond to Western speculation of their censored media – when Western authorities questioned the authenticity of the beheading videos, Kaddourah points out that ISIS released slow motion footage of the videos proving their actions.

In some respect, ISIS’ media domination in the realm of guerilla groups was a matter of timing. By flourishing in the broken state of Syria, the group connected with alienated and marginalized Muslims disconnected with Western norms and supremacy. As Kaddourah highlights, the propagandist features of ISIS media work to reign in on certain sectors of the Muslim community. They dedicate their videos to the empowerment of religion; yet still evoke the qualities of their organization by presenting themselves as organized and methodical.

Channel 4 News’ Jonathan Miller sheds light on another aspect of ISIS media: the quality of their productions supersedes the expectations of the average group, such as Al Qaeda. They have certainly mastered the art of editing, even recruiting professional journalists and editors. From their choreography to their distribution, they have calculated their media production to a tee. In his personal interpretation of their videos, Miller describes the propagandist nature of their footage:

“These are jihadis fuelled by their vision of self-fulfilling end of days             prophecy from the Hadiths – about the black flag commandos coming from the east and ultimately re-conquering Jerusalem. Everything about their output has an apocalyptic feel, reinforcing the imagery they seek to propagate. They slo-mo and use graphic effects. They seek to instill fear and create a sense of their own omnipotence far in excess of the actual threat they pose.”

With a plethora of media headlines on ISIS throughout the summer and into the fall, there now seems to be a gap in newsworthy ISIS attention. Specifically on the Canadian front, news organizations have primarily highlighted Canadian military action in the area, reporting targeted actions following the Parliamentary vote. Is ISIS’ media taking a lull? An article in the Daily Mail notes ISIS’ media obsession may have slightly backfired: the group is now instructing its members to remove metadata from tweets, as this may compromise their locations. Perhaps what has become evident is that while ISIS holds no shortage of shock value its in media, Western powers arguably have a bigger grasp on analyzing media, and this may be ISIS’ Achilles heel.

From the power of propaganda, to high-quality output and calculated circulation, ISIS defines the new face of guerilla group media. Though there are apparent gaps in their strategy, their power and demonstration of media outreach for a cause of this nature is unmatched. If ISIS is to fall, I have no doubt we are seeing the new face if guerilla media.

Daily Mail article:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2798185/isis-look-stay-one-step-ahead-western-spies-teaching-fighters-remove-metadata-tweets.html

A news report on ISIS recruiting through online media by Jonathan Miller:

http://www.nbcnews.com/watch/nbc-news/isis-is-waging-war-online-283840579668