War and video: Some thoughts on the flood of graphic “conflict clips” online

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(Bullet holes are seen on the windshield of a car used by insurgents after an attack at Camp Phoenix in Kabul. Ahmad Masood / Reuters)

The Guardian invited me to write a quick opinion piece on the explosion of new sources of graphic online conflict videos, and what that sudden availability of explicit, violent material means for news coverage and for each of us as individual witnesses. Snip:

I do believe that truth is a good thing. And to the extent that the flood of bloody videos pouring out of Egypt, Syria, Bahrain, Libya and elsewhere right now document the truth, they are important. As commercial cable news networks (at least, in the US) evolve into something more like entertainment channels than the news outlets they began as, our access to these ugly streaming truths matters even more. Distant shots of missile drops are less likely to inspire empathy than a YouTube clip of a man in Libya whose lower jaw has just been blown off, who is still shouting for freedom. And yes, that video exists; the tireless Twitter chronicler Andy Carvin at NPR (@acarvin) tweeted it last week, along with many other videos like it. (I don’t know how he does it; I could not keep up his tolerance or his pace.)

But human beings do not have an endless capacity for empathy, and our capacity is less so in the mediated, disembodied, un-real realm of online video. At what point does access to war gore become harmful to the viewer, and at what point do each of us who observe this material for the purpose of reporting the story around it, become numb or begin to experience secondary trauma?

“I keep having to remind myself that we’re bearing witness,” Andy told me recently, when we were discussing how the volume of material was affecting him personally. “Otherwise, I think I would’ve lost my mind.”

Atrocity Exhibition(Guardian “Comment is Free” blog, thanks Matt Seaton)

Related: At the Atlantic, Alexis Madrigal has a piece up gathering thoughts on this topic from others around the web today.

Where are the UN resolutions to protect civilians in Bahrain?

Slate’s Tom Scocca reminds us that the west’s willingness to rescue pro-democracy protesters from brutal, murderous middle-eastern despots is highly selective. If you’re rebelling against a dictator who’s been a thorn in America’s side, you get airstrikes and UN resolutions; if you’re rebelling against tyrants who are forthcoming with their oil or ports, you’re lucky if the Secretary of State will bestir herself for a round of finger-wagging as your comrades are coldly murdered in the streets.

The helpful thing, if you’re overwhelmed by so much news going on at once, is that Bahrain is roughly the same story as Libya–only instead of pro-democracy protesters being murdered by a terrorist-sponsoring monster of a dictator who has been on America’s enemies list for ages, the pro-democracy protesters are being murdered by a government that is America’s very own dear ally. And where Qaddafi brought in foreign mercenaries for support, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa of Bahrain brought in troops from our even more vital ally, Saudi Arabia…

So basically, take all those proud feelings about the United States standing up for freedom and human rights in Libya and turn them inside out, and vomit into them. That’s Bahrain.

Would a No-Fly Zone Over America Save the Democracy Movement in Bahrain? (via Making Light)

Rejected by Bahrain

RTR2K0NX.jpgPhoto: Anti-government protesters’ reflections are seen on a car that was hit by bullets during an operation by Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) military forces to remove protesters from Pearl Square in Bahrain, March 17, 2011. (REUTERS/James Lawler Duggan)

Bahrain awoke to a violent crackdown by police on demonstrators camped out at the country’s iconic Lulu (Pearl) roundabout on Wednesday. That afternoon, I boarded a flight from Doha, Qatar to Bahrain, to see for myself what was unfolding in the island nation I once called home.

Hours later, I found myself on a flight back to Doha, without having been allowed to set foot out of Bahrain’s airport in Muharraq.

The flight itself was quite uneventful. The plane – an Airbus A321, with a listed 177 passenger capacity – carried less than 30 people. A short line to immigration meant I was at the desk in minutes. Immigration officer asks, “Where are you coming from? Qatar? OK, 5 Bahraini Dinars.”

Thumbing through my passport, he suddenly stops and looks me in the eye. “Wait, where are you from? Who do you work for? … Please have a seat – over there.” I can’t be sure if it was the Iraq visa, the India visa, or the numerous Qatar & Saudi visas in my American passport he found suspicious. Or perhaps it was my telling him in Arabic that “my origin” is half Indian, half Hispanic.

So my wait began. There were quite a number of other people on the benches too. Anyone who’d arrived with the intention of driving across the King Fahad causeway into Saudi Arabia was being told they’d have to fly. There is a curfew in effect on Bahrain’s main highway from 4pm-4am, and last I heard, the bridge to Saudi was closed indefinitely. This of course, due to the month-long protests against the government by opposition groups calling for democratic reforms, a constitutional monarchy and basic human rights.

After about an hour of waiting, and checking in a couple times to see if there was any problems, one of the immigration officers asked, “You used to work for Al Jazeera, right?”

Continue reading “Rejected by Bahrain”

Bahrain’s royals declare martial law

A day after it deployed foreign troops (including troops from Saudi Arabia), the ruling family in Bahrain has declared martial law, and instructed the soldiers and foreign fighters on the streets to “take all measures” to fight rebellion against its autocratic rule.

A standoff also appears to be worsening between the two key regional protagonists – Saudi Arabia and Iran – both of whom have accused each other of using the Arab world’s smallest state as an arena for their broader agendas.

The latest events seem to mark a new phase in the crisis that has paralysed the tiny kingdom since January. Demonstrators have drawn strength from the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt that saw autocratic regimes toppled by popular protests. However, unlike in either place, Bahrain’s protests have taken on a strong sectarian dimension.

Bahrain declares martial law as protesters clash with troops

Saudi Arabia sends counterrevolutionary goons to Bahrain

Saudi Arabia will split its security forces, lately much occupied with suppressing protest at home, and will send them to Bahrain to help put down the popular uprising there.

Witnesses said security forces surrounded the protesters’ tent compound, shooting tear gas and rubber bullets at the activists in the largest effort to clear the square since a crackdown last month that left four dead after live ammunition was fired.

Activists tried to stand their ground yesterday and chanted “Peaceful, peaceful” as the crowd swelled into thousands, with protesters streaming to the square to reinforce the activists’ lines, forcing the police to pull back by the early afternoon.

At Bahrain University, Shia demonstrators and government supporters held competing protests that descended into violence when plainclothes pro-government backers and security forces forced students blocking the campus main gate to seek refuge in classrooms and lecture halls, the Associated Press reported.

Saudi Arabian forces prepare to enter Bahrain after day of clashes

Bahraini army murders peaceful demonstrators

This gut-wrenching video (after the jump) shows peaceful protestors being fired on with automatic weapons by Bahrain’s military. The comment thread on the YouTube video attains a new peak in awfulness, even for YouTube videos, with rage-filled illiterates variously blaming Iranian provocateurs, Israel, the USA, Shiites, Sunnis, and whomever else is handy, interspersed with people convinced that gunshots don’t really sound like that.

Meanwhile, Al Jazeera’s coverage continues to be the best thing going, followed closely by the Guardian.

Bahrain’s army deliberately kills peaceful protesters with live rounds ( automatic weapon ) (Thanks, Superface, via Submitterator!)

Continue reading “Bahraini army murders peaceful demonstrators”

Glued to events in Libya, Yemen and Bahrain

Events in Libya, Yemen and Bahrain are moving fast, but the Guardian’s moment-to-moment coverage has me glued to my screen today:


View Mapping Pro-Democracy Protests in Libya in a larger map

• Libya: Security forces in Benghazi have shot dead at least one person and injured a dozen after opening fire on mourners at a funeral for protesters killed in earlier demonstrations. Special forces stormed a protest camp in the eastern city at 5am.

• Bahrain: Thousands of protesters have retaken Pearl Square in the Bahraini capital after Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa ordered troops off the streets.

• Yemen: One protester was killed and seven were hurt in clashes with security forces in the capital, Sana’a.

• Algeria: Riot police in Algiers have broken up a planned march by thousands of pro-democracy campaigners.

Libya and Bahrain protests – Saturday 19 February

YouTube channel — Libyan protests (Warning: contains graphic violence and death)

Mapping Pro-Democracy protests

Bahrain: peaceful protests turn violent as police attack demonstrators

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Breaking: Amira Al Hussaini at Global Voices: “Bahrain police have just launched an attack on protesters at the Pearl Roundabout.” She has a Twitter roundup, and you can also follow NPR’s Andy Carvin right now for fast and furious RTs from people who are there, apparently being teargassed and shot with rubber bullets and/or other forms of ammunition. It is 3AM there; the demonstrators were sleeping; news crews are are nowhere to be found.

(photo, inset, via maryamalkhawaja, above Abu Sufyan, both via @acarvin)

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