November 19, 2004

Interesting Evening (part 1)

Yesterday I drove for thee hours to the Netherlands (to cover 130km, traffic jams like you wouldn't believe it), in order to attend a lecture and debate about journalism and its relation to digital media, weblogs etc.  The evening was organised by the NVJ (Dutch Journalists Society) and the Dick Scherpenzeel stichting, by the way.

Guest of honour was Raed Jarrar, an Iraqi weblogger who sort of got dragged into covering the Iraq war on his blog Raed in the Middle.  Originally, his blog, like so many others, was meant as a way to allow some of his friends and family to keep track of his daily life.  In the run-up to the war, his blog (and that of his friend Salam Pax) was 'discovered' by the outside world and many people started going there to try to get a picture from inside Iraq.  Today, he still maintains his blog, but he warned the audience: he does not speak for the Iraqi people, just for himself.  People tend to forget this.

Most notably, Raed is a secular, educated person who speaks and reads English.  As he himself pointed out, most Iraqi's aren't like that.  But he said he is qualified to write about what they think, because he has traveled the country extensively and talked to many people during his work for the NGO 'Emaar' (reconstruction).

Personally he was against the war.  In his view, freedom, liberty and even the 'American Way of Life' are nice things to have, and most Iraqi's would want them, but he is opposed to 'American Foreign Policy'.  In his view, the Americans have made mistake after mistake in Iraq, thus culturally alienating and humiliating many Iraqi's.  He would have liked for regime change etcetera to have come about from the inside.

Other things I managed to remember from his talk: he sees this war as a religious thing, American christian fundamentalists versus islamic ones, as it were.  He thinks it is no coincidence that pictures like these are appearing in U.S. media:


It might have been his English, or my interpretation of it, but he seemed to be under the impression that in general the U.S. media were overwhelmingly in favour of the war and the Bush administration.  He also complained about new laws in Iraq that banned newspapers if they weren't pro-U.S. enough.

As to his relation with traditional media: he sees himself as sometimes reporting things directly that he has witnessed, other times clarifying or correcting news about things he has more background on than the journalists writing the stories.

Although I disagree with certain of his interpretations on his weblog, I must say he was quite an interesting and likable fellow, who is clearly using weblogs as a tool for reporting, criticizing and putting out his version of events.  Is it journalism, is it not?  Some people agree, some disagree, but more on that in my next post...

Mmmm... Highway Food!

Mmmm... Highway Food!

November 18, 2004

Raed in the Middle

Raed in the Middle

I'm attending a discussion about blogging and journalism. Guest of honour: Raed.

The Weasel Awards

Weasel Awards PollIt's that time of the year again.  Make sure Dan Rather, France and the United Nations win the awards they so richly deserve, vote at the Weasel Awards.

November 17, 2004

More Censorship in the Netherlands

Another story from that caught my eye today: Naaktfoto's uit school weg voor moslims.  The gist: a Dutch community college teaching among other things a photography course, decided to remove all the pictures of naked women that were on display, because they might be offensive to 'students with an islamic background'.

The ironic thing is, these muslims are predominantly in the school to follow courses to help them integrate into Dutch society...  But the location-manager claimed that the measure was taken out of respect, and added that the teachers that mainly dealt with the foreign students knew that nakedness was a touchy issue in many cultures.  And the pictures were put on display during ramadan.

The art teacher responsible for the photography course decided, together with his students, to remove all their pictures (including non-nude work) and replaced them with a protest letter.

This really is turning the world upside down.  If you can't stand the sight of a naked woman in an artistic picture, you shouldn't be following integration lessons, you should be on the next plane out, in my opinion.

Lonsdale Clothing Forbidden in Dutch School

A few days ago, reported this: VMBO wil geen Lonsdale na brand moskee (VMBO doesn't want Lonsdale after mosque fire).

The gist of the story is that in a small Dutch town called Helden, a local school banned the wearing of Lonsdale brand clothing after a mosque was set on fire.  Apparently Lonsdale is a brand that is very popular with racists, neo-nazi's and other people with more hair than brains.  In the Netherlands there seems to be a growing group of youngsters who identify with this subculture and express this by wearing Lonsdale clothing.

Two things strike me as very funny here:

  1. Nothing directly indicates that the Londsdale-youths had anything to do with setting the fire, although some of them doubtlessly approved of it.  But why then not ban headscarves as wel after the murder of Theo Van Gogh?
  2. Why do these people wear these clothes, when the brand Lonsdale stands for a line of boxing-gear also worn by (among others) Mike Tyson and Muhammed Ali?

One theory I heard on the internet (which must therefor be true) is that the letters 'NSDA' are the only ones visible when wearing a Lonsdale t-shirt under an open jacket.  'NSDA' can then be understood to be part of 'NSDAP', the name of Hitler's Nazi party.

November 15, 2004



On request for my sister who is having a birthday...

Whack-a-mole, Belgium Style

So the Vlaams Blok party was terminated last week using legal action.  Where will all its voters go now, you might ask?  My guess is to the Vlaams Belang party, which has exactly the same people in its cadre, lives in the same buildings, has mostly the same viewpoints, and, of course, has received all of the assets of the Vlaams Blok.

So the result of all these years of legal wrangling, including six changes to the law in order to be able to get a condemnation?  A new name for the Vlaams Blok, tons of free publicity, and a chance for them to get rid of a lot of the 'extremist baggage' they carried with them, as they can now claim old propaganda leaflets with outrageous statements were from 'that old party which no longer exists'.

What is funny is that they seem to be much more present in the media the past few weeks too: it is not normal for most Belgian media to have so many stories about the Vlaams Blok, or worse, interviews with their leadership or members.  For years there seems to have been a silent agreement between journalists to quietly ignore the Vlaams Blok, or, if it realy couldn't be ignored, ridicule or insult it.

But we'll see in a week or two.

November 14, 2004

Masked and Armed in Antwerp

Funny story in 'De Zondag' today (a free Sunday newspaper distributed at bakeries in Flanders, mostly with sports, events, job-ads and local news)

Sinterklaas Translation:

In Antwerp this Saturday some "masked and unrecognizeable" men were seen, in possesion of a dangerous striking weapon and a suspicious bag.  They were about to attempt to scale the roofs of houses using a foreign horse, without permit, in order to sneak in via the chimneys.  Police escorted them to the mayor, who said it "was okay, but just this one time".

See my earlier entry on the Burka ban in Antwerp for more context.

For my non-Flemish readers, the men in question are Sinterklaas (Saint Niclaus) and Zwarte Piet (Black Pete), who are the Flemish equivalent of Santa Claus and one of his elves.

For my PC-thinking readers: no, there is no racism involved, because Saint Niclaus is in fact Turkish (he used to be bishop of Palmyra) and his servant is only black because he is the one that does all the descending through chimneys.

November 13, 2004

Americans Totally Lost Battle of Fallujah

Don't believe me?  Compare the current reports coming out of there (about 20 U.S. killed vs. about 1600 enemy fighters killed) to the Battle of Mogadishu in 1993 (16 U.S. killed vs 1000 enemy fighters killed).

If Mogadishu was a huge defeat for the U.S., what about Fallujah?  Casualties are already 20% higher...  Run away!

I'm surprised the mainstream media hasn't jumped on this 'fact'...