South African President Jacob Zuma announced on Thursday night the death of Nelson Mandela. He was 95.
"Our nation has lost its greatest son," Zuma said in announcing Mandela's death on South African television. The iconic leader of the country's struggle against racism and its first post-apartheid president, Mandela died after a long battle with lung disease, an aftereffect of the tuberculosis he contracted during his 27-year imprisonment.
While Mandela's health has been in decline during the past several months, his death on Thursday nonetheless came as a shock and sparked an outpouring of grief.
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Bob Dylan may be an icon of the American civil rights movement, but that hasn't stopped a Croatian community group in France from suing the folk singer over allegedly racist comments he made last year.
With songs like "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll," "Oxford Town," and "Hurricane," Dylan established himself as an eloquent chronicler of issues of race in America. The same probably can't be said about the internecine conflicts of the Balkans. In an interview with the French edition of Rolling Stone, Dylan waded into a conflict he would probably have been better advised to stay out of. "[The United States] is just too fucked up about [skin] color," Dylan said. "... If you got a slave master or Klan in your blood, blacks can sense that ... Just like Jews can sense Nazi blood and the Serbs can sense Croatian blood."
That throwaway line about Serbs being able to sense Croat blood has landed the singer-songwriter in some hot water and has infuriated a group of Croats who aren't too happy about being lumped with slave masters, the Ku Klux Klan, and Nazis.
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At a press briefing at the Chinese Foreign Ministry on Wednesday, a reporter asked a question that seems to come up whenever China attempts to do anything of global significance: Is China a paper tiger? His question pertained to China's controversial new air defense identification zone, and the government's failure to respond when the United States defied it by flying two B-52 bombers through the area. At the briefing, a Foreign Ministry spokesperson deflected the question, saying: "The word paper tiger has its special meaning. You should look it up."
Well, we did. And guess what: Everyone has a different definition.
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In the war of words over the nuclear deal with Iran, any metaphor is fair game.
Skeptics of the agreement hashed out in Geneva see parallels between this deal and, well, just about every bad, no good, awful, catastrophic moment in international politics since 1914. Meanwhile, its defenders have run out of breathless adjectives with which to describe a deal that just, maybe, might, possibly be similar to President Nixon's opening to China.
In short, the debate over how to interpret the Geneva agreement has descended into a fun house of dueling metaphors. This is your guide to those metaphors -- and the argument -- that will surely dominate the next few months as the world debates whether the Geneva agreement represents a bona fide diplomatic breakthrough.
Get ready to hear a lot about Neville Chamberlain and "peace in our time." Oh, also: Appeasement.
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Twitter shares hit a high of $50 on Thursday in its first day of trading. It's a sizable opening-day pop, given that the initial public offering price was initially marked at somewhere near half of that. The opening generated a lot of buzz among investors, in large part because, despite having yet to turn a profit, the micromessaging site has a staggering global reach. There are more than 230 million tweeters worldwide, and more than three-quarters of them are outside the United States. But perhaps the surest sign of Twitter's worldwide popularity is the number of knockoffs -- sometimes subtle, sometimes outrageous -- that it has inspired across the globe. Below, we bring you some of the best that, unfortunately, never made it to their own public debut. Here are the top five foreign Twitter clone fails.
Futubra. There was considerable hype over "Russia's Twitter," Futubra, which was launched in early 2012 by Mail.ru, the multibillion-dollar Russian company behind several successful Russian social networking sites. In a farewell note published on its website, the developers explained that their improvements weren't enough for "sustained growth of the project" -- a mere 11 months after its initial launch. The failure of a Twitter copycat might have been somewhat of a surprise given the comparative success of the Russian-language VKontakte, a Facebook rip-off that has a consistently top position among Russian networking sites. In an interview with Roem in December 2012, Mail.ru chairman and CEO Dmitriy Grishin conceded that the experiment, while "interesting," "went differently than planned."
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Stop being a bully, and start respecting the rules of the global village. That's the takeaway from a Nov. 1 editorial in Communist Party mouthpiece The People's Daily, which castigates the United States in the wake of revelations that the NSA has tapped the phones of 35 foreign leaders, a development severe enough to prompt U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to aver the United States has gone "too far."
The editorial's tone and choice of metaphors is enough to make a U.S. policymaker blush -- or boil with anger. Called "The United States Also Must Respect the Village Contract," the piece is signed by Zhong Sheng, a pen name for the international desk of the People's Daily. The Chinese-language editorial warns that the recent NSA wiretapping revelations are a "political tsunami" that should prompt the United States to "truly awaken to a few things." In particular, the editorial argues, the concept of "exceptionalism" should "have already been relegated to the museum exhibits." With the "global village" becoming ever smaller, erstwhile bullies who "rely on force to snatch position in the village" are becoming "obsolete."
The editorial is full of advice that would likely strike U.S. policymakers as patronizing -- for example, the reminder that "turning a negative into a positive is a kind of wisdom." There's also the counsel that whether the current "sensitive period of transition" -- one leading, the editorial implies, to a world where the United States is no longer the most powerful country -- is "smooth" and "sufficiently speedy" depends "on the United States' character and ability." That does not imply, however, that "the United States can do whatever it wants, like a spoiled child."
The People's Daily doesn't want readers to take their word for it. For evidence of its claims, the article relies instead on U.S. voices. These include President Obama's April 2009 statement, "I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism," which the editorial takes to imply the United States was "not that special." The piece also cites Georgetown University law professor Rosa Brooks, who in an Aug. 29 FP article referred to the United States as "a wounded giant" that is "steadily weakening," still capable of hurting people when it "flail[s] around." The article expands on the metaphor: Those hurt by the giant "have become furious, and the 'wounded giant' suffers even more pain in the midst of this anger." (Brooks, in a phone interview, called the article's mention of her idea "fair enough.")
It's unlikely that U.S. policymakers will take this particular editorial to heart. For one, it doesn't contain much actionable advice. In Chinese, the village contract -- cungui minyue -- refers to a mode of governance sanctioned by the party and enshrined in Chinese law, hardly something the United States could follow even if it wanted to. It also appears the article has not been reproduced in English, even though publishing English-language barbs aimed across the Pacific is a frequent practice of Chinese state media.
Instead, the editorial appears to be speaking to Chinese readers, not U.S. policymakers. With NSA revelations stirring up mistrust toward the United States even among staunch allies, Chinese state media may sense a ripe opportunity to tell its people something like: "Don't worry. We've got this governance thing figured out."
When Jean Lee became the Associated Press's first North Korea bureau chief in 2012, she anticipated many of the challenges she'd face while in country: the trouble accessing places typically considered off-limits to foreigners, the constant scrutiny, the roadblocks to verifying information under a secretive regime.
What she didn't expect was the backlash, which came swift and harsh from those who questioned the news agency's decision to play ball with one of the world's most repressive governments in exchange for access (the Wall Street Journal headlined one op-ed about the bureau "Associated Propaganda").
"The lack of support for what we were trying to do … was a bit tough to stomach," says Lee, an American journalist of Korean descent who was the AP's Seoul bureau chief before expanding her coverage to North Korea. "The pressure … and the criticism from other journalists for opening up a bureau when frankly, as journalists, I do think it's our imperative to try to get on the ground and to try to write from as many angles as we can. For so long we and so many other Western media have had to cover this country from the outside -- it was a really bold bid to try to write about it and report on it in a different way."
The AP announced this week that Lee is stepping down as Pyongyang bureau chief (to be replaced by Tokyo news editor Eric Talmadge) and is taking on a new role based in Seoul where she will write in-depth stories about the Korean Peninsula. Lee spoke to Foreign Policy about the role she played in the first chapter of the AP's great Hermit Kingdom experiment, reflecting on one of the most enviable -- and difficult -- journalism jobs on the planet.
Glenn Greenwald -- the prominent journalist and columnist -- is leaving the Guardian to form an independent news site, and there's a wonderful irony to the news that he will be striking out on his own.
"Because this news leaked before we were prepared to announce it, I'm not yet able to provide any details of this momentous new venture, but it will be unveiled very shortly," Greenwald said in a statement. After making himself a household name by exposing the true reach of the National Security Agency, Greenwald had his big news -- and it's certainly a major announcement -- scooped by a disgruntled associate. Dare we speculate an unhappy editor at the Guardian?
After a spectacular run at the British newspaper, during which Greenwald delivered a series of bombshell scoops about the NSA, the Brazil-based journalist has now decided to form his own news site, which he says has secured major funding and will cover everything from politics to sports to entertainment. That development represents an intriguing turn in a story that has been as much about the media as it's been about U.S. intelligence. With his outspoken left-wing politics and platform as a columnist, Greenwald was an unlikely person to emerge as the primary reporter on a story about the NSA's misdeeds. His involvement caused many observers to question the objectivity of the Guardian's coverage and exposed the deep tension at play in today's media world between establishment outlets and reporters, and a new breed of journalists willing to make their political ideals and opinions a central part of their reportage.
Sure, some have spent the past few days lamenting that Pakistani girls' education advocate Malala Yousafzai didn't receive the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday. But several Russian news outlets and politicians have been grousing about a separate slight: the Hague-based watchdog Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) wresting the prize from their own human rights crusader and international peacekeeper: Vladimir Putin.
"This is absolutely unfair that the OPCW was given this title," State Duma deputy Iosif Kobzon, a member of Putin's United Russia party, told the state-owned news service Itar-Tass, according to Pravda.Ru. "Who forced Syria to destroy chemical weapons, if not Putin? Who made Assad sign all agreements of the UN Security Council for the destruction of chemical weapons? They should have given the prize to two nominees then. This is unfair, because Putin is making every effort."
The Russian federal news agency Regnum, meanwhile, reported on OPCW's win briefly before reminding readers that it is "noteworthy" that the "process of destroying chemical weapons in war-torn Syria" was initiated by Russia and its president. Not noteworthy, apparently, are Putin's aggression in Georgia and campaigns against homosexuals and immigrants in his own country -- recent actions that might, one would speculate, undermine his shot at a Nobel Peace Price.
Technically speaking, Putin is not eligible to receive the prize until next year, as nominations for this year's award had to be in by February 2013, and the Russian advovacy group that nominated him, the International Academy of Spiritual Unity and Cooperation of Peoples of the World, only submitted theirs in September. The group's nomination cited Putin's efforts to "maintain peace and tranquility" not only in Russia, but also in "all conflicts arising on the planet" -- a sweeping appraisal encompassing Russia's plan to put Syria's chemical weapons under international control in an effort to avoid U.S. military strikes.
But that technicality hasn't stopped Russian lawmakers from interpreting the Nobel Peace Prize committee's choice as a snub. Alexey Pushkov, the head of the State Duma's Foreign Affairs Committee, called it a "politically sophisticated choice" and a "cunning move" designed to withhold the prize from those who "truly prevented" the war in Syria.
Others have characterized the OPCW's prize as, at its core, an award to Putin. An article in Russia's English-language Moscow Times called the OPCW's win a "nod to Putin" since the organization was granted such a crucial role in the conflict as a result of negotiations brokered by Moscow. Federation Council member Valery Ryazansky was especially optimistic, telling Russia's state-owned news agency RIA-Novosti: "I believe that this is a recognition of the fact that the Russian government invited the international community to the decision on the Syrian issue, which was found to be most effective."
Another article at Russia's Mail.ru site reported that Syrian opposition leaders were angry at the Nobel committee for, as they saw it, implicitly praising Putin and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in giving the award to the OPCW, reminding readers that Russia was "the author of the idea of destroying chemical weapons stockpiles in the country."
Assad, it seems, wouldn't mind the recognition. In an interview with the Lebanese newspaper al-Akhbar, the Syrian leader reportedly joked that the Nobel Peace Prize "should have been mine."
Maybe next year, guys.
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After watching the world's most popular YouTube videos, I've reached one conclusion: Everyone loves Miley Cyrus. Well, almost everyone. The map above is a rough guide to the popularity of the singer's controversial music video "Wrecking Ball" around the world; the darker the country, the better the video has done there. Miley is apparently big in countries ranging from Malaysia to Tunisia to Ukraine. The Russians, it seems, are one of the few holdouts against her cross-border appeal.
This cultural insight comes courtesy of What We Watch, a new site produced by the MIT Center for Civic Media that has collected public data over the past six months from YouTube's Trends Dashboard -- and produced a nifty, interactive map that lets you explore how culture spreads through the lens of YouTube videos.
The Letter from Birmingham Jail it is not. Since September, former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori, who is serving out a 25-year sentence for human rights abuses in the 1990s, has been engaged in a particularly rare form of opposition politics, tweeting out political commentary to his now-10,000 followers from behind bars.
Last month, the Twitter account -- along with an accompanying Facebook page -- launched with an inaugural YouTube message and photo montage of Fujimori, along with a written message to his queridos amigos announcing that he would be sharing his thoughts and memoirs on social media, and that "some young people and close collaborators" would be administering the accounts:
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That the first feature film shot in Saudi Arabia (a country with no commercial theaters) was directed by a woman (in a country where women still famously cannot drive) would have been enough to spark a media firestorm. That the film, Wadjda, which hit U.S. theaters last week, also happens to be good -- "a stunningly assured debut," wrote Slate; "sharply observed, deceptively gentle," wrote the New York Times -- has made it, and its photogenic director, Haifaa al-Mansour, irresistible.
Mansour's story about a young Saudi girl's quest to buy a bike -- so she can race her male friend Abdullah -- explores the lives and roles of women in one of the most conservative, traditional countries in the Middle East. It introduces us to the rhythms of daily household life in Saudi Arabia, a world that few outsiders ever see.
Mansour spoke to Foreign Policy this week about losing access to locations hours before a shoot, why it was so hard to recruit actors for her film, and the curious relationship between Saudi women and their drivers. The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
It's been just under a month since Al Jazeera America first hit the airwaves, and what a month it's been -- with the Syria story lurching from seemingly imminent U.S. strikes to a looming congressional vote to this weekend's chemical weapons deal. The fast-churning news cycle has provided plenty of fodder for media watchers who wondered before the launch whether Al Jazeera America would distinguish itself from its competitors. Would the network reflect its Qatari heritage, and if so, how? Would American viewers encounter a familiar cable news format or, say, more non-American voices on the air and more stories from far-flung bureaus and the Arab world?
This morning, the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism is out with a new report that addresses these questions through the lens of Al Jazeera's handling of its first big story: Syria. And after viewing 21 hours of cable news on Syria across five networks, measuring coverage using five metrics, the researchers have arrived at an answer: So far, anyway, Al Jazeera America is more or less CNN -- minus Wolf Blitzer, and with a snazzier logo.
"The content that Al Jazeera America provided in many ways resembled the coverage on the three major cable competitors" -- that is, CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC, Mark Jurkowitz, associate director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, told Foreign Policy. "Typical American cable viewers … would get a perspective that I think would seem familiar to them."
Pew studied the network's coverage of the Syria crisis over the span of six days: from Aug. 26, when Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking at the State Department, said chemical weapons were used in Syria and accused Bashar al-Assad's regime of destroying the evidence, to Aug. 31, when President Barack Obama told the nation of his plans to bring a vote on the Syria intervention before Congress. The report applied metrics ranging from the framing of a story (Is it, say, about whether the U.S. should intervene, or the humanitarian crisis in the region?) to the sources consulted (Are they members of the Obama administration? Members of Congress? Syrians?) to the locations from which stories are filed (Damascus or Washington, D.C.?).
Here are some of Pew's key findings:
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With Twitter set to make its debut on American stock exchanges, a critical question looms: Can toppling dictators also be good business?
Over the course of its seven-year history, Twitter has gone from scrappy, disorganized start-up to a heavyweight of the social media revolution. In the process, it's become much more than a business. From Tahrir Square to Gezi Park, Twitter has made itself indispensible to activists everywhere, providing a tool to decry abuse, organize protests, and help overthrow bad leaders. "Now we have a menace that is called Twitter," Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared in June amid widespread protests against his government. "The best example of lies can be found there. To me, social media is the worst menace to society."
Soon, that menace to society will be the hottest technology IPO since Facebook's 2012 offering. But with a publicly traded stock, Twitter may find itself in something of an existential crisis. In establishing itself as the activist's weapon of choice, the social media company has built up a well-deserved reputation for fiercely protecting user data and standing up for free speech. Is that an ethos, however, that can be squared with Wall Street's relentless emphasis on profits and revenue? It is not difficult to imagine a scenario in which Twitter will have to sacrifice its values, at least somewhat, on the high altar of the quarterly earnings report.
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President Vladimir Putin's direct appeal to the American people in the pages of the New York Times is just one part of his government's messaging strategy on Syria. Russia's English-language media outlets are busy blasting out the Kremlin line on the conflict as well.
A few articles have focused on the American reaction to Putin's editorial on Thursday (see, for example, "White House Pokes Russia over Putin's Syria Op-Ed"), but many outlets have drawn attention to other criticisms of President Obama's stance on Syria. RT, the flashy Kremlin-financed news channel, is covering a range of critiques -- from former President Jimmy Carter to Madonna. The Russian media has also tried to gauge the American mood through polling: RT notes that a recent survey by the libertarian magazine Reason found that two-thirds of Americans feel that Obama's handling of foreign policy has been as bad or worse than President George W. Bush's. But that doesn't mean Americans are thrilled with the Russian disarmament plan; the state-owned RIA Novosti pointed to a Pew poll showing that the majority of Americans distrust Russia.
The Russian press is most interested in discrediting the story that the Assad regime used chemical weapons -- an allegation that has been supported by evidence collected by the Obama administration, the French government, the United Nations, and Human Rights Watch, among others. These efforts to present a counternarrative -- in which the rebels gassed themselves and civilians -- range from the credible but circumstantial to the just plain silly. On the more intriguing side, there's the account given by two kidnapped Europeans, who traveled to Syria as supporters of the rebels but wound up being held hostage until last week. They claim to have overheard a conversation with a rebel commander suggesting that the rebels were involved in the attack, but have not discussed details of what they heard. Less compelling is the idle speculation of Ray McGovern -- a former CIA analyst, 9/11 conspiracy theorist, and RT favorite, that the CIA fabricated evidence implicating the Assad regime in the chemical weapons attacks, and the video analysis of a Syrian nun. Across the Russian media, there's consensus on at least one thing: the rebels are "terrorists."
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Fars News Agency, the state-run Iranian news outlet famous for picking up an Onion story and presenting it as news, has apparently decided that plagiarizing satirical articles isn't brazen enough. On Thursday, the news agency's editors reprinted a Foreign Policy article on the debate over chemical weapons in Syria. And by "reprinted" we mean they lopped off entire paragraphs, changed key words, and added others to turn the argument into a case for why the U.S. shouldn't take military action in Syria -- and why the rebels, not Syrian President and Iranian ally Bashar al-Assad, have committed unspeakable atrocities (oh, and Iran comes off looking pretty good too). "This article originally appeared on the US Foreign Policy magazine," the Fars article notes at the end of the story. We beg to differ.
What does one Nashville soul food restaurateur think about Al Jazeera -- the Qatari-funded TV network, once vilified by George W. Bush as "hateful propaganda" - setting up shop in his hometown? Let's say he's skeptical, but open-minded:
"I don't know a lot about you," he told an Al Jazeera crew, who dropped by his restaurant to get his thoughts. "I'll know more when I see you on TV, and then I can have a better opinion once I get to see you."
Give them some credit for tackling the elephant in the studio head on. In the one-hour preview leading up to the official, much-anticipated launch of Al Jazeera America on Tuesday, the network was upfront about the possibility that the average viewer might find something about the network ... a little unfamiliar, perhaps?
One man, in one of many man-on-the-street interviews featured in the promo, said he'd "heard the name" Al Jazeera -- and knew that it had "something to do" with the Middle East. Another volunteered that it was "not in California," and "not in Texas" but rather somewhere far off and exotic: Iraq or Iran, maybe.
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Two journalists have now been confirmed killed in clashes that erupted last night as the Egyptian military began clearing sit-ins by supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsy. Mick Deane, a 15-year veteran cameraman for Sky News, and Habiba Abd El Aziz, a 26-year-old Emirati journalist for the publication Xpress, were both killed by gunfire.
Other journalists in Cairo have been wounded or detained by the military. Erin Cunningham, Middle East editor for GlobalPost, has compiled a series of their tweets, including:
Authorities knew full well that I'm a journalist while arresting me today. It actually seemed to get me some extra punches.— Mike Giglio (@mike_giglio) August 14, 2013
Cops took my laptop, opened it on the scene. Then punched me in the head until I gave them the password. Laptop, wallet, cell not returned.— Mike Giglio (@mike_giglio) August 14, 2013
Police officer who told me earlier I was "provoking" him by writing in my notebook now says: "if I see u again I will shoot you in the leg"— Abigail Hauslohner (@ahauslohner) August 14, 2013
Reuters photojournalist Asmaa Waguih is being moved to the international medical center after she was shot in the leg— Halim ???? (@HaleemElsharani) August 14, 2013
Press intimidation is hardly new in Egypt -- it was a staple of the Mubarak regime, and it continued during Egypt's military-led transition, under the Morsy government, and now under the military-backed government of President Adly Mansour, which came to power on July 3. But Sherif Mansour, program coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa at the Committee to Protect Journalists, says it's getting worse.
MOSAAB EL-SHAMY/AFP/Getty Images
He's been counted down-and-out prematurely before, so those predicting that a decision on a tax-fraud conviction -- slated to come down from Italy's Supreme Court as early as Thursday -- will finally spell the end for the resilient Silvio Berlusconi may want to hold back. But even if the former prime minister really is temporarily banned from holding public office -- as this conviction, in theory, requires him to be -- those who fear that the Italian political scene will grow too boring (or too functional) without him need not worry: there's another Berlusconi waiting in the wings to carry on the family name.
Reports say Il Cavaliere is eyeing eldest daughter Marina Berlusconi to take over leadership of his center-right People of Liberty party -- perhaps as part of a larger rebranding of the party slated for this fall, when Berlusconi plans to change its name back to the original "Forza Italia" and "focus on young people." Marina, 46, is seen as better equipped to challenge Florence's dynamic 38-year-old mayor Matteo Renzi, a likely leader of the center-left in Italy's next elections.
So far, Marina maintains she doesn't want to succeed her father, professing that her heart is in business. But even without holding elected office, as head of the Berlusconi family holding company, Fininvest, and its publishing arm, Mondadori, Marina has become one of the most powerful people in a country where hardly any women have real clout in the realms of politics and business. Does that make the daughter of the man who brought Bunga Bunga into our vocabulary a lean in-style feminist?
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News broke yesterday afternoon that, after a nearly three-year-long imprisonment, Yemeni journalist Abdulelah Haider Shaye had been released by the Yemeni government. Shaye's work drew international attention in 2009 when he reported on a U.S. airstrike in the Yemeni village of al-Majalla that killed 41 civilians. He also conducted multiple interviews with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.
U.S. officials, including the U.S. ambassador to Yemen, have told journalists that Shaye facilitated AQAP attacks, but his accounts of his arrest detail press intimidation by the Yemeni government, then still headed by Ali Abdullah Saleh, who resigned amid mass protests in November 2011. Shaye's five-year prison sentence has drawn criticism from Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the International Federation of Journalists, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and the Yemen-based Freedom Foundation.
The U.S. government is still concerned about Shaye. Bernadette Meehan, a spokesperson for the National Security Council, told FP this morning by email, "We are concerned and disappointed by the early release of Abd-Ilah al-Shai, who was sentenced by a Yemeni court to five years in prison for his involvement with Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula." Meehan did not comment on whether the United States advocated against his release.
MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images
Egypt's liberals have a powerful, outspoken new critic, and he's one of their own: "My dear anti-Brotherhood liberal, allow me to remind you that just a few weeks ago you were desperately complaining about how grim the future looked, but now that you have been 'relieved' of them you have become a carbon copy of their fascism and discrimination," the critic appealed in Egypt's al-Shorouk newspaper.
That critic? It's Bassem Youssef, the popular satirist whose TV show, al-Bernameg ("The Program"), is an incisive Egyptian version of The Daily Show.
GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images
In the annals of jihadi groups, the story is an old one: A disaffected Muslim youth returns to Islam, reconnects with his faith, finds himself outraged at the injustices done to his brothers abroad, and travels to a conflict zone to wage jihad. Think Afghanistan in the 1980s and early 2000s, Iraq under American occupation, and Syria today.
But when it comes to the propaganda campaigns that have drawn Muslim youths to these conflicts, here's something we haven't seen before: a graphic novel encouraging young Muslims in the West to take up jihad.
A video released by the online jihadi "Mustafa Hamdi" depicting one young man's journey to Syria does just that, serving up a mix of aspirational thinking and sense of belonging to entice Muslims to join with Jabhat al-Nusra, the al Qaeda affiliate fighting in Syria against the Syrian regime.
Traitors, loners, and pornographers: These are just some of the ways Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald have been smeared by their critics over the past month. And now the NSA leaker and Guardian journalist have discovered a way to return fire. Call it the Great Snowden Hype Campaign.
In a pair of interviews over the weekend, the outlines of this new media strategy emerged. Speaking with the Associated Press, Greenwald claimed that Snowden is in possession of "blueprints" for the NSA. "In order to take documents with him that proved that what he was saying was true he had to take ones that included very sensitive, detailed blueprints of how the NSA does what they do," Greenwald said.
In another interview, this one with the Argentine paper La Nación, Greenwald described the harm Snowden could do to the United States in apocalyptic terms. "Snowden has enough information to cause harm to the U.S. government in a single minute than any other person has ever had," he said. And if anything should happen to Snowden, it will all be released. "The U.S. government should be on its knees every day begging that nothing happen to Snowden, because if something does happen to him, all the information will be revealed and it could be its worst nightmare," he added.
PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images
There's been an abundance of -- deserved -- criticism of CNN's coverage today, which spent much of the morning focused on the ongoing George Zimmerman trial while giving short shrift to the showdown between the military and Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
But if CNN's ears should be burning right now - what about Al Jazeera English? Around noon, EST, just as tensions in Egypt were peaking -- as rumors swirled of tanks taking to the streets in Cairo and President Mohamed Morsy being held under house arrest -- the Qatar-based broadcaster was showing viewers in the United States ... a regularly scheduled special about undocumented immigrants in America? (The channel switched to live Egypt coverage a few minutes before 1 p.m. EST, but continued to intersperse other programming.)
Screenshot/Al Jazeera English
The July 1 cover of Time magazine for Asia has roused a heated response in Myanmar. Featuring a photo of Buddhist monk Wirathu with the headline "The Face of Buddhist Terror," the cover, pictured above, was used for editions in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and the South Pacific. (The U.S. edition led with "How Service Can Save Us.")
Wirathu has received his fair share of media coverage and visits from Western journalists in recent months. The Mandalay-based monk has garnered attention as a leading voice of the "969" movement, which advocates that Buddhists only do business with other Buddhists. Wirathu's anti-Muslim rhetoric (He told the Global Post yesterday that, "Muslims are like the African carp. They breed quickly and they are very violent and they eat their own kind.") has been identified as one inciting factor in the recent outbreak of anti-Muslim violence in Myanmar, which has killed 250 and diplaced tens of thousands, according to the AP.
Wirathu says he was "unfazed" by the cover, telling the AP that, "a genuine ruby will shine even if you try to sink it in mud," but some of his supporters have not been so blasé. A Facebook group called "We Boycott Time magazine for their choice of Wirathu as ‘Buddhist Terror'" formed in reaction to the article. The group's page asks members to change their profile pictures to an edited cover of Time which calls the magazine "the face of lying, unjust media."
Users have posted messages defending Buddhism: "We are not terrorist, we are peaceful people and hate terrorism," reads one. "For these reason, our Buddhist monks are trying to find ways to avoid from being happening again such kind of unnecessary conflict between different religions."
In a recent interview with the Myanmar Times, a state-run English language newspaper, Wirathu addressed his critics saying, "I really take pity on them. ... They are under the influence of media backed by the Arab world. Europeans and Americans are educated people, but sometimes certain illusions are created by the Arab media."
Time does not seem likely to apologize.
A year after entering the Ecuadorean embassy seeking asylum, Julian Assange is still on the run. Every day he gets on the treadmill given to him by the left-wing filmmaker Ken Loach and runs and runs, logging 744 miles (over 28 marathons), but never getting anywhere. Every day he wakes and goes to work with the police outside his windows. Negotiations between the Ecuadorean government and the British foreign ministry have broken down, so for now he is stuck living out the same day over and over again, the real-life equivalent of Groundhog Day.
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On Monday, France's Le Monde newspaper published a letter that has left many amused -- and others utterly confused. Investigators found the handwritten, undated letter, allegedly from current IMF chief Christine Lagarde to former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, during a search of Lagarde's Paris apartment in March, and it's now been leaked to the press.
France 24 posted a translation of the note, which Le Monde has dubbed "La lettre d'allégeance":
Dear Nicolas, very briefly and respectfully,
1) I am by your side to serve you and serve your plans for France.
2) I tried my best and might have failed occasionally. I implore your forgiveness.
3) I have no personal political ambitions and I have no desire to become a servile status seeker, like many of the people around you whose loyalty is recent and short-lived.
4) Use me for as long as it suits you and suits your plans and casting call.
5) If you decide to use me, I need you as a guide and a supporter: without a guide, I may be ineffective and without your support I may lack credibility. With my great admiration,
The backstory here is pretty complicated. The authorities searching Lagarde's apartment were investigating her involvement in a 2008 settlement paid to Bernard Tapie, the former head of Adidas, while Lagarde served as France's finance minister under Sarkozy. Tapie accused the state-owned bank Crédit Lyonnais of defrauding him and Lagarde recommended the case go to arbitration, where Tapie was awarded more than $500 million. Critics have charged that the award was too generous and likely resulted from Tapie's close relationship with Sarkozy's government, while Lagarde has denied any wrongdoing.
The five-point letter has revived interest in the controversial case and left many in France scratching their heads. Slate's French edition took the historical route, going back to the Middle Ages and questioning whether the letter should be interpreted as an oath of allegiance or as a pledge from a vassal.
Le Huffington Post, for its part, compiled a list of funny French Twitter responses, including one person who compared the letter to something a 13-year-old girl would write to Justin Bieber. One tweet noted it was lucky the letter wasn't intended for former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who has been embroiled in several sex scandals.
Traditional media outlets aren't sitting this one out either. The news magazine L'Express is asking readers to imagine how Sarkozy might respond to Lagarde's letter They'll publish the best submissions on Friday -- and they're asking readers to avoid any vulgar language, s'il vous plaît.
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North Korea is getting the Hollywood treatment yet again. But this time, instead of puppets, actors Seth Rogen and James Franco are taking on the Hermit Kingdom in a film entitled The Interview.
"James and Seth play reporters who get an interview with the dictator of North Korea and the CIA asks them to kill him," producer Evan Goldberg told E!Online during this week's premiere of This Is the End. "They're going to play a--holes."
And Hollywood isn't going to create any old fictional North Korean leader.
"It's Kim Jong-un. Literally King [sic] Jong-un in the movie. We figured it's North Korea, you might as well make it Kim Jong-un," Rogen told E!
But that's about as close to reality as the movie gets (this is Hollywood, after all). In March, the Hollywood Reporter noted that Columbia Pictures expects to spend around $30 million to make the film. But Rogen and Franco won't be getting anywhere close to Pyongyang. "We're going to the foreign land of Vancouver, Canada," Goldberg admitted.
And the premise is pretty shaky as well. As far as we can tell, no reporter has ever interviewed Kim Jong Un, let alone one from a Western news organization. The Associated Press did open a bureau in Pyongyang in January 2012, but operating a bureau in a place that ranks 178th out of 179 countries on Reporters Without Borders's Press Freedom Index (Eritrea has the dubious distinction of placing last) comes with many challenges, including using office space that is hosted by the Korean Central News Agency, as my colleague Isaac Stone Fish pointed out in an article last year. Many journalists who have written about life in North Korea have had to rely on accounts from defectors.
The closest any American journalists have gotten to Kim Jong Un in recent months was during Vice's highly publicized basketball diplomacy campaign in North Korea with Dennis Rodman in February. Vice's Ryan Duffy has said he found Kim Jong Un "socially awkward," and that the North Korean leader avoided eye contact while shaking hands. (Rodman, for what it's worth, described Kim as a "cool guy" who wears "regular clothes" and is "not one of these Saddam Hussein-type characters that wants to take over the world.")
Suffice it to say the actor who ends up playing Kim Jong Un for The Interview will have a lot of creative license for his portrayal.
What's happening in Turkey? If you're actually in the country, that may be hard to tell, since many Turkish news outlets have stayed relatively quiet on the spread of protests and clashes with police across the country. While scenes from Istanbul have been splashed across the front page of U.S. newspapers, the news has been relegated to later pages in Turkish dailies. Photos posted on social media (like the one above) have shown side-by-side comparisons of CNN International and CNN Turk, the news network's Turkish affiliate. While the global broadcast showed a live feed of protests, the Turkish channel offered up a cooking show and a documentary, Spy in the Huddle, about penguins.
Zeynep Tufekci, who studies the societal effects of social media as a fellow at Princeton and has been tracking the Internet-fueled spread of the protests, cited this disconnect as "a striking example of what media cowardice and self-censorship looks like." Nor is it a new occurrence in Turkey, she points out:
Many major news events, recently, have been broken on Twitter including the accidental bombing of Kurdish smugglers in Roboski (Uludere in Turkish) which killed 34 civilians, including many minors. That story was denied and ignored by mainstream TV channels while the journalists knew something had happened. Finally, one of them, Serdar Akinan, was unable to suppress his own journalist instincts and bought his own plane ticket and ran to the region. His poignant photos of mass lines of coffins, published on Twitter, broke the story and created the biggest political crisis for the government. Serdar, unfortunately, got fired from his job as a journalist.
CNN Turk has been tweeting about the protests and posting content to its website, but the lack of broadcast coverage of the protests has led to some strong critiques (including this one, in GIF form, via Uproxx). A Change.org petition calling on CNN to pull its name from the Turkish affiliate has already gathered more than 60,000 signatures.
CNN is only a partial owner of the CNN Turk channel. Though it helped advise the station before its launch in 1999, CNN quickly withdrew from the day-to-day operation of the network, according to an article by Laura Peterson in the American Journalism Review in 2000. "[M]any Turkish journalists believe CNN's image as an ethical standard-bearer has the potential to raise the bar in a country where nightly news generally consists of celebrity gossip, political machine-gunning and salacious stories of the deviant and depraved," Peterson wrote, while noting some editorial choices at CNN Turk, including referring to a contested region of Cyprus as "the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus" and branding Islamist groups "fundamentalist" and "terrorist" in advance of the election of the Justice and Development Party, an Islamist party that swept into power in 2002.
In recent years, Turkish news outlets have had to contend with an extensive government campaign against journalists. In its 2012 annual report, the Committee to Protect Journalists named Turkey "the world's worst jailer of the press" -- with 49 journalists imprisoned on various charges as of Dec. 1, 2012.
Update: The streak continues. Arvind Mahankali, 13, won the 2013 national spelling bee with the German-Yiddish word "knaidel" on Thursday night, making him the sixth Indian-American winner in as many years.
When, in 2010, Anamika Veeramani correctly sounded out the letters to "stromuhr" (I hadn't heard the word before either) to win the Scripps National Spelling Bee, she captured the hearts and minds of the Indian and U.S. media alike. This was partly thanks to her inspiring performance -- and also because she had become the third Indian-American in as many years to win the prestigious competition. "Spelling champ's victory hat-trick for Indian-Americans," gushed, the Hindu, an English-language daily in India.
Indian-Americans have maintained their Scripps dominance ever since, having now won the title of America's best speller for five consecutive years. In fact, 10 of the last 14 winners have been Indian-American.
With the competition's finals coming up Thursday at 8 p.m., the world will soon learn if this domination will continue. Indian-Americans represented around a third of this year's semi-finalists, and two of them were siblings of past winners.
Just what accounts for this astounding success? As it turns out, we're not the first to ask this question. "Is it because of India's colonial history with Britain", wondered the Hindu back in 2010, "or is it something at the level of genetic programming?" The answer is neither as Darwinian as genetics nor as deterministic as colonialism.
Part of the explanation does have to do with education. In India, education tends to be more rote, with an emphasis on memorization. The Wall Street Journal quotes Sharmila Sen, a former English professor at Harvard, as saying:
The first generation immigrant parent brings with her/him a set of memories about how education works and what is to be valued. For Indians that is a memory of endless class tests doled out on a regular basis to evaluate our ability to retrieve information - spellings of words, names of world capitals, cash crops of states, length of rivers, height of mountains, and a plethora of minutiae charmingly labeled as General Knowledge.
In addition to bringing this educational emphasis to the United States, highly skilled immigrants tend to enroll their children in more academically oriented extracurricular pursuits, as Forbes notes. (As a first-generation American, I can attest to this, having parents who pushed piano and quiz bowl over organized sports).
But the phenomenon may have as much to do with where immigrants are going as it does with where they're coming from. As Sen went on to tell the Journal, the spelling bee represents a way for Indians to assimilate. George Thampy (winner in 2000 for the comparably easy word "demarche") echoed this sentiment, calling spelling "an American tradition that stresses diligence and studying."
Immigrants also tend to concentrate in specific fields, benefiting from existing networks and internal assistance. And Indian-Americans aspiring to the national spelling bee have definitely benefitted from one such network. As Slate puts it, Indian-Americans "have their own minor-league spelling bee circuit" -- the North South Foundation (NSF):
The NSF circuit consists of 75 chapters run by close to 1,000 volunteers. The competitions, which began in 1993, function as a nerd Olympiad for Indian-Americans-there are separate divisions for math, science, vocab, geography, essay writing, and even public speaking-and a way to raise money for college scholarships for underprivileged students in India.
Originally conceived as a way for young people to gain access to Indian-American communities and educational resources, "in the last decade North South Foundation has transformed from an SAT prep course into a training ground for Scripps," according to Slate.
Spelling bees are an historically American-British sport (Slate, which deserves a nod for its stellar spelling bee coverage generally, has an amazing list of alternative contests that includes a Chinese speed-dictionary competition). But bees have slowly gained international traction. It's no surprise that India is among the countries that now boast regional spelling bees.
So will an Indian-American claim the crown again this time around? If past years are any indication, not even a fainting fit can stop a determined winner:
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