Digital Peripheries: Internet Activism and Surveillance in the Mediterranean

Friday 14 March 2014 from 1 PM to 5 PM, at University of Chicago Paris Centre

This conference brings together scholars and activists who focus on the Mediterannean region to analyze the uses of technology for political mobilization, surveillance, and repression. Investigating how contemporary information and media technologies might encourage decentralized collaboration and/or invite novel occasions for social control, the conference interrogates the extent to which new forms of web 2.0-oriented participation have actually enabled critical publics. Panelists will also explore how activists are attempting to counter the corporate and state control of content, the ways in which information is curated and disseminated, and the growth of innovative modes of surveillance. To what extent has the Internet helped to create conditions conducive to a world-affirming politics and to what extent is it like any other technological advance—also or even primarily dependent on the content?

with Emiliano Campagnola, Michael Dawson, Sylvia De Fanti, Donatella Della Ratta, Sami Ben Gharbia, Johanne Kuebler, Korinna Patelis, Lisa Wedeen and Ebru Yetiskin.


Digital Peripheries



Turkey`s new “Arab” politics officially hits Al Jazeera Forum in Qatar

Sitting yesterday at the keynotes morning session of the sixth Al Jazeera Forum would have given you a quick glimpse into the Arab world (and Qatar, of course) current foreign policy. Former Brasilian President Lula was here, applauded by the youth and social media activists that Al Jazeera has gathered from Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Jordan, Lebanon, Mauritania, Yemen, Morocco. Lula spoke about how Brasil has underwent a democratic process over the years, a process which didn`t stop when he left. On the contrary, he felt he should leave and don`t run for another term, he said, in order to apply the democratic principles of transparency and alternation  of power that he has been preaching over the years. Arab youth applauded and asked enthusiastic questions.

But the real “rockstar” so far has been Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Davutoğlu who focused his speech on his  Zero problem policy” , a theory according to which it is possible to leave in peace if the other political actors and neighbors respect local values and will.

He called upon the re-assessment of “abnormalities” in the Middle East Region, two of them being colonialism and cold war, both bearing devastating effects. Colonialism has impacted on local populations by cutting ties between cultures historically close one to each other, like for example Iraq and Syria, condemned to be ruled one by UK and the other by France. Same happened during the cold war, which severed ties between Turkey and Syria, one falling under the NATO umbrella and the other under the former Soviet Union one.

He pointed out how the current uprisings shaking the Arab world, particularly the Tunisian and Egyptian, have contributed to re-establish these ties and bring populations in the Region closer again one to another. Uprisings are restoring balance in the Region, since the “old” regional order was the one imposed by foreign powers and not by the will of people or by the “natural flow of history” , as Davutoğlu named the process which  bringing revolutions to the Arab homeland.

But in order to keep circulating  the “good vibes” generated by this phenomena, we should follow some principles, says the Foreign Minister.

The first one is to keep self-confidence going. “Few days ago at a meeting, I told EU members that we want dignity.. we have been humiliated for too many years, now ordinary Arab wants to get their history back proudly”.

The second one is to keep always a balance between security and freedom, as none of them can be ignored in favor of the other.

The third one is no foreign intervention, as “the guarantee for the stability of the country is its people”. “We should trust our nation…the Cold war era was when other people where mediating for us. when we could not talk to each other…Now this time is over and have to discuss more, hold more meetings, prepare common strategies”. “No foreign intervention should be allowed, we should decide for our own future, but we should show wisdom to carry this process on”, said the Minister  in front of a young crowd totally fascinated by his energetic words of hope.

He stressed on how some words -tension, violence- have always being used by Orientalists to the describe the Middle East “but we are the land of civilization”. His “feel-good” self-confident theory is perfectly matching with this new empowered Arab youth, armed by the weapons of self-expression version 2.0 (smart phones, social networks, etc). They strongly believe that the future is in their hands , not in anybody`s else.

And when he says that “we can create a new economic and cultural order based on young people”, the applause and the enthusiasm are contagious. Yes, we can! Davutoğlu is the Arabs` Obama.
Behind this legitimate enthusiasm, this speech can tell us more on what`s currently happening in the Region. Turkey is now a super-power in the Arab world, and  Davutoğlu `s Turkey is definitely looking at a young Arab world instead of looking at an old Europe.
Why should Turkey be the last EU country when it can be the first country in the Middle East? That`s in fact what it is doing, turning its back to an ungrateful European Union which has never welcomed this Muslim country to join the EU selected club; and looking at a new young promising face.
Turkey is enjoying an incredible amount of soft-power in the Arab world, a combination of shifting its foreign policy (remember Prime Minister Erdogan walking out of Davos meetings in 2009 as a protest towards Israelis attack on Gaza?) and starting a sort of “cultural colonization” to the Arab world (the Troy horse being the Turkish TV drama, which was dubbed in Syrian dialect and was so successful to push Turkey to open a dedicated channel in Arabic, where all Turkish  musalsalat are being broadcast). Recently, Turkey has waived the entry visa for many Arab countries, including Syria, and it has become one of the most famous tourists` destination for Arabs (just watch some Syrian musalsalat and pay attention at where the characters go to honeymoon).
It seems to be a new axes of alliances in the Region and Turkey is definitely there, together with Syria and Qatar, of course.
Turkey has been very clever on building a momentum on its new status vis-a-vis the Arabs, who seem totally to have forgotten that Turks were colonialists, too, and not less harsh on Arabs than Europeans, but of course Muslims, which makes the issue different.
This Turkey that speaks of “zero foreign intervention” is the same Turkey which allowed US to lead a war on Iraq from its lands, or maybe it is not. It is a new Turkey.
A Turkey which speaks a new language, and which has probably much less an EU priority now, and much more a Middle Eastern strategy to perform.
And it does it in a beautiful way, by appointing a fine academic like Davutoğlu as    Minister of Foreign Affairs, somebody who was able today to address the Arab youth in fluent Arabic without hesitation.
Where does Europe stand in all this? Where is our European Union, which has totally lost the contact with the Middle East and doesn`t know this youth at all?
And why is it not calling  upon its many scholars, its anthropologists, political scientists, sociologists who know the Arab world, its language, culture and societies?
We do have the resources, we just don`t know how to use them. Or maybe we are too lazy to use them, or not interested at all to look at this issue and invest in it. Either ways, that`s bad. Wake up Europe, and come to meet the new Region, otherwise you will become obsolete..

source: @aljazeeraforum

(Al Jazeera`s  cameraman Ali Hassan al Jaber was killed on Saturday in eastern Libya. Deepest condolences to his family, friends, and all the network employees who loved and respected him for the way he carried on his difficult work..)

Istanbul calls upon for an Alliance of Civilization

The Alliance of civilization summit has just started few hours ago in the beautiful city of Istanbul and will last until tomorrow. The programme is plenty of insights and thoughts to fight against the alleged “clash of civilization” that after 9/11 sadly become our way to interpret everything happening in the world. Turkish prime minister Erdogan, with Spanish Jose Luis Zapatero, have strongly supported this Forum. There were rumors that also US president Obama and Rasmussen, the new Nato secretary general, will attend the meeting, probably tonight and at a private dinner. If we think about what George W. Bush has meant for the “clash” of civilization and what he has done to ignite it, Obama’s visit is even more meaningful. Moreover, Rasmussen’s presence is very key, too. The Muslim world has not forgotten what Denmark did with Prophet Mohammed’s cartoon, but since this dark page of intercultural relation Denmark has done a lot to improve its image in the Muslim world, and it’s not a matter of “brand” and image building only. Denmark is organising lots of initiatives towards the dialogue, enhancing its presence in the Muslim world and Rasmussen’s visit could be a step further in a process that is anyway happening everyday thanks to danish institutions and people that are doing a lot. I am just wondering where Italy is in all this (a part from our pm ‘s  phone calls). We used to have a strategic role in the Mediterranean that we are loosing day by day, being too much concentrated on our little political plays. What role will we be playing in this future alliance of civilization?and are we really doing something to enhance our dialogue with the muslim world like Denmark is doing? I don’t think so, unfortunately.

More from the conference later, if they get us translation. I couldn’t understand a word of Erdogan’s speech in Turkey cause they run out of hearing (official reason: more delegates than expected). Since translation is key for dialogue, and there is no alliance of civilization without dialogue, I really hope they will provide us with it soon. Otherwise it risks to be a big event done for the sake of doing a big event, in a nice luxury hotel but without taking care of these “small” details that make the difference.

Two-rooms and a kitchen better than a window on the Bosphorus??

Two-rooms and a kitchen is a local flavoured expression to describe Italian contemporary cinema (in my roman familiar dialect it will sound like “du’ camere e cucina”).

Why two-rooms and a kitchen movies have replaced Italian neorealism? Or, better said: why two-rooms and a kitchen movies have become the new Italian realism? As Italians, we have to ask ourselves why indoor claustrophobic familiar stories have become our daily life concern, instead of looking outside and going outdoor, as neorealism directors did teach us a while ago.

These days Italian media are unanimously applauding Italian movies at Venice film festival. Everybody seems to agree with the alleged fact that there is a re-birth of Italian cinema (a re-birth coming from a two-rooms and a kitchen delivery).

I am not a cinema expert but an eager “eater” of each kind of images. And these days I would have a question for Ferzan Ozpetek, a Turkish director who has been living in Italy for many years (and who’s now presenting in Venice his new movie Un giorno perfetto).

Turkey these days is a vibrant country in a great mood. And this great energy reflects on its audiovisual industry too.

As an Arab media watcher, I was charmed by the raising of the Turkish soap operas phenomena. Doubled in Syrian dialect, Turkish soap operas like Nour or Lost years are gaining an incredible audience success all across the Arab world. There are many reasons for this incredible boom –and many of them concerns some internal characteristics to Arab markets and Muslim societies- but I just would like to point out one thing which should be important for other countries, Italy too.

Though being tv works (which means serials), aimed at gaining audiences and ads time (which means commercially oriented), these soap operas have something more. They tell about a society which is in evolution, which is trying to bridge globalisation and local culture, progress and tradition, religious belief and liberalization, just as the charming Bosphorus river is bridging East and West in beautiful Istanbul. They are shoot in poor neighbours and luxury 5 stars hotels, in popular traditional coffee houses and brand new malls. They show the poorest working class and the richest one. They talk about illegal immigration and struggles against local and foreign mafia as well as foreign investments in the booming real estate industry in Istanbul. Their protagonists work in a cafeteria to pay their university studies or in the family fashion company just to have fun, drink champagne and go to trendy parties while they are making money indeed.

Why a clever Turkish director like Ferzan Ozpetek should do two-rooms and a kitchen movies instead of doing soap operas like these? I really don’t know. Maybe cause we still consider cinema as a work of art while tv is just a “bread-gaining” work? Maybe. But I don’t think so, especially when tv is well done.

And why our fellow Italian journalists (and all the media industry in Italy) are applauding the alleged re-birth of Italian movies inside this claustrophobic and self-referential space instead of going outside to see what’s happening in this big globalized world?

Maybe it’s because there are still stuck in two-rooms and a kitchen. And have lost the key to get out of it.