Archive for the ‘Comment’ Category

Terra: Tales of the Earth

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In Terra, Hamblyn fuses history and science to explore the relationship between the earth and its inhabitants. The book is in four key sections – earth, air, fire and water. In each he explores a historical disaster through first-person accounts: the Lisbon earthquake of 1755; the European weather panic of 1783; the eruption of Krakatau in 1883; and the Hilo tsunami of 1946.

Hamblyn muses on the earth’s deep connections: each of these events was precipitated by another natural disaster – a volcano caused both the tsunami and the strange weather, for example. These testify to the planet’s energy, but is life on earth sustainable in the face of such devastation? Searching for an answer, he wonders why humans are unable to learn from past catastrophes.

Despite fascinating material, at times Terra reads as a stream of blurred facts rather than a sustained narrative or argument.

Published in the Financial Times


Written by Magda M Ali

January 16, 2010 at 10:54 pm

Channel 4 reinstate impartiality

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Magda Ali On behalf of the whole country, I’d like to thank Jon Snow


Silently, the world watches. Two worlds watch. One, a world for the first time exposed to an unseen coverage of a brutal war. The other, a world disturbed, a world that sees this coverage every day, and wonders why this coverage is only ever exposed in their world.

Channel 4, supposedly the savoir of ethical war corresponding aired the dispatches, Unseen Gaza programme last week after a disappointing three week coverage of the conflict in Gaza. Frontier Channel 4 news broadcaster Jon Snow’s attempt to uncover the realities of reporting in Gaza, attracted viewers across the nation, though probably unseen by many due to its late screening, it revealed the compromised second-rate Western coverage of the Gaza strip.

Snow compared the coverage of the conflict in the UK, with the rest of the world. It seems that the western coverage bore one similarity – it was all being covered from one hill, that hill being the hill of shame, or as some like to call it, the hill of same. As the programme unfolded, Snow argued the Muslim and Western worlds have seen two very different accounts of the invasion.

So two worlds saw two very different conflicts, think for a moment about these two worlds. It’s an epic accolade, is it not? Disregard for a moment the thousand of thoughts going through your mind. Now picture a 6 month, tainted lifeless infant, scorched to the bones. It may not be what you want to see whilst watching the news, but it is what is rampant in Gaza right this moment. A third of the death tolls in Gaza are children, though due to Western coverage of Gaza much of the British populace will not know it, many Muslims will.

In any case, before we can ever get deciding on how many dead babies on television is too many, we need to know how many there actually are. Except nobody seems to know, a number is just a number, a picture speaks a thousand words, but most news agencies are not even giving a thousand words of the story, most of the times.

First we see Al Jazeera widely watched by Muslims in the UK, the unedited bona fide horrific images coming out of Gaza have been above all upsetting for Muslims around the world.

This leads us to the real point of Snow’s critique. These are certainly difficult times for those that are exposed to the truth. Those that have access to the most scorching images, and see a vastly different account of this war from that which the average person only exposed to the filtered party lines. As Snow argued in his critique: it presents a dangerous dynamic for the future, to what extent does the choice of news outlet effect opinion of the conflict?

Well to a great extent. What’s more, this failure is due, in large part, to the fact that the Western coverage has been far too deficient, as Snow argues. In fact, the coverage, or should one say the lack of coverage of the Gaza Strip is spurring anger and frustration from many.

But it isn’t just Channel 4 getting complaints about their lack of coverage. Everyone, it appears, is petrified of the very “impartiality” penetrated within this inner circle. Because journalists are of course impartial observers, deliver the truth without any spin. Yet we see Western mediums reduced to Israeli mouthpieces, as Snow argued the Israeli PR machine is slick, their side of the conflict was constantly fed to journalists but balancing an account with Hamas’s version of events, that was impossible. At this point says Snow, the isolation of the war machine from the correspondent is almost without precedence and the first casualty has inevitably been the truth.

Snow poses an important question in the documentary that still remains: “if the world had known more sooner, would efforts to stop the conflict much earlier have succeeded?”

Snow illustrates in the documentary the absence of real reportage and exposure at the top level, which connects directly to the failure of journalism as a whole. The sheer magnitude of what exactly has been compromised and lost as a result can really only be guessed at.

The coverage of Gaza on channel 4, has been frustrating. But on this showing, Unseen Gaza has shown to be oddly impartial of a war that has been purely partial, one-sided and disproportionate. Jon Snow’s report was indeed an astonishing piece of television. Snow is good at quarrel, he doesn’t lose his cool, and he is a man who knows he’s right. In his pursuit of fulfilling his role as a journalist, he restores hope for many, that perhaps one day journalists will fulfil their roles as journalists.

Written by Magda M Ali

January 25, 2009 at 11:14 am

My love for the legend: Robert Fisk

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Robert Fisk is renowned globally as a diligent and honest journalist, one of a dying breed. For those that don’t know Fisk, he is a British Middle East correspondent for the Independent and is arguable one of the world’s most experienced and most acclaimed western reporter. He has won the British Press Awards’ International Journalist of the year honour seven times. Amnesty International and the United Nations have given awards to Fisk who speaks often at Harvard, Princeton, MIT and other prestigious American universities.


Fisk has lived in the Middle East for 30 years, has engulfed the problems of the Middle East and writes what he experiences firsthand. Robert Fisk is distinctively pugilistic and holds nothing back; never hesitates to fingerprint in stories. In his own words: “Surely there must be a way in which a reporter is honoured and privileged to absorb so much information, to express what he thinks about it.” 


I was speaking to one of my lecturers the other day, and he asked me a question about my ardour for Fisk. He asked: “What’s this love for Fisk about, is it his journalistic competence, or just because he tells you what you want to hear.” For some reason it took me quite a while to respond. Then it came to me. In many ways I would say that my admiration for Fisk stems from his journalistic dexterity, and it proliferates to his ongoing battle to expose what we all want to hear: the truth.


For every journalist to say something positive about him, there is another with a handful of negatives. Some critics complain that he is not objective and detached; he is subjective and engaged. But what exactly is wrong with that? Is the purpose of Journalism not to challenge the centres of power, and to describe with our own vividness the tragedies, injustices and viciousness of the world?


Journalists are there to make people think, Fisk lives and writes by this principle. He may not always be objective, but he exemplifies opinions that many people hold and we can agree or disagree. Fisk reports a fresh, unique and human dimension, and is not afraid to say what he really thinks; he is a profound writer and knows he is right. He may come across as being quite arrogant. Naturally, journalists are people who are insecure and have huge egos, which is a dangerous cocktail. I think a fair few good journalists are slightly arrogant – you need to be to get the story and to have the bottle to write it.


In his work, it is clear that Fisk goes to great lengths to side with the perceived victim. And what’s wrong with siding with the victim anyway? Just say you cover a rape trial, you’re not going to give equal space to the rapist as you are going to give to the victim, you’re not going to stand there impassively, and you’re going to write more about the victim and what s/he has suffered. There comes a time when journalists cannot be impartial. Of course we cannot stand in the middle, and the time has come when journalists must stand on the side of the victims and we’ve got to stand up against injustices and give a voice to people who wouldn’t ordinarily have a voice.


Orwell once said: “Telling the truth becomes a revolutionary Act.” Fisk brings this reality home. Journalists shouldn’t be completely ‘neutral’ – most journalists I have spoken to accept this. I for one don’t read his work for a “balanced” account. I read his work for his account, the account of a man who has heard both sides of the story, has been actively engaged in the middle east for 30 years and isn’t afraid to speak his mind. This is far more than can be said of the news desk team reading off the teleprompters. Sadly these very critics who condemn Fisk would like to believe that these mediums are the holy source of all truth.


Fisks work can be found on this link.


Written by Magda M Ali

January 24, 2009 at 12:02 pm

Posted in Comment, Features, Heartland

Obama needs to reach out

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The velocity of speed in which the ball of religious influence has been rolling in the American Presidential elections is quite remarkable. Temples, synagogues and churches were all part of Barack Hussein Obama’s campaign to become President of the United States, but in tandem with headline grabbing anti-Muslim rhetoric, Obama chose to steer well clear of mosques during his campaign.

 Obama cynics on Left and Right seized the opportunity to paint him as a closet Muslim. The willing mix up of “Obama” with “Osama” is for the most part, a sordid example of how a mould has transpired much of the electoral campaigns. To have to pronounce your faith, be confronted and then accused of being a Muslim, almost like a dirty, uncouth disqualifier. To feel that you must defend yourself, of the accusation by completely distancing yourself from one sixth of the world’s population is lamentable. Nothing sets back the eradication of Islamophobia more than the very president being so fiercely timid at the thought of being associated with the Islamic faith. Our times really are obstinate.

 Obama’s final sprint on the 5th of November where the whole world watched with anticipation as he was elevated the 44th president of the USA. Tears of joy in commemoration overflew onto streets on distant continents, people around the globe summoned Obama’s election a victory for the world and a renewal of America’s ability to change.

 Change was Obama’s rallying call, what he has promised and continues to promise. But change for who exactly? Obama’s apparent drawback may be his relationship with the Muslim communities in the United States, and every other continent for that matter. The reasons for the antagonism of the Democrat candidate may be multifaceted. Nonetheless, whatever the reasons, it is clear American Muslims are palpably caught in a backwash from a presidential election campaign where the false notion that Barack Obama is Muslim has been seized on by suspicion and fear of Muslims being used as a political weapon. And Obama just is not identifying himself with the Muslims in America.

Will Obama still distance himself from Muslims, even with the presidency throne? Fact is, with Obama, the issue has nothing to do with whether or not he is a Muslim, rather whether he has the courage to actively reach out to communities, who have been supportive of his pursuit in the presidential elections, albeit for the sake of community cohesion in hope that Americans respond to his intellectual integrity.

 Obama is a refreshing change from the administration America has had for the last 8 years. His diverse background might actually give him the aptitude of healing divides rather than creating them. Obama must reach out, before communities who have been supportive of him, start to think that this “change” is limited to creed and that Mr Obama will do anything necessary to get elected and continue doing it as long as it keeps him in power.


Written by Magda M Ali

November 15, 2008 at 9:41 am