Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Résumé of a 21st Century Terrorist: The Social Media and Marketing Major

Earlier this month ISIS became the wealthiest terrorist organization on the planet with its financial seizures in Iraq. Today, there were headlines across the world regarding merchandising as a new 'marketing' tactic of ISIS to fund raise as they work to accomplish their aspirations of global domination.

But we should not be expressing such shock that ISIS T-shirts and merchandise are surfacing.  This is simply a symptom of an inevitable evolution of the 21st century terrorist  - a well educated, tech and media savvy, often young individual that have been influenced by the global power of Islamist groups, such as al Qaeda and its terrorist affiliates across the MENA region.

Source: Pew 
We are no longer in the era of a cave-dwelling terrorist statement recorded on VHS - videos by terrorist groups such as ISIS are uploaded online and streaming as quickly as they are moving across the region.  As the tool that inspired and enabled the Arab Spring, social media and smart phone use have spread rapidly across the MENA region, empowering young people, activists, and social entrepreneurs to find a new place in the globalizing world. 

But with the rise of any cultural phenomenon, a counter culture will arise with it, and the use of these technology networks by terrorist groups has been just as apparent since 2011.

In 2010, even before the Arab Spring boom, Dr. Reza Aslan addressed the fact that terrorist groups had begun recruiting educated individuals to their causes,

When it comes to this global jihadist movement...groups like al-Qaida...want to reshape the global order. And it takes a certain amount of education, a certain amount of awareness, and frankly, a certain economic status to even think of such things.

Primary school completion rate, total
Source: World Bank
And their timing is prime, not only are masses of technologically savvy young people in the MENA region being overrun by the violent tactics of terrorist and extremist groups, they also happen to be well educated; a trend that has continued and even grown amidst the turmoil that has plagued the region since 2011 (*recent statistics were not available for Syria, but one should note that according to UNICEF, the conflict has forced 2.8 million children out of school for months, and some for years).

Moreover, the outreach tactic of these groups through the use of social media also acts to attract a younger demographic on its own – and that younger demographic pool has grown substantially since the Arab Spring. As youth groups across the Arab region are increasingly disenfranchised from the governmental process they search for a forum where they are able to have a collective discussion and a voice, and social media has provided the perfect tool for that outlet.

What is it that terrorist groups are able to harness in this media that well-equipped governments cannot? According to Dr. Aslan,

Jihadism is a social movement. It functions very much in the same way that other global social movements, say, for instance, the anti-globalization movement or the radical environmental movement works. It provides an alternative identity to its followers. And the followers tend to be young. They tend to be socially active. They tend to be politically conscious. They tend to be aware of such things as the grievances of the global Muslim community.

So how can we combat terrorism that moves at the speed of social media? Earlier this month, the National Journal addressed a report from the Woodrow Wilson Center regarding the use of new media by terrorists in the Middle East. The report shows that terrorist groups are engaging on a number of social media networks, including the most popular: Twitter and Facebook, in order to gain support, funding, and recruits.  The report's author, Gabriel Weimann suggests,

Source: Pew
… the same social-media tool could be a boon to the U.S. and other nations seeking to counter terrorists and their narrative. But thus far… terrorists are doing a better job than governments at using the medium.

In the post-Arab Spring era, community mobilization is key to any movement.  Social media was simply a means to this end in 2011, and it has not stopped serving as a tool for mobilization.  One thing that most of the MENA region governments have certainly not been able to do is to reach out to the hearts and minds of their own people.  The deep-rooted aspirations of these people are what led many of them to face bullets and beatings in order to overthrow dictators.  One thing that the Wilson Center report shows is that the convening tactics around these same passionate emotions have since been tapped into by a much darker and stronger power.

Activism is built on community empowerment and development, and as such these organizations maintain the ability to get work done on the ground – where the violent situations are moving the fastest; bureaucracy is slow to begin with, but when governments are unstable, in flux, or non-existent, getting action to meet the speed of the terrorist groups is difficult to say the least.

Even in the arena of cultural heritage, average citizens – #ArchaeoActivists – such as Monica Hanna, have been able to mobilize communities through Twitter and Facebook in response to heritage threats and successfully protect sites against pillaging from gangs when the Egyptian government was unable or unwilling to do so.

There is certainly a gap between the cooperation of activists, NGOs and non-profits, and the governments leading the nations they work in. However, if this grass roots convening power can be used to address antiquities and culture, which are typically the least funded of any ministries in most MENA nations, the implications for combatting terrorism could reach substantially further if tapped into appropriately. 

In this current era of instability with the rapid pace of ISIS and other terrorist movements across the region, it is imperative that national governments exercise their abilities to work with NGOs in order to foster greater support against terrorist groups among the wider populations.  Terrorists have worked extensively to keep up with the pace of globalization as it impacts the average person – merchandising, communicating, and reaching the issues that matter to them when they are faced with a crisis and a side to choose – we should expect nothing less of both MENA region governments and our own as we prepare to combat the growing terrorist threat by ISIS that impacts us all.  

Want to hear what I'm thinking in 140 characters or less? Follow me on Twitter! @AnthroPaulicy 

All of the thoughts and opinions on the AnthroPaulicy blog and Twitter are my own and do not represent that of any organization or group.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Power of the Media in 'Monuments Movements': NY Times article inspires American to return antiquities to Egypt

This week, the Antiquities Coalition and the Embassy of Egypt in Washington, DC announced the return of a small collection of ancient Egyptian ushabtis by an American woman and her family. After reading a New York Times piece in March 2014 that outlined the efforts of Egypt’s Ministry of antiquities to combat cultural racketeering – systematic theft of art and antiquities by organized crime syndicates - through their MoU with the International Coalition to Protect Egyptian Antiquities (ICPEA), one reader felt compelled to return Egyptian artifacts (which her family legally owned) to their homeland.

Egypt’s cultural heritage has been in peril facing threats of looting and destruction since the rise of the Arab Spring in January 2011. Pleas for help have reverberated through social media and press coverage on behalf of
Some of the ushabtis returned to Egypt
by Ms. Croasdaile.
Credit: The Antiquities Coalition
citizens archaeologists and heritage advocates - #ArchaeoActivtsts - both inside and out of Egypt.  But the cries for the return of artifacts taken from Egypt have not gone unheard. 

Ms. Cynthia Croasdaile, who grew up in Alexandria, Egypt in the 1970s, was inspired to repatriate her family’s antiquities after reading the NY Times article by Tom Mashberg.

Headlines regarding the besieged historical sites in Egypt, Syria, Libya – and now, sadly Iraq again - have been splashed across the news with increasing frequency as the months since the Arab Spring revolutions have passed. The power of the media to raise awareness about the loss of our heritage has proven time and again to be a strong contender in the ability to make ‘monumental’ movements (of course pun is intended!) in terms of policy and public awareness.

Ms. Croasdaile was not the first to be impacted by the press around cultural racketeering, or even one of Tom Mashberg’s articles focusing awareness on antiquities theft.  A piece he wrote in Winter 2013 regarding Sotheby’s sale of an illegal artifact followed a multi million dollar court case which Sotheby’s subsequently lost, losing both the valued statue, and millions in court and legal fees.

Furthermore, the timing of the returns that followed (ie the Norton Simon Museum and Christie’s Cambodian statues) fell coincidently close to the report of Sotheby’s higher than expected quarterly expenses – due in large part to their losses from the Cambodian statue legal case, which was spearheaded by Tess Davis, a Counselor at the Antiquities Coalition and Researcher for Trafficking Culture.  More likely than not Christie’s and Norton Simon saw the writing on the wall and cut their losses before enduring the same costs.  But it’s not the finances of a single legal case alone that are placing fear in these auction houses - but the massive media attention and subsequent social movements that accompany the issues of culture heritage in the current era.
Protesters gathered near Dahshur. Credit: Observer France 24 
I could (and probably will – so get ready) write a blog post once a week for months about local populations, young people, and average citizens taking risks and making social movements happen out of broken
monuments.  Many of these efforts are achieved with the use of media and social media to spread awareness quickly in these extremely fast moving volatile environments - creating #MonumentsMovements in communities that now have a way to voice their thoughts on heritage to the global community. 

We can only hope that like the Cambodian statue returns, Ms. Croasdaile’s selfless return of a family heirloom is only the beginning of a larger trend.  Not only of repatriating antiquities, but of reaching an awareness that our history is as endangered as our environment and many of the animals we fight earnestly to protect.  There are many important resources that keep the world together – and preservation of society and its history are among the most important.

Want to hear what I'm thinking in 140 characters or less? Follow me on Twitter! @AnthroPaulicy 

All of the thoughts and opinions on the AnthroPaulicy blog are my own and do not represent that of any organization or group.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

AnthroPaulicy Meets Internet!

With this being my first ‘official’ blog post I feel like I have to introduce myself and why I have begun blogging in the first place – since we’ll be getting to know each other I can’t just throw thoughts out into the blogosphere without some sort of explanation of where I’m coming from!

Why 'AnthroPaulicy'?

Although I have a penchant for cultural heritage and archaeology, my primary training is as an anthropologist. It is this training that has allowed me to examine the world of cultural heritage from an angle outside of the archaeological site and focus on the impacts and symptoms exhibited by the greater socio-political situations affecting the sites on a larger scale.  (There's the "Anthro" part for you...)

My educational background may be highly academically focused - anyone who has studied one of the humanities knows how "academia-y" they can get (which is one of the reasons I love it!) - but my work for non-profits since graduate school has been much more than academia could prepare me for - and being in DC I have received a thorough and very fast introduction into the policy world. But - much like Louis Leakey knew Jane Goodall would introduce the world to an innovative look at chimpanzees because of the fact that she didn't have a scientific/academic background -- I think that I can bring a fresh look at policy to the table regarding heritage and culture in the MENA region with my - we'll say 'insufficient study' - in policy and with the incorporation of anthropological principals and focus on local populations.  It's policy - Katie Paul's way - hence "Paulicy."

Why Blog now?

Beginning in graduate school, and for several years since, I voiced most opinions through social sharing on behalf of the organizations I worked for, managing the social media behind the scenes.  My primary concerns were archaeology and cultural heritage and since my day life was already consumed by these topics, I didn’t feel the need to express my personal opinions in addition to all of the advocacy sharing we were doing online – but more than anything, I didn’t think anyone would care what I had to say.

During my time managing social media on behalf of others, I was moved by the actions of several selfless individuals I have followed over these years who showed what the real power social media and media can do.  And more importantly, showed what the power of an individual could do. With that, I feel it is my time to begin contributing as an individual, an activist, an anthropologist, a researcher, an archaeologist, and a global citizen.

I can only hope that moving forward I can have the same impact on one person that others have had on me. If one person can make a change, I am going to do what I can to try and be that person. So here I am, Internet – I hope you’re ready for me!

Want to hear what I'm thinking in 140 characters or less?  Follow me on Twitter! @AnthroPaulicy 

All of the thoughts and opinions on the AnthroPaulicy blog are my own and do not represent that of any organization or group.