False witness

It is disturbing how willingly we will share photographs from one situation and pass them off as new images of another.

We have witnessed this repeatedly this week as France stepped up its bombing campaign against ISIS.

It is not beyond the realm of possibility that there have been civilian casualties as a result of this action.

However, every one of the phtotographs provided as evidence has on investigation turned out to be several months old. Some actually depict the victims of the regime’s bombardments.

Using photographs of one conflict to depict another is not just unethical, but also alters the historical narrative. Who nowadays recalls the crimes of the regime?

Legends

The daily reading of the Facebook news feed is an instructive illustration of how myths easily and permanently solidify into undeniable realities: once an untruth has been repeatedly recounted it becomes real and true in the popular imagination. Preposterous embellishments only make it seem truer still: even if we disagree on the details, agreement on the core guarantees that the original claim was always broadly true. In past times legends had decades to incubate; today our myths are instantaneous. Depressing, but fascinating all the same.

Active gratitude

Do our self-appointed community activists not find it at all problematic that while maintaining a website documenting alleged discrimination against Muslims, they allow people to post inflammatory statements about the Shia, Jews, and non-Muslims in general on their Twitter feed?

Of course not. For those who deem themselves fit to advocate on our behalf feel no compunction about selling us exaggerated stories, half truths and downright lies. Whether a video sowing the seeds of sectarian hatred or a photoshopped image designed to drive others into despair, the end is believed to justify the means. This is not about the pursuit of truth or peace, but about propaganda.

Have we sunk to such depths that we must now make up stories about Fox News, a pro-war, pro-gun, Republican news broadcaster already famous for disseminating untruths about Black people, Mexicans, Arabs, Cubans, Muslims, Liberals and Leftists? Apparently so!

Not content with highlighting genuine broadcasts of this apparently popular US-only news channel, our activists have now begun sharing an obviously fake screenshot of a Fox News item claiming President Obama used a secret Muslim handshake to greet a suspected Muslim — or Police Constable Michael Zamora — on his way into 10 Downing Street with then Prime Minister Gordon Brown in April 2009 (then reported three years later during 2012’s presidential elections, where it remained in suspended animation for another three years until it was finally screen captured and released to the public yesterday on 29 September 2015).

fox

The image is so poorly edited that it is hardly necessary to do a reverse image search on tineye.com to source the original undoctored image — but doing so will reveal that the original screen capture has in fact already been twice used for satirical effect. Indeed its current incarnation must have started out as satire, before it was picked up by serious activists intent on tagging it #islamophobia; surely nobody could actually believe this was real. Sadly they could: the activists’ followers shake their heads in disbelief, stamp their feet about the rampant #islamophobia in their midst and share the unbelievable news report on their own timelines, thus setting in motion another viral controversy.

Is it any wonder we look like complete idiots to the rest of the world? We wail about discrimination and oppression of our people (limited though that category has seemingly become, given widespread sub-sectarian posturing), while failing to acknowledge either the existence of discrimination against others elsewhere or oppression promulgated at the hands of Muslims themselves.

We mix truth with falsehood in an effort to make a more potent case for the sense of despair, victimhood and disenfranchisement felt by the social media generation. Our activists spend their days trawling the internet and news channels for tales of discrimination and prejudice, which they will then publicise via Twitter and Facebook without a second’s thought, where it will be picked up and shared by their followers and their followers’ followers for days on end without pause. And if a story cannot be found, an old story from a decade ago will be trawled up and reported again as if it just happened. Or a story will just be made up, or exaggerated, or turned on its head. It doesn’t matter at the end of the day: bearing false witness is just par for the course in the battle for hearts and minds.

Activism in our communities needs a reboot; nay, it needs a holiday. Truth is meant to be our guiding light: “speak the truth, even if it be against yourselves.” The constant drip-feed of desperation and unceasing torrent of despair is clearly designed to drive individuals towards distraction and radical action. In place of gratitude — so emphasised by the Qur’an — we become a heartless, wretched people unable to see any good in others, driven forward not by the light of faith, but by that perpetual inner anger at the world.

If our self-appointed community activists will not desist — and there’s no indication they plan to — many more will simply withdraw, sick to death of the ever increasing polarisation occurring between communities. We are tired of the constant litany of the misdemeanors of the other, when in real life we are all largely rubbing along just fine. The alternative — the anarchic madness of Syria a prime example — does not bear thinking about.

One day we will have to reflect on the lessons of the Qur’an: about truthfulness, kindness, justice, gratitude. Might we recall the words of Sulaiman one day — peace be upon him?

“This is from the favor of my Lord to test me whether I will be grateful or ungrateful. And whoever is grateful, his gratitude is only for the benefit of himself. And whoever is ungrateful, then indeed, my Lord is Free of need and Generous.” — Qur’an 27:40

Or will we just carry on regardless with the constant toing and froing of Left versus Right, Muslim versus Atheist, Sunni versus Shia… scoring points against the other on the basis of a random story reported online or in the press, driving ourselves to utter madness? An individual decision for each of us in these times.

Antisocial Media

There is a video doing the rounds on social media which, it is claimed, shows a Shia man in Mecca praying towards Karbala:

?#?Makkah? – This Shia is praying towards Karbala and the ?#?Kabah? is behind him!

The response is entirely predictable; each time the video is reposted on Twitter or Facebook, a new barrage of rabidly inflammatory sectarian remarks follow. Few seem willing to ask obvious questions, such as is the claim accurate or true?

Of course this claim has a back-story, brought to life by the Saudi Al-Arabiya and  Israel National News websites late in 2013, which reported the musings of Iraqi Prime Minister, Nuri Al-Maliki, as a doctrinal schism. Personally I don’t know why people of influence insist on making ambiguous statements that can easily be misconstrued or misrepresented by others, but it’s pretty clear that he was speaking in spiritual terms. To my knowledge, no Shia Muslim actually prays towards Karbala in the physical sense. 

But that will not deter those intent on promoting sectarian divisions by posting and reposting a video of dubious providence online. The social media generation seems not to care about truthfulness, accuracy or reliability — those Quranic maxims once so important. Nowadays “Verify it!” is always far from the mind. The pursuit of truth has been displaced by propaganda.

The first time I encountered the video, I suggested that the individual seen praying in the wrong direction was just a confused old man. But the next time I encountered it, my Obsessive-Compulsive urge to investigate everything got the better of me. I am too much a cynic to believe even half of what I read or see online. Friends hate me for it, I’m sure, but I just can’t help it.

So began my ten-minute investigation: what was that building in the background at the end of the video? I started with a Google Image search of buildings around the Kaaba. A satellite view of the Kaaba via Google Maps followed. One building looked very similar to the building in the video, so I zoomed in and clicked on various photos of it. It was an entirely convincing match.

390550_Dar-Al-Tawheed-Intercontinental_DDD[1]

If I am not mistaken, the building in the background at the end of the video is the Dar Al-Tawhid InterContinental hotel. Unfortunately for those claiming that the video shows a Shia man praying towards Karbala, this would mean he’s actually praying more in the direction of Jeddah, or Sudan, or Brazil. Completely the wrong direction for anywhere in Iraq.

Could it be then that my initial supposition was correct? A confused old man, possibly from South Asia, who’s used to praying to a Qibla of 256 degrees? Could his prayer mat with built-in compass be at fault? Could he be missing mental faculties? Could that just be where his flying carpet landed? Could there be another reason for this man’s mistaken actions? Could he be given another excuse? I hope so, because at times I’ve been know to pray in the wrong direction by accident too.

On social media these days people seem all too ready to share anything and everything, regardless of its accuracy or truth. It’s a sorry reflection on our state; a people supposedly concerned about verifying the accuracy of information that comes to us. A people supposedly concerned about the truth. It’s a tragedy. Who knows who will be harmed as a result of misinformation so readily shared?

 

Daily Mail fakery

Clearly the Daily Mail was on a tight turnaround for today’s non-story. Not content with employing the dubious ethics of pretending to be a teenage sympathiser of terrorism to tease out sensational soundbites, the newspaper chose to create a contrived Photoshop montage to illustrate the article. Check it out…

dailymail-photoshop

You’ll notice that the left of the image (arm and second bag) is a contorted clone of the original right side. The new hand probably belongs to someone else. Most of the bricks in the wall are exact copies of others. The bag on the left vanishes into thin air…

Come on Daily Mail, standards are slipping: if you’re going to engage in fakery, at least do it properly. But then again, maybe it’s the perfect fit for this wholly suspect article. Good show!

Casualties of war

People are sharing an image purporting to show 13 children executed by ISIS for watching a football match on television. I did a reverse image search of the image using TinEye.com and found that it actually shows victims of the Sabra and Shatila massacre in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1982.

I have no way of knowing if the story about ISIS is itself true or false, but the use of images from other conflicts does demonstrate how unethical some reporters of news/rumours are.

Last summer I was Mr Unpopular for subjecting alleged photos of destruction in another conflict to the same kind of scrutiny. A few photos which I encountered — said to show Israeli violence during Operation Protective Edge — turned out to be from their confrontations in earlier years or, in a few cases, from other theaters of war.

Mr Unpopular, I suppose, because truth is supposed to be the first casualty of war… in conflicts like this a generic kind of truth is all that’s required. We’re not supposed to quibble about individual truths, as long as the narrative is broadly correct. Hence the BBC got away with reporting a massacre by Assad’s forces in the early days of the Syria war, even when it was demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that the images they used were from the Iraq war a decade earlier.

Ever since, the online press has shown no compunction about blurring the lines of reality, being economical with the truth or just being plainly malicious. Last year, dozens of photos were circulated online alleged to show ISIS atrocities — but many of the photos could be easily traced back to their origin, sometimes years earlier, sometimes on different continents. A Mexican woman beheaded by a drug cartel gang was one; a little girl killed during aerial bombardment by Syrian forces was another.

The propaganda used by all sides is used to prepare us for war of some kind. We could all then say that we are excused from probing. But just as the age in which we live provides ever greater opportunities to mislead and be misled (viral emails, retweets and Facebook posts hardly have a parallel in earlier times), so we have technology at our disposal to investigate and challenge the claims of the devious.

Don’t believe everything you read or see. Be prepared to ask difficult questions, even if makes you unpopular — and even if it seems to be against your own interests.[1. “Speak the truth event against yourself…”] Warmongers — on all sides — use extreme imagery to generate extreme effects. Many a goodhearted young man has been so repulsed by the suffering of an oppressed people — reaffirmed one hundred times over — by grotesque imagery on a news feed that he has decided to do something. Many a patriotic young soldier — fed a diet of the barbaric deeds of the other — has been led to war in foreign lands against the barbaric enemy of the day.

Truth need not be the first casualty of war in the modern age. We have powerful search algorithms at our disposal with which we can investigate the veracity of an image. We have access to vast databases of all that has been said before. While we may not be able to uncover the motives and intentions of others, we can at least scrutinize their claims.

Are any of these claims true?

A friend posts conspiratorial claims on the Internet. I am surprised, because he is a student of knowledge who knows all about the importance of verification in our deen. So I ask, “Are any of these claims true?” A friendly exchange follows, for we each have a different take on these matters. Perhaps we just have to agree to disagree.

But, alas, my disputations are not appreciated. Somehow I must be convinced, even if it means sharing an article from a website which is as much devoted to aliens and UFOs as to the political machinations of the State. A faked photograph showing video fakery will surely convince me that the latest conspiracy theory is absolutely watertight and true.

Convincing? No, not really. I’m a dab hand at Photoshop myself and could mockup pretty much the same image in about half an hour by raiding a Google Image Search. True, the photo was just an illustration, chosen to complement an article: but a bad start in the mission to convince.

Now, look, I’m as partial to conspiracy theories as the next man. The Running Man and Enemy of the State are two of my favourite films. I am quite happy to believe that nations whose economies rely on weapons sales and access to oil use underhand techniques to help pave the way for war. Tony Blair, George Bush, WMDs, cough. This doesn’t mean I have to accept every claim I read on Facebook, however, just because it fits with a narrative I wish to believe and hold to.

This is why I will go on challenging spurious, unverified and curious claims whenever and wherever I encounter them. Why? Because we are charged with being a people of truth, and therefore we need to be certain that every piece of information we pass on is true. If there’s doubt, I tell myself, leave it out.

Shouldn’t those six short words be our minimum starting point, every single time?