Showing posts with label Politically Yours. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Politically Yours. Show all posts

1 February 2021

Education Policies in England Overlook Bullying of LGBT+ Pupils

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Education Policies in England Overlook Bullying of LGBT+ Pupils
Education Policies in England Overlook Bullying of LGBT+ Pupils (photo via spixel)

Nearly half of LGBT+ pupils are bullied in school because of their gender or sexual orientation. In fact, LGBT+ bullying is the most common type of bullying in schools. Just 27% of secondary school pupils believe it would be safe to come out as LGBT+ in their schools.

Despite this, a 2020 report shows that only one-fifth of secondary school students report learning about LGBT+ identities and homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying.

While schools are now required to teach LGBT+ content as part of Relationships and Sex Education, guidance from the Department of Education leaves it up to schools how and when they approach this content. There is no specific mention of the need to tackle bullying aimed at LGBT+ pupils as part of the curriculum.

The content of LGBT+ education needs to be standardised across schools, and a more explicit stance needs to be taken against anti-LGBT+ bullying.

Taking care

Protecting the wellbeing of young people is hugely important, and teenagers from sexual minorities are more likely than their peers to suffer from mental health problems. The experience of discrimination at a young age can have long-term implications for people’s mental health. In the short term, being bullied in school affects pupils’ attendance and educational performance.

Education Policies in England Overlook Bullying of LGBT+ Pupils
Bullying can affect students’ school performance. (photo via wavebreakmedia)

However, funding for LGBT+ anti-bullying projects in English schools, provided by the Government Equalities Office, was withdrawn in March 2020. Since September 2020, Relationships Education is a compulsory subject in primary schools, while Relationships and Sex Education is compulsory in secondary schools. Schools are required to teach “LGBT content” as part of this new curriculum.

The explicit reference to LGBT+ content is laudable, given that the previous curriculum does not mention this at all. But the curriculum guidance leaves it up to schools to determine how and when they teach LGBT+ content. The only specification is that it must be taught at a “timely point”. The guidance continues to make allowances for religious schools to teach in accordance with their faith perspectives.

In principle, then, a school could get away with teaching very little about LGBT+ inclusivity, on the basis that it was not timely nor appropriate to do so with their pupils. For example, the Catholic Education Service’s Model Curriculum for Secondary Schools, which has been cited as an example of good practice by Nick Gibb, the minister of state for School Standards, merely discusses the need to teach about diversity in sexual attraction and developing sexuality, but makes no mention of LGBT+ content.

We cannot assume that all schools will offer comprehensive teaching on LGBT+ identities, especially when the guidance is vague. A further issue is that some teachers still feel they need more support to teach LGBT+ inclusive relationships and sex education.

A missing focus

Also, while the new curriculum guidance makes some reference to anti-bullying education, the emphasis falls mainly on cyberbullying, rather than LGBT+ bullying. Schools are required to identify any homophobic incidents and to deal with them appropriately. But beyond this, there is no specific mention of the need to tackle homophobic, biphobic or transphobic bullying as part of the curriculum.

The Government Equalities Office has claimed that it is “misleading” to state that the government has de-prioritised anti-LGBT+ bullying, because the Department for Education has awarded £750,000 to three charitable organisations for anti-bullying projects. The three organisations are the Diana Award, the Anne Frank Trust and the Anti-Bullying Alliance, none of which are LGBT-specific.

The lack of suitable emphasis on LGBT+ content, coupled with the withdrawal of funding for anti-bullying projects in schools that are specific to LGBT+ students, reflects a deliberate stance on the part of the government to sit on the fence, perhaps due to the contentious nature of the subject matter.

In 2019, parental protests erupted over the “No Outsiders” programme – which aimed to teach children about the protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010 (including, but not limited to, sexual orientation). The government’s lack of clarity on their expectations for schools’ teaching on LGBT+ topics was highlighted by the National Association of Head Teachers.

LGBT+ anti-bullying projects are needed alongside LGBT+ education under the new relationships and sex education curriculum in order to truly embed short and long-term positive changes for the LGBT+ pupils. The government can no longer afford to take a back seat on this

About Today's Contributor:

Rachel Heah, Lecturer in Law, Lancaster University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. 

21 January 2021

Kamala Harris Original Art Illustration Magazine Cover Design Pays Homage to 21st Century Diversity

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Kamala Harris Original Art Illustration Magazine Cover Design Pays Homage to 21st Century Diversity
Vice President Kamala Harris Original Art Culturs Magazine Illustration
As the United States made history welcoming Vice President Kamala Harris, Culturs — the global multicultural magazine, focused on how Harris represents an increasing wave of politicians displaying hidden diversity.
Along with Barack Obama and John McCain, the issue's cover story highlights how Third Culture Kids (TCKs) like these three examples are changing the face of U.S. politics. Third Culture Kids are those who grow up with geographic and cultural mobility during their formative years when identity is formed. In 1984, Sociologist Ted Ward called TCKs "The prototype citizens of the future."
"The classic profile of a TCK is someone with a global perspective who is socially adaptable and intellectually flexible," says Ruth Van Reken, co-author of a celebrated book on Third Culture Kids. In the article, she shares that "The U.S. 'melting pot' indeed has birthed notable TCKs in its political ranks.
  • The issue boasts an original art illustration of Harris amongst Lotus flowers, which is one translation for her name's meaning.
"We've had a lot of celebratory comments about this cover, and gratitude from people sharing that it is a proper observance for such a monumental occasion," Doni Aldine, Culturs Editor-in-Chief, shares.
  • The issue covers a number of cross-cultural political up-and-comers, along with articles on digital democracy in online algorithms, views on immigration and cross-cultural lifestyle content like the Ojibwe Native American Jingle Dress dance, a review of the book "Caste," and more.
This historic Colorado-based print publication celebrates cross-cultural identity and amplifies voices of hidden diversity for TCKs, immigrants, refugees, multiracial and multiethnic people. On sale for $9.99 starting Feb. 1 at Army and Air Force Exchange Service Stores (AFFES), select Kroger grocery stores, Books-a-Million and independent bookstores. 

About Culturs:

Culturs is a global multicultural philanthropic brand that brings lifestyle content to culturally fluid populations whose lives are punctuated by "straddling" different cultures during their formative years. The missing "e" in Culturs represents the population's hidden diversity. Proceeds support cross-cultural education around the globe. 

SOURCE: Culturs


20 January 2021

Favale Media's "Donald Trump Farewell Video" Features Four Long Years Of Lowlights In Just Four Minutes [Video Included]

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REM predicted the end of the world as we know it would start with an earthquake but for many it started with a descending escalator carrying Donald and Melania in Trump Tower on June 16th, 2015…and it's been all downhill since then.

Now with Trump's presidency officially ended, Favale Media has captured the last four years of lowlights in a commemorative video featuring Radiohead's "Creep".
"Regardless of political affiliation, every presidency in modern history has been fodder for comedy," said Vinnie Favale.
Comedians had a field day in 1952 with Vice President Nixon's "checkers" speech. In 1963, Vaughn Meader had the number one album ("The First Family") spoofing JFK. Nixon's Watergate and Clinton's Monicagate were a goldmine for Johnny Carson's monologue writers and Reagan, Bush 41, Bush 43 and Obama made their own fair share of gaffes to keep the late-night talk show writers busy.

  • But Trump's presidency presented a whole different challenge for the comedy industry.
Favale says "Unfortunately old the expression 'it's all fun and games till somebody gets hurt...then it's hilarious" never applied to Trump. Claims that he could shoot someone on 5th avenue and get away with it and exaggerating the size of his inauguration crowds were relatively harmless…contesting the election results and instigating the riot at the Capitol not so much."
Prior to the attack on the Capitol, Favale was going to take a lighthearted approach. "There were so many moments to choose from, I thought I might just highlight the silly stuff and use the Village People as the soundtrack. But then Trump's comments at his "Save America March" rally and the ensuing attack on the Capitol by his loyalists forced Favale to change the tone of the video.
"The thing about the Trump is that for every silly video clip there are like ten horrific ones and the footage from the January 6th riot was just too difficult to ignore."
  • Using the aptly titled "Creep" from Radiohead, the video came together pretty quickly.
"It's sad that it all had to end this way and I think we all are looking forward to the inevitable Biden grandpa memes."
Favale Media's "Donald Trump Farewell Video" Features Four Long Years Of Lowlights In Just Four Minutes
Favale Media's "Donald Trump Farewell Video" Features Four Long Years Of Lowlights In Just Four Minutes (screengrab)
Favale Media specializes in Live Events, Films, Musical Theater, Scripted & Unscripted TV Programs. Vinnie Favale is a veteran of CBS, David Letterman, The Howard Stern Show and a founder of Comedy Central.
SOURCE: Favale Media

19 January 2021

How Anti-Vax Memes Replicate Through Satire And Irony

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How Anti-Vax Memes Replicate Through Satire And Irony
How Anti-Vax Memes Replicate Through Satire And Irony (image via Don/KnowYourMeme)

For most of us, memes are the harmless fodder of an “extremely online” internet culture, floating benignly between different social media platforms — and, on the whole, making us laugh. But in the shadier corners of the internet, like on the forum 4chan, memes can quickly mutate from jokes into more ambiguous, shocking and potentially harmful viral content.

That’s especially true of memes that call into question the efficacy and safety of vaccines — often termed “anti-vax” content. Anti-vaccination sentiment is not a new phenomenon, but is increasingly fuelled by online misinformation. Unfounded claims proliferate online, linking vaccines to disease development, or presenting COVID-19 as a hoax.

When they go viral, such conspiracy theories present a major obstacle to the success of any immunisation campaign, as they may contribute to vaccine hesitancy. In the UK, more than a quarter of the population signals reluctance or suspicion about receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. Globally, willingness to be vaccinated varies widely.

To combat the spread of anti-vaccination rumours, platforms are currently using a dual strategy of censorship and fact checking. Both practices have their pitfalls. Censorship may actually stimulate curiosity, while people who distrust mainstream media are not likely to trust fact checkers.

And much online content — like viral memes — is not primarily meant to inform, and is therefore hard to evaluate in terms of whether it’s information, misinformation, or simply a joke.

Imageboard dissidence

Internet memes are a defining feature of online communication. The term can refer to any widely shared and replicated piece of online content in a variety of styles and formats. While mostly humorous or relatable, some memes have come to be associated with hateful beliefs through their occurrence on influential websites such as the imageboard 4chan.

4chan boasts over 20 million unique visitors a month, and is highly influential in meme culture. On 4chan’s “Politically Incorrect” board (/pol/), people anonymously discuss world news and political events from perspectives that run counter to the public consensus. Views expressed on /pol/ can be shocking and unpleasant.

Conspiracy theories such as QAnon flourished on /pol/, and the forum has been linked to the recent Capitol riots.

How Anti-Vax Memes Replicate Through Satire And Irony
4chan is an imageboard from which many famous memes have originated (II.studio/Shutterstock)

Presumed malicious intent behind vaccination programmes is a commonly voiced concern on the board. In a recent study, I showed that anti-vaccination posts encountered on /pol/ (and found across social media) display a number of recurring elements, such as revulsion to vaccine ingredients and selective appeals to authority. With vaccine hesitancy becoming an increasingly pressing concern, the role of such memetic patterns in the spread of misinformation deserves careful attention.

Renegade quotes

Anti-vaccination posts regularly contain a visual component. For instance, a reference to authority can be expressed through a vaccine-critical quote next to the face of the person who supposedly uttered it. Surprisingly often, quotes included in anti-vaccination discussions are attributed incorrectly.

Online, incorrect attribution does not just happen by accident. Fake quotes are a very popular meme format, often intended to satirise and amuse. Today’s internet users are likely to encounter the face of historic figures such as Lincoln, Einstein or Gandhi, paired with an absurdly out-of-place statement.

Such memes creatively critique the popular practice of sharing inspirational messages. They also ridicule received sources of wisdom and authority. But as a result, it is often unclear whether anti-vaccination statements voiced through the face-and-quote format are shared and received in earnest, or through an ironic lens.

This image of Bill Gates with a vaccine has been repurposed hundreds of times online. (Jean-Marc Ferré/UN Photo, CC BY-NC-ND)

Accustomed to online irony, a proportion of internet users on 4chan and beyond may not intend their multi-layered jokes to contribute to vaccine hesitancy. The influence of ironic meme culture may also mitigate the impact of misinformation by priming the browsing crowd for absurdity rather than accuracy. However, diverse audiences make for diverse reactions. While quotes supposedly exposing the evil intentions of figures such as Bill Gates – a common target of conspiratorial beliefs – can easily be read in jest, they can also influence internet users to distrust vaccines.

Vaccine revolt

A second common feature of anti-vaccination discourse is revulsion to vaccine ingredients. This sentiment tends to be communicated by means of lists combining chemical and bestial elements. When taken out of context, a compilation of vaccine components — mentioning mercury, formaldehyde, and cow’s blood — can indeed inspire fear and disgust. When presented to shock, the ingredients of any complex product may come to look like an alchemist’s concoction or a sinister witch’s brew.

Feelings of aversion may be exacerbated by the image of a syringe, which in anti-vax posts is often presented together with ingredients deemed harmful. Most children fear needles, and a large proportion of adults do, too. In many contexts, sharp objects are associated with harm, not health.

It is surprising, then, that ironic replications of the syringe-plus-ingredients template circulate online, mocking the anti-vaxxer’s fears and supposed scientific illiteracy. Such memetic efforts may aim to comically combat misinformation, but nonetheless spread visual prompts that reinforce suspicion. From this perspective, you may even wonder whether popular newspapers contribute to vaccine hesitancy by repeatedly using pictures of a needle breaching the skin.

Attitudes to vaccination are communicated not just through what is written, but also through particular representational patterns. Meme formats and visual outlines can spread misinformation, even when created and shared with humorous intent.

After all, “Poe’s Law” dictates that there’s a wafer-thin line between satirical and fanatical content. In the context of COVID-19, that line is all too easily crossed.

About Today's Contributor:

Jan Buts, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Translation Studies, Trinity College Dublin

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. 

14 January 2021

Trump's Twitter Ban Obscures The Real Problem: State-Backed Manipulation Is Rampant On Social Media

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Trump's Twitter Ban Obscures The Real Problem: State-Backed Manipulation Is Rampant On Social Media
Trump's Twitter Ban Obscures The Real Problem: State-Backed Manipulation Is Rampant On Social Media (ozrimoz/Shutterstock)

Donald Trump’s controversial removal from social media platforms has reignited debate around the censorship of information published online. But the issue of disinformation and manipulation on social media goes far beyond one man’s Twitter account. And it is much more widespread than previously thought.

Since 2016, our team at the Oxford Internet Institute has monitored the rapid global proliferation of social media manipulation campaigns, which we define as the use of digital tools to influence online public behaviour. In the past four years, social media manipulation has evolved from a niche concern to a global threat to democracy and human rights.

Our latest report found that organised social media manipulation campaigns are now common across the world — identified in 81 countries in 2020, up from 70 countries in 2019. The map below shows the global distribution of these 81 countries, marked in dark blue.

Trump's Twitter Ban Obscures The Real Problem: State-Backed Manipulation Is Rampant On Social Media
The countries marked in dark blue experienced industrial disinformation campaigns in 2020. (OII, Author provided (No reuse))
In our report, we focus on the use of “cyber troops”, which are teams from the government, the military or political parties which are committed to manipulating public opinion on social media. Cyber troops regularly conduct what we call “computational propaganda” campaigns.

Computational propaganda involves the use of programmed bots or humans to spread purposefully misleading information across the internet, often on an industrial scale.

To do this, computational propagandists make use of an extensive toolkit of disinformation tools. Political bots amplify hate speech and create the impression of trending political messages on Twitter and Facebook. The illegal harvesting of data helps propagandists target messaging at specific, often vulnerable individuals and groups. Troll armies, meanwhile, are regularly deployed to suppresses political activism and the freedom of the press.

In 2020, we identified 62 countries in which state agencies themselves are using these tools to shape public opinion. In other countries included in our study, these tools are being used by private organisations, or foreign actors.

Disinformation for hire

Despite the Cambridge Analytica scandal exposing how private firms can meddle in democratic elections, our research also found an alarming increase in the use of “disinformation-for-hire” services across the world. Using government and political party funding, private-sector cyber troops are increasingly being hired to spread manipulated messages online, or to drown out other voices on social media.

Our research found state actors working with private computational propaganda companies in 48 countries in 2020, up from 21 identified between 2017 and 2018, and only nine such instances between 2016 and 2017. Since 2007, almost US$60 million (£49 million) has been spent globally on contracts with these firms.

Additionally, we’ve uncovered relationships between hired cyber troops and civil society groups who ideologically support a particular cause, such as youth groups and social media influencers. In the United States, for example, the pro-Trump youth group Turning Point Action was used to spread online disinformation and pro-Trump narratives about both COVID-19 and mail-in ballots.

To achieve their political ends, smear campaigns against a political opponent are the most common strategy employed by cyber troops, featuring in 94% of all the countries we investigated. In 90% of countries we observed the spreading of pro-party or pro-government propaganda. Suppressing participation through trolling or harassment was a feature in 73% of countries, while in 48% cyber troops’ messaging sought to polarise citizens.

Social media moderation

Clearly, debates around the censoring of Trump and his supporters on social media cover only one facet of the industry’s disinformation crisis. As more countries invest in campaigns that seek to actively mislead their citizens, social media firms are likely to face increased calls for moderation and regulation — and not just of Trump, his followers and related conspiracy theories like QAnon.

Trump's Twitter Ban Obscures The Real Problem: State-Backed Manipulation Is Rampant On Social Media
Donald Trump was banned from Twitter in the aftermath of the Capitol riots (pcruciatti/Shutterstock)

Already this year, the prevalence of computational propaganda campaigns throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and in the aftermath of the US election has prompted many social media firms to limit the misuse of their platforms by removing accounts which they believe are managed by cyber troops.

For instance, our research found that between January 2019 and December 2020, Facebook removed 10,893 accounts, 12,588 pages and 603 groups from its platform. In the same period, Twitter removed 294,096 accounts, and continues to remove accounts linked to the far right.

Despite these account removals, our research has exposed that between January 2019 and December 2020 almost US$10 million was spent by cyber troops on political advertisements. And a crucial part of the story is that social media companies continue to profit from the promotion of disinformation on their platforms. Calls for tighter regulation and firmer policing are likely to follow Facebook and Twitter until they truly get to grips with the tendency of their platforms to host, spread and multiply disinformation.

A strong, functional democracy relies upon the public’s access to high-quality information. This enables citizens to engage in informed deliberations and to seek consensus. It’s clear that social media platforms have become crucial in facilitating this information exchange.

These companies should therefore increase their efforts to flag and remove disinformation, along with all cyber troop accounts which are used to spread harmful content online. Otherwise, the continued escalation in computational propaganda campaigns that our research has revealed will only heighten political polarisation, diminish public trust in institutions, and further undermine democracy worldwide.

About Today's Contributor:

Hannah Bailey, PhD researcher in Social Data Science, University of Oxford

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. 

7 January 2021

QAnon and The Storm of The U.S. Capitol: The Offline Effect of Online Conspiracy Theories

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QAnon and The Storm of The U.S. Capitol: The Offline Effect of Online Conspiracy Theories
A supporter of President Donald Trump, seen wearing a QAnon shirt, is confronted by Capitol Police officers outside the Senate Chamber during the invasion of the U.S. Capitol.(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

What is the cost of propaganda, misinformation and conspiracy theories? Democracy and public safety, to name just two things. The United States has received a stark lesson on how online propaganda and misinformation have an offline impact.

For months, Donald Trump has falsely claimed the November presidential election was rigged and that’s why he wasn’t re-elected. The president’s words have mirrored and fed conspriacy theories spread by followers of the QAnon movement.

While conspiracy theorists are often dismissed as “crazy people on social media,” QAnon adherents were among the individuals at the front line of the storming of Capitol Hill.

QAnon is a decentralized, ideologically motivated and violent extemist movement rooted in an unfounded conspiracy theory that a global “Deep State” cabal of satanic pedophile elites is responsible for all the evil in the world. Adherents of QAnon also believe that this same cabal is seeking to bring down Trump, whom they see as the world’s only hope in defeating it.

The evolution of QAnon

Though it started as a series of conspiracy theories and false predictions, over the past three years QAnon has evolved into an extremist religio-political ideology.

I’ve been studying the movement for more than two years. QAnon is what I call a hyper-real religion. QAnon takes popular cultural artifacts and integrates them into an ideological framework.

QAnon has been a security threat in the making for the past three years.

The COVID-19 pandemic has played a signficant role in popularizing the QAnon movement. Facebook data since the start of 2020 shows QAnon membership grew by 581 per cent — most of which occurred after the United States closed its borders last March as part of its coronavirus containment strategy.

QAnon and The Storm of The U.S. Capitol: The Offline Effect of Online Conspiracy Theories
Aggregate growth of QAnon membership in Facebook groups and pages between January and September 2020. Data collected and visualized September 4, 2020 courtsey of CrowdTangle.

As social media researcher Alex Kaplan noted, 2020 was the year QAnon became all of our problem as the movement initially gained traction by spreading COVID-related conspiracy theories and disinformation and was then further mainstreamed by 97 U.S. congressional candidates who publicly showed support for QAnon.

Crowdsourced answers

The essence of QAnon lies in its attempts to delineate and explain evil. It’s about theodicy, not secular evidence. QAnon offers its adherents comfort in an uncertain — and unprecedented — age as the movement crowdsources answers to the inexplicable.

QAnon becomes the master narrative capable of simply explaining various complex events. The result is a worldview characterized by a sharp distinction between the realms of good and evil that is non-falsifiable.

No matter how much evidence journalists, academics and civil society offer as a counter to the claims promoted by the movement, belief in QAnon as the source of truth is a matter of faith — specifically in their faith in Trump and “Q,” the anonymous person who began the movement in 2017 by posting a series of wild theories about the Deep State.

Trump validated theories

The year 2020 was also Trump finally gave QAnon what it always wanted: respect. As Travis View, a conspiracy theory researcher and host of the QAnon Anonymous podcast recently wrote: “Over the past few months …Trump has recognized the QAnon community in a way its followers could have only fantasized about when I began tracking the movement’s growth over two years ago.”

Trump, lawyers Sidney Powell and Lin Wood, and QAnon “rising star” Ron Watkins have all been actively inflaming QAnon apocalyptic and anti-establishment desires by promoting voter fraud conspiracy theories.

Doubts about the validity of the election have been circulating in far-right as well as QAnon circles. Last October, I wrote that if there were delays or other complications in the final result of the presidential contest, it would likely feed into a pre-existing belief in the invalidity of the election — and foster a chaotic environment that could lead to violence.

QAnon and The Storm of The U.S. Capitol: The Offline Effect of Online Conspiracy Theories
A shirtless man known as the ‘QAnon Shaman’ was one of the high-profile members of Trump supporters who invaded the U.S. Capitol. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Hope for miracles

The storming of U.S. Capitol saw the culmination of what has been building up for weeks: the “hopeium” in QAnon circles that some miracle via Vice-President Mike Pence and other constitutional witchcraft would overturn the election results.

Instead, QAnon followers are now faced with the end of a Trump presidency — where they had free rein — and the fear of what a Biden presidency will bring.

We have now long passed the point of simply asking: how can people believe in QAnon when so many of its claims fly in the face of facts? The attack on the Capitol showed the real dangers of QAnon adherents.

Their militant and anti-establishment ideology — rooted in a quasi-apocalyptic desire to destroy the existing, corrupt world and usher in a promised golden age — was on full display for the whole world to see. Who could miss the shirtless man wearing a fur hat, known as the QAnon Shaman, leading the charge into the Capitol rotunda?

What will happen now? QAnon, along with other far-right actors, will likely continue to come together to achieve their insurrection goals. This could lead to a continuation of QAnon-inspired violence as the movement’s ideology continues to grow in American culture.

About Today's Contributor:

Marc-André Argentino, PhD candidate Individualized Program, 2020-2021 Public Scholar, Concordia University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. 

30 November 2020

Marvel’s First On-Screen Muslim Superhero — Kamala Khan, Ms. Marvel's Alter-Ego — Inspires Big Hopes

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Marvel’s First On-Screen Muslim Superhero — Kamala Khan, Ms. Marvel's Alter-Ego — Inspires Big Hopes
Some Ms. Marvel comic storylines have revealed her as a well-rounded character while others have advanced Islamophobic themes. (Marvel)

Amid the stress of a rising second wave of COVID-19, comic book fans found something to celebrate this September. Marvel Studios announced the casting of its first on-screen Muslim superhero, Kamala Khan, the alter-ego of Ms. Marvel.

Much like Canadian teen actress Iman Vellani who was plucked for this role, Kamala has been a virtual unknown outside of comic fandom despite being a sensation since her series debut at the top of comic book sales charts in 2014.

It should be no surprise then that Marvel Studios decided to capitalize on this success and signed Kamala for her own TV series on Disney+ for an anticipated debut in late 2021 or early 2022.

As a researcher who has examined Muslim superheroes in American comics, I find Kamala to be the most intriguing of all American Muslim superheroes. She has an ability to destabilize stereotypes of Muslims while reinforcing ideas about American exceptionalism. In the hands of different writers in various comic iterations, she has appeared as multi-dimensional and stereotype-breaking, but also as a one-dimensional figure that advances Islamophobic themes.

Marvel’s First On-Screen Muslim Superhero — Kamala Khan, Ms. Marvel's Alter-Ego — Inspires Big Hopes
Kamala Khan is a Pakistani American who speaks Urdu. Panel from Volume 1, digital edition. (Marvel)

Muslim characters post 9/11

It may seem that Marvel Studios is taking a big risk spotlighting a Muslim character when we are living in a time of rising anti-Muslim hatred in the West. But while there has been a resurgence of Muslim superheroes in American comics after 9/11, some of these representations reiterate stereotypes.

Muslim characters underwent a mini-makeover in popular culture after 9/11. Characters emerged from being buffoonish villains to figures who gave off the appearance of depth while simultaneously regurgitating stereotypes. American studies and ethnicity scholar Evelyn al Sultany coined the term “simplified complex representation” to describe this approach in her book, Arabs and Muslims in the Media: Race and Representation After 9/11.

Certainly, Muslim superheroes were a thing before 9/11. But after 9/11, a spate of Muslim superheroes emerged, including characters like the orientalized Sooraya Qadir (Dust), who appeared in New X-Men in 2002, Simon Baz, member of the Green Lantern Corps featured in Green Lantern, and Josiah X who first appeared in The Crew. This is fascinating to me since superheroes often function as patriotic symbols, and Muslims are regarded as the quintessential “other” because Islam is usually framed as incompatible with the West.

After reading Sooraya Qadir’s debut, it became obvious to me that comics found a new way to sensationalize Muslim representation.

Enter Kamala Khan

To me, Kamala seemed to be the rare glimpse of hope that existed on the other side of the rainbow if we just characterized Muslims — who make up almost one-quarter of the world’s population — as something more nuanced. And she delivered on that front, particularly in her early days.

Readers met her as a Pakistani American that spoke Urdu. This means we saw representation of Muslims in the West escape the frequent stereotypical assumption that all Muslims are Arabs and vice versa.

Marvel’s First On-Screen Muslim Superhero — Kamala Khan, Ms. Marvel's Alter-Ego — Inspires Big Hopes
This panel from Ms. Marvel, Volume 1, digital edition, written by G. Willow Wilson and illustrated by Adrian Alphona, depicts Kamala Khan as a believable character in a possible real-world setting. (Marvel)

Later in Magnificent Ms. Marvel #13, written by the Arab American writer, Saladin Ahmed, the sole focus shifted away from Kamala Khan when an Arab American sidekick named Amulet was introduced.

Successful sales, popularity

In Ms. Marvel’s earlier volumes written by the Muslim writer, and white Muslim convert, G. Willow Wilson, we saw Kamala anointed with her superhero mantle to the tune of Amir Khusro’s poetry. We saw her juggle her schedule between battles and mehendis, and even got a glimpse of her great-great grandmother’s move from India to Pakistan during Partition.

Back then, I remember comic book store clerks telling me how popular Ms. Marvel was with customers. The print collection of the series sold half a million copies alone. As Wilson notes, the first issue had had eight separate printings and its digital edition became Marvel’s best-selling digital comic of all time. Its first volume, released in 2014, was ranked again amongst the top five in sales rankings in September 2020.

I remember thinking that this Urdu-speaking Muslim powerhouse could be the start of a new type of Muslim character. She was proof that creators didn’t need to recycle the tireless oppressed Muslim woman or terrorist Muslim male tropes for sales.

G. Willow Smith discusses Kamala Khan as ‘A Superhero for Generation Why.’

Introducing Islamophobic themes

But following the success of the Ms. Marvel series, Kamala appeared in Marvel’s Champions series about a team of teenage superheroes. Perhaps Marvel intended to further boost the popularity of the already-successful Ms. Marvel series by bringing in Mark Waid, a high-profile non-Muslim white writer, who authored the popular comic series (and award-winning graphic novel) Kingdom Come and others.

In Champions, some tired stereotypes surfaced. In the third issue, the team flies to a fictional South Asian country. There, they rescue hijabi Muslim girls from violent men who conform to stock villain Muslim stereotypes like the terrorists seen in Hollywood movies such as True Lies.

Here, Kamala is effectively used as a racist weapon against brown men and is depicted to suggest proof of western superiority. Sadly enough, I was concerned she could be used this way before she actually was.

I was reminded that such tropes may exist simply because of implicit bias as opposed to profitability.

Celebrate and watch

Marvel’s First On-Screen Muslim Superhero — Kamala Khan, Ms. Marvel's Alter-Ego — Inspires Big Hopes
Kamala’s selfie with Wolverine, from ‘Ms. Marvel’ Volume 2, digital edition. (Marvel)

For now, we should celebrate the debut of Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first Muslim superhero. I have hope that the Disney+ series will do her justice as its showrunner is the stand-up comedian and writer Bisha K. Ali, known for incisive commentary.

However, Marvel plans to move Kamala eventually to the silver screen and there’s already talk of a Champions type of superhero team series featuring Kamala.

If anything of the likes of Kamala as a racist weapon to prove western superiority is featured, I can’t say there will be much cause for celebration.

About Today's Contributor:

Safiyya Hosein, PhD Candidate in Communication and Culture, Ryerson University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. 

14 November 2020

Why Lockdowns Don't Necessarily Infringe On Freedom

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Why Lockdowns Don't Necessarily Infringe On Freedom
Why Lockdowns Don't Necessarily Infringe On Freedom (Image by Tumisu)
Europe is dealing with its “second wave” of COVID-19. And governments seem powerless to stem the tide. Dutch political leaders find it difficult to convince their citizens to wear face masks. A large majority of French voters think that Emmanuel Macron’s government has handled the pandemic badly. And Boris Johnson, Britain’s prime minister, is facing anger from all sides about the circumstances that led to a new English lockdown.
According to these leaders, the arrival of a second wave has nothing to do with their own policy failures, or poor communication. No, the numbers are rising because Europeans are freedom-loving people and it’s hard to make them follow rules. “It is very difficult to ask the British population, uniformly, to obey guidelines in the way that is necessary,” said Johnson for example, in response to criticism of his government’s testing policy. Similarly, in the Netherlands some were quick to attribute soaring infection rates to the fact that the Dutch are famously averse to being “patronised”.

The same explanation is often invoked to account for why Europe is doing significantly worse than countries in East Asia, where the disease seems more under control. According to some commentators, the authoritarian, top-down political culture of countries like China and Singapore makes it far easier to implement strict measures than in liberal Europe.

Singapore’s “effective crisis management”, for instance, was supposedly made possible by the fact that its government “has always wielded absolute control over the state, with an iron fist and a whip in it.” Conversely, many believe that a devotion to “individual liberty” doomed the west to its ongoing crisis.

Why Lockdowns Don't Necessarily Infringe On Freedom
A coronavirus screening centre in Singapore. (EPA-EFE)
Is this true? Is a poorly functioning government indeed the price that must be paid for freedom? If that is the case, then perhaps we had better give up on liberty. After all, anyone who is dead or seriously ill does not benefit much from being free.

Collective freedom

Fortunately, that’s a conclusion we needn’t draw. As history shows, freedom is quite compatible with effective government. Western political thinkers ranging from Herodotus to Algernon Sidney did not think that a free society is a society without rules, but that those rules should be decided collectively. In their view, freedom was a public good rather than a purely individual condition. A free people, Sidney wrote for instance, was a people living “under laws of their own making”.

Even philosophers such as John Locke, it is worth noting, agreed with this view. Locke is often portrayed as a thinker who believed that freedom coincided with individual rights, rights that should be protected at all costs against state interference. But Locke explicitly denied that freedom was harmed by government regulation – as long as those rules were made “with the consent of society”.
Freedom then is not … a liberty for every one to do what he lists, to live as he pleases, and not to be tied by any law,” he wrote in his famous Second Treatise. “But freedom of men under government, is, to have a standing rule to live by, common to every one of that society, and made by the legislative power erected in it.
It was only in the early 19th century that some began to reject this collective ideal in favour of a more individualistic conception of liberty.

A new liberty

In the wake of the French Revolution, democracy slowly expanded across Europe. But this was not universally welcomed. The extension of the right to vote, many feared, would give political power to the poor and uneducated, who would no doubt use it to make dumb decisions or to redistribute wealth. 

Why Lockdowns Don't Necessarily Infringe On Freedom
Storming of The Bastile, Jean-Pierre Houël, 1789. (Wikimedia Commons)
Hence, liberal elites embarked on a campaign against democracy – and they did so in the name of freedom. Democracy, liberal thinkers ranging from Benjamin Constant to Herbert Spencer argued, was not the mainstay of liberty but a potential threat to freedom properly understood – the private enjoyment of one’s life and goods.

Throughout the 19th century, this liberal, individualistic conception of freedom continued to be contested by radical democrats and socialists alike. Suffragettes such as Emmeline Pankhurst profoundly disagreed with Spencer’s view that the best way to protect liberty was to limit the sphere of government as much as possible. At the same time, socialist politicians such as Jean Jaurès claimed that they, and not the liberals, were the party of freedom, since socialism’s goal was “to organise the sovereignty of all in both the economic and political spheres”.

The ‘free’ West

Only after 1945 did the liberal concept of freedom prevail over the older, collective conception of freedom. In the context of cold war rivalry between the “free West” and the Soviet Union, distrust of state power grew - even democratic state power. In 1958, liberal philosopher Isaiah Berlin, in a one-sided reading of the history of European political thought, stated that “Western” freedom was a purely “negative” concept. Every law, Berlin stated bluntly, had to be seen as an encroachment on freedom.

The cold war is of course since long over. Now that we are entering the third decade of the 21st century, we might want to dust off the older, collective concept of freedom. If the coronavirus crisis has made one thing clear, it is that collective threats such as a pandemic demand decisive, effective action from government.
This does not mean giving up our freedom in exchange for the protection of a nanny state. As Sidney and Locke remind us, as long as even the strictest lockdown can count on broad democratic support, and the rules remain subject to scrutiny by our representatives and the press, they do not infringe on our freedom.

About Today's Contributor:

Annelien de Dijn, Professor of History, Utrecht University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.

6 November 2020

UNICEF and WHO Call for Emergency Action to Avert Major Measles and Polio Epidemics

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UNICEF and WHO Call for Emergency Action to Avert Major Measles and Polio Epidemics
A baby is being weighted and vaccinated in the health center of Gonzagueville, a suburb of Abidjan, in the South of Côte d'Ivoire. (CNW Group/Canadian Unicef Committee)
UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) have issued an urgent call to action to avert major measles and polio epidemics as COVID-19 continues to disrupt immunization services worldwide, leaving millions of vulnerable children at heightened risk of preventable childhood diseases.
  • The two organizations estimate that US$655 million (US$400 million for polio and US$255 million for measles) are needed to address dangerous immunity gaps in non-Gavi eligible countries and target age groups.
"COVID-19 has had a devastating effect on health services and in particular immunization services, worldwide," commented Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. "But unlike with COVID, we have the tools and knowledge to stop diseases such as polio and measles. What we need are the resources and commitments to put these tools and knowledge into action. If we do that, children's lives will be saved."
"We cannot allow the fight against one deadly disease to cause us to lose ground in the fight against other diseases," said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director. "Addressing the global COVID-19 pandemic is critical. However, other deadly diseases also threaten the lives of millions of children in some of the poorest areas of the world. That is why today we are urgently calling for global action from country leaders, donors and partners. We need additional financial resources to safely resume vaccination campaigns and prioritize immunization systems that are critical to protect children and avert other epidemics besides COVID-19."
A 3-year-old girl receives a vaccine shot at a community health centre in Beijing, China, on 26 March 2020. Provinces other than Hubei, the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak, gradually resumed full vaccination services that had been halted due to the outbreak. (© UNICEF/UNI315081/Yuwei)
In recent years, there has been a global resurgence of measles with ongoing outbreaks in all parts of the world. Vaccination coverage gaps have been further exacerbated in 2020 by COVID-19. In 2019, measles climbed to the highest number of new infections in more than two decades. Annual measles mortality data for 2019 to be released next week will show the continued negative toll that sustained outbreaks are having in many countries around the world.

At the same time, poliovirus transmission is expected to increase in Pakistan and Afghanistan and in many under-immunized areas of Africa. Failure to eradicate polio now would lead to global resurgence of the disease, resulting in as many as 200,000 new cases annually, within 10 years.

New tools, including a next-generation novel oral polio vaccine and the forthcoming Measles Outbreak Strategic Response Plan are expected to be deployed over the coming months to help tackle these growing threats in a more effective and sustainable manner, and ultimately save lives. The Plan is a worldwide strategy to quickly and effectively prevent, detect and respond to measles outbreaks.

UNICEF & WHO's Call for Emergency Action to Avert Major Measles and Polio Epidemics - front cover
Generous support from Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, has enabled previous access to funding for outbreak response, preventive campaigns and routine immunization strengthening, including additional support for catch-up vaccination for children who were missed due to COVID-19 disruptions in Gavi-eligible countries. However, significant financing gaps remain in middle-income countries which are not Gavi-eligible. This call for emergency action will go to support those middle-income countries that are not eligible for support from Gavi.

4 November 2020

US: No Labels Launches "Respect the Vote" Campaign with National Ad Featuring Joe Manchin & Larry Hogan [Video Included]

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US: No Labels Launches "Respect the Vote" Campaign with National Ad Featuring Joe Manchin & Larry Hogan
No Labels: Respect the Vote
America may not know the identity of the next US president for some time to come. Amid this uncertainty, No Labels has released an unprecedented national ad—featuring Democratic Senator Joe Manchin and Republican Governor Larry Hogan—focused on the importance of Americans staying calm and respecting the votes in the post-election period.
The ad kicks off No Labels' "Respect the Vote" campaign, which aims to rouse Americans and remind them that there is more at stake in 2020 than whether their preferred presidential candidate wins or loses this election.

Throughout its history— through wars, depressions, and previous pandemics—America has always had elections and respected the results.
As Manchin says in the ad "If we lose that, we lose everything." 

The No Labels Ad:


For almost a decade, No Labels has been working to combat the dangerous tribalism consuming U.S. politics and to build a bipartisan coalition capable of solving the country's toughest problems. Senators Manchin and Governor Hogan have been helping to lead and expand this coalition and felt compelled to participate in this unusual—but urgent—ad that will be seen by millions of American nationwide.
"The world is watching. What happens in the coming days and weeks will define America for decades to come," said Hogan. "I know emotions are running high but we need to keep faith in the voters and our Democracy. America knows how to elect and inaugurate a president. Let the election officials in every state do their jobs. Let the votes be counted. Let the process work, just like it has every four years for over 200 years."
"This unprecedented campaign has challenged our nation to its core," Manchin said, "Now that the campaign has ended, we must come together as Americans to show that the strength and greatness of our democracy is in the power of the American people to unite and respect the laws that make the United States the hope of the World. Throughout our nation's 240 year history we have persevered through many hardships, and we will continue to do so now as our country begins to unify around solving the problems facing our families and communities."
US: No Labels Launches "Respect the Vote" Campaign with National Ad Featuring Joe Manchin & Larry Hogan
Governor Larry Hogan

About Larry Hogan:

(Via Wilipedia)
Lawrence Joseph Hogan Jr. (born May 25, 1956) is an American politician. A member of the Republican Party, he has served as the 62nd Governor of Maryland since 2015.

Hogan ran unsuccessful campaigns for Maryland's 5th congressional district in 1981 and 1992, the latter of which was incumbent Steny Hoyer's closest race. He was the Secretary of Appointments under Governor Bob Ehrlich from 2003 to 2007. Hogan founded the Change Maryland organization in 2011, which he used to promote his own 2014 gubernatorial campaign. Hogan has enjoyed high approval ratings during his time as governor, and he has been rated as one of the most popular governors in the United States. [...]

Media outlets have described Hogan as a moderate Republican and a "pragmatist", and in 2018 he polled well among Maryland Democrats, according to The Baltimore Sun.The Washington Post's editorial board wrote in 2015 that he was "true to his promise to govern from the center in the first legislative session of his term." On the Issues, a non-profit and non-partisan organization which tracks politicians' positions, considers Hogan to be a centrist.

Hogan served as vice chairman of the National Governors Association (NGA) from July 2018 to July 2019 and as chairman of the NGA from July 2019 to July 2020.

In 2019, Hogan raised the possibility of running for president in 2020, emphasizing bipartisan collaboration, but eventually decided not to run. In June, he addressed the Maryland Free Enterprise Foundation, a business advocacy group, in a combative speech, "skewering Democrats who control the state legislature and vowing to spend the remainder of his term in 'battle' with them." Hogan promised to work against tax increases. [...]

Read more here
US: No Labels Launches "Respect the Vote" Campaign with National Ad Featuring Joe Manchin & Larry Hogan
Senator Joe Manchin (screengrab)

About Joe Manchin:

(Via Wilipedia)
Joseph Manchin (born August 24, 1947) is an American politician serving as the senior United States Senator from West Virginia, a seat he has held since 2010. A member of the Democratic Party, he was the 34th governor of West Virginia from 2005 to 2010 and the 27th secretary of state of West Virginia from 2001 to 2005.

Manchin is a moderate Democrat, which has allowed him to continue to win elections in West Virginia even as it has shifted from one of the most Democratic states in the country to one of the most Republican. He won the 2004 gubernatorial election by a large margin and was reelected by an even larger margin in 2008; in both years, Republican presidential candidates won West Virginia. Manchin won the special election with 54% of the vote in 2010 to fill the Senate seat vacated by incumbent Democrat Robert Byrd when he died in office. Manchin was elected to a full-term in 2012 with 61% of the vote and reelected with just under 50% of the vote in 2018. He became the state's senior U.S. Senator when fellow Democrat Jay Rockefeller retired in 2015. 
[...]

About No Labels:

No Labels is a groundbreaking movement led by Americans who embrace the new politics of problem solving and are collaborating to find common-sense non-partisan solutions to our toughest challenge. It is working to build a new bipartisan governing coalition with members of the 50 members House Problem Solvers Caucus and several allies in the U.S. Senate.
SOURCE: No Labels

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