Entering the Great American Fruit and Nut Bowl: War Diaries, Inherited Madness and Other Things - Mad America
Say the word “Robocop” in Trinidad and Tobago and the first thing that comes to mind is not the 1987 American action film, but Selwyn “Robocop” Alexis, a businessman and allegedly a major crime lord. Police had, in the past, arrested Alexis on various charges, including kidnapping, armed robbery, extortion, and perverting the course of justice. None of the charges ever stuck, but trouble finally caught up to “Robocop” on July 17, 2016, when he died in a shootout at a car-wash compound he owned in central Trinidad.
According to reports, two others were killed in the violence. Alexis apparently killed one of the assailants before succumbing to his own injuries, and a random customer also died in the gunfire. A five-year-old boy was shot as well, and is currently receiving care at a local hospital. Police have expressed concerns that the murder could spark a turf war between rival gangs operating in the area.
The news broke quickly on social media. On Facebook, Internet users shared videos from the scene of the shootout. Many people have felt compelled to comment on the murders. Kathryn Stollmeyer-Wight shared her thoughts:
[…] This man, Selwyn ‘Robocop’ Alexis […] How many times has he been arrested & let go for lack of evidence… […]
Today Robocop was shot dead.
Two other men were also killed.
Sadly, there will be reprisal deaths because thats the way it is.
We may not live in Paris, in Nice or in Baton Rouge, but ‘doh fool yuh fat’. We are living in T&T.
In another public Facebook post, Dane S.G. Wilson said:
You live by the sword you die by the sword. That's the only way out from living such a life style. […] An innocent man is dead and an innocent little boy is now fighting for his life! STOP THE KILLING!
On Twitter, photographer David Wears asked:
— Jack WarnerBe (@DavidWearsPhoto) July 18, 2016
Calypsonian David Rudder, who always has a finger on the pulse of the country's politics and society (and who has a talent for highlighting their outrageous contradictions), tweeted:
‘ROBOCOP SHOT DEAD.’
Trinidad's most ” popular” criminal Selwyn ROBOCOP Alexis goes down in a hail of bullets.
— David Michael Rudder (@DavidRudder) July 18, 2016
In Trinidad and Tobago, euphemisms abound when it comes to describing gang leaders, who are often called “businessmen”, “community leaders”, or “entrepreneurs”. Because figures like “Robocop” may help people in downtrodden communities, they are often revered by residents who have come to depend on them economically.
Alexis’ widow has since suggested that he was killed by “ungrateful” people whom he would continually help. When her husband realised they did not want to work in order to help themselves, she said, he stopped the handouts and this “angered” them. Making the point that “Robocop” played the role of mediator in the community, she implied that the killers wanted him out of the picture so that they could have free reign with crime sprees in the area.
One Twitter user, accustomed to the insensitivity of some local media when it comes to sensationalising violent crime, asked:
— Khadine (@khadine868) July 18, 2016
Even as Alexis’ son was giving interviews to the media, saying that his father was “a changed man” and only wanted peace, some Twitter users remained unconvinced:
finally ROBOCOP in Trinidad is dead
Ayatollah Khomeini Died 27 Years Ago, But a Trump Advisor Still Wants Him to Condemn Last Week's Attack in Nice
Donald Trump's presidential campaign has always advocated “getting tough on Iran,” but the rhetoric escalated ever so slightly last week, when retired Lieutenant General Michael T. Flynn, one of Trump's chief military advisors and a former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, demanded that Ayatollah Khomeini—a man who's been dead for more than a quarter of a century—condemn the attack on July 14 in Nice, France.
Michael Flynn, former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, calls on a man dead 27 years to condemn extremism pic.twitter.com/qhtxOYeHce
— Samuel Oakford (@samueloakford) July 15, 2016
Appearing on Fox News with Megyn Kelly, Flynn said angrily, “I want the Imam, or Khomeini, to stand up and be counted and to talk about this radical form of ideology in their bloodstream, in their DNA.”
Ayatollah Sayyid Ruhollah Khomeini died in 1989 after establishing the Islamic Republic of Iran, the first modern-day theocracy, following the Islamic Revolution in 1979.
Flynn either confused the name “Khomeini” with Iran's current supreme leader, Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Hosseini Khamenei, or he is unaware that Ayatollah Khomeini died 27 years ago. Whether the mistake was confusion or ignorance, Flynn appeared on Fox News again the following day, on July 15, and said Khomeini again, insisting that the long-dead man denounce the attacks in Nice.
Internet users both in Iran and the US have shared a few thoughts about Flynn's curious interest in “the Imam Khomeini.” Iranian Twitter user Ameneh Mousavi tweeted:
عقلاي قوم اين درسته؟؟؟
ژنرال مایکل فلین مشاور نظامی دونالد ترامپ از “آیت الله خمینی” رهبر ایران خواسته حمله تروریستی نیس فرانسه رو محکوم کند
— ameneh mousavi (@MousaviSa) July 16, 2016
Wise people, can this be right? General Michael Flynn, Donald Trump's military advisor, wants “Ayatollah Khomeini,” the leader of Iran, to condemn the Nice terrorist attacks.
Iranian-American journalist Saman Arbabi wrote:
— Saman Arbabi (@SamanArbabi) July 15, 2016
American Internet users took an interest in the story, as well, after the Huffington Post wrote about it:
“Flynn’s offer to list Muslim leaders was undermined by the fact that his top example had been dead for 30 years” https://t.co/8thyQRxdbQ
— Christina Wilkie (@christinawilkie) July 15, 2016
— Maude Snuggs (@MillCunningham) July 15, 2016
A parody account satirizing the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, also had some thoughts:
Wonder if he knows that Gorbachev isn't president of Russia.
Trump adviser wants Khomeini to denounce Nice attack https://t.co/hR30iNCypp
— Soviet Sergey (@SovietSergey) July 18, 2016
A group of Iranian government hardliners, who typically stand at the forefront of policies curtailing freedom of expression, are demanding that Iran stop blocking Twitter.
This sudden change of tune has very little to do with the rights of Iranian users. Rather, they are making this move in an effort to ensure Iranian dominance in a so-called Twitter war with Saudi Arabia.
The group first took this new position in an article on Tabnak News, a conservative news website founded by former Revolutionary Guards’ commander (and current member) Mohsen Rezaee, in a piece entitled: “Has the time come to remove the filter on Twitter in order to enter into a “online battle”? The unnamed author reasoned that Twitter's international appeal justified the move:
وییتر یک رسانه کارآمد و یک بلندگوی به شدت قوی در سطح بینالملل است که پیش از مسلط شدن سعودیها بر آن، باید توسط ایرانیها کنترل شده باشد. انتظار میرود برای حضور وسیع کاربران ایرانی در این «نبردآنلاین» که بخواهیم یا نخواهیم رسماً آغاز شده، بستر لازم در این دوره زمانی فراهم شود و قدرت عمل در اختیار تعداد بالای کاربران ایرانی قرار گیرد.
Twitter is an efficient media and a extremely strong microphone on the international level and before Saudi takes it over it must become controlled by Iranians. The necessary conditions should be provided for Iranian users during this period since the online war is official started whether we like or not.
The Tabnak article argues for the removal of censorship to obstruct a so-called “psychological operation” perpetrated against Iran by Saudi Arabia.
عربستان سعودی، یک عملیات روانی را در توییتر علیه ایران به راه انداخت و با هشتگ #ایران_تدعم_الارهاب_بفرنسا، کوشید تا به استدلالهای مضحک حملات نیس را به گردن ایران بیندازد.
Saudi Arabia, has commenced a psychological operation against Iran on Twitter with the hashtag #Iran_Supports_Terrorism_France, trying to blame the Nice attacks on Iran with ridiculous arguments.
These concerns are nothing new, as Saudi Arabia and Iran have a long history of tensions in the region. While Saudi Arabia is often the leader in the Sunni sectarian side of regional tensions, the majority-Shiite Iran leads the other side. This past January, Saudi cut diplomatic ties with Iran when its missions in the country were ransacked following the execution of Sheik Nimr, a Shiite leader who advocated for Shiite rights in Saudi Arabia. Conflicts between the two nations also have escalated with the proxy combatants that both countries maintain in the Yemeni civil war. And last year, Global Voices documented the ongoing social media campaigns of Saudi-led Twitter accounts that fueled Kurdish tensions in Mahabad.
The Tabnak article does mark a departure from the ongoing contrast between the relatively moderate administration of Iranian president Hassan Rouhani and more conservative factions of the Iranian government. However, it should be noted that Tabnak and Rezaee form into a hardline faction that are often critical of other hardliners, such as those close to the former conservative President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Before Rouhani came into office, the government's position on Internet content was often articulated by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. In one speech, he said:
Today, there is Internet, satellite, and many other communication platforms for easy communications. Various thoughts compete to dominate the minds of Muslims. Today however, we are at a battlefield and face a real campaign to influence our minds. This war and campaign is not a disadvantage. In fact, it is to our advantage. I am certain that we will win the war if we enter the battlefield and do what we have to do, taking out and using our ammunitions, which are our Islamic thoughts stored in our barracks of divine studies. We have to do this.
Rouhani came into power in 2013 with promises of increasing freedoms online. While a conservative majority in other parts of the Iranian government has made this promise difficult to keep, they have had some victories.
In January of 2015 they prevented the filtering of popular messaging applications such as Whats App and Viber by blocking the decisions of the hardline judiciary in implementing their filtering rulings. In January of 2016 they also brought the CCDOC (Committee Charged with Determining Offensive Content) towards a decision not to filter Telegram. This was no small feat, given that the CCDOC is managed by the judiciary (not to be confused with Iran’s Ministry of Justice), which is typically a conservative body.
Iranian Internet users have often wondered why these decisions have not been extended to unblock Twitter and Facebook, platforms that were censored following the 2009 Green Movement.
What is the the difference between Instagram or Telegram and Twitter where only the latter is blocked in Iran?!
— MAHDI TAGHIZADEH (@mahdi) July 5, 2016
The Tabnak article continues, specifically highlighting Twitter “Trends” as a reason for Saudi Arabia's success in dominating Iran on Twitter:
به نظر میرسد با توجه به شرایط کنونی و فعال شدن عربستان سعودی در توییتر برای ایجاد جنگ روانی علیه ایران از طریق «ترند» کردن موضوعات ضدایرانی، باید در این مقطع درباره رفع مسدودیت توییتر در کشورمان بررسیهایی توسط نهادهای تصمیمگیرنده صورت پذیرد.
It seems that considering the current situation and the active presence of Saudi Arabia on Twitter for the psychological warfare against Iran through “trending” anti-Iran issues, we must at this time gather the deciding organizations to considering the unblocking of Twitter.
The feature of Twitter “Trends” that amplifies certain social media campaigns does not in work in Iran, since the Iranian government blocks the platform, which prevents Twitter from tracking the geolocation of trends inside the country.
In a Facebook post from earlier this year, Rezaee stoked Israeli and Saudi tensions with Iran with this statement to his followers:
روزی كه #اسرائیل، دوست امروز #آلسعود از ایران شكست بخورد، همه مردم منطقه فریاد زندهباد #ایران سر خواهند داد».
The day that #Israel, today's friend of the Al Saud's are defeated by Iran, the people of our region will celebrate with cries of “long live Iran”
A follower responded to Rezaee's post, mocking the fact that he had circumvented Iranian laws and censorship for religious reaons:
ضمنا شما برای استفاده از فیلترشکن حجت شرعی دارید دیگه؟
The day you use a circumvention tool for religious justifications?
The irony of Iranian officials belonging to social networks that are blocked in the country has long been acknowledged by Iranians.
In its conclusion, the Tabnak piece argues that the only dangers Twitter poses to Iran are through Saudi-led efforts:
حقیقت آن است که توییتر دارای ابعاد اخلاقی منفی نیز نیست و تنها ابعاد امنیتی برای آن متصور بود که با توجه به تحرکات اعراب ضدایراتی، این ابعاد پررنگتر میشود.
The truth is Twitter does not have a negative moral dimension just a security dimension that was magnified through a anti-Iranian movement led by Arabs.
Previous official reasons given in 2009 linked Twitter to foreign efforts to promote “sedition” with the Green Movement protests.
This is part of a new tide of political figures previously inclined to condemn and censor media such as Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan who took to social media to counter the recent coup,.
This article by Nyein Nyein is from The Irrawaddy, an independent news website in Myanmar, and is republished on Global Voices as part of a content-sharing agreement.
Wandering through Samut Sakhon, just southwest of Bangkok, the image of people wearing the traditional wrap-around sarongs called longyi or tamein while speaking Burmese could make a stranger feel as though they are in Myanmar's largest city Yangon, rather than a Thai city.
For many Burmese migrants in Thailand, Sunday is the only day off each week—a time for relaxation and a brief respite from hard labor; but for thousands of other daily-wage workers, there is no such day of rest.
Those who migrate to the region are often motivated by the hope of earning better salaries. Samut Sakhon is perceived from afar as a safe haven, as the pay here is known to be higher than Bangkok, yet the fishing industry situated in the province remains infamous for its low wages and exploitative conditions.
Known locally as Mahachai, but widely referred to among foreigners as “Little Burma” (Myanmar is formerly known as Burma), the port town of Samut Sakhon hosts between 300,000 and 400,000 Burmese migrants working in some 6,000 factories and fisheries.
Ma Thein Win is originally from Myanmar’s Tenasserim Division, and has been in Thailand for five years. She had previously worked in Bangkok, but in April she moved to Samut Sakhon hoping to increase her income as a construction worker.
The 45-year-old mother of four longs to return to her home village in Dawei District.
“But we have no money and no home; how could we go back and survive?” Thein Win asked softly, all the while tidying a pile of wood next to the construction site, where men worked atop the unfinished buildings.
If there was gainful employment to be had in their homeland, many in Thailand’s migrant community spoke to The Irrawaddy of going back to Myanmar, instead of seeking work in a foreign country in order to survive.‘We keep our patience’
In 2012, Myanmar's then-opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi visited Thailand—and Mahachai—for the first time. She visited a second time in June of this year, this time as state counselor after her party won elections in November 2015 by a landslide. During that most recent trip, Suu Kyi met with only a small number of Mahachai’s migrants, after Thai authorities blocked access to Myanmar’s de-facto leader for labor rights groups and a large crowd of waiting Burmese nationals.
Thein Win was one of many migrants unable to be present at Suu Kyi’s talks with Burmese workers in Thailand. Reflecting on The Lady’s visit brought her to tears, which she attributed to “mixed feelings.” Suu Kyi, Thein Win still hoped, would work to “bring good” into their lives.
Burmese workers at Talaat Kung, or the shrimp market, also became emotional when discussing the state counselor’s visit and their hopes for better job opportunities, which Suu Kyi recognized during her Thai visit. Their wages are often inconsistent, ranging from 200 Thai baht (US$5.72) to 300 baht ($8.58), the latter of which is the official minimum daily wage in Thailand, but is often not afforded to foreign migrant workers.
Sorting through shrimp on a table, Aye Myat Mon told The Irrawaddy that she earns the Thai minimum daily wage for her eight hours of labor, but that working times vary depending on the availability of shrimp or other seafood. Claiming to be 18, but appearing much younger, Aye Myat Mon arrived in Thailand four years ago from Moulmein, Mon State, and lives with her sister—she said only her parents remain at the family home in southeastern Myanmar.
Securing sources to speak on the record about working conditions in Mahachai was particularly challenging; many of the individuals laboring in the seafood industry dared not make complaints to the press.
Thai employers are reluctant to attract media coverage focusing on the region’s docks, markets or construction sites; workers told The Irrawaddy that if they were discovered as having contributed to a story on Little Burma, they feared they would be later fired.
“As we are working in another country, we keep our patience, as Amay [Mother] Suu has said,” Ye Min, a worker in Talaat Kung told The Irrawaddy, before being interrupted by a superior, ending his interview.‘Being preyed upon’
Workers also shared stories of their fear of Thai police scrutinizing their identity documents and employment papers, looking into whether they have permission to legally work in the country.
“The police ask for money to make extra income when they suspect our documents [are incomplete],” said one man working in the shrimp market, in both a hushed voice and on the condition of anonymity.
The number of migrant workers in Thailand is estimated at between 3 and 4 million, but less than half are officially registered. Different policies have been implemented to assist workers from Myanmar in obtaining legal documents, particularly when their current papers expire. This includes registration for a “pink card,” or employment permit, which can be pursued after the expiry of a four-year visa.
“Even if they are documented migrant workers, they are often being preyed upon,” said Sai Sai, a staff member at the Migrant Workers Rights Network, an organization assisting migrants from Myanmar in Thailand.
Sai Sai explained that authorities’ suspicions can be raised by a worker’s lack of Thai language skills, and can lead to an arrest for suspected drug use, or for traveling between provinces within Thailand—the “pink card” does not facilitate freedom of movement and only allows migrant workers to remain in the part of the country in which their documents are registered.
According to a Bangkok Post report, the registration deadline for a migrant work permit has been extended until July 29, after which, authorities say there will be no leniency. But a further crackdown is expected—on those both in Samut Sakhon and throughout Thailand—for whom meeting registration requirements remains difficult.