Part 3 of VICE News’s look inside the Islamic State (formerly ISIS) is here.
We Let Yousef Munayyer Answer the Questions Sean Hannity Wouldn’t
On the 24th of July, an evil terrorist sympathizer appeared on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show to try to justify the horror tactics perpetrated by the Palestinian people upon the state of Israel. At least, that seemed to be the perception Hannity was trying to push, sitting in front of a large screen bearing the words “Sympathy for the Terrorists,” pointing fingers at interviewee Yousef Munayyer, and not allowing him to get a word in.
Russell Brand picked up on this exchange in a segment of his Trews YouTube series, dissecting Hannity’s “interview” technique as little more than shouting leading questions at Munayyer, which he then didn’t permit his guest to answer. Brand also alleged that Hannity uses this tactic to convey a preconceived narrative of the Israeli-Gaza conflict, as he’d like his viewers to believe it. This prompted a response from Hannity, then a counter-response from Brand; and the latest internet spat was born.
Munayyer—a Palestinian-American political analyst, writer, and executive director of the Jerusalem Fund’s educational program, the Palestine Center—seemed like a calm, fairly reasonable guy, and it was a shame we were prevented from hearing what he had to say. So in an effort to right that wrong, I decided to track him down and let him answer the questions Hannity wouldn’t. [This is an abridged version of the interview with Munayyer; to read the full transcript, click here].
VICE: Hi, Yousef. So did Sean Hannity’s people reach out to you, or did you approach them to be on his show?
Yousef Munayyer: No, they reached out. So that was last week, and then of course the Russell Brand thing was totally unexpected. I mean, I’ll be totally honest with you—the last thing I was thinking about in the last three to four weeks, when there were bombs dropping all over Gaza, was Russell Brand.
I’ll get to Brand in a bit, but first I wanted to ask you about something Brand actually pondered on his segment. You weren’t in the studio with Hannity, but did you have access to a monitor? Could you see him aggressively jabbing his finger at you?
No. You’re sitting in a room, staring at the black box where the camera is. The monitor wasn’t available, so I couldn’t see anything that was going on. But I could hear, obviously. His tone was quite aggressive on the earpiece. I didn’t see him jabbing his finger at me, but it was very clear that he was acting in an aggressive way; I didn’t need to see it to understand that.
A Yemeni Man Is Suing British Telecom over America’s Deadly Drone Strikes
A deep boom rocked through Sanaa, Yemen, the sound coming from outside of the city, perhaps from near the village of al-Masna’a.
Mohammed al-Qawli, who works at Yemen’s Ministry of Education, was at home with some of his colleagues. To find out what exactly had happened, he called someone he knew who lived in the village. The man on the other end of the phone read out the license plate of a car that had been hit; it belonged to Mohammed’s family. Putting down the phone, he immediately made the 20-minute drive out to the bomb site.
This is what had happened: Mohammed’s cousin, 20-year-old university student Salim al-Qawli, ran an informal taxi service to supplement his family’s income, a common practice if you own a vehicle in Yemen. He was approached by two men who wanted to be driven out of the village and—understandably, given it was his job—agreed. Ali al-Qawli, Salim’s relative and a local schoolteacher, went along for the ride.
While driving towards their destination, they were stopped at a military checkpoint. Then, just before 9 PM, a Hellfire missile tore through the sky and struck the vehicle. Everyone in the car died instantly.
In footage of drone strikes, you normally see a target sitting in the center of a screen before a white flash erupts and fades, leaving nothing but absence behind. The process is quick and clean. But this isn’t what it’s like on the ground. With the car still on fire, local villagers had gathered around the remains of the pickup. “The smell of burning flesh was overwhelming,” Mohammed told me. “The bodies were in pieces.”
Should Teens Be Arrested for the Stupid Things They Say on Social Media?
On Sunday morning, a Dutch teenager named Sarah made one of the most disastrous attempts to be funny on Twitter in history. The 14-year-old girl, whose now-suspended handle was @QueenDemetriax_, decided it would be a good idea to tweet “hello my name’s Ibrahim and I’m from Afghanistan. I’m part of Al Qaida and on June 1st I’m gonna do something really big bye [sic]” at the official account of American Airlines, which responded with an ominous “Sarah, we take these threats very seriously. Your IP address and details will be forwarded to security and the FBI.”
Naturally, she freaked like the kid in trouble she was, tweeting panicked messages to @AmericanAir that she was “kidding,” “joking,” “scared,” “not from Afghanistan,” and “just a girl” who “never did anything wrong” in her life. She briefly paused to take stock of her fame (“Over 2,000 RTs what”) before she was identified by Dutch police, turned herself infor making a false report, and was brought to a court hearing before being released.
It’s not clear that she’ll face criminal charges, but in the wake of her jokey “threat” came a storm of copycats tweeting warnings to American Airlines (and Southwest Airlines, for whatever reason); it was sort of like that scene in Spartacus except much, much stupider. Articles about this hot new teen trend generally took pains to castigate young twitterers like@twerkcunt for their poor choice of prank. Writing for the Washington Post’s style blog, Caitlin Dewey made sure everyone knew that this kind of trolling was NOT COOL, KIDS:
We hardly need reiterate the problems with this kind of thing: Airlines need to take threats seriously, no matter how silly they seem, which means a lot of airline employees (and presumably, police and security and FBI) are spending a lot of time tracking down nuisance threats, as well.
Leaving aside, for a minute, the vast waste of taxpayer money and manpower that represents, there’s another more ground-level problem here: This trolling completely destroys whatever incentives airlines have to engage with their customers on Twitter.
I would argue that if federal agents spent any time whatsoever tracking down Twitter user @comedybatman or the kids making “I think you guys are THE BOMB”–related puns, the resulting waste of taxpayer money is on them, not the trolling teens. But more importantly, the knee-jerk reaction here—tut-tutting at some kids for having some fun making incredibly distasteful jokes—distracts from the actual problem of teens getting arrested, or suspended or expelled from school, for things they’ve posted to social media.
This week, Reihan Salam sits down with filmmaker Errol Morris to discuss his latest film, The Unknown Known, a portrait of one of the leading architects of the Iraq War—Donald Rumsfeld.
Animal Rights Activist Sentenced to 30 Months in Jail for Having Bolt Cutters in his Car
An animal rights activist with a long history of activism—and an equally long rap sheet—was sentenced to 30 months in jail for having bolt cutters in the back of his Prius.
Kevin Olliff and Tyler Lang were driving through rural Illinois on August 15, 2013, at about 1 AM when they were pulled over by police. The cops say they stopped them because the brand-new green Prius had only temporary dealer plates. But rather than let them off with a warning, police asked to search the car.
Olliff and Lang refused to consent to the search and quickly realized that this wouldn’t be a normal traffic stop. After police separated them into two squad cars, Lang heard one officer on the police radio say of Olliff, “He’s on the terrorist watch list.”
Police brought out drug-sniffing dogs, and not surprisingly, they say the dogs smelled something (Lang says “the hardest drug in the car was caffeine”). When police searched the car, they found, among other items, bolt cutters and wire cutters. The two were charged with “possession of burglary tools,” a felony.
How the FBI Goes After Activists
Tom Burke was driving through a sleepy part of Grand Rapids, Michigan—an empty neighborhood full of abandoned warehouses—when he first noticed the vehicle tailing him. “I was like, Why is this car turning left whenever I turn left?” he recalled. “I figured out I was being followed.”
Tom, a 49-year-old who has been active in antiwar and labor circles for decades, had been monitored for months by the FBI, and that morning, September 24, 2010, the Bureau was moving against him and his fellow activists. Agents had raided the homes of some of Tom’s friends, seizing computers and tearing apart rooms as part of an investigation into whether they were planning an armed revolution and providing aid to terrorist organizations. In response, Tom was on his way to an internet café to issue a press release telling the world what was happening, which was about all he could do given the circumstances.
That same morning, he and his wife were served with subpoenas demanding they testify before a grand jury. By December, 23 activists across the Midwest were subpoenaed and asked to answer for their activism. Among other things, they were accused of providing “material support” for terrorism, a charge that can mean anything from providing guns to a terrorist group to providing any sort of “advice or assistance” to members of such a group, even if that advice is “lay down your arms.” (Former president Jimmy Carterwarned a few months before the raids that the threat of a “material support” charge “inhibits the work of human-rights and conflict-resolution groups.”)
Nearly four years later no one has been charged with a crime, and an unsealed affidavit, which the FBI used to get a federal judge to sign off on the 2010 raids, even notes that this group of mostly middle-aged peace activists explicitly rejected the idea of providing arms to anyone. The document, released by court order last month in response to requests from the activists, shows that an undercover special agent was intent on luring people into saying ominous things about “revolution” and, sometimes, some of these people indulged her, which provided the pretext for legally harassing a group known to oppose US policy at home and abroad.
Inside the Kafkaesque World of the US’s ‘Little Guantanamos’
We sat together on her couch, her small, eight-year-old hands clutching a photo of her father, Yassin Aref. “My daddy only held me twice before I was five,” Dilnia told me. For the first five years of her life, she only knew him as the man on the other side of a plexiglass window in a communication management unit in an Indiana federal penitentiary.
Prisoners describe the communication management units, or CMUs, as “Little Guantánamos.” In 2006, the Bureau of Prisons created two of these units to isolate and segregate specific prisoners, the majority of them convicted of crimes related to terrorism. The bureau secretly opened these units without informing the public and without allowing anyone an opportunity to comment on their creation, as required by law. By September 2009, about 70 percent of the CMU prisoners were Muslim, more than 1,000 to 1,200 percent more than the federal prison average of Muslim inmates.
In the CMUs, prisoners are subject to much stricter rules than in general population. They are limited to two 15-minute telephone calls per week, both scheduled and monitored. Visits are rarely permitted, and when family members are allowed to visit, they are banned from physical contact, limited to phone conversations between a plexiglass window. This differs from the general population, where prisoners can spend time with their visitors in the same room. To further the isolation, some of the CMU prisoners are held in solitary confinement, with only one hour out of their cells each day.
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What is terrorism and what are its causes? Is it an act of pure hatred? Is it politics by other means? Or is it simply the result of “the human mind and soul not being taken care of?” Find out what people in Kabul, Tel Aviv, Beirut, New York and beyond had to say, and tell us what you think: upload a YouTube response, or share a post with the hashtag #vicenews on Twitter, Instagram, or Vine.