About Me

I ramble about a number of things - but travel experiences, movies and music feature prominently. See my label cloud for a better idea. All comnments and opinions on this blog are my own, and do not in any way reflect the opinions/position of my employer (past/current/future).

12 August 2006

The Power of Nightmares

I finally finished watching "The Power of Nightmares" (also see here), a 3 part documentary made by the BBC in 2004. Basically, the documentary, in a style very similar to Michael Moore documentaries (except not funny), explores the relationships between modern politics and terrorism. In particular, it alleges that in the West at least, politicians are now seen only as managers of public life, not grand visionaries who will usher in a new fantastical future. Terrorism has become so hyped up nowadays, not because it is a new phenomenon, but because politicians have realised that they can use it as a new tool to promote themselves - as the people that will protect the public from terror and fear.

It is a very interesting documentary, because it manages to chronicle two of the most influential groups in modern politics - the American neo-conservatives and the Islamists, over the period of the last 30 years or so. But possibly one of the boldest claims in the documentary, is that Al Qaeda as we know it is largely fictional, and its power largely overhyped. The documentary alleges that Al Qaeda, as a term, was invented by the FBI in a trial in early 2001, largely to enable the FBI to try Osama bin Laden in absentia, because that is the only way they could make the charges stick. After 11/09/2001, Osama bin Laden used the term, only after it was used in news reports. Furthermore, the attacks might have been financed by Osama bin Laden, but he was not actually responsible for planning and co-ordinating the attacks.

The documentary also alleges that Al Qaeda is not really a terror network, and is actually a small group of Islamists. Yes, Osama bin Laden is largely responsible for financing many terror operations, but a large network of terror cells planning attacks in largely fictional. The documentary cites the Taliban recruiting and training militias (largely foreign) to fight in the Afghanistan civil war - not Al Qaeda. Also, bombing Tora Bora mountains and subsequent ground searches have yet to reveal a single Al Qaeda operative. With regards to the huge number of terror cells allegedly uncovered in the US; the documentary alleges that not a single one of them has been actually convicted of being a terror cell; and the accused have walked largely free, although some were convicted of some minor crimes.

The documentary aired before the 7 July London bombings; but the question remains. Are these bombers really part of a large terror network, or are they just a bunch of people who have their own grievances and have found this their best way of expression. This is a particularly interesting with regards to the recent airline hijack terror alert, because if the documentary is correct, then the people arrested yesterday are going to go free; because they were actually doing something less sinister.

Terrorism, whatever the definition is not new. As the archbishop of Jerusalem commented on BBC Hardtalk in this past week, one man's heroic action is another man's terrorism action. It is quite amazing how many plots seem to resemble Hollywood movie plots; leading to the question on whether these plots are actually anywhere near the truth. Prevention is better than cure; but the idea of catching people, because they might do something in the future is rather frightening. As in Minority Report - how do you know the soothsayers are correct?

06 August 2006

High but not soaring

It has been a strange last two weeks ... one of my papers that I submitted to the DRM Workshop at the ACM Computer and Communications Security Conference was accepted. This was the same paper that was rejected at ISSA because of bad structure ... and to be honest, I thought this was my weakest paper of the three I did submit. The paper on last year's honours project (which I co-supervised) on a DRM controller on a Linux Kernel was rejected, although the reviews were quite positive. The paper I had very high hopes for, was also rejected, also with some very positive reviews, but the workshop chair wrote to me, and said that there was a lot of discussion on that paper ... so that was also quite positive. But I still feel down, because I thought it was one of my best piece of work to date.

Another low: I desperately wanted to stop over in Brazil on my way to the USA, so that I could go to the last round of the 2006 F1 Championships - which is already a firecracker. But some one has booked out all the flights, so even though the rest of the trip is quite affordable ... getting to Sao Paulo is proving to be a problem.

Another high: got a paper accepted at SATNAC, which admittedly, is not really held in high regards by many academics in South Africa. What is interesting however is that the paper was quite scathing on Vodacom ... one of the jewels in Telkom's crown - the main sponsor and organiser of SATNAC. I wonder how the presentation will go :p

Also another high, got my dad's old car ... so I finally got wheels. So, to all those who gave me lifts ... thank you! It was interesting driving down from Jozi on Thursday ... Free State is such a dull looking province (at least in winter). The drive through the Karoo and onwards was quite scenic though - the rains meant that there was a tinge of green and even blossoming fynbos. No pics unfortunately ... should have stopped more I suppose ...