29 April 2014

A STROLL WITH ELIOT HIGGINS (For Day of Remembrance for all Victims of Chemical Warfare)

"The use of Chemical weapons is an offence against universal values and a grave violation of international law" ~ Ban Ki-moon

Eliot Higgins working on his laptop
The use of chemical weapons in the Syrian war met strong opposition from the international community. Who exactly is using these chemical weapons? The regime and rebels are pointing fingers at each other while the masses are at the receiving end of the attacks. For the layman--like me--who is following this war on TV, radio and via the internet, the above question might seem unanswerable, but not to my guest on the stroll today.

Mr Eliot Higgins lost his job two years ago, and has been staying home to take care of his daughter while his wife is away. In between playing peak-a-boo and hide-and-seek with his lovely daughter, Mr Eliot found a hobby, a very strange one, which has turned him into an international super star who is redefining citizen journalism, and re-inventing military intelligence to the world.

By watching hundreds of Youtube videos weekly, Mr Eliot Higgins--aka Brown Moses--has developed a skill for monitoring the influx of weapons into syria and the middle east; a skill really needed by the international community in trying to resolve the Syrian Crisis. Also, when you consider the fact that he's doing all this from the comfort of his living room, in-between baby sitting his daughter, and with no military training whatsoever, you'll know why Mr Eliot's story is special.

We talked about his blog Brown Moses, his life after losing his job, and a bit about the solution to the Syrian crisis. Here's my stroll with Mr Higgins;

Ebenezar: Thank you for having this stroll with me sir.

Eliot: it's great to have this discussion with you.

Ebenezar: Can you tell me a bit about your early life? Did you have a flair for action movies growing up?

Eliot: I don't think it was particularly remarkable. I've always had an interest in politics and current events, when I was younger I read a lot of Noam Chomsky, watched Michael Moore stuff, fairly typical left-liberal kind of stuff, but it's not like I was out on the streets waving placards around or anything. 

Ebenezar: (Hahaha)

Eliot: (haha) Yeah, as for action movies, probably no more than average.

Eliot at work
Ebenezar: Okay, I asked that because I've been trying to understand how you were able to develop such skills for weapon monitoring in a very short period of time. How did you find this hobby?

Eliot: I was very interested in the Arab Spring, and during the conflict in Libya I was discussing it on internet forums, looking for everything single thing I could find on it, trying to figure out what was going on in as much detail as possible. I came across journalists in Libya who were Tweeting various information that wasn't ending up in their reports, and YouTube videos that were being generally ignored, and I saw that sometimes this stuff had really important information that was being overlooked. 

Ebenezar: Okay?

Eliot: When I started my blog in March 2012 I thought I'd write about that sort of thing, stuff I thought was being overlooked. There was a vast amount of video footage coming from Syria, but as I didn't speak Arabic there was only so much I could do with that, and you don't need to know Arabic to ID weapons, so I taught myself to do that, and wrote about it.

Ebenezar: That's really awesome, another tool that helped you achieve this feat is the internet and social media. What do you think about the power of the internet?

Eliot: I think it's currently a vastly under utilized resource by groups interested in conflicts, be it media, NGOs, or governments. There's certainly a rapidly building interesting in make use of it, and in my experience I appear to be at the forefront of doing that. You look at Syria, and there's estimated to be half a million videos from the conflict, and millions of posts on sites like Facebook and Twitter. While not everything is useful there is a massive amount of useful information out there that can be used to investigate all sorts of aspects of the conflict, which I think I've repeatedly demonstrated with my work. The sad thing would be if no-one learnt the lessons Syria is teaching us about social media, and had to relearn all the lessons next time a conflict like Syria comes around, which could be sooner than anyone imagines.

Ebenezar: Okay, today is set aside by the UN to remember the victims of chemical warfare, and recently you had a chemical weapon expert guest write on your blog. Now, I want to know, between the rigime and the rebels, who exactly is using Sarin gas?

Eliot: The way I see it is this. It's very difficult to find absolute proof, but it is possible to examine likely scenarios using the evidence available. For example, Seymour Hersh only yesterday claimed the rockets used were homemade, and there's no evidence the Syrian government has it, but from videos from both sides of the conflict we know this isn't true. Without wanting to list the many scenarios that have been proposed, and the pros and cons of each one, I would say that after spending 8 months researching the attacks in great detail, and considering a vast number of scenarios, those scenarios where the Syrian government were responsible seem far more likely, and the scenarios where the opposition were responsible have just become more fantastical and unlikely.

Ebenezar: We've seen this go on for how long now? 3 years? I'm sure many people are already asking, Will this Syrian conflict ever come to an end? Or should I say, what exactly will bring this conflict to an end?

Eliot: It seems to me neither side is capable of victory, and the only way to end the conflict is for both sides to believe victory is impossible, and come to a negotiated settlement. The problem is, there's so many outside groups and internal factors that getting to that point might be impossible, so in my mind it's more likely the conflict will continue for years to come.

Ebenezar: That's really sad. Now, looking at Syria and Egypt, two countries where we had the Arab uprising. Can you still consider the Arab uprising a success? Despite the current state of these countries?

Eliot: It seems to me they've failed, Syria is being ground to dust, and Egypt has replaced one dictator with another.

(Image Credit; theSleuthjournal)
Ebenezar: Let's talk a bit about weapons and small arms proliferation. America is still debating over gun control; the UN is still trying to limit the availability of small arms in conflict zones; but my question is, how can we stop arms from getting into the wrong hands?

Eliot: It seems to me it'll require more transparency from governments on things like export licenses, more support for journalists and organizations investigating arms flows, and a realization this can be tackled if there's proper support. I've only just spoken at a SIPRI organized event on this very subject, and it's clear more can be done, it just needs funding. The people are out there that can do it, they just need to be brought together in one place and funded properly. It seems to me funding is the only obstacle. 

Ebenezar: Okay, so, looking at how your life has turned, you lost your job and turned your hobby into international recognition. What's the next plan for you? Get a new job or?

Eliot: I'll be launching a new site soon, bellingcat.com, which will be bringing together a lot of people who already write on various conflicts using open source information (like myself), and will also teach other people how to analyse information from open sources. I'm also planning to work on some consultancies that'll relate to arms movements, and other areas. I've also got an agent looking for a publisher for a book I've proposed, so I might be busy writing that as well.

(Image Credit; Spectator)
 Ebenezar: Will you actually fancy working for a military agency in the nearest future?

Eliot: If someone wants to propose a consultancy with them, I'm happy to consider it. It's getting to the point where the biggest issue will be finding time to do anything else, and it's pretty clear there's not a lot of other people doing what I do.

Ebenezar: One final question, why did you choose to use the pseudonym 'Brown Moses'? It's gotten from a Frank Zappa song right?

Eliot: Right. I registered to an internet forum about 10 years ago, and was listening to the song Brown Moses by Frank Zappa at the time. I didn't really think much about it, I just needed a name, and it ended up sticking with me for all this time. When I started the blog I had assumed only people who knew me as that online identity would read it, and it started out as just a place to put my own thoughts on things, so I didn't put too much time into thinking about the title. Now "Brown Moses" is exposing weapons smuggling in the New York Times, and being interviewed in the New Yorker, something I find rather amusing.

Ebenezar: Thank you so much for your time Mr Elliot, I wish you success in all your projects.

Eliot: Thanks Ebenezar

For more about Eliot Higgins, follow him on twitter @Brown_Moses visit his blog

Chemical weapons should not even be made in the first place. Why make stuffs like that just to take human life? Why do we invest so much in artillery and other destructive stuffs even? I really don't get. People are hungry, diseases need cure, researches need funds to futher their work to find solutions to problems humanity is facing, and what are we doing? Spending it on war heads and chlorine gas?

To the regime and rebels, when will you finally stop fighting? Can't you see that you're destroying your nation? Can't you see Syria is slowly becoming a wilderness? Kids are losing their childhood and families are being torn apart everyday. Be wise guys.

Till my next stroll on April 30th--International Jazz day--when I'll be talking with award winning Jazz musician, Grace Kelly, Jesus Loves you.

"For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh..." (2 Corinthians 10v3-4)


No comments:

Post a Comment