Innocent Until Proven Guilty… Terrorists too.

rendition.jpgI recently went to see a brilliant movie called Rendition. I say brilliant, as it was well-acted, but it was also rather shocking and frightening because of its subject matter.

To give you a bit of background, the movie is about an American man of Egyptian descent who is detained by the CIA on suspicion of being connected with terrorist activities. Although there is scant evidence, he is taken to Morocco – under anti-terror laws which allow the US government to remove suspected (foreign) terrorists from the US to be imprisoned and interrogated in other countries – where he is tortured (using techniques such as waterboarding) until he ‘confesses’.

“Extraordinary Rendition” (from which the movie takes its title) is a practise which has been increasingly used since 9/11. Foreign nationals who are suspected of engaging in terrorist activities are taken (forcibly) to their home, or other, countries to face trial or be held for intelligence purposes. It is a highly controversial practise, and this film really brings home the point that despite our fear of terrorism, we must not allow governments to erode our civil liberties.

Of course we are all concerned about terrorism. When tensions and sensitivities are high it is easy to believe, and be persuaded, that governments should take any means necessary in order to combat it. Extraordinary rendition and extended detention of suspects without charge (which Gordon Brown is currently trying to push through parliament) are two of the means that governments have tried to convince us are in our best interests.

However, the problem is that those who administer the law cannot always be trusted. Innocent people get caught up in the fray, as happens in the movie Rendition, and as has happened at Guantanamo Bay and other places. Innocent people must not be abused in the name of counter-terrorism.

What happened to innocent until proven guilty? The fact is that suspects have – or they should do – the same rights as everyone else until the authorities have provided enough evidence to charge the suspect of a crime.

I cannot understand the need to hold suspected terrorists for up to 56 days, as Mr Brown is proposing, without charge. This essentially means that any innocent person can be kept in prison for nearly 3 months without knowing what they are there for. I’m sure there are those of who you don’t think it’s a big deal because you believe this does not apply to you. However, the point is that any one of us could become a ‘suspected’ terrorist at any time. Just look at Jean Charles de Menezes.

It is for the government to focus on better intelligence, on better use of police and other organizations’ resources which will lead to the capture of terrorists rather than eroding our civil rights. It is also for the government to satisfactorily prove – through robust evidence – that extended detention and other such practises have any real value. So far, it has not managed to do this. Even the security minister, who this week made an U turn – one minute saying he didn’t see a need for detention to increase from 28 days, and then changing his mind – seems unsure.

I want to see a reduction in terrorism, but it must be done in the correct – and legal – way. The infringement of human rights – everybody’s human rights – is not the solution.

Hip Hop & Life

lilkim.jpgFor years there has been an ongoing debate about how much of an impact hip hop music has on the lives of today’s young people. It has been blamed for a myriad of problems that affect black kids. The misogyny, violence and promiscuity (amongst other things) depicted in popular music videos have been said to continue down the foodchain into communities, negatively influencing those who are already at the bottom.

However, artists and record label execs  have refused to take responsibility for the effect their music might have on the young, saying that it’s up to parents to censure what their kids see and hear, and denying any correlation between listening to certain types of music and subsequent behaviours.

But in the light of new evidence, can hip hop makers continue to deny that their music has a negative impact upon young people? Can they continue to be blase and nonchalant about what they are releasing into the world, when it is clearly having damaging effects? A report published in October entitled “Images of Sexual Stereotypes in Rap Videos and the Health of African-American Female Adolescents” has shown that “African-American female adolescents who spend more time watching rap music videos are more likely to participate in high-risk behaviors such as binge drinking and sex with multiple partners, to test positive for marijuana, and to have a negative body image”. Please take some time to let that sink in.

When well-respected robust studies (this one came from the Emory University) are showing such links, there is patently a major problem that cannot be ignored. Black music role models can no longer disassociate themselves from the negative impact that their music is having on impressionable young black people. It is rather frightening to see scientific evidence that this is the case, although it is unsuprising considering the unparalleled media exposure that young people are subjected to these days.

I have always believed that leadership comes with responsibility. If you are a role model – which you are as soon as you are able to put your voice out in the public sphere – you must be aware of how your words and actions are perceived by those who look up to you. This goes not only for rappers but for corporations like Viacom and BET who have such a stronghold on what our young people see and hear.

It’s high time the mainstream music and entertainment industry start caring about the next generation. High time the industry starts caring about those who are being shaped and moulded by their environment, which includes not only their peers at school, but the people they listen to on their ipods. The media has to become much more conscious, much more responsible. There is something highly unethical and deeply unsettling about the idea that companies are not bothered by the knowledge that their products are leading to others’ demise.

What’s so wrong with showing healthy, happy relationships between black men and women? Why do rap videos need to show naked women dancing with dog chains around their necks? Who exactly benefits from that? What’s so cool about it? In the long run, not even those getting paid millions to make the music and videos gain from it, since it only makes society a worse place.

Some will say that hip hop is being unfairly demonised and made a scapegoat. Whilst I agree that parents need to monitor their kids, the truth is that to some people music is a parent! To many, music is a friend, a guide and a mentor. And it’s time the hip hop industry starts taking that responsibility very seriously.