TEDGlobal: Non-violence, tolerance and online freedoms

What started off as a conference on Technology, Entertainment and Design has now become a platform for a diverse range of ideas and issues around the world.

“I spend my days filming dozens of Palestinian groups that use non-violence against Israeli occupation, but most of you have not heard of them,” Julia Bacha, a Brazilian-filmmaker, told the audience at Tuesday’s session of the TEDGlobal conference in Edinburgh, Scotland.

“Only violence is given front page attention on stories about the Palestinian struggle … Non-violent struggle is not being covered by mass media.”

Bacha showed a trailer for her film, Budrus, which was shot in a West Bank village that had mounted peaceful resistance to the Israeli separation barrier that was capturing Palestinian land and isolating towns and villages.

“What’s missing for nonviolence to grow is for us to pay attention to Palestinians that are already adopting non-violence. When we pay attention to nonviolent movements, they multiply,” Bacha said.

Her talk was well received by the about 850 delegates, most of whom are rich and powerful businessmen, executives, academics and others who all pay a hefty fee to attend the week-long event.

Bacha has talked at TED before, at the TEDxRamallah event, where she stressed the importance of narratives – of stories that we link together to form a framework within which we can understand the world.

Members of the audience also get an opportunity to pitch talks, and a select few deliver these on the first day of the main conference.

Naif al-Mutawa, a past speaker at TED, spoke about what happened after “The 99“, his Islam-inspired superheroes, “met” their colleagues at the Justice League of America in a crossover comic.

The Kuwaiti-born clinical psychologist created The 99 – a hugely-successful comic book series that focused on heroes displaying attributes that are revered in the Arab and Islamic world.

The 99‘s title comes from the 99 attributes of Allah and features a diverse – male and female, young and not so young – collection of superheroes battling to do good around the globe.

Although not religious comics, al-Mutawa developed characters that he hoped would serve as role models for children in a region that needed something positive and up-lifting.

However, while the comics have been generally well received worldwide, the latest animated version faced a backlash in the US, where critics accused them of radicalising young children.

As a result, broadcast of the cartoons were delayed for fear of negative reaction.

Al-Mutawa said that he hoped US society could benefit from the diversity of his creation, and aimed to use The 99 to “radicalise all children to teach tolerance”.

Also on stage was Hasan Elahi, an artist who was targeted for screening by the FBI after a case of mistaken identity.

The inconvenient, and somewhat distressing experience, inspired him to become “extreme’ in a novel way – he opened up his life completely.

Starting with constant phone calls and emails to the FBI to notify them of his whereabouts, this idea grew into an open-ended art project.

He began posting photos of his minute-by-minute life, up to around a hundred a day, on his website.

“There’s 46,000 images on my site now. I trust the FBI has seen all of them,” Elahi said.

However, Elahi claimed that that despite putting out such a detailed account of his movements, he actually lived an “incredibly anonymous life”.

“The way you protect privacy in an era when everything is out there is to take control over it,” he said.

Focusing on the broader questions of internet freedoms and security, Rebecca MacKinnon, a media activist and the co-founder of the Global Voices Online blog network, called for a broader and more sustained internet freedom movement.

“Companies didn’t stop polluting ground water by executives waking up one morning and deciding not to do so – it was the result of sustained activism,” MacKinnon said.

“Each of every one of us has a place to play to ensure that governments and corporations serve the interests of people, and not the other way around.”

MacKinnon said that she looks at these big questions in her upcoming book, Consent of the Networked, “a treatise on the future of liberty in the Internet age”.