Thursday, October 24, 2013

10 Questions for Brown Moses

[Originally posted at NOW]

NOW talks to the pioneering blogger of Syria’s armed conflict.

Eliot Higgins, better known as Brown Moses, is a British blogger who attained international recognition in early 2013 when his analysis of publicly-available YouTube videos led to the unearthing of a classified Saudi operation to arm Syrian rebels through Jordan with weapons purchased from Croatia. His blogging subsequently assisted Human Rights Watch in compiling evidence of cluster bomb use by the Syrian regime, and is now often cited in leading international newspapers. In April, Higgins helped NOW identify the brigade that launched the first lethal Syrian rebel rocket attack on Lebanese soil. After raising funds from private donors including the Avaaz activism platform, Higgins launched Arabic versions of his blog and Twitter account in June.

NOW: How would you summarize the Syrian conflict at present?

Eliot Higgins: Pretty much a meat-grinder for both sides, with no end in sight.

NOW: What in particular are you researching at the moment?

Higgins: Aside from working on a new website, I'm currently on the lookout for evidence of a new, larger fuel-air explosive bomb that might have been used in the conflict recently.

NOW: Earlier this month, there were reports of preparations for an imminent battle between rebels and the regime and/or Hezbollah along the Lebanese-Syrian border near Arsal. Have you seen any video evidence to this effect?

Higgins: Not so much video evidence, but there's plenty of reports of both sides preparing for fighting commencing at any moment.

NOW: Have you learnt any Arabic since you began covering Syria? You must have picked up some words here and there.

Higgins: Mostly I've learnt to recognize place names, and the names of various groups in Syria. As with anyone following Syria, the first word you learn is takbeer, followed by Allahu and akbar.

NOW: Some journalists, e.g. Patrick Cockburn, have criticized the practice of treating YouTube videos as evidence in reporting on Syria. How easy would it be to produce a fake atrocity video that would fool you?

Higgins: I think it's important to stop thinking about videos from Syria as individual and separate pieces of evidence, but in many cases a video is just part of a body of evidence, and a lot of my work is about exploring the evidence that might surround a video.

NOW: What aspects of the Syrian conflict do you feel are most overlooked or poorly covered in the mainstream media?

Higgins: I think there's a huge amount of things really. It's a very complex conflict, and only a small amount of it gets any sort of in-depth reporting. This is in part because of the difficulties faced by reporters on the ground in Syria.

NOW: What are the most shocking, moving, and/or amazing videos you’ve seen from Syria?

Higgins: Apart from the many horrific injuries and deaths, I'd say videos where people are handling UXO [unexploded ordnance], for example, one where a small group of children start kicking an unexploded 240mm mortar, or the various videos showing them handling unexploded cluster bombs. Some of the DIY weapons I've seen have been quite impressive, such as the Hell Cannon, or the Molotov cocktail launcher (that didn't seem to catch on).

NOW: What is the most frustrating part of your work?

Higgins: Videos and channels constantly being deleted from YouTube. Fortunately there are some organizations systematically archiving all the videos for future reference.

NOW: If the Syrian conflict ended tomorrow, what would you do instead?

Higgins: Well I started the blog writing about the UK phone hacking scandal, and it looks like that's going to be big news again, so that would keep me busy.

NOW: Have you ever been/would you ever come to Lebanon?

Higgins: I've never been, and I certainly have nothing against going to Lebanon.

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