Tag Archive for 'YouTube'

5 Reasons I Kept My Religion a Secret

Me dressed for Eid celebrations in Bangladesh. When I started this project, I’d have rather died than share/disclose the fact I was Muslim.

Today is Eid-ul-Fitr. In Islam, this is a day of celebration marking the end of 30 days of fasting for Ramadan. I’m one of the people celebrating because I’m one of the many Muslims around the world who have fasted for 30 days.

If you’ve known me for a while, you know how difficult it is for me to write that.

Back when I started this project, I took great pains to keep my ethnicity and my religion secret. I hid all traces of my last name (an obvious giveaway – Ahmed) and gave non-answers when directly questioned about my religious beliefs.

Why did I do that? Here’s five reasons why:

5) The Uncultured Project Isn’t a “Muslim Project”: We live in a world with double standards. A Christian can say that Christ inspires them while still being able to claim their work is secular. This is the case behind the people who founded Charity: Water, One Day’s Wages, and even Invisible Children. In a post-9/11 world, whether or not it’s fair, the same isn’t true for Muslims. I feared (and still fear) the cost of speaking about my religion would (and will) be less support for my work.

4) YouTube Haters: Before starting this project, I did a quick search on YouTube on videos that were done by Muslims or mentioned Islam. Needless to say, the comments on those videos came straight from the deepest cesspools of humanity. YouTube is a big part of how I connect people to my work and it’s hard to build an audience and momentum on YouTube if haters are flooding your videos with vitriol and pressing dislike on every video.

3) Real-Life Islamophobia: I don’t want to be treated like a terrorist. But, even when lecturing at a university and not even touching upon my religious beliefs, I’ve been accused of being (and I quote) “an Islamic terrorist gaining dupes”. If that’s how I’m treated simply for being brown and having the last name “Ahmed”, imagine what doors (and minds) will close if I “come out” as Muslim?

2) Aid Bloggers: “Hack”. “Idiot”. Comments about my masturbation frequency. These are actual comments sent to me by aid bloggers. Why? In 2010, without stating explicitly my religion, I started to openly talk about traditional Muslim approaches to aid and development. Online, aid bloggers lauded and applauded the vitriol coming my way saying one needs to “man up” and just take it. Offline, I received sympathy and support that eventually led me to learn that some of the most vocal anonymous vitriol (including one from a prominent anonymous aid blogger with over 3,000 followers) were actually from employees working at a large Christian NGO with a Christian-only hiring policy. My experience with the aid blogosphere left me feeling that aid bloggers were intentionally cultivating a vulgar (or “snarky” if you’re being euphemistic) and unaccountable atmosphere (due to the ease of creating anonymous social media profiles) with a bias against minority and non-Western viewpoints. What sucks is that, if I were to be more vocal about my religion and put my experience with aid bloggers in its proper context, aid bloggers could say that I’m “playing the race card”.

1) I Don’t Represent Islam: I’ve had Muslim friends on Facebook unfriend me for my pro-LGBT rights tweets and posts. I’ve had Muslims say its Islamically forbidden to listen to music – or use them in videos. I’ve had Muslims call me a coward when they felt I tweeted or said something that didn’t make Islam seem superior to other religions. I’ve had Muslims argue with me at length about my views that Israel has the right to defend itself or by supporting Rabbi Berkowitz and his message calling for the (now successful) release of Gilad Shalit. The number one reason I didn’t want to talk about being Muslim is because, while I happen to consider myself Muslim, I don’t know how Muslim other Muslims consider me to be.

The reason I decided to not keep my religion a secret anymore is because, in order to build bridges between different cultures and religions, you can’t keep your own culture and religion a secret. So, for better or worse, I hope you stick around for whatever comes next.

An Open Letter to Invisible Children Supporters

Dear Supporters of Invisible Children,

A lot of you may be confused at all the criticism that Invisible Children (IC) has faced as of late. Perhaps you feel that this criticism is coming from people who fail to understand the mission and nature of IC. Alternatively, perhaps, you may feel that this criticism – while having some merit – has been unfairly blown out of proportion.

What I think needs to be understood is that there is no such thing as black and white. Invisible Children, as an organization, isn’t some nefarious evil group robbing people of their money. But, at the same time, Invisible Children isn’t an organization that can claim to be the most efficient or on a path that does the least harm.

I want to briefly touch upon 3 points which I hope explains why some of this criticism exists. And why it’s important.

Continue reading ‘An Open Letter to Invisible Children Supporters’

Why I Made a Video about “Eve Teasing”

My dad probably forgets saying this – but I never did. Years back, he confessed to me that one of the reasons he left Bangladesh and settled elsewhere is because he never wanted my mother to be mistreated. Until I heard what these women had to say, I never knew how real my dad’s concern was:

Eve teasing is a euphemism to describe forms of verbal and physical abuse by men against women. Verbally it can range from simple cat calls and overzealous wooing to really nasty and sexually explicit and derogatory comments. Physically it can range from grabbing a girl’s hand to groping and molesting them in public.

What got me is that – despite this being well known amongst aid and development professionals – no one has really done a decent job of covering this issue on YouTube or other “social media”. I don’t mean to say there aren’t videos with tons of views about this issue.

But most of what is online is usually G-rated re-enactments of eve teasing which make it seem like childish flirting. There are also heavy handed PSAs by police and local media which makes it seem like it’s being treated with prejudice and zero-tolerance… which would be nice but doesn’t reflect reality.

Despite all these videos online about eve teasing, I really didn’t find one where women could just talk about this problem and share their opinions. And it’s not like Bangladeshi women are a homogeneous group – as you can see in the video – there is a diversity of thought on this problem.

Right now, this video has about 3,500 views. That may not seem like much but that’s nearly twice the views that UNICEF was able to gather on this issue over the past eight months. Maybe this issue won’t go viral – but at least I could give this issue a slightly bigger platform than it had yesterday.

The Anatomy of a Transnational Davos Campaign

Mindaugas Voldemaras

Meet Mindaugas Voldemaras. Mindaugas is one of the many people who submitted a video as part of the 2011 Davos Debates. Of all the efforts by applicants to get votes, Mindaugas was one of the more successful.

Mindaugas, a blogger from Lithuania, campaigned around the slogan: “Vote for Lithuania in Davos!”. He was appealing to his most salient constituency: Lithuanians.

Appealing for support from your constituency is really the best way to mobilize support on an issue. It’s a group that can be diverse but has a shared identity, kinship, and a sense of collective benefit.

From a "campaign poster" made for Mindaugas

Appealing to a salient constituency also makes it easier to find others who can help mobilize others. Mindaugas was able to find support from prominent Lithuanian tweeters, bloggers, and even Lithuanian sports fans.

The only hurdle in Mindaugas’s mobilization efforts was that everyone in Lithuania, being in the same time zone, went to sleep at more or less the same time and could only vote for him during waking hours.

When Mindaugas saw my efforts to get votes, he assumed I too was appealing to my constituency. He assumed my constituency was Canada. And, like him, he assumed I’d be limited to when Canadians were awake.

This assumption is why, thanks to you, we were able to take the #1 spot.

Click the jump to learn why.

Continue reading ‘The Anatomy of a Transnational Davos Campaign’

How to Vote for Me in the Davos Debates

My friend Karen made this great video explaining how you can vote for me in the Davos Debates. There is less than 10 hours to go and I’m currently 70 votes behind the leader:

And my friend Reese made this great graphic showing how you can vote:

Just in-case the graphic is a bit confusing:

  1. Go to YouTube.com/Davos
  2. Make sure you are logged into YouTube. Created an account if you don’t already have one.
  3. Scroll down and look for my video. It looks like this. You may need to sort by popularity if it’s not already visible.
  4. Click the thumbs up.
  5. You’re done :)

As a few of you who have been following my journey for a while may know, this my fourth attempt in four years to have a presence at Davos. In the past I’ve been lucky to have the most vocal and most democratic support – though in the past the selection process hasn’t always been vote-based and/or voting specifically within the YouTube community.

Voting ends 6:01 pm EST today. I’m currently a few dozen votes behind the most voted candidate who is running on a “a vote for me is a vote for my homeland of Lithuania”-style campaign. It’s hard to compete with that so I’ll definitely be praying for a miracle and hope you consider casting a vote my way.

How I Use Social Media & My Ethnicity to Help the Poor

Young Mother Stands with Her Child after Cyclone Aila Hit

Let me introduce you to this young mother I met in Galachipa, Bangladesh. This photo was taken just after Cyclone Aila – you can see that part of her house’s wall is missing. Trust me, I don’t bring this up as a downer.

After I met her, I explained to her what I was doing: that I’m not a charity official or employee – I’m just a guy. And, with my camera and camcorder, she could send a message to all my friends around the world.

I asked her: what does she want people outside of Bangladesh to know? What single message would be the most important to send? After I heard what she had to say, I knew I could never release the message.

She made a message with the names of specific individuals and groups who she felt were mishandling people’s donations. She urged people not to donate through these methods – because it would never reach her.

This is not an uncommon occurrence. And I mention this because of a blog post written by a friend and aid worker whom I have a great deal of respect for.

While I agree with much of what he said, this one passage sticks out the most:

I want to just remind folks of the risks of observer bias- that being that when you rock up to Village X with a notepad, or a camera, your very presence affects the answers that will be given. Community members may lack resources, and even education, but they’re not stupid. When a donor representative like myself or Shawn asks them a question, they will always give the answer that makes it most likely that they will receive more funds. If they turn around and complain about the quality of aid, they know there’s a risk that the donors in question may write off the village as a failed project and move on. Big smiles and thank-yous are far more likely to make a donor feel good and give more- and they know this.

I mention this because, for me, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Click the jump to find out why.

Continue reading ‘How I Use Social Media & My Ethnicity to Help the Poor’

World Vision Vloggers

The tl;dr version: World Vision is the first charity to genuinely engage with the YouTube community. We need to support this – but we also need to make it clear we have more to offer than just vlogs.

I’ve also said the same thing in more detail (and with examples) in this video:

During my time away from Bangladesh, I’ve been talking to a lot of charities. I’ve consulted with UNICEF, presented at Save the Children HQ, entered talks with the Red Cross, and have been giving input to World Vision.

World Vision is the first charity that’s heard me out and created a plan of action to engage the YouTube community. I was glad to have some input on this. And World Vision has done it in a way that experts like Beth Kanter would be proud: they are letting outsiders come in and aren’t worrying about perfection on the first try.

If you’ve been reading this blog, you know I’ve been advising charities to stop relying solely on Hollywood celebrities. Sending regular folks like Alex, Shawna, and Tom to Zambia have already generated over 300,000 views for World Vision on YouTube. See charities? I told you so.

The big challenge is the next step. My hope is that World Vision will use this success to do more ambitious things with the YouTube community. My fear is that, impressed by the amount of views they are getting, they won’t be challenged to try and engage this community in a deeper way.

If the support I’ve been getting is any indication, the YouTube community wants input on the charity work being on the ground. We want to see where the money goes, we want to see a project executed from start to finish, and we want to get to know the specific people our money has helped.

The technology to do this is here and it’s something I’ve been doing for a while now. But, after spending over 2 years to repair a school, what incentive does a charity have to do something like this again when I can only generate less than 40,000 views? Alex packing for his trip already got World Vision over 200,000 views.

This is an important moment for the YouTube community. We need to praise World Vision for engaging the YouTube community – but we also need to let them know we want more than just them replicating their celebrity-style visits with high profile YouTubers.

One way you can do this is let World Vision know. They are listening. On the World Vision Vloggers website, they have a place where you can leave a note (see the photo below for where the link is). Feel free to drop them a line. You can also tweet something using the #wvv hashtag and they will see it.

World Vision wants your feedback either through leaving a note (see link that I highlighted in the photo) or by tweeting #wvv as a hashtag.