By Latif Yahia
How much we have progressed in the last century, the technological breakthroughs have been endless. Most of it in thanks to Military research, believe it or not. Of all the wonders that military funding has brought us, the world wide web is probably the best, but more than likely, the one that they rue the most. Why? Because the day that the www went live was the day that they lost control of it, and since that day they have been fighting to get it back.
Of course, that is impossible, no one can control the internet, it is as varied and rich in information as it’s users. Anything you want to find out you can do with a good search engine, catch up with old school chums? Tick! Meet interesting singles? Tick again! Want to watch a TV show, you betcha’! But the most popular thing to do is ‘make friends’, there are many social sites MySpace, Bebo, Hi5 and probably the most well known and in some cases loved, is Facebook.
I started using Facebook about a year ago, I was a myspace user and had a good amount of friends and was happy enough there. Then my friends from myspace started to migrate over to Facebook, I started hearing all this ‘buzz’ on the TV and online from people, Facebook this and Facebook that. Suddenly, it came to a point where if I wanted to keep in touch with anyone I had to have a Facebook account, in some ways I felt I was forced, like some ultimate peer pressure, you weren’t “cool” if you weren’t on Facebook. I’ve never had a problem with being “cool” I don’t know if I am “cool” have been “cool” or even want to be, but I was swept along with the tide and I opened my Facebook account.
Immediately I was bombarded with friend requests, some had been friends on other sites, some were friends of friends and others were people that had an interest in my story and finally had a point of contact with me. It took up a lot of time. It’s hard to make 2,000+ friends! Well, it’s not as hard to make that amount of friends as it is to answer everyone, send gifts, playfarmville, answer friend requests and do all the other things that you are encouraged to do, it really is no wonder that companies were finding they were losing working hours to people logging into their Facebook accounts.
It was designed that way.
Facebook was designed to be addictive, even the way it was marketed by word of mouth was designed to make you believe that it must be fantastic if people were getting fired from their jobs for the amount of time they spent on their page.
But all is not as it seems, let’s all take a step back here, let’s pretend we are just sitting on a park bench watching the world go by…. Relaxed? Ok.
As we sit here people watching, what do we see? A man jogging, a woman walking her dog, kids playing, people sitting chatting, sharing a joke. But what do we really know about these people? Nothing, we see their height, approx weight, hair colour and we can make assumptions about other factors, age, occupation etc. But what if we can get all these people who are in the same place to start giving us this information? If you walked up to any one of these people and started asking them ten different personal questions, they would immediately become suspicious, and if you told them that they needed to give you this information so that they could use the park that they are already in, what do you think their answer would be? What would your answer be?
So why then is it that we so freely hand over this information to websites like Facebook? Do we really know what it does with this information and have any of us really read the terms and conditions? All 26 pages? I have tried to set up my own version of these sites, one that is more dedicated to debate and freedom of speech, it is one of the most difficult things that I have ever tried to do, you need to be powered by one of the big search engines and basically have their backing, so what makes one idea better than the other? Or maybe I should ask what was the other site willing to trade that I wasn’t? Access to your information and your computer, so effectively, access to your life. Imagine you were an intelligence agency, what better way of harvesting information, it’s given freely, nobody feels threatened so there is a less likely chance that the information is lies, especially when you make the site about finding people and being found.
I was sent an email a few months ago by a friend on Facebook, he sent the same mail to all his friends, it said that his computer had been scanned completely by Facebook and all his personal files copied, and as a result he would be closing his account immediately, he was a Zionist, not Arab, not Middle-eastern or what we might consider to be “Terrorist” material. Not a Facist or white supremacist but someone who believed in the God given right of Israel to have lands, proving that you can have friends and not necessarily agree with every word that they say.
He did indeed close his account, and shortly after I started to delve into his accusations, then, BANG! I came down one morning to find I no longer had a Facebook account! I received a message when I tried to log in telling me that my account had been disabled but nothing more. I tried contacting Facebook to ask for a reason, no reply, I tried to look on the help pages for reasons, that didn’t work either. I put “actions that will disable Facebook account” and other variations of the same into google, NOTHING! I have no comeback, no right of reply, no answers.
What I do have is 2,000+ Facebook friends that have no idea what has happened to me, some have sent me messages through my private email (which had also been hacked and my computer files infected I might add), or another site, many were upset as they thought that I had removed them from my friends list, definitely not the case. So to any of my former Facebook friends that may be reading this, my apologies, it was out of my control.
Having said that I am glad that it happened, after these events could you really call it coincidence? There are of course people that will say “Oh, there he goes with his conspiracy fairytales again!” All that I have to say to that is, my “fairytales” have never been as good as your government’s.
For Cooper, the importance is in the audience understanding Latif’s struggle. “This story is so full of such monstrosity and awful violence that you need to see Latif as a kind man in a terrible situation with no alternative,” he explains. “And he’s ultimately prepared to sacrifice his own life because he knows how horrendous it is and the effect that the person he’s doubling for is having on other people.”
But for the film’s Yahia, the world Uday inhabits is not without its charms. “There are great little scenes where he’s offered luxury cars and things and I think he does get rather tempted by them,” explains Cooper. “The stories I hear of [Uday]; he was in charge. No one fucked with him. No one crossed him, no one said anything against him, and he had no boundaries. With all the money you could ever desire and all the drugs you’d ever want, he had everything. They were a bunch of rock stars and they did what they wanted to do.”
“It’s a real bandit movie, a real gangster movie in Iraq,” says Tamahori. “Dom’s an actor who’s got huge amounts [of energy]. But we’ve got to watch the physical nature of it because he’s going at it every day. It’s going to wear him out, so we’ve got to be really careful. It’s just ruthless.”
The challenge for the actor is in balancing the two extremes of personality in the dual roles of Latif and Uday. “Every level of it is completely mesmerizing,” he explains. “I am finding it tough to constantly switch between the two of them.”
The physical torment of the shoot is clearly taking its toll. Our day on set is long, and since both characters are in these scenes, everything must be shot twice. In the morning he’s Latif Yahia and after a quick lunch he emerges from the costume trailer as Uday Hussein. When he finally sits down with IGN towards the end of the day, he’s exhausted by it all.
Tamahori, for his part, doesn’t seem to be working any less tirelessly. He darts around the set every minute, pausing behind the camera only to call “Action,” on a shot.
“I’m always like that,” he laughs when we point out that we’ve rarely seen a director so animated. “I’m a pretty active director; I like to be up with my actors, not stuck behind monitors. We’re pushing ourselves to the limit everyday. We’re trying to do high quality on moderate to low budget. But we have a great crew and a fabulous cast and we’re making it work.”
is a look at some of the darkest, and least often reported, elements of the Hussein regime. But it’s not the heavily politicised Iraq movie most have come to expect, and it seems clear the emphasis is on creating a truly entertaining experience against the backdrop of a fascinating story. The results will hopefully speak for themselves when the film is released next year.
HARDtalk 2009 – the good, the bad and the bizarre
Presenter, BBC HARDtalk
The HARDtalk studio is dark. The two leather chairs on our simple set are empty. This year’s interrogations are over and it’s time to remember the good, the bad and the downright bizarre from HARDtalk 2009.
It was the year we took the show on the road as never before. From interviews recorded deep inside the Arctic Circle, to a New York Bank vault and a Congolese forest.
And it was the year of the unpredictable guest. From the media manipulator who stormed out of the studio before the interview was done, to the fashionista who confessed to wearing no knickers (I felt no need to demand further evidence).
Of all the big stories in our HARDtalk year, perhaps the most frequently revisited was climate change, and what to do about it.
For two weeks in the summer I travelled round Greenland, mixing our usual challenging interviews with reportage from the field.
As the ice melts people living in the Arctic Circle will need fewer huskies
So it was that I found myself quizzing Australia’s environment minister Penny Wong and India’s climate envoy Shyam Saran high above Baffin Bay with icebergs for a backdrop.
In my four years on HARDtalk I’ve seen the occasional guest give an involuntary shiver of trepidation – but never before have I quizzed guests shivering with cold.
The debate itself was heated, even if the guest themselves were not.
The failure of the rich nations and the developing world to strike a comprehensive and binding agreement in Copenhagen was foreshadowed in this and several other HARDtalk interviews with key players in the climate debate.
And amid the political arguments Greenland gave me some unexpected insights into the impacts of global warming.
I’ve been called a hard-bitten journalist more than once in my life – in western Greenland the description was all too accurate
Melting glaciers I’d expected, but what about the Greenlanders who are growing their own vegetables in the unprecedented summer warmth? And the clouds of voracious mosquitoes that can now be found deep inside the Arctic Circle?
I’ve been called a hard-bitten journalist more than once in my life – in western Greenland the description was all too accurate.
Hubris and greed
The struggling global economy was another staple on the HARDtalk menu throughout 2009.
Perhaps most memorable was my interview with Lawrence MacDonald, a former vice-president of the ill-fated Lehman’s Brothers investment bank.
We wanted an evocative and moody location – and we found it in a subterranean bank vault with mighty steel doors underneath Wall Street itself.
It used to house depositors’ cash, now it is an exclusive gentleman’s dining club for Wall Street’s remaining gazillionaires.
Mr MacDonald told me the compelling story of a company overwhelmed by hubris and greed. And what is this contrite banker doing now? Running a boutique investment fund for high-worth investors, of course.
Wall Street may be chastened, but it is unclear what has really changed. After a highly charged and (I hope) entertaining exchange with Steve Forbes, the millionaire publisher and defender of liberal economics, I was presented with a small gift.
It was a silk tie embossed with Mr Forbes’ favourite self-description: “The Capitalist Tool.”
By way of extreme contrast my HARDtalk year also took me to eastern Congo – perhaps the most war ravaged region on the planet over recent years.
The most upsetting interviews of the assignment were with two teenage girls – children still – who courageously chose to tell me how they were systematically raped by Congolese gunmen.
They spoke out, they said, in order that the world would know what is still happening in their country.
Sometimes in HARDtalk we push guests closer to their limits than perhaps we realise
The UN has its biggest peacekeeping force stationed in DR Congo, but there is precious little peace to keep.
And the UN has found itself on the same side as some highly questionable characters – including the warlord “Bosco” Ntaganda, who is wanted for war crimes, but now serves as a commander in the Congolese government’s armed forces.
We believed we had arranged an exclusive HARDtalk interview with General Bosco in his headquarters. We set up the cameras, prepared the microphones and waited.
And waited. Bosco never showed up. It was the first time HARDtalk aired an interview with an empty chair.
That was not the only spot of guest trouble we had in 2009. For the first time in my HARDtalk career I experienced a walk-out in the middle of an interview.
The guest in question was Max Clifford, Britain’s foremost celebrity publicist and agent. One of his highest profile clients last year was Jade Goody, a woman made famous for her appearances on reality television.
Goody was diagnosed with terminal cancer and spent her last weeks in a blaze of Clifford-controlled publicity which earned her children a great deal of money.
When I asked Max Clifford about his involvement with Ms Goody he was clearly unhappy. When I asked a follow-up question he stormed off the set.
As we had only recorded one-third of a full HARDtalk interview this was a programme that could never be aired.
Needless to say it led to a major inquest in the HARDtalk office. Did I cross a line? Was I gratuitously offensive? I really do not think so, but it was a reminder that sometimes in HARDtalk we push guests closer to their limits than perhaps we realise.
HARDtalk sees encounters with presidents and prime ministers every year, but it is often the more unexpected interviews which prompt the biggest viewer response. And this year was no exception.
My exchange with Noam Chomsky about the Obama presidency and American foreign policy drew much comment – much of it highly critical of my “aggressive and arrogant” questioning of the 81-year-old professor.
Another huge response greeted the interview with Latif Yahia, the Iraqi man co-opted to be Uday Hussein’s body double in the darkest days of the Saddam dictatorship.
How could such an experience leave Yahia defending Saddam and wishing his rule had never ended? Classic HARDtalk territory…
And finally I’ll leave you with an image which has stayed with me since I interviewed the wonderfully idiosyncratic British fashion designer Vivienne Westwood last year.
She confessed to me that when she went to Buckingham Palace to receive an honour from the Queen she had neglected to put on any knickers.
She only remembered when she was surrounded by photographers when the ceremony was over. “I couldn’t understand why they were taking their pictures from such a low angle,” she told me.
And then she remembered. And now so will I.
Latif Yahia interview with HARDtalk is scheduled to broadcast on BBC ,
The full interview with Latif Yahia will be broadcast on HARDtalk on Wednesday 2nd December 2009.
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