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[casi] Reforming CASI's discussion list: a new mandate

Dear list members,

Nicholas Martin, CASI's Co-ordinator, has asked me to develop a proposal
for reforming the CASI discussion list as part of the more general CASI
reform process.  The discussion list has, in the past, provided a forum
for intelligent discussion and debate, allowing those concerned with the
humanitarian situation in Iraq to stay informed, and to coordinate
action.  In the new, violent, rapidly changing - and hopefully hopeful -
Iraq, I believe that the need for the concerned community to be able to
engage intelligently and humanely is as great as ever.

As the list is only useful if its members find it useful, I am writing
to the list, hoping that interested members will send me their thoughts.
At the end of this e-mail, I ask a number of specific questions.  Please
respond directly to me if you want simply to register your views; I
shall update the list on what I hear.

Currently, the list's usage is guided by the instructions on CASI's
website at  (Members with web access
may wish to read this page.)  The existing guidelines fall into one of
three categories:

1. community related: e.g. number of messages a day, number of list

2. process related: e.g. "concise, inoffensive, polite", free forum for
exchange of ideas, with occasional moderation to maintain quality, no

3. content related: e.g. relevance to CASI mandate, UK focus.

The first of these is technical and can be updated without discussion to
reflect the list's status.

The second of these has, I think, been one of the reasons that the list
has been effective in past years: it has allowed reasoned discussion of
very painful and divisive issues.  This allowed it to be, for some time,
the highest quality open English language discussion list on Iraq.  As
such, it was read by activists, policy makers, and journalists from
around the world.

I think that regaining this standing should be our central task at
present: we have lost a lot of good people recently, to our detriment.
Some to whom I have already spoken have indicated that a reformed list
should have more active moderation, perhaps even requiring all messages
to be approved, as at present.  This has been discussed, and done, in
the past, and is always contentious.  The main concerns are closely
related: philosophically, some argue that moderation is a form of
censorship; practically, there is the question of how well a moderator
will moderate.  List members interested in these questions may wish to
read some past postings on it. In particular:

Milan Rai's 18 Oct 2000:
Seb Will's 19 Oct 2000:
Abi Cox's 20 June 2002:

All of these contain details specific to particular discussions; their
general arguments remain relevant, though.

Finally, the third category clearly needs to change: the non-military
sanctions established by Security Council Resolution 661 have been
lifted.  At the same time, Iraq is now under foreign occupation, with
the British and American governments even more directly in control of
Iraqi lives than in the past.  Thus, the underlying reason for CASI, and
the discussion list, remains: policy decisions taken in the UK and the
US have life and death consequences for those living in Iraq.  The
quality of these decisions will influence whether Iraq descends further
into communal violence and civil war, or whether it finds a path back to
safety.  The quality of these decisions depends on our ability to inform
and organise ourselves, to encourage and correct each other, and to act
intelligently and resolutely.

Thus, to initiate discussions, I would propose that the paragraph
beginning "Messages sent to the list should be directly relevant to
sanctions on Iraq..." in the existing guidelines on the website be
replaced with:

Messages sent to the list should be directly relevant to the
humanitarian implications of the foreign occupation of Iraq.  They
should be concise, inoffensive, polite, and should make new points
rather than just reiterating previous ones.  If you are in any doubt as
to the appropriateness of a particular message you are considering
sending to the list, please seek advice from the list moderator on before proceeding.

This changes the exiting paragraph in two ways, beyond some grammatical

1. the concern with sanctions is replaced by one with the humanitarian
implications of occupation.

2. the UK focus is removed.

On this second point, the list clearly has taken on an international
focus.  I think that this is good.  In particular, I think that the CASI
discussion list, in the past, has helped those concerned about sanctions
around the world clarify their arguments, inform themselves, and act.  I
would like to see this continue.

In conclusion, here are some specific questions on which I would like

Q1: what do list members think of the paragraph and mandate proposed

Q2: can list members indicate other lists with similar foci to CASI's?
What 'niches' are already well filled?  Which ones might not be?

Q3: do list members have any proposals for further structure to the CASI
discussion list and website?  In particular, are there more efficient
ways of identifying issues to investigate and campaign on or more
efficient ways of harnessing the abilities of list members?  It has been
suggested that the website could allow members to update it by posting
new links to it, to be incorporated automatically by the site's code.
Are there ways of encouraging list members to organise into 'working
groups' to track particular issues?

Q4: what are list members' views on list moderation?  What would they
think of annual elections, with votes being cast by list members who pay
an annual membership fee (used to maintain the website to a higher
standard than at present)?

Thank you very much, for your attention, and for being here.

Looking forward to moving forward,

Colin Rowat

work | Room 406, Department of Economics | The University of Birmingham
| Birmingham, B15 2TT, UK | | ( 44/0) 121 414
3754 | (+44/0) 121 414 7377 (fax) |

personal | (+44/0) 7768 056 984 (mobile) | (+44/0) 7092 378 517 (fax) |
(707) 221 3672 (US fax) |

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