Translation Is Art & Science

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How the Brazilian Kaka Became Syrian: #IamSyrian, a Campaign that Makes Every Syrian Proud

Brazilian soccer player Kaka, participating in #IamSyrian campaign. Photograph from Facebook Moustafa Jacob Page.

This Post was originally written for Global Voices

Nowadays, it’s not strange to bump into a Syrian in every corner of the globe. This doesn’t only take into account the forced refugees from Syria’s war but the generations of families of Syrian descent, whose grandparents left Syria decades ago.

Dozens of international campaigns have focused on the suffering of Syrians over the previous five years of brutal war, which has claimed the lives of about a quarter of a million people and left millions homeless, marching to Europe, knocking on humanity’s doors.

In response to years of mainstream media coverage showcasing the suffering of Syrians and portraying them as starving and needy people who want pity, the #IamSyrian campaign aims to show the real mettle of Syrians.  Following New Year’s attacks in Germany, in which Arab refugees, among them Syrian, were accused of terrorism and harassment, Texas-based Syrian artist Moustafa Jacob, decided to take the lead and change the discourse of the conversation. His goal was to highlight Syrians who have contributed to culture and humanity in different areas.

Among the factors that joined to launch his #IamSyrian campaign were the impressions media was posting about Syrian refugees in Europe and Islam-phobia propaganda pumped by the far-right-wing national parties as well as the fifth anniversary of Syrian Revolution against Bashar Assad which continued peacefully during the ceasefire agreed in February 2016.

Jacob used the Oscars event to kick off his campaign. He explains on Facebook:

Famous people with Syrian roots include Steve Jobs, Prison Break star Wentworth Miller, Desperate Housewives star Teri Hatcher, award-winning actor Murray Abraham and Jerry Seinfeld, says Moustafa Jacob

Famous people with Syrian roots include Steve Jobs, Prison Break star Wentworth Miller, Desperate Housewives star Teri Hatcher, award-winning actor Murray Abraham and Jerry Seinfeld, says Moustafa Jacob

بمناسبة قدوم الأوسكار, وبعد الهجمة الإعلامية على اللاجئيين السوريين واتهامهم بالهمجية والتخلف, أحببت أن أقوم بتصميم مجموعة من البوسترات عن بعض مشاهير أمريكا ذوي الأصول السورية.
والحملة بعنوان (I am Syrian)
Famous Faces of Syrian Ancestry

Thanks for the Oscars event and after the media attacks on Syrian refugees accusing them of barbarism, I designed a set of posters for some American celebrities of Syrian origin.

#IamSyrian took an international turn when celebrities and artists around the world began adopting its slogan, among them the World Food Program organization @WFP, celebrities like Brazilian football player KaKa, British-Iranian singer Sami Yusuf, and Egyptian actress Hind Sabri.

Twitter and Instagram among other social media platforms soon joined the bandwagon to spread the message.

Putting a human face on Syrians is not new. In October 2015, photographer and art director Isabel Martinez, recruited top models to appear in a powerful short film posted on Instagram on her account @IsabelitaVirtual, in which models from around the world proclaim:  “I am Syrian”:

To drive his point home, Jacob shares the names of people of Syrian descent who have left a global footprint and international impact. The aim is to keep Syrians proud of what their fellow compatriots have achieved.

Among the Syrian figures posted on Jacob’s Facebook Page are:

  • Professor Shadia Habbal, Chair professor of space physics at the University of Wales
  • Professor Hunein Maassab, who spent 40 years of hard work to succeed finally in providing the flu vaccine for mankind
  • Professor Dina Katabi, Director of Massachusetts Institute of Technology Wireless Center
  • Famous musician Malek Jandali, which awarded the title of a recent US government The Great Immigrant
  • Omar Hamoui, Founder and Managing Director of the Company (AdMob)
  • Global filmmaker Moustapha Akkad, the owner of the famous Halloween series in Hollywood
  • Astronaut Mohammed Faris, or (Arabs’ Armstrong) as described by the British newspaper The Guardian
  • Cartoonist Ali Farzat, who was awarded the famous Sakrov Peace Prize in 2011
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ISIS Destroyed Palmyra’s Majestic History. How Can Technology Help?

Digital reconstruction of the Temple of Bel from the New Palmyra project.

#NewPalmyra Crowdsources the Majestic History That ISIS Destroyed in Syria

An edited Post was originally written for Global Voices

Palmyra’s “Nightmare is Over” says Syria’s Head of Antiquities. His statement comes after Assad forces recaptured the ancient city of Palmyra which was under ISIS control since May 2015. However, 3D project was in progress since a while when Bassel Khartabil, the detained Syrian activist launched his #NewPlamyra pioneer initiative.

In less than a year, Palmyra lost most of its majestic archaeological monuments, the Baalshamin Temple, The Temple of Bel, two of the oldest structures in Palmyra, Arch of Triumph, The Tower of Elanbel and recently revealed the sabotage of its National Museum.

The extremist organization imposed its control over Palmyra city which is classified by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, in May 2015. The guerrillas have beheaded Khaled Asaad, the archaeologist has been in charge over 40 years. The destruction, or stealing and selling old artifacts on Facebook of museums and ancient sites been justified as that don’t conform with their medieval notion of Islam or been considered idols. The same fate was for a number of pre-islam archaeological sites in Iraq including 3,000-Year-Old Sculptures at a Museum in Mosul, Iraq.

New Palmyra Project

The first effort of having Palmyra ruins back digitally was in 2005. Was a dream of Bassel Khartabil, Palestinian-Syrian computer engineer and activist, Creative Commons leader in Syria and worked actively projects like Mozilla Firefox and Wikipedia, to reconstruct the old city in a free online database of renderings and media that helps reconstruct Palmyra’s history. His archive shows that in 2008 was able to construct complete 3D models.

However, Bassel arrested in March 15, 2012 and now is completing his four years in prison with his October 2015 forced disappearance. He is credited with opening up the Syrian Internet and extending online access and knowledge to the public. On October 7, 2015 Human Rights Watch and 30 other human rights organizations issued a letter demanding that Khartabil’s whereabouts be disclosed.

#NEWPALMYRA: Temple of Bel
on Sketchfab

More Projects

According to Wired website, New Palmyra isn’t the only initiative seeking to use digital modeling to save the Middle East’s treasures from ISIS.

The Oxford Institute of Digital Archaeology has launched a Million Images Database seeks to bring low-cost 3D cameras to activists in Syria who can still document Another project by the 3D-scanning focus non-profit CyArk aims to use laser scanners to create models of endangered antiquities down to a few millimeters of accuracy.

Digital Archaeology project is planning to display the replicates of the Temple of Bel entry arch, date back to 32 AD, in London’s Trafalgar Square on 19th April, 2016.

On April 19, 2016, in cooperation with national and international cultural heritage preservation organizations, and in conjunction with World Heritage Week 2016, the Institute for Digital Archaeology will install a monumental scale reconstruction of Palmyra's Triumphal Arch on Trafalgar Square. Photo Source: Digital Archaeology

In conjunction with World Heritage Week 2016, the Institute for Digital Archaeology will install a monumental scale reconstruction of Palmyra’s Triumphal Arch on Trafalgar Square. Photo Source: Digital Archaeology

Although reported that Syrian Archaeological authorities have hidden some 300,000 artifacts from around Syria to safe places even before ISIS control most Northeastern territories, but buildings and ancient structures were left to face its own destiny. A Syrian official announced an instant recovery plan to restore Palmyra by the end of 2016.

“We expected the worst because of the liberation fighting but I think the nightmare is over. The panoramic picture of Palmyra is fine,”.

The government will take “precautionary measures in order not to let Palmyra fall again,”

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I Contribute to #RightsCon 2016

Meedan and Lingua Partnering to Translate RightsCon to Spanish and Arabic

Lingua has partnered with Meedan to translate RightsCon tweets to Spanish and Arabic, from Wednesday, March 30 to Friday, April 1, 2016.


RightsCon is the world’s leading conference convened on the future of the internet. This year will see a bigger, brighter, and better RightsCon, more dynamic and outcome-oriented than ever before. The conference shapes the global conversation among human rights experts, business leaders, technologists, human rights experts, government representatives, investors, and advocates.

Twitter plays an important role at RightsCon in terms of documenting, sharing and building networks among attendees. But at such an international conference, sometimes language can be a barrier to participation. Global Voices Lingua partners with Meedan and Access Now to translate the English Tweets posted by speakers and participants into Arabic and Spanish.

Follow our translations and support the effort:

We are excited the opportunity to make some of the discussions in this major conference available and accessible to those following along from the Arabic and Spanish speaking internets.

تعاون الأصوات العالمية وميدان على ترجمة تغريدات مؤتمر RightsCon

يلتفت الكثير من العاملين في حقل حقوق الإنسان والتكنولوجيا إلى مؤتمر RightsConالذي سيقام ما بين الثلاثين من مارس / آذار وحتى الأول من إبريل / نيسان القادم في مدينة سان فرانسيسكو الأمريكية. سيتابع الكثيرون المؤتمر من خلال شبكات التواصل الاجتماعي. وسيكون تويتر أحد أبرز هذه المواقع حيث سيساعد الحضور والمتابعين على مواكبة الأحداث والنقاشات التي تحصل بالتوازي كجزء من أعمال المؤتمر.

يعتبر المؤتمر من أبرز المؤتمرات الدولية التي تتناول موضوع حقوق الإنسان وتقاطعها مع التكنولوجيا والإنترنت الذي تنظمه مؤسسة أكسس، ويجمع خبراء ونشطاء حقوق الإنسان ورجال الأعمال والمبرمجين والمستثمرين إضافة إلى بعض القادة السياسيين بهدف تبادل الأفكار وبناء الاستراتيجيات حول مستقبل الإنترنت والإطلاع على آخر التطورات التكنولوجية.

هذا العام، تتعاون الأصوات العالمية ومشروع لينجوا مع مؤسسة ميدان على ترجمة تغريدات المؤتمر إلى اللغتين الإسبانية والعربية.

لمتابعة المؤتمر تابع الهاشتاغ #RightsCon، يمكنكم أيضًا الدعم من خلال:

  • متابعة للتغريدات العربية ومساعدتنا بنشر ومشاركة التغريدات المترجمة، على الحساب التالي rightscon3rabi@
  • التطوع لمساعدتنا في الترجمة من الإنجليزية للعربية بين 09:30 و17:00 بتوقيت سان فرانسيسكو.
  • يرجى مراسلة:

    وللانضمام إلى فريق مترجمي الأصوات العالمية اضغط هنا!

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Manbij is an ordinary Syrian Town, but why known as “Little London”?

Daesh Terror Group Foreign Fighter after Friday's Prayer In #Aleppo. Source: @Terror_Monitor on Twitter

ISIS (Daesh) Terror Group Foreign Fighters after Eid Addha Prayer in #Aleppo. Source: @Terror_Monitor

When a Syrian Town Has So Many Foreign Fighters That English and German Are Common Languages

This Post was originally written for Global Voices

Manbij is one of the largest cities in the Aleppo province. Located in the north of the Aleppo countryside in northern Syria, the territory has been under ISIS (Daesh in Arabic) control since March 2014. Manbij is populated by so many foreign fighters that English and German are now commonly spoken languages in the small town.

In Nov 2014, Goha’s Nail revealed on his blog a real experience on how do locals fit into IS’ governance scheme:

IS seems reluctant to integrate potentially less committed members too closely. While some IS administrators are Syrians, many are foreigners. For their part, Manbijis are keen on keeping the group at arms length; they appreciate some aspects of IS governance, but do not want to get too close. They expect, however, that the IS focus on education and indoctrination of children is part of a long-term strategy to more closely link the group with the populations it governs.

The estimated number of foreigners fighting with ISIS in Syria and Iraq was about 12,000 in June 2014. However, according to a December 2015 report by the Soufan Group (an international strategic consultancy firm), the figure has nearly tripled and is now roughly 31,000, consisting of both Arab nationals, like Tunisians and Saudis, and as many as 5,000 recruits from from EU nations. France alone is said to have contributed 1,800 fighters, and the UK supplied another 760.

People have reached ISIS-controlled territory from at least 86 countries—with a near 300-percent increase in new recruits from Russia and Central Asia. The Soufan Group says that roughly 150 and 130 people came from the US and Canada, respectively, which amounts to almost no change when compared against past trends, despite ISIS launching a more active recruitment campaign in North America that heavily leverages social media. The Soufan Group says Western nations still face the threat of trained fighters returning home.

The big concern is that an estimated 20 percent or 30 percent of these fighters are returning to their Western countries of origin, meaning these countries will all be coping with significant influxes of now-seasoned fighters with international contacts.

In a blog post, British Mujāhidīn in Syria (

I have no idea whatever caused the rush on British foreign fighters in Syria, but suddenly the hunt for the “bearded European” has been re-opened. It all started with a video by Vice, featuring an interview with two Brits who currently fight in Syria. The interview as such, is highly interesting as these guys explain what made them leave their home towns in the UK for Jihād in war-torn Syria.

After almost 2 years of ISIS control, Manbijs were not happier under Islamic control and went on protest according to Syria Post Facebook page who post the video below with a comment: “See the heroes of Manbij, who despite the top security in the city, took the streets asking the extremist group to leave the city.”

Indeed, citizens living under ISIS control are suffering greatly, thanks in no small part to airstrikes by the US-led international coalition, which are forcing people to flee the area for their lives. Al-Souria Net reported on its Facebook page in Arabic on Oct 2015.

Due also to large-scale security measures by the government, access to aid has narrowed, leading to mass begging on the streets (especially by women, children, and displaced persons).

[…] في مدينة منبج عائلات ظهر الفقر عليها وبدأت ظاهرة التسول بالانتشار وذلك للحصول على ما يسد رمق العائلة في المنزل وخصوصاً تلك العائلات التي نزحت من الرقة ودير الزور.

[…] in the city of Manbej, poor families are beginning to appear who start begging in order to get something to feed their relatives at home—families who were displaced from Al Raqqa and Deir al-Zour, in particular. […]

And noted that the promised prosperity of Islamic state is just a lie:

[…] “كل الازدهار الذي نسمع عنه لدولة البغدادي هو وهم بوهم، ويتم توزيع هذه الخيرات على عناصره فقط وبخاصة المهاجرين منهم”.

“All we were hearing about the prosperity of the State of al-Baghdadi is an illusion, and any goods are distributed only to their own members—particularly the immigrants.”

وينقل الناشط أحمد عن أحد سكان مدينة منبج، ويدعى أبو جاسم، قوله: “بأنه ونتيجة للضرائب التي تفرضها القوة الأمنية على المواطنين في مناطق منبج والباب وجرابلس إضافة للتضيق الكبير على الناس في هذه المدن فإن كل شيء يجب أن تعمله يتوجب وجود موافقة أمنية وكأننا في دولة الأسد”.

According to an activist named Ahmed, speaking on behalf of Abu Jassim (a Manbij local): “As a result of the taxes imposed by the security forces on citizens in the areas Manbij and Bab and Jarables, any official document you need requires a security approval as if we are in State of Assad.”

Posted in Arabic, Crises, Culture & Life, English, Eudcation & Human Rights, History, Photos | Leave a comment

Who Is The Federal Agent Behind the Ray-Ban Glasses?


Newton Ishii, The Japanese Federal Agent. The Photo source Twitter

An edited copy is published on Global Voices

“Ai meu Deus, me dei mal, bateu à minha porta o Japonês da Federal”

“Oh my God, I feel bad, the Japanese Federal knocking at my door”

According to “Diálogos Políticos” blog, is this the main phrase of a “hit music” ahead of 2016 Brazil Carnival starting next 5th Feb, 2016. The Japanese mentioned is the Federal Police agent, Newton Ishii, who arrests the sentenced figures as result of Operação Lava Jato.

Probably you heard about the corruption scandal in Brazil, nowadays, this case is between Justice authorities hands since 2008. Lava Jato is a money laundering investigation, it has expanded to cover allegations of corruption at the national oil company Petrobras. This criminal “system” is known as “Petrolão” scheme suspected of moving more than 10 Billion Brazilian Reais (approx. USD 3.5 Billion in 2015) as bribes between pro-government politicians, top construction company executives among others.

Carnival Presence

Coming 2016 Carnival is selecting a popular figures who contributed to the Brazilian lives during 2015, and one of them is Ishii. Wrote Blog do Gordinho:

O agente da Polícia Federal Newton Ishii, que virou celebridade ao sempre estar presente nas prisões e apreensões da Operação Lava-Jato, promete ser um dos personagens mais citados no Carnaval de 2016. O policial, mais conhecido como “japonês da federal”, deverá ganhar um protótipo de máscara de carnaval produzido pela fábrica Condal, no Rio de Janeiro. Entretanto, para não gerar problemas com direitos de imagem, a empresa deverá recorrer a um “japonês genérico”.

Além disso, o agente vai virar boneco gigante no carnaval de Olinda. O gigante irá vestir a farda e o colete característicos da PF, pesar entre 18kg e 20kg e medir 2,20 metros. Outro personagem da Lava-Jato que estará presente nas ruas da cidade pernambucana é o juiz Sérgio Moro.

The Federal Police agent Newton Ishii, who became celebrity just been present in the arrests of Lava-jato operation, seems to be one of the most quoted characters in 2016. The police agent, known as “Japanese federal” should gain a carnival mask prototype produced by Condal factory in Rio de Janeiro. However, to not create problems with image rights, the company should use a “generic Japanese”.

In addition, the agent will be a giant character in the carnival of Olinda. The giant will wear the uniform and the characteristic federal police, weigh between 18 kg and 20 kg and measure 2.20 meters. Another character of the Lava-Jato will be presented in Pernambuco city streets is the judge Sergio Moro.

A factory is producing carnival masks of the federal police agent, Newton Ishii, the “Japanese” of Lava Jato operations.

What’s your favorite mask for the carnival this year? Eduardo Cunha (President of Parliament) or Newton Ishii of Federal Police?


Brazilians who support Ishii image as corruption-fighter posted their messages on Twitter, either by wishing him to exempt any corrupted Brazilian of his arrests (although he has no authority of legal charge) or by taking photos and greeting him online.

Grateful of Federal Agent kindness Ishii to take photo with me and my family.

Happy new year to Newton Ishii, great arrests. The federal police is well presented.

“The Federal Japanese” his name is Newton Ishii, an example.

To all, Judge Sergio Moro, the Attorney Deltan Dallagnol and Police Federal agent Newton Ishii, I forward my thanks of Lava-Jato [operation members].

  • Brazilians heroes: The judge [Sergio] Moro, Newton Ishii, and Jaquim Barbosa, we need more of such men. [mentioning the judge, the agent and the STF minister whom deliver the corruption sentences against accused executives]
  • The photo reads: The Japanese of sunglasses of federal police: The man who non of workers’ party members would like to meet.
  • Breaking News: After Arresting the politicians, the Japanese Newton Ishii of FP of Curitiba, changes his name and candidates to elections. sic!
  • The photo reads: The Japanese of federal police who no one of workers’ party members would like to meet.

Humor Politico (Political humor) published a cartoon showing ex-president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva hiding his head as ostrich. Many of Brazilian are accusing the leaders of Workers’ Party (PT) government, who in power since 2002. Lula, Brazil’s president between 2002-2010 and a popular figure is a constant criticized target in media and public due to his “potential” influence over the government of Dilma Rousseff, his successor and current elected president of Brazil 2010-2018.


Even Ishii himself, used Social Media to ask Brazilians’ support to fight the corruption


Though most of tweets were greeting Ishii work, not all Brazilians agree that Ishii is a clean, honest agent.

According to Epoca, a magazine of Globo Group, the agent of the Federal Police that appears in almost all the photos leading the arrested executives, has joined in 1976, arrested by FP itself during Operation Sucuri in 2003, suspected to integrate a smuggling gang between Brazil and Paraguay border. Accused of corruption, and expelled later from the PF.

The Japanese agent was reappointed the agent NEWTON HIDENORI ISHII the post of federal police

Ishii appealed to criminal and civil processes, and brought back to his profession. The Federal Police says that Ishii has his managers satisfaction and confidence and is an excellent professional.

  • If this Japanese ring your doorbell at your home at 6:00 AM, please don’t open, because you’ll be screwed. Ha!!
  • SMUGGLER leaker = Newton Hidenori Ishii
  • Who is the nice Japanese who is selling smuggled goods?
  • Is it true that Newton Ishii?
  • The Photo reads: Who is the federal agent behind the sunglasses? Newton Ishii, accused of corruption.
Posted in Cartoon, Culture & Life, Econmoy & Business, English, Photos, Portuguese, Video | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

How to Fight ISIS Social Media “Full Loaded War Propaganda Machine”

Cartoon by Nicholson from “The Australian” newspaper:

Cartoon by Nicholson from “The Australian” newspaper:

How Netizens Are Pushing Back Against ISIS’ Social Media ‘Propaganda Machine’

An edited copy is published on Advox – Global Voices

A recently published news hackers trace ISIS Twitter accounts back to internet addresses linked to Department of Work and Pensions in UK, keeps the ordinary citizen wonder how these extremists are able to “brain wash” its follower to recruit them into electronic war against the global powers, and so far wining it, regardless all technologies effort to contain or eliminate their social media accounts.

While Facebook and Twitter relatively succeed in banning Daash of graphic and hate speech content, “but the challenge for sites like Facebook and Twitter goes beyond tracking down content that promotes terrorism”, wrote Julia Greenberg to Wired.

It also requires defining “promoting terrorism.” In a sense, the two platforms are global communities, each engaged in a constant process of determining community norms as the use of the platforms evolves.

No one deny social media for-good approach in humanity, supporting noble causes and promote freedom of speech. However, in name of freedom of speech, Social Media (SM) is effectively used by Daash (or Daesh, ISIS) to recruit ordinary muslim youths from around the world, convert the ugly killing reality with high editing and Photoshop technologies to promote heaven via all kind of Jihad, from forcing sex to suicide.

In absence of any definite win over ISIS online war and after almost a year of successful employment of it SM accounts, Rita Katz, the director of the SITE Institute wrote that: Air strikes won’t disrupt Islamic State’s real safe haven: social media.

As the West continuous to mishandle the electronic jihad it is proving the militants right. Consider the State Department’s “Think Again Turn Away” social media campaign. In trying to win over would-be jihadists online, the program engages in childish discussions with jihadists.

According to Voices of the blogs study, late 2014, the support of ISIS Arabic content on twitter comes from Europe.

Outside Syria, support for Isis, always a minority among online communities, rises significantly. 47% of studied tweets and posts from Qatar, 35% from Pakistan, 31% from Belgium and almost 24% of posts from UK and 21% from the US were classified as being supportive of the jihadist organisation compared with just under 20% in Jordan, Saudi Arabia (19.7%) and Iraq (19.8%).

Attacking Islamic State’s Online Presence

Though that this post is unable to handle all actions, not even most, following are some examples of groups and individuals who attack ISIS online.

  • Twitter account @reportterrorist Claims that there is 50K ISIS twitter accounts need to bring down.
  • Anonymous Group has published a series of guides to help those seeking to join its “war on ISIS” to track and identify Islamic State’s websites. It dedicates a twitter account @TeamDestroyISIS to re-tweets, mock and hunt down ISIS accounts accompanied with the hashtag .
  • Several individual efforts by Arab netizens have joined the international coalition against terrorism online. One of these contributions is the twitter account @KSAssa or Saudi Arabia Electronic Army (20.7K followers) is taking a lead to stop and “destroy” accounts related to Daash and “every enemy” of which threats the country’s unification under the Arabic hashtag  (Campaign against Daash spam accounts).

Your cooperation and activity is essential to delete criminals accounts and vandals, enemies of religion and our homeland.

  • Also @BlockDaesh lead by @Mujtahid_i (30.4K followers) are among few of fire-back campaigns to bring down ISIS twitter spam accounts.

[…] I decided to change the activity from fighting against Daash, especially these days, to fight the Safavids; and will get back to Daash God willing

And the question yet is beyond the air strikes and on-ground militar operations:

But taking down ISIS Web Sites is like shooting Fish in a barrel, wrote the fight ISIS blog.

There is soo many targets out there right now on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Sendvid all are flooded with ISIS users and Propaganda. You can help and you do not even need to be a Hacker to Shut Down ISIS Web Sites !!

Most of the Web sites, all we have to do is report the User to the Host (like twitter, facebook, Etc.) and they will Suspend or Shutdown the User / ISIS account.

Technology Review proposed more human approach, because what’s missing is a direct contact with the young generation (Muslims or non-Muslims) who been targeted by ISIS to disprove Jihad propaganda.

Indeed, the technological response to stanching the recruitment isn’t having much of an effect. Internet companies close accounts and delete gory videos; they share information with law enforcement. Government agencies tweet out countermessages and fund general outreach efforts in Muslim communities. Various NGOs train religious and community leaders in how to rebut ISIS messaging, and they create websites with peaceful interpretations of the Quran. But what’s missing is a widespread effort to establish one-on-one contact online with the people who are absorbing content from ISIS and other extremist groups and becoming radicalized.

Posted in Arabic, Crises, Culture & Life, English, Eudcation & Human Rights | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Syrian Refugees? Get Your Facts Straight Before You Share Their Stories

Refugees are Human Beings. Photo from Commons Wikimedia

Refugees are Human Beings. Photograph from Commons Wikimedia CC-BY-SA-3.0

This Post was originally written for Global Voices

Sadly, this year is shaping up to be the year of Syrian refugees. Although the countless stories of people fleeing their war-torn country are heartbreaking, we need to look at some of those stories with a pinch of salt. Unfortunately, in some cases the world continues to be misinformed by images and video circulating online that are purportedly of the tragedy but have actually been manipulated or described inaccurately.

The reasons vary from clicktivism to politics. For instance, some European right-wing political parties are using the recent refugee crisis to further push their agenda and close the doors on Syrian refugees taking refuge in Europe. In fact, a photograph claiming to show Syrian refugees waving the ISIS flag in Germany, which is widely being shared on Facebook, is three years old and is not related to the current crisis.

Below are four stories of Syrian refugees stories you may have come across on your social media accounts, which are far from what they appear to be.

Story 1: The Italian fashion model and the Syrian immigrants’ boat

Shared on the Syrians in Belgium group on Facebook, this video above is shared with the following caption:

عارضة ازياء ايطالية تصور فيديو على الشاطئ وفجأة بطريقة عفوية وقع المحظور تصل دفعة لاجئين غير متوقعة الى شاطئ الامان في ايطاليا سوف تشتهر هده العارضة لهدا الموقف الظريف والعفوي الدي لايتكرر
معظمهم سوريين وفلسطينيين الحمد الله على السلامة

An Italian model is filming a video on the beach and suddenly the unexpected happened and a group of unexpected refugees arrives on the beach safely in Italy. This model will become famous for this funny and spontaneous incident which will not repeat itself. Most of them are Syrians and Palestinians. Thank God for their safety.

However, the model filming the video being shared far and wide is not Italian and the video itself is not even shot in Italy. And the refugees are neither Syrian nor Palestinian. The original video was published on July 10, 2015, on YouTube by US-based Russian model Ekaterina Juskowski with the description:

Ms. Juskowski, a Miami-based artist and a founder of the Miami Girls Foundation ( “who migrated from Russia at age 18 as a university student – had a more compassionate take. She said, “Witnessing people starting their life anew by jumping off the boat and running into the city made my personal struggle seem rather small. As controversial as the problem of illegal immigration can be for many of us, it is important to remember that people come here in search of the better life, and it comes at a very high price of great courage, hard work, and loneliness. I got to know America as a country with a big heart. While I trust it to the U.S. government to work out the policies on improving the immigration laws, it feels natural to stay compassionate and understanding on a personal level.”

Story 2: A Syrian boy sleeping between his parents’ graves

“There’s a big chance you have seen this dramatic picture of a Syrian boy covered by a blanket sleeping between the two graves of his dead parents. It went viral after some big accounts published it [in January 2014] on Twitter,” reads Harld Doornbos Blog.

There is only one problem: The picture is not from Syria, but from Saudi Arabia. Photo credit haralddoornbos on wordpress

There is only one problem: The picture is not from Syria, but from Saudi Arabia. Photo credit haralddoornbos blog

The blog was maybe the first to investigate the case by contacting the photographer behind this story, Abdul Aziz al Otaibi, a Saudi national, from Yanbu al Bahr city. His nephew is the boy who appears in the photo:

“Look, it’s not true at all that my picture has anything to do with Syria,” Al-Otaibi says, “I am really shocked how people have twisted my picture.”

“I love photography,” he continues over the phone, “Every artist has ideas in his head. So I had the idea to make a project whereby I show in pictures how the love of a child for his parents is irreplaceable. This love cannot be substituted by anything or anybody else, even if the parents are dead.”

On Twitter, Abdul Aziz al Otaibi shared another photograph of his nephew in January 2014, hoping to set the story straight:

This is also photograph from behind the scenes with my nephew Ibrahim

Story 3: Immigrants refuse non-halal food

YouTube user komehtap K stated that Muslim refugees, on the border between Macedonia and Greece, refused the food parcels distributed to them because they carried the Red Cross symbol, which is, according to the author, not halal. While the video is true, this information is totally false.

According to Red Cross spokesman John Aangendal Nielsen speaking to French newspaper Liberation, refugees refusing the parcels was not related to the contents, which were halal, but was a kind of protest against the police who blocked their way and kept them stranded throughout the night under the rain.

On YouTube, komehtap K explains:

Muslim migrants in Macedonia refuse Red Cross parcels because of… the red cross
The headless chicken reaction by the leaders of the European Union regarding mass migration by hundreds of thousands of people has resulted in these so called refugees not only demanding to be allowed to go where they want to go, but insisting on subscribing to the religious bigotry they claim they are running away from.

Here on the Macedonian/Greek border Red Cross aid parcels are being refused due to them having a red cross on the box. And the left call me a bigot for questioning the veracity of these so called refugees

And on Twitter, many reacted with anger at the “ingratitude” of the refugees:

Story 4: The photoshopped image of a Syrian mother at sea

A photograph of reportedly a Syrian mother trying to swim to safety carrying her toddler child. Photo gone viral (source unknown)

A Syrian mother trying to swim to safety carrying her toddler child. Photo gone viral (source unknown), but it isn’t what it seems to be.

This photograph of a Syrian mother struggling at sea has been making the rounds online. But something is amiss. Netizens were quick to notice that the photograph was photoshopped, covering the woman’s hair. Omneya Talaat tweets:

When society is only concerned with covering a woman’s hair and not providing her with a dignified life, then it is a society on its way to oblivion. There is nothing to argue about here

The blog Phogotraphy asked why a doctored photograph is being used to highlight the plight of Syrian refugees:

This terrifying photograph shows Syrian refugee Rukhsan Muhammed who was rescued off the coast of Turkey in 2013 after the boat she and her son were on capsized. Without the need for an expert’s inspection it is clear that a white headscarf has been crudely applied to the photograph using digital tools.

The moment captured is one of utter despair, indeed since the photograph was taken we learned that Rukhsan had been in the water with her one year old son who was washed away and drowned by the strong currents. So why trivialise this awful situation by drawing on a headscarf to protect this poor woman’s modesty?

Does her dress matter? Phogotraphy explained:

Of course underneath any clothing is a human being, a mother who has lost her child and nearly her own life. We want to care about this person and if she lived to tell of her ordeal. Within the series of images from the Anadolu Agency we can see that Rukhsan was thankfully rescued and what is striking to us now is not a story of survival, but further insight to her clothing. We can see now, clearly that she dresses like us, The West. During rising xenophobia in Europe being prevalent surely a more effective way of realising our compassion is by showing the world we are all the same.

Refugees arriving in Europe are escaping the fate of 320,000 Syrians who have been killed back home in Syria since the start of the war in their country four years ago. They have risked it all to ensure their future and that of their children. Should they be judged for aspiring to live?

Posted in Arab Spring, Arabic, Crises, Culture & Life, English, Photos, Video | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Buy a Pen, Save a Life. How a Syrian Father Inspired Fundraising his Cause


Abdul and his daughter Reem in streets of Beirut. Mixed photos of indiegogo website

This Post was originally written for Global Voices

Always we talk about the social media powerful way of changing lives. If you haven’t heard trending story on Twitter and Facebook for the last week, read this noble story of world collaborating to help a Syrian refugee father who carry his sleeping daughter selling pens in streets of Beirut, Lebanon to fund his survival.

When your country in a war and you see your people under siege suffering hunger and exposing to death, you’d prefer to escape with your kids for a shelter and look for minimum reasons to survive. Abdul Halim Attar is one of over a million Syrian refugees who flee to Lebanon, a Palestinian Syrian from the Yarmouk camp in Damascus. He’s a single father with 2 children, Reem and Abdelillah

The story started with this tweet on 25th of Aug when Gissur Simonarson (@GissiSim) an Iceland activist posted a photo of Abdul, a Syrian refugee, selling pens and surprised with a tsunami of sympathy and compassion. The tweet shared 6K and favorited 2.8K. The day next, Simonarson set the twitter account @Buy_Pens for further introduction of Abdul story to the public, looking for him and setup the strategy in 3 points.

News portals and TV rush to the scoop case, SKYNEWS, CNN, ALJAZEERA, NBC, BBC, Mirror, while working with Carol Malouf (@carolmalouf) representing the NGO @leb4refugees on ground to meet Abdul urgent needs.

The campaign set to reach $5,000 USD goal in 15 days, however, until writing this material, it succeed in gathering $168,884 USD, raised by 6,375 people in 5 days. The money comes from USA, UK, Saudi Arabia, UAE among other countries in Middle East and Europe.

On how to spend the money raised on his cause, Abdul answered in one phrase: to raise and educate his own children.

So next time when you wonder a way to help any needy, be inspired by this story and donate your time, money or even a tweet, still have 9 days before accomplishing this noble achievement.

Screenshot of "Help Abdul and Reem start a new life" funding campaign on indiegogo.

Screenshot of “Help Abdul and Reem start a new life” funding campaign on indiegogo.

Posted in Arab Spring, Crises, Culture & Life, English, Eudcation & Human Rights, Photos | Tagged , , | Leave a comment