Arab News discontinues Andrew Bowen’s column

Arab News discontinues Andrew Bowen’s column
Updated 30 July 2017

Arab News discontinues Andrew Bowen’s column

Arab News discontinues Andrew Bowen’s column

Arab News regrettably announces that it will discontinue publishing articles by US columnist Andrew Bowen.
The reason behind this decision is the columnist insisting that this newspaper deletes previous articles dating back prior to the recent US election where he was in favor of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
Bowen, a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, has repeatedly requested the removal of these articles stating that this is needed for him “to be cleared” for what he claims to be a possible job with the new Donald Trump administration’s State Department.
Mr. Bowen also insinuated — verbally and in writing — that he will seek the support of influential friends and contacts to help remove the articles.
Arab News possesses all correspondence relating to this matter and its position is that such a request is unprofessional journalistically, particularly given that there were no factual errors or libelous comments that require a redaction or correction.
We wish Mr. Bowen the best of luck in his job application.

EDITORIAL NOTE: Further to a formal complaint after publishing, this article — along with a number of Mr. Bowen’s pro-Hilary previous columns- were removed briefly offline. However, upon the completion of an internal review, this and all related articles were restored online unchanged.

• Here is a link to Mr Bowen's complete Arab News archive 



Acclaimed Turkish actor sued for ‘insulting president’ with Twitter posts

Acclaimed Turkish actor sued for ‘insulting president’ with Twitter posts
Genco Erkal. (Photo/Twitter)
Updated 1 min 38 sec ago

Acclaimed Turkish actor sued for ‘insulting president’ with Twitter posts

Acclaimed Turkish actor sued for ‘insulting president’ with Twitter posts
  • Genco Erkal, one of the most popular stage actors and theatre directors in Turkey, has claimed in speeches that playwrights were censoring their plays to receive financial support from local municipalities

ISTANBUL: Leading Turkish actor Genco Erkal, 83, announced on Saturday that he is facing an investigation for exercising his freedom of expression.

Erkal, an outspoken government critic, is bring investigated for “insulting the Turkish president” and will give his testimony on Monday.

His social media postings on Twitter since 2016 are being examined, Erkal said, without giving further details.

“Insulting the president” has become a widespread excuse for launching investigations against prominent popular figures, with several top actors and musicians being investigated despite their age.

Charged with “insulting the president publicly” over critical remarks made during a TV program, veteran actors Mujdat Gezen and Metin Akpinar attended three hearings this year but were acquitted.

On the program, 79-year-old Akpinar blamed the social polarization in the country on the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and said that “maybe leaders could be hung from their feet or poisoned in cellars” if Turkey’s democratization process couldn’t be achieved peacefully.

During the same broadcast, 77-year-old veteran actor Gezen said, “[Erdogan] tells the people ‘know your place.’ Look Recep Tayyip Erdogan, you cannot test our patriotism. Know your place.”

Genco Erkal, one of the most popular stage actors and theatre directors in Turkey, has claimed in speeches that playwrights were censoring their plays to receive financial support from local municipalities and said that his award-winning theater, Dostlar (Friends) Theatre, had not received any support for years because of the support he gave to the anti-government Gezi protests in 2013.

Dostlar Theatre, founded in 1969, is known for staging plays that are critical of the government’s political line and that try to raise social awareness on specific topics.

In his Twitter posts, Erkal criticized the wrongdoings of the government and highlighted social problems.

Even at his age, Erkal still organizes countrywide tours each year to reach a wider audience in every province of the country and has staged a critical play — “On Living” — about the late Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet.

Erkal recites one of Hikmet’s poems when on tour: “Living is no joke, you must live with great seriousness like a squirrel, for example, I mean expecting nothing except and beyond living, I mean living must be your whole occupation.”

An administrative court in Ankara ruled in 2014 that the refusal of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism to offer funding to Erkal’s theater was “against the principles of justice and equality.”

Turkey ranked 154th out of 180 countries in the 2020 Reporters Without Borders’ press freedom index.

Between 2014 and 2019, Turkish authorities launched 128,872 investigations into insults against Erdogan, and Turkish courts sentenced 9,556 of those charged with insulting the president, including politicians, journalists, actors, elder people and even children.

Facebook launches #MonthofGood campaign for Ramadan

Facebook launches #MonthofGood campaign for Ramadan
Updated 17 April 2021

Facebook launches #MonthofGood campaign for Ramadan

Facebook launches #MonthofGood campaign for Ramadan
  • Instagram initially developed its Ideas of Good campaign, now in its third year, as a result of a key insigh

This Ramadan, Facebook is marking the holy month with a global campaign across its family of apps. The #MonthofGood campaign, which brings together Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp, aims to celebrate charity, collaboration and community.

Despite the social distancing resulting from the pandemic, Ramadan remains a time for charity and celebration. Globally, in 2020 people raised twice as much as in 2019 through Ramadan-related fundraisers across Facebook and Instagram. “We saw our users rally behind multiple causes, raising over $5 billion for nonprofits and personal causes through fundraisers on Facebook and Instagram,” Ramez Shehadi, Managing Director at Facebook MENA, told Arab News.

Instagram initially developed its Ideas of Good campaign, now in its third year, as a result of a key insight, said Shehadi, which was that “Ramadan is the kindest time of the year on the platform.”

“In 2019, we saw people post about not only charitable activities, but also finding time to reflect as well as bond with their families,” he said. There were more than 16 million uses of the word Ramadan and references to Ramadan hit 4 million in the 30 days leading up to the holy month. There was a 40 percent growth in the use of the word “kindness” on Instagram across the world in the 30 days leading up to the holy month.

“Last year was drastically different – we saw Muslims around the world spend their first Ramadan in lockdown and it was a unique experience to observe a season known for its strong sense of togetherness and collaboration, in isolation,” he said. However, the Muslim community found new ways of gathering, donating and celebrating virtually, which inspired the initial Instagram campaign.

In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region and Turkey, more than 6.5 million people joined the Ramadan-related groups created in 2020. For instance, “LyedFeLyed اليد في اليد ” is a group created last year that aims to connect families in need with donors and associations. “As of May last year, it had already helped 700 families, within days of opening the group,” said Shehadi. Other groups that arose during the pandemic are “Stop and Help”, founded by Heather Harries, her husband and two sons from the UAE, which aims to lift community spirits during the pandemic by offering support to families in need of basic essentials and “UAE Fusion Socialites,” which is founded by Sharjah-based Pakistani mother, Ayesha Sohail, who uses her social media skills to help low-income families.

This year, Facebook has extended the campaign across all its platforms as the #MonthofGood because it’s a “no-brainer,” according to Shehadi. “As a collective for four apps, we have the opportunity to amplify this effect, providing more platforms and more tools for organisations and individuals to explore, express and inspire good.”

Facebook will be running various activations across the globe in locations including India, US, UK, Nigeria and MENA focusing on the pillars of kindness, community and charity.

These include:

“Ideas of Good,” a list of 30 kind deeds and do-good moments to act on virtually.

“Guide to Ramadan” by Canadian creator Sarah Sabry, in collaboration with her Muslim followers.

A pay-it-forward chain globally, which will be kicked off by creators such as Haifa Beseisso, Nabih Alkayali, Raha Moharrak, Logina Salah, and Adel Aladwani in the MENA region.

Live Suhoor Talks, a global series hosted by Muslim creators across the UK, Asia and MENA, featuring weekly conversations about topics ranging from food and fasting to mental health and wellbeing.

Facebook Watch and IGTV series with creators such as Khalid Al-Ameri and Manal Al-Alem and networks MBC, TVision, and Zee Entertainment.

A MENA-specific collaboration with Jordan-based Arabic podcast network Sowt spotlighting inspiring community leaders from the regional diaspora to talk about how they use Facebook Apps for virtual acts of kindness during Ramadan.

Spotlighting zakat-eligible nonprofits such as Rahma Worldwide, UNHCR, Heroic Hearts, Molham Volunteering Team and Zakat Foundation of America with active Ramadan fundraisers and campaigns to provide food baskets, supplies and medical aid to orphans, widows and refugees.

Additionally, Facebook will spotlight small and medium businesses (SMBs) that have inspired good this Ramadan. “These are businesses that have gone above and beyond to help people around them and their communities, with their acts of charity and kindness,” said Shehadi.

The increased time spent on Facebook’s apps during the holy month also presents a significant opportunity for advertisers. “Ramadan is one of the biggest and longest global festive moments. Given the current circumstances we are in, people need positivity during the holy month and therefore feel-good themes always work at Ramadan if you do it right.”

“It’s also powerful if you can connect people to a real-life opportunity to do good,” he said. For instance, in 2018, Facebook partnered with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and the creative agency Leo Burnett Beirut to boost blood donations during Ramadan in a campaign called “Giving is in your blood,” which reached more than 28 million people across the Middle East and increased blood donations by 36 percent on average.

“We see a lot of brands engage with consumers in a personalised and relevant way during Ramadan too,” he added. For instance, Nestlé MENA developed a bilingual, informative bot for Messenger, in partnership with Facebook’s Creative Shop, that raised awareness of the content and services provided by its brands during Ramadan and helped Nestlé to gain insights about its consumers’ eating habits and preferences.

Why technology meant to bring humanity closer is driving it apart

In this photo illustration, a Twitter logo is displayed on a mobile phone with a President Trump's picture shown in the background on May 27, 2020, in Arlington, Virginia. (AFP/File Photo)
In this photo illustration, a Twitter logo is displayed on a mobile phone with a President Trump's picture shown in the background on May 27, 2020, in Arlington, Virginia. (AFP/File Photo)
Updated 17 April 2021

Why technology meant to bring humanity closer is driving it apart

In this photo illustration, a Twitter logo is displayed on a mobile phone with a President Trump's picture shown in the background on May 27, 2020, in Arlington, Virginia. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Modern Arab writers ponder why digital tools are not making societies more tolerant, cosmopolitan and sociable
  • The same technology that accelerated globalization seems to have left many feeling more isolated and intolerant of others

DUBAI: If asked, most people would likely admit that they would have struggled to survive the mental toll of isolation brought about by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic without access to social media, online shopping, and video conferencing to make up for the loss of human contact.

And yet, these very same technologies, which have accelerated globalization and brought distant cultures together for the first time at the tap of a keypad, have in fact left many feeling more lonely, alienated, and inward-looking than ever before.

Far from making societies more tolerant, cosmopolitan, and sociable, the addiction to mobile devices, “likes” as a form of validation, and the instant gratification of streaming and home delivery has left many people aggressively intolerant, proudly parochial, and unhealthily introverted.

Activists of United Hindu Front (UHF) hold placards and a picture of Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg during a demonstration in New Delhi on February 4, 2021. (AFP/File Photo)

“Globalization has brought us all together in one world forum, where we are all assembled,” said Amin Maalouf, one of the world’s foremost modern Arab writers and author of Adrift: How Our World Lost its Way among other books.

“But being assembled didn’t make us closer to each other. It made us look for what differentiates us from the person next to us.”

Participating in this year’s Dubai-hosted Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, the Paris-based Lebanese-born French author described the situation as “the great paradox” of our time.

Paris-based Lebanese-born French author Amin Maalouf, one of the world’s foremost modern Arab writers. (AFP/File Photo)

“We are more and more like each other, we have the same vision of the world, and the same instruments in our hands, and we know the same things. We have the same aspirations. Yet, at the same time, we want to think that we are very different,” he said.

Anyone who has ever shared an unpopular opinion on social media will tell you how tribal and dogmatic internet users can be from the safety of online anonymity. Political disagreements can take the form of personal, vitriolic attacks, while facts are often brushed aside in place of tropes and conspiracies.

These disagreements may not be such a big problem if they remained online. But as was demonstrated by the US Capitol riots on Jan. 6, unsubstantiated claims about election fraud were enough to incite real-world mob violence.

With so many sources of biased information and agenda-driven news on the world wide web, all of them competing for hits, clicks, and shares to shape the mainstream narrative, it is hard to know who or what to trust.

As a result, members of the public often fall back on familiar narratives and imagined communities in place of rigorous fact-checking and openness to differing viewpoints.

South Korea, after boasting for years advanced technology from high-speed Internet to Samsung smartphones, is now taking pains to try to pull its tech-crazed youth away from digital addiction. (AFP/File Photo)

“I think it is very normal, because we have been brought together very quickly by the acceleration of science and technology and we have not yet assimilated,” Maalouf added.

“But one can be confident in the long run. The main trend is a trend toward unifying the world, unifying humankind, which will eventually, one day, become a nation of very different people, but having a sense of common destiny.

“But, in the short run, the affirmation of specific identities is more and more aggressive, and it will take time to accept the reality created by new technology.”

The Middle East and North Africa are among the world’s top regions for internet penetration. According to Internet World Stats, which tracks global internet usage, social media engagement, and online market research, almost 67 percent of the region was plugged in by 2019 compared to the world average of 58.8 percent.

Saudi Arabia, similar to other Gulf states, scored especially high by this metric. The Kingdom’s internet penetration among its 35.3 million-strong population stood at more than 90 percent, exposing Arabs to a world of ideas and identities, but also its divisions.

The paradox explored by Maalouf was widely acknowledged by the literary community that participated in the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature.

Virtual platforms like Netflix and Zoom have emerged as lifelines for a pandemic-hit world forced indoors, but in sanctioned Syria where both websites are blocked, people feel increasingly disconnected. (AFP/File Photo)

Saudi novelist Badriah Al-Bishr, the first woman to win the Arab Press Award for best newspaper column in 2011, told Arab News that although the adoption of new technologies was a major achievement for humankind, it had led to an information overload.

“Information is not knowledge. We formulate knowledge from data, the same way we bake bread from flour. Technology is a positive for humanity — the issue is how it is used,” she said.

To sift through this ocean of data, tech firms have created sophisticated algorithms based on interactions to target users with relevant content. However, the algorithms used by social media giants, such as Facebook, can “lock” users into a narrow, blinkered worldview of “what it thinks they want to see. This is the danger of algorithms,” Ahlam Bolooki, director of the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, told Arab News.

In August, five months before the US Capitol riots, data scientists working for Facebook warned the company’s top executives that the platform was playing host to a worrying number of groups promoting hate speech.

Facebook usage has held steady in the US despite a string of controversies about the leading social network, even as younger users tap into rival platforms such as TikTok, a survey showed on April 7, 2021. (AFP/File Photo)

Internal documents seen by The Wall Street Journal in January said, “70 percent of the top 100 most active US civic groups are considered non-recommendable for issues such as hate, misinformation, bullying, and harassment.”

Executives were told one of the groups with the highest level of engagement “aggregates the most inflammatory news stories of the day and feeds them to a vile crowd that immediately and repeatedly calls for violence.”

The researchers added: “We need to do something to stop these conversations from happening and growing as quickly as they do.”

Facebook has since pledged to overhaul its algorithms.

Al-Bishr noted that the pace of change was also causing a generational rift.

A Twitter logo is displayed on a mobile phone with President Trump's Twitter page shown in the background, the account of whom was suspended following a string of unsubstantiated claims on the platform. (AFP/File Photo)

“The millennium generation, which was born during this period of technological advancement, believes this is what life is — they don’t know what they are missing. But we, the older generation, can see the gaps,” she added.

Naouel Chaoui, an Algerian-Italian who runs a popular book club that was forced online during the COVID-19 pandemic, pointed out that technology, despite its practicality, was no substitute for human contact.

“Because of technology, we are losing the need for contact, real contact, human contact; a tap on the shoulder, a hug. Body language is a huge part of our communication, which, when missing, loses its authentic expression,” she told Arab News.

“I feel that the new generations are missing this crucial part of getting together. They meet through games, over screens, or through their phones.”

Perhaps one solution, once the pandemic has passed, would be for people to unplug a little more often, challenge their preconceptions, and expand their horizons.

Elif Shafak, a prominent British-Turkish author, speaking during her session. (Supplied)

Elif Shafak, a prominent British-Turkish author, whose work has been translated into 54 languages, said experiencing a diversity of viewpoints was vital to the learning process.

“We humans don’t learn through repetition. We don’t learn as much from sameness as we learn from differences,” Shafak, the author of 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World and The Forty Rules of Love, told the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature.

“When people from different backgrounds with different stories come together, they challenge each other, and they help each other’s cognitive flexibility, shifting perspectives.

“I am a big believer in the importance of cosmopolitan encounters, in the importance of bringing people with different stories together and letting them talk to each other.”


Twitter: @jumanaaltamimi

Pakistan restores social media access after suspension on ‘security grounds’

Pakistan restores social media access after suspension on ‘security grounds’
Updated 16 April 2021

Pakistan restores social media access after suspension on ‘security grounds’

Pakistan restores social media access after suspension on ‘security grounds’
  • Interior minister apologizes for the suspension which was part of a crackdown against a religious political party that held violent nationwide protests this week
  • Pakistan’s Counter Terrorism Department says it has initiated action against individuals who ‘used social media to incite violence’

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has restored access to multiple social media apps which it temporarily blocked on security grounds on Friday, the country’s telecommunications authority said.

The suspension of social media services was part of a crackdown against a religious political party, Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), that held violent nationwide protests this week.

Pakistani internet users had difficulty accessing apps such as WhatsApp, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter starting on Friday morning.

“Access to social media applications have been restored,” Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) said in a statement on Friday afternoon.

Pakistan’s Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmad has since apologized for the suspension of social media services.

“I as interior minister apologize that we blocked social media for three hours,” he said in a video statement.

“They (TLP) were planning to come out on the streets after Friday prayer. We will not do this in the future. They did not come out. It was all peaceful. Today those who wanted to spread chaos, anarchy and terrorism in the country through social media have been defeated.”

The internet blockade came as Pakistan said this week it would outlaw the TLP after the arrest of its leader, Saad Rizvi, on Monday sparked major nationwide protests.

“We have banned them (TLP), will go for their dissolution, freeze their bank accounts, cancel their passports, block their identity cards and will not allow terrorism in the country at any cost,” Ahmed said.

Rizvi and his supporters are calling on the government to expel the French ambassador over cartoons published in France depicting the Prophet Muhammad.

Anti-French sentiment has been building for months in Pakistan since French President Emmanuel Macron expressed support for Charlie Hebdo’s right to republish the cartoons, deemed blasphemous by many Muslims.

On Thursday, the French embassy in Pakistan advised all French nationals and companies to temporarily leave the country amid the violent anti-France protests.

Meanwhile, the country’s Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) said it had “initiated action against individuals who used social media to incite violence, spread hate and glorified the assaults on law enforcement personnel.”

According to the CTD statement: “A list of TLP-related social media accounts have been identified and a complaint lodged with the Federal Investigation Agency cybercrime wing.”

Earlier in the day, PTA spokesperson Khurram Mehran told Arab News that the suspension of social media apps was “in order to maintain public order and safety.”

Internet, cable TV and phone service provider Nayatel, based in Islamabad, sent text messages to users saying: “On directions by PTA, below mentioned social media platforms have been blocked. Twitter. Facebook. WhatsApp. YouTube. TikTok. Telegram. Inconvenience is regretted.”

Usama Khilji, a director at the digital advocacy group Bolo Bhi, said the suspension was “against the constitution to suspend people’s access to information by blocking social media just because of a group and in the name of law and order.

“Also, this is not a wise security strategy to suspend the internet because this will not send protesters home. Instead, it will project a bad image of our country abroad,” he told Arab News.

Nighat Dad of the Digital Rights Foundation said: “What kind of national emergency are we dealing with that the government had to temporarily ban social media? These arbitrary decisions of blocking and banning have never done any good except opening up ways to blanket bans.”

Pakistan blocks major social media outlets to ‘maintain public order’

Pakistan blocks major social media outlets to ‘maintain public order’
Updated 16 April 2021

Pakistan blocks major social media outlets to ‘maintain public order’

Pakistan blocks major social media outlets to ‘maintain public order’
  • The Interior Ministry requested a “complete blocking” of Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube and Telegram
  • Political parties frequently use social media to rally supporters

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan government on Friday ordered an hours-long shutdown of social media and instant messaging platforms after days of violent anti-France protests.
It comes a day after French nationals and companies in Pakistan were advised by their embassy to temporarily leave in the wake of rallies led by an extremist party that paralyzed large parts of the country and left two police officers dead.
In a notice to the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), the Interior Ministry requested a “complete blocking” of Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube and Telegram until the middle of the afternoon.
The PTA said it was to “maintain public order and safety.”
Political parties frequently use social media to rally supporters, and the announcement came just before Friday prayers, which usually draw huge crowds to mosques where firebrand sermons have in the past catalyzed protests.
Pakistan authorities have used strategic social media bans and cuts to mobile service in the past in an attempt to head off major protests.
Thousands of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) supporters spilled onto the streets in cities across the country on Monday after their leader was detained following his calls for the expulsion of the French ambassador.
More than 200 were arrested during days of clashes that followed, police sources told AFP.
“These past few days have been chaotic,” said Mariam Jamal, who works at a digital marketing company in Lahore.
“First we couldn’t get to work on time because of the traffic jams and road blocks, and now we can’t really do much because social media is blocked.”
The social media ban affected many Pakistanis already suffering from the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the northwestern city of Peshawar, Eqtedar Ahmad told AFP his work as a doctor at a private hospital had been disrupted.
“We use WhatsApp for routine business — including sending lab reports to patients — and this current suspension has affected us severely,” he said.
Wamiq Haris, a 30-year-old who depends on social media to run his food delivery service in Karachi, the country’s largest city and economic hub, said orders had plummeted.
“Every day we face a new challenge for our business,” he told AFP.

Protests had been cleared from most cities by Friday, but in Lahore hundreds of TLP supporters continued a sit-in at a religious school — and party headquarters — despite the circulation of a handwritten plea from leader Saad Rizvi to leave the streets.
Anti-French sentiment has been festering for months in Pakistan since President Emmanuel Macron threw his support behind a satirical magazine’s right to republish cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad — an act deemed blasphemous by many Muslims.
Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government has struggled to bring TLP to heel over the years, but this week announced an outright ban against the group, effectively labelling it an extremist outfit.
The TLP is notorious for holding days-long, violent road protests over blasphemy issues, causing major disruption to the country.
Blasphemy is a hugely sensitive issue in conservative Pakistan, where laws allow for the death penalty to be used on anyone deemed to have insulted Islam or Islamic figures.
Francophobia erupted in autumn last year when the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo republished cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.
Macron’s subsequent defense of free speech triggered anger across the Muslim world, with tens of thousands in Pakistan, neighboring Iran and other Muslim countries flooding the streets and organizing anti-French boycotts.
At the time, TLP supporters brought the capital Islamabad to a standstill.
Extra security personnel have been deployed to the French embassy — inside a guarded diplomatic enclave closed to the public — and shipping containers were placed as fortifications around its outer wall.

Visit the Pakistan edition of Arab News for more details.