The Ray Hanania show compares Ramadan in US and Saudi Arabia

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Updated 15 April 2021

The Ray Hanania show compares Ramadan in US and Saudi Arabia

The Ray Hanania show compares Ramadan in US and Saudi Arabia
  • The Kingdom is using technology to help ensure a more normal holy month than last year, Arab News’s Rawan Radwan tells the Ray Hanania Show
  • Meanwhile there is a growing acceptance among Americans of the importance and significance of this time to Muslims, says US-based professor

Muslims around the world celebrated the start of Ramadan this week, but the experience and traditions of the holy month can vary widely from country to country, especially in the pandemic era.

In Saudi Arabia, for example, the latest technology is being employed to protect the health of worshipers visiting the two most sacred mosques in Islam, Arab News deputy section editor Rawan Radwan explained during an interview on radio program The Ray Hanania Show on Wednesday.

Meanwhile acceptance in the US of Ramadan as an important religious occasion is continuing to grow, according to Saeed Khan, a history professor at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan.

Radwan said that authorities in the Kingdom have launched two apps to help ensure that only those who have been vaccinated, or are in the process of receiving the shots, can join others to pray and worship.
“Just before the start of Ramadan, the Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques issued a series of guidelines and protocols with the relevant authorities involved, as well such as the minster of the interior and the minister of health,” she said.

“All of this is to ensure that every worshiper and all pilgrims that arrive at either the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah or the Grand Mosque in Makkah receive the proper care and attention that they deserve. Their health comes first.”

Radwan said Saudi authorities require visitors to the mosques to provide documents that confirm COVID-19 vaccination status. When this is verified, worshipers are given set time slots for their visit to maximize participation but avoid overcrowding.

“We have gone digital,” she added. “We are digital by default. We have something like a health passport — it’s not a health passport per se, it is an application that will allow you into establishments and commercial establishments across Saudi Arabia.”

The app, called Tawakkalna, displays a barcode along with the name of the user, an ID number and a color that reflects the health status of the individual.

“If you are vaccinated and you are fully immune, then it is a darker green color,” said Radwan. “If you just received one jab then it is a lighter green. If you just arrived from the US it could either be a blue or purple color and that could (mean) you need you to isolate.”

Ramadan last year was severely affected by the start of the pandemic, as lockdowns prevented people gathering to pray and families from getting together for iftar. The latest measures introduced by the Saudi authorities to protect public health, she said, have raised hopes that this year’s Ramadan will be more normal. But there are still precautions that must be followed.

“The rules are very strict, very, very rigid,” said Radwan. “You cannot enter (the mosques) unless you are vaccinated and unless you have recovered. You have to go through certain entryways.

“You can’t even enter with your car. A bus will take you after you prove you have a reservation, and then you can enter. And, of course, you can’t make any reservation except through (the app).”

Those who are eligible to visit the mosques are given scheduled entry times and they can spend up to two hours there.

“Worshipers at the Grand Mosque in Makkah are allowed to perform Umrah all hours of the day, said Radwan. “Those wishing to pray are only allowed in to pray, and then leave. The Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah closes after evening prayers (and) reopens about a half hour before the Fajr, or Dawn, prayers. Again, the reason is they have to ensure the people arriving are safe.”

Cleanliness and protecting the health of the public are priorities, she added. More than 10,000 workers have been assigned to the Grand Mosque, which is sanitized 10 times daily. More than 200,000 bottles of holy ZamZam water are distributed to worshipers each day.

In the US, meanwhile, there is a growing recognition and acceptance of Ramadan as an important Muslim religious occasion, said Khan.

“At the same time, Muslim Americans are developing more visibility and more acceptance within broader society, (on) a few different levels,” he added. “Corporate America is certainly recognizing Muslims Americans; we see a lot more companies and stores not only providing Ramadan greetings but also providing Ramadan products, greeting cards and other kinds of Ramadan paraphernalia.

“But I think the most important thing that we are seeing is at the institutional level. Schools are becoming much more accommodating to the needs of young Muslim students, recognizing that maybe students that are fasting during the daylight hours might be operating in a slower gear.

“There is now recognition in the largest public school district in the country, New York City, that the Eid festival will be recognized as a public holiday for school students.”

Khan said that this growing acknowledgment and acceptance of Ramadan is the result of community-based educational efforts, and an understanding by Muslims in the US that when Americans of other faiths ask questions about Islam it is not always intended as a criticism.

“There is always more that can be done,” he added. “Part of the essence of that really is to be neighborly and not to be offended by somebody who is asking a question. Most of the time the questions come from a very good place and good faith, wanting to learn.

“There certainly are people who ask the ‘gotcha’ questions but, generally speaking, we find when it is a neighbor, a coworker or a colleague, they just want to know. We can’t necessarily presume everyone knows, that somehow it is self-evident.”

Khan said the evolving experience of Muslims in the US is similar to that of devotees of other religions in America.

“I always noticed that on Fridays the menu in the cafeteria (in school) was always the same,” Khan said by way of an example. “It was fish sandwiches and macaroni and cheese. I learned later that had to do with Catholic students and meatless Fridays.” Although the rules have changed in some countries over the years, Catholics traditionally are prohibited from eating meat on Fridays and on the main religious holidays.

“So, the US has always had that mechanism to go ahead and accommodate religious minorities. Muslims are no different,” Khan added.

Despite the positive signs of growing acceptance of Muslims and their faith, many still face discrimination, however.

“Unfortunately it seems like it is going to be a challenge that will be with us for quite a while,” said Khan. However he added that this is something that can affect people of all faiths.

“I think it is important to remember that it is not necessarily only directed against Muslims,” he said. “I remember in 2012 when Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts and now the senator from Utah, was the presidential candidate on the Republican ticket, there were a lot of people who had a problem with a Mormon being someone running for high office.”

• The Ray Hanania Show, sponsored by Arab News, is broadcast in Detroit on WNZK AM 690, in Washington DC on WDMV AM 700 on the US Arab Radio Network. 

 


US joins global push against violent extremism online

The US government and four other countries joined the effort, known as the Christchurch Call, for the first time this year. (File/AFP)
The US government and four other countries joined the effort, known as the Christchurch Call, for the first time this year. (File/AFP)
Updated 16 May 2021

US joins global push against violent extremism online

The US government and four other countries joined the effort, known as the Christchurch Call, for the first time this year. (File/AFP)
  • It was part of a global effort started by Macron and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern after deadly attacks in their countries were streamed or shared on social networks
  • Since its launch, governments and tech companies have cooperated in some cases in identifying violent extremist content online

WELLINGTON, New Zealand: Two years after a white supremacist in New Zealand livestreamed the slaughter of 51 Muslim worshippers on Facebook, French President Emmanuel Macron says the Internet continues to be be used by terrorists as a weapon to propagate hate.
Macron and other leaders from tech giants and governments around the world — including the US for the first time — gathered virtually on Saturday to find better ways to stop extremist violence from spreading online, while also respecting freedom of expression.
It was part of a global effort started by Macron and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern after deadly attacks in their countries were streamed or shared on social networks.
The US government and four other countries joined the effort, known as the Christchurch Call, for the first time this year. It involves some 50 nations plus tech companies including Google, Facebook, Twitter and Amazon, and is named for the New Zealand city where the slaughter at the two mosques took place.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a prerecorded video that authorities in his country alone had taken down more than 300,000 pieces of terrorist material from the Internet over the past decade, which he described as a tsunami of hate.
“Terrorist content is like a metastasizing tumor within the Internet, or series of tumors,” Johnson said. “If we fail to excise it, it will inevitably spread into homes and high streets the world over.”
Since its launch, governments and tech companies have cooperated in some cases in identifying violent extremist content online. Ardern, however, said more tangible progress is needed to stop it from proliferating.
The meeting was aimed at revitalizing coordination efforts, notably since President Joe Biden entered office, and getting more tech companies involved. Macron and Ardern welcomed the US decision as a potential catalyst for stronger action.
Macron said the Internet had continued to be used as a tool in recent attacks in the US, Vienna, Germany and elsewhere. He said it cannot happen again, and that new European regulations against extremist content would help.
Ardern said that two years after the Christchurch Call was launched, momentum was strong. But she acknowledged the challenge in essentially playing whac-a-mole with different countries, Internet platforms and algorithms that can foster extremist content.
“The existence of algorithms themselves is not necessarily the problem, it’s whether or not they are being ethically used,” Ardern said. “And so that is probably the biggest focus for the Call community over the next year.”
She said part of the solution also came in better equipping a younger generation of Internet users to have the skills to deal with radical content or disinformation when they encounter it online.
Although the US only officially joined the Christchurch Call this year, it had been consistently contributing to the effort, Ardern said.
“Countering the use of the Internet by terrorists and violent extremists to radicalize and recruit is a significant priority for the United States,” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement. She also stressed the importance of protecting freedom of expression and “reasonable expectations of privacy.”


AP releases statement after Israeli attack on building housing media offices

AP releases statement after Israeli attack on building housing media offices
Updated 16 May 2021

AP releases statement after Israeli attack on building housing media offices

AP releases statement after Israeli attack on building housing media offices
  • We are horrified that the Israeli military would target and destroy the building housing AP’s bureau: Pruitt

NEW YORK:  An Israeli airstrike destroyed a high-rise building in Gaza City that housed offices of The Associated Press and other media outlets on Saturday. All AP employees and freelancers evacuated the building safely.
AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt has released the following statement:
We are shocked and horrified that the Israeli military would target and destroy the building housing AP’s bureau and other news organizations in Gaza. They have long known the location of our bureau and knew journalists were there. We received a warning that the building would be hit.
We are seeking information from the Israeli government and are engaged with the US State Department to try to learn more.
This is an incredibly disturbing development. We narrowly avoided a terrible loss of life. A dozen AP journalists and freelancers were inside the building and thankfully we were able to evacuate them in time.
The world will know less about what is happening in Gaza because of what happened today.

The strike on the high-rise came nearly an hour after the military ordered people to evacuate the 12-story building, which also housed Al-Jazeera, other offices and residential apartments. 


Macron, Ardern hold talks in new push against online extremism

Macron, Ardern hold talks in new push against online extremism
Updated 14 May 2021

Macron, Ardern hold talks in new push against online extremism

Macron, Ardern hold talks in new push against online extremism
  • The campaign aims to bring together governments and top tech platforms
  • Christchurch Call’s participants are asked to commit to pledges to eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern were to hold talks Friday by video conference to advance their two-year-old campaign to curb online extremism.
The talks will mark two years since the leaders launched the Christchurch Call, an initiative named after the New Zealand city where a far-right gunman massacred 51 people at two mosques on March 15, 2019 while broadcasting his rampage live on Facebook.
The campaign, which aims to bring together governments and top tech platforms, has been boosted by the decision of the administration of new US President Joe Biden to join the initiative after Donald Trump turned his back on the drive.
The aim of the talks, due to get underway at 1830 GMT, will be to “reaffirm strong, high-level political support, determine new goals for Christchurch Call signatories and maintain an open but demanding dialogue with digital platforms,” the French presidency said.
Participants in the Christchurch Call are asked to commit to pledges to eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content on social media and other online platforms.
It was not immediately clear which tech chiefs and other leaders would be dialling into the virtual talks.
According to Macron’s office, this initiative now involves 52 states, the European Commission, 10 large companies and global Internet platforms and as well as dozen civil society associations.
The drive was launched to counter a growing use of social media by extremists, after the Christchurch attacker broadcast live footage on Facebook from a head-mounted camera.
The New Zealand leader earned huge international prominence and respect after the attacks by reaching out to Muslim communities at home and vowing a widescale crackdown on extremist content.
“Among the priorities I would like to see progressed is a strengthened collective ability to manage crises related to terrorist and violent extremist content online,” Ardern said in a statement released by the French presidency ahead of the talks.
Macron added: “The work of the Call is ongoing and it remains as important as when it was launched two years ago.”


Turkish tourism video taken down after online outcry

Turkish tourism video taken down after online outcry
Updated 14 May 2021

Turkish tourism video taken down after online outcry

Turkish tourism video taken down after online outcry
  • Opposition parties and critics on social media said the promotional video was an insult to Turks
  • The video, in English, was published Thursday on the social media accounts of official travel guide Go Turkiye

ISTANBUL: A video promoting tourism in Turkey amid the pandemic has caused an uproar on social media for showing tourism employees wearing masks that read “Enjoy, I’m vaccinated.”
The video, in English, was published Thursday on the social media accounts of official travel guide Go Turkiye linked to the country’s tourism ministry and was taken down later that day without explanation. It aimed to promote travel to Turkey as a “safe haven” for foreigners and showed unmasked tourists being served in hotels on the Turkish coast.
Opposition parties and critics on social media said the promotional video was an insult to Turks. A hashtag calling for the tourism minister to resign was trending on Twitter Friday. Users likened the masks to branding cattle and interpreted the ad’s message as Turks being subservient to foreigners.
“Sanitized resorts and vaccinated staff! We call it double safety for tourism. Our guests call it peace of mind” the video said.

 

 

Tourism workers have been prioritized to receive their vaccinations and the country’s foreign minister promised “we will vaccinate all people tourists may see by the end of May.” Many people are waiting for their turn. About 12.8 percent of Turkey’s nearly 84 million population has been fully vaccinated using China’s Sinovac or the US-German Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
Turkey is in the final days of a full lockdown and the government has ordered people to stay home and businesses to close amid a huge surge in infections. But millions of workers are exempt and so are foreign tourists.
The restrictions, which began in late April, have brought daily infection numbers down from above 62,000 to around 11,500. Turkey’s president said the aim is to lower cases to below 5,000 in order for tourism to begin.
Turkey is courting international tourists during an economic downturn and needs the foreign currencies tourism brings to help industry and the economy as the Turkish lira continues to lose value. International tourists have been enjoying an empty Istanbul, Turkey’s famous beaches and other sites all to themselves, while Turks have been told to stay home and face expensive fines if they break rules.
Russia, however, has suspended flights to Turkey until June 1 and the UK and France recently warned their citizens not to travel to Turkey, introducing mandatory quarantines for travelers arriving from Turkey.
Starting May 17, Turkey is dropping the requirement to present a negative COVID-19 test result when arriving in Turkey for passengers arriving from Hong Kong, China, Vietnam, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Thailand, South Korea, Israel, Japan, the United Kingdom, Latvia, Luxembourg, Ukraine and Estonia. Turkey requires mandatory quarantines for people who visited India, Brazil or South Africa, but other travelers can begin their vacations straightaway.


Tech giants face hefty fines under UK online safety bill to protect children

Tech giants face hefty fines under UK online safety bill to protect children
Updated 13 May 2021

Tech giants face hefty fines under UK online safety bill to protect children

Tech giants face hefty fines under UK online safety bill to protect children
  • A new online safety bill will regulate social media with terms and conditions on minimum age thresholds
  • Ofcom, the government-approved regulator for broadcasting and telecommunications, will be responsible for enforcing the new bill

LONDON: The UK government announced plans on Wednesday to introduce age verification for users accessing social media platforms as part of efforts to protect children online. 

A new online safety bill will regulate social media with terms and conditions on minimum age thresholds, while tech giants such as Facebook, Google and Twitter will face hefty fines if they allow underage children to access their services. 

Ofcom, the government-approved regulator for broadcasting and telecommunications, will be responsible for enforcing the new bill.

Currently, children under 13 are not allowed to sign up to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube, while those under 12 are prohibited from creating a Google account. Meanwhile, the Facebook-owned chat service WhatsApp has a minimum age of 16.

Most social media companies rely on users self-declaring their age when they sign up. However, under the new regulations, Ofcom will have the power to carry out age checks and recommend certain social media platforms introduce age verifications. 

This could mean that social media firms will require users to upload a form of ID to verify their age. However, platforms warned that this move would exclude millions of users, both young and old, because many lack the documentation required.

The Online Harms Foundation criticized the UK government’s plans, saying that the proposals “overwhelmingly ignored” smaller platforms in favor of tech giants.

In a statement, the foundation claimed that the government focused on larger platforms, which already carry out much of what the bill demands.