How Ukraine crisis laid bare Western biases, prejudices and double standards

Special How Ukraine crisis laid bare Western biases, prejudices and double standards
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Updated 16 March 2022

How Ukraine crisis laid bare Western biases, prejudices and double standards

How Ukraine crisis laid bare Western biases, prejudices and double standards
  • Vastly different treatments received by Ukrainians and Middle Eastern nationalities from European governments
  • Comments heard on TV testify to casual racism of Western journalists in their coverage of the war

LONDON: The invasion of Ukraine has exposed anti-Arab and anti-Muslim bias across European policymaking and news media. For hundreds of thousands of hounded, rejected or stranded refugees and asylum-seekers, the revelations of prejudice and favoritism must come as no surprise, though.

In the most recent incident — a textbook case of double standards — a Danish politician suggested that Ukrainian refugees could be exempt from laws that had allowed authorities to seize the assets of Syrian and Iranian refugees.

Rasmus Stoklund, immigration spokesman for Denmark’s Social Democratic government, told Danish paper Ekstra Bladet last week that the so-called jewelry law should not be applied to Ukrainians fleeing the conflict because they are from a “nearby region.”

Later, Stoklund said: “The jewelry law is made for if you leave the nearby region where you are safe, and travel through safe countries … but that is not the case for Ukrainians.”

The highly controversial laws meant incoming asylum-seekers were allowed to keep assets worth up to 10,000 Danish krone ($1,468), but anything valued above that figure could be seized by the state to pay for their stay in the country.

The potential exemption of Ukrainians from this law has highlighted the vastly different treatment that Ukrainians have received since their country was invaded, compared to what Syrians and other nationalities — most of them Middle Eastern and African — experienced while fleeing similar conflicts over the past decade.

“The 2016 law was largely symbolic, meant to send an unwelcoming, hostile message to people who might otherwise seek refuge in Denmark,” Judith Sunderland, associate director of Human Rights Watch’s Europe and Central Asia Division, told Arab News.

“Now the authorities want to send the opposite message of welcome, but only to Ukrainian refugees.

“Carving out an exemption for Ukrainian refugees is clearly discriminatory — if they don’t have to hand over their valuables, why should any refugee?”

French police officers proceed with operations during the eviction of migrants from a camp site in Calais, northern France. (AFP/File Photo)

The proposed change “crystallizes the stark contrast between the EU’s response to Ukrainian refugees and the bloc’s response to Syrians, Afghans, Iraqis, Eritreans … the list could go on.”

Sunderland added: “The empathy and generosity extended to Ukrainians should stretch further to all refugees, regardless of their nationality, religion or skin color.”

Her concerns are echoed by Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, who believes “the Danish law was wrong in the first place — no matter who it applied to.

“So, at one level, (I am) delighted if Denmark lifts this law for Ukrainian refugees,” he told Arab News. “But, as we are seeing in many countries, there is a completely different reaction to taking in and how people deal with, Ukrainian refugees than refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and other areas.”

This, according to Doyle, “should not be the way countries concoct their refugee policies.”

Denmark’s London embassy did not respond to a request for comments by Arab News.


* 6.7 million Syrian refugees.

* 2.7 million Afghanistan.

* 2 million Ukrainian refugees.

Source: UNHCR

As of Tuesday, more than two million people had fled Ukraine, a country with a pre-war population of about 40 million. The vast majority of those displaced by the Russian invasion have poured into the EU.

Poland has been a key European voice amid the Ukraine crisis and has taken in the highest number of refugees — more than 1 million people in less than two weeks.

Likewise, as of Monday according to UN figures, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia had provided refuge to at least 180,000, 100,000 and 123,000 people, respectively.

“We will do everything to provide safe shelter in Poland for everyone who needs it,” Mariusz Kaminski, Poland’s interior minister, said last week, failing to mention that, during the Syrian war, Poland, as well as Hungary and the Czech Republic, had essentially refused to take in any Syrian refugees.

This outright refusal to shelter Syrians earned them a reprimand from the European Court of Justice for refusing to follow EU-wide laws on refugee intake. Slovakia, for its part, only accepted a minute number of Christian refugees during the Syrian crisis.

During the Syrian war, Poland, as well as Hungary and the Czech Republic, had essentially refused to take in any Syrian refugees, while many other refugees have faced unsympathetic treatment at the hand of authorities in France and the UK. (AFP/File Photos) 

Kaminski also omitted to mention that, just months ago, his government erected a $380 million wall between Poland and neighboring Belarus to block thousands of non-European refugees seeking asylum in the EU.

As many as 19 of those refugees died in the months of that border crisis — now largely forgotten amid the Ukrainian furor — which displayed to the world, unequivocally, the Polish government’s hostility toward non-European refugees.

Doyle said: “There is an argument that geographic proximity can perhaps lead a country to take more numbers of refugees … but it certainly shouldn’t lead to discriminatory policies based on race, ethnicity and so forth.

“The world is watching. The world is seeing a very different set of standards being applied to Ukraine and conflicts in the developing world,” he said.

News of the proposed changes to Danish legislation follows a plethora of controversies online and in the media surrounding coverage of the Ukrainian conflict compared with other such conflicts and crises outside of Europe.

Twitter videos circulating online, accruing millions of views, have testified to the casual racism mainly of Western journalists in their coverage of the war.

In contrast to refugees from Syria or Afghanistan, almost 2 million refugees have fled Ukraine in the weeks since the invasion by Russia, with many of them welcomed by neighboring European countries. (AFP)

For example, early in the conflict and live from Kyiv, Charlie D’Agata, CBS News senior foreign correspondent, said: “Now with the Russians marching in, it’s changed the calculus entirely. Tens of thousands of people have tried to flee the city. There will be many more, people are hiding out in bomb shelters.

“But this isn’t a place, with all due respect, like Iraq or Afghanistan that has seen conflict raging for decades. This is a relatively civilized, relatively European — I have to choose those words carefully, too — city where you wouldn’t expect that, or hope that it’s going to happen.”

His “relatively civilized, relatively European” comment — for which he later issued an apology — drew widespread condemnation, with accusations of racism pouring in from Arab journalists, many of whom had been covering conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere for years.

In another case, a guest invited onto the BBC’s coverage said that the Ukrainian war was “very emotional for me because I see European people with blue eyes and blond hair being killed.”

But for Doyle, this kind of media discourse is not causing anti-Arab or anti-Middle Eastern bias; in fact, it is a “reflection of a broader, underlying racism,” he said.

Doyle added: “I think there is a public opinion issue here. We’ve seen for some time the growth of far right, anti-immigrant views and anti-refugee views.

“And that has confirmed what most of us came to realize: That they are anti-immigrant if they come from non-European countries, from Muslim majority countries — but they are not so anti-immigrant if they come from European countries like Ukraine.”

Twitter challenges India order to block content

Updated 06 July 2022

Twitter challenges India order to block content

  • The company has removed content related to anti-government farmer protests and tweets criticizing the Modi administration’s handling of the pandemic

NEW DELHI: Twitter on Tuesday challenged the Indian government in court over its recent orders to take down some content on the social media platform, media outlets reported.
The lawsuit was filed in the Karnataka High Court in southern Bengaluru city and comes after the Indian government in February warned company executives of criminal action if they failed to comply with the takedown orders, the Press Trust of India and the Bar and Bench legal news site reported.
A Twitter spokesperson, Aditi Shorewal, declined to comment or specify what type of content the company was told to block. She did not confirm that Twitter had filed the lawsuit.
The lawsuit is part of a growing confrontation between Twitter and New Delhi after the Indian government last year passed a new set of sweeping regulations giving it more power to police online content.
The new rules require companies to erase or block content that authorities deem unlawful. Under the laws, employees of social media websites and technology companies can be held criminally liable for failing to comply with the government’s orders.
“It is everyone’s responsibility to abide by the laws passed by the country’s Parliament,” India’s IT minister, Ashwini Vaishnaw, told reporters Tuesday, when he was asked about the lawsuit.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has sought for years to control social media and has often directed Twitter to take down tweets or accounts that appear critical of his party and administration.
Twitter complied with most of those orders in the past but also resisted others and has called the new rules a “potential threat to freedom of expression.” The company has removed content related to anti-government farmer protests and tweets criticizing the Modi administration’s handling of the pandemic.
The Indian government has called the new rules necessary to tackle disinformation, hate speech and other troubles. Officials have warned Twitter that non-compliance with the rules could mean that the company would lose its liability protections as an intermediary, meaning Twitter could face lawsuits over content.
Relations between the Indian government and Twitter have been thorny since the laws were passed.
In May last year, police raided Twitter’s office after the company labelled a tweet by Modi’s party spokesman as “manipulated media.”
That same month, WhatsApp sued the Indian government to defend what it said was its users’ privacy and stop new rules that would require it to make messages “traceable” to external parties. That case is still pending in an Indian court.
Experts have criticized the new rules and said they amount to censorship. They have also accused the Modi government of silencing criticism on social media, particularly Twitter. Modi’s party denies the claim.
Police in New Delhi last week arrested a journalist over a tweet from 2018 that an anonymous Twitter user alleged was hurtful to sentiments of a “particular religion.”

VMLY&R consolidates three brands under one offering

Updated 05 July 2022

VMLY&R consolidates three brands under one offering

  • VMLY&R, VMLY&R Commerce, and GTB to merge under Nick Walsh’s leadership

DUBAI: Advertising group WPP is consolidating three brands — VMLY&R, VMLY&R Commerce, and GTB — under the VMLY&R umbrella to form one, connected brand.

Nick Walsh, CEO of VMLY&R Commerce will now become the CEO of VMLY&R MENA, working closely with chief creative officer Miguel Bemfica, who joined from McCann Worldgroup in January this year.

“The three agencies bring different expertise and capabilities to the table: Creativity, commerce, experience, data, technology and more; but more importantly, they all focus on culture,” Andrew Dimitriou, EMEA CEO of VMLY&R, told Arab News.

Andrew Dimitriou, EMEA CEO of VMLY&R

He called the merger “a natural next step” that “will allow better and simpler collaboration between our brilliant client teams and capability practices and open a new world of possibilities for our clients and anyone in the business.”

In 2018, WPP merged creative agency Y&R and digital agency VML to create VMLY&R, and in 2021, Geometry was merged into the group to form VMLY&R Commerce.

Since then, “integrating the agencies’ teams and capabilities has been an ongoing global effort,” Dimitriou said.

“A deeper level of integration has happened in markets across Europe, and offices such as New York and London, as we move closer as a network to accelerate growth and future-proof our clients’ businesses,” he added.

In the region, Dubai is the “principal office” serving the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and North Africa, and “we will expand our presence on-ground in line with upcoming client’s needs and opportunities,” Dimitriou said.

Since 2020, e-commerce has seen explosive growth as brands have had to adapt to a new hybrid reality. In the UAE, 55 percent of purchases happen online through websites, social media, games, communities etc. and e-commerce spending grew at double the rate of point of sale in Q1 this year compared to the same quarter last year, he said.

Now, “the way we think about commerce is being transformed, and we’re witnessing the rise of creative commerce,” Dimitriou added.

“Creative commerce is laser-focused on generating a response, which results in conversion. And at its best, creativity turbocharges commerce, lifting a simple activation to an emotionally charged moment that drives both brand and demand.

“So, it is about inspiring conversion in the moment, regardless of channel, everywhere life intersects with commerce. It is an interaction; an experience that builds brand and demand.”

Brands not only need to stay connected with their audiences, but also remain relevant in an ever-evolving digital culture.

The hottest topic in today’s digital culture is the metaverse. By 2026, 25 percent of people will spend at least one hour a day in the metaverse for work, shopping, education, social, or entertainment, according to Gartner.

“I expect more focus — and scrutiny — on this platform as clients explore how they could leverage this new space and monitor opportunities for brand interaction and creative commerce solutions,” Dimitriou said.

He added: “At VMLY&R, we will keep our eyes on the real prize: To create connected brands through positive experiences and emotional connections powered by creativity and technology to deliver growth.”

Emerging company XGUARD to educate local Saudi businesses on new tech

Emerging company XGUARD to educate local Saudi businesses on new tech
Updated 05 July 2022

Emerging company XGUARD to educate local Saudi businesses on new tech

Emerging company XGUARD to educate local Saudi businesses on new tech

RIYADH: Non-fungible tokens and blockchain technologies took the world by storm, dominating everything from the art space to advertising. Web3, a new blockchain-based version of the internet, and the metaverse are still fairly new concepts, but it seems like they are here to stay with more and more people — and businesses — experimenting with them.

XGUARD, for example, is an emerging company with offices in Riyadh, Dubai and Vienna, helping organizations and individuals navigate Web3 and the virtual space “one block at a time.”

In Riyadh, the company has been actively hosting informational sessions and workshops to help equip Saudis with the skills and tools needed to venture into Web3, open their own wallet, invest in or sell NFTs, grow their businesses and engage in virtual experiences. 

XGUARD first started as a sports promotion company in Dubai. After its founder Omar Aridi began venturing into these emerging technologies, his interest in them grew.

The industry in Saudi is still at a nascent stage, Aridi told Arab News.

He said: “I was planning on working in a very decentralized way. Saudi wasn’t just my focus, but then after reading the market and seeing how things are going, I think Saudi has the most appetite when it comes to [this space].” 

Just last month, the Saudi Tourism Ministry and Saudi Tourism Authority created NFT souvenirs that were presented to the heads of delegations participating in the 116th session of the UN World Tourism Organization executive council, held in Jeddah.

“Vision 2030 and the whole direction of digital transformation and blockchain technologies and artificial intelligence — this makes it the perfect platform for us,” Aridi said. “The only bottleneck that we had were the cryptocurrency regulations, which I know are on the way. I think it’s better to be the first movers from now and the first adopters. When things get regulated, we know we will be the go-to consulting company here.”

Since cryptocurrencies are the most commonly used mode of payment in the metaverse, their lack of regulation has resulted in businesses being wary of entering this space. 

“The lack of trust comes from the lack of regulation, not from the technology,” Aridi said. “You need to pay with cryptocurrency, and that is the element that has not yet been regulated.”

In the Gulf region, the UAE has been spearheading the regulation of NFTs and cryptocurrencies by issuing the first cryptocurrency law and establishing the Dubai Virtual Assets Regulatory Authority.

For businesses, enterprise NFT technologies themselves are key. “It brings a very well authenticated ownership documented on the blockchain. Nobody can erase it, and nobody can penetrate it,” Aridi said. 

In certain industries, having verified proof of ownership and secured data records can cut down on processing time, reduce fraud and error risks, provide immutable authenticity of products, manage critical data and ease the supply chain process.

Although the NFT, bitcoin and Ethereum markets are currently down as a result of cryptocurrencies crashing, Aridi is optimistic. “​​This is very good because the market has to [course] correct,” he said. “Hopefully, only the few proper solid value propositions will be sustained and XGUARD will be one of those because we are thinking of NFTs as a technology, not as a hype.” 

XGUARD provides companies with Web3 consulting, marketing, art and blockchain development, all under one roof. “In terms of competition, I don’t see anyone offering the value proposition that we provide, which is advisory, A-to-Z solutions. Nobody in Saudi Arabia is doing that yet,” said Aridi. 

For now, the company is adopting a predominantly educational approach. It has collaborated with local spaces and businesses, such as AlMashtal Creative Space in Riyadh and The Music Space in Jeddah, to build communities across the country. 

“We have a lot of artists, in Saudi Arabia specifically, that really want to be heard, that really want to improve their business,” Aridi said. “For entrepreneurs, if they have an idea, we sit with them, we scope it, we shape it, we come up with a strategy together and we help them launch it. The idea is to basically create success stories.”

TikTok ad policy is ‘clear abuse’ of EU law: activists

TikTok ad policy is ‘clear abuse’ of EU law: activists
Updated 05 July 2022

TikTok ad policy is ‘clear abuse’ of EU law: activists

TikTok ad policy is ‘clear abuse’ of EU law: activists
  • Activists accuse TikTok of breaching EU laws by co-opting users into sharing their data for targeted advertising

PARIS: Rights activists on Tuesday accused social media giant TikTok of breaching EU laws by co-opting users into sharing their data for targeted advertising.
TikTok said it would change its policy next week to allow data to be gathered from over-18s in Europe whether or not they had consented, claiming the move was allowed under Europe’s data protection law (GDPR).
But digital rights group Access Now wrote to the company asking for clarity on the legal basis, calling it a “clear abuse” of several European laws including GDPR.
“TikTok wants to strip away the rights of people who use the platform to bump its ad revenue,” said Estelle Masse of Access Now.
Masse said other social media platforms also had problems with their consent mechanisms but TikTok was “taking a step further” by “effectively suggesting that we should not have a say in deciding how our information is used.”
Social media firms gather vast troves of data on individuals’ online habits and use it to sell highly targeted advertising.
But the GDPR forces firms to give detailed justifications for gathering data, something social media platforms have struggled to do.
TikTok has said its policy change relies on a principle in the GDPR called “legitimate interest,” which allows companies to process data without giving a specific justification.
However, regulators have already begun to limit the use of legitimate interest.
They ruled in February that websites relying on the principle to opt-in users to targeted advertising were acting illegally.
AFP has asked TikTok for a response to the criticism.
TikTok, whose parent company ByteDance is Chinese, is also under pressure from lawmakers in the United States over its use of data after reports suggested it allowed its staff in China to access data on US-based users.
The social media company confirmed the reports last week in a letter to US Congress but said it would never allow Communist Party officials to access data on US users.

UK announces new measures to curb ‘state-linked’ disinformation on social media

UK announces new measures to curb ‘state-linked’ disinformation on social media
Updated 05 July 2022

UK announces new measures to curb ‘state-linked’ disinformation on social media

UK announces new measures to curb ‘state-linked’ disinformation on social media
  • Social media firms must tackle material from fake accounts set up by individuals or groups acting on behalf of a foreign state

LONDON: The UK government revealed on Monday that social media firms will face hefty fines if they fail to curb “state-linked” disinformation, particularly from the Kremlin, as part of its forthcoming Online Safety Bill.

According to the UK Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, social media companies will be legally obligated to “proactively” prevent and remove attempts by Russia and other countries to interfere with the UK’s political system. 

This means that social media firms must tackle material from fake accounts set up by individuals or groups acting on behalf of a foreign state that is designed to influence democratic processes.

If they fail to tackle such content, Ofcom, the UK’s communication regulator, will have the power to fine social media firms up to 10 percent of their global annual turnover. 

“The invasion of Ukraine has yet again shown how readily Russia can and will weaponize social media to spread disinformation and lies about its barbaric actions often targeting the very victims of its aggression,” Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries said. 

“We cannot allow foreign states or their puppets [to use] the internet to conduct hostile online warfare unimpeded,” she added. “That’s why we are strengthening our new internet safety protections to make sure social media firms identify and root out state-backed disinformation.”

The new laws come as part of the UK government’s overhaul of the national security laws that will make foreign interference a criminal offense with a maximum jail sentence of 14 years.

As per the new Online Safety Bill, foreign interference will become one of 10 online criminal offenses, alongside child abuse, revenge porn, terrorism, fraud, promotion of people smuggling and sexual exploitation. 

Security Minister Damian Hinds highlighted: “Online information operations are now a core part of state threats activity. The aim can be variously to spread untruths, confuse, undermine confidence in democracy, or sow division in society.”

The Online Safety Bill is expected to become law by the end of the year.

Last week, Ofcom found that young people do not report harmful content as much as they encounter it on social media platforms. 

According to the research, 67 percent of people aged between 13 and 24 had seen potentially harmful content online, but only 17 percent reported it.