Qur’an burning in Sweden underscores importance of combating Islamophobia from Europe to Latin America

Special Qur’an burning in Sweden underscores importance of combating Islamophobia from Europe to Latin America
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Muslim women in Colombia raise awareness about Islam in South America, where cases of harassment, particularly targeting female adherents of the faith in Brazil, are on the rise. (Supplied)
Special Qur’an burning in Sweden underscores importance of combating Islamophobia from Europe to Latin America
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Maria Jose Acevedo is seen talking to groups of students about Islam and islamophobia. (Supplied)
Special Qur’an burning in Sweden underscores importance of combating Islamophobia from Europe to Latin America
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Maria Jose Acevedo doing Dawah in a school. Many girls were interested in Islam and asked to try on a hijab. (Supplied)
Special Qur’an burning in Sweden underscores importance of combating Islamophobia from Europe to Latin America
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Maria José Acevedo is seen talking to groups of boy scouts about Islam in Colombia with the goal of raising awareness on religious diversity. (Supplied)
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Updated 06 July 2023
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Qur’an burning in Sweden underscores importance of combating Islamophobia from Europe to Latin America

Qur’an burning in Sweden underscores importance of combating Islamophobia from Europe to Latin America
  • Act of desecration on June 28 draws attention to hatred and prejudice believed to lie just beneath the surface
  • A recent survey of Muslims in Brazil found that women suffer higher rates of Islamophobia than men

SAO PAULO: As the number of Muslims in Latin America increases and Islamic communities gain visibility, more and more cases of Islamophobia are being reported in the region. Community leaders, most of them women, are striving to tackle the issue.

With a Muslim population estimated at between 800,000 and 1.5 million, Brazil is the only nation in Latin America where a comprehensive study on Islamophobia has been conducted.

The issue has been in the spotlight after a copy of the holy Qur’an was burned on June 28 outside Stockholm’s central mosque in an offensive act tolerated by the authorities in Sweden. Although South America has not witnessed such crude display of intolerance, Islamophia is believed to exist just under the surface in many countries.




Swedish police watch as Salwan Momika, who fled from Iraq to Sweden several years ago, prepares to deface the Muslim holy book outside a mosque in Stockholm on June 28, 2023, during the Eid al-Adha holiday. (JAFP)

Led by anthropologist Francirosy Barbosa, a professor at the University of Sao Paulo and herself a Muslim convert, the research involved a survey of 653 Muslims that showed most of them having already suffered some kind of Islamophobia. 

“Women were the majority of the respondents, something that already demonstrates that they’re the ones who suffer the most,” Barbosa told Arab News.

About 54 percent of the men who took part in the study — both those born to Islam and converts — said they have faced some sort of embarrassment due to their religion. Most cases happened on the street, in the workplace or at school.

The proportions are higher among women, with 66 percent of those born to Islam reporting that they have been offended or attacked due to their faith, and 83 percent of converts reporting the same.

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Many incidents involve subtle comments and jokes, like a work colleague who discovers that somebody in the office is Muslim and begins to call him or her a “suicide bomber,” or a person who insists that her friend should not wear a headscarf because it is a symbol of male domination.

But the study also reports serious cases of physical violence, such as an unknown attacker spraying insecticide in the eyes of a woman wearing a hijab, and a girl who left her mosque and was hit by a man on the street.

Female converts “are the major victims of Islamophobia because they’re more vulnerable. Many of them come from poor neighborhoods and have to use public transportation,” Barbosa said.

Female converts also have to deal with pressures from their own families. The result is that many of them give up wearing a headscarf after being attacked, something “that brings suffering because they feel they’re failing to attend a divine commandment,” Barbosa said.




Cases of harassment particularly targeting female adherents of the faith in Brazil are on the rise. (Supplied photo)

She added that Islamophobia grew in Brazil under former President Jair Bolsonaro (2019-2022), when different anti-Muslim groups became more powerful.

“In that period, there was a boom in pro-Zionist evangelical churches, for instance,” she said. The survey’s respondents said evangelical Christians are the religious segment that discriminates against them the most.

Barbosa was invited earlier this year to take part in a workshop organized by the Ministry of Human Rights and Citizenship to discuss hate speech.

Her study on Islamophobia was presented to the group and will be part of its final report, which will orientate the government’s policies to combat intolerance.

“In our research, we included some guidelines for the struggle against Islamophobia, like the need to invest in education about religions and Islam. Now, those suggestions may finally come to light with the new government (of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva),” Barbosa said.

In Argentina, activists against Islamophobia have been counting on partnerships with governmental institutions as well.

FASTFACTS

Recent survey found women suffer higher rate of Islamophobia than men.

Majority of incidents occurred on the street, in the workplace or at school.

Female respondents said they are often targeted for wearing the hijab.

In 2022, Islam para la Paz (Islam for Peace) celebrated a deal with the National Institute against Discrimination, Xenophobia and Racism — known by the Spanish acronym INADI — with the goal of promoting cooperation against religious discrimination.

Melody Amal Khalil Kabalan, who heads Islam para la Paz, said many press outlets were spreading misinformation about Qatar when it hosted the FIFA World Cup last year, so her organization and INADI promoted a workshop on the country for journalists.

“This year, we’ll organize a program called School without Discrimination, which will include workshops about Islamic habits for students,” she told Arab News.

While Islamophobia in Argentina is not comparable to what happens in European nations, there has been a growing number of cases lately, she said. Most cases involve women, like in Brazil.




In Argentina, even the modest burkini swimwear in public places could elicit hate as it is associated with being Muslim. (Supplied

“In a notorious incident, a woman was forbidden to get into a swimming pool in (the city of) Mendoza wearing her burkini,” Khalil said.

“In other cases, women were impeded by government officials to take pictures for documents wearing a hijab, which is their right.”

Victims of Islamophobia can report incidents to INADI, but many fail to do so “because they think the authorities won’t defend Muslims as they defend other groups,” Khalil said.

“We realized that this perception is connected to the fact that our communities aren’t so organized to resist discrimination as other communities in Argentina.”

She said it is up to Muslims to inform and educate Argentinian society about their needs and specificities.

“We have a responsibility to tell people about our way of life. It’s not only a problem for the government,” she added.

Islam para la Paz recently created an observatory of Muslim issues and is gathering information on the communities’ problems.

In Colombia, a group of women led by Maria Jose Acevedo Garcia established five years ago the Islamic Foundation Assalam of Colombian Muslim Women, whose goal is to protect Muslim women and prevent Islamophobia.




Maria Jose Acevedo during an event on religious freedom in Colombia. (Supplied)

She said the most common incidents involve discrimination at school, the workplace and in government agencies.

“Women at times are discriminated against for wearing a hijab at work. In those cases, I send a letter to the person in charge and schedule a visit to the company in order to inform people about Islam,” Acevedo told Arab News.

Raised in a Catholic family, she converted to Islam 20 years ago. At first, she would commonly hear offensive comments and get angry, but over time she “learned how to react calmly and educate people.”

She said: “Assalam frequently visits schools and universities to offer workshops against discrimination. That’s the only way to change things.”

Acevedo added that during crises in Muslim nations — such as the war in Syria and the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan — Islamophobia usually increases.

“We still haven’t experienced a great number of physical attacks, but incidents in which people tried to take off the hijab of a woman on public transportation have already been reported,” she said.




Caption

Assalam recently met with governmental authorities in order to present to them the needs of Muslim women in Colombia.

Problems commonly arise at the airport, for instance, when women coming from Muslim nations are told to take off the headscarf during inspection.

Acevedo expressed hope that more government employees will understand the nature of Islam in the future.

In Mexico, where the Muslim community has been growing over the past years, Islamophobia is noticeable in the arts, books and the news, where “negative expressions are commonly employed when it comes to Islam,” anthropologist Samantha Leyva Cortes told Arab News.

In her studies about Muslim communities in Mexico City and San Cristobal de las Casas, Leyva was told by many women that they are treated as foreigners due to their hijab.

“Shopkeepers frequently assume they aren’t from Mexico and charge them more than they should for a product,” she said.




Sonia Garcia, a Mexican convert to Islam, has partnered with Mayte Gutierrez, another Latina convert to Islam, to help build and operate an entirely new center to help Muslims feel more at home while in Tijuana. (Photo: The Latina Muslim Foundation)

Women wearing headscarves have to face all kinds of sexist remarks on the street and on public transportation, Leyva said.

“People generally think they’re passive, disenfranchised women. They don’t consider that wearing a hijab is their choice,” she added.

But the younger generations have been opening new paths lately. Many Muslim women are expanding their presence on social media and making themselves visible in the public arena.

“Many conversions have been happening online, so the internet is an important space for them,” Leyva said.

Barbosa said most Muslim leaders have been dealing with Islamophobia inadequately. “In general, they’re concerned only about spreading the religion and think that talking about discrimination and violence is something negative that can raise more problems,” she added.

Her goal now is to apply the same survey in other Latin American countries so the problem of Islamophobia in the whole region will be known, and communities and governments will be able to act.

 


US House to vote on long-awaited $95 billion Ukraine, Israel aid package

US House to vote on long-awaited $95 billion Ukraine, Israel aid package
Updated 32 min 28 sec ago
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US House to vote on long-awaited $95 billion Ukraine, Israel aid package

US House to vote on long-awaited $95 billion Ukraine, Israel aid package
  • Some hard-line Republicans have voiced strong opposition to further Ukraine aid

WASHINGTON: The Republican-controlled US House of Representatives on Saturday is set to vote on, and expected to pass, a $95 billion legislative package providing security assistance to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, over bitter objections from party hard-liners.
More than two months have passed since the Democratic-majority Senate passed a similar measure and US leaders from Democratic President Joe Biden to top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell have been urging embattled House Speaker Mike Johnson to bring it up for a vote.
Johnson this week chose to ignore ouster threats by hard-line members of his fractious 218-213 majority and push forward the measure that includes some $60.84 billion for Ukraine as it struggles to fight off a two-year Russian invasion.
The unusual four-bill package also includes funds for Israel, security assistance for Taiwan and allies in the Indo-Pacific and a measure that includes sanctions, a threat to ban the Chinese-owned social media app TikTok and the potential transfer of seized Russian assets to Ukraine.
“The world is watching what the Congress does,” the White House said in a statement on Friday. “Passing this legislation would send a powerful message about the strength of American leadership at a pivotal moment. The Administration urges both chambers of the Congress to quickly send this supplemental funding package to the President’s desk.”
A bipartisan 316-94 House majority on Friday voted to advance the bill to a vote, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told senators to be ready to work over the weekend if it passes the House as expected.
“It’s not the perfect legislation, it’s not the legislation that we would write if Republicans were in charge of both the House, the Senate, and the White House,” Johnson told reporters on Friday. “This is the best possible product that we can get under these circumstances to take care of these really important obligations.”
Some hard-line Republicans have voiced strong opposition to further Ukraine aid, with some arguing the US can ill afford it given its rising $34 trillion national debt. They have repeatedly raised the threat of ousting Johnson, who became speaker in October after his predecessor, Kevin McCarthy, was ousted by party hard-liners.
Representative Bob Good, chair of the hard-line House Freedom Caucus, told reporters on Friday that the bills represent a “slide down into the abyss of greater fiscal crisis and America-last policies that reflect Biden and Schumer and (House Democratic leader Hakeem) Jeffries, and don’t reflect the American people.”
But Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who carries huge influence in the party, on April 12 voiced support for Johnson and in a Thursday social media post said Ukraine’s survival is important for the US
The bills provide $60.84 billion to address the conflict in Ukraine, including $23 billion to replenish US weapons, stocks and facilities; $26 billion for Israel, including $9.1 billion for humanitarian needs, and $8.12 billion for the Indo-Pacific.


AI’s relentless rise gives journalists tough choices

AI’s relentless rise gives journalists tough choices
Updated 20 April 2024
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AI’s relentless rise gives journalists tough choices

AI’s relentless rise gives journalists tough choices
  • AI tools imitating human intelligence are used to transcribe sound files, summarize texts and translate
  • Columbia University teacher says collaborating with AI “tempting” in the face of increasingly right media resources

PERUGIA, Italy: The rise of artificial intelligence has forced an increasing number of journalists to grapple with the ethical and editorial challenges posed by the rapidly expanding technology.

AI’s role in assisting newsrooms or transforming them completely was among the questions raised at the International Journalism Festival in the Italian city of Perugia that closes on Sunday.

AI tools imitating human intelligence are widely used in newsrooms around the world to transcribe sound files, summarize texts and translate.

In early 2023, Germany’s Axel Springer group announced it was cutting jobs at the Bild and Die Welt newspapers, saying AI could now “replace” some of its journalists.

Generative AI — capable of producing text and images following a simple request in everyday language — has been opening new frontiers as well as raising concerns for a year and a half.

One issue is that voices and faces can now be cloned to produce a podcast or present news on television. Last year, Filipino website Rappler created a brand aimed at young audiences by converting its long articles into comics, graphics and even videos.

Media professionals agree that their trade must now focus on tasks offering the greatest “added value.”

“You’re the one who is doing the real stuff” and “the tools that we produce will be an assistant to you,” Google News general manager Shailesh Prakash told the festival in Perugia.

The costs of generative AI have plummeted since ChatGPT burst onto the scene in late 2022, with the tool designed by US start-up OpenAI now accessible to smaller newsrooms.

Colombian investigative outlet Cuestion Publica has harnessed engineers to develop a tool that can delve into its archives and find relevant background information in the event of breaking news.

But many media organizations are not making their language models, which are at the core of AI interfaces, said University of Amsterdam professor Natali Helberger. They are needed for “safe and trustworthy technology,” he stressed.

According to one estimate last year by Everypixel Journal, AI has created as many images in one year as photography in 150 years.

That has raised serious questions about how news can be fished out of the tidal wave of content, including deepfakes.

Media and tech organizations are teaming up to tackle the threat, notably through the Coalition for Content Provenance and Authenticity, which seeks to set common standards.

“The core of our job is news gathering, on-the-ground reporting,” said Sophie Huet, recently appointed to become global news director for editorial innovation and artificial intelligence at Agence France-Presse.

“We’ll rely for a while on human reporters,” she added, although that might be with the help of artificial intelligence.

Media rights watchdog Reporters Without Borders, which has expanded its media rights brief to defending trustworthy news, launched the Paris Charter on AI and journalism late last year.

“One of the things I really liked about the Paris Charter was the emphasis on transparency,” said Anya Schiffrin, a lecturer on global media, innovation and human rights at Columbia University in the United States.

“To what extent will publishers have to disclose when they are using generative IA?“

Olle Zachrison, head of AI and news strategy at public broadcaster Swedish Radio, said there was “a serious debate going on: should you mark out AI content or should people trust your brand?“

Regulation remains in its infancy in the face of a constantly evolving technology.

In March, the European Parliament adopted a framework law aiming to regulate AI models without holding back innovation, while guidelines and charters are increasingly common in newsrooms.

AI editorial guidelines are updated every three months at India’s Quintillion Media, said its boss Ritu Kapur.

None of the organization’s articles can be written by AI and the images it generates cannot represent real life.

AI models feed off data, but their thirst for the vital commodity has raised hackles among providers.
In December, the New York Times sued OpenAI and its main investor Microsoft for violation of copyright.

In contrast, other media organizations have struck deals with OpenAI: Axel Springer, US news agency AP, French daily Le Monde and Spanish group Prisa Media whose titles include El Pais and AS newspapers.

With resources tight in the media industry, collaborating with the new technology is tempting, explained Emily Bell, a professor at Columbia University’s journalism school.

She senses a growing external pressure to “Get on board, don’t miss the train.”


Fighting flares at Myanmar-Thai border as rebels target stranded junta troops

Fighting flares at Myanmar-Thai border as rebels target stranded junta troops
Updated 20 April 2024
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Fighting flares at Myanmar-Thai border as rebels target stranded junta troops

Fighting flares at Myanmar-Thai border as rebels target stranded junta troops
  • Resistance fighters and ethnic minority rebels seized the key trading town of Myawaddy on the Myanmar side of the frontier on April 11

Fighting raged at Myanmar’s eastern frontier with Thailand on Saturday, witnesses, media and Thailand’s government said, forcing about 200 civilians to flee as rebels pressed to flush out junta troops holed up for days at a bridge border crossing.
Resistance fighters and ethnic minority rebels seized the key trading town of Myawaddy on the Myanmar side of the frontier on April 11, dealing a big blow to a well-equipped military that is struggling to govern and is now facing a critical test of its battlefield credibility.
Three witnesses on the Thai and Myanmar sides of the border said they heard explosions and heavy machine gun fire near a strategic bridge from late on Friday that continued into early Saturday.
Several Thai media outlets said about 200 people had crossed the border to seek temporary refuge in Thailand.
Thai broadcaster NBT in a post on social media platform X said resistance forces used 40-milimeter machine guns and dropped 20 bombs from drones to target an estimated 200 junta soldiers who had retreated from a coordinated rebel assault on Myawaddy and army posts since April 5.
Reuters could not immediately verify the reports and a Myanmar junta spokesperson could not immediately be reached for comment.
Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin said he was closely monitoring the unrest and his country was ready to provide humanitarian assistance if necessary.
“I do not desire to see any such clashes have any impact on the territorial integrity of Thailand and we are ready to protect our borders and the safety of our people,” he said on X. He made no mention of refugees.
BIG SETBACK
Myanmar’s military is facing its biggest challenge since first taking control of the former British colony in 1962, caught up in multiple, low-intensity conflicts and grappling to stabilize an economy that has crumbled since a 2021 coup against Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s government.
The country is locked in a civil war between the military on one side and, on the other, a loose alliance of established ethnic minority armies and a resistance movement born out of the junta’s bloody crackdown on anti-coup protests.
The capture of Myawaddy and surrounding army outposts is a significant setback for a junta that has been squeezed by Western sanctions, with the town a key tax revenue source and conduit for more than $1 billion of annual border trade.
The Khaosod newspaper in a post on X showed a video of Myanmar civilians, many of them women and children, being marshalled by Thai soldiers at an entry point to Thailand.
Thailand had on Friday said no refugees had entered the country and it was discussing with aid agencies about increasing humanitarian relief to civilians on the Myanmar side.


Taiwan’s defense ministry detects 21 Chinese military aircraft

Taiwan’s defense ministry detects 21 Chinese military aircraft
Updated 20 April 2024
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Taiwan’s defense ministry detects 21 Chinese military aircraft

Taiwan’s defense ministry detects 21 Chinese military aircraft
  • The median line bisects the Taiwan Strait, a narrow 180-kilometer waterway separating the island from mainland China

TAIPEI: Taipei’s defense ministry said it had detected 21 Chinese military aircraft around the self-ruled island since 8:15 am (0015 GMT) on Saturday, a month before Taiwan’s May 20 inauguration of incoming president Lai Ching-te.
“17 aircraft (of the 21) crossed the median line and its extension, entered our northern, central, and southwestern (air defense identification zone), and joined PLA vessels for joint combat patrol,” it said in a statement posted on X around 11:30 am.
Taiwan’s armed forces “are monitoring the activities with our joint surveillance systems, and have dispatched appropriate assets to respond accordingly.”
The median line bisects the Taiwan Strait, a narrow 180-kilometer waterway separating the island from mainland China.
Beijing does not recognize the line as it claims democratic Taiwan as part of its territory. It has also never renounced the use of force to bring the island under its control.
China sends warplanes and naval vessels around Taiwan on a near daily basis — a move experts say is a form of “grey-zone harassment,” stopping short of an outright act of war but enough to exhaust Taipei’s armed forces.
According to the defense ministry, the 21 aerial objects detected Saturday included J-16 fighter jets and Y-8 medium-range transport aircraft, as well as drones.
The highest number around Taiwan so far this year was in March, when the ministry said 36 Chinese aircraft were detected in a single 24-hour period.
Last year’s record was in September when Beijing’s military sent 103 aircraft — 40 of which crossed the median line — in a 24-hour period.
Saturday’s show of force comes a day after China activated two aviation routes that run close to Taiwan’s outlying islands of Kinmen and Matsu.
Taipei’s Civil Aviation Administration expressed “solemn protest against China’s unilateral measures without consultation” on Friday.
The new routes make the airspace separation between the two sides “very narrow,” it said, increasing flight safety risks during bad weather or abnormal flight operations.
China’s aviation authority also said Friday the airspace around Fuzhou Changle Airport — 30 kilometers from the closest outlying Taiwanese island — would be “further optimized and adjusted” on May 16, four days before the inauguration.
Under the administration of Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, tensions between Beijing and Taipei have ramped up, as she and her government do not acknowledge China’s claim.
Her deputy, Vice President Lai, won elections in January despite warnings from Beijing that he would be the cause of “war and decline” for Taiwan.
China regards Lai — who used to be outspoken about Taiwan independence — as a “dangerous separatist,” though he has moderated his views in recent years.


Hundreds of people evacuated as volcano spews clouds of ash in Indonesia

Hundreds of people evacuated as volcano spews clouds of ash in Indonesia
Updated 20 April 2024
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Hundreds of people evacuated as volcano spews clouds of ash in Indonesia

Hundreds of people evacuated as volcano spews clouds of ash in Indonesia
  • Local authorities combed the villages surrounding the volcano and evacuated residents to safer areas by boat
  • Officials worry that part of the volcano could collapse into the sea and cause a tsunami, as happened in an eruption there in 1871

MANADO, Indonesia: More than 2,100 people living near an erupting volcano on Indonesia’s Sulawesi Island were evacuated Friday due to the dangers of spreading ash, falling rocks, hot volcanic clouds and the possibility of a tsunami.
Indonesia’s Center for Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation recorded at least three eruptions since Friday afternoon, with the maximum height of the eruption column reaching 1,200 meters (3,900 feet).
An international airport in Manado city, less than 100 kilometers (60 miles) from the erupting Mount Ruang, is still temporarily closed as volcanic ash was spewed into the air.

This photo provided by the Indonesian National Search and Rescue Agency shows a part of a village on Tagulandang island covered by ash from eruptions of Mount Ruang on April 19, 2024. (National Search and Rescue Agency via AP)

Satellite imagery from the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency shows the ash has spread to the west, northwest, northeast and southeast, covering Manado and North Minahasa, according to a statement from Indonesia’s Transportation Ministry.
“We are still monitoring developments in the eruption of Mount Ruang and coordinating with relevant stakeholders … to anticipate the necessary actions to ensure flight safety, security and comfort,” said Ambar Suryoko, head of the regional airport authority.
More than 11,000 people were told to leave their homes that were located in the affected area. A joint team from the local authorities combed the villages surrounding the volcano and evacuated residents to safer areas by boat.
Officials worry that part of the volcano could collapse into the sea and cause a tsunami, as happened in an eruption there in 1871.
Houses, roads and other buildings were covered by gray volcanic ash, and many roofs were broken by debris spewed from the eruption.

Mount Ruang saw at least five large eruptions Wednesday, causing the Center for Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation to issue its highest level of alert. People were ordered to stay at least 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) from the 725-meter (2,378-foot) mountain.
The observation from the agency on Friday said white smoke was rising from the main crater with medium to thick intensity.
East of the volcano, Tagulandang Island could be at risk if a collapse occurred. Its residents were among those being told to evacuate. Indonesia’s National Disaster Mitigation Agency said residents would be relocated to Manado, a journey of 6 hours by boat.
Indonesia, an archipelago of 270 million people, has 120 active volcanoes. It is prone to volcanic activity because it sits along the “Ring of Fire,” a horseshoe-shaped series of seismic fault lines around the Pacific Ocean.