#AbandonBiden campaign seeks to leverage Arab- and Muslim-American political influence

#AbandonBiden campaign seeks to leverage Arab- and Muslim-American political influence
The Joe Biden administration refused to call for a ceasefire in Gaza and provided Israel not only billions in financial support but also military armament. (AFP)
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Updated 20 December 2023
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#AbandonBiden campaign seeks to leverage Arab- and Muslim-American political influence

#AbandonBiden campaign seeks to leverage Arab- and Muslim-American political influence
  • Biden’s support of Gaza carnage is ‘turning point,’ says Minnesota University Prof. Hassan Abdel Salam
  • America’s over 7m Muslims, 4m Arabs can ‘significantly impact’ 2024 presidential election

A leader of the “#AbandonBiden” campaign is urging Arab and Muslim Americans to vote “against’ President Joe Biden in the upcoming election, saying the goal is to empower the community as a voting bloc but also to show the Democrats that they “can’t be taken for granted.”

University of Minnesota’s Prof. Hassan Abdel Salam, one of the leaders of the new movement — launched in response to Biden’s embrace of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s indiscriminate carnage against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip —  said the campaign represents a “turning point” in Arab- and Muslim-American political history.

Salam told Arab News the goal is to show the Democratic Party, “which has taken Arab- and Muslim-American voters for granted,” that the community’s call for an end to Israel’s war on Gaza must be taken more seriously.

“We think that after 60 days of this rampant attack by the state of Israel, that we really have no other choice. We will not vote for Biden if he is on the ticket. And even if there is a ceasefire that is called, we can never, never reward this kind of behavior,” Salam said, noting the movement is not endorsing former President Donald Trump or any other candidate.

“Not only will this create an opportunity now to have a clear message to the White House, but it will also demonstrate the power of the Arab- and Muslim-American vote, so that in the long-term we don’t do all this triage after these attacks, we will be taken seriously ... We are saying please stop the killings, which is supposed to be a fundamental principle of the Democratic Party.”

Salam said that if Arab and Muslim Americans present a “credible political threat” to Biden, then in the future and on the issue of the occupation, “we will be heard and policy will move towards or (in the) direction of dignity and the value of life.”

The #AbandonBiden movement is targeting critical “swing states” in which Biden barely defeated Trump. The Arab and Muslim community has sizable voting populations in those states, including Michigan, Minnesota, Arizona, Wisconsin, Georgia, Nevada and Pennsylvania.

For example, Biden defeated Trump in Michigan by only 154,188 votes in 2020, Minnesota by 233,012, Arizona by 10,457, Wisconsin by 20,682, Georgia by 11,779, Nevada by 33,596, and Pennsylvania by 81,660.

The #AbandonBiden movement is also targeting states in which Biden had significant support including in Illinois. And Florida where Trump had strong support over Biden, defeating him by 371,686 votes.

Salam said if America’s more than 7 million Muslims and 4 million Arabs stand together, they can “significantly impact” the 2024 presidential election.

He explained the goal is not to take a “short-term approach” to American politics. He said the group is not endorsing Trump or other candidates. The issue is Arab and Muslim Americans “must not be taken for granted” by the Biden administration or any president.

“It’s unimaginable for us to go back to Biden. When we were doing these press conferences calling on Arabs and Muslims to abandon Biden, we were told through folks who communicated the position of the White House that they thought we were just throwing a tantrum and that we would eventually go back into his (Biden’s) arms in November,” Salam said.

“This isn’t a tantrum. This is not about politics. This is about valuing life ... We are always told to select the lesser of two evils. Mr. Trump did not allow our family members to come into the country. But Mr. Biden allowed our friends and family to be killed.”

Salam said the Biden administration has failed to rescue Arab and Muslim Americans caught in Israel’s war on Gaza while asserting that rescuing Americans was a priority.

“We have to think about this as a means to increase the power position of Arab and Muslim Americans. If we say we have to vote for Biden what does that say about us and what we believe is right? That it’s not important?” Salam said they will not be discouraged by empty promises from Biden’s allies.

“We had folks that the White House sent to us, very high officials, begging us to end the conference (in Michigan) and close it down. They recognize the political threat for what it is.”

Organizers of the #AbandonBiden campaign hope to bring the Arab- and Muslim-American community together and demonstrate to Democrats and other political parties their power in a nation that has the most influence over Israel.

“We are not supporting Trump in this process,” Salam emphasized, noting presidential elections are held every four years in America and candidates come and go.

“It’s not just a message to the Democratic Party or to Biden. It is about Arabs and Muslims coming home to America. Neither party will ever dismiss us as they have been doing. Muslim Americans and Arab Americans might actually be the most influential people on the planet when it comes to the Middle East and affecting change in US foreign policy towards Israel. Biden created the environment which allowed Israel to do these acts with no consequence.”

The #AbandonBiden campaign launched in Michigan during the first few weeks of the Israeli assault on Gaza following the Oct. 7 Hamas attack. This was when the Biden administration refused to call for a ceasefire and provided not only billions in financial support but also military armaments which were used to kill Arabs and Muslims in Gaza.

“This is historically unprecedented the way in which we are approaching this. It is a historical moment in which we have to act now for this to be a juncture which shifts our accepting the way the political system works,” Salam said.

“We are from swing states and we are going to come together and we are going to make this White House understand finally that Muslim Americans, Arab Americans are American. We have the power and the ability to determine who will be president.”

Salam said the movement is not “anti-Israel” nor “anti-Jewish” but is instead focused on preventing the indiscriminate killing of any innocent civilians, Muslims, Christians or Jews.

The #AbandonBiden rallies are being organized in the cities of key states and will continue through next year targeting the Democratic Primary elections and culminating in the Nov. 5, 2024 presidential election. The words #AbandonBiden have been prominently displayed at several large demonstrations across the country over the past two months.


North Korea fires missile off east coast, South Korea, Japan say

North Korea fires missile off east coast, South Korea, Japan say
Updated 22 April 2024
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North Korea fires missile off east coast, South Korea, Japan say

North Korea fires missile off east coast, South Korea, Japan say
  • The projectile appeared to have landed outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone area

SEOUL: North Korea fired “several” ballistic missiles on Monday toward the sea off its east coast, South Korea’s military said.
A Japanese government alert and its coast guard also said North Korea had fired what appeared to be a ballistic missile. The projectile appeared to have landed outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone area, the NHK broadcaster said.
Japan’s NTV broadcaster said the projectile was a short-range ballistic missile, citing a Japanese government official.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the North launched what it suspected to be several short-range ballistic missile from near its capital, Pyongyang, without providing further details.
The reports of the launch came as South Korea said its top military officer, Admiral Kim Myung-soo, had hosted the commander of US Space Command, General Stephen Whiting, on Monday to discuss the North’s reconnaissance satellite development and growing military cooperation between Pyongyang and Moscow.
After a summit between the two countries’ leaders in September, North Korea has been suspected of supplying arms and munitions to Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, although both deny that claim.
The North is believed to be preparing to launch another spy satellite, after successfully putting a reconnaissance satellite in orbit in November.
North Korea said last week that it had fired a strategic cruise missile to test a large warhead, and a new anti-aircraft missile.
Earlier in April, the North fired a new hypersonic missile as part of its development of solid-fueled missiles for all ranges of its arsenal.
The North has defied a ban by the United Nations Security Council on developing ballistic missiles, rejecting Council resolutions as infringing on its sovereign right to defend itself.


New Iran sanctions should include Revolutionary Guards - Belgian FM

New Iran sanctions should include Revolutionary Guards - Belgian FM
Updated 22 April 2024
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New Iran sanctions should include Revolutionary Guards - Belgian FM

New Iran sanctions should include Revolutionary Guards - Belgian FM
  • There is no consensus on what legal basis the Guards could be added to bloc-wide list of entities seen as terrorist origanisaions

PARIS: New European Union sanctions against Iran in response to the country’s recent attack on Israel should include the Revolutionary Guards, Belgium’s Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib said on Monday.
Speaking to journalists ahead of an EU ministers’ meeting in Luxembourg, Lahbib said that so far there was no consensus on what legal basis the Guards could be added to bloc-wide list of entities seen as terrorist origanisaions.
“We will discuss it together,” she said, adding:
“I also think we have to expand sanctions against violent settlers (in the Palestinian West Bank). We have to be balanced and make sure we won’t be accused of having double standards.”


Iranian president arrives in Pakistan for three-day visit

 Iranian president arrives in Pakistan for three-day visit
Updated 22 April 2024
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Iranian president arrives in Pakistan for three-day visit

 Iranian president arrives in Pakistan for three-day visit
  • Ebrahim Raisi arrives in Islamabad with high-level delegation and “large” team of businesspersons, says foreign office
  • Raisi’s visit to Pakistan takes place amid surging Middle East tensions following Israel’s airstrikes against Iran last week

ISLAMABAD: Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi arrived in Islamabad on Monday for a three-day visit to the country, Pakistan’s foreign office said, with his trip aimed at strengthening bilateral ties between the two countries amid surging tensions in the Middle East.

The Iranian president arrived in the federal capital with his spouse, a high-level delegation of cabinet members and a team of businesspersons. He was welcomed at the Islamabad Airport by Pakistan’s Federal Minister for Housing and Works Mian Riaz Hussain Pirzada and Pakistan’s Ambassador to Iran Mudassir Tipu. 

Raisi’s visit takes place days after Iran and Israel exchanged drone and missile strikes, escalating tensions in the already volatile Middle East.

“Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi will meet at the Prime Minister’s House,” Sharif’s office said in a statement. “A round of delegation-level talks between Pakistan and Iran will also be held.”

The PMO said Sharif and Raisi would take part in a ceremony where several MoUs between the two countries would be signed.

During his visit from April 22-24, the Iranian head of state is scheduled to meet Pakistan’s prime minister, president, Senate chairman and National Assembly speaker, the foreign office said in a statement on Friday, adding that he would also visit Karachi and Lahore cities to meet the country’s provincial leadership.

Raisi’s visit will is the first by any head of state to Pakistan after the contentious elections of February 2024.

Pakistan and Iran are often at odds with each other over instability on their shared porous border, with both countries routinely trading blame for not rooting out militancy.

Tensions surged in January when Pakistan and Iran exchanged airstrikes, both claiming to target alleged militant hideouts in each other’s countries. Both sides have since then undertaken peace overtures and restored bilateral ties.

“The two sides will have a wide-ranging agenda to further strengthen Pakistan-Iran ties and enhance cooperation in diverse fields including trade, connectivity, energy, agriculture, and people-to-people contacts,” the foreign office said.

Discussions would also focus on regional and global developments as well as bilateral cooperation to combat “terrorism,” the statement added.

“Pakistan and Iran enjoy strong bilateral ties anchored in history, culture and religion,” the foreign office said. “This visit provides an important opportunity to further strengthen Pakistan-Iran relations.”

This article was originally published in Arab News Pakistan


Taiwan thanks US for aid package, says will ‘safeguard peace’

Taiwan thanks US for aid package, says will ‘safeguard peace’
Updated 22 April 2024
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Taiwan thanks US for aid package, says will ‘safeguard peace’

Taiwan thanks US for aid package, says will ‘safeguard peace’
  • Taiwanese premier Chen Chien-jen: ‘A peaceful and stable Taiwan Strait is a most important key to peace and prosperity in the world’

TAIPEI: Taiwan will work with the United States to “safeguard peace and freedom” in the region, the island’s premier said on Monday, after Washington approved billions in military aid for Taipei in the face of an increasingly assertive China.
The US House of Representatives on Saturday passed four bills in a $95 billion package, approving military aid to Ukraine and bolstering Israel’s defenses.
Some $8 billion under one bill would be used to counter China, which claims Taiwan as part of its territory and has vowed to bring the democratic island under its control.
Taiwan’s defense ministry said Sunday that about $1.9 billion is earmarked for replenishing its military equipment and training and another $2 billion will used for “foreign military financing” for countries in the region including Taiwan.
The announcement also comes days before US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visits China, hoping to press Beijing to curb wartime support for Russia.
“A peaceful and stable Taiwan Strait is a most important key to peace and prosperity in the world,” Taiwanese Premier Chen Chien-jen said Monday.
“Taiwan will continue to work with like-minded countries including the United States and all countries in the free democratic camp... to safeguard peace and freedom in the Indo-Pacific region and make the Taiwan Strait area more stable,” he added.
The 180-kilometer waterway separates Taiwan from China and is among the world’s busiest shipping routes.
It is also a hotspot of tensions between Beijing and Taipei, as relations have plummeted since 2016 after Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen came into power.
She has refused to acknowledge Beijing’s claim over the island, saying instead that Taiwan is “already independent,” and during her two terms has bolstered defense spending for the island’s armed forces.
Her office on Sunday thanked the US Congress for approving the bills, which “shows that the United States’ security commitment to Taiwan has a clear bipartisan consensus,” said Presidential spokeswoman Olivia Lin.
Washington’s top diplomat Blinken’s trip marks a lowering of US-China friction that soared under former president Donald Trump.
High on his agenda will be what US officials say is a major push by China that has helped Russia, in the throes of the Ukraine invasion, carry out its biggest militarization since Soviet times.
But Beijing has regularly expressed anger at international support for Taipei and criticized the US of meddling in its affairs.


Deepfakes of Bollywood stars spark worries of AI meddling in India election

Deepfakes of Bollywood stars spark worries of AI meddling in India election
Updated 22 April 2024
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Deepfakes of Bollywood stars spark worries of AI meddling in India election

Deepfakes of Bollywood stars spark worries of AI meddling in India election
  • In fake viral videos, two A-lister Bollywood stars are seen criticizing PM Modi, asking people to vote for Congress
  • Deepfakes are being increasingly used in elections elsewhere in the world, including US, Pakistan and Indonesia

MUMBAI: In fake videos that have gone viral online, two of India’s A-lister Bollywood actors are seen criticizing Prime Minister Narendra Modi and asking people to vote for the opposition Congress party in the country’s ongoing general election.

In a 30-second video that shows Aamir Khan and another 41-second clip of Ranveer Singh, the two Bollywood actors purportedly say Modi failed to keep campaign promises and failed to address critical economic issues during his two terms as prime minister.

Both AI-generated videos end with the Congress election symbol and slogan: “Vote for Justice, Vote for Congress.”

The two videos have been viewed on social media more than half a million times since last week, a Reuters review shows.

Their spread underlines the potential role such AI (artificial intelligence)-generated content can play in the mammoth Indian election that started on Friday and will continue until June. AI and AI-generated fakes, or deepfakes, are being increasingly used in elections elsewhere in the world, including in the US, Pakistan and Indonesia.

Campaigning in India has long focused on door-to-door outreach and public rallies, but extensive use of WhatsApp and Facebook as campaigning tools started in 2019. This year’s general election — in which Modi is expected to secure a rare third term — is the first in which AI is being used.

A Congress spokesperson, Sujata Paul, shared actor Singh’s video with her 16,000 followers on X on April 17 and by Saturday afternoon, her post had been reshared 2,900 times, liked 8,700 times and received 438,000 views.

Paul told Reuters by telephone she was aware the video was marked “manipulated media” by X, but she did not want to delete it as, while posting, she thought the person was a look alike of Singh and “it has creativity for sure.”

The post was no longer visible on X on Sunday, hours after Reuters sent a request for comment to Congress’ head of social media cell, who did not respond.

Both actors have said the videos are fake. Facebook, X and at least eight fact-checking websites have said they are altered or manipulated, which the Reuters digital verification unit has also confirmed.

Reuters could not ascertain who created the videos. Khan was “alarmed” by the viral “fake” video and Singh’s team was looking into the matter, according to a spokesperson for both actors. Singh wrote on X on Friday: “Beware of deepfakes, friends.”

Modi’s office, and the IT head of his Bharatiya Janata Party, did not respond to requests for comment.

POLICE PROBE

Nearly 900 million people in India have access to the Internet and a survey conducted by research organization Esya Center and the Indian Institute of Management business school showed an average Indian spends over three hours a day on social media. The country has nearly one billion voters.

Some versions of the videos have been blocked on social media but at least 14 were still visible on X on Saturday. Facebook deleted two videos Reuters flagged to the company but one other was still visible.

Facebook in a statement said it has “removed the videos” for violation of its policies. X did not respond to Reuters queries.

The videos have sparked one police investigation with Khan registering a case in Mumbai against unnamed persons on April 17 for alleged impersonation and cheating for creating the fake video.

Mumbai police did not return a request for comment, but two officers working on Khan’s case, who declined to be named, said they wrote to Facebook and X to take down the video and the companies had said it was done.

The officers said they were up until 2 a.m. on Friday, refreshing pages to check if Khan’s online videos were removed. Asked about progress in the case, one of them said: “Such technical investigations take time.”

AI VIDEO OF DEAD FATHER

In this year’s election, politicians are using AI in other ways.

In southern India, Congress leader Vijay Vasanth’s spokesperson said his team has created a 2-minute audio-video clip using AI that was shared on social media platforms and shows his now dead but more popular politician father, H. Vasanthakumar, seeking votes for him.

The late politician is seen saying “even though my body left you all, my soul is still around.”

In videos put out on YouTube by the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM), Samata, an AI-generated anchor dressed in a traditional saree and speaking in a style that mimics regular news channels, criticizes the ruling party in West Bengal state.

In one clip, the anchor alleges the party does not care about the environment as many water bodies have vanished due to illegal construction.

A spokesperson for the ruling party denied the allegation and said the state government has ensured no such construction takes place. The CPM did not respond to requests for comment.

In the video, which has been seen 12,000 times, anchor Samata declares: “These are questions that we the citizens of this city need to ponder over.”