Trump ‘misunderstood’ by community, Arab-American relative tells Arab News

Trump ‘misunderstood’ by community, Arab-American relative tells Arab News
Former US President and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses the Libertarian National Convention in Washington, DC, May 25, 2024. (File/AFP)
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Updated 28 May 2024
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Trump ‘misunderstood’ by community, Arab-American relative tells Arab News

Trump ‘misunderstood’ by community, Arab-American relative tells Arab News
  • Massad F. Boulos' son Michael is married to ex-US president's daughter Tiffany
  • Boulos says he and other Arab Americans are organizing meetings with community leaders in several states

CHICAGO: Donald Trump is “misunderstood” by many Arab Americans due to “biased media” and false claims made by his Democratic foes, according to the Arab-American father-in-law of the former US president’s daughter, in an exclusive interview with Arab News.

Dr. Massad F. Boulos, whose son Michael married Trump’s fourth child Tiffany in 2022, said he is working with other Arab Americans to “clear up misunderstandings” that would help Trump win the Nov. 5 presidential election. Tiffany is Trump’s only child with his second wife Marla Maples.

Boulos said he and other Arab Americans are organizing meetings with community leaders in several states, including Michigan, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Washington D.C., New York, and Minnesota.

“Trump was a president who was absolutely misunderstood by many, not just because of the distortion of the biased media, but also by regular people. He was misunderstood. As we all know, he came into this as a businessman,” Boulos said.

“Unfortunately, some of the community in the past, four years ago, voted for (US President Joe) Biden and now they’re absolutely dissatisfied. Some of them have shifted to support President Trump.

“Some of them are undecided. We’re here to show them the truth, the actual facts, and show them the right choice, which is President Trump.”

Boulos and his son attended a meeting in Troy, Michigan, on May 21, to “clear up misunderstandings” and reinforce Trump’s commitment to Middle East peace and the Arab-American community. Boulos said Trump would be more effective than Biden, who is a “traditional politician.”

“Trump wasn’t a politician and he never has been, and probably never will be a politician in that sense, although I think he’s doing great. He’s a straight shooter. He doesn’t sugarcoat anything. That’s who he is,” Boulos said.

“Biden is the absolute mainstream politician versus the successful businessman Trump, who is extremely smart, who is extremely sharp, who is extremely results-oriented. He’s a man of his word.

“He delivered on every single promise. We all know that had it not been for COVID, Trump would easily have been reelected in a landslide. He’s someone who’s greatly misunderstood.”

Boulos added: “For those who are undecided, we strongly believe in the coming three or four months they’ll turn in the right direction, which is the right. They’ve seen what’s going on.”

He said it is not true that Trump “banned Muslims” when he imposed a travel ban on seven countries, all afflicted by conflict: Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Yemen, and Iran.

“This has been taken way out of proportion… This was never intended to be a Muslim ban. The media started using that expression and mobilized against him on it. It’s absolutely not the case,” Boulos said, adding that Trump was concerned about security issues in the seven countries and wanted to prevent bad actors from entering the US.

“It’s a high level of vetting, like any government ought to do and many governments around the world actually do, including Third World countries and developing countries.”

Boulos, an Orthodox Christian from Lebanon, said Trump is the “better choice” for Arab-American voters and has “always been close” to the community as a businessman.

“I think Trump is saying the right things. The Arab-American community shares the same values that he does,” said Boulos.

“The No. 1 issue today is the issue of war and peace. He’s a man of peace. He’s the only president who didn’t start any war.

“He’s the only president who has ended war and withdrew troops in a proper manner, not like we saw two years ago in Afghanistan.

“He was able to achieve four peace accords, and he was on his way to achieving more of those (Middle East) peace accords.”

Trump wants to see an economically prosperous Middle East, said Boulos, adding that he would have prevented the wars in Gaza and Ukraine.

“Had President Trump been in the White House for a second term, all of these wars wouldn’t have taken place, whether it was the Ukraine war or the war in the Middle East… His doctrine is peace through strength, and it would continue to work, and all of these conflicts will come to an end.”

He said Trump is committed to a peaceful Middle East. “The Palestine-Israeli conflict was a top priority for him. He worked very hard and he was very close to it,” said Boulos.

“He got four peace accords to be signed, and he was working very hard to achieve more and the ultimate one, achieving a Palestinian-Israeli peace… Yes, this is a priority.”

Boulos said most Arabs embrace conservative values and identify with Trump and the Republicans.

He added that they support Trump’s goals of lowering taxes for families, reducing government bureaucracy, improving the economy, and creating more jobs.

“I don’t think there’s any member of the Arab-American community who’d disagree with those policies,” Boulos said.

“There’s a huge base of support within the Arab-American community that hasn’t shifted. There’s a solid base that has always been there. Many of them are Republican.

“Of course there have been some misunderstandings. There are some issues caused by the mainstream media and by the vicious opposition. His message needs to be heard in a much clearer way in our communities.

“So we’ll make sure his message is heard loud and clear. There are many ways to do that… to reach directly to the grassroots.

“For those who are hesitant or who are undecided, the message will be very clear and will help them make the right decision.”

Boulos said his family’s ties to Trump reflect the former president’s respect for Arab Americans and Muslims.

He emphasized that Trump has two sons-in-law from different backgrounds, “one who is Jewish and one who is Arab American. This shows you the type and kind of person that Donald Trump is, and that the Trump family is.

“The way they’ve embraced Michael, my son, and us as a family is really amazing, something I can’t easily describe. It’s extremely warm and just a family. To sum it up in one word, I’d say it’s a true family.”

Boulos said the meetings he is having with Arab-American leaders have not been organized by Trump’s political campaigners.

Boulos’ family owns a multibillion-dollar conglomerate in Nigeria that encompasses retail, construction, and vehicles.


Britain’s ‘impossible’ refugee visa rules leave children stranded in war zones, charity says

Britain’s ‘impossible’ refugee visa rules leave children stranded in war zones, charity says
Updated 15 June 2024
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Britain’s ‘impossible’ refugee visa rules leave children stranded in war zones, charity says

Britain’s ‘impossible’ refugee visa rules leave children stranded in war zones, charity says
  • Organization points to ‘catastrophic failure’ of system 

LONDON: Children are being left stranded in war zones due to the “impossible” bureaucratic requirements for one of Britain’s few legal routes for asylum-seekers, a charity has told The Guardian.

The UK government has said that the family reunion process allows refugees to safely reunite with loved ones in the country.

However, a new report from the Refugee and Migrant Forum of East London, a charity that helps vulnerable migrants, reveals that the scheme is “not fit for purpose” and has abandoned applicants, putting them at risk of trafficking, or even death.

RAMFEL reported that when the conflict in Sudan erupted in April 2023, it was assisting 14 people, all of whom were eligible to travel to the UK under the scheme.

More than a year later, eight people remain trapped there, “facing extreme risks.” Several of the children previously fled Eritrea, where men, women, and children face forced mass conscription.

In some cases, teenagers have fled Sudan via irregular routes. One boy was detained in Libya, and another unaccompanied child was trafficked to South Sudan and raped.

The UK government has closed its visa application center in Khartoum but has not waived the requirement for applicants to register their fingerprints and biometric data in person.

“Visa application centers are open and operating in neighboring countries,” a Home Office letter, seen by The Guardian, reads.

“However, travel across Sudan is conducted at your own risk, and under your own discretion, considering whether it is safe to do so,” it added.

Eritrean refugee Yusef, who is living in the UK, shared his efforts to bring his two young brothers, now aged 17 and 14, to join him. They fled to Sudan alone after their mother died and their father was seized by Eritrean authorities.

He told The Guardian: “I made the (family reunion) application but the Home Office was saying that there was not a place to test them for tuberculosis or a visa center in Sudan. They said they couldn’t take them.”

His brothers fled north to Egypt, and Yusef said: “They don’t have anyone. How will they survive? If the police find them asleep, they will take them back to Eritrea and they will be put in prison. They are still in this situation and they’re very scared.”

In October of last year, the Home Office declined to consider a request to bypass biometric enrollment for the children. RAMFEL is currently attempting to have them registered in Cairo.

RAMFEL pointed to the Sudan conflict as an example of the “catastrophic failure” of the family reunion system. The process primarily aids children and spouses of UK residents and can only extend to siblings and other close relatives under a more restrictive scheme.

The charity argues that the flawed system is pushing more refugees toward irregular routes, leading to an increase in small boat crossings over the English Channel, which have reached record levels.

Nick Beales, head of campaigning at RAMFEL, said: “The UK’s family reunion system is not fit for purpose and this report shows that it does not act as an effective safe route for refugees seeking to come to the UK.

“For people in places such as Sudan and Gaza, they are prevented from even applying for family reunion due to the government’s inflexible and unreasonable insistence on them attending non-existing visa application centers.

“This leaves those in conflict zones, including unaccompanied children, with no choice but to take dangerous journeys in search of family reunification.”

RAMFEL called on the next government to create a process that allowed those with loved ones in the UK to swiftly and safely secure visas for legal travel to Britain.
 


Ukrainian refugees sing Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’ near Swiss summit

Ukrainian refugees sing Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’ near Swiss summit
Updated 15 June 2024
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Ukrainian refugees sing Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’ near Swiss summit

Ukrainian refugees sing Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’ near Swiss summit
  • Among the singers were around 50 Ukrainian refugees, some wearing embroidered national dress and crowns of flowers
  • “It’s about freedom. I haven’t learned German but I feel a lot of power and freedom and joy,” Anna Haidash, a refugee from Odesa, said

LUCERNE: Dozens of Ukrainian refugees from choirs around Switzerland converged in the city of Lucerne on Saturday near a global summit to sing Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” a choral work they say embodies their hopes for peace and freedom.
The singers gathered in a public square in Lucerne close to the mountaintop resort of Buergenstock where dozens of world leaders were meeting to try to build support for Ukraine’s peace proposals.
Among the singers were around 50 Ukrainian refugees, some wearing embroidered national dress and crowns of flowers, from five different choirs from around Switzerland. The country has accepted over 65,000 Ukrainian refugees since Russia’s invasion in February 2022.
The rousing lyrics to “Ode to Joy” are by German poet Friedrich Schiller and laud the values of unity, hope and solidarity. “Ode to Joy” is also the anthem for the European Union to which Ukraine hopes to accede.
“It’s about freedom. I haven’t learned German but I feel a lot of power and freedom and joy,” Anna Haidash, a refugee from Odesa, told Reuters. “When you see all these people you feel you are not alone in this situation and in this song too.”
The choir, accompanied by a small orchestra, was surrounded by crowds of tourists next to Lucerne’s famous wooden Chapel Bridge and pro-Ukrainian protesters, some of whom joined in as they later sang the national anthem.
“They want to appeal to the world with Beethoven’s great music and reaffirm their wish of peace and freedom for their battered country on its way to Europe,” event organizer Daniela Majer said.
The melody has been used in the past as a protest anthem to celebrate resistance to oppression, for example during the Tiananmen Square protests in China and to celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.


Dutch tourist missing on Greek island found dead — police

Dutch tourist missing on Greek island found dead — police
Updated 15 June 2024
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Dutch tourist missing on Greek island found dead — police

Dutch tourist missing on Greek island found dead — police
  • The man went missing after hiking alone on the southwest of the island during searing heat

ATHENS: A 74-year-old Dutch tourist who was missing for a week on the Greek island of Samos has been found dead, a police official said on Saturday.
The man went missing after hiking alone on the southwest of the island during searing heat, and his wife reported his disappearance on Sunday.
Samos is an island of 30,000 people in the eastern Aegean and is popular with tourists.
Last Sunday, British TV presenter Michael Mosley was found dead following a four-day search operation on the Greek island of Symi after taking a walk alone in high temperatures.


French protesters are standing up to the far right ahead of the country’s snap elections

French protesters are standing up to the far right ahead of the country’s snap elections
Updated 15 June 2024
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French protesters are standing up to the far right ahead of the country’s snap elections

French protesters are standing up to the far right ahead of the country’s snap elections
  • In Paris, those who fear that the elections will produce France’s first far-right government since World War II gathered at Place de la Republique before marching through eastern Paris
  • A large crowd turned out in spite of rainy and windy weather, holding placards reading “Liberty for all, Equality for all and Fraternity with all”

PARIS: Anti-racism groups joined French unions and a brand-new left-wing coalition in protests in Paris and across France on Saturday against the surging nationalist far right as frenzied campaigning is underway ahead of snap parliamentary elections.
The French Interior Ministry said 21,000 police and gendarmes would be deployed at the rallies with authorities expecting between 300,000 and 500,000 protesters nationwide.
In Paris, those who fear that the elections will produce France’s first far-right government since World War II gathered at Place de la Republique before marching through eastern Paris.
A large crowd turned out in spite of rainy and windy weather, holding placards reading “Liberty for all, Equality for all and Fraternity with all” — a reference to France’s national motto — as well as “Let’s break frontiers, documents for all, no to the immigration bill.”
Some chanted “Free Palestine, viva Palestina,” and wore keffiyeh scarves.
Among them was Nour Cekar, a 16 year-old high school student from the Paris region, who has French and Algerian parents and wears the hijab.
“To me, the extreme right is a danger because it supports an ideology based on the fear of the other, whereas we are all French citizens despite our differences,” she told The Associated Press.
Cekar said she will vote for the left-wing coalition because “it is the only political party that addresses racism and Islamophobia.”
“I fear the rise of the National Rally because I am afraid that they will ban the hijab in name of women’s liberty. I am a woman and I should be able to decide what I want to wear. I am a free woman,” she said, adding that she is insulted on social media and in the streets on a daily basis because of her headscarf.
In the French Riviera city of Nice, protesters marched down Jean Médecin Avenue, the city’s main shopping street, chanting against the National Rally, its leader Jordan Bardella as well as against President Emmanuel Macron.
Protest organizers said 3,000 took part, while the police put the number at 2,500.
Nice is traditionally a conservative stronghold, but has over the past decade turned firmly in favor of Marine Le Pen’s National Rally and her far-right rival Eric Zemmour.
Crowds have been gathering daily ever since the anti-immigration National Rally made historic gains in the European Parliament elections on Sunday, crushing Macron’s pro-business moderates and prompting him to dissolve the National Assembly.
New elections for the lower house of parliament were set in two rounds, for June 30 and July 7. Macron remains president until 2027 and in charge of foreign policy and defense, but his presidency would be weakened if the National Rally wins and takes power of the government and domestic policy.
“We need a democratic and social upsurge — if not the extreme right will take power,” French unions said in a statement Friday. “Our Republic and our democracy are in danger.”
To prevent the National Rally party from winning the upcoming elections, left-wing parties finally agreed Friday to set aside differences over the wars in Gaza and Ukraine and form a coalition. They urged French citizens to defeat the far right.
French opinion polls suggest the National Rally — whose founder has been repeatedly convicted of racism and antisemitism — is expected to be ahead in the first round of the parliamentary elections. The party came out on top in the European elections, garnering more than 30 percent of the vote cast in France, almost twice as many votes as Macron’s party Renaissance.
Macron’s term is still on for three more years, and he would retain control over foreign affairs and defense regardless of the result of the French parliamentary elections.
But his presidency would be weakened if the National Rally wins, which could put its 28-year-old party leader Bardella on track to become the next prime minister, with authority over domestic and economic affairs.


Philippines’ ancient ‘stairway to heaven’ facing climate threat

Philippines’ ancient ‘stairway to heaven’ facing climate threat
Updated 15 June 2024
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Philippines’ ancient ‘stairway to heaven’ facing climate threat

Philippines’ ancient ‘stairway to heaven’ facing climate threat
  • 2,000-year-old terraces are a UNESCO World Heritage Site
  • Hand-carved steps are often called the Eighth Wonder of the World

Perched on the side of mountains in the Cordillera region, about 250 km north of Manila on Luzon island, enormous green steps rise to a height of 1,500 meters, funneling water from the mountaintop forests down to the rice terraces below.

Known in the Philippines as a “stairway to heaven,” the Ifugao rice terraces are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a 2,000-year-old indigenous engineering feat that is increasingly under threat due to climate change.

The ancestors of the indigenous Ifugao people carved the terraces by hand to irrigate their rice crops, which even now are a staple in the province.

This masterpiece of ancient agricultural engineering entered the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1995 and is often referred to as the “Eighth Wonder of the World” — and one of its most endangered. In May, one of the sites in Batad village collapsed after heavy rains, causing a landslide that damaged 12 terraces.

“At present, risks of damage to the rice terraces and to local culture are exacerbated due to increased temperatures, erratic rainfall, poverty, and demographic shifts, just to name a few examples,” Marlon Martin, a member of the Ifugao ethnic group and executive of the Save the Ifugao Terraces Movement, told Arab News.

“This makes loss and disruption of life in the terraces a strong possibility. As a result, you can see the landscape rapidly changing. These same vulnerabilities may cause the loss of traditions, indigenous knowledge, and intangible identity that connects the Ifugao to their ancestral lands and forebears.”

Aside from Batad, similar steep terraces can also be found in nearby Banaue, Mayoyao, Hapao and Kiangan. Covering about 10,360 sq. km, the extensive network would be at least 20,000 km in length — half the Earth’s circumference — if laid end to end.

Ancient engineers created the highland paddies by making walls with stones and mud. The terraces are designed to retain and also channel water to the steps below, immersing the paddies all year round.

The Ifugao see the terraces as integral to their identity and culture.

“People maintain the terraces because, primarily, it is of significant value to them as a people and as a culture. The terraces link them to their ancestors. It brings them together as a community, and this is how they keep traditional knowledge alive,” Martin said.

“People need to understand that these are not built monuments like Memphis and its Necropolis or the Great Wall, and that when you do restoration, you are already done. Year in and year out, Ifugao farmers need to restore, repair, and maintain the terraces.”

Yet the costs of maintaining the terraces are increasingly high, with erratic weather and effects of the changing climate making their cultivation economically unfeasible.

“Damages to paddy walls induced by drought and torrential rains associated with climate change make maintenance not worth the economic benefit. Were it not for the other values of the terraces, this alone would discourage people,” Martin said.

As part of the Preserving Legacies project, he has conducted a year-long study assessing the terraces’ climate vulnerability, and believes it is time for the government to step in to prevent the sites from being abandoned and losing UNESCO status.

“The government needs to subsidize rice terrace farmers,” he said. “Heritage, economics, socio-cultural solidarity, and a source of indigenous knowledge are key to the preservation of the terraces.”

For Raymond Macapagal, assistant professor at the University of the Philippines’ Center for International Studies and manager of the Batad Kadangyan Ethnic Lodges Project — a community-based tourism enterprise at the UNESCO site — a key strategy is to create opportunities for young people.

Over the past two decades, the younger generation’s migration to cities in search of other work has resulted in 30 percent of the terraces being abandoned. Developing tourism was one way to provide alternative sources of income.

“They will have a deeper understanding of the challenges and solutions in the complex task of safeguarding the terraces. They will also be more motivated to protect the landscape that provides their livelihood,” Macapagal said.

The rice terraces, featured on the Philippines’ 20-peso banknotes, are also a part and witness to the region’s long human history and remnants of millennia-old indigenous heritage.

“The significance of the Ifugao rice terraces to the Ifugao people, I believe, can be rooted in how it represents indigenous cultural heritage that has resisted centuries of colonization,” Macapagal said.

“It demonstrates the harmonious interaction of humans, gods, and nature in order to come up with an outstanding cultural landscape that is admired throughout the world.”