Category Archives: Syrian refugees

Trump Derangement Syndrome: Tech’s SXSW festival takes on Trump

hugh forrest sxsw

Hugh Forrest from SXSW: Wants to “ramp it up” against Trump

For those who are unfamiliar with the SXSW festival:

South By Southwest dedicates itself to helping creative people achieve their goals. Founded in 1987 in Austin, Texas, SXSW is best known for its conference and festivals that celebrate the convergence of the interactive, film, and music industries. The event, an essential destination for global professionals, features sessions, showcases, screenings, exhibitions, and a variety of networking opportunities. SXSW proves that the most unexpected discoveries happen when diverse topics and people come together.”

In other words, a celebration for like-minded liberals. It’s bound to be a hoot this year with the massive discussions related to Trump Derangement Syndrome.

From USA Today: Russian hackers. Allegations of federal wiretapping. Online leaks of purported CIA documents. There will be no lack of controversial issues to dissect at this year’s SXSW Conference & Festivals, which begins Friday and runs through Mar. 19. And more so than in past years, this year’s massive gathering of tech, film and music enthusiasts – usually equated with tech innovation and startups – will have a stronger-than-ever focus on politics.

Former Vice President Joe Biden and CNN’s Van Jones are scheduled to speak. Panel discussions, reflecting the recent election of President Donald Trump, range from “Startup Investing during the Trump Years” to “The War at Home: Trump and the Mainstream Media” and “Head Fakes and Pivots: Trump Punks Silicon Valley.”

“SXSW is the place for great thinkers and innovators,” said Erin Schrode, 25, activist and social entrepreneur who will lead a discussion on millennials and activism. “At this moment in history, how can SXSW not dive into politics?”

This week, the gathering, now in its 31st year, got another controversial issue to debate: The WikiLeaks release of thousands of documents purportedly detailing how the Central Intelligence Agency hacks into smartphones and Internet-connected televisions.

There will still be healthy servings of startups strategy, robotics and self-driving cars. But, six weeks into the Trump administration – and all the controversies that have swirled around it – SXSW this year will delve deeper than ever into how Washington could impact the tech and media worlds – a departure seemingly embraced by speakers and attendees.

SXSW has long had a political element to it. In 1993, then-Texas Gov. Ann Richards was the sole keynote speaker, and Al Gore, Rand Paul and Chelsea Clinton have all given talks. Last year, then-President Obama spoke at the event, drawing thousands of attendees.

But when Trump won the November election, Hugh Forrest, SXSW’s chief programming officer, knew he needed to ramp up the political programming, he said. He called his staff into a meeting to brainstorm how best to reflect the divisions and debate consuming the country. They came up with a programming track titled “Tech Under Trump” and began filling it with sessions and guest speakers.

“There is definitely a degree of politics or political focus that may not have been there in previous years,” Forrest said. “We hope people walk away with a little better understanding of issues and the players driving the issues.”

Amanda Quraishi, an Austin-based digital consultant and interfaith activist, said she had an early idea for a SXSW panel discussion. But as the number of hate crimes across the country mounted following Trump’s election, she and her fellow panelists switched their focus. On Tuesday, they’ll give a panel discussion titled “From Trump to Trolls: How Muslim Media Fights Back.”

“Right now, politics is on everybody’s minds all the time,” Quraishi said. “America has had an awakening of what it means to live in a democracy and that it requires a lot of ongoing engagement with the process.”

She applauded SXSW organizers for reflecting the mood of the country in their programming. “They manage to be very nimble from year to year and come up with programming that’s very pertinent right now,” Quraishi said.

SXSW briefly became part of the political story earlier this month when a New York musician scheduled to perform at SXSW objected to language in his contract that warned that U.S. immigration agents may be contacted if an international artist violated the performance agreement.

The musician, Felix Walworth, tweeted his concern, which got nearly 4,000 retweets, and drew parallels to the increased immigration raids sweeping the country under Trump’s executive orders. SXSW officials called it a misunderstanding, stressing that no artist in its 30-year history had ever been reported to federal immigration agents. The contract provision was later rescinded.

Politics won’t just play out in panel discussions and speeches. Documentary filmmaker Jason Pollock said he considered other film festivals to premiere his film, Stranger Fruit, which explores the 2014 shooting death of Michael Brown by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson. He chose SXSW because he hopes the multitude of tech influencers and music execs there will spread the film’s message wider and farther than Cannes or Sundance ever could, he said.

The film premieres at SXSW on Saturday, followed by a panel discussion on Monday with Pollock and Brown’s parents. “We’re going to be able to create a real movement around Michael Brown because of the people who attend that festival,” Pollock said. “At other film festivals, you get film critics, distributors and industry folks. At SXSW, it’s the world.”

Schrode, the millennial activist, said she was initially surprised when SXSW contacted her in December and invited her to give a talk on political activism. But then she realized what a natural pairing SXSW and politics make, she said.

“It’s undeniable that Trump and the Trump administration are having an existentially larger impact than anyone ever thought on all our industries,” said Schrode, who ran for Congress last year in California’s District 2. “Certainly, for SXSW to ignore that would be unnatural and irresponsible. After I wrapped my head around that, I thought, ‘Absolutely!’”

DCG

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Trump Derangement Syndrome will continue: ACLU launches nationwide training on protest and resistance

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Gee…I wonder who is financing this?

From ABC News: The American Civil Liberties Union staged a nationwide training event Saturday to make sure people are aware of their rights as protesters and urge organized, public resistance by those opposed to policies of President Donald Trump.

Organizers said the event at a sports arena on the University of Miami campus was livestreamed to locations in all 50 states. ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero said 200,000 people had signed up to attend one of an estimated 2,000 local events.

The event, staged in town hall style, was aimed at capitalizing on numerous demonstrations since Trump’s election in November and to make sure people know their rights to protest, Romero said. He said priority issues are immigration, the First Amendment free speech and religious freedom rights, civil and reproductive rights and rights of gay, lesbian and transgender people.

“We will bring all the lawsuits necessary to defend these rights,” Romero said. “We’ll do the work in the courts. You do the work in the streets. People are motivated. They want to be engaged.”

The ACLU also launched a new grassroots online organizing platform called PeoplePower.org. It’s billed as a way for people considering a local protest or rally to connect and coordinate with others around the country with similar intentions, and to provide details of ACLU initiatives.

Another plan is creation of “freedom cities” around the country that would encourage local officials to pass laws resisting Trump policies such as stepped-up deportations of people living in the country illegally, said Faiz Shakir, ACLU national political director.

Other parts of Saturday’s event detailed the rules for demonstrations on streets, sidewalks and in public parks, and the rights people have when arrested such as the right to remain silent. ACLU attorney Lee Rowland said large demonstrations generally require a local permit, but government can’t typically shut down protesters in public places without good reason. “The government can’t censor you just because it disagrees with your opinion,” Rowland said.

Also speaking at the event was Padma Lakshmi, an Indian-born cookbook author, actress, model and television host. She said she emigrated to the U.S. at age four and said the nation appears to be retreating from its welcoming ways. “Lately I’ve started to feel like an outsider,” she said. “What makes America great is our culture of inclusion. We must not tolerate the intolerance.

DCG

‘Rogue One’ Star Riz Ahmed Says Lack of Diversity on TV Can Push People Towards ISIS

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Who knew that this 34-year-old actor and rapper had the solution to fighting radical Islamic terrorism? I’m sure Mad Dog Mattis will be all over this fascinating solution.

From Hollywood Reporter: Riz Ahmed, who saw his international star soar in 2016 thanks to major roles in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Jason Bourne and HBO’s The Night Of, has warned that a lack of diverse voices and stories on British TV screens could push those from minority backgrounds towards fringe groups and even extremism.

Delivering the annual diversity lecture from U.K. network Channel 4 in British Parliament, the actor – who has used his growing celebrity status to eloquently highlight issues concerning race and racial profiling – said that U.K. TV had so far “failed” to ensure groups felt represented.

“If we fail to represent, we are in danger of losing people to extremism,” he said, adding it would lead those from minority backgrounds to “switch off and retreat to fringe narratives, to bubbles online and sometimes even off to Syria.”

Echoing the lecture given by Idris Elba last year, Ahmed said that actors from diverse backgrounds were forced to head across the Atlantic to find decent roles. “We end up going to America to find work. I meet with producers and directors here, and they say ‘we don’t have anything for you, all our stories are set in Cornwall in the 1600s’.”

Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter last year, the actor expressed his own desire to directly address the situation, saying he was planning a series about three generations of a British-Pakistani family, which he would direct himself.

“If we don’t step up and tell a representative story … we are going to start losing British teenagers to the story that the next chapter in their lives is written with ISIS in Syria,” he told Parliament. “We are going to see the murder of more [members of parliament] like Jo Cox because we’ve been mis-sold a story that is so narrow about who we are and who we should be.”

Ahmed’s lecture came the same day the BBC revealed the results of a staff census into diversity, showing that 14.5 percent of its workforce was from black, Asian or minority ethnic backgrounds. The public broadcaster is aiming for this figure to reach 15 percent by 2020.

DCG

Montvale, New Jersey will not be a sanctuary city, mayor vows

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Mayor Michael Ghassali

Laws and legal immigration still mean something to some politicians.

From NorthJersey.com: As a Syrian immigrant whose family fled Aleppo in 1980, weeks before hundreds of civilians were killed in a brutal siege, Michael Ghassali knows well the horrors facing today’s refugees.

But as the mayor of Montvale, Ghassali said, his allegiance is to the laws of his adopted country – even those he may personally disagree with. That is why Ghassali has vowed that under his administration, Montvale will not be a sanctuary city.

“I will not be signing any executive orders that will ask our employees to defy federal laws. A mayor should not be advocating the defiance of federal laws,” Ghassali announced in a Facebook post last week that has elicited both praise and condemnation.

The statement was in response to pressure from various advocacy groups that Ghassali said have approached him to declare the borough a safe haven for undocumented immigrants illegal aliens.

President Donald Trump issued an executive order last month suspending travel to the United States from seven Muslim-majority countries and indefinitely barring Syrian refugees from coming into the country. The order has been blocked by an appeals court, and Trump has said he will issue a revised order. But it sparked protests across the country, and local politicians have taken a public position either supporting it or opposing it.

Trump also has called for a crackdown on illegal immigration. On Tuesday, the Department of Homeland Security issued a sweeping set of orders that authorize all agents to enforce the nation’s immigration laws more forcefully, instructing them to identify, apprehend and quickly deport every undocumented immigrant they encounter.

Several North Jersey towns have either approved or are considering resolutions to become sanctuary cities, a term that generally means local police would limit their cooperation with federal immigration enforcement officers.

Prospect Park Mayor Mohamed Khairullah, who is also a Syrian-born immigrant, issued an executive order in January declaring the borough a sanctuary city. “As an immigrant from a country ruled by a dictator, it is important to me that our commander in chief upholds the U.S. Constitution as the law of the land,” Khairullah said last month.

Ghassali recalled in an interview this week his experience entering the country at 15 years old and the hurdles his family faced.

In Syria, his father was a tailor, working hard for a middle-class life for his family of four children. Ghassali remembers always feeling safe in Aleppo, even at night. Nevertheless, the Islamist uprising, revolts against the secular government led mostly by the Muslim Brotherhood, had been brewing in the country since 1976.

“My father was wise enough to know what was going on. He told us, ‘At some point, this will not be a safe place to live.’ And he decided that we should leave,” Ghassali said.

In 1980, members of Ghassali’s family boarded a flight with green cards in hand and headed to New York City, where they had family from his father’s side waiting for their arrival. They settled in Dumont. Ghassali said he became a citizen in 1987.

“I know firsthand the vetting system is intense – it’s always been that way. I don’t know how much more intense it could get,” said Ghassali, a Republican who ran for mayor as an independent.

“I wish the administration spent more time analyzing the current process before issuing such an executive order,” said Ghassali. “They should spend the time to look at the current process before causing havoc among the refugees.”

Ghassali said he has family members who are refugees or have been killed in the war in Syria. “My whole network is either a refugee or has a family or friend who is a refugee. I feel it. It is very personal,” Ghassali said. But, he said, “I have to remove emotions out of this if I want to do my job.”

A close friend of Ghassali’s who attends the same Syriac Orthodox church in Teaneck has been in the country illegally for 15 years, he said. Ghassali said that declaring Montvale a sanctuary city would not change the reality of his friend’s situation. “He’s been scared for 15 years,” Ghassali said. “That doesn’t change when a mayor signs an executive order.”

Ghassali said he hoped his stance was not misconstrued as being against diversity. About one-fifth of Montvale’s approximately 8,000 residents are foreign-born, according to 2015 census. Twenty-two languages are spoken at home, Ghassali said.

Ghassali is married to an Iraqi immigrant. On his block alone, he said, his neighbors hail from India, Pakistan and parts of South America. “Montvale is not against refugees, against immigrants, against diversity,” he said. “We are as diverse as they come.”

DCG

Angela Merkel says Europe must take more refugees and Islam ‘isn’t source of terror’

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Earlier this month, Angela Merkel stated that Germany will offer cash handouts worth millions of pounds for migrants to leave Germany in an effort to silence criticism of her ‘open-door’ border policy. Now this? Proggies…they can never be consistent.

From Daily Star UK: The embattled leader says Europe has an obligation to take displaced people from Syria and Iraq. 

She also said Islam “is not the cause of terrorism” and that combatting extremism needs the cooperation of Muslim countries.

In a wide-ranging speech at a Munich security conference, the German chief also vowed to work closely with Vladimir Putin’s Russia in the fight with ISIS in the Middle East.

Mrs. Merkel has come under fire for taking in up to one million refugees amid security concerns and a string of migrant sex attacks across Germany.

After the Berlin lorry attack at a Christmas market in December, ex-UKIP leader Nigel Farage said events such as that will be “Merkel’s legacy”.

Mrs. Merkel had been a strong critic of Brexit, saying she had “deep regrets” about it. She will go to the polls in September against Social Democrat candidate Martin Schulz, the former European Parliament President.

On Putin, she said Europe’s ties with Russia remained challenging, but it was important to work with them in the fight against Islamist terrorism. She said: “The joint fight against Islamic terrorism is one area where we have the same interests and we can work together.”

Her comments about Islam and refugees follow her criticism of Donald Trump’s travel ban on people from seven Muslim-majority countries.

New US Vice-President Mike Pence was in the audience and reaffirmed the US’ commitment to NATO in a speech of his own.

Germany is under increasing pressure to increase military spending, would do “everything possible” meet a NATO target for spending two percent of economic output on defence by 2024, Merkel told the conference.

Only last week, a student was dragged into woods and raped by a migrant who spoke no English near the campus of Bochum University.

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Syrian asylum seeker is jailed for life in Sweden after footage emerged of him taking part in the execution of seven men in 2012

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The criminal refugee Sakhanh, far left (circled in red)

And proggies wonder why many Americans want a refugee ban and stronger vetting processes. Go figure…

From Daily Mail: A Swedish court on Thursday sentenced a Syrian man to life imprisonment for participation in the 2012 mass execution of seven government troops in Syria.

The Stockholm District Court ruled that 46-year-old refugee Haisam Omar Sakhanh joined the armed group Suleiman Company in early May 2012, and shot a person dead with an assault rifle.

Judge Tomas Zander said the victim, who was not identified, was shot dead along with six others ‘under particularly cruel circumstances’. The seven men who were shot were part of the Syrian regime who had been captured by the independent Islamist group, which was founded in 2011.

The Islamist armed group captured the men during an attack at the beginning of May 2012, and the seven were shot to death less than two days later, according to Stockholms Tingsratt. In the years since the execution, it has been impossible to identify the victims.

Sakhanh had confessed to the shooting but said he should not be prosecuted because the death sentences had been made by a legitimate court, something the Swedish court rejected. It also rejected his defense that he had been following orders.

The group Sakanh was part of, the Suleiman Company, is a Islamic rebel group independent of Free Syrian Army that was formed in 2011 during the Syrian uprising. The group is mainly active in the Idleb countryside’s Jebel al-Zawiya region, and is led by former drug smuggler and Salafi militant Abu Suleiman al-Hamawi, according to TrackingTerrorism.org.

The court said Sakanh had been active in Italy in 2011 and 2012 where he protested against the Syrian government. 

Italian police helped investigators in Sweden to identify him via fingerprints and photos of him illegally entering the Syrian Embassy in Rome during a protest, according to the court ruling obtained by The Associated Press.

After his stint in Italy, Sakhanh returned to Syria before heading north to Sweden where he sought asylum in Sweden in 2013.  He failed to inform authorities about the executions and was given refugee status and permanent residence permit in early 2016.  He has been held in pre-trial custody since March.

In a statement, the court said Sakhanh’s crime ‘is so high that the punishment has been ruled to be life imprisonment’.  In Sweden, life imprisonment is normally ten years. The court said Sakhanh should then be expelled from the country and banned from returning.

DCG

 

 

Fourth Muslim group rejects federal grant to fight extremism

jihad-turk

Jihad Turk: Has a vision to serve his community

You know what side they stand for when their Trump Derangement Syndrome tops any desire to fight extremism.

From Sacramento Bee: A California Islamic school wanted to keep an open mind before Donald Trump took office (yeah, riiiiiight). But less than a month into Trump’s presidency, the school rejected $800,000 in federal funds aimed at combatting violent extremism.

The decision made late Friday night by the Bayan Claremont graduate school’s board to turn down the money — an amount that would cover more than half its yearly budget — capped weeks of sleepless nights and debate. Many there felt Trump’s rhetoric singling out Islamic extremism and his travel ban affecting predominantly Muslim countries had gone too far.

It also made the school the fourth organization nationwide under the Trump administration to reject the money for a program created under President Barack Obama known as countering violent extremism, or CVE, which officials say aims to thwart extremist groups’ abilities to recruit would-be terrorists.

Bayan Claremont had received the second-largest grant, among the first 31 federal grants for CVE awarded to organizations, schools and municipalities in the dwindling days of the Obama administration. The school had hoped to use the money to help create a new generation of Muslim community leaders, with $250,000 earmarked for more than a dozen local nonprofits doing social justice work.

But the fledgling school’s founding president, Jihad Turk, said officials ultimately felt accepting the money would do more harm than good.

It’s “a heck of a lot of money, (but) our mission and our vision is to serve the community and to bring our community to a position of excellence,” Turk said. “And if we’re compromised, even if only by perception in terms of our standing in the community, we ultimately can’t achieve that goal,” he said, adding that accepting the funds would be short-sighted.

The school’s internal debate is also emblematic of handwringing among grassroots and nonprofit organizations involved in the program in the last couple weeks.

At Unity Productions Foundation of Potomac Falls, Virginia, officials said they would decline a grant of $396,585 to produce educational films challenging narratives supporting extremist ideologies and violent extremism “due to the changes brought by the new administration,” according to a private message to donors reviewed by The Associated Press.

And in Dearborn, Michigan, Leaders Advancing and Helping Communities said last week it was turning down $500,000 for youth-development and public-health programs because of the “current political climate.” Ka Joog, a leading Somali nonprofit organization in Minneapolis, also turned down $500,000 for its youth programs.

The Homeland Security Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.

A U.S. official said the Trump administration has been discussing changing the Obama administration program’s name, established as a presidential strategy in 2011, to an iteration of “countering Islamic extremism.” The official, who has knowledge of the discussions, was not authorized to speak publicly about the proposal and spoke on condition of anonymity.

All told, more than 20 percent of the roughly $10 million awarded by the Homeland Security Department has been rejected (well, sounds like some savings for the tax payers). And other groups have signaled they may follow suit, should the name change.

Turk said school officials already had reservations about the CVE strategy under Obama because they felt there’s no clear or proven pathway to violence for someone with a particular extreme ideology. The group went ahead, despite worries by some activists that the program equated to a government surveillance program, because it believed the previous administration wasn’t hostile to their faith.

But amid what Turk called Trump’s “fixation on the American Muslim community,” it became clear that the president’s actions were more than campaign-trail rhetoric, he said. “It was becoming more and more apparent,” Turk said of Trump, “that he’s actually looking to carry out all the scary stuff he said.”

DCG