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Ed Webb

Secret British 'black propaganda' campaign targeted cold war enemies | Cold war | The G... - 0 views

  • The British government ran a secret “black propaganda” campaign for decades, targeting Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia with leaflets and reports from fake sources aimed at destabilising cold war enemies by encouraging racial tensions, sowing chaos, inciting violence and reinforcing anti-communist ideas, newly declassified documents have revealed.
  • The campaign also sought to mobilise Muslims against Moscow, promoting greater religious conservatism and radical ideas. To appear authentic, documents encouraged hatred of Israel.
  • The Information Research Department (IRD) was set up by the post-second world war Labour government to counter Soviet propaganda attacks on Britain. Its activities mirrored the CIA’s cold war propaganda operations and the extensive efforts of the USSR and its satellites.
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  • The Observer last year revealed the IRD’s major campaign in Indonesia in 1965 that helped encourage anti-communist massacres which left hundreds of thousands dead. There, the IRD prepared pamphlets purporting to be written by Indonesian patriots, but in fact were created by British propagandists, calling on Indonesians to eliminate the PKI, then the biggest communist party in the non-communist world.
  • “The UK did not simply invent material, as the Soviets systematically did, but they definitely intended to deceive audiences in order to get the message across.”
  • “reports” sent to warn other governments, selected journalists and thinktanks about “Soviet subversion” or similar threats.The reports comprised carefully selected facts and analysis often gleaned from intelligence provided by Britain’s security services, but appeared to come from ostensibly independent analysts and institutions that were in reality set up and run by the IRD. One of the first of these, set up in 1964, was the International Committee for the Investigation of Communist Front Organisations.
  • Between 1965 and 1972, the IRD forged at least 11 statements from Novosti, the Soviet state-run news agency. One followed Egypt’s defeat in the 1967 six-day war against Israel and underlined Soviet anger at Egypt’s “waste” of so much of the arms and materiel Moscow had supplied to the country.
  • The IRD also forged literature purporting to come from the Muslim Brotherhood, a mass Islamist organisation that had a significant following across the Middle East. One pamphlet accused Moscow of encouraging the 1967 war, criticised the quality of Soviet military equipment, and called the Soviets “filthy-tongued atheists” who saw the Egyptians as little more than “peasants who lived all their lives nursing reactionary Islamic superstitions”.AdvertisementThe IRD also created an entirely fictive radical Islamist organisation called the League of Believers, which attacked the Russians as non-believers and blamed Arab defeats on a lack of religious faith, a standard trope among religious conservatives at the time.
  • The IRD’s leaflets echoed other claims made by radical Islamists, arguing that military misdeeds should not be blamed on “the atheists or the imperialists or the Zionist Jews” but on “Egyptians who are supposed to be believers”.
  • Other material highlighted the poor view that Moscow took of the Palestine Liberation Organisation and the limited aid offered by the Soviets to Palestinian armed nationalist groups. This was contrasted with the more supportive stance of the Chinese, in a bid to widen the split between the two communist powers.
  • One major initiative focused on undermining Ian Smith’s regime in Rhodesia, the former colony that unilaterally declared its independence from the UK in 1965 in an attempt to maintain white minority rule.The IRD set up a fake group of white Rhodesians who opposed Smith. Its leaflets attacked him for lying, creating “chaos” and crippling the economy. “The whole world is against us … We must call a halt while we can still save our country,”
  • In early 1963, the IRD forged a statement from the World Federation of Democratic Youth, a Soviet front organisation, which denounced Africans as uncivilised, “primitive” and morally weak. The forgery received press coverage across the continent, with many newspapers reacting intemperately.
  • A similar forgery in 1966 underlined the “backwardness” and “political immaturity” of Africa. Another, a statement purportedly from Novosti, blamed poor academic results at an international university in Moscow on the quality of the black African students enrolled there. The IRD sent more than 1,000 copies to addresses across the developing world.
  • As with most such efforts, the impact of the IRD’s campaigns was often difficult to judge. On one occasion, IRD officials were able to report that a newspaper in Zanzibar printed one of their forgeries about Soviet racism, and that the publication prompted an angry response. This was seen as a major achievement. Officials were also pleased when Kenyan press used fake material about the 1967 six-day war, and when newspapers across much of the Islamic world printed a fake Novosti bulletin on the conflict. Occasionally, western newspapers unwittingly used IRD materials, too.
  • Though the IRD was shut down in 1977, researchers are now finding evidence that similar efforts continued for almost another decade.“The [new documents] are particularly significant as a precursor to more modern efforts of putting intelligence into the public domain.“Liz Truss has a ’government information cell’, and defence intelligence sends out daily tweets to ‘pre-but’ Russian plots and gain the upper hand in the information war, but for much of the cold war the UK used far more devious means,” Cormac said.
Ed Webb

This Is the Southern Baptist Apocalypse | Christianity Today - 0 views

  • Those outside the SBC world cannot imagine the power of the mythology of the Café Du Monde—the spot in the French Quarter of New Orleans where, over beignets and coffee, two men, Paige Patterson and Paul Pressler, mapped out on a napkin how the convention could restore a commitment to the truth of the Bible and to faithfulness to its confessional documents. For Southern Baptists of a certain age, this story is the equivalent of the Wittenberg door for Lutherans or Aldersgate Street for Methodists. The convention was saved from liberalism by the courage of these two men who wouldn’t back down, we believed. In fact, I taught this story to my students. Those two mythical leaders are now disgraced. One was fired after alleged mishandling a rape victim’s report in an institution he led after he was documented making public comments about the physical appearance of teenage girls and his counsel to women physically abused by their husbands. The other is now in civil proceedings about allegations of the rape of young men.
Ed Webb

Our Oligarch - 0 views

  • Abramovich is perhaps the most visible of the “oligarchs” surrounding Putin, who are widely perceived as extensions of the Russian president and keepers of a vast fortune that is effectively under the Kremlin’s control. Much of this wealth was extracted from Russia’s enormous energy and mineral resources, and is now stashed in secret bank accounts in the Mediterranean and the Caribbean, in empty mansions and condos from London to Manhattan to Miami, and in yachts and private jets on the French Riviera.
  • as much as 60% of Russia’s GDP is offshore
  • Abramovich—who, like many of the most prominent Russian oligarchs, is Jewish—has for years been a prolific donor to Jewish philanthropies. He has given half a billion dollars to Jewish charities over the past two decades, sending money linked to Putin’s kleptocratic regime circulating through Jewish institutions worldwide
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  • The reserved, gray-bearded Abramovich is notoriously litigious toward critics who seek to detail his close ties to Putin. Last year, he successfully sued the British journalist Catherine Belton, who claimed in her 2020 book Putin’s People that the Russian president dictated Abramovich’s major purchases, including his decision to buy Chelsea. He also extracted an apology from a British newspaper for calling him a “bag carrier” for the Russian president.
  • Among other things, he has profoundly influenced Jewish life on three continents, developing deep financial ties with major communal institutions. He is partly responsible for the preeminent role played by Chabad in the religious life of post-Soviet Russia, for the growth of major Jewish museums from Russia to Israel, for a raft of anti-antisemitism programming involving leading American and British Jewish organizations, and for the expansion of Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem
  • the Jewish world is forced to reckon with its long embrace of Abramovich, and with the moral costs of accepting his money
  • Certain Soviet Jews of Abramovich’s generation found themselves at the forefront of an emerging market economy. Concentrated in white collar professions but systematically excluded from desirable posts and from the top ranks of the Communist Party, they were unusually prepared—and, perhaps, motivated—to find legal and semi-legal points of entry into the tightly-regulated commerce between the Soviet Union and the West. This helps explain why, as the historian Yuri Slezkine writes in The Jewish Century, six of the seven top oligarchs of 1990s Russia (Petr Aven, Boris Berezovsky, Mikhail Fridman, Vladimir Gusinsky, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and Alexander Smolensky) were ethnic Jews.
  • Boris Yeltsin soon initiated the firesale privatization of state-controlled industries at the urging of Washington and the IMF—a reckless transition from a command economy to a capitalist one that drove millions of Russians into poverty
  • the Yeltsin administration implemented its infamous loans-for-shares program, selling off key state industries in rigged auctions to Russia’s new business elite for a fraction of their real value in order to stabilize the state’s finances in the short term. Berezovsky and Abramovich gained ownership stakes in Sibneft, one of the world’s largest energy companies, and became instant billionaires.
  • In 1996, the handful of leading oligarchs pooled their financial resources—and directed their media companies’ coverage—to reelect the deeply unpopular Yeltsin over his Communist challenger, Gennady Zyuganov, whose platform of re-nationalizing industries terrified both the Russian and Western business classes
  • Fearing that it was unsustainable for a small group of mostly Jewish billionaires to prop up an ailing, visibly alcoholic president—especially after the ruble collapsed in 1998, dragging down a generation’s living standards and initiating a hunt for scapegoats—Berezovsky spearheaded an effort the following year to replace Yeltsin with a young, healthy, disciplined, and then-obscure former KGB officer named Vladimir Putin. It was a decision he would come to regret.
  • wealth so easily acquired could just as easily be taken away. In 2001, Putin hounded Berezovsky and Gusinsky—whose TV networks had criticized the president’s mishandling of a naval disaster—with criminal indictments for tax fraud, forcing them to sell their media and energy holdings at a fraction of their true cost. As a result, Abramovich, who had never challenged Putin, acquired control of Sibneft, while Berezovsky fled to the United Kingdom and Gusinsky departed for Spain and then Israel. Abramovich again came out ahead in 2003, when the oligarch Khodorkovsky was sent to a Siberian prison on tax charges after criticizing Putin for corruption, leaving his assets in the energy sector to be redistributed among those on good terms with the president.
  • “I don’t think there is a percent of independence in Abramovich,” said Roman Borisovich, a Luxembourg-based Russian banker turned anti-corruption activist who once encountered Abramovich through Berezovsky in the 1990s. “For Abramovich to stay alive, he had to turn against his master [Berezovsky], which is what he did, and he has served Putin handsomely ever since.”
  • Whereas in the Yeltsin era, the term identified a system dominated by truly independent tycoons, “Putin’s top priority when he came to power was to break that system, replacing it with a system of concentrated power in which men who are inaccurately referred to as oligarchs now have only as much access to wealth as Putin allows them to have,”
  • Even as he built up his credibility with Putin, he joined many of his fellow oligarchs in stashing his billions in Western financial institutions, which proved eager to assist. “Elites in the post-Soviet space are constantly looking to move their assets and wealth into rule-of-law jurisdictions, which generally means Western countries like the US or UK,”
  • In 2008, Berezovsky sued his former protege over his confiscated Sibneft shares; then, in 2012, seven months after a judge rejected all of his claims, Berezovsky died in his London home in an apparent suicide. Some former associates believe he might have been murdered
  • In 2017, BuzzFeed reported that US spy agencies suspect Russian involvement in as many as 14 mysterious deaths in Britain over the previous decade, including Berezovsky’s. In the wake of the 2018 poisoning of the defected double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, British intelligence services became increasingly wary of wealthy expats with close ties to the Kremlin. Diplomatic strain stymied Abramovich’s effort to acquire a Tier 1 British visa, which would have enabled him to stay in the country for 40 months.
  • “No one forced the British or American real estate industries to toss their doors open to as much illicit wealth as they could find, or the state of Delaware to craft the world’s greatest anonymous shell company services,” said Michel. “Western policymakers crafted all of the policies that these oligarchs are now taking advantage of.”
  • Abramovich also safeguarded a significant part of his fortune in the US, especially during his third marriage to the Russian American socialite and fashion designer Dasha Zhukova. Even after their 2018 divorce, Abramovich began the process of converting three adjacent townhouses on Manhattan’s Upper East Side into what will eventually become the largest home in the city, an “urban castle” valued at $180 million—making him one of the many wealthy Russians sheltering assets in New York’s booming and conveniently opaque real estate sector. (The mansion is intended for Zhukova and their two young children; Abramovich also has five children from his second marriage based primarily in the UK.) He also owns at least two homes in Aspen, Colorado, a gathering place of the global elite.
  • the oligarchs are now credibly threatened with exile from the West. Countries like France and Germany have already begun confiscating yachts owned by select Russian officials. And although the UK is still struggling to come up with a legal basis for following suit, leading politicians like Labour Leader Keir Starmer are urging direct sanctions against Abramovich. “Abramovich’s reputation has finally collapsed, along with the other supposedly apolitical oligarchs,” Michel said four days after Russia invaded Ukraine. “There’s no recovery from this. This is a titanic shift in terms of how these oligarchs can operate.”
  • Israel has been more hesitant to hold him to account.
  • In 2018, Abramovich acquired Israeli citizenship through the law of return, immediately becoming the second-wealthiest Israeli, behind Miriam Adelson. As a new Israeli citizen, he joined several dozen Russian Jewish oligarchs who have sought citizenship or residency in the Jewish state—a group that includes Fridman, Gusinsky, and the late Berezovsky. Since 2015, Abramovich has owned and sometimes lived in the 19th-century Varsano hotel in Tel Aviv’s trendy Neve Tzedek neighborhood, and in 2020 he purchased a mansion in Herzliya for $65 million—the most expensive real estate deal in the country’s history
  • As an Israeli passport holder, Abramovich is eligible to visit the UK for six months at a time and is exempt from paying taxes in Israel on his overseas income for the first decade of his residency
  • Given his increasingly precarious geopolitical position, Jewishness has become Abramovich’s identity of last resort—and Jewish philanthropic giving has provided him with an air of legitimacy not only in Israel but throughout the Jewish world. Abramovich and his fellow oligarchs “need to spend some money to launder their reputations,” said Borisovich, the anti-corruption activist. “They cannot be seen as Putin’s agents of influence; they need to be seen as independent businessmen. So if they can exploit Jewish philanthropy or give money to Oxford or the Tate Gallery, that’s the cost of doing business.”
  • A 2017 article in Politico, which identified Abramovich and Leviev as “Chabad’s biggest patrons worldwide,” also referred to Lazar as “Putin’s rabbi.” Lazar has often run interference for the Russian president—for instance, by defending his initial crackdown on oligarchs like Gusinsky as not motivated by antisemitism, or by praising Russia as safe for Jews under his governance. (The researcher noted that Putin has also cultivated prominent loyalists in other Russian religious communities, including the Orthodox Church and Islam.)
  • Abramovich also significantly funded the construction of the $50 million Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center in Moscow, which opened in 2012 (and to which Putin pledged to donate a month of his presidential salary). In a 2016 article in The Forward, the scholar Olga Gershenson suggested that the museum’s narrative bordered on propaganda, framing Jews as “a model Russian minority” and “glorifying and mourning . . . without raising more controversial and relevant questions that would require the viewer to come to terms with a nation’s difficult past.”
  • “It concentrates on the Soviet victory over the Nazis, and then it ends by saying that Jews in Putin’s Russia are all good and content.”
  • “Say No to Antisemitism” has brought together Chelsea players and management with many top Jewish groups; the currents heads of the ADL, the WJC, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, and the Holocaust Educational Trust, among others, are all listed on its steering committee. The campaign is at least in part intended to address the antisemitism of some Chelsea fans, who have been known to shout “Yid!” and hiss in imitation of gas chambers when taunting fans of the rival club Tottenham, which has a historically Jewish fan base that proudly refers to itself as “the Yid Army.” Last November, Israeli President Isaac Herzog described the campaign as “a shining example of how sports can be a force for good and tolerance.”
  • Abramovich is also one of the primary benefactors of a Holocaust museum that opened in Porto last May. As of last year, Abramovich is a newly minted citizen of Portugal (and by extension, the European Union), which offers such recognition to anyone who can prove Sephardic ancestry dating back before the Portuguese expulsion of Jews in 1496.
  • Berel Rosenberg, a representative of the museum, denied that Abramovich had given the Porto Jewish community any money besides a €250 fee for Sephardic certification; regarding reports to the contrary, he alleged that “lies were published by antisemites and corrupt journalists.” However, Porto’s Jewish community does acknowledge that Abramovich has donated money to projects honoring the legacy of Portuguese Sephardic Jews in Hamburg, and he has been identified as an honorary member of Chabad Portugal and B’nai B’rith International Portugal due to his philanthropic activities in the country.
  • Abramovich has made a $30 million donation for a nanotechnology research center at Tel Aviv University; funded a football-focused “leadership training program” for Arab and Jewish children; and supported KKL-JNF’s tree-planting campaign in the southern Negev, which is dedicated to Lithuanian victims of the Holocaust—and which has drawn opposition from local Bedouin communities who view it as a land grab.
  • he has kept his support for Israeli settlements well-hidden
  • Abramovich has used front companies registered in the British Virgin Islands to donate more than $100 million to a right-wing Israeli organization called the Ir David Foundation, commonly known as Elad, which has worked since the 1980s to move Jewish settlers into occupied East Jerusalem. Elad also controls an archeological park and major tourist site called City of David, which it has leveraged in its efforts to “Judaize” the area, including by seizing Palestinian homes in the surrounding neighborhood of Silwan and digging under some to make them uninhabitable.
  • Even before he announced he would be setting up a charity to help victims in Ukraine, members of Abramovich’s family were quick to distance themselves from the war: A contemporary art museum in Moscow co-founded by Abramovich and Zhukova has announced that it will halt all new exhibitions in protest of the war. Abramovich’s 27-year-old daughter Sofia, who lives in London, posted a message on her popular Instagram account that read, “The biggest and most successful lie of the Kremlin’s propaganda is that most Russians stand with Putin.”
  • Just two days before Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine, it was reported that Abramovich is donating tens of millions of dollars to Yad Vashem, the global Holocaust remembrance center in Jerusalem
  • Yad Vashem chairman Dani Dayan joined the heads of multiple Israeli charitable organizations in urging the US not to sanction Abramovich. The letter was also signed by Chief Rabbi of Israel David Lau and representatives of Sheba Medical Center, Tel Aviv University, and Elad
  • Oleg Deripaska and Mikhail Fridman, were already calling for peace negotiations just three days after the invasion. (Fridman and Deripaska are also major Jewish philanthropists, as are other Russian oligarchs including Petr Aven, Yuri Milner, and Viktor Vekselberg. All of them now face global scrutiny.)
  • “In order for settlers to take over Palestinian homes, they need a lot of money,” said Hagit Ofran, co-director of the Settlement Watch project at the Israeli organization Peace Now, “both to take advantage of poor Palestinians for the actual purchases, and then for the long and expensive legal struggle that follows, and that can bankrupt Palestinian families. The money is crucial.” Of Abramovich’s support for Elad, she added, “That’s a lot from one source; I assume that if you give such a big donation, you know what it is for.”
  • Abramovich and others have spent more than two decades loyally serving and profiting off Putin’s corrupt and violent regime—one that has been accused of murdering and jailing journalists and political dissidents and of committing war crimes from Chechnya to Syria. And for much of that time, Jewish institutions worldwide have been more than happy to take money from Abramovich and his peers
  • longstanding philanthropic ties may affect the Jewish communal world’s willingness to hold Russia accountable for its violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty
  • “I think the view of much of Jewish philanthropic leadership, right and left, conservative and liberal, has been the bottom line: If the purposes for which the philanthropy is given are positive, humane, holy, and seen to strengthen both the Jewish community and the whole of society, then to sit and analyze whether the donor was exploitive or not, and whether this was kosher or not, would be hugely diverting, amazingly complicated, and divisive.”
  • Rabbi Jill Jacobs, executive director of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, acknowledged the difficulty of making ethical calls about donors, but argued that the attempt is still necessary. “In philanthropy, nearly all money is tainted, either because it was acquired by exploiting workers, by harming the environment, by selling harmful products, or by taking advantage of systems that benefit the wealthy to the detriment of others. That said, we can’t throw up our hands and say that we can either take no money or all money; there have to be red lines,” she said.
  • Berman, the scholar of Jewish philanthropy, agrees. “It is tempting to say all money is fungible, so where it came from does not or cannot matter,” she said. “But no matter how much we might want to launder the money, wash it clean of its past and its connections to systems of power, the very act of doing so is an erasure, an act of historical revisionism. Even worse, it can actually participate in bolstering harmful systems of power, often by deterring institutions reliant on that money from holding a person or system to account.”
Ed Webb

How the Capitol attacks helped spread Christian nationalism in the extreme right - 0 views

  • an unsettling resurgence of faith-based appeals among right-wing extremists in the aftermath of the insurrection. With so many ideological strands animating the far-right — including racism, antisemitism, and fervent nationalism — a shared affinity for Christian nationalism has come to serve as a unifying element, scholars of extremism say
  • experts are concerned it could expand extremism’s influence over other, more moderate conservative politicians and groups
  • three Christian nationalist movements have grown or enhanced their visibility since 2019: “Deseret nationalists,” a primarily Mormon group based in Utah; the inherently racist “Christian Identity” movement; and “dominionists,” a term used to describe Christians with theocratic political goals that now overlaps heavily with Christian nationalism
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  • Christian nationalism has also become common among anti-vaccine activists and the QAnon movement, which has prospered in evangelical Christian congregations.
  • Neumann resigned her government post in April 2020, claiming President Trump was dismissive of domestic terrorist threats, and now works with the Moonshot CVE Group, which studies violent extremism. Raised evangelical (she now rejects the label, preferring “follower of Christ”), she has expressed concern about radicalization in Christian communities and worked to combat it
  • broader appeals to Christian nationalism may “disguise a much more dangerous uptick in adoption of Christian Identity” — an ideology that claims, among other things, that Jesus was a white Aryan and that the End Times will come about through a racial holy war
  • Christian Aryan memes, as well as references to the “two-seedline theory” — which contends the serpent in the Book of Genesis mated with Eve, creating two morally opposed races — began popping up in QAnon and Proud Boys channels.
  • The growth in Christian nationalism has translated into threats against the Jewish community. A recent study conducted by George Washington University’s Program on Extremism revealed a December 2021 Telegram post from St. Louis Proud Boys President Mike Lasater that read, “Our time is not up; it is the jewish hegemony whose days our (sic) numbered. This is a Christian nation; jews may be citizens of this country, but they are guests of our nation, and they should remember that.”
  • even relatively moderate Christian nationalism can encourage violent groups. “A number of celebrity pastors who are involved in white Christian nationalism have tried to separate themselves from the violence,” she said, “but are not realizing they are part of the pipeline.”
  • some extremist Christian nationalists are forging ties to establishment figures, including elected officials. Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar, the keynote speaker at Fuentes’ America First 2021 conference, tweeted “Christ is King” the same day he posted a widely condemned animated video that depicted him killing New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Gosar has sought to distance himself from Fuentes’ views, but after being disciplined by Congress for the video, the congressman encouraged his supporters to join Gab. One of the first people he followed on the platform was Fuentes, who he has since lauded as a “young conservative Christian” who is a victim of “political persecution” by the House committee investigating the Capitol attack. “We will take back our country, and we will save America from the haters, the incompetents and the ones so intent on making us a godless nation,” Gosar wrote in a recent Gab post.
Ed Webb

Nothing Sacred: These Apps Reserve The Right To Sell Your Prayers - 0 views

  • Pray.com collects data about its users in multiple ways. According to its privacy policy, the company records detailed information about users, including their physical location, the links they click on, and the text of the posts they make. Then, it supplements that information with data from “third-parties such as data analytics providers and data brokers,” which can include “your gender, age, religious affiliation, ethnicity, marital status, household size and income, political party affiliation and interests... geographic location, and Personal Information.” The policy also says Pray.com shares users’ personal information, including identifiers that link their activity to specific devices, with “third parties” for “commercial purposes.”
  • Prior to an inquiry from BuzzFeed News, the policy made no mention of the company purchasing files about its users from data brokers. Pray.com added the language on Dec. 22, 2021, following the inquiry.
  • an audit of Pray.com by privacy researcher Zach Edwards showed that the app shares granular data about the content its users consume with several other companies, including Facebook. According to Edwards, this means users could be targeted with ads on Facebook based on the content they engage with on Pray.com — including content modules with titles like “Better Marriage,” “Abundant Finance,” and “Releasing Anger.”
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  • As people have turned to religious apps as a replacement for in-person church services amid COVID-19, Silicon Valley investors have seized on them as an opportunity to commercialize a set of conversations that have historically been among the most private: those with God.
  • Venture capitalist Katherine Boyle put it bluntly in a 2020 Washington Post op-ed: “A holy trinity is in place: isolated people hungry for attachment, religions desperate for growth in an online world, and technology investors searching for the consumer niches yet to digitize.”
  • A new Catholic app called Hallow, which offers devotional content with titles like “Overcoming Hopelessness,” announced in November that it had closed a $40 million Series B fundraising round. In December, a similar app called Glorify also raised $40 million. These apps, which also collect extensive information about their users, are backed by some of Silicon Valley’s best-known prospectors: Greylock Partners (Pray.com), Andreessen Horowitz (Glorify), and Peter Thiel (Hallow). Greylock, Andreessen, and Thiel are also all known for their investments in Facebook, which recently ramped up its own prayer offerings by rolling out a new tool called “prayer posts.”
  • Adults aren't the only ones caught up in Pray.com's dragnet. Some of the profiles on Pray.com appear to represent underage users. The app features a “Kids Stories” section, and BuzzFeed News found numerous Pray.com profiles for younger teens. One profile that claimed to be a 12-year-old expressed suicidal thoughts in a prayer post that was visible to anyone in a nearly 100,000-user group. In response to questions about underage users on the app, including the 12-year-old user, Shortridge confirmed that Pray.com “does not knowingly allow anyone under 16 to sign-up” for the app, but wrote that “age gating would not be relevant for our site.” The account belonging to the 12-year-old was removed from the platform after BuzzFeed News provided screenshots of it to Pray.com.
  • In 2018, Pray.com founder Steve Gatena portrayed Pray.com in intimate terms: “While other social networks might serve as a public place for your professional identity or your social identity, prayer is more traditionally a deeply private experience.” But 10 million downloads after its launch, much of the app is public — Katie’s, Sarah’s, and Jenny’s prayers and interactions with other users are visible to anyone who joins their nearly 100,000-person public group.
  • users should anticipate that at any moment, online advertising could be easily integrated into these websites, and the data they currently are collecting could be used to optimize new advertising systems
  • Bible Gateway, one of the largest devotional apps on the market, owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, has been making money by sharing its users’ information for years. It began, like Pray.com, as both a free and ad-free experience, but eventually introduced targeted ads to cover its costs. Since 2017, the app has fed data about the nearly 8 million people who have downloaded its app into an ad targeting system called NewsIQ, which infers interests about users based on their behavior across News Corporation apps and websites. NewsIQ claims it can “capture the preferences, opinions and emotions” of users for advertisers to exploit.
  • Founded without a business model, Instapray quickly found traction with users and investment from Peter Thiel. But it was then sold — along with its users’ data — to Salem Media Group, a conservative-aligned conglomerate of talk radio stations and political websites. After the acquisition, Salem shut Instapray down. It did not respond to questions from BuzzFeed News about how it uses Instapray users’ data.
  • Religion scholars noted that the most spiritually important conversations may not always be the most commercially viable ones, and that companies’ desire to capture users’ attention might narrow the themes explored in their devotional practice. Privacy experts worried the apps could be manipulated by interest groups like anti-vaccine activists and political parties. Instapray, which initially marketed itself to religious political constituencies, later faced criticism for hosting “political statements disguised as prayer.” At least one government has taken an interest in prayer app data, too — the US military bought extensive location data mined from Muslim prayer apps back in 2020 for use in special forces operations.
  • In 2020, researchers at the website VPNMentor.com discovered that Pray.com was storing millions of users’ personal information, including home addresses, where they attend church, and the contents of their contact lists, in publicly accessible cloud storage “buckets.” Among the records exposed were photos of underage users, which the researchers said were likely uploaded without parents’ permission.
Ed Webb

Between British integration and Arab identity: The history of the Moroccan merchants of... - 0 views

  • The Syrian/Lebanese mercantile community of Manchester existed in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but they were not the only Arab group in the UK during this period. Moroccan traders formed a very distinct Arab community in Manchester.
  • Moroccan merchants began visiting Britain as early as the sixteenth century, arriving at the port of St. Ives in Cornwall in 1589
  • In the nineteenth century, Moroccan Muslim and Jewish traders began to settle in Manchester on a more permanent basis. In the 1830s Britain and Morocco signed treaties permitting their subjects to travel and trade in each other’s territories.
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  • the words manisheester and rite – after products bearing the insignia of Manchester manufacturer Richard Wright – entered the local vocabulary in Fes, to refer to good quality tea trays and pots.
  • In his book, Reminisces of Manchester, Hayes noted how close-knit the merchants were and how different their style of business was from English merchants. The latter group were initially shocked by the openness and trust between Moroccan merchants and how, if you wanted to discuss business with one of them, you would have to do so in front of all the others.
  • The Manchester City News praises the Moroccan merchants for their honesty and hospitality. It also notes, however, that most of the Moroccan merchants had married black women, purchased as slaves in Morocco, and brought them back to England. 
  • “Taken as a whole, these Moors were a thoughtful, peaceable, kindly and sociable set of men. Mohammedans by faith one could not but admire and respect them for their strict observance of all that their religion enjoined”. 
  • Moroccans were fascinated with England’s public parks, green spaces, and seaside resorts and would often go on hikes and picnics as well as to the cinema and theatre
  • While his parents insisted that their son be exempted from Christian prayers at school, he and other children would celebrate Christmas, exchanging gifts with British children. 
  • He recalls that he was often bullied by other children because of his Moroccan origin and as a result developed a timid character. 
  • Most of this early Moroccan community had returned to Morocco by 1936 when the Lancashire textile trade declined.
  • While the early Moroccan community in Manchester was relatively small and eventually returned to Morocco, they provide an excellent example of how an Arab community integrated into British life at a time before modern conceptions of citizenship and racial equality – with their associated protections – had been established. 
  • By the 1930s when most of the original Manchester Moroccan community had returned to their country of origin, other Arabs – notably Yemenis – were establishing a more permanent presence in Britain’s cities.
Ed Webb

Christians Against Christian Nationalism Statement - Christians Against Christian Natio... - 0 views

  • Christian nationalism seeks to merge Christian and American identities, distorting both the Christian faith and America’s constitutional democracy. Christian nationalism demands Christianity be privileged by the State and implies that to be a good American, one must be Christian. It often overlaps with and provides cover for white supremacy and racial subjugation. We reject this damaging political ideology and invite our Christian brothers and sisters to join us in opposing this threat to our faith and to our nation.
  • Conflating religious authority with political authority is idolatrous and often leads to oppression of minority and other marginalized groups as well as the spiritual impoverishment of religion
Ed Webb

Egyptian activist walks free after nearly 2 years in jail | AP News - 0 views

  • Zaki’s arrest and trial became front page news in Italy and sparked a wave of student protests there. For many Italians, his detention was reminiscent of the death of Italian doctoral student Giulio Regeni, who was kidnapped in Cairo, tortured and killed in 2016. Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi has vowed to continue following Zaki’s case.
Ed Webb

Yemeni model jailed for indecency by rebel authorities - BBC News - 0 views

  • A Yemeni actress and model has been jailed for five years by rebel authorities after being convicted of "indecency".Intisar al-Hammadi, 20, alleged that she was physically and verbally abused after being detained by Houthi forces in Sanaa in February, and that she had to sign documents while blindfolded. Three other women arrested alongside her were also handed prison terms.Human Rights Watch said the case was "marred with irregularities and abuse".
  • Ms Hammadi, who has a Yemeni father and an Ethiopian mother, has worked as a model for several years and acted in two Yemeni TV series. She sometimes appeared in photographs posted online without a headscarf, defying strict societal norms in the conservative Muslim country.
  • Ms Hammadi was transferred to the Central Prison in Sanaa, where guards called her a "whore" and "slave", because of her dark skin and Ethiopian descent, her lawyer said.
Ed Webb

National Identity Becoming More Inclusive in U.S., UK, France and Germany | Pew Researc... - 0 views

  • a new Pew Research Center survey finds that views about national identity in the U.S., France, Germany and the UK have become less restrictive and more inclusive in recent years. Compared with 2016 – when a wave of immigration to Europe and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in the U.S. made immigration and diversity a major issue on both sides of the Atlantic – fewer now believe that to truly be American, French, German or British, a person must be born in the country, must be a Christian, has to embrace national customs, or has to speak the dominant language
  • Outside of France, more people say it’s a bigger problem for their country today to not see discrimination where it really does exist than for people to see discrimination where it really is not present.
  • a large majority think Muslims face discrimination.
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  • In every country surveyed, those on the right are more likely than those on the left to prioritize sticking to traditions, to say people today are too easily offended by what others say, and to say the bigger societal problem is seeing discrimination where it does not exist.
  • while those on the left and right are equally likely to say they are proud most of the time in both France and Germany, in the U.S. and UK, those on the right are more than three times as likely to say they are proud most of the time than those on the left
  • issues of pride for some were often sources of shame for others. In the UK, one such issue was the concept of empire. Those on the ideological right praised the historic empire for its role in spreading English and Western culture overseas, while those on the ideological left discussed how the UK had disrupted local cultures and often left chaos in its wake in its former colonies.
  • whereas groups composed of Republicans discussed American history through the lens of opportunity, groups composed of Democrats stressed the inadequacy of how American history is taught – and how it often glosses over racism and inequitable treatment of minority groups. Republican participants, for their part, even brought up how political correctness itself makes them embarrassed to be American – while Democratic participants cited increased diversity as a point of pride
  • While Britons are as ideologically divided as Americans on issues of pride, when it comes to every other cultural issue asked about in this report, Americans stand out for being more ideologically divided than those in the Western European countries surveyed.
  • Younger people – those under 30 – are less likely to place requirements on Christianity, language, birth or adopting the country’s traditions to be part of their country than older age groups. They are also more likely to say their country will be better off if it is open to changes. The notable exception to this pattern is Germany, where opinion differs little by age.
Ed Webb

Crusaders No More: What Arab Christians and Muslims Think ...... | News & Reporting | C... - 0 views

  • One month before Evangel, Valparaiso University, a Lutheran institution in Indiana, announced in February it was dropping its own Crusaders nickname. Last month, the school rechristened its sports teams the Beacons.
  • “As a Muslim, I was embarrassed to come to Valpo because the school’s mascot was a Crusader, even though my mom and older siblings went here before me,”
  • about a dozen colleges still use it, including the College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts
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  • It is somewhat of a trend among Christian institutions, however. Wheaton College dropped its Crusaders nickname in 2000, followed by the University of the Incarnate Word in 2004, Northwest Christian (now Bushnell) University in 2008, Eastern Nazarene College in 2009, and Alvernia University and Northwest Nazarene University in 2017.
  • contemporaneous Muslims, Christians, and Jews all referred to the Middle Ages conflict as “the Wars of the Franks.” It was not until about the 18th century, Mikhail said, that Muslim polemicists began translating the conflict as “the Wars of the Cross-bearers.” But today, this is the term that has universal usage in Arabic.
  • most Middle Eastern Christians stood with the Muslims against the Crusaders.
  • “Christians and Muslims both have a lot of work to do in terms of revising elements of their religious language that poison everyday relations,” Accad said. “We have to create new symbols.”
  • I would never call myself a Crusader
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