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Battle of the bums: Museums compete over best artistic behinds

Battle of the bums: Museums compete over best artistic behinds

Since April, the Yorkshire Museum has hosted 18 different #CuratorBattles under themes such as #CreepiestObject and #BestEgg. One of its latest is #BestMuseumBum.

By
Lucy Martirosyan

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Onlookers attend the opening of the exhibition on Greek art with the marble sculpture of the river god Ilissos, in front, in the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia, Dec. 5, 2014.

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Dmitry Lovetsky/AP

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Museum curators worldwide are battling over bums on Twitter as part of a British museum’s social media campaign to challenge the public while galleries remain closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Since April, the Yorkshire Museum, an archaeology museum in York, England, has hosted 18 weekly “curator battles” under themes such as #CreepiestObject and #BestEgg

One of their latest challenges is #BestMuseumBum.

Related: Banksy unveils new pandemic-inspired art featuring rats in face masks

“Like museums across the world, we’ve been closed since the middle of March, so we’ve had to be creative in finding ways to engage with the public,” said Lucy Creighton, the museum’s curator of archaeology.  

Creighton helped kick off the competition for best behind last month by posting a nearly 2,000-year-old, worn marble Roman statue sporting muscular-looking buttocks.

IT’S TIME FOR #CURATORBATTLE!💥

Today’s theme is #BestMuseumBum!

This cracking Roman marble statuette depicts an athlete at the peak of fitness! It may have decorated the town house of one of Eboracum’s wealthier residents. Has someone taken a bite out of this 🍑?

BEAT THAT!💥 pic.twitter.com/N3A6KYz339

— Yorkshire Museum (@YorkshireMuseum) June 26, 2020

Museums all over the world, from Canada to Japan, took part in the viral trend by sharing submissions from their own collections. They put forth sumo wrestlers’ bums by Japanese artist Hokusai and an “anti-Hitler” sewing pin cushion at the Freedom Museum in the Netherlands.

The challenge transcended sculpted Greek and Roman rear ends. Tweets also included images of bumblebee bottoms, bunny tails, and other butts from the animal kingdom. 

Related: UNESCO says scammers are using its logo to defraud art collectors

As for museums without traditional collections of sculpture and art, “they got really creative,” Creighton said. “We had the bums of ships and other vehicles like trains, and even the tail gunner’s possession of a Halifax bomber.”

After all, everyone and everything has a bottom. It’s universal. That’s why the naked human body has been a popular topic in art and history for a long time, Creighton says. 

But bums are also just funny, says Mark Small, who is behind the Twitter and Instagram accounts @museumbums with co-founder Jack Shoulder. 

Small and Shoulder, who both work at heritage institutions in Bristol, United Kingdom, started the project over four years ago after they realized that no one was finding galleries full of naked people “funny or silly.”

It’s all about that ace of bass this morning with these Callipygian playing cards from the #FournierMuseum in #VitoriaGasteiz, Spain 👍🏛️♣️♦️♠️🍑 pic.twitter.com/r60zlXRPYF

— MuseumBums 👍🏛️🍑 (@museumbums) July 14, 2020

Since then, Small says the initiative has helped museums such as the Yorkshire reach wider audiences.

“It’s been amazing to see serious and influential museum staff engaging with the collections in a slightly silly way. … It’s about going a step further and sharing information about cultures, histories and people, as well as having a giggle about bottoms.”

Mark Small, social media curator

“It’s been amazing to see serious and influential museum staff engaging with the collections in a slightly silly way,” Small told The World. “It’s about going a step further and sharing information about cultures, histories and people, as well as having a giggle about bottoms.”

Related: Farmers become social media stars on Chinese TikTok 

In some ways, these activities on social media may help diversify and promote inclusivity at these institutions, Creighton said.

“I think museums having fun on social media can perhaps help to break down some of those perceived barriers to access that museums can face,” Creighton said. “We try to be as inclusive as possible at York Museums Trust, and museums are looking to diversify their visitors and to be accessible for everyone. So, doing fun things on social media is a way to promote our collection and get it out there to parts of society that might not normally walk through our doors.”

Still, it may be the end for the battle for best bottom. 

On Tuesday the Yorkshire Museum announced the end to its weekly #CuratorBattles series but promised more challenges in the future. 

We have some news! 💥

This week will be the last of the weekly #CURATORBATTLE series! It’s been an absolute hoot during lock down – thank you to all who have joined in with us! 💕

BUT THIS ISN’T THE END!

We’ll be back with special battles in the future, don’t worry… 😉1/2

— Yorkshire Museum (@YorkshireMuseum) July 21, 2020

 

Why is Brazil’s Bolsonaro peddling hydroxychloroquine despite the science?

Why is Brazil's Bolsonaro peddling hydroxychloroquine despite the science?

The Brazilian president has used his illness as a platform to sell both his cynicism about the coronavirus and social restrictions, and his praise for chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine.

By
Michael Fox

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Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro is seen during a ceremony to lower the Brazilian national flag down for the night at the Alvorada Palace amid the coronavirus outbreak in Brasília, Brazil, July 20, 2020.

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Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters 

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Conflict researchers on the COVID-19 era

Conflict researchers on the COVID-19 era

In this week's Critical State, Sam Ratner takes a deep dive into the latest thinking by leading qualitative security researchers on what conflict studies can teach us about understanding the effects of COVID-19.

By
Sam Ratner

A shopper is seen walking past social distancing signs following the outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19) disease, in London, Britain July 1, 2020. 

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Toby Melville/Reuters

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This analysis was featured in Critical State, a weekly newsletter from The World and Inkstick Media. Subscribe here.

COVID-19 will have lasting effects on almost all facets of life, and security research is no different. Yet, for people who dedicated their lives to studying the effects of violence, there is something familiar about the widespread (but unevenly distributed) precarity brought on by the pandemic.

Related: Illiberalism isn’t just rising — it’s spreading (Part I)

In a special edition of Deep Dive, Sam Ratner looks at the latest thinking by leading qualitative security researchers on what conflict studies can teach us about understanding the effects of COVID-19.

Just like in armed conflicts, the pandemic hits people who were under pressure before the crisis harder than it does others.

Political scientists Kanisha Bond, Milli Lake, and Sarah Parkinson wrote about four core lessons from their work that have more widespread applicability in the COVID-19 era. The first focuses on the way the effects of the virus are distributed. Despite the rhetoric that COVID-19 has leveled playing fields, hitting people equally across society, in reality, vulnerable people are just that — vulnerable. Just like in armed conflicts, the pandemic hits people who were under pressure before the crisis harder than it does others. Therefore, researchers studying the effects of the pandemic have to consider their work with the same questions the best conflict researchers use: How will my work challenge or reproduce the power structures and societal cleavages that I am studying?

Related: Illiberalism isn’t just rising — it’s spreading (Part II)

Is in-person fieldwork viable in a world where communicable disease is a massive concern nearly everywhere?

The second lesson is that studying social phenomena, especially in person, is a fraught endeavor. You may grow your knowledge about violence by incentivizing people to share their stories of conflict with you but, in a conflict setting, the sharing of stories itself is often dangerous. Similarly, in a pandemic, it is easy to imagine research that worsens conditions for those being studied even as it helps researchers in their search for knowledge. Is in-person fieldwork viable in a world where communicable disease is a massive concern nearly everywhere? And conversely, is remote fieldwork a suitable replacement for speaking to people face-to-face, given how many governments have used the pandemic to clamp down on digital freedom and privacy? Questions of safety will be of huge concern to researchers of all kinds going forward.

Related: Biology will play ‘a key role in the response to future crises,’ says health security scholar

The pandemic is taking a toll on everyone, and expecting top work from people scrambling for child care or worried about the future of their university is unrealistic.

Third, Bond et al. write that social scientists need to learn to take a deep breath before jumping into new research on the effects of COVID-19. There is a tendency among social scientists to want to be the first to do a type of fieldwork or to do the most extreme form of fieldwork. The profession is competitive, and there is a lot of pressure to take risks. Yet those risks, in addition to being dangerous, often don’t produce the best scholarship. The pandemic is taking a toll on everyone, and expecting top work from people scrambling for child care or worried about the future of their university is unrealistic. Instead, work under that kind of pressure can produce faulty data and, as a result, unconvincing conclusions.

COVID-19 has produced political awakenings and deepened personal relationships along with suffering, often in the same people.

Finally, conflict researchers understand intimately the necessity for individual empathy when investigating large crises. War and disease affect different people in different ways, and to paint peoples’ COVID-19 experiences with too broad a brush would be to miss crucial nuances. Wars are horrible, but some find self-actualization, liberation and even real joy in them sometimes, all of which should be captured when we tell the story of conflict. Similarly, COVID-19 has produced political awakenings and deepened personal relationships along with suffering, often in the same people.

The best research on the COVID-19 era will meet people where they are (at least figuratively) and engage with the positive and negative outcomes of the pandemic.

Critical State is your weekly fix of foreign policy without all the stuff you don’t need. It’s top news and accessible analysis for those who want an inside take without all the insider bs. Subscribe here.

Britain ‘actively avoided’ looking into Russia meddling; EU reaches stimulus deal; New US sanctions on Chinese companies

Britain 'actively avoided' looking into Russia meddling; EU reaches stimulus deal; New US sanctions on Chinese companies

By
The World staff

Anti-Brexit demonstrator Steve Bray holds a placard as he protests outside Downing Street in London, Britain, July 21, 2020.

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Hannah McKay/Reuters

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Top of The World — our morning news round up written by editors at The World. Subscribe here.

Britain’s government failed to determine and “actively avoided” looking into whether Russia meddled in the country’s 2016 referendum on EU membership and the Scottish independence referendum, according to a long-anticipated report by Parliament.

The report, which was produced more than a year ago and shelved until now, raised serious questions about who is protecting the country’s democratic system amidst Russia’s long running effort to meddle in British politics. The answer given by the report’s authors was that “no one” is watching.

“The government here has let us down. The outrage isn’t if there is interference, the outrage is no one wanted to know if there was interference,” said  Kevan Jones, a UK member of Parliament who served on the intelligence committee that released the report.

What The World is following

European Union leaders reached a $857 billion deal today on a massive stimulus plan to help counter the economic recession caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The deal comes almost five days of blistering debate and hot tempers. Environment advocates say the deal also includes substantial green investments.

And, yesterday the US announced sanctions against a new group of 11 Chinese companies, accusing them of alleged involvement in human rights violations against Uighurs in China’s northwest Xinjiang region.

From The WorldWhy US immigration judges are leaving the bench in record numbers

A migrant returns to Ciudad Juárez after he had his family’s court dates changed by Customs and Border Protection on the Paso del Norte International Bridge after court cancelations amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Ciudad Juárez , Mexico, April 20, 2020.

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Paul Ratje/Reuters

The US immigration system is situated within the Department of Justice, a law enforcement agency. That’s always been a problem, explains Judge Ashley Tabaddor. But under the Trump administration, immigration judges have faced “unprecedented micromanagement” — and it’s causing many of them to resign or retire early.

In Karachi, planting dense urban forests could save the city from extreme heat

Men and children take bath as they cool off during a hot and a humid day at China Creek area, Karachi, Pakistan June 8, 2020. 

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Akhtar Soomro/Reuters

Extreme heat often hovers over Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city. But each time Shahzad Qureshi transforms a barren patch of land into a dense, urban forest, he helps his city adapt to extreme urban heat.

Bright spot

A rare (and mesmerizing) yellow turtle was found in Balasore in the east of India.  Locals safely placed the creature — thought to have an albino mutation — with wildlife officials.

Extremely rare yellow turtle spotted in India pic.twitter.com/xWztqrBV6R

— The Independent (@Independent) July 20, 2020In case you missed itListen: Oxford’s coronavirus vaccine study shows glimmer of hope

Vinicius Molla, a hematologist and volunteer of the clinical trial of Oxford University’s COVID-19 vaccine, examines a patient at a consulting room in São Paulo, Brazil July 9, 2020.

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Amanda Perobelli/Reuters/File Photo

Scientists at Oxford University published the results Monday of an early-phase coronavirus vaccine experiment showing strong immune response and no early safety concerns. And, for four days now, leaders from the European Union’s 27 member states have been locking horns over the EU’s coronavirus recovery package. Plus Italian police found cocaine inside hollowed out coffee beans. Investigators were tipped off when a shipment of coffee beans from Colombia arrived addressed to Santino D’Antonio, the name of a mafia boss in the action film “John Wick: Chapter 2.”

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Tempers flare over EU coronavirus stimulus deal; Oxford vaccine shows promise; Latina artist says goodbye to Goya

Tempers flare over EU coronavirus stimulus deal; Oxford vaccine shows promise; Latina artist says goodbye to Goya

By
The World staff

President of the European Council Charles Michel (L) meets with other EU leaders during negotiations over a post-virus economic rescue plan, in Brussels, Belgium, July 19, 2020.

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Francois Walschaerts/Pool via Reuters

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Top of The World — our morning news round up written by editors at The World. Subscribe here.

As US lawmakers prepare to begin debating a new economic stimulus plan today, European Union leaders’ negotiations extended into a fourth day as they try to hammer out their own deal to revive economies battered by the coronavirus pandemic. The challenge of reaching a compromise on the $2 trillion deal has been stymied by old grievances between countries less affected by the pandemic and more indebted countries like Italy, Spain and Greece. The negotiations have led to tempers flaring. French President Emmanuel Macron reportedly lost his patience at one point, banging his fist on the table.

Despite the testy negotiations, the 27 leaders appeared to edge closer to a potential breakthrough after the Netherlands, Austria, Denmark and Sweden seemed agreeable to 390 billion euros ($450 billion) of the fund being made available as grants, with the rest coming as low-interest loans.

What The World is following

A potential coronavirus vaccine being developed by scientists at Oxford University and AstraZeneca shows strong immune response and no early safety concerns, according to highly anticipated results from early-stage human trial on a coronavirus vaccine published today in the medical journal The Lancet. The team of researchers, led by Sarah Gilbert, is months ahead of other leading vaccine candidates for COVID-19. 

And in Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro, who has been in self-isolation since July 7, after testing positive for COVID-19, said over the weekend that lockdown measures used to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus “kill” and have “suffocated” the country’s economy. Brazil registered more than 28,000 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus on Saturday, making Brazil the world’s second-most affected country after the US. There are also growing concerns that health workers in the country may have spread the disease to Indigenous people.

From The WorldBLM brings new hope for Wales family seeking justice for Black teen’s death 

Video still from the one-year vigil for Christopher Kapessa.

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Justice For Christopher Kapessa Facebook page 

Last year, 13-year-old Christopher Kapessa, who was Black, drowned when a schoolmate allegedly pushed him into a river. Now, the global Black Lives Matter movement has given the family new hope the suspect will be prosecuted. A decision in the case is due out Monday.

For this Latina artist in New York, goodbye to all that Goya

Ysabel Turner created an altar in her 2018 exhibit at the New York City Aperture Foundation.

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Courtesy of Ysabel Turner

 

Artist Ysabel Turner says she realized years ago that she needed to divorce her Puerto Rican identity from the Goya brand. She used her photographic series to do just that.

Morning memeMorning meme

The videos of Turkish baker Tuba Geckil carving into her incredibly realistic cakes seems to have unleashed an unusual meme and led to speculation that everything might be cake. But, researchers offer thoughts on why the videos are so … unsettling. Here’s a compliation of cake cutting to start your day.

    View this post on Instagram         

Yaz gelince 😁🏝🍰❤️🎨 #realisticcake #yesitsacake #crocs #cake ———————————————————————— 👉Detaylı bilgi ve eğitim kayıt & Register ; whatsapp / +90 545 599 80 91 ———————————————————————— ⭐️Sponsorlarımıza teşekkür ediyoruz👉 @altinmarka_official 👌 @dr_paste 👌 @dasuniformtr 👌 @straforcuyuzbiz👌 @yenilebilirkagit👌 ————————————————————————#onlineeducation #education #modelling #cakepaintingclass #cakeart #cakeclass #sculpturepainting #isomalte #tubageckilegitim #caketopper #handpaintingcake #butikpasta #fondantfigures #yenilebilirsanat #cakedesign #edibleart #theartofpainting #cakeart #cakestagram #pastrychef #cakedecorating #sugarart #cakeartistry #realisticcakes #tubageckil #redrosecake

A post shared by RED ROSE CAKE & TUBA GEÇKİL (@redrosecake_tubageckil) on Jun 21, 2020 at 6:52pm PDT

In case you missed itListen: Returning home after joining ISIS

A view shows a checkpoint used by forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad in the northwestern city of Ariha/

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Abed Kontar/Reuters

What should a country do when a citizen leaves to join a terrorist group overseas, then wants to return home? That debate has taken a turn in the United Kingdom. And, India joined a grim club Friday, becoming the third country globally to record more than 1 million cases of the coronavirus behind only Brazil and the US. Plus, a pub landlord in Cornwall, England, is serious about social distancing — so much so he’s installed an electric fence in front of his bar to encourage customers to keep their distance.

Don’t forget to subscribe to The World’s Latest Edition podcast using your favorite podcast player: RadioPublicApple PodcastsStitcherSoundcloudRSS.

Bees led this author to reconnect to a childlike joy in nature

Bees led this author to reconnect to a childlike joy in nature

Writer
Adam Wernick

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Author Brigit Strawbridge Howard re-discovered her joy in nature by watching and listening to bees.

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m.shattock/Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

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The innate curiosity about the natural world that many of us experience as children is often lost on the path to adulthood. Author Brigit Strawbridge Howard found her way back to a childlike fascination with nature with the help of some of the world’s most important pollinators: honeybees, bumblebees, and oft-overlooked solitary bees.

In her book “Dancing with Bees: a Journey Back to Nature” Howard describes how she learned to notice the world around her by paying special attention to the bees that buzzed right through her garden and into her heart. On her journey, she learned a lot about bees — more, she says, than she ever could have learned just by reading about them.

RelatedMost bees are solitary animals, and 4 other surprising bee facts

“On planet Earth, there are some 20,000 to 25,000 different species, and those are just the ones that have been recorded and described,” Howard says. “I think you have about 4,000 species in North America alone. About nine of those are honeybees, plus there are some subspecies, and there are around 250 different species of bumblebee. The rest are solitary bees.”

Broadly speaking, Howard says, bees can be divided between those that are truly social — the honeybees and the bumblebees — and those that are not.

“Social insects have a queen and they have sometimes tens of thousands of workers in a colony, and they have males, and there is a division of labor,” Howard explains. “But there’s also cooperative care of the young. That doesn’t happen with solitary bees, and the majority of the bees on this planet are solitary.”

Honeybees are the only kind of bee that makes honey. Bumblebees collect nectar and store nectar to feed their young, but “they’re not alchemists like honeybees,” Howard says. “They don’t turn it into honey.”

Howard finds the solitary bees the most fascinating, mostly because of their nesting behavior.

Solitary bees are opportunists, Howard says: They seek out and nest in existing cavities anywhere they can find them — such as in a wall, for example. They also like man-made nesting tubes made out of cardboard or bamboo.

Once they’ve mated, the males have “absolutely nothing to do with the rearing of the brood,” Howard explains. Each individual female sets about searching for a place to lay her eggs. In her short life, a female bee will lay about 20 to 30 eggs.

Suppose a female bee chooses a bamboo tube in your backyard to nest in. The first thing she’ll do is block off the back of the tube with a bit of mud, which she has mined. “That’s why she’s called a mason bee,” Howard adds. Then the female bee goes out over and over agin to collect pollen and bring it to the nest.

RelatedFlowers give off electrical signals to bees

She drops each bit of pollen into the back of the nesting tube. When she’s collected enough, she taps it all into place and lays an egg on top of the pollen. Once she has laid that egg, she collects more mud and blocks that little cell off. Then more pollen, another egg and another bit of mud and so on. She repeats this until she has filled the tube to its entrance, and when she’s done, she blocks it off with a plug of mud to seal the tube closed.

“The other thing she does, which is incredibly clever, is she lays female eggs at the back of the tube and male eggs at the front,” Howard says. This is because birds often prey upon these nests and eat the larvae, and it’s better for the survival of the species that the males get eaten and not the females.

Howard has watched other types of bee behavior with fascination, including a highly specialized technique called sonication. Only bumblebees and a few types of solitary bees do this, Howard says.

She was sitting in her garden listening to bees and heard an unusually high-pitched buzzing. She thought perhaps a bee had gotten caught in a spider’s web or something, because it sounded “really alarmed.”

“I followed the sound of the buzz, and I found this bee inside a poppy and she was going round and round and round inside the poppy, having a pollen bath,” she says. “So I listened and watched and in time I realized that the bees, when they came to the poppies, always made that noise.”

“It turned out that those bees were buzz foraging, or sonicating,” Howard explains. “They wrap themselves around the flower and then they disconnect the flight muscles inside their thorax, but they continue to vibrate. So they’re vibrating the indirect flight muscles twice as fast as they would if they were flying. [This] causes the plant to literally explode out its pollen.”

Bee populations, like many other kinds of insects, are in sharp decline, primarily due to habitat loss and climate change. But, “everybody can do something to help bees.”

Bee populations, like many other kinds of insects, are in sharp decline, primarily due to habitat loss and climate change. But “everybody can do something to help bees,” Howard says.

RelatedWhy dying bees may cause a public health problem

“For starters, if you have access to growing space, a back garden, a back yard, or a larger piece of land, [plant] a large variety of plants that are rich in pollen and nectar,” Howard says. “We need to increase diversity. We need flowers of different sizes, as well. Flowers for long-tongued bees and short-tongued bees, flowers with flatheads, flowers with bells, tubes, cups — a huge variety of flower shapes.”

“Stop using pesticides. Find alternatives,” she continues. “Once you stop using the insecticide, a whole host of beneficial insects move in and they take care of the pests for you.”

“One of the most beautiful things we can do — and maybe this is where I would start — is get out in your backyard or your garden or your plot and look and notice and watch and observe and get to know the insects that you already have there,” she advises. “[I]f you start to take time to watch, it’s very difficult not to start falling in love with them, and when that happens, you start to look more deeply into causes of their decline and you tend to want to do more to help them.”

As for her quest to reconnect with nature, Howard says she has it back “way beyond anything I have ever experienced, even as a child, I think.”

“I have the awe and wonder that had been lost. I tread more carefully everywhere I go. … I’m a lot more respectful. I’m more grateful. And I give back now.”

“I have the awe and wonder that had been lost,” she says. “I tread more carefully everywhere I go. … I’m a lot more respectful. I’m more grateful. And I give back now. As children, you’re not in a position, maybe, to give back.”

“So my relationship, I think, has become more reciprocal now. I think that’s the biggest thing,” she concludes. “I’m so grateful to the bees for providing whatever this is — a window or a door back to nature. I’d love to go backwards. I’d love for this to have happened earlier or for me never to have lost my connection. My hope is for my grandchildren and for other children that they don’t lose it like so many of us. And I hope my book inspires people to go out and look in their gardens. Just that. If it does, then that’s my job done.”

This article is based on an interview by Bobby Bascomb that aired on Living on Earth from PRX.

US toughens its stance against Chinese aggression in South China Sea

US toughens its stance against Chinese aggression in South China Sea

By
The World staff

Producer
Daniel Ofman

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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a news conference at the State Department in Washington, DC, July 15, 2020.

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Andrew Harnik/Reuters 

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Relations between the US and China seem to be in freefall. The two nations are trading barbs over trade, sanctions and control of the South China Sea.

One-third of the world’s shipping passes through the area south of China, which touches several Asian nations. In a statement this week, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the world will not allow Beijing to treat the South China Sea as its “maritime empire.”

Related: China announces sanctions targeting Rubio, Cruz

His statement was the first time the United States had taken the position that China’s claims to the South China sea were “completely unlawful.”

China claims 90% of the potentially energy-rich South China Sea, but Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also lay claim to parts of it.

Bonnie S. Glaser, a senior director for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC, joined The World’s Carol Hills to discuss the significance of this policy shift and what it means for China-US relations. 

Related: ‘World War C’: How did national security miss the coronavirus? 

Carol Hills: For months, Mike Pompeo has been saying that China is basically acting like the neighborhood bully when it comes to its behavior. But with a statement this week, has the US stance on China’s presence in the South China Seas changed? 

Bonnie S. Glaser: Well, I think that the new US position is really a clarification and a bit of a toughening of the prior US stance. The United States has opposed Chinese coercive actions against neighbors, interference with their efforts to develop oil and gas that are off their coastlines. But the United States has actually never said that those activities were illegal. And so the clarification of this policy is not taking a position over who owns what land features, but it is taking a clear position over the maritime rights and resources and who should develop them. And it’s clearly saying that China just doesn’t have the right to do so. 

Remind us what the Chinese have been doing in the South China Sea. What kind of incursions or what sort of things have they been doing to try to lay claim to it? 

The Chinese have been, on occasion, sinking fishing boats from other countries. We know that they sank a Vietnamese fishing boat last fall and the Chinese have also been interfering with oil and gas exploitation. And we did see this off the coast of Vietnam, also off the coast of Malaysia. And the Chinese are sending their survey ships and using their Coast Guard vessels to harass and intimidate the oil rigs of other countries. These are the kinds of things that the United States is saying is now illegal. 

Related: Chinese-US tensions in South China sea put the Philippines at risk 

The US recently sent two aircraft carriers to the region. Is this a significant move? 

Well, the last time that the United States sent two aircraft carrier battle groups to the South China Sea was 2014. So, I do think that it is significant. It is a signal to China that the United States is not going to stand silent while the Chinese are seeking to control the waters and the airspace in the South China Sea. 

Politically speaking, why is the US taking this on now? What do you think about the State Department’s timing? 

Well, I think that we’ve seen increased Chinese coercion against other countries. So I do think it’s in response to Chinese actions. But it’s also part of a larger strategy to step up pressure on China because of actions that China is taking across the board. We have seen Trump administration tougher policy used recently in Hong Kong, where the Chinese are implementing very harsh national security legislation. Also in Xinjiang, where the Chinese have built reeducation camps and incarcerating essentially millions of Uighurs and also Kazakhs. So, the South China Sea policy is of a piece. It is toughening Trump administration’s policy toward China. 

If you were to advise the Trump administration right now on this matter in the South China Sea, what would you tell them? 

Well, I think the Trump administration is taking some of the right actions. They are conducting what’s called the freedom of navigation operations to make sure that the waters of the South China Sea are open to all. I support that. And I support this change in policy. And I would advocate that the United States follow through in a way that it will continue to have on board, with them, other countries — because we cannot take on China unilaterally. We have to get the support of other countries. So I would advocate coordination with our allies and with individual countries in the South China Sea, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Philippines, Brunei and Taiwan. All of those countries are claimants. And so if we coordinate with them and we try to together put more pressure on China, I hope that we can persuade China to refrain from engaging what are clearly illegal activities. 

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Reuters contributed to this report. 

Banksy unveils new pandemic-inspired art featuring rats in face masks

Banksy unveils new pandemic-inspired art featuring rats in face masks

By
María Elena Romero

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Banksy’s latest art piece is set in the London underground. It depicts rodents sneezing, wearing masks and using hand sanitizer.

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Banksy / Instagram

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Editor’s note: Transport for London (TfL), the government body that manages the transport system in London including the London Tube, has confirmed that Banky’s artwork was removed as it violated TfL’s “strict anti-graffiti policy.”

Banksy has done it again. This time the British artist and activist has created a piece of his signature art focused on mask-wearing during the coronavirus pandemic.

His latest work, titled “If you don’t mask – you don’t get,” is set in London’s Underground. A video posted on his Instagram account on Tuesday shows a man, believed to be the enigmatic artist, disguised as a member of the cleaning staff and wearing a hazmat suit.

He boards the train and instructs some of the passengers to move away. He proceeds to stencil rats on the inside of a train carriage. Some rats are wearing face masks or using them as parachutes. Another appears to be sneezing, and another is holding a bottle of hand sanitizer.

At the end of the video, he sprays the words, “I get lockdown, but I get up again,” riffing off Chumbawamba’s 1997 hit Tubthumping.”

    View this post on Instagram         

. . If you don’t mask – you don’t get.

A post shared by Banksy (@banksy) on Jul 14, 2020 at 6:30am PDT

The work comes as the British government has gone back and forth on its approach to making face coverings in public places compulsory. Face masks have been mandatory in the London Tube since June 15. Starting on July 24, shoppers in England will have to wear face coverings in stores and supermarkets to help reduce the risk of a new surge of the coronavirus, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s office said.

Johnson said last week that tighter rules on wearing face coverings might be needed. But a senior minister — Cabinet Secretary Michael Gove — said on Sunday that wearing masks should be left instead to people’s common sense.

Banksy has not been silent during the coronavirus pandemic. Back in April, he alluded to the coronavirus lockdown with a piece featuring stenciled rodents in different parts of his house. He posted a photo on Instagram with the caption, “My wife hates it when I work from home.” 

The street artist also published a piece in honor of health workers titled “Game Changer,” which depicts a child playing with a cape-wearing nurse superhero toy. In a basket, on the floor nearby are figures of Batman and Spiderman. The nurse is also shown wearing a face mask and a white apron embellished with a red cross.

Reuters contributed to this story.

UK to exclude Huawei from role in high-speed phone network

UK to exclude Huawei from role in high-speed phone network

A woman wearing a face mask following the coronavirus outbreak uses a mobile phone outside a Huawei store in Beijing, China, July 14, 2020.

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Tingshu Wang/Reuters

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Tuesday a ban on Chinese telecommunications company Huawei from the UK’s new 5G high-speed mobile phone network in a decision with broad implications for relations between London and Beijing.

Britain said it imposed the ban after US sanctions made it impossible to ensure the security of Huawei equipment, forcing it to start turning to other suppliers for components. The US threatened to sever an intelligence-sharing arrangement with the UK because of concerns Huawei equipment could allow the Chinese government to infiltrate UK networks.

UK Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said the decision would delay the 5G rollout, and cost millions of pounds, but that it had to be done.

“This has not been an easy decision, but it is the right one,” he said.

The decision gives British telecoms operators until 2027 to remove Huawei equipment already in Britain’s 5G network. The operators must stop buying 5G equipment from Huawei by the end of the year.

Critically for telecoms operators, the government opted not to order firms to rip out legacy equipment manufactured by Huawei in earlier systems, like 4G. Such a decision might have caused havoc in UK telecoms systems.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson was under pressure from rebels in his own Conservative Party who criticized China’s new Hong Kong security law and its treatment of ethnic Uighurs, as well as Huawei’s links to the Chinese government. Ten Conservative lawmakers sent a letter to Johnson demanding that he remove Huawei from “the UK’s critical national infrastructure.”

Johnson in January sought to balance economic and security pressures by agreeing to give Huawei a limited role in Britain’s 5G network, excluding the company from core components of the system and restricting its involvement to 35% of the overall project.

But the move set up a diplomatic clash with the Trump administration, who threatened to cut off security cooperation unless Britain dumped Huawei. Amid continued pressure to remove Huawei from communication networks entirely, the US in May imposed new sanctions that will bar companies around the world from using American-made machinery or software to produce chips for the Chinese company.

The Labour Party’s spokeswoman on communications issues, Chi Omwurah, decried the government’s flip-flop approach and said it would have a dire impact on the future.

“This is a car crash for our digital economy, but one that could have been visible from space,” she said.

Huawei expressed disappointment, and said that the decision threatens to move “Britain into the digital slow lane, push up bills and deepen the digital divide.”

“Regrettably our future in the UK has become politicized, this is about US trade policy and not security,” said Ed Brewster, a spokesman for Huawei UK. “Over the past 20 years, Huawei has focused on building a better connected UK. As a responsible business, we will continue to support our customers as we have always done.”

The back and forth has put Huawei at the vortex of tensions between China and Britain.

Last fall, the UK called on China to give the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights free access to the Xinjiang region, where most of the country’s Uighur people live.

More recently, Johnson’s government has criticized China’s decision to impose a sweeping new national security law on Hong Kong. Britain accused the Beijing government of a serious breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration under which the UK returned control of Hong Kong to China in 1997, and announced it would open a special route to citizenship for up to 3 million eligible residents of the city.

China’s ambassador to Britain, Liu Xiaoming, last week decried what he described as “gross interference” in Chinese affairs.

“Britain can only be great,” he said, when it has an independent foreign policy, adding that it sets a bad precedent to “make your policy in the morning and change it in evening.”

“It also sends out a very bad message to the China business community,” Liu said, suggesting Chinese companies might think twice about investing in Britain. “They are all watching how you handle Huawei.”

Rana Mitter, an Oxford University history professor specializing in China, said that the security law — combined with broader resentment about the way China handled information about the coronavirus — created increased wariness among Britain’s politicians and the public.

But for China, it’s the way Britain has handled the Huawei issue that is the major problem. Even if Britain decides that buying Huawei isn’t a good idea, this could have been done more discreetly, Mitter said.

“There is a sense, I suspect, in Beijing that the Huawei row has made China lose face,” he said. “And this is one of the things that clearly does not go down well with China, which is, of course, a proud country, the world’s second biggest economy with the capacity to use that economic power when it wants to, and also a country which in general feels on the back foot at the moment because of the COVID pandemic and the world’s reaction to that.”

Before the decision, Huawei announced that its UK chairman would step down early. John Browne’s term was due to end in March, but ex-boss of energy company BP is now expected to depart in September.

By Danica Kirka/AP

China sanctions Cruz, Rubio, Smith, Brownback for criticism

China sanctions Cruz, Rubio, Smith, Brownback for criticism

US Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio attend a signing ceremony in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, March 2017.

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China said Monday it will impose sanctions on three US lawmakers, Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, Rep. Chris Smith in response to similar actions taken by the US last week against Chinese officials over alleged human rights abuses against minority Uighur Muslims in the Xinjiang region.

Along with the US lawmakers, Ambassador for Religious Freedom Sam Brownback was also targeted, as was the Congressional-Executive Commission on China. The four have been critical of the ruling Communist Party’s policies toward minority groups and people of faith.

Foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said the US move had “seriously damaged China-US relations” and that China was determined to uphold its national sovereignty against what it sees as interference in its internal affairs.

“China will respond further according to the development of the situation,” Hua said.

She did not spell out the sanctions beyond saying they would correspond to the American ones. The US prohibited any property transactions by Americans with four senior Chinese officials and barred three of them from entering the US.

There was no indication that any of the sanctioned Americans had plans to travel to China.

The sanctioned Chinese officials include Chen Quanguo, who heads the northwestern region of Xinjiang, where more than 1 million members of Muslim minority groups have been incarcerated in what China terms de-radicalization and retraining centers.

Critics have likened the camps to prisons to which inmates are sentenced with little due process and where they are compelled to denounce their religion, language and culture and pledge allegiance to the Communist Party and its leader, Xi Jinping. An Associated Press investigation has also discovered allegations that women in Xinjiang’s predominantly native Uighur ethnic group were forced to use birth control or undergo involuntary sterilizations.

Ties between China and the US have deteriorated steadily over the coronavirus pandemic, human rights, Beijing policy toward Hong Kong and trade. The Trump administration has also slapped visa bans on Chinese officials deemed responsible for barring foreigners’ access to Tibet, along with those seen as enforcing a clampdown on civil rights in Hong Kong.

Despite such moves, former national security adviser John Bolton has alleged in a new book that Trump told Xi he was right to build detention camps in Xinjiang.

Additional visa restrictions are being placed on other Communist Party officials believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, the detention or abuse of Uighurs, Kazakhs and members of other minority groups.

In addition to Chen, Xinjiang’s party secretary and a member of the national-level Politburo, the other sanctioned officials were Zhu Hailun, party secretary of the Xinjiang political and legal committee; Wang Mingshan, party secretary of the Xinjiang public security bureau; and Huo Liujun, a former top official in the region’s police force.

They and their immediate family members are banned from entering the United States.

China has sought to crush any hint of separatist tendencies among Uighurs, which critics say amounts to a campaign of cultural genocide. Uighurs are mostly Muslim and their Turkic language, Muslim religion and central Asian culture make them distinct from China’s Han majority.

While China says it is bringing prosperity and development to the vast, resource-rich region, many among Xinjiang’s native ethnic groups say they are being denied economic options in favor of migrants from elsewhere in China.

Last December, Xinjiang authorities announced that the camps had closed and all the detainees had “graduated,” a claim difficult to corroborate independently given tight surveillance and restrictions on reporting in the region. Some Uighurs and Kazakhs have told the AP that their relatives have been released, but many others say their loved ones remain in detention, were sentenced to prison or transferred to forced labor in factories.

In October 2019, the United States imposed visa restrictions on Chinese officials “believed to be responsible for, or complicit in” the detention of Muslims in Xinjiang. It also blacklisted more than two dozen Chinese companies and agencies linked to abuses in the region — including surveillance technology manufacturers and Xinjiang’s public security bureau — effectively blocking them from buying US products.

China’s officially atheist Communist government at first denied the existence of the internment camps in Xinjiang, but now says they are vocational training facilities aimed at countering Muslim radicalism and separatist tendencies.

By the Associated Press

This young Afro Latino teacher and voter wants to be a model for his students

This young Afro Latino teacher and voter wants to be a model for his students

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Naomi Prioleau

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Brayan Guevara in front of Irving Park Elementary School, in Greensboro, North Carolina, where he is a teacher’s assistant, June 3, 2020.

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This story is part of “Every 30 Seconds,” a collaborative public media reporting project tracing the young Latino electorate leading up to the 2020 presidential election and beyond.

Brayan Guevara comes from a long line of educators: His mother is a college instructor, and his grandparents were teachers in Honduras. 

Now, Guevara is on the same path. The 19-year-old is a sophomore at Guilford Technical Community College in Greensboro, North Carolina, and wants to become a teacher.

Before the pandemic and while school was still in session, Guevara spent his weekdays as a teacher’s assistant at Irving Park Elementary in Greensboro helping kids with their schoolwork and classroom behavior.

“At the time I was working with kindergarteners and first graders,” he said. “They’re still in their fundamental stage where they need to do [work on] three-letter words or four-letter words. I will just help them do that and mostly get their own behavior in check.”

The lack of Latino educators in the US is one reason Guevara, who is Afro Latino, is pursuing his career path. He wants to change the way teachers interact with students, especially minorities. And he wants to serve as a model for his students — especially those who are Black, Latino and Afro Latino — so that they, too, see a future for themselves in education.

“How teachers treat Black kids, which I have experienced in my time — it’s just the stigma that they already have for these kids.”

Brayan Guevara, sophomore, Guilford Technical Community College 

“How teachers treat Black kids, which I have experienced in my time — it’s just the stigma that they already have for these kids,” Guevara said. 

Related: This first-time Afro Latino voter is undecided. His biggest issue? Education.

The North Carolina Society of Hispanic Professionals is working to address the lack of Latino educators, especially those who are Afro Latino. The nonprofit promotes education among Hispanic youth in North Carolina.

But there needs to be more intention when it comes to recruiting Latino educators, said the group’s board chair, MariaRosa Rangel.

“If we truly believe in equity and if we really want to make a difference, we need more Latino teachers.”

MariaRosa Rangel, board chair, North Carolina Society of Hispanic Professionals

“If we truly believe in equity and if we really want to make a difference, we need more Latino teachers,” she said. “We also lose a lot of students because they don’t see themselves reflected in the curriculum, they don’t see themselves as reflected in the classroom.”

Guevara shares his love of teaching with his mother, Nodia Mena, a Spanish language instructor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. 

Mena received her teaching certificate while she was living in Honduras. She immigrated to the US in the 1990s, and worked in the corporate world in New York. After several years, Mena moved to North Carolina and earned her master’s in Spanish literature, then began teaching.

Like her son, teaching is her passion. And as an Afro Latina educator, she wants to expose her students to a world that is inclusive of all races.

“I realized that most of the Latino students are not aware of the presence of Afro descendants in Latin America, the lack of presence in the media,” she said. “It does not include Afro descendancy in it, and it’s hurtful for me.”

Related: How a trip to Honduras shaped one young US Afro Latino voter’s identity

The rise of Latinos in higher ed

The proportion of Latinos in higher education in the US is growing. In 1990, only 10% of recently arrived Latino immigrants older than 25, had a bachelor’s degree or higher, according to the Pew Research Center. In 2018, roughly a quarter of Latino immigrants had a bachelor’s degree or higher.

While this increase is welcomed by organizations that promote Latino education, more work needs to be done to close the gap. Only 24% of Latino adults in the US have an associate’s degree or higher — compared to 44% of all US adults.

it’s a myth that Latinos don’t value education, said Deborah Santiago, co-founder and CEO of Excelencia in Education, a national nonprofit aimed at increasing Latino student success in higher education. And the US presidential election in November will give Latinos a chance to dismantle that myth.

“I think that Latinos represent the potential for how to redesign and restructure education that can serve all students of all backgrounds better by starting with this young group.”

Deborah Santiago, co-founder and CEO, Excelencia in Education

“I think that Latinos represent the potential for how to redesign and restructure education that can serve all students of all backgrounds better by starting with this young group,” she said. “It has to be part of the voting opportunities because the elections impact investment in education. And disproportionately, that’s increasingly going to be authentic, and it has to be the way we’re investing in our future generations of populations.”

With Election Day four months away, Guevara hopes President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic Party nominee, will start talking more about the issue closest to him: education. 

Where the candidates stand on the topic may be the deciding factor on who gets his vote, he said, especially when it comes to student loan debt.

“As a broke college student, we don’t want to have a burden of the four years that we spent just to even get our degree,” he said. 

Guevara’s mother hopes presidential candidates will take Latinos seriously when they talk about education.

“As soon as we are identified as being immigrants, then we are treated with that stigma, the negative stigma and then all of a sudden, whatever comes out of our mouth is really seen as deficient,” Mena said.

Teaching and inspiring students is what Guevara wants to continue doing and to follow in the footsteps of his grandparents and his mother.

“God puts you on this Earth for a reason,” he said. “I know I’m still young, but this is my purpose.”

Returning travelers in quarantine hotels may have triggered Melbourne’s latest lockdown

Returning travelers in quarantine hotels may have triggered Melbourne's latest lockdown

After getting a taste of some version of normalcy, Melbourne went into another lockdown this week. Five million residents will be barred from leaving their homes except for essential reasons and orders between Victoria closed between neighboring states are shut down.

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A sign hangs on the door of a closed restaurant after a lockdown restrictions were implemented in response to an outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Melbourne, Australia on July 10, 2020. 

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UNESCO says scammers are using its logo to defraud art collectors

UNESCO says scammers are using its logo to defraud art collectors

The UN’s cultural agency, UNESCO, warns its name and logo are being illegally emblazoned on false documents to facilitate a scam to defraud prospective art buyers. Scammers have stolen $1.1 million from unwitting victims this year alone.

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Stephen Snyder

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Art pieces a scammer claimed were photographed in Cameroon and authorized by UNESCO for sale and export. The art collector paid 6,000 euros before calling UNESCO and realizing the fraud.

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Scammers are using fake certificates with UNESCO’s logo to convince art buyers to pay fees for the export of artworks.

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Courtesy of UNESCO

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization is warning the public of an online scam that offers and sells fake documents that will purportedly help buyers import and export African cultural heritage artwork. 

The documents are passed off as official certifications of authenticity from UNESCO, using the agency’s logo, as part of a scheme to defraud art buyers. 

UNESCO officials stress that the agency does not issue such certificates and that art collectors and tourists are falling victim to this scam. Scammers have stolen $1.1 million from prospective buyers this year alone.

The World’s host Carol Hills spoke with Cedric Bourgeois, who works in the investigation office of UNESCO in Paris, to learn about how the scam works and what’s being done to stop others from being defrauded.

Related: In the Netherlands, millers get UNESCO status

Carol Hills: How does the scam work? 

Cedric Bourgeois: It usually starts on social networks with a casual conversation. Somebody spots your interest for the arts, and the conversation starts. You have a casual conversation up to the point where your contact knows a seller who has exactly what you’re looking for. We’ve seen scammers impersonating soccer stars in Cameroon and approaching the son of a victim and then conversation, little by little moves on to other topics such as the interest for artworks. And suddenly comes a story of a seller in the US who has access to a village in Cameroon with artworks. The conversation goes on, up to the point, where a potential buyer trusts the seller enough or asks for more information and receives exactly what he needs: a fake certificate of UNESCO. I say fakes. A victim doesn’t know it’s fake.  

And does the person show pictures online of these artworks?

Then they receive pictures taken in the village, on the pictures you can see the bush, you see in the background, you’re in Africa.  It’s exactly what it should look like.

And so then the prospective victim actually sends money and then never receives anything. Is that how it works?

The goal of the scammer is to receive the first payment. And once the victim sends a first payment, let’s say, to get this certificate of UNESCO, then there’s always the next payment to issue before you receive the goods. Then it’s to clear customs. Then it’s for the transporter. Then there needs to be an additional certificate from UNESCO. Of course, all this is fake. We never issue certificates to facilitate private trading. If you see the name of UNESCO associated with private trading of artworks, beware. This is not UNESCO. This is a scam. 

No art, whether fake or authentic, has ever exchanged. This is simply passing off fake authentication by UNESCO as a way to gain the confidence and money and payments of prospective buyers who keep paying and thinking they’re going to get art and they never do. They just keep paying money?

Absolutely.

Who’s behind the scam?

We’ve identified a few people because someone was arrested two weeks ago in Cameroon. Another perpetrator was arrested in France a few months ago. But this did not stop the schemes. We see more and more victims coming. And that’s why we reach out to the general public in this global awareness campaign.

What’s the scale of the scam? I mean, are there hundreds of cases? Thousands? How big of a deal is this?

This year alone, we are talking about 20 victims for a total of $1.1 million.

Are the buyers themselves, are the prospective buyers innocent in this scam or not? It’s kind of a fuzzy area there.

It’s hard to understand what leads the buyers to send money after a discussion about artworks on social networks. For sure. Sometimes the behavior of the victim might look reckless. But if you investigate the facts further, it is clear you have perpetrators on one side, victims on the other side. 

This interview has been condensed and edited.

Visa restrictions on Chinese students will disadvantage US, says Queens College president

Visa restrictions on Chinese students will disadvantage US, says Queens College president

Chinese students make up a third of international students in the US. Under new Trump administration rules, they will not be allowed to enter or remain in the US if their colleges and universities are online-only this fall. "America risks losing its competitive advantage," says Frank Wu, president of Queens College in New York.

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The World staff

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Students and pedestrians walk through the Yard at Harvard University, after the school asked its students not to return to campus after Spring Break and said it would move to virtual instruction for graduate and undergraduate classes, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, March 10, 2020. 

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For American universities, catering to international students is big business. Each year, more than 1 million come here to study. About a third are from China.

But come fall, many may be absent. This week, the Trump administration announced that international students would not be allowed to enter or remain in the US if their colleges and universities are online-only this fall. The move drew swift backlash from higher education administrators and advocates. Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology filed a lawsuit against the government Wednesday to block the measure.

Unlike domestic students, international students often pay full tuition — which helps universities to fund scholarships and their general operations. International students injected nearly $45 billion into the US economy in 2018. 

For some international students, remote learning could mean attending classes in the middle of the night, dealing with spotty or no internet access, losing funding contingent on teaching, or having to stop participating in research. Some are considering taking time off or leaving their programs entirely.

Frank Wu, president of Queens College in New York, has written about the US government’s complicated relationship with students from China. He joined The World’s host Carol Hills for a conversation on the Trump administration’s new guidance and its impact on international students in the US. 

Related: Universities scramble to help international universities stay in US after new visa restrictions 

Carol Hills: Frank, how do you interpret this move by the Trump administration? Is it about politics or public health? 

Frank Wu: It’s about everything. Nothing happens in a vacuum. Even before this, there was suspicion and statements, including by the president himself, that almost all students coming from China are spies. That was said by the president at a private dinner. And it made the news, but the story didn’t stick, which was just one of many things that are said along similar lines. About 350,000 students per year have been coming from China. That’s pre-pandemic. So they’re the biggest part of the international student population. 

But there is a public health piece to this. I mean, one could say that you’re working on the basis of public health if you’re restricting students from overseas from coming to the US.  What’s your sense of that? 

Oh, absolutely. That probably isn’t the reason, because at the same time this ban on foreign students was announced, the president said he would pressure states to pressure schools, including colleges, to reopen. So, it doesn’t make sense to say, well, let’s have everyone reopen, but then let’s keep out people from places with lower rates of the coronavirus. 

Do you think many Chinese students enrolled at American universities will just say, “Forget it, I’ll enroll in a university in Asia or Europe instead”? 

That’s already happened. For many international students, the United Kingdom looks very popular, or just staying home. We face a real risk of a reverse brain drain. So, I’m an American. I was born here in the United States, grew up in Detroit. My parents, they were born in China. They grew up in Taiwan, and they came to the United States in the 1960s, that bygone era when America was welcoming people. And America invested in them. They didn’t just come. They came as scholarship students. America wanted to recruit them. It was a good investment because my parents became citizens, taxpayers, contributors. My family has staked its fortunes on this side of the Pacific Ocean. 

It’s pretty clear you interpret this move by the Trump administration as a move against China and Chinese students. What does the US lose if many of these students decide to go to another university and not wait it out for trying to finish at a US university? 

America risks losing its competitive advantage. What we have is freedom and opportunity — and that attracts the most talented from everywhere else. Imagine if everyone of Chinese descent just vanished overnight. What would happen to the physics department at most universities? What would happen in Silicon Valley? What we risk losing is the talent that we’ve been able to recruit that has driven American entrepreneurial activity, scientific research and progress. 

As president of Queens College in New York, how are you responding to these new guidelines on international students? 

The chancellor [Félix V. Matos Rodríguez] of the CUNY system — we’re part of a system — issued a powerful statement as soon as the guidelines came out saying that this is bad, not just for our students, it’s bad for our institution. And I stand with him. We want to support all of our students regardless of their identity. We want to provide a high-quality, affordable education. 

Do you have students who are directly affected by these new guidelines? 

We’re taking a look. I am sure we have students who could be affected. We’re looking at everything that we can do to support them, to keep them in the system and to ensure that they’re educated and that they value what America has offered. 

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Reuters contributed to this report. 

Discussion: The Latino Republican: Issues and influence in the 2020 election

Discussion: The Latino Republican: Issues and influence in the 2020 election

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This Facebook Live discussion is part of “Every 30 Seconds,” a collaborative public media reporting project tracing the young Latino electorate leading up to the 2020 presidential election and beyond.

For the past four months, The World’s “Every 30 Seconds” project has been following the stories of eight young Latino voters in different corners of the United States, reporting on the issues, influences, concerns and challenges driving Latino decision-making and turnout for the 2020 presidential election. It’s a collaboration with public radio stations across the US.

As part of this coverage, The World’s Daisy Contreras moderated a discussion on Latino Republicans and conservatism in the US with Geraldo L. Cadava, historian and author of “The Hispanic Republican: The Shaping of an American Political Identity, from Nixon to Trump.” It was a continuation of The World’s earlier conversation with Cadava on the Latino conservative vote.

There are two major assumptions about the Latino vote in the US: Latinos vote Democratic, and immigration is the most important issue for decision-making. That’s often not the case.

While the majority of Latino voters went for a Democratic candidate in the 2018 midterm election, about 30% of Latinos in the US backed a Republican candidate. Over the years, the percentage of Latinos who have voted for the Republican party has stayed pretty consistent.

But conservative Latinos are not a monolithic group, and they do not vote as a bloc. Factors such as country of origin, socioeconomic status and how many generations a family has been in the US could shape their political perspectives and priorities.

UK sanctions on Russians, Saudis are a ‘milestone’ for human rights, advocate says

UK sanctions on Russians, Saudis are a 'milestone' for human rights, advocate says

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The World staff

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Daniel Ofman

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Britain’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab meets with the Magnitsky family and Bill Browder in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, following the foreign secretary’s statement on the Global Human Rights Sanctions regime given in the House of Commons, London, Britain, July 6, 2020. 

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The British government has blacklisted 47 people associated with human rights violations as part of post-Brexit measures that Foreign Minister Dominic Raab said were aimed at stopping the laundering of “blood money.” 

The list includes 20 Saudis accused of involvement in the assassination of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.

Investors from Russia, China and the Middle East have poured billions into London, buying everything from luxury properties to entire companies, but the source of some of the wealth has been questioned by transparency campaigners. Those on the blacklist will now face travel bans and other sanctions. 

“If you’re a kleptocrat or an organized criminal, you will not be able to launder your blood money in this country,” Raab told parliament Monday. “Today this government…sends a very clear message on behalf of the British people that those with blood on their hands, the thugs and despots, the henchmen and dictators, will not be free to waltz into this country to buy up property on the King’s Road, to do their Christmas shopping in Knightsbridge, or frankly to siphon dirty money through British banks or other financial institutions.”

After leaving the European Union in January, Prime Minister Boris Johnson wants to forge a new independent role for Britain in foreign and trade affairs and this was the first time London could impose asset freezes and visa bans independently.

Also on Britain’s new blacklist are 25 Russians accused of aiding in the death of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who died in 2009 while imprisoned in a Moscow jail on false charges. The UK’s sanctions are based on the United States’ 2013 Magnitsky Act.

Bill Browder is a British American financier who has been seeking justice for Magnitsky, his former attorney, for years. He spoke to The World’s host Carol Hills on what the sanctions mean.

Related: How Russia laid the groundwork for future disinformation campaigns

Carol Hills: What do you think of Britain’s new sanctions?

Bill Browder: My reaction was one of great joy. We’ve been working to get the British government to do this for 10 years. Britain is a place where the bad guys, the human rights violators and the kleptocrats, particularly like to buy mansions and send their kids to fancy boarding schools. It’s a place that really matters. And for the British government to finally do this is it is a great milestone in our campaign. 

Tell us specifically what these sanctions do and who will they affect. 

So, the Magnitsky Act does two things. It freezes the assets and it bans the visas of people involved in human rights violations and kleptocracy. And in our particular case, it applies to the people who killed my lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, who was murdered in 2009 in police custody after uncovering a $230 million Russian corruption scheme. When people are added to this Magnitsky list, they effectively become what I would describe as non-people in the financial world. They can no longer open accounts. Their accounts get frozen not just in the country that they’re sanctioned, but just about everywhere — because all banks subscribe to these databases of sanctions lists. And so it’s become a very powerful tool to even the balance between these dictators and the victims. 

This legislation in the UK — is it only to do with people directly or indirectly linked to the killing of Sergei Magnitsky, or is it broad-based legislation applying to other human rights violations?  

This was inspired by the Magnitsky case, but it’s now totally broad. It applies to human rights violators everywhere in the world. So, for example, the British didn’t just sanction the people who killed Sergei Magnitsky, they sanctioned the people who killed Jamal Khashoggi, the Washington Post journalist. They sanctioned the officials in Myanmar who are responsible for the Rohingya genocide, and they’ve sanctioned some North Korean entities that are responsible for slave labor in atrocious prison camps in North Korea. 

Related: Khashoggi sons’ pardon of his killers is ‘final act in the parody of justice,’ UN expert says

Remind us, what is your connection to Russia, and how did you get to know Sergei Magnitsky?   

My connection to Russia is that I went to Russia after the fall of the Berlin Wall to set up an investment management business. It did really well for a long time until I started to complain publicly about corruption in Russian companies. I was then expelled from the country. My offices were raided. I hired Sergei Magnitsky to investigate why they were raiding the offices, the police. And he discovered they raided the offices in order to take the documents and use those documents in a $230 million tax rebate fraud of taxes that we had paid to the Russian government. Officials stole from the Russian government using documents seized by the police.

He exposed that crime. In retaliation, he was arrested. He was tortured for 358 days. And he was murdered on November 16, 2009, at the age of 37. And so after his murder, it became my single and primary mission in life to go after the people who killed him and make sure they face justice. And that’s what I’ve done for the last 10 years.  

I know you met a few days ago with the UK’s foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, along with Sergei Magnitsky’s widow and son. What was that meeting like? 

It was an extremely moving moment because we’ve all been working on this justice campaign, me and the Magnitsky family, for 10 years. And there we sat with the second-most powerful person in the United Kingdom. And he was there to tell Sergei’s widow and his son that Sergei’s sacrifice wasn’t in vain. That by his sacrifice, the UK government was going to use this law to go after other human rights abusers and Sergei’s abusers, and that hopefully, it will save lives in the future in Sergei’s name.

In the case of Sergei Magnitsky, is it just the four people directly responsible for his death that you’re after? Or is there a kind of an outer circle and inner circle of people tied to his death that would be affected by this legislation? 

As of right now, there are 25 people who’ve been sanctioned by the British government for perpetrating the human rights abuses against Sergei Magnitsky. However, there’s another 25 or so individuals who are responsible for the corruption scheme that Sergei uncovered that he was killed for exposing. They have not yet been sanctioned in the United Kingdom, although they have been sanctioned in the United States and Canada. And the foreign secretary promised us today that corruption will be added to the British Magnitsky Act in the fall. At that point, they can then sanction those individuals, too.  

Are you ever worried about your own safety? I mean, do you feel like the work you’re doing is risky? 

Vladimir Putin personally hates my guts. At the Helsinki Summit with Donald Trump in 2018, when the US asked for the 12 GRU [Russian intelligence] officers to be handed over, who hacked the election, Putin said, “I’ll hand him over if you hand over Bill Browder and 11 Americans.” They’ve been going after me in a big way ever since the Magnitsky Act was passed in the United States. I’ve been threatened with death, with kidnapping. They’ve gone to Interpol eight times to have me arrested. They issued extradition requests, they’ve done all sorts of crazy stuff. I’m definitely a high-value target for Vladimir Putin.    

So, what’s next for you? What is your goal with the Magnitsky Act? Let’s say countries across the globe all adopt it— what do you ultimately want to achieve? 

Well, countries across the globe have not yet all adopted it, and the main geographic area that hasn’t adopted it is the European Union. The European Union sort of prides itself on its humanity and its morality as an institution. But when it comes to this, they’ve been hamstrung by corruption within different member-states who have been trying to block it. And so I have to get it done across the world and the EU is my next most important target. And I don’t think it’s going to happen quickly or easily. But that’s what we need to get done.

Because even if you have this law in place in the United States and the UK and Canada, then the bad guys will just keep their money in France and Germany and the Netherlands. And so we have to close off all the comfortable places for them, all places where they want to keep their money. So basically, if they commit their crimes in their countries, they have to keep their money in their countries and they can’t travel and spend their money in the West. 

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Reuters contributed reporting.

Nantucket businesses struggle without seasonal summer workers 

Nantucket businesses struggle without seasonal summer workers 

By
Rachel Rock

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The Nantucket Bike Shop usually hires foreign students through the J-1 visa program, but this year the visa program was suspended and foreign workers could not travel to the US to work during Nantucket’s high season. Photo taken on July 2, 2020, Nantucket island, Massachusetts. 

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Rachel Rock/The World 

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It’s mid-June and already 100 degrees just outside of Zagreb, the capital of Croatia. Jakob Gregurić is at home near the base of Mt. Medvednica, a nature park in central Croatia. Gregurić, a 24-year-old student at the University of Zagreb, wrapped up his classes several weeks ago. Most of his friends are working summer jobs they lined up months ago, but Gregurić is still looking.

He was supposed to work on Nantucket island, a resort community off the coast of Massachusetts. Then, the pandemic hit. Visa processing came to a halt. And last month, the Trump administration further suspended many guest-worker visas like the J-1 visa Gregurić got last year. 

Related: Trump’s visa ban has technology companies worried 

“We had no news for months and months because you would have [had] your visa in like February or March and it’s June. And I still haven’t my visa. … So, we were kind of prepared for it …”

Jakob Gregurić, student and former US seasonal worker, University of Zagreb, Croatia

“We had no news for months and months because you would have [had] your visa in like February or March and it’s June. And I still haven’t my visa,” Gregurić said. “So, we were kind of prepared for it. Something’s going to happen. I mean, we are still sad. It’s a great experience.” 

In Nantucket, the population usually balloons with tourists during the summer. And the tourists are arriving. Yet, foreign seasonal workers who typically arrive from all over the world to help out during the high season are missing. 

Normally, about 100,000 J-1 temporary visas are issued every year to international college students who work at tourist spots ranging from Disneyland to Park City Ski resort to Nantucket. The visa suspensions are part of the White House’s response to job losses because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Related: US seafood workers fight unsafe job conditions amid pandemic

Last year, Gregurić hustled in Nantucket. His main job was at The Nantucket Bike Shop, but he had time left over. 

At first, I thought I would do the bike shop work and then I would probably get a second job, but I wouldn’t … work all day and night,” said Gregurić. “But when I met the guys there and everybody was working, I didn’t have anything to do. So, I found myself a second and third job.” 

He brought $8,000 back home. This summer, he says he doesn’t expect to make more than $2,000 in Croatia. He says he’ll miss the cash and also the chance to practice his English and gain work experience in the US. 

Four thousand miles away on Nantucket, Gregurić’s former boss at the bike shop, Joe Conway, says he misses the young Croatian. But — so far — he’s managing. 

“For the moment, business is slow, so it’s working out so far. … We will see how it handles with the busyness that we’ve got coming … reservations are through the roof.”

Joe Conway, manager, The Nantucket Bike Shop, Nantucket, Massachusetts

“For the moment, business is slow, so it’s working out so far,” said Conway. “We will see how it handles with the busyness that we’ve got coming … reservations are through the roof.”

The Nantucket Bike Shop usually hires foreign students through the J-1 visa program, but this year the visa program was suspended and foreign workers could not travel to the US to work during Nantucket’s high season. Photo taken on July 2, 2020, Nantucket island, Massachusetts. 

Credit:

Rachel Rock/The World 

Conway has 15 employees this summer, down from his usual 30 to 35 — normally including many foreigners on J-1 visas. He’s concerned that business will pick up and he’ll be shorthanded. 

For years, Nantucket’s economy has relied on J-1 student labor for the high season. Decades ago, before the visas ramped up, US college students did a lot of the summer work. But — at least in Nantucket — the tourist season expanded into October. US students typically return to school in August. Foreign students, though, can often stay into the fall.  

But there’s another reason that Conway prefers J-1 employees.

“They are very hard workers. They do pay attention. They listen to you,” Conway said. “It’s just been amazing, the work they do. And I’ve had a lot of students come back … and they just want to work.”

For now, Conway has hired high schoolers and a few college kids to fill his bike shop needs. The Trump administration says its decision to suspend many of the temporary work visas is about helping people in the US who have lost their jobs. But Conway is not so sure about this because he hears otherwise from people he spoke to when he offered them seasonal work. 

“They tell me, ‘Well no, I’m not going to work for $15 an hour when I’m sitting at home collecting $25 an hour [of unemployment].’ I can’t say I blame them,” Conway said.

Related: International students are in coronavirus limbo. So are universities.

Businesses all over the island are feeling the labor supply squeeze. Kristie Ferrantella is the head of Nantucket’s Chamber of Commerce.

“I think a lot of businesses are going to really struggle this year. … I was with a restaurant owner this past week who typically employs 90 people in the summer and this year she’s going to be doing it with 26.”

Kristie Ferrantella, Nantucket Chamber of Commerce, Nantucket, Massachusetts

“I think a lot of businesses are going to really struggle this year,” Ferrantella said. “I was with a restaurant owner this past week who typically employs 90 people in the summer and this year she’s going to be doing it with 26.” 

This scenario is now happening nationwide. The executive order by the Trump administration to suspend foreign worker visas until the end of 2020 is supposed to be in the interests of US workers. But David Bier, an immigration policy analyst at the CATO Institute, says that the move will do the opposite.

“Tens of thousands of businesses across the US…need workers,” Bier said. “This order is going to disrupt that, ultimately delaying the recovery and causing more economic hardship.” 

The extent of this disruption — on Nantucket Island, at least — depends on how business goes during this highly unusual summer and fall. Nantucket will definitely miss the injection of international cultures, languages and the positive spirit that these young foreigners bring with them. 

Shanghai Pride went on as planned last month. But the fight for LGBTQ rights in China is far from over.

Shanghai Pride went on as planned last month. But the fight for LGBTQ rights in China is far from over.

But Shanghai Pride didn't include the typical parade filled with people waving rainbow flags. In China, parades are mostly reserved for displays of military strength. So, organizers have to use a little bit of ingenuity to pull off one of the country's longest-running Pride events.

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Rebecca Kanthor

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Participants take part in a Pride Run during the Shanghai Pride festival, in Shanghai, following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, China, June 14, 2020.

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Aly Song/Reuters 

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In 2009, Charlene Liu, a Singaporean expat who lives in Shanghai, helped found Shanghai Pride. That first Pride was meant to be a one-time event.

“To be honest, back then, none of us thought that we would be organizing Pride for so long. It was just one time for one year.”

Charlene Liu ​​​​, Shanghai Pride organizer 

“To be honest, back then, none of us thought that we would be organizing Pride for so long,” Liu said. “It was just one time for one year.”

Related: Diplomats display Pride flags as LGBTQ rights threatened in Russia

Afterward, people told them how much it meant to them, so the organizers decided to keep it going.

This year, while Pride marches all over the world were canceled or moved online amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, China’s only official Pride celebration in Shanghai, where social distancing restrictions have largely been lifted, went on last month as planned. 

But Shanghai Pride didn’t include the typical parade filled with people waving rainbow flags. In China, parades are mostly reserved for displays of military strength. So, organizers have to use a little bit of ingenuity to pull off one of the country’s longest-running Pride events. 

The mid-June festival featured a full schedule of events, with parties, but also a film screening, job fair, storytelling event and forum on inclusion in the workplace and academia.

Organizing Pride events here isn’t exactly easy. China didn’t legalize homosexuality until 1997; it only stopped classifying it as a mental disorder in 2001. So, it’s legal to be gay, but it’s not a totally accepting environment.

Related: Sterilization abuse of Uighurs in China meets international legal criteria for genocide, experts say

A petition to legalize gay marriage was squashed last month, dashing the hopes many had for more legal protections. In the past few years, there have been media bans on LGBTQ content, and people have been harassed for just wearing rainbow badges.

“So, having venues closed down on us, is very common. Every year, we face the same issue. And we always have to come up with a Plan B, a Plan C, or Plan D,” Liu said.

Liu and other Pride organizers always have to be on their toes, and they try to keep festivities low key. So, no Pride Parade? Well, instead, how about a Pride Fun Run and a Rainbow Bike Ride?

“We thought that, you know, everybody exercises. We know we want to be outside outdoors, networking, as well as keeping healthy. So, we don’t necessarily have a lot of events that probably other Prides have. But we get by with what we can do here, and also what the community is interested in.”

Charlene Liu ​​​​, Shanghai Pride organizer 

“We thought that you know, everybody exercises,” Liu said. “We know we want to be outside outdoors, networking, as well as keeping healthy. So, we don’t necessarily have a lot of events that probably other Prides have. But we get by with what we can do here, and also what the community is interested in.”

Liu has noticed a real change over the past decade. Acceptance of LGBTQ people and relationships is growing in China. Whereas the first Shanghai Pride was led and attended more by foreigners, these days, most of the volunteers and participants are Chinese.

Related: How China uses malware to track Muslim Uighurs, even if they’ve fled the country

Alex Dai is a 55-year-old entrepreneur who’s been coming to Pride for years with his boyfriend. It’s become a big part of their life.

“For me, coming to Pride is like finding a home. Many of us can feel isolated, but at Pride, I found a family that accepts me, understands me and respects me.”

Alex Dai, Pride attendee

“For me, coming to Pride is like finding a home. Many of us can feel isolated, but at Pride, I found a family that accepts me, understands me and respects me,” he said.

For participants, going to Pride is fun and liberating. But behind the scenes, there’s a lot of pressure on the organizers, especially during a pandemic.

Related: Ai Weiwei: Hong Kong security law ‘the last nail of the coffin’

“This year is, we call it a very sensitive year,” Liu said. “Everything that everybody does, especially group gatherings, we are heavily monitored. And also because it’s for the safety, right, we want to make sure that everybody is safe, that we don’t get sick because we live in a city where there’s so many people.”

Now that Pride 2020 is over, Liu says she and her fellow volunteers can finally take a breather.

“Regardless of the challenges and stress, we know that at the end of the day, someone in the community will be inspired, will be encouraged, will be able to say that they are not alone and that they’re able to connect with other people in the same shoes and have the courage to be themselves,” Liu said.

And that makes it all worth it, she added. 

Djibouti’s ‘cosmopolitan musical sound’ captured in first-ever global album

Djibouti’s ‘cosmopolitan musical sound’ captured in first-ever global album

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April Peavey

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“The Dancing Devils of Djibouti” by Groupe RTD is the first-ever globally-released album to come from Djibouti.

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Courtesy of Janto Djassi

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In the northeast corner of Africa, right on the Gulf of Aden and facing the Arabian Peninsula, lies the Republic of Djibouti. The country of just under a million tucks into Ethiopia and sits on the Bab el-Mandeb strait, a strategic waterway connecting east and west, which has brought myriad cultural influences to the country.

Djibouti, also a neighbor of Somalia and once known as French Somaliland, gained its independence from France 43 years ago. But only now, in 2020, has a band in Djibouti recorded and released music for a global audience.

For decades, music has been governed by the state, and the country’s history of recorded music sits in the National Radio Archives. 

Related: How researchers hope to restore the unique sound of Notre Dame 

The newly released album is called “The Dancing Devils of Djibouti” by Groupe RTD, which also performs as the national radio band for formal ceremonies of state. Vik Sohonie co-produced the record. Sohonie is also the founder of Ostinato Records, the label that released the album. He spoke with The World’s Marco Werman about the new music from the East African country.

Marco Werman: So the first record ever to come out of Djibouti, really?

Vik Sohonie: Yeah, that’s actually the case, because if you look at Djibouti, it’s a very young country. It got its independence in 1977, and they’ve been governed largely by one party since. And that party believed for various reasons, being a young country, that music should fall under the domain of the state. It should be a public good. And so, from independence until now, it’s really been only the government in the state and all the cultural state institutions that have financed, supported and propped up music. And if you wanted to record music in Djibouti, there was only one studio you could do it, which was at the National Radio’s studio. And Djibouti’s entire recorded output of music over these past 43 years is just sitting in the Djibouti National Radio Archives. It’s never been packaged for commercial global release.

Related: How the Beatles created a sense of ‘place’ for this Argentinian American 

So just to be clear, “The Dancing Devils of Djibouti” — this is a new recording. This is not archived material?

No, it’s not. They are a national band. They are the national radio band. But their primary job is to perform for dignitaries when they visit. You know, they perform when they are walking down the stairs, when they arrive at the airport. They perform at presidential ceremonies, cultural holidays. They are very much the national band. They’re an all-star band that is a mix of the best older, legendary, very beloved musicians, as well as new young talent that they’ve been able to scout. But no, it’s not an archive of recording, although they draw greatly from the recordings that are sitting in that archive.

Related: Ranky Tanky honors Gullah culture with Grammy-nominated album

Groupe RTD records in studio in Djibouti. The group also performs as the national ceremony band for official events. 

Credit:

Courtesy of Janto Djassi

I’ve got to say, for the first record ever from Djibouti, it’s like an instant classic. It’s just a wonderful group, great sound. I mean, they don’t sound like a formal band playing at, you know, presidential ceremonies and stuff.

That’s their on-duty job. That’s their job they’re paid for. But, you know, when we came across them — they were just casually jamming when we came across them in 2016. And when we were introducing them, they were introduced as the national ceremony band. And we were expecting something of a national anthem, chorus or orchestra of something of that nature. But very quickly, we realized that when they’re off duty, they’re off work and they’re sitting and hanging around and jamming. They are not playing national ceremony music. They are doing what they do best, which is taking the essences of Djibouti’s cosmopolitan musical sound and just reviving it, modernizing it and adding their own lovely touch to it.

Related: This Liberian Italian beatmaker uses music to tackle racism in Italy

The music of Djibouti is influenced by the music of neighboring Somalia. But there’s a lot more to this music than Djibouti’s neighbor, isn’t there?

Yes, for sure. I mean, Djibouti, people have to understand, has historically been on a very strategic trade route. It’s partially why the United States, among other big powers, have military bases there, because so much trade passes through Djibouti. And, you know, that trade has been going on for centuries. And cultures from Asia, from the Middle East, from elsewhere have all had to pass through there. If you want to move anything from Asia to Europe you have to, or vice versa, you have to pass the strait that Djibouti sits on. So, they’ve been influenced by a great deal of cultures, east and west.

But also in their immediate independence era, when the national radio was or still is the sole broadcaster, there were three genres of music in particular that really inspired the band. And you can hear all of these. The guitarist who plays those offbeat licks — he was telling us how much he grew up listening to Jamaican reggae. The saxophonist who is really the star of the band — he grew up on a steady diet of American jazz and he would always point to the Harlem jazz era as this period of infatuation that he studied and grew up with. And the singers, they spoke greatly about India’s influence on Djibouti, the influence of Bollywood and the vocal styles of Bollywood that they would listen to, that they would learn from to be able to adapt and diversify their vocal repertoire. So, Djibouti might seem like a small country on the fringes, but for a very long time, it’s really been at the center of so much cultural mixing. It’s been so central to so much that’s been happening in the world.

Related: This trio in Spain gets through ‘confinement blues’ with socially conscious music 

So Vik, with travel, tours and things more or less at a standstill because of the pandemic, what is it like releasing a debut album with this kind of profile in the midst of a pandemic? And are we gonna be hearing more music from Djibouti?

Yes, for sure. I know it’s a sad tale because the idea was to release the album and then have them touring by the summer. But, of course, that’s not possible anymore. I mean, we’re still aiming for December. That might be optimistic. We hope things get better. We want more music from Djibouti to come out. You know, the government authorities who have been monitoring the release are very happy with the response. So, you know, everyone’s behind more music coming out of the country. But there’s more important things, I think, right now than touring. But I hope one day we’re back to concerts and live shows and being shoulder to shoulder enjoying the music.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. 

Putin scores victory in ‘gameshow’-like vote; Myanmar mine collapse; Ethiopian singer’s death sparks protests; Botswana’s mysterious elephant die-off

Putin scores victory in 'gameshow'-like vote; Myanmar mine collapse; Ethiopian singer's death sparks protests; Botswana's mysterious elephant die-off

By
Indra Ekmanis

Russian President Vladimir Putin shows his passport to a member of a local electoral commission at a polling station on the last day of a weeklong nationwide vote on constitutional reforms in Moscow, Russia July 1, 2020.

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Alexei Druzhinin/Sputnik/Kremlin via Reuters

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Top of The World — our morning news round up written by editors at The World. Subscribe here.

Russian President Vladimir Putin gained an unsurprising victory as polls closed Wednesday in a weeklong referendum. Russians were asked to vote on a package of constitutional amendments, ranging from pension increases to endorsing a ban on gay marriage. It was a straight yes-or-no decision for the 206 amendments proposed. But the most important — and largely obscured or ignored in election materials and campaigning — was a change that paves the way for Putin to stay in power until 2036, when he will be in his mid-80s. 

But while the results show an overwhelming victory, opposition politician Vladimir Kara-Murza emphasized that the election was “a sham exercise.” Had the vote actually been democratic, he told The World, Putin “would have lost that referendum. That much is absolutely clear from trends in Russian public opinion.”

Indeed the election itself had the trappings of a poorly funded game show: Text messages lured voters to the polls with the promise of “millions of prizes,” ballot boxes were placed on trees and votes were collected in car trunks. The Kremlin sought a symbolic victory with high voter turnout, but there was little question of how the election would end.

Kara-Murza called on the world to reject Putin’s authoritarian power grab. Still, he does not believe the longtime ruler will remain in power when 2036 comes: “In the authoritarian system that Vladimir Putin has created — political changes in Russia will not be decided at the ballot box. They will be one day decided on the streets.”

The referendum was originally planned for April, as Putin sought to capitalize on the wave of Russian patriotism ahead of Russia’s May 9 Victory Day commemorations. But both events were postponed as Russia was ravaged by the novel coronavirus pandemic. Less than two months later — even as Russia reports the third-most cases of COVID-19 — both the celebration and the voting went ahead.

Also: Foreign diplomats display Pride flags as LGBTQ rights threatened in Russian elections

And: In the US, the coronavirus pandemic has continued to spread. Today on The World we speak to Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who said that the pandemic has become his “worst nightmare.”

What The World is following

More than 100 are reported dead and more than 50 injured after a large landslide struck the Hpakant jade mining site in Myanmar. Authorities expect that more bodies will be found. Kachin State, where much of the world’s high-quality jade is produced, is the site of frequent mine accidents, and miners often work under dangerous conditions, which can become more perilous in the rainy season. 

The killing of Haacaaluu Hundeessaa, an Ethiopian singer and activist, has sparked days of protest, leading to 80 deaths. Hundeessaa’s music had “provided a soundtrack to a generation” of Oromo anti-government protesters, who eventually forced Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn to step down in 2018.

A mysterious die-off of hundreds of elephants in Botswana has stumped scientists.

And, Amsterdam’s red-light district is reopening after the coronavirus shutdown. But strict rules abound to keep workers and their customers safe.

From The WorldPeople in northeast Syria are in desperate need of help. Aid groups can’t get to them.

An internally displaced Syrian girl wears a face mask as members of the Syrian Civil Defence sanitize the Bab al-Nour internally displaced persons camp, to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Azaz, Syria, March 26, 2020.

Credit:

Khalil Ashawi/Reuters 

This week, heads of 20 aid agencies published an open letter urging the UN Security Council to reopen the Al Yarubiyah crossing into Syria. The crossing was closed last January, with fatal consequences, the aid groups say.

Whose Haghia Sophia?

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, accompanied by his wife Emine Erdoğan, attends the opening ceremony of the Yeditepe Biennial at the Haghia Sophia Museum in Istanbul, Turkey, March 31, 2018.

Credit:

Kayhan Ozer/Turkish Presidential Press Office/Handout via Reuters 

For more than a thousand years, the Haghia Sophia in Istanbul was the largest dome in the world. The Byzantines commissioned the Haghia Sophia as a Greek Orthodox cathedral. The Ottomans conquered it and turned it into an ornate mosque. Then, secular revolutionaries converted it into a monument to two faiths. Now, the Haghia Sophia may change hands again.

Morning focus

Top of The World will be back on Monday after the July 4 holiday, but you can still catch The World on air. And for a little celebration: a celestial firework display. 

10 years.
20 million gigabytes of data.
425 million hi-res images of the Sun.

A new time-lapse video marks a decade of operations for our @NASASun Solar Dynamics Observatory. Watch: https://t.co/jRRWuBfcLb pic.twitter.com/SPBDWfJwzP

— NASA (@NASA) June 24, 2020In case you missed itListen: New security law in Beijing targets protesters

Riot police use water cannon to disperse anti-national security law protesters during a march at the anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover to China from Britain in Hong Kong, China, July 1, 2019. 

Credit:

Tyrone Siu/Reuters

In Hong Kong, a restrictive new security law enacted by Beijing is being used to arrest protesters on its first day in effect. we hear from pro-democracy activist Isaac Cheng. Plus, in Russia, it’s the last day for citizens to vote on a large bundle of constitutional amendments that include a measure that would allow President Vladimir Putin to remain in power until 2036. And, we look at how the coronavirus has impacted migrants in the seafood industry in the US.

Don’t forget to subscribe to The World’s Latest Edition podcast using your favorite podcast player: RadioPublicApple PodcastsStitcherSoundcloudRSS.

Black Lives Matter protests are shaking up how this young Latino voter views US politics

Black Lives Matter protests are shaking up how this young Latino voter views US politics

By
Stella M. Chávez

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Izcan Ordaz, an 18-year-old high school graduate in Fort Worth, Texas, will vote in his first US presidential election this November.

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Ben Torres

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This story is part of “Every 30 Seconds,” a collaborative public media reporting project tracing the young Latino electorate leading up to the 2020 presidential election and beyond.

A few weeks ago, 18-year-old Izcan Ordaz joined his high school classmates for his first protest. They called for racial justice as part of a national wave of Black Lives Matter activism. A few days later, he marched again in Keller, an affluent suburb of Fort Worth, Texas, not usually known for protests.

But similar to many places across the country, residents turned out in larger numbers than expected. Keller police estimated 3,000 people showed up. 

“I really assumed it was just going to be mostly young people, mostly a lot of minorities,” Ordaz said. “But when I got there I found that it was predominantly white Americans and lots of older families, lots of children.” 

Izcan Ordaz, left, poses with a Fort Worth, Texas, police officer at a recent Black Lives Matter protest near his high school.

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Courtesy of Izcan Ordaz

Ordaz, who recently graduated from Central High School in Fort Worth, will vote in his first presidential election this November. He falls somewhere in the middle of the US political spectrum: more conservative than his parents, but not too far to the right. Ordaz believes in capitalism and a free-market economy. And two major recent events — the coronavirus pandemic and Black Lives Matter protests — are shaking up how he views US politics. 

Back in April, Ordaz’s biggest concerns were getting through the pandemic, the state of the US economy and finishing high school virtually.

Related: This Latino teen voter worries about prom, graduation — and the economy

Now, the issue of racial justice is also top of mind. Ordaz said he felt compelled to do something after watching the viral video of a white Minnesota police officer press his knee into the neck of George Floyd, a Black man.

What happened to Floyd wasn’t right and was painful to watch, Ordaz said. Floyd’s death reflects a larger problem of racial injustice in the country, he added — and that’s why he’s speaking up.

“I think as young people living in the United States, it really is our job to start to step up and to really make the future of the United States go in a different direction.”

Izcan Ordaz, first-time voter

“I think as young people living in the United States, it really is our job to start to step up and to really make the future of the United States go in a different direction,” he said. 

As a young Latino, Ordaz is part of a demographic that is changing the US — politically, culturally and demographically. Approximately every 30 seconds, a Latino in the US turns 18 and becomes eligible to vote. Latinos’ sheer numbers make them an important voting bloc: This fall, they could surpass Black voters for the first time, making them the largest racial or ethnic voter group after whites, according to the Pew Research Center.

Related: Every 30 seconds, a young Latino in the US turns 18. Their votes count more than ever.

Ordaz said it’s his generation’s responsibility to not commit the same mistakes made by previous generations. While he credits older generations for paving the way in the fight for racial equality, he believes his generation can do more.

He points to high-profile cases, such as the 1992 protests that erupted in Los Angeles after four police officers who were videotaped beating Black motorist Rodney King were acquitted at trial.

“This police brutality has been a recurring issue in the United States that hopefully by the time we get to our parents’ age will not still be an issue,” Ordaz said.

Max Krochmal, an associate history professor of history at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, said it’s promising to see a new wave of activism around racial justice, which has taken cues from the 1960s civil rights movement. 

That movement pushed the country as far as white Americans were willing to go, said Krochmal, who also chairs comparative race and ethnic studies at the university. In the ’60s, Black activists marched and demanded equal rights. They won access to public accommodations, such as restaurants and movie theaters. And the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed and signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson. 

Other changes around racial equality occurred in the 1960s, but the movement eventually plateaued, Krochmal said. And in some ways, he feels like the nation has moved backward. 

“So I see the current Black Lives Matter movement as picking up that torch, as saying that the things that the nation identified that were wrong in the wake of the last wave of urban rebellions are still wrong.”

Max Krochmal, historian, Texas Christian University

“So, I see the current Black Lives Matter movement as picking up that torch, as saying that the things that the nation identified that were wrong in the wake of the last wave of urban rebellions are still wrong,” Krochmal said. “And indeed, sometimes they’re worse, and that the nation needs to come to grips with that.”

Krochmal said the country still needs to deal with underlying issues such as racialized economic inequality, police brutality and the lack of adequate political representation.

There is hope, though.

“What we’re seeing right now that I think is amazing and remarkable is that young people … are out on the streets for the first time ever,” Krochmal said. “I think most of the time, students feel alienated from that history, but right now there’s a sense among them that they’re out doing it, that they are themselves making history and they’re empowered and they’re emboldened and they believe in the capacity for change. They’re incredibly optimistic.”

Ordaz feels that, too. He believes his peers are more tolerant and accepting of others. He uses his first name as an example of that tolerance: “Izcan” comes from the Aztec language Nahuatl and means “behold.”  He says he used to feel self-conscious about it — but at school, he’s gotten compliments on it.

“The bottom line is that Gen Z as a whole does not agree with racism. It is not a political issue.”

Izcan Ordaz, first-time voter

“The bottom line is that Gen Z as a whole does not agree with racism,” Ordaz said. “It is not a political issue. Typically, the things that I see on the media or even in person, young people are normally the ones who stand against racism when it happens from older generations.”

Ordaz’s mother, Xochitl Ortiz, said she’s proud of her son for standing up for issues he believes in. She reflected on that while sitting outside her home one recent evening.

“My husband and I are just amazed that he’s able to articulate and just really see at his young age, just the ideas that he has,” she said.

Discussion: The Latino conservative vote in the 2020 election

Xochitl Ortiz, left, helps her son Izcan Ordaz to try on his graduation gown outside their home in Keller, Texas, May 28, 2020. Ordaz graduated last week.

Credit:

Ben Torres/The World

Ortiz and her husband don’t shy away from talking with their son about difficult topics, such as racial disparities, discrimination and the history of slavery. 

And she accepts that sometimes they may have different views. 

“It’s just really neat to see how he takes in information and doesn’t just quickly jump to make a decision but really kind of investigates,” she said. 

Just what impact this new movement will have on the ballot box in November remains to be seen. Krochmal said he’s noticed alliances forming between grassroots protest groups and those working toward making political changes.

“What we’re witnessing is grassroots organizing in the electoral arena among people who ordinarily don’t participate in that and we’re seeing folks paying attention to local politics, particularly local politics, who’ve never noticed it before,” he said.

As for Ordaz, he said he still plans to vote for former Vice President Joe Biden. He’s critical of how President Donald Trump has politicized the coronavirus pandemic, and Ordaz doesn’t like the comments he’s made about Black Lives Matter protesters. He believes the president’s actions have polarized the country.

He said: “I personally feel that the role of any leader anywhere, anytime should always be to try to create some kind of unity with the people he’s hoping to lead.”

Evan Matthew Fuchs contributed audio for this story.

Whose Haghia Sophia? 

Whose Haghia Sophia? 

By
Durrie Bouscaren

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, accompanied by his wife Emine Erdoğan, attends the opening ceremony of the Yeditepe Biennial at the Haghia Sophia Museum in Istanbul, Turkey, March 31, 2018.

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Kayhan Ozer/Turkish Presidential Press Office/Handout via Reuters 

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Passing through the stone walls of the Haghia Sophia Museum in Istanbul, Turkey, time stands still. A cross-eyed cat appraises a small group of tourists from its corner. 

For more than a thousand years, the Haghia Sophia was the largest dome in the world. In its center is a ring of Arabic calligraphy, a transcription of the 35th verse of the Quran — the verse of light. It’s like a piece of the sun. 

“It gives me goosebumps,” said Ebru Gokteke, a Turkish tour guide.

The Byzantines commissioned the Haghia Sophia as a Greek Orthodox cathedral. The Ottomans conquered it and turned it into an ornate mosque. Then, secular revolutionaries converted it into a monument to two faiths. 

Now, the Haghia Sophia may change hands again. 

Related: Is Turkey seeking a neo-Ottoman Empire? 

On Thursday, a Turkish court is expected to decide a case that challenges the 1,400-year-old monument’s status as a museum. If revoked, little will stand in the way of Turkey’s ruling party to make good on President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s perennial promise to turn the Haghia Sophia back into a mosque. 

“It’s a common wish for all of us to see its chains broken and opened for a prayer.”

Abdulhamit Gül, Justice Minister, Turkey

“It’s a common wish for all of us to see its chains broken and opened for a prayer,” Turkey’s Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gül told the country’s state broadcaster, Anadolu Ajansi. “God willing, we will see the return of the Haghia Sophia to its origin.” 

Related: How Turkey’s Erdoğan went from populist hero to strongman

Tourists take in the beauty of the Haghia Sophia interior. 

Credit:

Durrie Bouscaren/The World 

Whose Haghia Sophia? 

As a patriarchal cathedral under the Byzantine Empire, the building is a symbolic center of the Greek Orthodox faith. Members of the Turkish opposition see it as a nod to the country’s foundation as a secular republic and acceptance of minority groups.   

“The republican founding elite … turned it into a museum to neutralize it, to demystify it. And now comes a pro-Islamic government who again wants to use it as an Islamic symbol and try to convert it into a mosque.”

İştar Gözaydın, legal scholar, Istanbul, Turkey 

“The republican founding elite … turned it into a museum to neutralize it, to demystify it. And now comes a pro-Islamic government who again wants to use it as an Islamic symbol and try to convert it into a mosque,” said İştar Gözaydın, a Turkish legal scholar. “These are questions of power, at the end.” 

The original building was built in five years, between 532 and 537 — a physical representation of the mighty Byzantine Empire. Nine hundred years later, when the Ottomans seized its capital, Constantinople, the Haghia Sophia served as a refuge for the wounded and for worshippers praying for safety. 

When the city fell to the Ottomans in May 1453, historic accounts say a 21-year-old Sultan Mehmed II rode his horse to the Haghia Sophia and ordered an imam to recite a prayer transforming the cathedral into a mosque; it eventually became a symbol of Ottoman conquest.   

In 1934, secular revolutionaries under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey, certified the site as a museum. 

But Ismail Kandemir, a retired math teacher and preservation activist, recently opened a case to argue that the 1934 document should be annulled because Kemal Atatürk’s signature appears to be falsified. 

Related: As more journalists stand trial in Turkey, the truth becomes more elusive

Previous debates over the Haghia Sophia’s status have been punted or demurred as mere political discourse. But a recent conversion of a smaller Byzantine church in the coastal city of Trabzon, also called the Haghia Sophia, suggests that the grand Haghia Sophia’s conversion into a mosque may be a possibility. 

Turkey’s Council of State is expected to make a ruling over the Haghia Sophia’s museum designation as soon as July 2. A group of local architects is already preparing an appeal. 

What’s at stake 

Inside the grand Haghia Sophia, terraces of marble columns reach more than 100 feet toward a striped, golden yellow and dark blue dome so tall and so wide it looks like it floats over a ring of 40 windows. Mosaic angels mark each corner. 

“It’s one of the most amazing buildings mankind ever created on the surface of the Earth,” said Gokteke, the tour guide. “It’s a turning point in the history of architecture … it’s colossal, yet so elegant.”

When Gokteke is away from the Haghia Sophia, she starts to see it in her dreams. She says she misses it like an old friend. That’s the case now, as the coronavirus travel restrictions have forced the world’s tourism industry to grind to a halt. But she hopes that the building remains a museum. 

Inside Haghia Sophia, terraces of marble columns reach more than 100 feet above toward a striped, golden yellow and dark blue dome. 

Credit:

Durrie Bouscaren/The World 

“A building like that is a real historical heritage for everybody. If it’s a church or a mosque, there will be things hidden from the worshippers. … In order to fully appreciate it, we should be able to see it as a whole.”

Ebru Gokteke, tour guide, Istanbul, Turkey

“A building like that is a real historical heritage for everybody. If it’s a church or a mosque, there will be things hidden from the worshippers,” she said. “In order to fully appreciate it, we should be able to see it as a whole.” 

That history includes blended elements as well, explained Molly Greene, director of Hellenic studies program at Princeton University. When Ottoman sultans began to renovate the Haghia Sophia to function as a mosque, they maintained the mosaics of Christian figures despite Islamic religious codes against depicting human forms in places of worship. 

“The imperial vision — particularly when it came to Constantinople and Sultan Murad II — was [that] he saw himself, and the empire, as guardians as the world’s treasures. One of which was Haghia Sophia,” Greene said. 

Over the centuries, the mosaics were covered but preserved beneath coats of plaster. One of the most recent finds, the faces of angels on the ceiling, weren’t discovered until 2015.  

Covering the mosaics “was in response to moments of crisis and social strife,” Greene said, “where there was felt a need to sort of reassert the Islamic nature of the empire.”  

Greene sees echoes of the past in Turkey’s contemporary political debate over the Haghia Sophia’s status. “It’s not directed at Greece or the Christians,” said Greene. “I think this is basically directed at the opposition in Turkey … Erdoğan is actively presenting himself and Turkey as the leader of the Sunni Muslim world,” and the Haghia Sophia is a convenient way to assert this message. 

New documentary follows LGBTQ people fleeing persecution in Chechnya

New documentary follows LGBTQ people fleeing persecution in Chechnya

In early 2017, stories began emerging on how Chechen authorities were persecuting the LGBTQ community. The World speaks to director David French on his new film, "Welcome to Chechnya," which gives an inside look at the abuse and torture faced by the republic's LGBTQ people and those who try to help them escape.

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The World staff

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Daniel Ofman

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A campaigner holds a multicoloured flower as she protests for LGBT rights in Chechnya outside the Russian embassy in London, Britain, June 2, 2017. 

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Neil Hall/Reuters

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Human rights violations have been reported in the Chechnya for decades. But it wasn’t until 2017 that the world started to better understand the abuses against gay, lesbian and transgender people living in the republic, which is part of the Russian Federation.  

A new HBO film, “Welcome to Chechnya,” documents the stories of persecuted LGBTQ people in Chechnya and the crisis workers who try to help them escape. It airs June 30 at 10 p.m. Eastern time.

Director David France, who also directed the 2012 film “How to Survive a Plague,” said it’s important to pay attention to the many atrocities happening around the world. But what’s happening in Chechnya is particularly horrific. 

“This is one that has a particularly resonant horror to it,” France told The World. “It’s a top-down, government-controlled, government-mandated campaign to eliminate the community of LGBTQ people. That makes it quantifiably and quantitatively different from anything else that’s going on that the LGBTQ community is facing and that deserves our attention. It certainly deserves the outrage of the US government because the government has remained silent on this.”

One central character in the film is Maxim, who was abducted, beaten and tortured.  He was eventually let go, but the government ended up pursuing him and his whole family. 

“I like Chechnya a lot,” Maxim says in the film. “You know, the people are great. Their kindness and their readiness to help. I’m talking about ordinary people. And so when the gay persecution began, it was a huge shock for me. I couldn’t understand how these kinds people could treat others so violently with such cruelty to gay people, who never did anything to them.”

In another part of the film, Ramzan Kadyrov, the leader of Chechnya, is asked about the allegations of abduction and torture of gay men in the republic. 

“This is nonsense, we don’t have such people here,” Kadyrov says.

The Chechen Republic is located in an isolated area, surrounded by mountains, and it has a very insular culture. Kadyrov, the region’s leader, was placed in power by Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

France spoke to The World’s host Marco Werman about the dangers facing LGBTQ people in Chechnya and those who try to help them escape.

Marco Werman: What made you want to pursue this project, a film about human rights violations against LGBTQ people in Chechnya?   

David France: It’s a film about a basket of things — certainly about the atrocities that are taking place there, but also about how the world really paid very little attention to it even once it was exposed in early 2017. It generated headlines around the globe, but it was not sustained coverage. Once the coverage went away, the campaign against the community continued. And that’s the third part of the story that really fascinated me, which was what the Russian LGBTQ community was forced to do on its own and in the shadows in the absence of any sort of effective outcry or any sort of political pressure from the outside world and certainly no hint of any movement toward justice inside the country.

Related: Gay men in Chechnya rounded up, tortured, and killed: report

So when the big headlines went away, you stayed on the story. And as you rightly point out, it’s just as much about Russia as it is about Chechnya. One important character we follow throughout your film, we know him first as Grisha and then later learned his real name is Maxim. His story in many ways seems to be kind of the heart of your documentary. Who is he?   

Well, Maxim was one of the scores of people who were rounded up in that first year and brought in because of their presumed homosexuality and beaten and tortured. Most of them dispatched in one way or another. This is early 2017 and they determined to their surprise that Maxim was not ethnic Chechen, but instead was in Chechnya working, and is from the north of Russia. They let him go. The campaign they’re waging there is a blood cleansing. They’re cleansing, they think, the Chechen bloodline of LGBTQ people. Because Maxim fell out of that umbrella, they let him go.

But then almost immediately, the authorities felt that they had made a mistake. In fact, what they had done was to send him off to be able to tell the story of what happened to him in a way that would reveal what they’re up to. They began to pursue him. And so, he went underground. They started putting pressure on his family, threatening to burn down their house, his parents’ house, his sister’s house, to kill his sister’s children. So the whole family went underground and decided at some point that they couldn’t live like that. He, in act of indescribable bravery, decided to become the first and only person to bring a criminal case against the people who abducted him and tortured him in the Russian courts. This is a huge move. No one else has come forward in this way, knowing that if they do, they put their entire families in danger. So he is alone and has become the face of the people who survived this campaign.

In the film, Maxim talks about his first impressions of Chechnya and how his views were generally positive. He later talks about how he could not comprehend the cruelty against gay people.  Later in the film, after he and his family had to flee,  his mother also talks about how the abuse is not the country’s fault and that the blame lies with certain people. Those two perspectives, they convey seemingly contradictory ideas about what Chechnya is. How did you square them?

The thing about the Lapunov family is that they have a great understanding of humanity and they are very generous in their worldview, but they’re realists. Their lives have been permanently uprooted. They are living in the shadows. They are hiding, moving from place to place through Europe as their court case proceeds, because they know that they have drawn the fire — not only of the Chechen government and the people associated with the leadership there, but also with the Russian government, which does not want attention brought to this matter and would rather it just go away quietly. I think that when Maxim’s mother speaks about individual power-thirsty men, she is really speaking a truth about what’s happening in our world today.

Related: Remembering Sarah Hegazi, the Egyptian LGBTQ activist arrested for unfurling the rainbow flag

What is the latest on Maxim’s case?  

Maxim pursued the case through the courts in Russia and it was rejected time and time again. He appealed and appealed until he exhausted all domestic remedies and he did what is left to many aggrieved Russians, which is to move the case into the European courts. His case now rests in the European Court for Human Rights, where it is being investigated and pursued. They are waiting now for Russia to respond to the charges and the preliminary findings of the investigators, and they will not let it rest. We’re expecting that they will see some sort of justice there in the European system.

The big goal for the extraction of LGBTQ people in Chechnya is asylum. Seeking asylum in Europe, the US and Canada. Canada seems to be the destination for a lot of these asylum seekers. What have you learned about asylum for LGBTQ people while making this film?  

It turns out that asylum-seeking and refugee declarations for the community are complicated, more so than many other groups of people who are seeking protection and safety elsewhere. They’re not overtly protected by most governments. So it’s harder for them to make certain claims. It’s certainly hard for people coming out of Chechnya because there has been no documentary evidence to this point and what has been happening there is actually happening there, until this film. They are also coming from a Muslim-majority part of the country, and that means that they’re hitting up against dual prejudices. And so it’s been quite difficult for the activists on the ground to find partners in the foreign offices of most governments around the globe.

The US has taken nobody that has petitioned since this tragedy has been revealed, nor has the UK. We’re in a time now, globally, where xenophobia is on the increase and paranoia that immigration has reached a peak. It becomes a burden that is a lasting one for the activists. They bring people in now into their shelter network, into their underground, and they can’t get them out. They are stuck and it becomes an impossible situation, impossibly expensive, obviously, to keep people hidden in large numbers throughout Russia and elsewhere. One of the things I hope the film will point to is — how tough it is for the LGBTQ community to make their way out of this hostile world when we know that there are 70 countries where it is still illegal to be gay or lesbian or transgender, and eight of those countries have the death penalty for people found guilty of it. So it’s really a pressing and very urgent problem.

Ramzan Kadyrov is the driving force behind all of this in Chechnya. There’s a clip in your documentary where he’s interviewed and he leaves no doubt he despises LGBT people. He says if they exist in Chechnya, he wants them all gone. Why does President Vladimir Putin support him?  

He and Putin do one another’s favors and they’re kind of unspeakable and lowly criminal favors for the most part. Putin has found his enemies shot dead in front of the Kremlin, presumably as a favor carried out by his henchmen down in Chechnya. And Kadyrov has pacified the people of Chechnya in a way that makes them no longer a problem for the regime in Moscow. There were two wars in Chechnya in the 1990s and the 2000s and it was all because Chechnya’s previous leadership wanted to secede from the federation and Putin, for economic reasons and political reasons, wouldn’t allow it and fought a tremendously bloody war. Two wars there. And Kadyrov and his father helped end those wars. Putin is repaying them by allowing them to carry out law in the region in any way that they deem necessary. And he just turns a blind eye to a vast quantity of evidence about human rights violations there. Putin just chooses to publicly state that he has seen no evidence of it, he doesn’t believe it would be happening and that the two of them are still in total lockstep.

 This interview has been condensed and edited.

‘Volcano Man’: Song from Eurovision spoof film inspires covers from real contestants

'Volcano Man': Song from Eurovision spoof film inspires covers from real contestants

A new Netflix movie starring Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams may fill the Eurovision-sized hole in 2020's entertainment world. Now, a song from the film is getting a few authentic covers — from Eurovision contestants themselves.

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Amanda McGowan

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A screenshot from the trailer of Netflix’s “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga.”

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Netflix’s “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga” trailer/YouTube

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Megafans of Eurovision may still be recovering from a big disappointment this year. The annual international singing contest was canceled because of the novel coronavirus pandemic and replaced with a one-time show with no voting and no winner in May.

But here’s something to tide over enthusiasts: a new Netflix movie called “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga.” It came out June 26.

The comedy stars Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams as a washed-up Icelandic duo, Fire Saga, who dream of winning the illustrious competition and unexpectedly become Iceland’s entry for the song contest.  

Now, one of Fire Saga’s songs, “Volcano Man,” has found a surprising fanbase: actual Eurovision contestants and winners. They’re recording covers of the song and racking up views on YouTube.

Jamala, the Ukranian singer who won the contest in 2016, recorded an acoustic, slowed-down version of the film’s song. 

Estonia’s 2018 contestant, Elina Nechayeva went for a full operatic effect.

Belarussian-Norwegian violinist Alexander Rybak, who won the contest in 2009, layered some strings over the mix.

    View this post on Instagram         

Haha it had to be done 🤗 I’m sooo happy that two of my favorite film makers David Dobkin and Will Ferrell have made a Netflix movie about Eurovision! 😍 I’m sure it will be hilarious!😆 Will will you be my friend Will will you Will? 💞 #eurovision #volcanoman #rachelmcadams #евровидение #netflix @netflixnordic

A post shared by 🎻 ALEXANDER RYBAK 🎻 (@rybakofficial) on May 29, 2020 at 4:34am PDT

Of course, Iceland had to get in on the action too. 

Icelandic musician Daði Freyr was widely considered a frontrunner in the real Eurovision contest this year for his song “Think About Things,” before the competition was canceled. He shared a funky version of “Volcano Man” recorded in his home studio. 

 

Under Greek law change, thousands of refugees could soon become homeless

Under Greek law change, thousands of refugees could soon become homeless

The Greek government says it wants to make room for asylum-seekers waiting out their applications in camps on the Greek islands and elsewhere. More than 6,000 refugees are at risk of being evicted and that number will keep growing every month.

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Lydia Emmanouilidou

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Syrian refugee Lama Alnasef holds her 6-month-old son Abdalrahman as her other son Omar looks on in their apartment in Athens, Greece, June 18, 2020.

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Alkis Konstantinidis/Reuters 

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When Bouri al-Kaidi and her four young kids got on a boat in Turkey to make the treacherous journey to Greece a few years ago, they had virtually no other choice.

They’re Yazidis — a religious and ethnic minority — from Sinjar in northern Iraq. In 2014, ISIS launched what the United Nations has now recognized as a genocide against Yazidis — murdering, kidnapping and raping thousands.

Kaidi says her own husband was kidnapped by ISIS. To this day, she still doesn’t know if he’s dead or alive.

Related: Life goes on in Greek refugee camp amid diplomatic tensions and pandemic

Kaidi and her four now children live in a small apartment 10 minutes outside of Thessaloniki, the second-largest city in Greece. As they went through the asylum process, they were able to get housing and a monthly stipend of 400 euros — that’s about $450 — through the Emergency Support to Integration and Accommodation (ESTIA) program, which is funded by the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund of the European Union.

Kaidi qualified for the program because she’s a single mom, and because of mental health issues she’s developed since her husband’s disappearance, she said. But recently, the payments stopped coming. And Kaidi was told she’d have 30 days, until July 1, to leave her apartment. Thousands of others face the same deadline because of a new law adopted by the Greek government earlier this year.

Under the law, adopted in March 2020, recognized refugees have 30 days to leave organized accommodations like ESTIA, and transition to living independently. Previously, the grace period was six months. The Greek government says it wants to make room for asylum-seekers waiting out their applications in camps on the Greek islands and elsewhere. Currently, more than 31,000 migrants and asylum-seekers are in overcrowded camps, living in unsanitary conditions as they wait for their asylum applications to be processed.

In a TV interview earlier in June, Greece’s Migration and Asylum Minister Notis Mitarachi said the government doesn’t have the capacity to give housing, a stipend, and other services both to people applying for asylum and to those who have already secured it.

Related: Refugees in Greece support each other through coronavirus pandemic

He suggested that the program is being abused by people who no longer qualify for it, and said that there are many in the program who secured asylum in 2018 and 2019 but are still receiving the benefits. Kaidi got asylum in 2018, but wasn’t aware of any rules that she had to leave after six months, she said. So, she decided to stay.

“It’s true that the people in the camps need to taken from the mud, the makeshift tents, the trash, the unsanitary conditions, and be put in a safe housing environment.”

Zoe Kokalou, Association for the Social Support of Youth (ARSIS)

“It’s true that the people in the camps need to taken from the mud, the makeshift tents, the trash, the unsanitary conditions, and be put in a safe housing environment,” said Zoe Kokalou with the Association for the Social Support of Youth (ARSIS), a nongovernmental organization that works with asylum-seekers in the ESTIA program.

“But it’s not right to take out the already-vulnerable so that we can bring the people from the islands. It needs to work another way.”

Nongovernmental organizations that coordinate ESTIA placements say the program was always meant to bring temporary relief to asylum-seekers.

“The goal of the ESTIA is to empower people to move on, on their own,” said Lefteris Papagiannakis of SolidarityNow, another NGO involved with the ESTIA program.

“But when you lack the next step, then you just put them on their own out on the street.”

The Greek government, he said, doesn’t have a solid integration plan for recognized refugees: to help them get jobs and long-term housing and learn the Greek language. He has little faith in HELIOS, an integration program funded by the European Commission.

Related: This Syrian is stuck at a makeshift border camp in Greece

“Greece has never worked with doing integration before. Now, it becomes increasingly difficult because the policy of the government changed. The narrative of the government changed. It became more toxic.” 

Lefteris Papagiannakis, SolidarityNow,

“Greece has never worked with doing integration before. Now, it becomes increasingly difficult because the policy of the government changed. The narrative of the government changed. It became more toxic,” Papagiannakis said, adding that the fairly new Greek government, which came into power last summer, has taken an increasingly anti-migrant stance.

Integration, Papagiannakis said, requires the cooperation of Greek society. Greeks need to employ refugees, rent out apartments to them. But people are less willing to do that in this environment.

“Because when you demonize refugees and then you ask from the whole society to show solidarity, it sends mixed messages and in an increasingly toxic environment. And people react. It makes complete sense.”

As for the ESTIA program, Papagiannakis said he doesn’t buy that the government has migrants’ best interests in mind. He points to the fact that just this month, the government said it was slashing 30% of the program’s budget.

Related: Cross-border tensions wreak havoc on bucolic Greek village

“It is all being done with an end goal to deter people from coming — making things difficult in order for people to be deterred,” he said.

Greece’s Migration and Asylum office did not respond to a request for an interview.

Thousands of refugees are now waiting to see how the new rules will be enforced. More than 6,000 are at risk of being evicted and that number will keep growing every month.

As Kaidi’s deadline approaches July 1, she says she hasn’t been able to get any sleep and doesn’t know what will come next for her family. She does know that she doesn’t want to stay in Greece. When she and her kids get the right travel documents, she wants to try to go to Germany and reunite with some family members who have made it there. 

Coronavirus cases in Iran on the rise after reopening

Coronavirus cases in Iran on the rise after reopening

The number of COVID-19 infections has been on the rise since Iran started to ease its lockdown on April 11. About 11,000 people have died there since the start of the pandemic, according to official numbers.

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Shirin Jaafari

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Iranians wearing protective face masks ride the metro, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Tehran, Iran, June 28, 2020.

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WANA (West Asia News Agency)/Reuters 

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Iranian health officials are raising alarm bells about a new surge in the number of cases of the coronavirus and deaths in the country.

Some 162 people died over the past day, the most since April 4, when the country reported 158 deaths in a 24-hour period, Sima Sadat Lari, spokeswoman for Iran’s Health Ministry, said on Monday.

“Since yesterday, we’ve seen a significant leap in infection rates and [hospital] admissions in Tehran, which is worrying.”

Sima Sadat Lari, Iran’s Health Ministry

“Since yesterday, we’ve seen a significant leap in infection rates and [hospital] admissions in Tehran, which is worrying,” Sadat Lari said.

The number of COVID-19 infections has been on the rise since Iran started to ease its lockdown on April 11. About 11,000 people have died there since the pandemic set in, according to official government numbers.

Related: Alleged Iranian drownings of Afghan migrants spark tensions

On Sunday, President Hassan Rouhani said wearing face masks in closed public spaces and crowded areas will be mandatory starting July 5.

According to Iran’s Health Ministry, infections in the first week of June jumped 50% compared to the week before.

Mahdiar Saeedian, a physician and medical activist in the Iranian city of Mashhad, said Intensive Care Unit beds are filling up again. Ventilators are being used up, and the numbers are not good.

“Health care workers are exhausted,” said Saeedian, adding that he knows of at least 135 health workers who have died of COVID-19, while about 4,000 have contracted the virus.

Opening up the economy and managing the coronavirus is a tough balancing act that many countries across the world face. But Iran faces additional challenges — most importantly, US sanctions.

In 2018, United States President Donald Trump withdrew from Iran’s nuclear deal with major powers and reimposed sanctions. Iran’s currency has fallen to its lowest-ever level against the US dollar.

Related: Iran sends mixed signals on release of foreign prisoners

At the same time, Iran has been hit with one of the worst outbreaks of the coronavirus in the Middle East, causing major losses for businesses.

And there is another worrying trend, too.

Last week, an anesthesiologist posted a video on social media claiming that relatives of a patient attacked and beat him. He said they broke his nose and caused severe damage to his eyes. In the video, his face looks badly bruised.

Saeedian said months of social isolation, economic hardship and uncertainty about the future have left many people on edge. What’s worse, he said, Iran is nowhere close to the end of this pandemic.

When the country reopened, it seemed like good news to makeup artist Saloume Zarandinia, who had saved money for years to start her own business. She had even picked a name — Audrey — after her favorite actress, Audrey Hepburn.

Her plans were stalled during the lockdown. And when restrictions eased, she was nervous at first, but she takes safety precautions seriously — requiring staffers to wear masks and wash their hands before and after every client and not to apply lipstick directly to anyone.

Now, it’s unclear what will happen to businesses like hers as the coronavirus cases continue to jump.

Related: Afghans in shock after attacks on a maternity hospital and a funeral

Dr. Pooya Payandemehr, head of emergency care at Sina Hospital in Tehran, said that the lockdown might have come late, but it did save lives.

“We had a few patients during the past month. … We had one or two patients daily at most.”

Dr. Pooya Payandehr, Sina Hospital

“We had a few patients during the past month,” he said. “We had one or two patients daily at most.”

In April, he said, the number of new cases went down. So, his hospital started to dismantle the coronavirus triage section. But he suspected it wasn’t over.

Related: Iranian sailors dead after ‘friendly fire’ incident

“Opening up routine activities of citizens and opening the jobs and shops and restaurants and everything else, it causes people to be in the city again without keeping away from each other and the protective policies are not respected that much,” he said.

“We are dealing with a situation that will last for one or two years,” he said. “As you can see, there is no magic medication to wipe away the illness.”
 

This Liberian Italian beatmaker uses music to tackle racism in Italy

This Liberian Italian beatmaker uses music to tackle racism in Italy

Beatmaker and producer Karima 2G uses music to speak out against racism in Italy. She advocates for second-generation Italians who are born in Italy, but denied citizenship at birth because their parents were migrants from Africa, Latin America and Asia.

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Angelica Marin

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A screenshot from Liberian Italian artist Karima 2G’s 2014 music video, “Bunga Bunga,” in which she raps about racism and objectification of women.

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Anna Maria Gehnyei, a petite woman with a miniafro and frayed jeans, shouts into a microphone at Piazza del Popolo, or the Peoples’ Square, a prime spot for protests of all kinds in Rome. 

The daughter of Liberians parents, Gehnyei was one of the thousands of young Italians of all backgrounds who protested on June 7,  in the wake of the murder of Black American George Floyd by a white police officer in the United States. 

Related: Black Lives Matter organizers in the US and UK compare movements

Beatmaker and producer Karima 2G at the Black Lives Matter protest in Rome, Italy, June 7, 2020.  

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Angelica Marin/The World 

In the same square where Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg met her fans last year and where Italian right-wing, populist parties go to “Make Italy great again,” protesters knelt on one knee with their fists in the air and chanted “Black Lives Matter,” wearing face masks and respecting physical distance measures. 

But in Italy, activists fighting against racism have a central demand linked to national identity: Young, Black Italians are fighting to become citizens. Born and raised in Italy, these children of African immigrants are denied citizenship at birth. By law, they are considered “second-generation” foreigners.  

Gehnyei, who was born in Rome, has become an activist for second-generation youth. Over the years, she has amplified her cause through her music as a rapper and beatmaker. 

Wherever she goes, she prefers to be called by her stage name, Karima 2G. Karima means kind and generous in Arabic and Swahili. And 2G stands for Second Generation, for the 1 million young people who grew up in Italy without citizenship, born to African, Latin American and Asian parents.    

“I do music to send a message and to express anger and the need to be recognized as an Italian, but also as a Black woman in Italy.”

Karima 2G

“I do music to send a message and to express anger and the need to be recognized as an Italian, but also as a Black woman in Italy,” Karima said. 

Karima’s style is called Bantu Juke Fever, a mix of techno, hip-hop, reggae, Chicago Juke and grime. Although she addresses an Italian niche audience, Karima 2G sings in Pidgin English — her family roots are in Liberia, but her stories come from Italy.  She often returns to a theme in her music: tackling Italian racism. 

Related: How US protests highlight ‘anti-black racism across the globe’

One of the very first songs she produced is called “Orangutan.”  In it, she slams an Italian senator who compared Italy’s first-ever Black government minister — a woman — to an ape. 

Karima tells The World that growing up as a Black woman in Rome was difficult. She’s been called the N-word. And twice, the police held her at a bus stop, assuming she was a prostitute. 

In another song titled, “Bunga Bunga,” she criticizes the objectification of Black women. 

Karima is known to stir uncomfortable conversations through her art. However, she knows how to disarm a white audience and get them to listen. In 2015, she opened a concert for American rapper Azealia Banks in Milan. That night, she went on stage in front of 20,000 people, wrapped in an Italian flag. 

“And I remember the crowd looking at me and like, ‘Oh my God, she is doing that! A Black girl wearing the Italian flag,’ so it was very provocative,” Karima told The World. “And when I explained the reality of the second generation, the crowd was completely silent.”

After the concert, a man from the audience went backstage and expressed sympathy for the second-generation struggle, which he admitted he knew nothing about. 

Second-generation foreigners can try to become Italian citizens when they turn 18.  But they only get 12 months to file an application and must wait a minimum of four years to hear back from the government.  Guido Tintori, an expert in European immigration policy at the FIERI research center in Turin, says that the odds are stacked against them. 

“They have to produce proof of continuous, uninterrupted and legal residence in Italy since birth, which is very, very demanding,” Tintori said. “Especially because their legal status is not dependent on them, it’s dependent on their parents but also on the Italian bureaucracy and the Italian laws about immigration,” he added.  If their visa expired at any point in their life, their application will be rejected. 

While most European countries relaxed their nationality laws in the 1990s, Italy made it more difficult for second-generation youth born in Italy to become Italians. At the same time, Italy provides a fast lane for anyone with blood ties to Italy. This is why an American, a Brazilian or an Argentinian with an Italian great, great grandfather can get citizenship more easily than a second-generation person, a 2G, whose entire world is in Italy.

Related: From Minneapolis to Madrid, racial profiling, harassment cost lives

Angelica Pesarini is Black Italian and teaches at New York University in Florence. She researches race and nationality, focusing on Italy’s fascist past. She says the historic period under dictator Benito Mussolini had a lasting effect on national identity. 

“Italian identity is profoundly based in whiteness, being Black and Italian for some is a sort of an oxymoron. … If Italians are white, all the Black bodies we see, they don’t belong, they must come from somewhere else, so we are not too interested in their rights.”

Angelica Pesarini, professor, New York University, Florence, Italy

“Italian identity is profoundly based in whiteness, being Black and Italian for some is a sort of an oxymoron,” she said.  “If Italians are white, all the Black bodies we see, they don’t belong, they must come from somewhere else, so we are not too interested in their rights,” said Pesarini.  

Karima 2G’s message has been out for a few years. Song after song, she pushes Italy to reexamine its relationship with race.  At the recent rally, she invited Italian people of color to organize themselves and ride the global wave of the Black Lives Matter movement.   

“I think we are living a very historical moment right now,” Karima said.  “A lot of people are still experiencing racism, but I think that we can come together and kind of create a sort of leadership, you know, to empower myself, to empower women most of all, because I believe in women, and to gain also a Black loyalty — an Italian, Black loyalty,” she said.

A US report shows big strides on human trafficking. Advocates say the message is misleading.

A US report shows big strides on human trafficking. Advocates say the message is misleading.

Advocates across the world warn that with the pandemic and economic downturn, there’s an urgent risk that more people will fall prey to human traffickers.

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Rupa Shenoy

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Rohingya refugees who were intercepted by Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency off Langkawi island, are escorted in their boat as they are handed over to immigration authorities, at the Kuala Kedah ferry jetty in Malaysia, April 3, 2018.

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This year marks 20 years since the US first made a historic commitment to ending modern slavery.

“We’ve accomplished so much in the last 20 years,” said John Richmond, US ambassador-at-large of the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, during the June 25 release of the 2020 Trafficking in Persons Report.

Related: ‘American exceptionalism’: EU travel bans show US is abdicating global leadership, former CDC head says

“Our engagement on this has made a difference. This report and the US have made a positive difference.”

Every year, the US issues an annual report that ranks countries by their progress fighting human trafficking. Countries in the lowest category are restricted from receiving US aid.

The 2020 report lists 22 countries receiving improved rankings for their work on the issue over the past year.

“The department put this out on time without any delays in the midst of a global pandemic and that itself serves to show the priority this administration and the secretary has placed on this issue,” Richmond said, reminding the audience that President Donald Trump had also hosted a summit on human trafficking, and issued an executive order to combat online child exploitation.

But advocates across the globe warn that with the pandemic and economic downturn, there’s an urgent risk that more people will fall prey to human traffickers. They say the report is poorly timed, and counterproductive.

“At this moment, at the 20th anniversary, the State Department wants to tell a story of success and progress. And that’s just not the story that the data tell.”

Martina Vandenberg, The Human Trafficking Legal Center

“At this moment, at the 20th anniversary, the State Department wants to tell a story of success and progress,” said Martina Vandenberg, the founder and president of The Human Trafficking Legal Center. “And that’s just not the story that the data tell.”

Especially because right now, she says, the global pandemic is making more people vulnerable to human trafficking.

Related: As Lebanon’s financial crisis worsens, migrant workers are being dumped on the streets like ‘trash’

“So, what we’re seeing around the globe is people going into greater debt. People now trapped in countries to which they have migrated, but completely unemployed,” she said. “And the likelihood is that those people will be more vulnerable to indentured servitude and more vulnerable to forced labor when the world begins to open up again.”

Vandenburg also takes issue with the US giving itself the highest possible ranking. Many advocates felt that the US deserved to be downgraded this year.

Jean Bruggeman is the executive director of Freedom Network USA. She says many of the president’s border and immigration policies increase wait times and denials, putting more people at risk for trafficking, including vulnerable populations, like LGBTQI people.

“I do not think that the United States is engaged in sustained efforts. And I think the report tells you that when they say that, you know, they maintained prosecution efforts, at best, they reduced efforts to provide protection. And the only prevention work they do is federal agency training, which is not actually prevention. It’s not actually changing the circumstances, which puts people at risk.”

Related: Options dwindle for Venezuelan migrants across Latin America during the pandemic

Neha Misra, a specialist at the Solidarity Center, a nongovernmental organization, says the report’s rankings have always been somewhat politicized, but this year’s takes it to another level. She questions, for example, the upgraded ranking of Saudi Arabia, and says it may lead that country to do less to combat trafficking.

“Even countries that don’t get US aid, reputationally, it meant a lot. It was embarrassing to be on [the] tier-three or the tier-two watchlist. And if the tier rankings don’t mean anything, then that reputational pressure is gone.”

Neha Misra, Solidarity Center

“Even countries that don’t get US aid, reputationally, it meant a lot. It was embarrassing to be on [the] tier-three or the tier-two watchlist. And if the tier rankings don’t mean anything, then that reputational pressure is gone.”

For survivors who are now in the fight against human trafficking, the report is disheartening, says Suamhirs Piraino-Guzman. He was kidnapped in Honduras as a child and smuggled into the United States by human traffickers.

Related: In Ciudad Juárez, a new ‘filter hotel’ offers migrants a safe space to quarantine

Piraino-Guzman was appointed by President Barack Obama to the US Advisory Council on Human Trafficking in 2015.

“I’ll be honest with you. I think we need to stop pretending that we’re moving forward.”

If the US isn’t honest about the reality of human trafficking, he said, it’s not really serving the people who need help the most. 

Fair & Lovely cream gets a makeover in India, but will it change prejudice?

Fair & Lovely cream gets a makeover in India, but will it change prejudice?

By
María Elena Romero

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A customer picks up Fair & Lovely brand of skin lightening product from a shelf in a shop in Ahmedabad, India, on June 25, 2020.

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Last week, consumer giant Unilever announced it will rebrand its bestselling skin-lightening cream, Fair & Lovely, and drop the word “fair” from its name in the latest makeover of the brand in response to global backlash against racial prejudice.

Unilever also said it will remove the words “fair/fairness,” “white/whitening,” and “light/lightening” from its branding and packaging.

Related: ‘Unfair and lovely’: South Asian women dare to be dark

“We recognize that the use of the words ‘fair,’ ‘white’ and ‘light’ suggest a singular ideal of beauty that we don’t think is right, and we want to address this,” Sunny Jain, president of Unilever’s beauty and personal care division, said in a press release.

Unilever and its Indian subsidiary, Hindustan Unilever Limited, have been criticized extensively for promoting colorism — the discrimination against people with darker skin tones — and for making women with darker skin shades feel insecure and inadequate.

In India, the biggest market for Fair & Lovely, marketing campaigns for skin whitening products have emphasized light skin as a positive quality. The products have been endorsed by leading Bollywood celebrities, as well as other youth icons.

Related: Author Mira Jacobs reflects on raising a brown boy in America today

The Fair & Lovely cream — and colorism — is something Mumbai-based documentarist Richa Sanwal has been familiar with since she was a child growing up in India.

Sanwal welcomes the news from Unilever, but says more needs to be done to change the stigma associated with a darker skin tone that has been perpetuated by skin lightening products.

“I do think it is a symbolic message and a step in the right direction. However, a lot of us here feel like that’s not entirely addressing the social stigma that comes with these creams because essentially you’re still selling a fairness cream brand, just packaging it as not Fair & Lovely, but whatever it is they come up with,” Sanwal told The World. “So essentially we’re still selling that same dream, just packaging it differently.”

Related: Born a crime: Talking with Trevor Noah about race and identity

As a child, Sanwal’s family members, especially her grandma, usually commented on her skin tone in comparison to that of her cousins, who had lighter skin.

As a journalism student at New York University (NYU) in 2014, Sanwal produced a documentary titled “In All Fairness” about her personal story and colorism. In it, she documents her  journey, speaking with family members about how comments about her skin tone affected her as a child and as an adult.

Sanwal says the conversations with her grandmother were not comfortable, but they were “therapeutic and cathartic” for her.

“My grandmom was born when the British were still ruling India. And I think [that idea] comes from there, that white is superior and you’re being light-skinned is the way to be. And my grandma would inevitably, just keep comparing me to my lighter-skinned cousins. And that’s why I decided to use those creams myself, you know, in order to please her and to get validation from people around me, just to be called pretty like my cousins,” Sanwal said. 

Sanwal says that the perception that “fair is beautiful” is deeply ingrained in Indian society and that will take a lot of time to change. 

“A lot of Bollywood actors who endorsed fairness cream brands were called out after Black Lives Matter protests began in the US about their own hypocrisy. They were all supporting Black Lives Matter movement, but at the same time, they were also endorsing fairness cream brands,” Sanwal said. “So I really hope that the awareness that we’re trying to spread through the documentary work that I have done or all the amazing activists that we have in our country will collectively, hopefully, create that change.”

Listen to the full interview with Richa Sanwal by clicking on the play button above.

Reuters contributed to this report.

Petraeus on Russian bounties in Afghanistan: ‘We were looking for this kind of activity’

Petraeus on Russian bounties in Afghanistan: 'We were looking for this kind of activity'

By
The World staff

Producer
Joyce Hackel

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US troops assess the damage to an armored vehicle of NATO-led military coalition after a suicide attack in Kandahar province, Afghanistan, Aug. 2, 2017. 

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The New York Times reported Friday that a Russian military intelligence unit secretly offered bounties to Taliban-linked fighters to kill American soldiers and other coalition forces in Afghanistan. The report asserts that US President Donald Trump was made aware of the intelligence finding in late March. 

Top of The World: Trump denies knowledge of Russian bounties in Afghanistan; pandemic death toll reaches half a million; attack in Karachi

Trump denied that he had been made aware of the situation, saying the US intelligence community told him they didn’t brief him on the allegations because US intelligence agents didn’t find the reports credible. Trump also referred to the story as “Possibly another fabricated Russia Hoax,” and to The New York Times as “fake news.” 

The World reached out to Taliban spokesperson Suhail Shaheen, who denied the reports. “I refute this report. It is not true,” Shaheen said. “It is only to create confusion and to derail the peace process.” Russia also denied the allegation; the embassy tweeted that The Times had invented “fake stories” to blame Russians.  

David Petraeus, retired US Army general and former CIA chief, says he wasn’t surprised by the reports of Russian bounties for coalition forces.

“We were looking for this kind of activity, frankly, from Russia also, by the way, from Iran and from some other countries in the region, other entities,” Petraeus told The World. “We looked for any support that the Russians might be providing to not just the Taliban, but perhaps some of the other extremist insurgence organizations. But certainly, according to the various news sources that clearly have been briefed on this by folks inside the community, it appears that this certainly took place during 2019.”

Related: Trump escalates attacks on International Criminal Court over Afghanistan investigation

Petraeus spoke with The World’s Marco Werman about the report. 

Marco Werman: So, based on what you’ve read and heard so far, do you believe the reports of the Russian bounties are true?

Gen. David Petraeus: The level of specificity, the confirmation level of various legitimate, respected news organizations all suggests that this did transpire. There’s quite a bit of detail about the cache of money that was captured in a raid and then followed up with information during interrogations of individuals that were detained during those operations. And indeed, it appears, apparently, that there was at least one American soldier for whom this bounty was paid out. Keep in mind that we are many months after an agreement between the US and Taliban representatives back in February. Since then, reportedly, there have been no Taliban attacks on US positions. So, we’re really looking back at something that took place rather than something that has been taking place recently. That doesn’t mean that it is not absolutely outrageous, unacceptable, reprehensible. And clearly, again, if founded, if the degree of confidence is sufficient, clearly we should have conveyed to the Russians how outrageous and unacceptable this is.

Related: Amb Lute on Afghanistan: The US is ‘taking a very hard look at itself’ 

Intelligence officials told the AP that President Trump was briefed on the bounty matter earlier this year. But Trump is now trying to swat those allegations aside, tweeting last night that the intelligence community told him he was not briefed about these allegations because intelligence officials did not find the reports credible. What do you make of that?

Well, it’s a back and forth. Who knows? And, you know, you can parse words and so forth. [It’s] very difficult to know whether this is in the presidential daily briefing or in one of the actual sessions that was held with the National Security Council or with the president.

Typically, Gen. Petraeus, how does this work? If intelligence of this sort is gathered in the field, how does it move up the chain of command? And at what point is it decided that it should reach the president’s ear?

There is a team that’s literally working all the time on what will be in the next presidential daily briefing. They put it together overnight. It is eventually delivered from the CIA headquarters, where it’s still put together, to the office of the director of national intelligence. The assessments are all locked down because this is from the entire community. And you could have signals intelligence, you could have other forms of intelligence, in addition to what it is that the CIA has gathered in the field.

Related: What can the US learn from the conflicts in Syria and Afghanistan? 

If this is true and the Russians were offering bounties for the lives of US troops, how will Washington respond to this?

One would hope that perhaps there already had been a response, but if not, then clearly there are various options that can be employed. Everything from a diplomatic outreach to them about how unacceptable this is, how reprehensible. And then on up the ladder, whether it’s clandestine operations, covert action, and not just in Afghanistan, although certainly if this were discovered there, there should be some pretty substantial targeting against those who were engaged in it. But, of course, there are Russian forces operating in southeastern Ukraine. There are forces in Syria, there are proxies in various other places around the world where, if necessary, something further could be pursued.

Related: After a deadly Syrian battle, evidence of Russian losses was obscured

If there was already a response, what would it have been?

Very difficult to speculate. One would think that there would be a denial, but perhaps also some kind of tacit, “Well, this never would have taken place, but, of course, had it taken place, that would be unacceptable. We understand that and it won’t happen again.” There is some speculation that this is a bit of a payback for what you may recall taking place a few years ago in northeastern Syria, where some Russian proxies, essentially the Wagner group — this is a security contract group with some Syrian forces — crossed in a very menacing formation with some very substantial weapons and so forth, armored vehicles, crossed into what was accepted as the Syrian Democratic Forces zone where the US was supporting them. And there were warnings given. When those forces did not turn around, the US hammered them with precision air attacks and so forth. Again, it’s possible that this is some kind of payback for that, except that, again, that was a violation of what was understood to be respective spheres within Syria.

Related: Is the US ready for the rising tide of mercenaries?  

General, what should US troops on the ground make of all this? What is the message it’s sending to the boots on the ground?

Clearly there’s always a desire and a need to know that those above you, if you will, have your back. And that will be among the factors, I’m sure, as this is evaluated further and as additional actions are taken.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.