Google Doodle celebrates the late Saudi novelist Abdelrahman Munif

His best known work is the quintet, Mudan al-Milh (Cities of Salt) which describes the Arab world during the oil era. (Google Doodle)
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Updated 29 May 2023
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Google Doodle celebrates the late Saudi novelist Abdelrahman Munif

  • Since childhood, Munif developed an interest in writing and believed “the mission of literature is to increase awareness”

DUBAI: Google Doodle on Monday celebrated what would have been the 90th birthday of Saudi novelist, journalist and cultural critic Abdelrahman Munif. 

Munif was born on May 29, 1933 in Amman, Jordan. In 1952, he moved to Iraq to study law at the University of Baghdad.

Years later he graduated from Cairo University in Egypt before earning his PhD in petroleum economics at the University of Belgrade in 1961.  

Munif had a career in the oil industry as an economist in Iraq, and later for the Oil Ministry in Syria and OPEC. 

Since childhood, Munif developed an interest in writing and believed “the mission of literature is to increase awareness”.

While living in Baghdad, he worked as an editor at the monthly periodical Al-Naft wa Al-Tanmiyya (Oil and Development). 

He published short stories and eventually his first book during his time as an editor. 

His first novel, Al Ashjar wa-ightiyal Marzuq (Trees and the Assasination of Marzooq) was published in 1973. 

His best known work is the quintet, Mudan al-Milh (Cities of Salt) which describes the Arab world during the oil era.

Other notable works by Munif included Al-Nihayat (Endings), Sharq al-Mutawassit (East of the Mediterranean) and historical novel trilogy Ard Al-Sawad (Land of Darkness).

In 1989, Munif was awarded the Al-Owaist Cultural Award for his distinction in writing and the Award of Cairo Gathering for Arab Creativity in Novel Writing in 1998. 

“Thank you for your contributions to Arab literature and your analysis of sociopolitical issues,” read Google’s description of the novelist.  

The doodle was seen across the Middle East on Monday.


Video of Israeli soldier burning Qur’an sparks outrage

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Video of Israeli soldier burning Qur’an sparks outrage

  • Israeli authorities launch investigation into incident

LONDON: A video of an Israeli soldier burning a Qur’an has emerged on social media, sparking a wave of criticism.

The video, shared by Israeli Army Radio on Thursday, shows the soldier standing in the ruins of a mosque in East Rafah, Gaza, throwing the Qur’an with its pages open into a fire.

According to Israeli broadcaster Kan, the soldier posted the footage on his personal Instagram account a few days ago.

The incident was condemned by Israeli authorities, who announced the launch of an investigation.

“The soldier’s behavior is not in line with the IDF’s values,” the Israeli army said in a statement.

“The IDF respects all religions and condemns such behavior. An IDF investigation has been opened regarding the incident.”

Palestinian writer and activist Adham Abu Selmiya criticized the act on social media, warning that similar actions have often gone unpunished.

“This is not an isolated incident. The Israeli army has destroyed and bombed over 200 mosques in Gaza in the ongoing genocide, with countless videos of soldiers bragging about these acts,” he said on X.

“This is not limited to Gaza! Settlers in the West Bank have burned Qur’ans in Hebron, facing no repercussions from the Israeli government.”

Another user criticized the conduct, expressing frustration over the lack of condemnation from the international community and Israel’s allies.

“This is the conduct and the morals of Israeli warfare that’s backed by the democratic West,” the post read.

Since the launch of the war on Gaza, Israeli soldiers have posted videos documenting acts of looting, burning, and destruction of homes, assaulting detainees and writing hate graffiti on the walls of houses.

The Israeli army has not announced measures against these soldiers, only stating that their actions “contravene the army’s values.”

In a similar incident in March, an Israeli soldier appeared to have posted a video of himself tearing apart a copy of the Qur’an in a mosque in Gaza.

Some experts have said that the desecration of religious and private places in Gaza is part of a policy of humiliation carried out by Israeli soldiers.


Russian rights group says YouTube threatens to block its anti-war channel

Updated 23 May 2024
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Russian rights group says YouTube threatens to block its anti-war channel

  • OVD-Info said YouTube’s email followed a request by the Russian communications regulator Roskomnadzor

LONDON: A leading Russian rights group says it has received a notice from YouTube threatening to block access in Russia to one of its video channels featuring news on the war in Ukraine.
OVD-Info, an independent protest monitoring network, said it had received an email from YouTube in early May saying that the Russian communications regulator Roskomnadzor had found content on the channel that violated a law on information technology.
“If you do not remove the content, Google may be required to block it,” Alphabet Inc’s YouTube wrote, according to screenshots of an email shared with Reuters. The email did not specify which part of the law OVD-Info was accused of violating.
The channel, Kak Teper (What’s Going On), has 100,000 subscribers and features interviews with Russian opposition figures and political news segments that often touch on the war.
“We are consulting with YouTube and Google and trying to explain that the demand to block our channel is an act of political censorship,” said OVD-Info spokesperson Dmitrii Anisimov. He said the group’s other YouTube channel was not affected.
Contacted by Reuters two times about Youtube’s discussions with OVD-Info, a spokesperson for YouTube did not respond. The spokesperson answered separate questions about three other opposition channels which had videos blocked.
Like many Western technology companies, Google quit Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, pulling its staff and suspending all advertising sales, including on YouTube.
Russia has blocked the vast majority of foreign social media platforms, but has stopped short of blocking YouTube despite fining the video-hosting platform repeatedly for failing to delete content Moscow deems illegal.
YouTube has tens of millions of monthly users in Russia and blocking the entire platform could prove highly unpopular.
Russian independent media reported on Monday that YouTube had deleted videos from three other channels that provided information on how to evade Russian military service.
Two of the groups told Reuters their content had been reinstated within a day after the media reports.
When contacted by Reuters about the videos, the YouTube spokesperson replied by email: “The content in question has been reinstated to YouTube,” without elaborating.
OVD-Info’s Kak Teper would be the first Russian human rights channel to be banned on YouTube, as opposed to just a few videos, according to Natalia Krapiva, tech legal counsel at global digital rights non-profit Access Now.
“We will not have any YouTube to fight for anymore if all the civil society is blocked there,” Krapiva said in a phone interview.


Dutch prosecutors studying complaint against Booking.com’s Israeli settlement listings

Updated 23 May 2024
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Dutch prosecutors studying complaint against Booking.com’s Israeli settlement listings

AMSTERDAM: Dutch prosecutors are looking into a criminal complaint against Booking.com over its listing of rental properties in Israeli settlements, they said on Thursday.
Dutch non-profit organization SOMO said it had filed the complaint with the Dutch public prosecutor in November, together with three other human rights groups, but had not gone public with it before.
In their complaint the groups accuse Booking.com of “profiting from war crimes by facilitating the rental of vacation homes on land stolen from the indigenous Palestinian population.”
Prosecutors were studying the complaint, but could not give a timeline for a decision on possible further steps, spokesperson Brechje van de Moosdijk said.
Booking in a response said it disagreed with the allegations and that there are no laws prohibiting listings in Israeli settlements, while a range of US state laws would prohibit divesting from the region.
“Legal action has been taken against other companies that have tried to withdraw their activities, and we would expect the same to happen in our case,” a spokesperson for the company said.
SOMO said its research had shown that Booking’s platform offered up to 70 listings for properties in East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank between 2021 and 2023.
It argued that revenues acquired from renting out those properties are “proceeds of criminal activities,” and that by booking these proceeds in the Netherlands the company is violating Dutch anti-money laundering rules.
The settlements built on land captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war are deemed illegal by most countries, including the Netherlands. Their presence is one of the fundamental issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Palestinians seek to establish an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as their capital. Israeli settlers cite Jewish historic connections to the land.


News Corp. makes deal to let OpenAI use its content

Updated 23 May 2024
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News Corp. makes deal to let OpenAI use its content

  • ChatGPT’s creator is also in the process of signing content licensing agreements with media outlets

NEW YORK: News Corp. on Wednesday announced a deal to let ChatGPT-maker OpenAI use content from its publications in artificial intelligence products.
OpenAI will get access to current and archived content from News Corp. properties including The Wall Street Journal, Barron’s, MarketWatch, and The New York Post, according to a joint release.
Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, but the Wall Street Journal cited sources close to the company as saying it was valued at more than $250 million over five years and included credits for News Corp. using OpenAI technology.
Authors, artists, and news groups have been accusing OpenAI and its rivals in the generative artificial intelligence market of using copyrighted content for training models without asking permission or paying.
Generative AI models are trained on mountains of data in the effort to get software to think the way people do.
“This landmark accord is not an end, but the beginning of a beautiful friendship in which we are jointly committed to creating and delivering insight and integrity instantaneously,” News Corp. chief executive Robert Thomson said.
OpenAI gets permission to display News Corp. content in response to queries by users of its technology, according to terms of the deal.
“Our partnership with News Corp. is a proud moment for journalism and technology,” Open AI CEO Sam Altman said in the release.
“Together, we are setting the foundation for a future where AI deeply respects, enhances, and upholds the standards of world-class journalism.”
ChatGPT’s creator is also in the process of signing content licensing agreements with media outlets — including the Associated Press, Germany’s Axel Springer Group (publisher of tabloid Bild), French daily Le Monde and Spanish conglomerate Prisa Media — to enrich its models.
The announcement of the agreement with News Corp. comes on the heels of a new controversy, after actress Scarlett Johansson accused OpenAI of copying her voice for a new voice assistant without her permission.
Altman has apologized and announced the suspension of the voice, called “Sky.”


Antisemitism group posts fake news about politician after Ireland recognizes Palestinian state

Updated 23 May 2024
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Antisemitism group posts fake news about politician after Ireland recognizes Palestinian state

  • Stop Antisemitism puts message on X claiming Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin’s daughter was kidnapped and raped in Gaza on Oct. 7; later admits this ‘did not actually occur’
  • Blatant disinformation outrages users; some suggest such posts only provoke antisemitism, others say comments about rape should not be made lightly

DUBAI: US-based organization Stop Antisemitism posted a message on social media platform X on Wednesday that appeared to state Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin’s daughter, Aoibhe Martin, had been kidnapped and raped by Hamas in Gaza on Oct. 7 and that now “he is rewarding his daughter’s rapists with a state of their own.”

The organization added another post, more than an hour later, in which it said the initial post “is for illustrative purposes only” and the events it described “did not actually occur.”

 

 

The blatant use of disinformation outraged many X users, with some suggesting that such posts serve only to increase incidents of antisemitism. Others said comments about rape should not be made lightly and that there was nothing “illustrative” about the post.

 

Critics say that disinformation and fake news has greatly increased on X since Elon Musk bought the platform in April 2022. In the past two years, the company has shed thousands of jobs, many of them related to content moderation.

European Commission Vice President Vera Jourova last year accused X of being the social media platform with the highest ratio of fake news, and urged Musk to comply with EU laws designed to combat disinformation.

In April, X’s own artificial intelligence chatbot Grok generated a fake headline that stated: “Iran Strikes Tel Aviv with Heavy Missiles.” It was promoted on the main X feed.

In the 48 hours following the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas on Israel, misinformation was rampant on the platform. One video that claimed to show Israeli generals captured by a Hamas fighter was actually footage of separatists detained in Azerbaijan. Another clip showing an airplane being shot down was accompanied by the hashtag #PalestineUnderAttack when it was really footage taken from the video game Arma 3. The former video was viewed more than 1.7 million times in two days, the latter more than 500,000 times.

Earlier on Wednesday, Martin had announced in a video message posted on X that the Irish government will formally recognize the State of Palestine on May 28.

“The Palestinian people’s right to self-determination, peace, dignity and statehood must be vindicated,” he added. “It is our conviction that the two-state solution remains the only viable option to secure a just and lasting peace that fulfills these rights for both Israelis and Palestinians alike.”

He added that recognition of Palestine as a state did not mean the legitimization of Hamas.

“Recognition does not involve recognition of a government, it’s recognition of a state,” he told Irish radio program The Pat Kenny Show.

Martin had not responded to Stop Antisemitism’s post on X at the time of writing.