Germany: She Called Police Over a Neo-Nazi Threat. But the Neo-Nazis Were Inside the Police.

Disturbing:

Traveling for work and far from home, Seda Basay-Yildiz received a chilling fax at her hotel: “You filthy Turkish sow,” it read. “We will slaughter your daughter.”

A German defense lawyer of Turkish descent who specializes in Islamist terrorism cases, Ms. Basay-Yildiz was used to threats from the far right. But this one, which arrived late one night in August 2018, was different.

Signed with the initials of a former neo-Nazi terrorist group, it contained her address, which was not publicly available because of the earlier threats. Whoever sent it had access to a database protected by the state.

“I knew I had to take this seriously — they had our address, they knew where my daughter lives,” Ms. Basay-Yildiz recalled in an interview. “And so for the first time I actually called the police.”

It would bring her little sense of security: An investigation soon showed that the information had been retrieved from a police computer.

Far-right extremism is resurgent in Germany, in ways that are new and very old, horrifying a country that prides itself on dealing honestly with its murderous past. This month, a two-year parliamentary inquiry concluded that far-right networks had extensively penetrated German security services, including its elite special forces.

But increasingly, the spotlight is turning on Germany’s police, a much more sprawling and decentralized force with less stringent oversight than the military — and with a more immediate impact on the everyday safety of citizens, experts warn.

After World War II, the greatest preoccupation among the United States, its allies and Germans themselves was that the country’s police force never again be militarized, or politicized and used as a cudgel by an authoritarian state like the Gestapo.

Policing was fundamentally overhauled in West Germany after the war, and cadets across the country are now taught in unsparing detail about the shameful legacy of policing under the Nazis — and how it informs the mission and institution of policing today.

Still, Germany has been besieged by revelations of police officers in different corners of the country forming groups based on a shared far-right ideology.

“I always hoped that it was individual cases, but there are too many of them now,” said Herbert Reul, the interior minister of North-Rhine Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state, where 203 police officers are under investigation in connection with reported far-right incidents.

For Mr. Reul, the alarm sounded in September, when 31 officers in his state were found to have shared violent neo-Nazi propaganda. “It was almost an entire unit of officers — and we found out by chance,” Mr. Reul said this past week in an interview. “That floored me. This is not trivial.”

“We have a problem with far-right extremism,” he said. “I don’t know how far it reaches inside the institutions. But if we don’t deal with it, it will grow.”

It has been growing by the month.

The 31 officers in Mr. Reul’s western state were suspended in September for sharing images of Hitler, memes of a refugee in a gas chamber and the shooting of a Black man. The unit’s superior was part of the chat, too.

In October, a racist chat group with 25 officers was discovered in the Berlin police after one officer frustrated that superiors would not do anything about it blew the whistle. Separately, six cadets were kicked out of Berlin’s police academy after playing down the Holocaust and sharing images of swastikas in a chat group that had 26 other members.

In November, a police station in the western city of Essen was raided after images of ammunition and benches arranged to form swastikas were discovered in a WhatsApp chat. This past week, a violent far-right chat with four police officers in the northern cities of Kiel and Neumünster was discovered. Ammunition and Nazi memorabilia were found in raids of the homes of two officers.

Much focus has been on the state of Hesse, home to Ms. Basay-Yildiz, who lives in Frankfurt, and a number of other high-profile targets of neo-Nazi threats.

Ms. Basay-Yildiz is intimately familiar with discrimination in Germany.

When she was just 10 years old, her parents, guest workers from Turkey, took the young Seda to help translate when they went to buy car insurance. The salesman declined to sell it to them. “We don’t want foreigners,” he told them.

“So I decided that I want to know what kind of rights I have in Germany,” Ms. Basay-Yildiz recalled. She went to the library, found an agency to file a complaint and got her parents the insurance they wanted.

It was then she knew what she wanted to do with her life.

She rose to prominence as a lawyer when she represented the family of a Turkish flower seller who was shot at his roadside stand. He was the first victim of the National Socialist Underground, known as the N.S.U., a neo-Nazi terrorist group that killed 10 people, nine of them immigrants, between 2000 and 2007.

Police forces across Germany blamed immigrants, failing to recognize that the perpetrators were wanted neo-Nazis, while paid informers of the intelligence service helped hide the group’s leaders. Files on the informers were shredded by the intelligence service within days of the story’s exploding into the public in 2011.

After a five-year trial that ended only in July 2018, Ms. Basay-Yildiz won her clients modest compensation but not what they had most hoped for: answers.

“How big was that network and what did state institutions know?” said Ms. Basay-Yildiz. “After 438 days in court we still don’t know.”

Three weeks after the trial finished, she received her first threat by fax. They have not stopped since. Ms. Basay-Yildiz represents precisely the kind of change in Germany that the far right despises.

But she is not the only one. Police computers in Hesse have been used to call up data on a Turkish-German comedian, Idil Baydar, as well as a left-wing politician, Janine Wissler, who both received threats. The police president of the state failed to report it for months. He had to resign in July. 

Most of the threats, including those to Ms. Basay-Yildiz, have come in the form of emails signed “NSU 2.0.”

In all, the state government has been looking into 77 cases of far-right extremism in its police force since 2015. This past summer it named a special investigator whose team is focused solely on the email threats.

When investigators discovered that Ms. Basay-Yildiz’s information had been called up on a computer in Frankfurt’s first precinct an hour and a half before she received the threat, the police officer who had been logged on at the time was suspended. The whole police station was searched and computers and cellphones were analyzed, leading to the suspension of five more officers. Later in the year, the number grew to 38.

Ms. Basay-Yildiz is not reassured.

“If you have 38 people, you have a structural problem,” she said. “And if you don’t realize this, nothing will change.”

Others, too, fear that the infiltration of police ranks poses special dangers for Germany, not least a creeping subversion of state institutions that are supposed to serve and protect the public.

“These far-right calls for resistance to public servants are an attempt to subvert the state from the inside,” said Stephan Kramer, head of the intelligence agency of the eastern state of Thuringia. “The risk of infiltration is real and has to be taken seriously.”

Like the military, the police have been aggressively courted by the far-right Alternative for Germany party, known by its German initials, AfD, since its founding in 2013. Four of the AfD’s 88 lawmakers in the federal Parliament are former police officers — nearly 5 percent compared with less than 2 percent in all other parties.

Penetrating state institutions, especially those with guns, has been part of the party’s strategy from the start. Especially in eastern states, a more extremist AfD has already made deep inroads into the police force.

Björn Höcke, a history teacher turned firebrand politician who runs the AfD in the eastern state of Thuringia, has repeatedly appealed to police officers and intelligence agents to resist the orders of the government, which he calls “the real enemies of democracy and freedom.”

Then, there is the question of whether the police force can adequately police itself. Despite strong evidence in her case, Ms. Basay-Yildiz notes, the perpetrators have not been identified.

The officer who had been logged into the work station that had been used to access Ms. Basay-Yildiz’s home address, and the names and birthdays of her daughter, husband, mother and father, turned out to be part of a WhatsApp group containing half a dozen police officers who shared racist, neo-Nazi content.

One image showed Hitler on a rainbow with the caption “Good night, you Jews.” There were images of concentration camp inmates and images mocking drowned refugees and people with Down syndrome.

The officers were suspended and interrogated. They offered multiple alibis — requests for information are so numerous, they could not recall accessing the information; many officers can use the same computer.

The investigation stalled.

“It was absurd,” Ms. Basay-Yildiz said. “I have to assume that they did not treat these suspects as they would treat other suspects because they are colleagues.”

More frightening than the threats, Ms. Basay-Yildiz said, was her growing sense that the police were shielding far-right extremists in their ranks.

She was never even shown photos of the officers in question, who remain suspended on reduced pay, she said.

The threats kept coming, sometimes every few months, sometimes weekly. She moved her family to another part of town. Her new address was even more protected than the old one. Ordinary police computers could no longer call it up. For 18 months, she felt safe.

But early this year that changed: Whoever was threatening her had identified her new address and made sure she knew it.

This time the police came back and said her address had not been accessed internally.

“The circle of those inside the security services with access to my details is very small,” she noted. One would think that would make it easier to find the perpetrator. But she is not optimistic.

“I live in Hesse,” she said. “We saw what happened here.”

Last February a far-right gunman killed nine people of immigrant descent in two shisha bars in the city of Hanau, near Frankfurt.

In June 2019, Walter Lübcke, a regional politician who had defended Chancellor Angela Merkel’s refugee policy, was fatally shot on his front porch two hours northeast of Frankfurt after years of death threats.

On Nov. 11, Ms. Basay-Yildiz received her latest threat. It opened with “Heil Hitler!” and closed with “Say hi to your daughter from me.”

When she reported it to the police, their assessment was that she and her daughter were in no concrete danger.

“But I can’t rely on that anymore,” Ms. Basay-Yildiz said. “It’s a great factor of insecurity: Who can I trust? And who can I call if I can’t trust the police?”

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/21/world/europe/germany-far-right-neo-nazis-police.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage

When You Can’t Just ‘Trust the Douthat: Science’ The vaccine debate is the latest example of how our coronavirus choices are inescapably political.

Overall, a good nuanced discussion of where the science largely ends and values and ethnics inform (or not) political choices. The one major weakness in his arguments is that while a focus on seniors primarily means a focus on whites, personal care and healthcare workers tend to be significantly non-white, and so there is less of a contradiction than he assumes:

One of many regrettable features of the Trump era is the way that the president’s lies and conspiracy theories have seemed to vindicate some of his opponents’ most fatuous slogans. I have in mind, in particular, the claim that has echoed through the liberal side of coronavirus-era debates — that the key to sound leadership in a pandemic is just to follow the science, to trust science and scientists, to do what experts suggest instead of letting mere grubby politics determine your response.

Trump made this slogan powerful by conspicuously disdaining expertise and indulging marginal experts who told him what he desired to hear — that the virus isn’t so bad, that life should just go back to normal, usually with dubious statistical analysis to back up that conclusion. And to the extent that trust the science just means that Dr. Anthony Fauci is a better guide to epidemiological trends than someone the president liked on cable news, then it’s a sound and unobjectionable idea.

But for many crucial decisions of the last year, that unobjectionable version of trust the science didn’t get you very far. And when it had more sweeping implications, what the slogan implied was often much more dubious: a deference to the science bureaucracy during a crisis when bureaucratic norms needed to give way; an attempt by para-scientific enterprises to trade on (or trade away) science’s credibility for the sake of political agendas; and an abdication by elected officials of responsibility for decisions that are fundamentally political in nature.

The progress of coronavirus vaccines offers good examples of all these issues. That the vaccines exist at all is an example of science at its purest — a challenge posed, a problem solved, with all the accumulated knowledge of the modern era harnessed to figure out how to defeat a novel pathogen.

But the further you get from the laboratory work, the more complicated and less clearly scientific the key issues become. The timeline on which vaccines have become available, for instance, reflects an attempt to balance the rules of bureaucratic science, their priority on safety and certainty of knowledge, with the urgency of trying something to halt a disease that’s killing thousands of Americans every day. Many scientific factors weigh in that balance, but so do all kinds of extra-scientific variables: moral assumptions about what kinds of vaccine testing we should pursue (one reason we didn’t get the “challenge trials” that might have delivered a vaccine much earlier); legal assumptions about who should be allowed to experiment with unproven treatments; political assumptions about how much bureaucratic hoop-jumping it takes to persuade Americans that a vaccine is safe.

And the closer you get to the finish line, the more notable the bureaucratic and political element becomes. The United States approved its first vaccine after Britain but before the European Union, not because Science says something different in D.C. versus London or Berlin but because the timing was fundamentally political — reflecting different choices by different governing entities on how much to disturb their normal processes, a different calculus about lives lost to delay versus credibility lost if anything goes wrong.

Then there’s the now-pressing question of who actually gets the vaccine first, which has been taken up at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a way that throws the limits of science-trusting into even sharper relief. Last month their Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices produced a working document that’s a masterpiece of para-scientific effort, in which questions that are legitimately medical and scientific (who will the vaccine help the most), questions that are more logistical and sociological (which pattern of distribution will be easier to put in place) and moral questions about who deserves a vaccine are all jumbled up, assessed with a form of pseudo-rigor that resembles someone bluffing the way through a McKinsey job interview and then used to justify the conclusion that we should vaccinate essential workers before seniors … because seniors are more likely to be privileged and white.

As Matthew Yglesias noted, this (provisional, it should be stressed) recommendation is a remarkable example of how a certain kind of progressive moral thinking ignores the actual needs of racial minorities. Because if you vaccinate working-age people before you vaccinate older people, you will actually end up not vaccinating the most vulnerable minority population, African-American seniors — so more minorities might die for the sake of a racial balance in overall vaccination rates.

But even if the recommendation didn’t have that kind of perverse implication, even if all things being equal you were just choosing between more minority deaths and more white deaths in two different vaccination plans, it’s still not the kind of question that the C.D.C.’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices has any particular competency to address. If policy X leads to racially disparate death rates but policy Y requires overt racial discrimination, then the choice between the two is moral and political, not medical or scientific — as are other important questions like, “Who is actually an essential worker?” or “Should we focus more on slowing the spread or reducing the death rate?” (Or even, “Should we vaccinate men before women given that men are more likely to die of the disease?”)

These are the kind of questions, in other words, that our elected leaders should be willing to answer without recourse to a self-protective “just following the science” default. But that default is deeply inscribed into our political culture, and especially the culture of liberalism, where even something as obviously moral-political as the decision to let Black Lives Matter protests go forward amid a pandemic was justified by redescribing their motor, antiracism, as a push for better public health.

When we look back over the pandemic era, one of the signal failures will be the inability to acknowledge that many key decisions — from our vaccine policy to our lockdown strategy to our approach to businesses and schools — are fundamentally questions of statesmanship, involving not just the right principles or the right technical understanding of the problem but the prudential balancing of many competing goods.

On the libertarian and populist right, that failure usually involved a recourse to “freedom” as a conversation-stopper, a way to deny that even a deadly disease required any compromises with normal life at all.

But for liberals, especially blue-state politicians and officials, the failure has more often involved invoking capital-S Science to evade their own responsibilities: pretending that a certain kind of scientific knowledge, ideally backed by impeccable credentials, can substitute for prudential and moral judgments that we are all qualified to argue over, and that our elected leaders, not our scientists, have the final responsibility to make.

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/19/opinion/sunday/coronavirus-science.html

Concern among Muslims over halal status of COVID-19 vaccine

Sigh over those who interpret these vaccines as being haram compared to the majority consensus:

In October, Indonesian diplomats and Muslim clerics stepped off a plane in China. While the diplomats were there to finalize deals to ensure millions of doses reached Indonesian citizens, the clerics had a much different concern: Whether the COVID-19 vaccine was permissible for use under Islamic law.

As companies race to develop a COVID-19 vaccine and countries scramble to secure doses, questions about the use of pork products — banned by some religious groups — has raised concerns about the possibility of disrupted immunization campaigns.

Pork-derived gelatin has been widely used as a stabilizer to ensure vaccines remain safe and effective during storage and transport. Some companies have worked for years to develop pork-free vaccines: Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis has produced a pork-free meningitis vaccine, while Saudi- and Malaysia-based AJ Pharma is currently working on one of their own.

But demand, existing supply chains, cost and the shorter shelf life of vaccines not containing porcine gelatin means the ingredient is likely to continue to be used in a majority of vaccines for years, said Dr. Salman Waqar, general secretary of the British Islamic Medical Association.

Spokespeople for Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca have said that pork products are not part of their COVID-19 vaccines. But limited supply and preexisting deals worth millions of dollars with other companies means that some countries with large Muslim populations, such as Indonesia, will receive vaccines that have not yet been certified to be gelatin-free.

This presents a dilemma for religious communities, including Orthodox Jews and Muslims, where the consumption of pork products is deemed religiously unclean, and how the ban is applied to medicine, he said.

“There’s a difference of opinion amongst Islamic scholars as to whether you take something like pork gelatin and make it undergo a rigorous chemical transformation,” Waqar said. “Is that still considered to be religiously impure for you to take?”

The majority consensus from past debates over pork gelatin use in vaccines is that it is permissible under Islamic law, as “greater harm” would occur if the vaccines weren’t used, said Dr. Harunor Rashid, an associate professor at the University of Sydney.

There’s a similar assessment by a broad consensus of religious leaders in the Orthodox Jewish community as well.

“According to the Jewish law, the prohibition on eating pork or using pork is only forbidden when it’s a natural way of eating it,” said Rabbi David Stav, chairman of Tzohar, a rabbinical organization in Israel.

If “it’s injected into the body, not (eaten) through the mouth,” then there is “no prohibition and no problem, especially when we are concerned about sicknesses,” he said.

Yet there have been dissenting opinions on the issue — some with serious health consequences for Indonesia, which has the world’s largest Muslim population, some 225 million.

In 2018, the Indonesian Ulema Council, the Muslim clerical body that issues certifications that a product is halal, or permissible under Islamic law, decreed that the measles and rubella vaccines were “haram,” or unlawful, because of the gelatin. Religious and community leaders began to urge parents to not allow their children to be vaccinated.

“Measles cases subsequently spiked, giving Indonesia the third-highest rate of measles in the world,” said Rachel Howard, director of the health care market research group Research Partnership.

A decree was later issued by the Muslim clerical body saying it was permissible to receive the vaccine, but cultural taboos still led to continued low vaccination rates, Howard said.

“Our studies have found that some Muslims in Indonesia feel uncomfortable with accepting vaccinations containing these ingredients,” even when the Muslim authority issues guidelines saying they are permitted, she said.

Governments have taken steps to address the issue. In Malaysia, where the halal status of vaccines has been identified as the biggest issueamong Muslim parents, stricter laws have been enacted so that parents must vaccinate their children or face fines and jail time. In Pakistan, where there has been waning vaccine confidencefor religious and political reasons, parents have been jailed for refusing to vaccinate their children against polio.

But with rising vaccine hesitancy and misinformation spreading around the globe, including in religious communities, Rashid said community engagement is “absolutely necessary.”

“It could be disastrous,” if there is not strong community engagement from governments and health care workers, he said.

In Indonesia, the government has already said it will include the Muslim clerical body in the COVID-19 vaccine procurement and certification process.

“Public communication regarding the halal status, price, quality and distribution must be well-prepared,” Indonesian President Joko Widodo said in October.

While they were in China in the fall, the Indonesian clerics inspected China’s Sinovac Biotech facilities, and clinical trials involving some 1,620 volunteers are also underway in Indonesia for the company’s vaccine. The government has announced several COVID-19 vaccine procurement deals with the company totaling millions of doses.

Sinovac Biotech, as well as Chinese companies Sinopharm and CanSino Biologics — which all have COVID-19 vaccines in late-stage clinical trials and deals selling millions of doses around the world — did not respond to Associated Press requests for ingredient information.

In China, none of the COVID-19 vaccines has been granted final market approval, but more than 1 million health care workers and others who have been deemed at high risk of infection have received vaccines under emergency use permission. The companies have yet to disclose how effective the vaccines are or possible side effects.

Pakistan is late-stage clinical trials of the CanSino Biologics vaccine. Bangladesh previously had an agreement with Sinovac Biotech to conduct clinical trials in the country, but the trials have been delayed due to a funding dispute. Both countries have some of the largest Muslim populations in the world.

While health care workers on the ground in Indonesia are still largely engaged in efforts to contain the virus as numbers continue to surge, Waqar said government efforts to reassure Indonesians will be key to a successful immunization campaign as COVID-19 vaccines are approved for use.

But, he said, companies producing the vaccines must also be part of such community outreach.

“The more they are transparent, the more they are open and honest about their product, the more likely it is that there are communities that have confidence in the product and will be able to have informed discussions about what it is they want to do,” he said.

“Because, ultimately, it is the choice of individuals.”

Source: Concern among Muslims over halal status of COVID-19 vaccine

Malaysia’s reality TV Islamic preachers face a ‘test from God’

Like so many fundamentalists or evangelicals of all religions:
 
He is not the first reality television star to fall from grace and is unlikely to be the last, but when the young celebrity Islamic “preacher” Syed Shah Iqmal was charged with rape, unnatural sex and outraging the modesty of one of his female followers, it seemed like half of Malaysia had an opinion.

Syed Shah Iqmal Syed Mohammad Shaiful, 25, more commonly known as Da’i (a term for those who invite people into the religion), had grown immensely popular following his stint in the show Da’i Pendakwah Nusantara (“Nusantara Preacher”), in which contestants competed to be the next big celebrity preacher.

But it was his subsequent scandal, which follows that of other celebrity preachers before him – such as Abu Sufyan who in 2019 caused a scandal by leaving one pregnant wife and divorcing another – that has really shone the spotlight on this relatively new form of Islam-based reality TV.

The genre has become increasingly popular among ethnic Malays by offering a “consumerist” version of Islam, says Dina Zaman, the founder of Iman Reseach.

“When I look at these shows, it reminds me of the K-popsagas: suicide, toxicity in the industry, everything turned into a moneymaking venture,” she says. “But for many working-class Malays, when they see a Malay person doing well it becomes aspirational, that sort of social capital. All these young men get to be ‘hot’ for the next few years because of the spotlight given to them by these shows.”

Winners of the shows receive prizes such as a trip to Mecca to perform the haj pilgrimage, a job as an imam at a local mosque or even a full scholarship to universities in other Muslim countries.

Not coming out on top, however, is not necessarily a failure – some contestants on shows such as Imam Muda (“Young Religious Leader”) or Pencetus Ummah (“Community Catalyst”) go on to receive a healthy measure of fame, much like Syed who, despite only placing fourth, has enjoyed endorsement deals, a recording contract, acting gigs and a formidable social media following.

As in most reality shows, contestants are chosen for their on-screen charisma – rather than their religious credentials, says Firdaus Wong Wai Hung, a popular independent preacher.

“It is an open secret that whenever we are dealing with reality programmes, it is not necessary for the best candidate to be selected. Sometimes they will consider a mixture of participants to increase the commercial value of the programme.

“Some might be selected based on their good looks, some might be selected based on their poor family background, and so on,” he explains.

This was echoed by civil society group Sisters in Islam, which promotes women’s rights within an Islamic framework.

“Producers and creators of this show are great in forming a religious-concept show – everything came on point in commercialising a religion for television sake; from the props to the music, lighting and the attire, as well,” the group noted.

The danger, said SIS, came from the lack of official credentials held by these contestants. “Doesn’t this gravely undermine processes and procedures issued by state religious councils? In the name of entertainment, anything is possible.”

But these shows – which get contestants to participate in challenges such as preparing bodies for burial, reciting verses from the Koran and taking tests on Islamic theory – modernise religion in a way that appeals to younger Muslims and also accommodates a burgeoning middle class.

“Such celebrity preachers draw support from segments of Muslim youth and aspiring middle-classes. They might not have a strong religious education yet are eager to become more pious,” says Hew Wai Weng, a research fellow at the National University of Malaysia’s Institute of Malaysian and International Studies.

“Instead of traditional ways of learning Islam, they look for fun and easy ways of learning Islam. Hence, they do not expect the preachers to talk about an in-depth or critical understanding of Islam.”

Source: Malaysia’s reality TV Islamic preachers face a ‘test from God’

US Muslims press Organization of Islamic Cooperation on China

Striking that only US Muslims appear to be making this call. Any Canadian Muslim groups doing the same?

US Muslim groups pleaded Thursday for the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to speak out on China’s mass incarceration of Uighurs, accusing the global body of abetting what some described as genocide.

The OIC consists of 57 Muslim-majority nations and frequently takes up cases in which it believes Muslims are mistreated, criticizing Israel and, at Pakistan’s behest, India.

But the group headquartered in Saudi Arabia has not voiced alarm over China’s western region of Xinjiang, where rights groups say that more than one million Uighurs and other Turkic-speaking Muslims are being held in camps as part of an effort to stamp out Islamic customs and forcibly integrate the community.

In a March 2019 resolution, the OIC said it “commends the efforts of the People’s Republic of China in providing care to its Muslim citizens” after a delegation visited.

A coalition of US Muslim organizations including the Council on American-Islamic Relations accused member-states of being cowed by China’s power.

“It’s very clear that China has an economic chokehold on the Muslim world and has been able to isolate every Muslim country into fear of even paying lip service to the Uighur cause,” Omar Sulieman, a Muslim American scholar and rights activist, told a virtual news conference.

“Whereas some Muslim countries will pay lip service to causes like the Palestinian cause,” he said, on the Uighur issue they will “continue to aid in the oppression,” especially by turning back asylum seekers.

Uighur Americana campaigner Rushan Abbas warned that nations could see the export of policies targeting Muslims as China pursues its massive Belt and Road infrastructure-building initiative.

“China has a track record of buying and bullying. The genocide of the Uighurs is not China’s internal issue but is a humanity issue,” said Abbas, who said that her activism led China to detain her sister.

The United States, which has a rising rivalry with China, has likened the treatment of the Uighurs to actions of Nazi Germany and voiced disappointment that the OIC has not spoken up.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is a rare leader from the Islamic world to have criticized China, while Malaysia has said it will not extradite Uighurs.

China describes the camps as vocational training centers and says that, like Western nations, it is working to reduce the allure of Islamic extremism.

Source: US Muslims press Organization of Islamic Cooperation on China

Effective anti-racism strategies and conversations: Lessons from the literature

Not bad advice from Australia:

From racist tirades on buses and trains captured on camera phones, to genocide, deaths in custody, and race-based violence, there are many demonstrations of the need for good anti-racism interventions. One can’t help but look at instances of bigotry and wonder: could this have been prevented if prejudice had been targeted and challenged early on? Unfortunately, as psychologists one of the striking things we’ve found about studying anti-prejudice interventions is how frequently they backfire. Not only is it hard to lower other people’s prejudices, but sometimes our attempts to do so end up intensifying prejudice instead!

This insight and other findings from psychological research on racism and prejudice can dishearten those of us who have dedicated our studies to tackling the evils of racism in society. However, this research has also helped us to identify some important lessons to help to build resilience in this challenging area of behaviour change.

LESSON 1

Focus on change within your own group, not others

Racism interventions typically bring to mind mass media campaigns, tolerant organisational policies, and training in one-on-one interactions. Yet, all of these interventions can be ineffective if we don’t feel as though the anti-racism message comes from ‘one of us’ (a fellow group member). For instance, LNP party members are more likely to listen to and accept a message from Tony Abbott than one from Kevin Rudd. If people feel like someone from another group is judging them critically, it can make them reject the message (Hornsey & Imani, 2004) – and for an anti-racism intervention, it can make them intensify their prejudice. That’s why it’s so important that respected in-group members deliver the message and model the desired behaviour.

Sometimes, of course, this is not possible. Then, it can be helpful to stress that there’s a common identity that includes both sources and targets of discrimination (i.e., “We’re all Australians”). This approach comes with its own problems, however. For example, it can make people from more privileged backgrounds think the discrimination is ancient history that doesn’t need to be addressed anymore. Focusing only on the common in-group can also make advantaged group members expect forgiveness from disadvantaged groups without changing prejudiced behaviours, or increasing support for reconciliation (Greenaway & Louis, 2010).

LESSON 2

Portray tolerant behaviour as widely supported

Most activists have a strong instinct that emphasising the scale of the problem is important in a campaign (“Racism is everywhere, and must be overcome!”). However, psychological research suggests that this is not necessarily a good idea. People are most likely to accept a message of widespread discrimination if they don’t identify with the perpetrating group. If people identify with the perpetrating group (and after all, this is the group that anti-racism campaigns are targeting), then making salient the belief that discrimination is widespread may make people more likely to engage in the problem behaviour (Louis et al., 2007, 2012). Even the message “this behaviour is common but terrible and we need to change it” boils down to “this behaviour is common”, and people behave accordingly. We like to do what our group does, and if something is common, and characterises our group’s behaviour, we feel that that we should get involved (even with racism).

Therefore, it’s important to draw attention to alternative positive behaviours instead of increasing the salience of prejudice per se. In particular, one should focus on tolerant behaviour being expected, appropriate and morally right. For example, we suspect that recent news coverage featuring one person’s ranting racist diatribe on public transport followed by several people challenging the bad behaviour could have marked anti-racism effects.

LESSON 3

Friendship matters

Pointing out racial inequality is confronting for bigots, so the most effective ‘anti-racism campaigns’ may be indirect – those that provide positive portrayals of tolerant interactions between advantaged and disadvantaged groups without drawing attention to their anti-racism purpose. Putting forward racial minority group members as champions or leaders of a larger group may have powerful indirect effects, for example. There is also evidence showing that from toddlerhood onwards, having friends of different races reduces racism and increases intergroup warmth (Barlow et al., 2009). Even just seeing that intergroup friendships exist can lower prejudice, which is inspiring (Wright, Aron, McLaughlin-Volpe, & Ropp, 1997).

Therefore, if you’re from a more privileged background, you can make an effort to have a wide friendship circle and to talk openly about your intergroup friendships. Modelling and communicating inclusive attitudes and actions could be important to spread these norms. This concept of modelling can be extended to the use of high profile individuals in anti-racism campaigns. Seeing popular and respected in-group members engaging in tolerant behaviours can have powerful anti-racism effects.

LESSON 4

Break up the racist consensus, interrupt silences and claim the group!

What about directly confronting bigoted family, friends and co-workers? The first rule is, aim to break up the racist consensus – don’t be silent. A dynamic in which public racism goes unchallenged makes other people think racism is more socially acceptable than it is, which spreads the problem behaviour. Don’t let that happen – speak up!

Don’t leave it for minority group members either – often in a mixed-race group if someone says something racist, the other privileged group members freeze. They think only disadvantaged group members have the right to respond. But that can make it look like everyone’s racist, and put disadvantaged people on the spot. What’s more, when disadvantaged group members speak out they cop social flak (Kaiser & Miller, 2001). It’s often better for the most socially powerful non-racist person to speak up and show solidarity — that could be you!

When you talk, focus on the behaviour not the person, and say something like “No way. I reckon most people would think that …” and carry on from there articulating a positive, non-racist view. Or, “Whoa! What did you just say? We say x instead….” and so on. The good news is your intervention is more likely to be effective if you don’t make it part of a broader, hours-long conversation about your political differences. Ranters get tuned out. Express your anger later, with your non-racist friends. Short, warmly delivered, direct contradiction followed by a positive alternative could be the way to go.

LESSON 4a

Think carefully before calling someone racist

Calling someone racist or labelling their behaviour racist is good if it makes other bystanders less likely to copy them (e.g., children), or other disadvantaged group members feel like you’re standing by them passionately as an ally. But it puts the bigot on the defensive and may make them less likely to change. One on one, you’re better off talking about your personal experiences and what from your own life leads you to think whatever they said is not true. You also can appeal to common values (“Are you giving x a fair go?”; Louis et al., 2012) and to perspective-taking (“What would you do in their shoes?”). Acknowledging the basis for their views as valid (“You love Australia and want to protect what we have”) doesn’t mean accepting their view as valid. Listening and acknowledging what bigots say can be an important part of building the relationship trust that may subsequently allow them to hear what you’ve got to say in a non-defensive way.

LESSON 4b

Be in the minority without despondency

Finally, sometimes you’re trapped in a large group of racists whom you have no hope of changing. Should you still speak up? Yes! Take it lightly (you’re not going to change their views that day), but do take the opportunity to fracture their consensus. Briefly and warmly present a positive alternative belief or modelled behaviour. Stress the similarities between you, and then highlight your resistance to what they’re saying. Listen and acknowledge what they say, while continuing non-defensively but persistently to dissent. It may be tedious but it’s great karma – and it will make it easier for their views to change down the track.

LESSON 5

Politics matter

While we focus above on how individual APS members might confront racism successfully, coordinated political and social action is also critical for promoting legal and normative change (Louis et al., 2010, 2012). In the area of Reconciliation, supporting Indigenous groups and individuals is important. For example, APS members individually and collectively support AIPA (the Australian Indigenous Psychologists’ Association) and the APS Reconciliation Action Plan. Political advocacy by organisations like ANTAR (Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation) and Reconciliation Australia will always be important, along with voters urging their political parties to engage with and promote Reconciliation. This is especially true in an election year!

More broadly, we hope that readers combine personal and group-level support for anti-racism initiatives. Psychologists as well as other Australians can play a key role in promoting positive change by progressing personal friendships, taking stands in public, and supporting the interests of minority groups in workplaces, community organisations and political life.

Source: https://psychology.org.au/publications/inpsych/2013/august/louis

Chinese state-owned fund among backers of company handling Canadian visa applications

Worrisome. Of note, however, according to their website TT Services lists Australia, New Zealand and the USA as clients, so the issue is broader than just Canada:

One of China’s largest state-owned investment funds is among the biggest backers of a company the Canadian government uses to collect and process personal information from visa applicants around the world.

The ownership structure has prompted some of Canada’s former foreign intelligence leaders to warn that Ottawa should think carefully about trusting sensitive information to a company partly owned by the Chinese state.

Documents filed with Britain’s corporate registry, Companies House, show Chengdong Investment Corp. as one of the most significant contributing partners to the parent company of TT Services, which runs visa application centres for the Canadian government in 24 countries. Its services include collecting fingerprints, photos, biographical information and other personal data.

Chengdong is a subsidiary of China Investment Corp., a Chinese state-run giant with more than US$1-trillion in assets.

TT Services is owned by VFS Global, which calls itself the “world’s largest visa outsourcing and technology services specialist.” Headquartered in Dubai, VFS operates in 144 countries.

Immigration consultants in Canada have raised concerns about the contract with VFS since 2008, when the company began processing visas in China, where police can access corporate offices. Chinese national law also requires any organization operating inside the country to co-operate with intelligence services.

Richard Kurland, a Vancouver-based immigration lawyer, said the amount of personal information VFS handles is immense.

“Passing through their hands are the family trees of applicants,” Mr. Kurland said. “The VFS organization may have more personal information on applicants for immigrant services than entire countries do.”

VFS was founded in 2001 by Zubin Karkaria, an Indian entrepreneur who remains its chief executive officer. But today, its majority owner is EQT VII (No. 1) Limited Partnership, whose registered office is in Edinburgh. That company, British documents show, has numerous partners.

Two of the largest are Eight Finance Investment Co. Ltd., which belongs to the Hong Kong sovereign wealth fund, and Chengdong Investment Corp.

The records show that both Eight and Chengdong made €25,000 ($39,000) in capital contributions, considerably more than other investors, which include pension funds and banks – some of whom contributed as little as €20.

The small figures belie the importance of those investments. In limited partnerships, investments are often made as loans, the size of which can far outstrip the capital contributions. Larger contributions usually entitle investors to a larger share of profits.

In general, “if you contribute more, you get more out of the investment,” said Bobby Reddy, a lecturer at the University of Cambridge Faculty of Law.

VFS and the Canadian government say their agreement includes privacy safeguards. And under British law, limited partners such as Chengdong are meant to be “passive or silent investors,” Mr. Reddy said.

But Richard Fadden, a former director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) who served as national security adviser to two prime ministers, said he does not think it is appropriate for a company with Chinese state-enterprise ownership to handle visa applications for the Canadian government.

He said that Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne recently ordered a review of a deal in which a Chinese state-owned company would provide new X-ray security equipment for Canadian embassies.

“It seems to me that if there are concerns in Ottawa about a company that is owned by the Chinese company operating X-ray machines in Canadian embassies, then there should be an equal amount of concern about the possibility that a Chinese company might have access to all sorts of information about foreigners wanting to come to Canada,” Mr. Fadden said.

“This is information that might be just as useful to the Chinese state, especially, if and when, they reach Canada.”

In a statement to The Globe, EQT spokesman Daniel Ketema confirmed that EQT VII (No. 1) holds majority ownership of VFS, but declined comment on the role of Chengdong.

“We are not allowed to disclose names of investors or their stakes in EQT’s funds,” Mr. Ketema wrote in an e-mail.

VFS chief communications officer Peter Brun said “VFS Global does not store any personal data related to a visa application. All data is purged from its systems in accordance with regulations set out by client governments.”

“The EQT VII fund doesn’t have access to any data from VFS Global nor any of its other portfolio companies,” he said.

The Chinese government has in recent years asserted more intensive control of companies inside its borders, both state-controlled and private entities alike. In September, the Communist Party urged privately owned companies to employ “politically sensible people” who will “firmly listen to the party and follow the party.”

State-owned firms also form a key pillar of Chinese foreign policy, and the country has sought to boost the overseas reach of its financial institutions.

Ward Elcock, a former director of CSIS, said the connections of a Chinese state-owned firm and the Hong Kong sovereign wealth fund to VFS Global need to be investigated further to determine whether the threat is serious.

“I think that the role that Chengdong plays ought to raise a few eyebrows, even if it is as part of a limited partnership,” Mr. Elcock said. “Visas and the associated applications would, I suspect, be of interest to the Chinese, so there is at least the risk that they would want to find some way to obtain access.”

“In the current environment, it would be less than wise to ignore the potential risks,” he said. “As to the Hong Kong sovereign wealth fund, we would not have thought of them as a problem until recently, but increasingly it is clear that the Hong Kong of the past will not be the Hong Kong of the future. Instead, it will simply be an extension of the regime in Beijing with a few bells and whistles retained … so, again reason for more enquiries.”

In Canada, the Liberal government has said it wants to bring in 1.2 million immigrants over the next three years, including 401,000 new permanent residents in 2021.

In other countries, VFS shares revenues with governments. Canada’s government “does not receive a portion of revenues from VFS for premium services nor does it collect any revenues from VFS Global,” Béatrice Fénelon, spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, said in a statement.

“Safeguards governing the protection of personal information are built into the terms of the contract between the VACs and the government of Canada,” Ms. Fénelon said.

She declined comment on the VFS ownership structure, but said using the company allows the Canadian government to “offer extended hours of operation and more points of service that make it convenient and accessible for applicants to submit their application and provide their biometrics.”

The contract with VFS will remain in place until Oct. 31, 2023. It can be extended for up to three years, but late this summer, Ottawa began a process to replace current contracts.

The government is seeking input on what visa application centres might look like in the future, including promotion of Canada as a destination of choice; collection of biometric information; premium services that would be offered for a fee; and tighter links with the government through provision of “interview facilitation, interview rooms, and videoconferencing.”

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/politics/article-chinese-state-owned-fund-among-backers-of-company-handling-canadian/

Who do we see in Canadian children’s books? The Star’s second annual diversity survey tells the story

Good to have this survey and encouraging to see incremental progress:

Exclusive numbers gathered by the Toronto Star for the second year in a row show that, while the voices represented in children’s books published in this country are still overwhelmingly white, other voices are gaining incrementally.

Overall, publishers reported that, in 2019, 419 books with a Canadian author or illustrator were published in Canada, featuring 525 main characters.

Of those books, 37.5 per cent feature main characters who are white, a decrease of 8.2 per cent over 2018, while 29.3 per cent have main characters who are Black, Indigenous, East Asian or South Asian, an increase of 4.9 per cent over the previous year.

“I’m not surprised by what could be described as incremental change between the … surveys,” says Kate Edwards, executive director of the Association of Canadian Publishers. “Publishers typically work a couple of years in advance (sometimes more) and I expect we’ll see more change over time.”

The Star first took a snapshot of diversity in Canadian children’s book publishing last year, looking at the 2018 publishing year, with a Canadian book identified as being published in Canada and having a Canadian author or illustrator.

At the time, in a variety of interviews and conversations, a common message was being heard: that people of colour didn’t see themselves represented in the kids books published here. There was no official Canadian measurement of those books, but there was one in the U.S.

The Cooperative Children’s Book Centre in Wisconsin began tracking in 1985 how many books were published in the U.S. and, of those, how many were by Black authors and illustrators. Over time, they expanded to include First Nations, Asian/Pacific creators and others, developing a body of data.

“These numbers are important because they help create a framework from which we can work toward greater accountability in the children’s literature publishing industry,” says Rabia Khokhar, a teacher/librarian with the Toronto District School Board. “The numbers are a form of documentation and help us recognize where we are and where we need to continue striving to move toward.”

Last year, 76 per cent of publishers who were sent the survey replied; this year the response rate was still high at about 70 per cent. Those who didn’t respond were generally small publishers, some of whom may not have published any children’s books in 2019.

In the survey, we asked: How many Canadian-authored and/or illustrated children’s books did they publish in 2019 in three categories: Picture Books (ages zero to 8), Middle Grade Books (ages eight to 12) and Young Adult Books (ages 13 and older).

We then asked them to break down for each of those categories how many featured main characters who identified as one of the following: Black; Indigenous; East Asian; South Asian; white; other ethnicity; or animals (no ethnicity). We kept to main characters because if there is a white main character with non-white characters in only minor roles, the white person is still the dominant character.

Separately, we asked, for each category, how many were LGBTQ characters, visibly disabled characters and invisibly disabled (mental illness, learning disabilities).

Overall, white characters still make up the bulk of main characters with 197 of 525, or 37.5 per cent of all main characters, being white. That is, however, a drop from last year of 8.2 per cent.

Also overall, 154 books, or 29.3 per cent, contained main characters who were Black, Indigenous, South Asian or East Asian. That represented an increase over last year of 4.9 per cent, helped by a rise in middle-grade books with a 7.5 per cent increase. Young adult books actually recorded a decrease of 3.6 per cent year over year.

Break the numbers down into specific ethnicities and some groups are better represented than others.

According to Statistics Canada, 7,674,580 people, or just more than 22 per cent of those who filled out the 2016 census, identify as a visible minority out of a total population of 34,460,065. Of those, 1,198,545 or 3.5 per cent identify as Black; 1,924,635 or 5.6 per cent as South Asian; 1,858,690 or 5.4 per cent as East Asian; and 2,692,715 or eight per cent as another visible minority. Those who identified as Aboriginal made up just under five per cent of the population at 1,673,785.

Almost 78 per cent of the population, or 26,785,485 people, identify as not a visible minority. And 22 per cent of the population is identified as disabled.

So, in picture books this year, 11.5 per cent of main characters were Black, compared to 3.5 per cent of the population. By the time we get to middle-grade books, that number shrinks to 9.2 per cent and just five per cent for YA books. Indigenous characters featured well in picture books at 7.7 per cent, but in middle-grade books accounted for only 2.8 per cent of main characters.

The number of books featuring a main character who is visibly or invisibly disabled marked a positive change: 39 out of the 525 characters fell into those categories, while last year 28 characters did. Overall, that marks an increase of 2.7 per cent for visibly disabled characters, while invisibly disabled characters fell marginally year over year.

Dorothy Ellen Palmer, author of “Falling For Myself” and a disability activist, says she’s glad to see there’s been some improvement. She does think that there’s a special onus on publishers, especially with the pandemic “erasing disabled and senior voices” to “reclaim those voices and make sure they don’t disappear.” She also notes that “it’s critically important that some of these disabled characters and authors aren’t white … 23 per cent of every racialized community is disabled.”

Finally, we asked in a separate question how many of the writers/illustrators were persons of colour. Publishers reported that 75 of the authors and 53 of the illustrators were people of colour, while six of the authors and one of the illustrators had a visible or invisible disability. Some of those writers and illustrators might have worked on multiple books. A few publishers noted that they did not want to say whether someone was invisibly disabled if they hadn’t self-identified that way, so didn’t include them.

Our ultimate goal should be to move toward authentic and dynamic diverse representation both in the books as well as those writing them

“One of the challenges of getting diverse books published in Canada is the idea of ‘gatekeeping,’” Kokhar said. “We have to consider who is deciding which story is ‘of value’ and ‘worth’ publishing and sharing widely. There is power in having the privilege to choose or reject a story as well as creating and giving space to someone to share it.”

In a year when Black Lives Matter and social activism have been front and centre in the media, the publishing community has been forcefully nudged to address the issue.

“Along with response to the pandemic, anti-racism and equity initiatives have been a focus for ACP this year,” Edwards said. “Many companies are looking at issues like editorial bias and more equitable staff recruitment, with the goal of ensuring that the books they publish, and the people who produce them, reflect Canada’s diversity.”

Penguin Random House, for example, recently appointed Sue Kuruvilla to head its Random House Canada imprint. Kuruvilla has deep roots in marketing and is also a founding member of Canadian Black Standard, “a network and advocacy platform addressing systemic barriers to employment advancement and the inclusion of Black Canadian women in marketing.”

Kristin Cochrane, the publishing house’s CEO, said in a statement that she wanted to hire someone “who would bring us all a fresh perspective, someone who could find new ways to approach publishing on a book-by-book level and for the list as a whole.”

Jael Richardson, author and founder of the Festival of Literary Diversity, notes, as did Edwards, that it takes time for initiatives to end up in actual product.

“We have to count, we have to start asking these questions, but I don’t think any publisher should be congratulating themselves on what they’re doing at this point because, even if they’re doing good work, the important thing is going to be doing it over the long haul.”

In the U.K., the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education has undertaken a similar survey and is now on its third year.

Its latest survey reports that “the number of children’s books published in the UK over the last three years (2017-19) featuring characters from a Black, Asian or minority ethnic background has increased to 10% in 2019, rising from 4% in 2017, 7% in 2018 to 10% in 2019.”

The organization also pointed out that the characters remain “significantly under-represented in comparison to the UK primary school population where 33.5% of children are from a minority ethnic background.”

In terms of authors and illustrators of colour published in the UK, those have “grown to 8% … rising from less than 6% in 2017.”

The results of the Star’s first diversity survey were presented in February at the Treasure Mountain symposium of teacher/librarians in Toronto. While the survey measures whether authors or illustrators were of colour, LGBTQ or disabled, there is not a measure of whether the stories themselves were about them — as opposed to simply featuring characters that appeared diverse.

It was a concern Richardson raised when we spoke with her. “I’m concerned because one of the things I’m seeing a lot is colour washing where they’re colouring characters differently, but they’re not actually economically investing in the authors who could be writing more in-depth experiences, fiction and non-fiction.”

After seeing the survey presented, Toni Duval, a middle school teacher/librarian at the Peel District School Board and a volunteer at FOLD Kids, says that she asked herself the question, “What do I know deeply about the books on my shelves?”

So she started to take her own survey. “I thought, if I start to look at what’s on the shelves, and who are the authors, then I’m gonna get an idea of who is missing.”

She initially wanted her students to be involved because they could then tell her what was missing. COVID-19 didn’t allow that to happen. So, instead, she decided to bite off something smaller, and on her own during July.

She went back year by year, seeing which authors and what titles were on her shelves. “I sorted everything by publishing year,” she says. “And the further away I went from the present, the whiter my collection was. It was so blatant.”

Part of that is down to the books available for libraries to purchase, as well as distribution: getting them onto the shelves of libraries and into the hands of students. She also began cross-referencing, asking herself was an Asian writer writing about an Asian character?

Other librarians, she says, are interested in her work. “It’s getting people thinking about who’s on the shelves.” And increasing the diversity they represent so students see that their voices have value, too.

Duval questions the choices students are being given. “Not just giving a Black author to a Black student … but who else is reading those books? With the students I teach, I want them to understand so many lived experiences that they just feel like the world is represented to them and they don’t have this narrow view.”

Publishing the books is only one step in the process. Getting diverse books in the hands of all kids is the next step.

“There’s so many voices that, hopefully, will get a chance to be published,” said Duval. “And maybe those are going to be kids that I’m teaching that feel, ‘Yeah, I could tell my story.’”

Source: Who do we see in Canadian children’s books? The Star’s second annual diversity survey tells the story

Ousted Black Google Researcher: ‘They Wanted To Have My Presence, But Not Me Exactly’

More on the Google controversy (whose initial code included “Don’t do evil,” removed in 2018):

When Google unceremoniously ousted Black researcher Timnit Gebru, she felt targeted.

“My theory is that they had wanted me out for a while because I spoke up a lot about issues related to black people, women, and marginalization,” Gebru said in an interview on NPR’s Morning Edition.

At Google, Gebru was the co-lead of the company’s Ethical Artificial Intelligence team, where she was able to parlay her passion for highlighting the societal effects of AI into academic papers that could shape Google’s largest products, like search.

Gebru co-founded Black in AI, a group formed to encourage people of color to pursue careers in artificial intelligence research.

For Google, bringing on Gebru lent credibility to the tech giant’s efforts in examining how technology can exacerbate systemic bias and discrimination. Yet she says Google’s support for Gebru only went so far.

“They wanted to have my presence, but not me exactly. They wanted to have the idea of me being at Google, but not the reality of me being at Google,” Gebru said.

On Wednesday, several of her former colleagues wrote a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai asking that Gebru be reinstated, saying her departure has “had a demoralizing effect on the whole of our team.” The researchers also asked that they not be subject to retaliation for supporting Gebru.

That fear is not unfounded. Google has a history of demoting and firing dissenting employees.

In 2018, tens of thousands of employees walked off the job to protest how Google handled sexual harassment cases, among other issues. Organizers say the company pushed them out.

More recently, the National Labor Relations Board accused Google of breaking the law by sacking employees who tried to unionize.

“Google built this whole company up on the idea that we’ll give you free food and a free coffee and pay you well and give you comfortable bean bags to work on as long as you toe the company line,” said William Fitzgerald, who spent a decade at Google working on communications.

Google’s official company policy is: “if you see something that you think isn’t right – speak up!”

What the policy does not state, according to Fitzgerald, is that speaking up can also mean being shown the door.

“Anyone who continues to challenge their power will get squashed or pushed out, and this is something that’s been happening at Google for years now and we’re only now hearing about it,” he said.

Inside Google, women of color and other underrepresented groups who looked up to Gebru have been especially shaken, said former Google employee Ifeoma Ozoma.

“There are serious concerns around her identity as a Black woman and the concerns she raised around diversity as being the main driver for both the firing and the way it was done and the speed,” Ozoma said.

Google CEO Pichai wrote to staff that he is aware the episode has “seeded doubts and led some in our community to question their place at Google.” He apologized for that. And committed to fix it.

Google declined to be interviewed for this story. It points to emails in which executives say they vigorously support free thinking and independent research.

But now even that is up for debate. Before she left Google, the company abruptly asked Gebru to retract a research paper critical of Google’s technology.

Linguist Emily Bender at the University of Washington, who was one of her co-authors, said she feels for researchers inside Google right now.

“I can’t imagine that it wouldn’t have a chilling effect on people who are working there trying to work on this but now looking over their shoulder wondering, ‘When is something all of a sudden going to be retracted?’ and their work going to be basically taken away from them?” Bender said.

After Google demanded that Gebru retract the paper for not meeting the company’s bar for publication, Gebru asked that the process be explained to her, including a list of everyone who was part of the decision. If Google refused, Gebru said she would talk to her manager about “a last date.”

Google took that to mean Gebru offered to resign, and Google leadership say they accepted, but Gebru herself said no such offer was ever extended, only threatened.

Gebru learned that Google had let her go while she was on a vacation road trip across the country.

Former Googler Leslie Miley said he does not believe Google would have handled it the same way if Gebru were a white man.

“You fired a Black woman over her private email while she was on vacation,” Miley said. “This is how tech treats Black women and other underrepresented people.”

At Google, Gebru’s former team laid out in their letter to Pichai what is needed: “swift and structural changes if this work is to continue, and if the legitimacy of the field as a whole is to persevere.”

Source: Ousted Black Google Researcher: ‘They Wanted To Have My Presence, But Not Me Exactly’

We started the South Asian COVID Task Force because Ontario failed to address inequities. In a short time, we’ve seen more people get tested

Good initiative:

Despite the best of intentions, one-size-fits-all public health interventions are ineffective and in fact leave vulnerable communities exposed. To address the spread happening in South Asian communities, like Peel Region in Ontario, the South Asian COVID Task Force has formed as a grassroots initiative to put a spotlight on the specific needs of our communities and the structural barriers in place that are continuing to drive the pandemic.

Now, we’re calling on provincial and local governments to work with us to increase capacity on robust contact tracing, isolation, testing and support for communities that are in need. Time is of the essence.

Yes, the vaccine is here, with the Pfizer vaccine recently being approved for use in Canada, but we are still months away from the vaccine being available to most Ontarians. The early strategy includes giving health-care workers and those living in congregate settings priority, leaving many of the hot spot regions untouched. In addition, introducing the vaccine into areas of uncontrolled outbreak will make it far less effective at preventing death and morbidity.

Unfortunately, despite ample time to prepare and organize, there are countless examples across Canada of reluctance to take urgent action to provide basic public health interventions like contact tracing, mandatory indoor masking, and testing.

Alberta dragged its feet for weeks while its ICUs filled and case positivity soared throughout the entire province. Manitoba has imposed strict restrictions for the holidays, but not before the deaths of 176 residents and more than 1,400 casesplagued its personal care homes and assisted living centres. In Ontario, community spread runs rampant in some racialized communities where testing access has been especially limited.

In a period of just three weeks, the South Asian COVID Task Force has mobilized and grown into an organization that identifies community needs, creates (and disseminates) culturally appropriate educational materials, and advocates for what South Asian communities need on the ground to curb the spread. We serve to shine a light on inequities that might not be obvious in a top-down structure and to build trust with South Asian communities.

Organizations like ours need to exist because public health authorities can only address what they see. Especially since up until recently, Public Health of Ontario was not collecting any COVID-19 race-based data. If you don’t see the problem, you can’t address the problem.

In our short existence, we have aggressively promoted community testing, created social media posts in various South Asian languages that have gone viral, busted myths that are rampant in our communities, and advocated for the creation of an additional pilot testing site in North East Brampton — where in one neighbourhood last month, nearly one in five COVID-19 tests were positive. That’s five times the provincial average.

And we are not alone in our advocacy. Other culture and faith-based groups are mobilizing on the ground to do the same work we are doing in their communities across the country.

As Adalsteinn Brown, the dean of the Dalla Lana School of Public Health in Toronto, said about the prevention gap last week, there “are long-standing structural factors here … that drive these much higher rates of infection.” While “one-size-fits-all” public health interventions are unlikely to help, tailored community action can show some much needed success.

Rightly so, we’ve been called upon to help address the disproportionate impact COVID has had on South Asians. As physicians, health-care workers, business owners and community members, we are working tirelessly off the corners of our desks to make a difference because we know time means lives. We’ve created distribution channels, built trust and identified areas of great need.

But critical to the success of a community, grassroots organization like the South Asian COVID Task Force is the willingness of local authorities to listen and act quickly when we ring the alarm.

One critical example of this is creating testing capacity in Peel Region. Our media push for South Asians to get tested in Brampton has worked, but we’ve created demand that’s outpaced current infrastructure. It takes up to seven days to get an appointment now, with minimal walk-in availability. Multi-generational home dwellers still can’t easily isolate for that long. And the financial pressures to go to work in spite of illness remains a nagging threat to many families.

A great case in point of how things can work collaboratively is with the local health authorities in Peel, who are working with us to increase testing capabilities. Regardless of the lockdown, without more testing capacity, surveillance measures are inadequate. Specifically, we are working together to: extend the hours of existing community sites, acknowledge the barriers of online booking and allow for walk-in appointments to occur, and add staffing who can speak in locally prevalent languages — like Punjabi.

Similarly with vaccine rollout, we have been anticipating the potential challenges in our communities: vaccine hesitancy, religious issues with receiving certain vaccines, prioritizing elderly living in multi-generational homes, and identifying barriers in language and accessibility. Whether it’s building a ride-share program, staffing mobile health units or translating resources into multiple languages and disseminating it, we are here to help address these structural barriers.

We can’t do this alone. We, and organizations like ours, need our governments and public health authorities to work with us, and with the same urgency, drive and motivation to provide the lifesaving public health infrastructure and funding we so badly need at this moment in time.

It’s important to remember that, for some communities in need, the time to act aggressively was yesterday. The pandemic is a multi-front battle and we all need to step up and do our part.

Source: We started the South Asian COVID Task Force because Ontario failed to address inequities. In a short time, we’ve seen more people get tested