YouTube recently announced how it intends to combat terrorist propaganda and rhetoric on their website: they will redirect the users looking for those things. Users who search for such content will be shown to videos that depict clerics refuting violent religious narratives. They will also be directed to videos that show victims of terrorists.
“When people search for certain keywords on YouTube, we will display a playlist of videos debunking violent extremist recruiting narratives,” YouTube said in its blog post last week that explains this new change. “This early product integration of the Redirect Method on YouTube is our latest effort to provide more resources and more content that can help change minds of people at risk of being radicalized.”
Multiple social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Google have been eager in their response to the deluge of propaganda that has been surfacing on their platforms, where it can be accessed by anyone, including those with a habit of violent behavior. YouTube already prohibits its users from uploading videos that are comprised of violent or racist content; however, users can get around the website’s sharing rules by posting hundreds of links. Propaganda videos are often uploaded as “unlisted,” which means that users can’t find them through a search but the videos can still be posted on social media or shared with direct links.
The Redirect Method was conceived and developed by Jigsaw, a company owned by Google’s parent company, Alphabet. The Method is intended to target ISIS-focused videos and was constructed with research partners who had explored the major avenues and narratives the group used for recruiting.
YouTube, aside from announcing the Redirect Method, also stated that it would be expanding product functionality to a wider set of search queries in languages other than English and would be using machine learning to update search query terms. It also intends to work with expert NGOs on creating new video content to counter violent extremist messages and to collaborate with Jigsaw to expand the Redirect Method in Europe.
“As we develop this model of the Redirect Method on YouTube, we’ll measure success by how much this content is engaged. Stay tuned for more,” YouTube said.
One refugee family is making things sweet down in Georgia. Ruwaida G, her husband Khaled, and their daughter Zainab and their son Mohamad fled Syria in 2012. They applied for asylum in Jordan and arrived in the U.S. in 2016, with assistance from New American Pathways and Holy Trinity Parish, both of which teamed up to help the family. The family has asked that their last name be kept private so as not to endanger their relatives in Syria.
“We decided to leave Syria because we feared for our lives and for our children’s lives,” Ruwaida said. “There was no safety in Syria wherever we went, and we needed to leave if we wanted to survive.”
After passing the rigorous U.S. vetting processes for immigrants, the family settled in the Atlanta area. Amanda Avutu, who also lives in that area, met Ruwaida and her family after seeing an online post asking for volunteers to help set up the family’s new apartment.
“As I started visiting with the family and getting to know them more, we would go to their house and they would make us coffee and she start serving us cookies. We were going there focused on helping her husband find a job, but then found that she was literally serving us up an opportunity,” Avutu said.
Ruwaida carried a wooden cookie mold with her to the United States, which is used to make traditional Syrian cookies. The cookies are made with a 10-step process and Ruwaida hand molds hers. Avutu and her friends asked Ruwaida about selling her cookies for a profit. Ruwaida was skeptical but gave it a try, baking 45 dozen to sell at a music festival.
“She sold out before the first band played,” Avutu said. Soon after, Ruwaida, her husband, and a group of five friends created Sweet, Sweet Syria, a cookie business that Ruwaida hopes to grow into a successful family enterprise.
“I learned how to make these traditional Syrian cookies from my mother, who learned it from her mother, and so on,” said Ruwaida. “It is a family recipe. I learned how to make them when I was 14 years old and I have been making them ever since.”
Ruwaida, with the help of Avutu, has taken a business accelerator course and signed a lease on a commercial kitchen. She hopes to make cookies to sell at local coffee shops, restaurants and specialty grocery stores. Sweet, Sweet Syria will also expand into online orders soon and, in the future, to offer other Syrian foods as well.
Ruwaida’s husband, Khaled, a former electrician, works as an assistant chef.
“They’re very much partners in this business,” Avutu said. “She was a homemaker previously…and he’s been immensely supportive of her having this opportunity to work. Previously, they hadn’t really thought about that.”
Avutu and Ruwaida’s other friends have started a GoFundMe account to raise the money for her first year of rent on the commercial kitchen and to eventually help the couple open their own store, where people new to the U.S. and long-time citizens can gather. The crowd funding page has raised more than $20,000 of the $30,000 goal.
Ruwaida says she’s happy every time someone enjoys her cookies and the recipe that’s been handed down for generations.
“I am lucky to have a group of dear friends…I couldn’t have made it without them,” she said. “I hope that people who read (my story) see that we had a life before, and because of war we were forced to leave and rebuild our lives in a new country. I want them to know that we are thankful for the generosity of people and their willingness to see us and treat us as fellow human beings.”
Ako Abdulrahman began looking for ways to protect himself when jihadist militants started coming closer to his home in Kirkuk, Iraq. Abdulrahman found a solution to his fears when he bought a 1990s bulletproof BMW at a car auction for $10,000.
Abdulrahman, a Peshmerga fighter, was grateful to drive around the city without fear of being shot at from far away. That changed on October 21st, when ISIS militants launched a series of attacks on the city.
The militants wounded many during these attacks. City officials were afraid to help the injured because they feared there could be snipers in the area. Abdulrahman heard the news, got in his vehicle, and began transporting injured residents to safety.
“I told myself, this is the right time to help people, this is the right moment to do it. I am a fighter and I have a bulletproof car, shame on me if I can’t help,” Abdulrahman said in an interview.
Though he was under constant fire from snipers, Abdulrahman was able to rescue over 70 people and to carry back the bodies of some of the fallen.
Dr. Najmaldin Karim, governor of Kirkuk, honored Abdulrahman with a certificate of bravery and an envelope containing $385. Abdulrahman did not want the money, though by the time he noticed it, it was too late to give it back. Abdulrahman has also turned down an offer from BMW to replace his car and plans to keep his current model and repair it for future use.
“In my car, I carried Sunni, Shiite, Kurds, Turkmen, and Christians. I felt like I am truly Iraq and this is who everyone should be,” Adulrahman said.
Earlier in July, Maxine Fookson and her husband, Ned Rosch, were watching a PBS Newshour segment about displaced Iraqis in Fallujah when they saw Mustafa Ahmed Abed, a 13-year old boy they helped eight years ago.
In 2008 Maxine and Ned established their own Portland chapter of No More Victims, a nonprofit that helps to bring children wounded by war to the U.S. for treatment. One of these children was Mustafa, who lost his leg at the age of 2 in a missile strike in Fallujah in 2004.
A Fallujah doctor reached out to No More Victims, and at age 5 Mustafa came to Portland with his father Ahmed. Mustafa received treatment and was fitted for a prosthetic leg at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital and Shriners Hospital.
Mustafa remained in Portland for over three months and was received warmly during his stay. He “embodied the tenacity to keep on going after horrific things that had happened to him,” said Ned.
The plan was for Mustafa to return every couple years to be fitted with a new leg, but by 2010, Ned and Maxine had lost contact with Ahmed because of the limited resources for communication in his family’s village just outside Fallujah.
Ned and Maxine feared the worst, especially since ISIS took control of Fallujah in January 2014. “For the last two years we’ve of course been hearing of ISIS in Fallujah with this horrible feeling,” Maxine said. “A horrible feeling on a geopolitical, big world level and a horrible feeling because there’s somebody there that I know and love. I don’t think we knew how to begin to find him.”
However, reporter Jane Arraf met Mustafa in the camp where he and 30,000 people are currently living outside the city. ISIS has barred people from traveling to other provinces within Iraq and they are unable to return to the city, which is heavily damaged. With Jane’s help and Ahmed’s passport and old travel documents, Mustafa was able to reconnect with the couple that had helped him.
Maxine, Ned and an Arabic-speaking couple to help translate sat down and were able to finally contact Mustafa over the phone. The connection was poor and their conversation was brief, but they could hear one another again.
“We just kept saying ‘We love you, we love you,’ and he said, ‘I love you,'” Maxine said.
Unfortunately Mustafa has had to go without the medical supplies that he desperately needs in the bleak conditions many are now facing. Ned and Maxine are fundraising through Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility to get medical supplies to Mustafa in the camp.
When Nazi forces occupied Austria in 1938, George Weidenfeld had only just turned eighteen. Without the help and generosity of Christians during World War II, Weidenfeld would probably not have lived to see his 95th birthday this year.
One of many other Jewish youths, Weidenfeld was evacuated from Nazi-occupied Austria through Christian-led programs and sent to England. Upon arriving in England, Weidenfeld was given food and clothing and help finding a place to live.
With Christian persecution on the rise all over the globe, Weidenfeld is making an effort to repay the kindnesses done to him during World War II. Weidenfeld has started a new program, the Weidenfeld Safe Havens Fund, aimed to rescue persecuted Christians from the Middle East.
Over the next two years, the program plans to rescue a projected 2,000 Christians from Iraq and Syria.
In an interview with The Times of London, Weidenfeld stated, “I had a debt to repay. It applies to so many young people who were brought on the Kindertransports. It was the Quakers and other Christian denominations who brought those children to England. It was (a) very high-minded operation, and we Jews should also be thankful and do something for the endangered Christians.”
The program has already completed its first rescue, transporting 150 Syrian Christians to Poland on a privately chartered plane.