Sri Lankan police raid at suspected terrorist hideout leaves 15 dead

Sri Lankan police raid at suspected terrorist hideout leaves 15 dead

During a raid at a suspected terrorist hideout by Sri Lankan police, suicide bombers claimed the lives of bystanders in the area.

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Sri Lanka missed warnings about bombers’ leader

Sri Lanka missed warnings about bombers' leader

Zahran Hashim preached hate and violence for years but despite multiple warnings, Sri Lankan authorities did nothing about him, and he ended up as a key figure in the group of men who carried out the Easter Sunday bombings. #CNN #News

Counter-extremism expert says media, politicians should identify attacks in Sri Lanka for what they are

Left struggles to acknowledge Islamic terrorists were behind Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka

The founder of a London-based think tank that focuses on counter-extremism criticized media outlets and prominent political figures for not being forthright about this past Sunday’s suicide bombings in Sri Lanka aimed at Christians.

Six suicide bombings were orchestrated by Jihadi extremists against Sri Lanka’s Christian community killing over 300 people.

The media and prominent political figures went out of their way to downplay the religious aspects of the attacks prompting criticism, host Tucker Carlson said.

“They have been unable to name Islamist extremism by name and jihadist terrorism being a violent manifestation because they genuinely believe that a bigger threat due to their political perspective is white supremacist and far-right extremism and then, of course, there’s the pragmatic political side of things. They…

Sri Lankan Prime Minister holds press conference after Easter bombings

Sri Lankan Prime Minister holds press conference after Easter bombings

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe speaks to the press after a series of deadly Easter Sunday bombings that left over 300 people dead.

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ISIS claims responsibility for Sri Lanka bombings

ISIS claims responsibility for Sri Lanka bombings

ISIS has claimed responsibility for the Easter Sunday attacks in Sri Lanka, according to a statement put out by the terrorist group’s news agency Amaq. “The attackers who targeted citizens of the (anti-ISIS) coalition state members and Christians in Sri Lanka the day before yesterday were fighters of the Islamic State,” the claim stated. The statement offered no evidence to support the claim, and there is no direct evidence yet that the terror group was involved. Some of their claims have been false in the past.

#CNN #News

Religious Minorities Across Asia Suffer Amid Surge in Sectarian Politics

Reuters

JAKARTA, Indonesia — The deadly attacks in Sri Lanka on Sunday highlighted how easily religious coexistence can be ripped apart in a region where secularism is weakening amid the growing appeal of a politics based on ethnic and sectarian identity.

In India, the country’s governing right-wing Hindu party is exploiting faith for votes, pushing an us-versus-them philosophy that has left Muslims fearing they will be lynched if they walk alone.

In Myanmar, the country’s Buddhist generals have orchestrated a terrifying campaign of ethnic cleansing against the country’s Rohingya Muslims.

And in Indonesia and Bangladesh, traditionally moderate Muslim politicians are adopting harder-line stances to appeal to more conservative electorates.

The bombings of three churches in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday highlighted the vulnerability of Christians in Asia, where religious minorities of many faiths have been battered by this surge of nationalism and sectarian politics.

[The bombings were the deadliest attack on Christians in South Asia in recent memory.]

The explosions in Sri Lanka, which killed more than 200, “brought mourning and sorrow” on the most important of Christian holidays, Pope Francis said after celebrating Mass in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican.

Christians make up only 6 percent of the population of Sri Lanka, which is still emerging from the shadow of a harrowing civil war between the Sinhalese Buddhist majority and ethnic Tamils, most of whom are Hindu or Christian.

It is not yet clear who carried out the bombings on Sunday, which also included raids on three high-end hotels in Colombo, the Sri Lankan capital. But Christians were a primary target, and their faith has been increasingly under attack by militants and politicians across South and Southeast Asia.

Over the past year, deadly bombings of churches by militants claiming allegiance to the Islamic State have rocked the Philippines and Indonesia.

In India, the Hindu right led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has targeted Muslim and Christian minorities, the latter group because of its symbolic association with British colonialism.

The ruling party in Bangladesh, the secular-leaning Awami League, has partnered with conservative Muslim clerics who routinely call for the persecution of religious minorities, including Christians.

In Myanmar, Christian minorities fear…

Inside Facebook’s Secret Rulebook for Global Political Speech

Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park. Jason Henry for The New York Times

MENLO PARK, Calif. — In a glass conference room at its California headquarters, Facebook is taking on the bonfires of hate and misinformation it has helped fuel across the world, one post at a time.

The social network has drawn criticism for undermining democracy and for provoking bloodshed in societies small and large.

But for Facebook, it’s also a business problem.

The company, which makes about $5 billion in profit per quarter, has to show that it is serious about removing dangerous content. It must also continue to attract more users from more countries and try to keep them on the site longer.

How can Facebook monitor billions of posts per day in over 100 languages, all without disturbing the endless expansion that is core to its business? The company’s solution: a network of workers using a maze of PowerPoint slides spelling out what’s forbidden.

Every other Tuesday morning, several dozen Facebook employees gather over breakfast to come up with the rules, hashing out what the site’s two billion users should be allowed to say. The guidelines that emerge from these meetings are sent out to 7,500-plus moderators around the world.

The closely held rules are extensive, and they make the company a far more powerful arbiter of global speech than has been publicly recognized or acknowledged by the company itself, The New York Times has found.

The Times was provided with more than 1,400 pages from the rulebooks by an employee who said he feared that the company was exercising too much power, with too little oversight — and making too many mistakes.

An examination of the files revealed numerous gaps, biases and outright errors. As Facebook employees grope for the right answers, they have allowed extremist language to flourish in some countries while censoring mainstream speech in others.

Moderators were once told, for example, to remove fund-raising appeals for volcano victims in Indonesia because a co-sponsor of the drive was on Facebook’s internal list of banned groups. In Myanmar, a paperwork error allowed a prominent extremist group, accused of fomenting genocide, to stay on the platform for months. In India, moderators were mistakenly told to take down comments critical of religion.

The ruins of a home set upon by a Buddhist mob in a deadly attack in Sri Lanka last March. Facebook has been accused of accelerating violence in the country.

The Facebook employees who meet to set the guidelines, mostly young engineers and lawyers, try to distill highly complex issues into simple yes-or-no rules. Then the company outsources much of the actual post-by-post moderation to companies that enlist largely unskilled workers, many hired out of call centers.

Those moderators, at times relying on Google Translate, have mere seconds to recall countless rules and apply them to the hundreds of posts that dash across their screens each day. When is a reference to “jihad,” for example, forbidden? When is a “crying laughter” emoji a warning sign?

Moderators express frustration at rules they say don’t always make sense and sometimes require them to leave up posts they fear could lead to violence. “You feel like you killed someone by not acting,” one said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he had signed a nondisclosure agreement.

Facebook executives say they are working diligently to rid the platform of dangerous posts.

“It’s not our place to correct people’s speech, but we do want to enforce our community standards on our platform,” said Sara Su, a senior engineer on the News Feed. “When you’re in our community, we want to make sure that we’re balancing freedom of expression and safety.”

Monika Bickert, Facebook’s head of global policy management, said that the primary goal was to prevent harm, and that to a great extent, the company had been successful. But perfection, she said, is not possible.

“We have billions of posts every day, we’re identifying more and more potential violations using our technical systems,” Ms. Bickert said. “At that scale, even if you’re 99 percent accurate, you’re going to have a lot of mistakes.”

The Rules

When is it support for terrorism? Is “martyr” a forbidden word? Moderators are given guides to help them decide.

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When is it support for terrorism? Is “martyr” a forbidden word? Moderators are given guides to help them decide.

The Facebook guidelines do not look like a handbook for regulating global politics. They consist of dozens of unorganized PowerPoint presentations and Excel spreadsheets with bureaucratic titles like “Western Balkans Hate Orgs and Figures” and “Credible Violence: Implementation standards.”

When is it support for terrorism? Is “martyr” a forbidden word? Moderators are given guides to help them decide.

Because Facebook drifted into this approach somewhat by accident, there is no single master file or overarching guide, just a patchwork of rules set out by different parts of the company. Facebook confirmed the authenticity of the documents, though it said some had been updated since The Times acquired them.

The company’s goal is ambitious: to reduce context-heavy questions that even legal experts might struggle with — when is an idea hateful, when is a rumor dangerous — to one-size-fits-all rules. By telling moderators to follow the rules blindly, Facebook hopes to guard against bias and to enforce consistency.

A slide from Facebook’s rulebook on what constitutes hate speech asks moderators to quickly make a series of complex, legalistic judgments per post.

Facebook says the files are only for training, but moderators say they are used as day-to-day reference materials.

Taken individually, each rule might make sense. But in their byzantine totality, they can be a bit baffling.

One document sets out several rules just to determine when a word like “martyr” or “jihad” indicates pro-terrorism speech. Another describes when discussion of a barred group should be forbidden. Words like “brother” or “comrade” probably cross the line. So do any of a dozen emojis.

Facebook does not want its front-line moderators exercising independent judgment, so it gives them extensive guidance. These emojis, the platform says, could be considered threats or, in context with racial or religious groups, hate speech.

The guidelines for identifying hate speech, a problem that has bedeviled Facebook, run to 200 jargon-filled, head-spinning pages. Moderators must sort a post into one of three “tiers” of severity. They must bear in mind lists like the six “designated dehumanizing comparisons,” among them comparing Jews to rats.

“There’s a real tension here between wanting to have nuances to account for every situation, and wanting to have a set of policies we can enforce accurately and we can explain cleanly,” said Ms. Bickert, the Facebook executive.

Though the Facebook employees who make the rules are largely free to set policy however they wish, and often do so in the room, they also consult with outside groups.

“We’re not drawing these lines in a vacuum,” Ms. Bickert said.

An Unseen Branch of Government

In Pakistan, moderators were told to watch some parties and their supporters for prohibited speech.

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In Pakistan, moderators were told to watch some parties and their supporters for prohibited speech.

As detailed as the guidelines can be, they are also approximations — best guesses at how to fight extremism or disinformation. And they are leading Facebook to intrude into sensitive political matters the world over, sometimes clumsily.

Increasingly, the decisions on what posts should be barred amount to regulating political speech — and not just on the fringes. In many countries, extremism and the mainstream are blurring.

In the United States, Facebook banned the Proud Boys, a far-right pro-Trump group. The company also blocked an inflammatory ad, about a caravan of Central American migrants, that was produced by President Trump’s political team.

In June, according to internal emails reviewed by The Times, moderators were told to allow users to praise the Taliban — normally a forbidden practice — if they mentioned its decision to enter into a cease-fire. In another email, moderators…

Political Crisis Hurting Sri Lankan Tourism Industry

Tourists leave the Independence Square after a visit in Colombo, Sri Lanka December 5, 2018. Picture taken December 5, 2018. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte
Tourists leave the Independence Square after a visit in Colombo, Sri Lanka December 5, 2018. Picture taken December 5, 2018. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte

The month of December usually marks the beginning of tourism season in Sri Lanka. Visitors come to the Indian Ocean island nation to enjoy its beaches, historic places, interesting nature and tasty food.

Tourism represents about 5 percent of the country’s $87-billion economy.

But Sri Lanka’s current political environment is keeping visitors away. Observers are worried about the possible economic effects.

In late October, Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena dismissed the country’s prime minister and appointed a new government. The move came as a surprise.

Mahinda Rajapaksa, who replaced Ranil Wickremesinghe as prime minister, lacks a parliamentary majority. A Sri Lankan court has prevented Rajapaksa from taking power. Violence has broken out in parliament and the 2019 national budget has been delayed.

A tourist take pictures of the UNESCO listed World Heritage Site Sigiriya Rock Fortress in Sigiriya, Sri Lanka October 11, 2018. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte
A tourist take pictures of the UNESCO listed…

The Newest Weapon in Sri Lankan Politics: Chile Powder in the Eyes

For a second day, a brawl broke out in Parliament as government tensions rose.

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Lawmakers hurled chairs, thick books and stinging chile powder at one another as violence and chaos erupted again on the floor of Sri Lanka’s Parliament on Friday.

At least four lawmakers and several police officers were injured. The proceedings were carried live on TV and beamed across the island nation.

The trouble began when lawmakers allied to Mahinda Rajapaksa, a former president who, in a contentious move, was appointed prime minister last month, arrived in the chamber early and occupied the speaker’s chair.

The lawmakers broke microphones and staged mock sessions. They also blocked the mace, a gold-tipped ebony staff that is the symbol of authority, from being brought into the chamber to begin the session.

After 45 minutes of this mayhem, the side doors to the chamber suddenly opened. Dozens of policemen marched in. They linked their arms to form a human chain. They protected the ceremonial guard who held tight to the ebony mace.

The Parliament speaker, Karu Jayasuriya, clad in his ceremonial robe, grabbed a seat in the corner of an aisle and conducted the session of Parliament a few yards away from his podium, using a wireless microphone.

‘Matangi / Maya / M.I.A.’: a compelling mix of music and politics

“Matangi / Maya / M.I.A.” demonstrates how this once-impoverished daughter of a Tamil Tigers insurgent has tried to be taken seriously as both artistic innovator and self-appointed spokeswoman for rebels in Sri Lanka. (Abramorama / Cinereach)

This patchwork documentary doesn’t always keep its bearings, but overall it’s a fascinating overview of the complicated life of musician M.I.A. Rating: 3 stars out of 4.

Movie review

What happens when a woman of two worlds tries to be taken seriously as both artist and mission-driven advocate?

For U.K.-born-and-raised musician Matangi “Maya” Arulpragasam — better known as rapper M.I.A., 43, of Sri Lankan Tamil descent — the answer is mixed success at best. The unusual but revealing documentary “Matangi / Maya / M.I.A.,” a hodgepodge of old video diaries, music videos, performances and…