Adonis Diaries

Archive for March 1st, 2022

Western media criticized for racist ‘blonde hair blue eyes’ coverage of Russia invasion of Ukraine

Major news outlets have aired racist views – often using comparisons with the Middle East – since the invasion began

An elderly woman is comforted as she sits on a bench outside a train station in Lviv on 27 February 2022 (AFP) (Lviv where Ukraine President is hiding)

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has attracted wall-to-wall coverage from international media outlets.

With cities across the country under attack, civilians fleeing the fighting, and hundreds of Ukrainians/Russians dead since the war began on Thursday, correspondents have flown in from around the world to the eastern European country (but far away from the front, and still wearing their war casks) as news sites have pumped out (Not on the field) non-stop stories.

But as the war has unfolded, numerous Western news outlets have aired racist views.

“They seem so like us. That is what makes it so shocking,” wrote journalist and former Conservative politician Daniel Hannan in Britain’s Telegraph newspaper on Saturday.

“Ukraine is a European country. Its people watch Netflix and have Instagram accounts, vote in free elections and read uncensored newspapers. War is no longer something visited upon impoverished and remote populations. It can happen to anyone.”

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Prominent social media users have been quick to point out the racist tropes in this and other coverage.

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On Friday, CBS’s senior correspondent, Charlie D’Agata, said in Kyiv that “this isn’t a place, with all due respect, like Iraq or Afghanistan that has seen conflict raging for decades.

“This is a relatively civilized, relatively European – I have to choose those words carefully, too – city where you wouldn’t expect that, or hope that it’s going to happen.”

He later apologised.

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One Twitter user ironically asked: “Is someone printing “uncivilized” t-shirts yet? I want one.”

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NBC News correspondent Kelly Cobiella also came under fire from fellow journalists after she stated on air that “these are not refugees from Syria, these are refugees from Ukraine… They’re Christian, they’re white, they’re very similar.

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On France’s BFMTV on Friday one analyst said that “we’re not talking here about Syrians fleeing the bombing of the Syrian regime backed by Putin, we’re talking about Europeans leaving in cars that look like ours… to save their lives”.

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“We are in the 21st century, we are in a European city, and we have cruise missile fired as if we were in Iraq or Afghanistan, can you imagine?” said another commentator on the channel.

One French sociologist pointed out how Ukrainians fleeing the conflict are being described as “refugees” while Afghans fleeing their country last year were described predominantly as “migrants“.

And Jean-Louis Bourlanges, a member of France’s National Assembly, said during a broadcast that Ukrainian refugees would be “an immigration of great quality, intellectuals”.

Over on Al Jazeera English, a presenter sharing his observations of Ukrainians fleeing the fighting in their homeland said that “what’s compelling is, just looking at them, the way they dress, these are prosperous, middle-class people.

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“These are not obviously refugees trying to get away from areas in the Middle East that are still in a big state of war.

These are not people trying to get away from areas in North Africa.

They look like any European families that you would live next door to.”

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Later on Sunday, Al Jazeera acknowledged that one of their presenters “made unfair comparisons between Ukrainians fleeing the war and refugees from the MENA region” and apologised. 

“The presenter’s comments were insensitive and irresponsible. We apologize to our audiences worldwide and the breach of professionalism is being dealt with,” the news agency said in a tweet. 

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On Saturday, David Sakvarelidze, Ukraine’s former deputy general prosecutor, spoke to the BBC, suggesting that it was harder for him to watch white people fleeing conflict. 

“It’s very emotional for me because I see European people with blue eyes and blonde hair being killed,” he said. 

The presenter replied, “I understand and of course respect the emotion.” (Being ironic?)

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Meanwhile, on Britain’s ITV, a correspondent in Poland said: “This is not a developing third world nation. This is Europe.”

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Social media users have also drawn comparisons between the demonization of the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement with the willingness to use the same tactics on Russia.

Russia has been heavily sanctioned by Western powers and excluded from multiple sporting events.

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The less uncertain the conditions the more information we can deduce and effectively use?

By Matt DiCicco

Entropy Explained

Entropy is really an essential idea of thermodynamics, which would tell physicists how much disorder there is.

Machine learning practitioners must have then adopted the idea because of its ability to classify data on an unsupervised front (and in supervised situations like decision trees).

Entropy can quantify the amount of uncertainty in an entire probability distribution. Some say it is a measure of chaos, but I don’t like to delineate it in this way.

That entropy is just a metric for information gained.

The more information gained then the more we can rule out certain scenarios or the more we can tell how something is going to happen.

Implications:

Low entropy-> less chaos-> more information obtained

High entropy -> more chaos -> less information gain

The lower entropy, the less chaos or the purer the set is.

Meaning the next state might be easier to predict if the quantified entropy is Low.

Common Application: One application of entropy is in decision trees. In a decision tree you decide on which feature you would like to split your data-set on first.

To figure out which feature is most suitable you can use entropy. You would loop over your features and depending on which feature has the lowest entropy, you would use this as the first split in the decision tree.

This is because the lowest entropy would tell you the feature that describes the data the best. Meaning it classifies most of the data right off the bat into a specific class.

Day to day example of entropy:

Imagine you have the features height, skin tone, and day of the week. And the goal is to predict an individual’s weight.

So now you loop over the features and realize the lowest entropy is a person’s height. This is because height is the best predictor of a person’s weight, hence the most information gained.

Equation:

C- is the number of clusters (class of data) you would like to go up to for an unsupervised case. But C can also be the number of classes or the number of dependent variables that something could be classified as in a supervised situation.

(I believe should be called Independent variables, since the dependent variable is the result of the entropy calculation)

The intuitive reader would realize that entropy could be used to figure out the proper number of clusters for a dataset.

P- is the probability of the class in the total dataset.

An example, 3/10 people are male, and 7/10 are female. And we are trying to find the entropy, or the information gained. We have 2 classes (male and female), and probabilities of 3/10 and 7/10.

So, the equation would look like, -3/10log_2(3/10) — 7/10log_2(7/10). This would equal 0.88, which is considered a high entropy due to the fact entropy is bounded by 0 and 1.

What does this tell us? It tells us we don’t have much information gain.

More on that topic later.

  • Matt DiCicco
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  • matt.diciccomhs@aol

Two Cities Across the Bay: Haifa and Akka Entangled Histories 

Nadi Abusaada

February 23, 2022

The lights, emanating from the neighboring coastal city of Haifa, descend along Mount Carmel steep contours, washing into the Mediterranean Sea, and eventually reaching Akka shores.

This is the extent of Akka and Haifa geographical proximity: a proximity that shaped the two coastal cities’ modern histories, at once entangling them and sending them off on divergent trajectories.

Of the many epics and legendary sagas that unfolded on the bay’s shores, the resonances of one particular episode in its modern history remain alive: Napoleon’s defeat.

In 1799, following his occupation of Egypt, Napoleon marched with his French troops and laid a two months’ siege on the fortified city of Akka. Realizing that their defeat could result in a massacre, the armies of Jazzar Pasha, Akka’s ruler, and the residents of the city, withstood the siege.

Left starved and fatigued, Napoleon’s forces had no choice but to retreat. The sobering episode was a turning point in the French colonial campaign in Egypt and Syria. It thwarted Napoleon’s fantasy to reign as “emperor of the East” and his ambition to “return to Paris by way of Constantinople.

Figure 2: French plan of Akka upon Napoleon’s siege, by Pierre Jacotin, 1799. Bibliothèque nationale de France. https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b8442061g.r=acre?rk=107296;4.

Akka’s initial resurgence following Napoleon’s assault was short-lived.

In 1831, Ibrahim Pasha, son of Muhammad Ali of Egypt, entered Akka and razed its fortifications to the ground. The invasion sealed the city’s future against any potential recovery. Ibrahim would advance deep into Turkey in the Ottoman empire and threatened to advance and depose the Sultan.

Even after the Egyptian occupation ended in 1840, the city would never regain its prominence as a primary Eastern Mediterranean port.

New factors contributed to Akka state of decline.

Until the 19th century, Akka’s economic prosperity was contingent on quasi-autonomous rulers who held a tight grip over the agricultural surplus of Greater Syria’s fertile interior, especially Galilee cotton.

The 19th century disturbed the arrangements of this ancient regime of governance. Ottoman centralization impeded the emergence of autonomous local governors and Greater Syria’s hinterlands were increasingly integrated into the world economy.

Akka’s decline in the nineteenth century was not shared by neighboring coastal towns. The greatest competitor was Beirut, a port city that was witnessing exponential growth, earning the status of an Ottoman provincial capital by 1888, and administering a vast territory extending from Latakia to Nablus.

But even closer to Akka, across the bay, Haifa was gradually emerging as a principal rival port city. Like Beirut, Haifa profited from Akka’s economic and political decline following the Egyptian occupation.

Natural conditions, too, worked in its favour. Haifa’s sandy beaches rendered its harbor more suitable for receiving large steamships than the shallow and rocky reefs of Akka and Jaffa.

This fact was not lost on Zahir al-‘Umar, the Arab ruler of northern Palestine in the mid-18th century, who had already established a harbor there, redirecting an increasing amount of maritime traffic from Akka to Haifa.

But it was not until the nineteenth century that Haifa truly surpassed Akka as the flourishing port city of northern Palestine.

By the turn of the century, international shipping companies opened regular shipping lines connecting the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean with Haifa, not Akka, as their main stopping point.

These developments invited substantial growth in Haifa’s commercial, industrial, and logistical sectors. They also stimulated its rapid urbanization.

Newcomers arrived to the city from all over Palestine and the Arab States region for work, earning it the epithet: umm al-3amal, or ‘mother of work.’ ( 7 decades before the creation of apartheid Israel)

The city’s structures and public spaces vividly engendered this process of urbanization.

By the late 1850s, new houses were built outside the city’s walled boundaries, on the slope of Mount Carmel.

The city’s potential for modernization rendered it particularly susceptible to foreign colonial investment and settlement.

The German Colony, established in 1868 by Templar Protestants, left a lasting imprint on Haifa’s architecture and infrastructures. But the local population, too, played an instrumental role in the city’s modernization.

Throughout the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, local residential and commercial construction, primarily led by the Haifa’s elite Christian and Muslim families, pushed the city outwards towards the modern quarters in Wadi Salib and Wadi al-Nisnas.

Figure 3: Haifa from Mount Carmel, 1934-1939. American Colony Photo Department, Matson Collection, Library of Congress. https://www.loc.gov/resource/matpc.03897/.

In contrast with Haifa’s urban expansion and drive towards modern development, Akka remained a walled city confined to its historic boundaries until the end of Ottoman rule.

This curious fate, which distinguished Akka not only from Haifa, but also from all other Eastern Mediterranean coastal cities, was a direct product of the Sublime Porte‘s prevention of building activity outside its fortifications.

The decision was primarily militaristic, possibly a consequence of the enduring memories of the Napoleonic and Egyptian invasions.

Although it hindered the city’s economic growth, it was paradoxically justified by Akka strategic importance as the district capital.

In some measure, Haifa’s urban expansion and Akka urban confinement were the physical embodiment of the expanding wedge between the two cities that had already been in the making for a few decades. It reinforced the idea that Akka was the city of the past, while Haifa was the city of the future.

Figure 4: Panoramic view of Acre showing al-Jazzar Mosque, 1915-1950. College de France Archives. https://salamandre.college-de-france.fr/archives-en-ligne/ead.html?id=FR075CDF_00CDF0044&c=FR075CDF_00CDF0044_de-224&qid=.

One artefact stood as a vivid embodiment of this idea: the monumental Hejaz Railway station in Haifa. Completed in 1905, the railway was the main connection that linked Greater Syria’s interior with the Mediterranean world.

Several iterations had been prepared for the railway line since the 1860s, a direct outcome of the numerous stakeholders involved in its construction, including the Ottoman state, European investors, and the Lebanese Sursock family, who owned large swathes of land in the Jezreel Valley.

(The Sursock family, who build a palace in Achrafieh and now occupied by Lebanon Foreign ministry, sold their vast land in Palestine to the Zionist real estates agents and established themselves in Beirut and engaged in political scenes)

Importantly, earlier schemes marked Akka, not Haifa, as the line’s main coastal station.

Haifa’s eventual selection was formally justified on the basis of the flat topography of the Haifa-Deraa route.

It was no secret that the growing schism between the two cities’ positions vis-à-vis regional interests and global economies played an equally crucial role. Although Akka maintained its official status as the district capital until the end of Ottoman rule, Haifa’s modern developments increasingly positioned it as the de-facto capital of northern Palestine.

 Figure 5: Hijaz Railway station in Haifa, 1920-1933. American Colony Photo Department, Matson Collection, Library of Congress. https://www.loc.gov/item/2019706151/.

Figure 6: French map of Hijaz Railway line connecting Damascus to Haifa and the later Haifa to Acre extention, 1916. Bibliothèque nationale de France. https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b53172852b.r=haifa?rk=150215;2.

Haifa administrative subordination to Akka remained a controversial matter until World War I.

In 1914, an official Ottoman survey of Wilayet Beirut, which both cities were part of, dedicated an entire section to the conflict over Haifa and Akka’s administrative relations.

The survey echoed the voices of the two cities’ inhabitants regarding this rift. Haifa’s inhabitants explicitly demanded that the seat of the district be moved from Akka to their city, explaining that further investment in a “commercially dead” and “lesser populated” city was no longer justified.

Akka’s population rejected this scheme. They saw Haifa’s economic boom not as a benefit to its local inhabitants, but rather, to foreign groups, particularly Christian missionaries and Jewish colonists.

“Haifa thinks of itself as a home to every tourist and group in the world, and it does not have a national character.”

These exaggerated assessments were inasmuch products of difference as they were products of proximity. The image of each city was a mirror of its own material realities, as it was a projection of its counterpart across the bay.

The bay’s shores were the main arena for Akka and Haifa’s unravelling developments and rivalries. Nonetheless, it was the bonds that connected the two coastal cities with their interior regional geography that molded their status within the Mediterranean world.

These bonds were frequently mapped onto imperial and colonial geographies. However, their legacies did not always correspond with colonial visions for the region’s future.

The connections between Palestine’s coast with the Arab East were equally significant in forging regional relations that formed the basis for the Arab cultural and economic nahda (‘renaissance’) of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries.

These relations were heavily interrupted in the 1948 Nakba, when Akka and Haifa were cut off from their natural connections to the broader geography of the Arab region. Bearing witness to these legacies, generations of Palestinians in those cities have since fought against colonial attempts to erase their history.

They, along with the two cities themselves, continue to remind us of the material worlds that were possible before this rupture.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: 

Nadi Abusaada is an architect and historian. He is currently an Aga Khan Postdoctoral Fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Nadi completed his Ph.D. and M.Phil. degrees at the University of Cambridge and his B.A. at the University of Toronto.

His writings have been featured in a number of international publications including The Architectural Review, The International Journal of Islamic Architecture, and the Jerusalem Quarterly among others.


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March 2022
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