Microsoft censoring Bing’s sexy Arabic search results

The tens of millions of Arabic-speaking users of Microsoft’s popular Bing search engine have a problem. When it comes to searching for gay rights in Egypt, breast-feeding information in Algeria or sex advice in Jordan, they are out of luck. Bing is censoring search results in the Arab-speaking world, according to a prominent American research organization. The ban applies to search results in both Arabic and English found using Bing’s Arab portal.

A partial list of banned terms is shown above. But here’s the big problem… all the evidence points to Microsoft voluntarily censoring their search engine. No Arab countries asked them to censor search results. According to the Open Net Institute:

Microsoft’s explanation as to why some search keywords return few or no results is that “sometimes websites are deliberately excluded from the results page to remove inappropriate content as determined by local practice, law, or regulation.? It is unclear, however, whether Bing’s keyword filtering in the Arab countries is an initiative from Microsoft, or whether any or all of the Arab states have asked Microsoft to comply with local censorship practices or laws.

It is interesting that Microsoft’s implementation of this type of wholesale social content censorship for the entire “Arabian countries? region is in fact not being practiced by many of the Arab government censors themselves. That is, although political filtering is widespread in the MENA region, social filtering, including keyword filtering, is not practiced by all countries in MENA. ONI 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 testing and research found no evidence of social content filtering (e.g., sex, nudity, and homosexuality) at the national level in countries such as Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Libya.

Meanwhile, MIT’s Technology Review parsed the Open Net report and found something very interesting. It seems that Microsoft is obsessed with the gays:

ONI performed the study by testing the search terms inside the countries. Banned words include “sex,? ? “intercourse,? “breast,? “nude,? and many more in both the English and Arabic language. The investigators also made a curious discovery: Bing engineers remembered to bar ordinary Arabs from searching for the word “penis? but not for the word “vagina.? But they left no stone unturned when it came to blocking words that might lead to sites having to do with homosexuality.

Local portal of Bings in nearly all countries or languages allow users to choose whether to use “safe search? or not. Arabic has the dubious distinction of being the only language in which users are forced to use a “nanny filter.?

Among other Arabic-speaking countries, Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Lebanon and Libya do not require search engine filtering at the national level. So, it seems, Microsoft threw internet users in those country under the bridge in order to please Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Andy Greenberg notes that Microsoft is hypocritically a member of the Global Network Initative, which fights against censorship around the world. So why the embrace of sweeping web search censorship? Unlike rivals Google and Yahoo, Microsoft is a prolific pay-software producer with extensive sales in hyperconservative Arab countries. Despite piracy being endemic in the greater Middle East, Microsoft still makes a pretty penny there.

So what is a Bing-loving Egyptian to do when he wants to search for porn? Well, Microsoft strangely decided to filter based on domain destination rather than IP address… the regular US-based Bing page still provides sexxay search results to anyone in the Arab-speaking world who opens it.

Are you prepared to die for what you are?

25 February 2010

Being Gay and African have for long been considered taboo in many African countries. Even in present day emotions runs high when it comes to homosexuality and in the past week attempts on the lives of homosexuals in Africa have been reported yet again. Having travelled to some of these intolerant countries I must say I enjoyed the diversity of people, cultures and stunning fauna and flora but in the same breath found the festering fear, hatred and concealed homophobia disturbing. I have always researched the country I am to visit stance on homosexuality to prepare myself for any potential problems I may encounter – an essential task for any gay traveler. Anyone planning on visiting Africa here is a brief breakdown of homophobia on the continent and also asks the question: Are you prepared to die because of what you are?

First with the good news, African countries where homosexuality is legal for both Gays and Lesbians are South Africa, Rwanda (for now), Réunion, Madagascar, Republic of Congo, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Chad, Central African Republic, Guinea-Bissau, Côte dl’voire, Cape Verde and Benin. Queerly, in some African countries homosexuality between two men are illegal but lesbianism is not. Therefore, for all our dykes out there it’s safe to visit Nigeria, Kenya, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Swaziland. Evidently two women engaging in sexual acts are far less “unnatural? and more palatable in these countries which led me to infer that these laws were drafted by chauvinistic heterosexual bigots harboring sexual fantasies about threesomes with a lesbian couples and repressing their own flaming homosexual desires.

In some African countries homosexuality is illegal but not strictly enforced. In these countries being gay is unlawful but would not necessarily see you end up in jail or fined. Mozambique, Namibia, Lesotho, Seychelles, Mauritius, Comoros, Angola and Mali are such countries. Even though these countries don’t strictly enforce these laws it by no means suggest that gay travelers should take unnecessary chances or risks, best be cautious and discreet. In other African countries these laws are enforced and the penalties are less harsh, in a few the maximum prison sentences are up to 3 years. These countries include Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Guinea, Liberia, Burundi and Botswana.

African countries best to avoid on your travels where the prison sentences are more than 5 years are Libya (up to 5 years), Gambia (up to 14 years), Nigeria (up to 14 years), Senegal (up to 5 years), Cameroon (up to 5 years), Djibouti (up to 12 years), Eritrea (up to 10 years), Ethiopia (up to 5 years), Kenya (up to 14 years), Zambia (up to 15 years) and Zimbabwe (up to 10 years). In these countries the reality of imprisonment are very real especially for their citizens. How these nations believe that homosexuals will be rehabilitated of their sexual preference in prison boggles the mind. Yet each year homosexuals go to jail and each year the fear grows.

Life imprisonment and the death penalty for the “crime? of homosexuality are still enforced in Africa. It’s frightening that the sentence of life imprisonment is still upheld in Tanzania and Uganda. Even more horrifying is the fact that in Sudan, Mauritania and Somalia the death penalty for homosexuality are still a legitimate sentence and enforced. These 5 African countries must be the worst offenders of human rights abuses towards homosexuals in Africa. However, Uganda tops my top 10 list of worst offenders. Not only is life imprisonment not enough now they also want to enforce the death penalty. As many know Uganda has an Anti-Homosexuality Bill which they hope to pass in their parliament. This bill has also been called the Genocide Bill as effectively it calls for the eradication of all homosexuals and HIV+ people in Uganda. Should this bill pass the consequences are dire and many people will die because they are gay.

Africa still has a long road ahead moving from a dark continent of intolerance and homophobia to a continent of peace and unity; Slowly but surely countries are enlightened and its people’s eyes are opened to new possibilities and a brighter futures. Luckily, I live in one such country on the southernmost tip of Africa. Being a South African I can’t honestly say I am proud of our neighboring fellow Africans. I don’t approve of their ancient laws and practices victimizing and persecuting my fellow gay brothers and sisters. I don’t condone the silence of the international community when human rights abuses occur in Mother Africa. Change does not happen overnight and neither can it succeed in silence. So there you have a breakdown of homophobia on the African continent. Should you be travelling to any of these countries be safe and be warned.

The Berbers

7 February 2010

The Berbers lived in north Africa long before the arrival of the Arabs, and their culture probably dates back more than 4,000 years. Berber states known as Mauritania and Numidia existed in classical times.

Between the 11th and 13th centuries, two great Berber dynasties – the Almoravids and the Almohads – controlled large parts of Spain, as well as north-west Africa.

Today, there are substantial Berber populations in Morocco and Algeria, plus smaller numbers in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt. In Morocco, about 40% acknowledge a Berber identity, though many more have Berber ancestry.

Berbers are identified primarily by language but also by traditional customs and culture – such as the distinctive music and dances.

There is a tendency in Morocco to regard the Berbers as backward, partly because their culture is strongest in the less-developed rural areas. Many of the children in these regions drop out of school because they are taught in what, to them, is a foreign language – Arabic. The language barrier often remains a problem throughout adult life, especially when dealing with officialdom.

Berber is not officially recognised in Morocco, though French (the old colonial language) is. There was some pressure in 1996, when the constitution was being revised, to have Berber recognised. There are a few Berber programmes on television – mainly as a token gesture. For more about this see the Berber manifesto.

Linguistically, Berber belongs to the Afro-Asiatic group, and has many dialects. The three main dialects used in Morocco are Tachelhit, Tamazight and Tarifit. Collectively, they are known as “shilha” in Arabic.

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Tachelhit (sometimes known as “soussi” or “cleuh”) is spoken in south-west Morocco, in an area between Ifni in the south, Agadir in the north and Marrakech and the Draa/Sous valleys in the east.
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Tamazight is spoken in the Middle Atlas, between Taza, Khemisset, Azilal and Errachidia.
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Tarifit (or Rifia) is spoken in the Rif area of northern Morocco.

Berber is basically a spoken language, though there have been (and still are) attempts to gain acceptance for a written form. A Berber alphabet, probably derived from the ancient Punic script, has existed for around 2,500 years.

Arab Homophobia, Poverty, Religion and Forbidden Sex

23 December 2009

Westhampton, MA – October 18, 2009
Richard Ammon – GlobalGayz.com

According to a new UN report presented in Tunis, Tunisia, on October 20th, Tunisia, Libya and United Arab Emirates are the only 3 Arab nations where famine has been eradicated. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations conducted the survey of 17 Arab states ahead of a global summit on hunger, malnutrition and food security, set for November 16th-18th in Rome. (There are a total of 25 Arab nations, ranging from Morocco in the west to Iraq in the east. Iran is considered Persian not Arabic.)

arab_men_kissing

Certainly this is good news for a few but overall for the majority of the 325 million people in that swath of earth, it’s not. Poverty and hunger are ills that should be resolved by good governance and grass roots organizations to relieve the problems. But these two ‘plagues’ persist in the majority of Arab countries as governments don’t appear to take the suffering of their own people seriously. Leaders would rather buy weapons and tolerate corruption than cure misery.

And it’s a curious fact that these same impoverished lands are also among the most homophobic cultures on the planet–in addition to Jamaica. The range of attitudes and treatments in these countries runs from stigma and rejection to actual death penalties.

Is there any common thread between these two phenomena, between deprivation and discrimination, between the anger within poverty and the anger at homosexuals?
(Photo right: traditional friendship kiss)

Deprivation breeds anger in it victims; deprivation is cruel and unusual punishment for no justifiable reason and renders a victim helpless and hateful. Since an individual can’t strike out against something as amorphous and complex as a government it is more convenient and available to strike out against something particular and local, such as a person caught being sexual with someone of the same gender.

As well, these Arabic countries are also Muslim countries which interprets Islam’s holy scriptures in a way that urges people to condemn and scorn homosexuals. This religious condemnation legitimizes expressions of anger, which ordinarily is suppressed by authorities. But gays represent a legitimate target for this displaced anger and the reaction toward them is often excessive and harsh or murderous (some call it ‘spiritual violence’) – even to the point of an honor killing of a family member to redeem family’s shame for have a homosexual among them.

As if privation and religion are not enough drivers of violence, there is another urge against homosexuality in these Arab/Muslim cultures. This is the well-documented ‘open secret’ than many, if not a majority, of pre-marital men experience their first sexual contact with other males.

Usually this natural drive has to be shrouded in privacy, denial and guilt, oppressive forces that evoke silent resentment at having to hide what should be a thrill. Instead it becomes a shame; what should be pleasure is turned into anguish at desiring carnal intimacy. And for genuinely gay Arabs their sense of self is clouded and punctuated with fear and self-doubt.

(That said, not all male-male erotic activity is private: see this CNN video on boy sex slaves.)

At a certain pitch of anguish and frustration all these negative feelings can sometimes be expurgated, purged, by turning individually or in a group to verbal or physical violence against an actual or alleged homosexual who is found out or suspected.

It is a very sad entanglement of poverty, helplessness, social anger, religious conditioning, family shame and personal guilt (or any one of these) that drive homophobia into the blind recesses of most Arab minds.

And it’s not just male homosexuality. In a recent book from Arab Jordan, Bareed Mista3jl, one lesbian recounted this most painful experience of enraged homophobia from her own father:

My father has a bad temper. One day a girl came back home with me after school. We were sitting on the floor of my bedroom kissing. My father walked in on us, did not say a word, and asked the girl to leave. Then he beat me up with his fists and his belt and his cane. “Shut up before I break my fist on your face…you animal…I curse the day you were born…’ I begged him to stop. I begged like I never thought I would beg in my life. I cried out please, please. I screamed with all my lungs. He screamed, ‘you will not learn your lesson unless I bury you. If I ever see you doing so much as looking at a girl I will pluck out your eyes and break your skull.’ I begged and pleaded. No human being should ever have to plead for anything, especially from her own father. It’s been eight years since. He broke so much more than my arm that day. Every time I remember the way I pleaded for him to stop, I start crying and can’t stop… (more about the book)

The rage of homophobia is the rage of deprivation, religious repression, secret shame, family dishonor. Overcoming such rage will take generations of defiance and courage and truth-telling. This is true of many societies around the world, not just the Arab world. Poverty and deprivation and repressive religions and homophobia are everywhere.

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