In episode 7, Lucy Kind interviews Faisal Saeed Al Mutar, a refugee of the Iraq Civil War, whose life's work is facilitating the freedom of information and knowledge in authoritarian nations in the Middle East. Faisal shares his experience growing up under the regime of Saddam Hussein without free access to information. He explains how he created Ideas Beyond Borders to translate and disseminate thousands of articles, books, and websites into Arabic and other languages, with the goal of stopping radical extremism. Faisal also gives an insider view into the chaotic removal of US troops from Afghanistan and explains how Taliban rule will impact access to secular ideas. Lucy and Faisal discuss why there is hope for progress in the region.
[00:09] - Speaker 3
Hello and welcome back to episode seven of Privacy is The New Celebrity, a podcast about Privacy and technology. I'm your host, Lucy Kind, and today we're excited to welcome Faisal Sayed Alma onto the show. Basil is the founder of Ideas Beyond Borders, an organization that promotes the free exchange of ideas in order to counter extremist narratives and authoritarian institutions with a focus on the Middle East. Basil is also a refugee and a survivor of the Iraq civil war. He grew up under the oppressive regime of Saddam Hussein, where the suppression of information and secular knowledge was a part of daily life.
[00:46] - Speaker 3
Because of his efforts, Faisal has survived multiple attempts on his own life, but he continues to fight for the freedom to share ideas and information as an antidote to radical extremism. Faisal, we are honored to have you join us today on Privacy is a New Celebrity.
[01:00] - Speaker 2
Thank you so much for having me to start off.
[01:02] - Speaker 1
Faisal, how do you define freedom of information?
[01:06] - Speaker 2
I define it as a human right. I think it's sometimes ignored. That the right to actually know why we exist and what is around us. I look at it from really the angle of it is a right for someone to have access to information.
[01:25] - Speaker 1
And when did you first realize that this right to information and this free exchange of ideas was a value that you wanted to fight for?
[01:32] - Speaker 2
It really started with just living under the regime of Saddam Hussein. We had two channels that are controlled by the regime at the time, and one is owned by the President, and the other one is owned by his son. I lived in a way in a double reality. So my dad is a surgeon, and there was a time during the first Gulf four in which the narrative that was told to us by the government was that the United States have let 33 countries to invade Iraq and Iraq won that war.
[02:11] - Speaker 2
That is the narrative that was pushed by the regime to the general population. My dad, who was a doctor at the time, was saying that actually the story was Iraq invaded Kuwait and we actually got lost that conflict, even though he didn't really show much of that information until after the second war in 2005. So I didn't really know what was happening with the first war until twelve years later. I was watching a National Geographic documentary in 2005, and I saw the story of the first Gulf war, and I was really mind blown by comparison to what we were fed by, really a very controlled system of information to what was the case after the war.
[03:01] - Speaker 2
So that's really made me realize that people need to have access to not just information, but just to evidence based information, away from propaganda and really radicalism and extremism sector and narratives. So it came to me in a way like just a given because it's a reality that unfortunately hundreds of millions of people around the world are living with at the moment.
[03:29] - Speaker 1
Thank you for sharing your experience growing up in Iraq under Saddam Hussein. It sounds like it's somewhere where it would be possible to be killed, for sharing certain ideas or information. And for a lot of our listeners who grew up in secular nations like the United States, I think we often take this freedom for granted. Do you think that this is changing now in the Middle East?
[03:49] - Speaker 2
Is there progress to give you another example that sold to and what you're saying is the punishment for owning satellites, to be able to access television stations outside of Rock was in many cases, death. So just if you get caught. So there was a service called Muhammara, which is technically translated intelligence services. And out of every four adults, one is in the intelligence. Wow. So the ecosystem is that you literally have to look over your shoulders all the time. There are even rumors, actually, sometimes stories that get verified later is that people got divorced because they thought that their wife or husband is part of the intelligence.
[04:34] - Speaker 2
So they were so scared about sharing what they think, even with their closest partner. So that was the ecosystem in which literally everybody is afraid of everybody and the punishment for trying to overcome that or trying to circumvent that you just disappear or get caught, you disappear. And then no one knows where you went, as in how things changed. Yes, they have. And actually, in many positive ways, I would say, is that because the tools that develops the years I'm talking about is like 2000, that was prior 2003, and the technology really has exponentially grew since then.
[05:21] - Speaker 2
And some of that technologies are the technologies that are concerned with Privacy and circumventing, censorship and things of that sort. So people have, to some extent, more accessibility. Even countries like Iran. Access is similar to what it used to be in Iraq prior to the war. And they are very informed general population, especially among the youth with the importance of VPNs and other technologies. So there is definitely much more accessibility today to these technologies. That was the case in 2003. Wow.
[06:03] - Speaker 1
That's great. That there's this progress. And I know that you've stated that knowledge will defeat extremism more effectively than tanks and guns ever could. Can you elaborate on why you believe knowledge is an effective way to combat extremism?
[06:19] - Speaker 2
Definitely. I grew up with what is called the American experiment to bring democracy to the Middle East. We saw how that went and obviously with the tragic events happening now in Afghanistan, in a way, just solidify. The whole point is you cannot bring democracy to populations that never had exposure to what democracy even means. Include in Iraq, as I mentioned, the ecosystem of formation in which you have the regime controlling the source of information and the newspapers and television that run the country for almost four years.
[06:59] - Speaker 2
And an Iraq. Anecdotal example is there has never been a President in Iraq that was not killed by the regime that came after it. Wow. So since the establishment of Iraq, which is really Iraq, in a sense, is an old country, but it's also a modern country. And the new Iraq, which was established after World War I, which I was actually named after the first King who is King Fetal of Iraq. His regime was killed later by the people who were supported by the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
[07:31] - Speaker 2
That's the first one and then was called the Korean Kasim. And then Saddam Hussein and the vast party killed at the Korean Kasim. And then Saddam Hussein was killed by the regime that came afterwards. So that's really the kind of the summary of Iraq's transition of power. The first time we had a peaceful transition of power was, I believe, in 2005. So for almost 100 years, there has never been a peaceful transition of power. In fact, even prior to that, it used to be Iraq, and most of the Middle East was under the control of the Ottoman Empire.
[08:04] - Speaker 2
So that was not a Democratic regime. Many of these regions never really had any exposure to the ideas of democracy or freedom of speech. And when they were applied directly applied in a very, not necessarily good way, people viewed it as form of a tribal situation. So if you belong to this tribe, you vote for your tribe. If you belong to this section, you vote for your sex. So in a way, the election was really a reflection of the demographics of the country. The first election happened 2005.
[08:39] - Speaker 2
So the Shias voted for the Shias and Sundays, and the Kurds voted for the Kurd. There was very little conversation about what is the party platform is on how they want to do, how they want to deal with taxes or anything like that. The conversation was I represent the sex and vote for me because I'm going to protect you from the other folks. And that is really Iraq's democracy in a nutshell. So I believe that there are short term solutions and long term solutions. And we are focusing on the long term in which how can we really provide people with exposure to these ideas?
[09:14] - Speaker 2
And there are a lot of statistics that probably you've seen my interviews is that when we started, the amount of Arabic content was 0.6% and that is a language that is spoken by almost 400 million people. So not only there is very little information in Arabic, there is very little factual information in Arabic. Most of the media is controlled by the States. And that's the case of pretty much most, if not all, the Middle East. If it's not controlled by the state directly, it's controlled by a member of the Royal family that runs the States.
[09:48] - Speaker 2
As in the case. For example, like Al Jazeera is not run by the government of Qatar, but it's run by a member of the Royal family and the government of Qatar, which is technically the same. But they're smart enough to kind of navigate some of the modern situations in which they don't want to be accused of being partisan or something like that. And Al Jazeera is the most known channel in the most watched channel in the Arab world, followed by another channel called The Arabia, which is owned by the Wave Bandallah, who is the Prince of the Saudi Royal family.
[10:22] - Speaker 2
So that's really where most of the people get their information. And there are obviously things that are changing, which is the rise of social media has really provided kind of an alternative narrative to state controlled media, even though state controlled media adapted to some extent the ability to create viral videos and the ability to reach more people. So the way dictatorships evolved. But at the same time, it still provided a voice for the voiceless. And that's why, despite all the criticism that social media companies had over the past couple of years, in a way, I see, the Middle East is the opposite for than kind of Western countries, because in Western countries, that the mainstream media or nonstate media, the social media in a way, the alternative, sometimes in many cases filled with misinformation.
[11:18] - Speaker 2
But if you feel the opposite, it's actually social media in the Middle East is a place where people can get real information. Yeah.
[11:25] - Speaker 1
Because knowledge is power, right. And they're at least getting some information now of a pertinent scope that they might have even had before.
[11:32] - Speaker 2
Definitely social media. And as I said, many of these technologies have really revolutionized the Middle East and a lot of positive ways. Yeah.
[11:40] - Speaker 1
It's crazy that when you guys started, less than 1% of the world's information was in Arabic. When I think I've heard maybe through you actually, that Arabic is the fourth most common language used by those on the Internet. So there's a huge disconnect there, right?
[11:56] - Speaker 2
[11:56] - Speaker 1
It's really exciting to hear about all the work you've done with Idea Beyond Borders since you've founded it in 2017. Can you tell us a bit about your organization and what it does?
[12:09] - Speaker 2
Totally. The larger mission is really making an accessible information accessible with an emphasis on the information that is mostly censored by authoritarian regimes and extremists. And that content really is human rights, philosophy, literature. And that is really the main focus. And we started first with focusing just on Arabic, and we started with 0.6% was amount of knowledge now is 1.2%. And so we pretty much built most of the Wikipedia on the subject that I mentioned. So we added roughly by now about 30,000 articles, so that's the equivalent of around 45 to 50 million words.
[12:56] - Speaker 2
And we have about 120 people working with us on a full time, part time capacity in which most of what they do is really finding information that was not available before. We run a couple of bots that identify science articles that are available in English but not available in Arabic. We pick up the list and we start working on it the same with all of other subjects with women's rights, et cetera. We start expanding to other languages that also have similar issues that will be Kurdish.
[13:28] - Speaker 2
We now expand it to Pashtu and Dari, which is technically Farsi. Dari is the political term for Farsi, that's the language spoken Afghanistan is actually the same language spoken Iran. But Middle East politics is sometimes hard to explain. So that's a language that is spoken in the Southern part of Afghanistan, and that's where actually a significant amount of the Taliban members come from. It's actually 0.8%. This is how much knowledge is available in that language on the Internet. And that is also a language spoken by at least 50 million people.
[14:05] - Speaker 2
And it makes me wonder after 20 years of intervention, why there is no article about women's rights in past two Wikipedia. And so that's really the kind of the scope we are involved as well on physical programs, which I think in a way complements a lot of the digital work. We work with a coalition to actually rebuild some of the libraries that ISIS destroyed. So we actually just finished that project in which we provided the University of Muslim, which is really one of the known universities in Iraq that was really destroyed by the ISIS conflict, and we were able to provide them with 4000 books.
[14:48] - Speaker 2
We run a lot of workshops across the region on critical thinking on how can people identify evidence based information versus propaganda. So our work is really a combination of digital and physical, and I think that we have to remain on that course because we show that we are a real organization, because sometimes when people just see us as this organization, they view us with a kind of more skepticism. But when we really put a face on it of real people who are on the ground working to change situation there, we were able to build a much stronger connection and collaboration with local communities.
[15:25] - Speaker 1
That's amazing. And it's amazing the breadth of work that you're doing right, and knowledge is helping to empower individuals to make informed decisions. We talk a lot about Privacy on the show, and I'm curious, how does Privacy play a role in your organization, especially with your people on the ground that you just mentioned?
[15:45] - Speaker 2
Very important. Since we started the organization, we implemented Privacy security tools to empower all of our translators. Unfortunately, some of the places that many of our translators live in, where there's a heavy level of censorship, the cost of being caught translating, even a book like On Liberty by John Stewart Mill or anything related to human rights that actually gets you in a prison for five to ten years. Some countries around the middle east have what sometimes called a Blasphemy laws. So anything that can be considered critical of theocracies or things like that also can lead people to prison, sometimes life sentence.
[16:28] - Speaker 2
So knowing that I am from the region, most of our staff are from the start implement providing people with VPNs. We have partnered with an organization with TunnelBear that provided pretty much all of our translators with VPNs. We use signal a lot to share a lot of private information. So if somebody is trying to share their bank information, any forms of personal information, we highly recommend them. They use signal, and we also try to get them to avoid being tracked like they use browsers like Brave and Tor et cetera.
[17:06] - Speaker 2
And now obviously the mobile coin which I'm so excited will come in match made in heaven because paying people in many of these countries is amazingly difficult because of the fact that there are all these laws that really censor people and prevent people from working to anything related to human rights. All of our translators are paid, and it's generally been very difficult for us to pay many of these people. And I think that is really the missing link that we've been looking for is that we use tools when it comes to encrypted communication.
[17:44] - Speaker 2
Hopefully we will get the tools to actually start having encrypted payments. I think these tools are saving lives. That's the way I see them. If you get caught with some of the work related to making knowledge accessible in some of these fraternity regimes, you get killed and these tools really prevent at least try to reduce the possibility of things like that happening.
[18:07] - Speaker 1
Well, we're so excited to be able to provide this tool to aid ideas beyond borders and others in this fight for the freedom of information. Do you think Privacy is essential to the freedom of information you promote totally.
[18:25] - Speaker 2
The alternative in which when you don't have Privacy and most of the knowledge and most of the information you share, especially in countries, as I mentioned, in which there are blasting laws and there are lots of regulations on what you can say and what you can do, especially in authoritarian side. It's between life and death. That's why the Privacy is so important. I think on a personal situation, one of the things that I remember really vividly about living in regime and such as the one Saddam Hussein and even the militias that came afterward.
[19:12] - Speaker 2
It creates a very fake society in which everybody is afraid of everybody. So you cannot really have any deep friendships, any deep relationships because you really don't know what the other person is thinking and everybody is afraid to say what they think. So everybody just remembers. And sometimes unfortunately we memorize some of the sentences to show and we keep saying them over and over again. And I remember even in high school, when Al Qaeda took over a lot of part of West Iraq, it requires a very deep level of trust.
[19:54] - Speaker 2
And that's, like after months and sometimes even years of friendship in which actually somebody can trust you to tell you that they believe this way or they don't agree with this policy or they don't agree with what's happening. So in a way, it creates that's one of the things that authoritarians are really good at, unfortunately, is to create that society in which people are in constant state of self censorship. They don't really express what they think, and they cannot express what they think because of their regulations and the laws.
[20:34] - Speaker 2
So in a way, like on a personal level, other than the more grand or big picture things that we work on with IBB, it's really I believe that having private communication will deepen personal relationships in which people, when they see that they are not being watched by government agencies and they're not being watched by the intelligence services and even sometimes larger society, they actually might have a more authentic relationships. They might actually tell other people what they think and really form a bond that doesn't exist when you just memorize and repeat party lines.
[21:14] - Speaker 1
Yeah, definitely. These safe channels of communication should almost be seen as a human right. And I hear you when you say that for someone like yourself, Privacy really can be a matter of life and death. Now that you're in the US, where a lot of us take certain levels of Privacy for granted, how do you think Americans should think about their own Privacy compared to the experience of people living in the other countries you've been talking about?
[21:39] - Speaker 2
I think they should take it very seriously. And one of the things is just from experience is that governments generally always come up with a very benign reason why people should lose their Privacy. And the more the benign thing looks, the more they should be more skeptical. Because when the governments in the Middle East and even countries in Asia try to censor speech, it's not they say it's like, oh, we're trying to prevent you from having meaningful relationships or anything like that. They come up with we would like to have social cohesion.
[22:18] - Speaker 2
That is actually one of the main words that they mentioned is that we don't want any disturbance of the public safety sometimes. Unfortunately, they use the language of fighting extremism and trying to prevent malicious actions and nefarious actors. So that is generally the language that even the portitarian regime uses. They don't say, oh, we're here to prevent political dissidents, or we're trying to not allow any fear of expression. They come up with an amazingly benign reason that most people would be, of course, I'm against it.
[22:59] - Speaker 2
Who wants extremists to have ability to communicate? But that is generally what the Slipper slope happens. It starts with let's ban this book because it criticizes religion or criticizes the public morality or the moral zeitgeist of the population. And then it goes into Little Mermaid, which was the case in Kuwait. They started first with banning political dissidents or like they call extremist thoughts, which is even things like promoting, I don't know, gay rights. But many countries is viewed as extremist thoughts. And then they went into banning Harry Potter because it's promised witchcraft.
[23:44] - Speaker 2
Then they went to Little Mermaid because it's promised to us women.
[23:48] - Speaker 1
Oh, my goodness.
[23:50] - Speaker 2
And then they went into movies. Wonder Women is banned because the actor is Jewish. And that's how really when they start, when they started, like back in the 80s and the 90s, most of the things were in some extent benign. They wanted to prevent rise of Muslim Brotherhood or things like that. But then it started slowly and surely being tried to censor other things. I think my advice to anybody who lives in a more free society is to prevent censorship before it takes root. Yeah. Well, it might sound idealistic.
[24:32] - Speaker 2
I think that the best way to combat bad ideas is good ideas. I know there are many people today disagree with that, but I think is that yes, extremes will be able to use some of the same tools we're using. Yes, they're going to have media channels, et cetera. But it is generally when you create censorship rules, it's generally the good guys are the ones who are prevented from speaking their minds. I mean, even in Iraq, with AlQaeda and all that stuff they figured out. Yes, they were censored by the government, but because they were having a lot of funds and they were able to be funded and they're kind of technically savvy, they were able to find other tools and they were able to express their opinions.
[25:12] - Speaker 2
And eventually the people who were hurt by the censorship were actually the average people. So that's really the lesson I have learned and really understanding that censorship and the importance of Privacy and being able to speak your mind is really privilege. And I think it's something really worth defending.
[25:33] - Speaker 1
Yeah, definitely. It's a privilege and a right that I think we should both appreciate and defend. So we're currently taping this podcast in September of 2021. And one of the biggest stories right now is the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan. At this point, the Taliban has completely taken control of the country, and it's really quite unclear what's going to happen next.
[25:55] - Speaker 3
Given your experience in the region.
[25:57] - Speaker 1
How will this impact freedom of information in Afghanistan?
[26:01] - Speaker 2
Well, I think it's very clear what will happen. It was very expected that the Taliban will take over, and that was really ignored by this administration. And I think what will happen is the people who will be harmed the most are going to be the average Afghans and anybody who really speaks their mind. And women because men have the ability to fake it. To some extent, while women would be the ones the most covered, they're going to be one denied education, they're going to be one denied jobs.
[26:37] - Speaker 2
So the only thing that I think happened, I always try to find silver lining is that the population of Afghanistan today is far more educated than it was in 2001. So the Taliban is definitely going to face resistance from the local population when they try to implement harsh and extremist laws about banning women from going to work, or even though they already started, they started segregating push the segregation law in which they're building a wall in universities in which women and men go to a different section of the universities, and they are not allowed to interact in any shape or form.
[27:17] - Speaker 2
Wow. So they're definitely getting there. But I think my hope is that the resistance will be strong enough. And I think that's where we as an organization, as a civil side organization and other roofs is actually we're going to work to empower the resistance. The Taliban now is a reality. It's not something that's going to go away anytime soon. And it didn't go away for the past 20 years. They have very strong roots. And one of their quotes is that the Taliban has the time and we have the watch.
[27:51] - Speaker 2
So they have all the time in the world to really wait. And that was also one of the things that happened is that when the US announced the dates in which they will withdraw, I don't want to be super critical, but that is really one of the craziest things I've seen, especially dealing with the situation on the ground, because that really gave the Taliban, which okay, they're going to withdraw this date. So we're going to take over this date and we saw it. What happened. So I'm very sad.
[28:25] - Speaker 2
I've been dealing a lot with getting some people out. I've been getting calls and messages from women rights activists, from judges, from anybody who is remotely involved in education. Woman who built a school for girls, she's now afraid for her life. Girls who went to school are now afraid for their life and afraid for their future. And it's really constant. I'm sure I'm not the only one I know, even journalists who worked in Afghanistan and are coming back home here in the US and other places, and they're constantly getting messages from girls from women.
[29:07] - Speaker 2
We have no future. We're going to die. And sometimes it's like in constant fear, I get a message, let's say and somebody says, Please help me and something like that. And then I reply, and then I don't get the reply back. And really my brain immediately goes to the worst possible situation that this person gets killed. And that is the situation currently. And that's what I'm dealing with, what a lot of people are dealing with. So it's been kind of challenging to say the least, to just stay focused.
[29:40] - Speaker 2
But as somebody who grew up with a war zone, I think I have some resilience to kind of maintain both dealing with the situation on the ground, that at the same time stay focused on creating programs and try to help people and not be distracted because that's what extremists and authoritarians want us to be, to want us to feel defeated, wanted us to feel distracted and not be able to get anything done so they will win. My personal goal may be selfish as I don't want extremists to win.
[30:15] - Speaker 1
Yeah, well, it's amazing that you can stay focused and offer so much help. And it's tragic how marginalized groups are impacted and suffer the most from these things. At one point, we were going to take this podcast a few weeks back and you had to postpone because you were actually helping some of these people and your friends to escape from Afghanistan. Is there anything you want Americans to know about this event that you think is missing from the narrative portrayed by the media?
[30:43] - Speaker 2
I was just in a visit to the Middle East, and that's why I was knowing that I am and was monitored and I was notified that I was monitored. I wasn't guessing. And so I want to make sure that I can speak more freely in this interview than I would knowing that my conversation is not fully secure. The world to know, especially is really what I was talking about in terms of the narrative right now with Taliban to Clover, and this is the reality. And we just have to deal with this.
[31:28] - Speaker 2
Taliban now has a much better public relations team that they had in 2001. They are really good in choosing a lot of good buzzwords that show that they tend to be kind of more inclusive or they are not the bad guys they used to be. And sometimes they used kind of a born again language in which all we used to be bad. And now we recovered. And that's really the unfortunately, the Taliban has support of many States. They don't operate on their own. They're not like an individual group that just came out of nowhere that tried to it has support of significant amount of funding from multiple States for the regional or outside.
[32:17] - Speaker 2
And they figured out that they need to adjust their language, at least when they speak to the public. And their goal is that when they speak the language to the public, and when people around the world just see the headlines, they'll be like, all things are fine over there. Everybody who is speaking about the Taliban in like a harsh way is just he's exaggerating or he's exaggerating. Everything looks fine. And I think one of the things that we are as an organization would love to do, and that's something actually, I'm working on this week.
[32:49] - Speaker 2
A lot is to identify a lot of citizen journalists, because what Taliban does is that for mainstream journalists or people come from international news, they all get them all number one to stay in the good neighborhoods and also to be completely detached from the general population. So they kind of redirect them in a way, whether it's socially engineered or nonsocial engineered, which be like, oh, I wanted to talk to this person at this restaurant. This is the person who you should talk to and then many cases, the journalists because they don't really have a lot of leverage.
[33:20] - Speaker 2
A lot of choice is actually to talk to a person who claims to work at a restaurant. The reality is not part of the intelligence services, and they can tell you like, life here is so wonderful and everybody is so happy and the economy is doing great. What I would like to do is actually empower a lot of the citizen journalists who in a way have because they speak the local unknown language. They are kind of more familiar with the nuances in these countries to actually be the ones communicating to all what is really going on.
[33:54] - Speaker 2
My advice is to be very skeptical of anything coming out of the Tarpon mouth and really look at the actions in terms of there was a folk artist that was just killed. There was a woman, right activist that was also just killed. And this is the actions. The television is actually acting in this way. But what you see what they see in media and press releases and things like that is that no, we are giving Amnesty to everybody and everything is fine. And what they're trying to leverage is really the political situations in many of Western countries.
[34:32] - Speaker 2
They understand that Afghanistan is not on everyone's top mind. It's not the thing that all Americans or most Americans are concerned with. So they know that if they win the headline War, in which really just to provide them with one sentence that they can see that shows that things are okay and they need to focus and the Americans will maybe just focus on I don't know what's happening with Kovids. What's happening with the Hurricane IDA, whatever. Just make them focus on local things and then they just guarantee them everything is going fine.
[35:05] - Speaker 2
This is what really they want to do. And they are doing so the publication needs to be very aware of what's happening on the ground, listening to a lot of more local people and try their best to help. I mean, many cases, for example, I've been in contact with the citizen journalist, and what they lacked is actually a website. They didn't have a website, they don't know how to design a website, and they have a lot of really good information, pictures from the ground, videos, even interviews they have done.
[35:39] - Speaker 2
But really, they just needed a way to curate and be able to show it to the public. And they've contacted me and need the website. I'm sure many of the people who listen to our technologists and people from there sometimes that's really all you need to do to help is that use your existing skills, whether it's web design, whether it's something to do with editing and things like that. Really, you can create a big change. Great impact on a lot of people over there. Definitely.
[36:09] - Speaker 1
This has been so illuminating. We see the headlines and it's crazy to think that maybe this information is planted. How do you know this information is actually a reflection of what's going on? So these on the ground journalists sound like a great way to actually disseminate more accurate information versus misinformation or propaganda. We've spoken a lot about Privacy technologies. What do you think is a Privacy technology that does not exist right now but should exist?
[36:39] - Speaker 2
Definitely the one regarding encrypted payments and private payments. There are two challenges when it comes to many of these countries. Afghanistan included, is that they have an amazingly archaic banking systems. For example, like where I grew up, even until today number one, most of these societies are cash based societies. There's not such a thing as a credit card or debit card, anything like that. Everything is really stored physically. So like how people have a savings account is actually they buy a safe physical safe. Sometimes they dig it on the ground and then they put their savings over there, which makes them very their money can be easily stolen because it's all physical, even Uber.
[37:25] - Speaker 2
There is cash based. You just order one, but then you have to pay them in cash. My first exposure to the credit card was after I left Iraq, and it shows how it makes life much easier and how it can allow people to be connected to the outside world. Translators, people who have skills in the Middle East cannot broadcast their skills to the outside world because they cannot get paid. While people who have access to more newer banking systems, they can just provide people with a PayPal account or anything like that.
[38:01] - Speaker 2
So that is definitely going to revolutionize and not just activists or people involved in anything like that. But really the general population. There's a case study of a woman who unfortunately because of conservative society, she was not allowed to leave the house. But she has a translation degree. So she married a very conservative husband and she didn't allow to and she has a translation degree and she's very qualified and she was actually getting paid and she was able to advertise her services through the Internet and be able to be more financially independent through the fact that she was able to utilize more of these modern payment technologies because she was not able to get paid in cash because she cannot leave the house.
[38:46] - Speaker 2
So all of these technologies can really, especially ones regarding payment will help empower and connect many of these closed societies to free societies.
[38:56] - Speaker 1
So it sounds like you think that on a global scale, the world is moving in the direction of more freedom of information. But what about the potential risks of misinformation that the Internet brings.
[39:11] - Speaker 2
Misinformation has existed since the beginning of mankind, and it's something that we have to coexist with, and really that I mean, our way to actually combat misinformation is to empower people with critical thinking skills and media literacy. I think we cannot fight misinformation directly. I think we should empower people with the skills and the tools of how they can combat it, because in that way, we are allowing information to flow without the censorship. I'm very cautious about censorship, even if it has benign reasons. So I think there are some successful in Finland, for example, they incorporated critical thinking since the elementary school in Scandinavia.
[40:04] - Speaker 2
They're trying to really just like, you know, how to do math. You need to know how to navigate information. And I think that needs to happen on a much larger scale. Many of these countries have a very small populations, but I think it needs to be applied on a much larger scale, the same way we know basic algebra or we know calculus and things like that. We have to know how to navigate the information landscape in the world. And I think misinformation, just like any form of information, works in supply and demand.
[40:39] - Speaker 2
I call the brain vaccination. If you empower people critical thinking skills, they are in a way, immune from a lot of the propaganda misinformation around them. So that's not necessarily the ultimate solution, but it definitely empowering people with critical thinking skills on long term is the best way to combat this information, I believe.
[41:03] - Speaker 1
Yeah, I like this concept of brain vaccination. That's a good one. I know your organization is focused on the Middle East, but I'd love to get your take on the correlation between misinformation and extremism here in the US for decades, the biggest threat to domestic security seemed to be international terrorism. But now American violent extremists have emerged as an even greater threat. Do you see what's happening in the US as the same problem you're trying to solve in the Middle East? Or is it a different problem with different causes?
[41:32] - Speaker 2
I mean, there are definitely a lot of similarities. The main thing that extremism the way it flourishes flourishes on polarization. The way that extremists generally operate is that they claim that they're defending you from the other people. That's really the basic of how they recruit people. That's how they can get marginal support, because there are levels of extremism, and they exist. They have to exist in the ecosystem. There's obviously the story of the lone Wolf, and somebody just got radicalized. But in reality, there are communities and subcultures and all of that stuff that exists that try to rationalize their existence and try to convince the local population.
[42:18] - Speaker 2
So I think in the case of all these extremists, whether it's international or domestic here in the States, is that they exist in ecosystem polarization. And I think that what I witnessed in Iraq, that the civil war, that is kind of the end goal of extreme. That's the end goal of polarization is that when people identify so much with a certain cause or a certain identity in which they are willing to kill the other person who disagrees with that ideology. So I think here in the States, you can see some seeds of polarization.
[42:58] - Speaker 2
I've read a lot of research and even studies being shown of really information bubbles give examples. People who watch Fox News never watch MSNBC and people who watch MSNBC never listen to Fox News. That's just like an example of how people operate in the landscape of information, which creates a very different reality to different populations. So in that ecosystem, you can have extremists flourish. This is exactly the ecosystem and what people with extremists need to flourish. So there is a lot of work that needs to be done to really try to promote diversity of opinions and being able to not just read the headline of what the other people think or what the opaque person or the talk show host is telling you that what the other people think, you have to go discover for yourself what other people think.
[43:53] - Speaker 2
And I think that itself. You will see that many people and that's even not many most people are coming from benign reasons, even if you disagree with them on a fundamental level of what should be done on any subject, from Texas to anything else. If you try to listen to the other side, you see that the reason is not that they hate the poor or they hate the rich or they hate businesses or things like that. It is defined from the other group is defined in a very different way.
[44:28] - Speaker 2
So I think that is the way to actually reduce the ecosystem in which domestic extremists the same way international extremists, international extremists, in a way, rely a lot on domestic extremists. And this is literally there. The more America is polarized, the more Americans hate each other, the less likely they will do anything to help anywhere around the world. And that is what the international terrorists are relying a lot on domestic terrorists to do their work for them. We have to be very aware of that. Yeah.
[45:02] - Speaker 1
This has been a difficult conversation in a lot of ways, but also an extremely enlightening one Fazel what most gives you hope for freedom of information in the Middle East.
[45:12] - Speaker 2
What really gives me hope on a daily basis within my organization is I work with heroes, and they constantly inspire me, even in the most difficult days, to actually see that there are people out there who are really doing work to try to change the situation on the ground. So that's really the existence of more and new technologies happening. So the will is there. We just need to provide the tools. And with this mentality, I see that things are far more solvable than they look from the outside.
[45:50] - Speaker 2
So that's really what keeps me going. And that's why IBB is flourishing as a problem solving organization in the Middle East. And now we're kind of expanding to the more Central Asia region. So looking forward to having more conversations like that amazing.
[46:07] - Speaker 1
We've been speaking with Faisal Saed, Almightyr activist, entrepreneur, defender of knowledge and ideas and the founder of Ideas Beyond Borders. Faisal, this has been so insightful. Thank you for making the time to speak with us today.
[46:21] - Speaker 2
Thank you for having me.
[46:27] - Speaker 3
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[46:36] - Speaker 1
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[46:39] - Speaker 3
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[46:44] - Speaker 2
[46:44] - Speaker 3
That's also where you can find our radio show every Wednesday at twelve. Pacific Time. I'm Lucy Kind. Our producer is Sam Anderson, and our theme music was composed by David Westbomb.
[46:55] - Speaker 1
See you next time.