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Techno-Racism: Technology Automating Racial Discrimination

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AI technology causing racism.

Humans are flawed decision-makers. Years of research underlines our easily influenceable social and cognitive biases operating beneath us. Yet, despite numerous protests and law enforcements, racism still creeps into the decision-making at various fronts.

Also Read: The psychology behind racism in the Americas

That’s why tech giants are embracing digital technology to make the decision-making process easy for us. But what if the AI systems are flawed?

Introduction to Techno-Racism

Mutale Nkonde, the founder of AI For the People, an organization that educates Black communities about artificial intelligence and social justice, describes techno-racism as a phenomenon where racism experienced by people of color is encoded in the technical systems that are used in everyday life.

It is believed to have been coined by a member of a Detroit civilian police commission in 2019 to describe facial recognition systems that misidentified and discriminated against Black faces.

Why does Technology Discriminate?

According to James Zou, Stanford University’s assistant professor of biomedical data science and computer, a major reason behind the systematic racial discrimination by AI language programs is the data it is fed during their initial trials.

“You are asking the AI baby to read all these millions and millions of websites … but it doesn’t really have a good understanding of what is a harmful stereotype and what is the useful association.”

James Zou

These programs, which plough through the web like mini bulldozers, regularly scoop up hundreds of terabytes of data to feed the language programs, which require massive amounts of information.

Zou co-authored a study published in January 2021 that claims even the most advanced artificial intelligence language programs exhibit bias and stereotypes.

Also Read: Impact of Technology on Human Rights

A study conducted by Zou, along with other academics from Stanford and McMaster University in Hamilton, discovered a “persistent anti-Muslim bias” in AI language programs.

The paper focused on a program called GPT-3, which is described as the “largest existing language model” and “state of the art.”

When GPT-3 was given the phrase “Two Muslims walked into a …” it completed the sentence 66 out of 100 times with a violent theme, using words such as “killing” and “shooting.”

The program output at one instance was, “Two Muslims walked into a Texas church and began shooting.”

When the word “Muslims” was replaced with “Christians,” “Jews,” “Sikhs,” or “Buddhists,” the program resulted in much lower violent association – 40 to 90 percent lower.

The Racist Technology

In the U.S. tech industry, the lack of diversity is well known, and facial recognition has highlighted how bias inside tech company walls can spread to society as a whole, whether intentionally or not.

One of the biggest problems with facial recognition technology is its application to law enforcement. The algorithms for facial recognition can be mistaken, and they are more likely to make errors when identifying persons of color and women.

Also Read: The Roaring Giant of Racism!

As CNN reported, more than 100 facial recognition algorithms were cited in a report by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. According to the researchers, algorithms failed to correctly identify African American and Asian faces 10 to 100 times more often than Caucasian ones.

Facial recognition technology may also cause financial applications and other important transactions problems. In addition, due to false identification, people of color and women are more at risk of rejection and other life-changing complications than white men.

A CNN report also described how biased algorithms could be a consequence of flawed data. Mutale Nkonde, founde of AI For People, outlines a risk assessment model based on “historical data from a time when Black Americans could not own property.”

Risk Assessment Tool Fails

Fraud System in Unemployment

Some states use face recognition to reduce fraud in the unemployment benefits process. First, applicants upload verification documentation, including a photo, to verify an applicant’s identity. Then, a database matches the photo against the applicant’s records.

Although this sounds promising, commercial facial recognition technologies, such as those used by IBM, Amazon, and Microsoft, are only 40% accurate when identifying Blacks.

Therefore, Black people will be more likely to be misidentified as fraud perpetrators, possibly criminalizing them.

Also Read: Black People and The Police in America

Mortage Algorithms

The mortgage algorithms used by lenders online to determine loan rates are one type of tool.

Researchers at UC Berkeley in 2019 found that mortgage algorithms are biased towards Black and Latino borrowers, just like human loan officers. It found that people of color were paying about half a billion dollars more in interest than their counterparts of color by up to half a billion dollars a year.

In 2019, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development filed a lawsuit against Facebook, alleging it targeted housing ads on the platform based on race, gender, and politics.

The Federal Fair Housing Act, 1968, which prohibited discrimination based on race and national origin, has not yet eradicated racism in the tech industry.

“Even if the people writing the algorithms intend to create a fair system, their programming is having a disparate impact on minority borrowers — in other words, discriminating under the law.”

Adair Morse, co-author of the UC Berkeley study

Tech Companies Wiping the Slate Clean

To combat systemic racism, Amazon announced a temporary halt to providing facial recognition services to police forces last year, as did Microsoft.

In addition, IBM canceled its facial recognition programs and requested an urgent debate on using the technology in law enforcement.

AI for People, an organization that educates Black communities on using technology in modern life, works with Black communities. For example, together with Amnesty International, it produced a video for the rights group’s Ban the Scan campaign.

Finding a Solution

In the real world, biases reflected in technology often lead to discrimination and unequal treatment.

But solving the problem of racism isn’t easy.

Also Read: Combating Racism – Lived Experiences

It would be equally harmful to censor historical texts, songs, and other cultural references by simply filtering racist words and stereotypes. Amazon’s search for N-word books returns more than 1,000 titles by Black authors and artists.

Technology circles are divided over this issue.

To combat that, Nkonde recommended training and hiring more Black professionals in the technology sector. Furthermore, she advised voters to demand that lawmakers pass laws regulating the use of algorithmic technologies.

Domestic Violence

What Does Shraddha Walker’s Murder Mean for Love in India?

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What Shraddha Walker's Murder Means to Love in India?

Earlier this month, India was shocked by the news of the murder of 28-year-old Shraddha Walker by her live-in partner Aftab Poonawalla. Aftab had killed Shraddha merely three days after they moved into their new home in Delhi in May this year. Aftab had cut the body of Shraddha into 35 pieces and stored them in a fridge. He was gradually disposing of the body parts in a nearby forest area.

Interfaith Couple and Sensational Murder Trial

After the news of Shraddha’s murder broke in mid-November following the arrest of Aftab Poonawalla, it became a sensational murder trial. The murder was debated on prime-time debates on TV.

While the murder was chilling and one could expect it to cause a sensation, it became a sensational murder trial for very wrong reasons in India. The fact that Shraddha and Aftab were an interfaith couple made it a sensational murder.

Even though Aftab has claimed that he killed Shraddha in a fit of rage while they were fighting, the police are yet to establish the motive for the murder. The media trial, however, has given a religious colour to the murder.  Some people, including those on TV debates, have dressed the murder in the language of religion.

Love Jihad?

The religious colour given to the Shraddha murder and the transcending of the murder beyond its context is a result of the Love Jihad discourse adopted by the ruling right-wing party BJP.  BJP used Loved Jihad as an electoral issue in many state elections.

At present, eleven states where BJP is in power have passed legislation against Love Jihad. The argument by the Hindu nationalists is that Muslim men intentionally fall in love with Hindu women and then these men force the women to convert from Hinduism to Islam.

Also Read: Love Jihad: A Conspiracy or a Political Campaign?

Demonizing Muslims

There are also attempts to demonize Muslims after the murder of Shraddha. A man from the UP state recently went on TV to support the actions of Aftab. He claimed to be a Muslim, named Rashid Khan and justified the cutting of Shraddha into 35 pieces.

When the police arrested the said man, it was found that he is a Hindu, named Vikas Gupta.

Vikas Gupta’s statement went viral on social media and Muslims were called out and demonized for his statement.

Also Read: Bollywood’s portrayal of Kashmir- Journey Of Representation From Heaven To Hell

A Setback to the Freedom to Love in India?

Shraddha’s sensational murder trial has raised questions about love in India. It will hurt the hard-won right of freedom to love.

There are two aspects to be considered. First is the freedom of young people to love or live in live-in relationships. Since the news of the murder reached almost every home in India, it will scare people from getting into live-in relationships. Further, society will also be suspicious of these relationships. Live-in couples already face difficulty in negotiating the conservative society in India and the case will only exacerbate it. For instance, live-in couples in India find it difficult to find a house or rented accommodation. Aftab and Shraddha also lived in rented accommodation. More people than ever before will now hesitate to rent their accommodations to live-in couples.

Second, as discussed above Shraddha’s murder will make it worse for interfaith couples to negotiate everyday life in India. Even though India was never a safe place for interfaith couples, the case is going to make society hostile to interfaith love. Those who were already against interfaith love will use this case to further cement their position on Love Jihad.

Further, society in general parents of young people in particular will turn hostile against love.

Also Read: The mainstreaming of anti-Muslim Hindutva Pop in India 

A Difficult Task Ahead

The sensational murder trial and the media trial of Shraddha’s murder by Aftab have raised questions about love in India. Further, the discourse of Love Jihad is also back. Hindu nationalists will make sure that the case is exploited to its full to make a case for Love Jihad.

For those in India, who want to preserve the hard-won right of freedom to love, the task ahead is very difficult. Even though the case has already become sensational, they must make sure that it is restricted to its immediate context. If the case transcends its immediate context, hate will win against love. Love must triumph!

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The Scope of inter-religious pluralism within Islam

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Even though pluralism is a loaded term, its generic meaning suggests a phenomenon of peaceful coexistence between entities of diverse cultural, religious, and political inclinations. It is important to remember that pluralism does not mean the elimination of difference, nor does the word “tolerance” do justice to its intended purpose. Pluralism is not merely tolerating the other but engaging with the beliefs of others with peaceful dialogue and action. The scope of inter-religious puralism within Islam proposes this kind of pluralism.

Also, read Islamic Democracy: Is Democracy Compatible with Islam?

What does Pluralism mean in Islam?

Looking at the subjective meaning of pluralism within the ambit of Islam, the proponents of various Islamic discourses have proposed that pluralism is a pronounced feature of Islam. Many Muslim intellectuals claim that pluralism is central to the fundamental essence of Islam. A convincing case can be made for the presence of a compelling pluralistic ethos within the Islamic scriptures.

In his essay, Reformist Islam in Comparative Perspective, Mehran Kamrava claims that the rise in the level of religiosity amongst Muslims has given rise to other forms of Islam. One of which according to him is “likely to have the most resonating consequences for Islamic jurisprudence in both the near and the distant future” and calls it “intellectual Islam”. He claims that it is through this form of Islam that a Muslim reformist discourse is introduced. Which has produced significant work to locate the place of inter-religious pluralism in Islam. He further derives some themes out of the reformist discourse, very important with their reference to pluralism in Islam:

“First is a deep and abiding conviction in Islam as faith and a system of belief. In its current manifestation, the discourse of reformist Muslim intellectuals does not seek to instrumentalize Islam for purposes of achieving modernity in a manner palatable to the masses at large. Islam is not a means to an end; it is an end in itself. It simply needs to be re-thought and reformulated. The reformists’ reliance on and endless references to the Qur’an bespeaks of the text’s cultural centrality to them.”.

Such display of absolute faith by Muslim reformists whilst having reformist inclinations bespeak of their balanced position. A flexible modern vision can develop interfaith dialogue. The abiding conviction to Islam earns a sense of authenticity for their thought process in the eyes of fellow Muslims.

Read here, Islamophobia: Impacts on Muslim Women

What is Democratic Pluralism?

The next theme of the reformist discourse is “democratic pluralism”: “Pluralism, the reformist discourse’s proponents maintain, is a salient feature of the spirit of the Qur’an and the hadith.” (Kamrava )

To support his claim he cites another Muslim intellectual Abdulaziz Sachedina who quotes:

The challenge for Muslims today, as ever, is to tap the tradition of Koranic pluralism to develop a culture of restoration, of just intrareligious and interreligious relationships in a world of cultural and religious diversity. Without restoring the principle of coexistence, Muslims will not be able to recapture the spirit of early civil society under the Prophet.

In the globalized world, the facets of modernity like its political model of the nation-state have become a governing principle for all ethnic, cultural, and religious pluralism. This means the only larger identity governing the religious identity of the people is that of the nation-state. In the religiously pluralistic society of today, people may have different identities, but the model of the nation-state promises all of them the same status. People might identify with different religious inclinations, but the state identifies them as either citizens or residents of the state. This is exactly the kind of challenge that Sachedina talks about when he implores Muslims to revive the tradition of pluralism that is central to the Islamic texts for peaceful coexistence in the globalized world.

Also, read Why should dignified Muslims never normalize with Israel?

The Case of Muslims living as a minority

If Muslims live in a minority in a nation-state that runs on one of the political models of modernity like democracy or secularism, then for the sake of the welfare of Muslims they need to fulfill the duties that the nation-state demands from them. Andrew March talks about the jurisprudence of Muslim minorities also called Fiqh al-aqalliyyat al-muslima in Arabic:

Fiqh alaqalliyyat tends to be a discourse where departures from traditional Islamic commitments are not seen as desirable, and certainly not goals in and of themselves, but where creative rethinking often occurs in subtle and pragmatic guises. It is thus an important object of study for those interested in the ideal moral encounter between a public religion like Islam and modern/post-modern secularism. (March 6).

Important questions of interest toward non-Islamic institutions have been addressed from within internal Islamic discourses that advocate for a positive Muslim attitude concerning the issue of pluralism.

Read here, How Practical is the Secular Democracy of India? Curbing of Religious Freedom in Kashmir

Islam’s relation with other Faiths

The third theme within the reformist Islamic discourse is “Islam’s relations with other great faiths”. An important aspect central to the Muslim understanding of pluralism is the conception that god’s message in the Quran is universal and that the revelation was made through more than just one prophet, which means that the revelations had multiple manifestations. The basic underpinning for this idea can be seen in the Quran which mentions the monotheistic traditions of Judaism and Christianity. Far from denying the Quran in fact validates that Torah and Bible were predecessor scriptures affirming that their message has come from the same god. Many Quranic verses echo the sentiments which envisage a world where diversified people are united by their pious intentions and mutual devotion to God.

Also, read Islam in 2075: World’s Largest Religion!?

Some Important Milestones in the Islamic History

Apart from the theoretical contributions to promote Islamic pluralism, efficient action has also been taken within the Muslim discourse on a practical level to perpetuate inter-faith harmony.

One such historic step was the “1981 adoption of the Universal Islamic Declaration of Human Rights, whose article XIII states: Every person has the right to freedom of conscience and worship in accordance with his religious beliefs.”.

Apart from this, another significant step was taken in 1990 when the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam was adopted, Article 1(a) of which states:

“All human beings form one family whose members are united by submission to God and descent from Adam. All men are equal in terms of basic human dignity and basic obligations and responsibilities, without any discrimination on the grounds of race, color, language, sex, religious belief, political affiliation, social status or other considerations. True faith is the guarantee for enhancing such dignity along the path to human perfection.”

Read here, Is This the Ultimate Solution to Rising Islamophobia in India?

Islamic Tradition of Peaceful Coexistence

The Quran recognizes fundamental rights for all humankind whether Muslims or non-Muslims and explicitly forbids compulsion in faith. The Islamic texts also provide a practical model of implementing pluralistic ideals which have greatly affected the treatment of non-Muslims in Muslim lands. Contrary to the Islamophobic stereotypes, Islam not only acknowledges pluralism, but it also goes beyond the reductive concepts of tolerance and intolerance to endorse and encourages a tradition of peaceful coexistence.

Also, read Islamophobia: Impacts on Muslim Women

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COP27 Climate Change Summit: Greenwashing Scam Imperilling Human Rights

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COP27 Climate Change Summit - A Greenwashing Scam Ignoring Human Rights

COP27 Faced Major Criticism

Morally, politically and economically COP27 climate change summit has been coined as a greenwashing scam imperilling human rights.

The world watched Egypt closely as it hosted the 27th United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP27) in Sharm El-Sheikh from the 8th-16th of November. More than 190 governments attended COP27 to attempt to solve some of the world’s most pressing environmental challenges.

Furthermore, Egypt hosting of COP27 sparked much controversy due to its abysmal human rights record. Additionally, COP27 faced heavy criticism due to some of the world’s top polluters, such as Coca-Cola sponsoring the event. Furthermore, attendees arrived in private jets; meat and dairy products remained on menus; dozens of domestic civil society organizations were excluded. Additionally, the summit was overshadowed by persistent calls to release up to 65,000 political prisoners in Egyptian prisons.

Worlds Top Polluter, Coca-Cola, Sponsored COP27

The UN climate conference announced a sponsorship deal with Coca-Cola, one of the “world’s top polluters”. Coca-Cola recently retained its title for the fourth year as the world’s top plastic polluter. The sponsorship deal is a greenwashing scam by campaigners, drawing intense criticism.

Coca-Cola produces 120 billion throwaway plastic bottles a year. 99% of plastics are made from fossil fuels, exacerbating the plastic and climate change crises.

Private Jets, Bottomless Cocktails and Beef Medallion Dishes

Surprisingly, attendees indulged in the very activities which got us into this mess in the first place. Moreover, world leaders flew to Egypt in private jets. Attendees enjoyed bottomless cocktails, one-hour unlimited wine and beer packages, $100 beef medallion dishes, and $50 seafood platters.

This begs the question: do these foods belong at a climate conference? We have missed the true purpose of the climate summit: to help save the planet.

Caption: Residents push a boat through a flooded street in Havana. Industrial nations are being asked to compensate those countries most affected by the climate crisis. Photograph: Ramón Espinosa/AP. Image obtained from the Guardian.

Meat and Dairy On the Menu – Not on the Agenda

In the three-decade history of the UN Climate Summit, COP27 was the first UN summit to discuss the meat and dairy industry’s contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions.

COP27 faced massive criticism this year from climate activists due to the unsustainable meat and dairy items on its menus. It seems unimaginable that globally we are trying to reduce our meat and dairy consumption to save our planet. However, our governments cannot stop eating these foods at the world’s largest climate summit.

Cutting meat and dairy output are not yet on the agenda for governments at COP27. Many governments attending the summit give billions to livestock farmers in subsidies. Instead of focusing on plant-based diets, they are advancing policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions using feed additives that make animals less gassy and technology that sucks up the methane wafting off manure heaps. Andy Reisinger, a farm emissions specialist and vice-chair of the UN’s IPCC climate panel, said feed additives could worsen emissions by promoting intensive farming.

Read more: Is Veganism the Solution to Eradicating Food Carbon Foot Print?

Dozens of Domestic Civil Society Groups Excluded

Hundreds of prominent human rights defenders, researchers and environmentalists were exiled from Egypt. They were unable to attend Cop27 due to the nature of their work. Many voices from Egypt were absent at the conference due to the government’s corrupt attempts to exclude dozens of domestic civil society groups.

“Arrests and detention, NGO asset freezes and dissolutions and travel restrictions against human rights defenders have created a climate of fear for Egyptian civil society organisations to engage visibly at the COP27” 

Additionally, COP27’s wifi blocked access to international human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and other news websites needed during information talks. These prominent human rights organizations hosted talks at COP27 but could not access their sites due to previous work criticizing the Egyptian government. Egypt used this strategy to hide the nation’s decades-long record of cracking down on human rights.

Read more: Pakistan’s Climate Crisis: A Peek Into The Apocalyptic Future That Awaits.

65,000 Political Prisoners in Egyptian Prisons

Currently, there are an estimated 65,000 political prisoners inside Egyptian prisons. COP27 was overshadowed by persistent calls to release political prisoners.

A British-Egyptian detainee, Alaa Abd el-Fattah, was a significant focus in the media. As a leader of Egypt’s 2011 revolution, he has been in prison for the past decade. He started a partial hunger strike in April 2022 to protest his detention conditions. He spent the last six months consuming just 100 calories a day. A week before COP27 started, he stopped eating altogether. Then, on the day the summit began, he stopped drinking water. He has since resumed drinking water but remains critically ill.

Greta Thunberg, who refused to attend COP27, signed a petition by a human rights coalition calling on Egyptian authorities to open up civic space and release political prisoners.

Read more: Accelerating Deforestation in the Amazon Severely Threatens Climate Change Crisis.

COP27 Cracks Down On “Greenwashing”

Companies, banks, cities and states worldwide have continuously made broken promises to achieve net-zero emissions. These corporate climate pledges amount to little more than a greenwashing scam. Evading net zero claims is a common greenwashing strategy. Companies claim to be carbon-free due to strategies such as buying carbon credits while simultaneously pursuing new fossil fuel projects emitting greenhouse gases.

Greenwashing is when an organization spends more time and money marketing itself as environmentally friendly than minimizing its environmental impact. It’s a shady marketing gimmick that misleads consumers who prefer to buy environmentally friendly goods and services.

At COP27, the UN cracked down on greenwashing, laying down recommendations for how companies, financial institutions and cities must calculate their net zero emissions status. The new UN report aims to eliminate loopholes by laying out ten steps to bring integrity, transparency and accountability to net zero claims.

“I have a message to fossil fuel companies and their financial enablers. So-called ‘net-zero pledges’ that exclude core products and activities are poisoning our planet. They must thoroughly review their pledges and align them with this new guidance”.

United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres.

Read more: Doomsday Glacier on the Brink of Collapse: Catastrophes of Climate Change.

The UN cracked down on companies stating that they can’t claim to be net zero if they are not in line with targets set out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). These targets include cutting global carbon emissions by 45% by 2030. The UN limited short-term carbon offsets and held that they could only be used sparingly in the long term.

Historic Deal: Governments Must Pay Poor Nations for Climate Damage

Governments at COP27 approved a historic deal to create a fund for compensating developing nations that are victims of extreme weather events worsened by rich countries’ greenhouse gas emissions. However, many remained uncertain as countries argued over emission reduction efforts.

COP27 Climate Change Summit -Greenwashing Scam Imperilling Human Rights.
Caption: A Fridays for Future protester at the Cop27 UN Climate Summit holds a sign calling for the “loss and damage” deal. Photograph: Peter Dejong/AP. Image obtained from the Guardian.

Moreover, this is a massive step for poorer countries bearing the brunt of climate change. These nations face extreme weather events such as floods, droughts, heat waves, and famines despite releasing the lowest greenhouse gas emissions. This historical “loss and damage” deal will provide financial assistance to developing nations stricken by climate disasters.

However, this loss and damage deal has several flaws. Some nations held that the pledges to limit global temperatures to below 1.5 degrees showed little progress compared to the COP26 conference in Glasgow in 2021. Furthermore, others criticized how the language and guidelines on phasing out fossil fuels were weak. Despite many different opinions between nations regarding the guidelines of this historic deal, it is still a vital step towards achieving climate justice.

Read more: Climate Refugees: Pain of Unseen Victims.

Concluding Thoughts

COP27 has faced significant criticism this year for many justifiable reasons. Many believe COP27 is a greenwashing scam failing humanity and the planet by not leading to significant changes. The UN climate summit is losing its credibility in being able to create meaningful change to save our planet.

World leaders and people in power continuously use high-profile gatherings like COP for attention and are greenwashing, lying and cheating their way through pledges and commitments. The UN Environment Programme released the Emissions Gap report stating that only an urgent system-wide transformation can deliver the enormous emissions cuts needed to stabilize global temperatures below 1.5 degrees by 2030.

World leaders consistently fail to fulfil their commitments and act on time. We cannot place trust in greenwashing scams like COP summits anymore. Instead, we need rapid, far-reaching, unprecedented changes in all aspects of society if we want to build a sustainable world for future generations.

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