The IBBlog

When Ideas Beyond Borders launched its Stop the Spread public education campaign in mid-March 2020, there were two urgent goals:

1) Upending the flood of COVID-19 disinformation propagated by regional regimes, China and Russia

2) Educating Arab youth about the steps they should take to protect their health and combat the pandemic.

We have met our goals, thanks to our Middle East team of Arab youth translators and social influencers. The results are astounding, with more than 30 million people viewing our content to date:

When you think about it, the Stop the Spread campaign is the new Middle East Enlightenment in action. Every time a new video or article is posted, our Middle East team of translators and social influencers is supporting science, critical thinking and freedom of expression--and they are making lives better, every day.

That’s why we can’t stop now! With your support, we will reach millions more with our accurate information, and successfully combat the scourge of disinformation plaguing the Middle East.

Donate now to help win the war against disinformation in the Middle East!

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It was on February 22nd of this year that Iraq reported its first case of COVID-19 in my mother’s hometown of Najaf. It was an individual returning from a religious site in Qum in the neighboring country of Iran who first brought COVID-19 to Iraq.

It only took a moment for me to see on my Facebook newsfeed the first conspiracy theory spreading around: that the United States of America had created the virus and this was just a “political game.”

Iraq is not new to disinformation. During Saddam Hussein’s regime, Iraq only had three TV channels, all run by the state, which kept repeating lies about Iraq winning the gulf war and the Iran war. Today, Iraq remains fertile ground for misinformation. There are many reasons for this: the destruction of the education system over the last few decades has to lead to a less well-educated populace; significant ongoing mistrust between the general public and the amazingly corrupt Ministry of Health leads to increased willingness to share and believe misinformation; and finally, the lack of accessible, factual information in Arabic not just about COVID-19 but on pretty much everything means there is very little to counter the disinformation and misinformation that’s out there.

For those of you who know IBB well by now, this is our bread and butter, with our former experience of countering extremist messaging. We quickly adapted and utilized some of the same tools of creating engaging, easily accessible, easily digestible content in Arabic to counter those lies while focusing on long term goals of education tools of critical thinking and media literacy.

We need your support now more than ever, support the heroes on this battlefield.

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by Translator Momen Muhanad

Before telling you who I am and why what I do matters, let me introduce you to the silver lining of my cloud. For three years, I lived under ISIS control in Mosul. Those three years made me forget who I am and how the outside world looks. At that time, I worked 15 hours a day, 7 days a week, just to help my family make ends meet. All I did was work during the day and sleep at night. I had no future plans whatsoever; I didn’t even think I would be able to make it out alive. However, In 2017, after fierce battles that left my beloved city in ruins, Mosul was liberated. Having gone through all of this, I was thirsty for learning. I was dreaming of going back to school and doing my homework. I started appreciating what it actually means to have a normal life, potable water, and stable electricity. Most importantly, I finally realized that knowledge with no doubt is the most influential weapon against evil.

My name is Momen. I am a translation student at the University of Mosul, and I am currently working as a translator for Bayt Al-Hikma 2.0 project.

We live in a world where media is a dominant force, which can easily shape people’s perspectives. Over recent years, people have had countless misconceptions about Mosul. Unfortunately, this is due to the fact that Mosul is mentioned whenever terrorism and war are brought to the table. But, in fact, it’s a city of peace, kindness, and hospitality. A city that struggled and sacrificed greatly just to see the light again.

Mosul has always been known for being the cradle of leading experts and high quality of education. People used to come from other cities and countries to study at the University of Mosul, which was one of the top universities in Iraq. Nevertheless, after education was suspended by ISIS, it fell behind. Mosul bled so much that it went dry. It lost many of its cultural sites including the Central Library which was burned to the ground along with thousands of treasured books.

Now, Mosul is getting back on its feet. It’s changing the false images and stereotypes depicted by the media. Hopefully, everything will be better than before, thanks to the young generation. None of this would happen if it were not for the awareness that came from education and enlightenment.

By transferring knowledge into Arabic, I want to prove that we, as Iraqis, are able to make the world a better place. I hope to show the world that we are capable. We have dreams and ambitions like everyone else. I am aware that what I do is really small compared to the chaotic world we live in, but there is no way that is going to stop me. I will be grateful if only one person benefits from my works. I truly believe that a tiny act can have profound effects.

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