Jillian C. York

Jillian C. York is a writer and activist.

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New for 2015: How to help Syrian (and other) refugees

"I Hope Humanity Finds a Cure for Visas" by Khalid Albaih

“I Hope Humanity Finds a Cure for Visas” by Khalid Albaih

Updated 9/2/15: The refugee crisis in Europe has many asking how they can direct their funds and attention to Syrian and other refugees here. There are many different initiatives, but here are a few good ones I’ve found:


Two years ago, I wrote a post about how you can help Syrian refugees. While I stand by the information in that post, I decided to write a fresh one that includes newer organizations. This post also includes some repeats from the last. Many thanks to Lina Sergie Attar and Sima Diab for their help.

As I explained last time, I’ve highlighted organizations that are 501(c)(3) US-based nonprofits and receive high marks from GuideStar and Charity Navigator, with a couple of notable exceptions.

Suggestions are in no particular order:

  • Save the Children is an internationally known organization (95.01/100 on Charity Navigator) and 501(c)(3) nonprofit that currently maintains a Syrian children in crisis fund. Their program is unique in that they’re working to create “child-friendly spaces” to give children in refugee communities ” a safe space to play and get support while keeping their minds off the harsh reality they are facing.”  This is important in that psychological help is as needed in a crisis as medical and other care.  Guidestar also ranks Save the Children highly, with a Gold-level mark in the Exchange.
  • The Syrian American Medical Society Foundation received a Silver ranking from Guidestar‘s Exchange and is not yet ranked on Charity Navigator (which requires 7 years of IRS filings). The organization has local programs in Lebanon and southern Syria. Their own annual report states that only 1% of donations went toward overhead costs in 2013.
  • Basmeh & Zeitooneh is unranked because it’s not a US charity, but Syrian and Lebanese friends speak highly of it. The aid group, based in Lebanon, works primarily with Syrian refugees in Lebanon, providing them with psychosocial support, food, clothing, and other needs. You can donate to their current campaign here. They also run a women’s workshop.
  • The Middle East Children’s Alliance is a California-based nonprofit that works locally and internationally, and is currently running a campaign to provide urgent aid to Syrian refugees seeking shelter in Lebanon. They score a 70.79/100 by Charity Navigator, due in part to high fundraising costs as well as their Bay Area location. Their financials are a bit outdated on Guidestar.
  • Relief and Reconciliation is a charity that runs a Peace Centre in northern Lebanon aiming to “help people of all faiths … to exit violence and to find a better future.” As they are not a US nonprofit, they are unranked by Guidestar and Charity Navigator, but their About page boasts some impressive credentials!
  • Syrianorphans.org is a small organization that received 501(c)(3) status in 2013, after I wrote this post. Though it does not yet have its financial reports up (GuideStar), the charity claims that it does not use any donations to support overhead costs, ensuring that donations are used entirely to support Syrians.
  • The Beirut-based Kayany Foundation is a registered NGO in Lebanon providing basic needs, healthcare, and schooling to Syrian refugees in the country.


Bea Arthur’s tits: a treatise on censorship


Bea Arthur had glorious tits*. Rather, Bea Arthur as imagined by John Currin—who painted this version of the actress in 1991—had exquisite tits. Educational, really. And yet Facebook, unsurprisingly, disagrees:

Screen Shot 2015-09-01 at 5.56.40 PM


Yesterday, after spending several hours researching a talk I’m giving on Friday, I decided that I’d test Facebook’s standards out for myself. After studying and writing about them for years (and years, and years), I’m pretty familiar with how things work, but I hadn’t posted any nudes since the Jackie Chamoun debacle, so I figured it was time. And what better image to test things with than that of Bea Arthur’s glorious tits?

I posted the image first with the caption above, explicitly asking friends to report it. At least six friends followed my instructions, and within 33 minutes (precisely), the image was taken down. I was logged out of Facebook automatically and my profile temporarily taken down (as Dalia informed me by email). When I logged back in, I was taken to the URL facebook.com/checkpoint and forced to agree not to post similar content in the future. I was then presented my own recent photos to review for inappropriate content. After clicking through, I had full access to my profile again. I was also given the opportunity to provide feedback, which I did, telling Facebook they weren’t adhering to their own policy. You see, Facebook’s community standards bar most nudity and female toplessness, but make exceptions for art.

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After quoting the company’s own rules back to them, I decided to post Bea’s tits a second time. This time, I didn’t ask friends to report the image, though I knew a couple of them couldn’t resist a good troll. Fortunately, the image was once again reported. But this time, this is the message I received from Facebook:

Screen Shot 2015-09-02 at 10.21.17 AM

Welp. As James pointed out, consistency is impossible in censorship, and I don’t disagree. I’m not so concerned about the consistency, though. Rather, what concerns me is Facebook’s continuous campaign against the beautiful, natural, female body. Between Facebook and Instagram (which the former owns), we’ve seen menstruation, transgender women, countless pairs of titties, and a 149-year-old vagina all censored, stigmatized. Female nipples are banned, male nipples are ok (a near-direct quote from a Facebook training manual for content moderators). What are we teaching, here?

Facebook claims that banning nudity is important for keeping its “global community”** happy. Specifically, the company states:

Screen Shot 2015-09-02 at 10.47.15 AM

There’s a lot wrong here, including the assumption that people who don’t like looking at breasts want censorship. I fully accept that some people are offended by nudity. I don’t understand it, mind you, but I accept it. What I don’t accept is the paternalistic idea that a bunch of white male Silicon Valley bros should decide for the world what’s good for them. And nevermind that only a handful of governments around the world would actually bother to block something like Bea Arthur’s tits. As my colleague Cory Doctorow so aptly pointed out in an email (quoted in this post, here I paraphrase), these companies are essentially building their rules and regulations to appease the House of Saud. That might sound dramatic, but consider that—apart from China and Iran, which censor more than anyone—Saudi Arabia and its close GCC allies are the only countries I know of to censor images of breasts explicitly. I hope to have some good data soon to back that up.

But creepier than that is the why. Unlike Twitter, which faced all sorts of criticism for selling 3.75% of its shares to Saudi prince Alwaleed bin Talal but doesn’t ban boobs, Facebook has no discernible economic reason for doing this. Which means that the company really believes that it’s doing the right thing. Let that sink in: A bunch of conservative, paternalistic white dudes think that boobs are harmful and therefore have banned them.

I’ll be talking about Bea Arthur’s tits, that aforementioned 149-year-old vagina and more this Friday. If you’re in Berlin, come by.



*Some folks find this word crass. I fucking love it. And as the proud owner of a voluptuous pair of titties, I will continue using it.

**Mark Zuckerberg’s incessant use of the word “community” to refer to his product-customers is so gross, it warrants a separate post.

(A quick rumination) on the First Amendment

I’m sure this has been said many times before, but not by me, so here goes nothing:

There is a terrifying trend in the United States to equate the First Amendment (which prevents state censorship) with the right to be listened to. I have been “called out” on social media countless times as a “social justice warrior” by those who see my condemnation of racist or fascist speech as somehow in conflict with my advocacy of free expression. Rest assured, there is no contradiction; rather, in condemning hateful speech, I am exercising counter speech and my own First Amendment rights.

Similarly, I sometimes encounter Europeans who think the First Amendment is too broad, that there is some speech that is beyond the pale. To them, I ask: Who, exactly, would you put in charge of deciding which speech is acceptable? Who would implement such a regulation? While (unlike Americans) they rarely refer to private companies as good arbiters of speech, their trust in the state to appropriately and evenly regulate the speech of individuals also scares me.

There is no perfect answer, and the First Amendment (or equivalent) does not guarantee that the state will treat all speech equally. We’ve seen that in the way that the United States government has treated Muslims, whistleblowers, and others. But this inequality of implementation is also no justification to flip the tables and ban hate speech either: What makes anyone think that a state authority would suddenly apply such a ruling evenly and correctly?

Counter speech is powerful, but not always enough. To victims of harassment, censorious solutions can be tempting, and I am not unsympathetic. But as someone who has experienced harassment aplenty on the Internet, I remain unconvinced that the game of whack-a-mole that is most social media’s strategy of dealing with harassers is ineffective. I remain convinced that censorship doesn’t solve society’s ills.

To those in the movement, fighting fascism, racism, authoritarianism, and imperialism, the idea of censoring hateful speech can also be tempting. Again, I am not unsympathetic, but I fear that driving such speech underground does little to rid us of these scum. Watching what’s happening on US college campuses has also led me to fear that when certain lefts come to power, they will be quick to censor criticism of their lot. History happens to back that up.

Lest this become a rant and not a quick rumination, I shall conclude with this: For each person, there is a line past which certain speech is unacceptable. For each person, that line differs. We will never as a society agree on what should or should not be acceptable speech, making the only just line no line at all. Let us deal with our problems as a society and not rely on authority to “solve” our problems for us.




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