Tag Archives: middle east

‘Daily Show’ inspired Middle Eastern newscast turns to Kickstarter

| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Photo by Clarke Leo Michael Smith

Laughter is the basis of a new Kickstarter campaign looking to bring Western attention to Middle Eastern headlines.

Based on the structure of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” a satirical newscast all about the Middle East called “The Mideast Show” was dreamed up by Brooklyn resident Kayvon Afshari earlier this year.

“I thought there was a need to create a space, create a platform where people with a sense of humor could laugh together,” Afshari said.

At first Afshari was going to shoot the show from his apartment using an iPhone, but after receiving strong, positive feedback on the idea he began reaching out to friends and colleagues in Brooklyn and Queens to help create the first episode.

The pilot episode, partially written by Jackson Heights resident Serhan Ayhan, features Afshari as the host of the show reviewing headlines out of the Middle East, a special guest, on-scene reporting and much more.

However, the big challenge for the show is funding. The pilot episode cost about $15,000 to create.

With the hopes of producing five more episodes for the first season, Afshari has turned to Kickstarter to raise a goal of $85,000. The money would go into renting a studio, camera and equipment, hire a professional crew involving camera operators, director, audio engineer and graphic designers, and post-production work.

The funds would also help purchase props for the show and pay members of the creative team, most of whom are currently volunteering their time.

The mission of “The Mideast Show” is to create a newscast for people who have a sense of humor about the Middle East and want to laugh together, regardless of nationality, religion or ethnicity, according to the show’s Kickstarter website.

“There is a lack of information on the Middle East that Americans have and among some people there is not even an interest,” said Afshari. “We are embedded in this region. However, [people] don’t know about it.”

The team behind the show is mixed with various Middle Eastern roots, including Afshari who is Persian-American.

Ayhan, who is half Turkish and half Kurdish and one of the writers for the show, came up with the segment on the pilot episode where reporter Rex Huckstable takes a trip to the Little Egypt community in Astoria and speaks to residents about recent elections in Egypt.

In future episodes, Ayhan said he hopes to have the chance to continue doing segments on local Middle Eastern communities.

“The goal is to entertain but also educate. We’re not trying to make fun of people from the Middle East,” Ayhan said. “We want to be that bridge to educate people.”

To donate to the Kickstarter campaign click here. For more information on “The Mideast Show” and to watch the pilot episode click here.



Looking into the artwork of LIC artist Luba Lukova

| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Aeroblue © Luba Lukova

What was only supposed to be a one-week visit to New York for an international exhibition has turned into about 25 years of success for Long Island City artist Luba Lukova.

As a young girl in Bulgaria, Lukova never had a doubt as to what she wanted to be when she grew up. Influenced by her grandmother who was an artist, Lukova began to attend art classes and then graduated from an art academy.

Through an invite from Colorado State University, where school officials had seen some of her early artwork, Lukova came to New York for an organized exhibition featuring artists from all over the world.

Her initial idea was to stay in New York for a week and then return to Bulgaria, but she decided to stay indefinitely, and in 1991, she began drawing illustrations for the book review section of The New York Times. She then moved on and drew for the publication’s Op-Ed section covering subjects such as the Middle East.

These illustrations opened up doors for Lukova, exposing her to a larger audience, which got her into theatre work creating posters, and years later she even got a call from then-presidential candidate Barack Obama’s campaign to use one of her images months before his inauguration.

“It was just a miracle. I never went back [to Bulgaria],” she said. “For a young artist, it was a mind-blowing experience and when I saw the reaction of the people, it was really very exciting for me.”

Lukova’s pieces, whether they are on a canvas or theatre poster, all convey social and political issues in what she calls a “simple and accessible way.” She tells a whole story with just a few colors and images and creates visual metaphors for viewers to take in.

“[My artwork] involves thinking and the viewer’s participation,” she said. “All of my work is like that — it’s always provoking stuff. I try to make it accessible and bring something to the contemporary viewer that can stop them and make them think.”

Her “Social Justice” poster portfolio, the first publication from her own publishing company, has gotten her national and international acclaim. Currently some of her work is part of a show at the Museum of Modern Art and Denver Art Museum.

After moving out of Manhattan following 9/11, Lukova has been working and living in the booming art scene found in Long Island City. Last year she took part in the LIC Arts Open festival, which introduced her to a community she has now become a part of and loves.

“I think it’s a great group of artists with a lot of energy,” she said. “The art community here is growing and it is so huge.”

This year Lukova designed the poster for the LIC Arts Open, and her exhibition “Drama on Paper: Posters for the Stage” can be found at The Local at 13-02 44th Ave. throughout the festival.

     LIC ARTS OPEN POSTER © Luba Lukova

“I’m excited to be a part of it again,” Lukova said. “I think what [the festival organizers] do is very admirable and I hope we will keep the community here and we will expand. Because New York without the arts would be a very sad picture. We don’t just want New York to be the city with museums; we need the real art here.”



Cease-fire announced in Gaza conflict

| brennison@queenscourier.com

A cease-fire agreement was reached in Gaza bringing the week-long battle to an end, Egypt’s foreign minister announced.  The truce will take effect at 2 p.m.

Mohammed Kamel Amr made the announcement at a press conference with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Cairo.  Clinton had traveled to the Middle East yesterday to with all involved parties.

More than 100 people have died with hundreds more injured during the conflict between Hamas and Israel.

Several city politicians have come out in support of Israel since the conflict flared up again recently.

“This cowardly attack on innocent civilians makes abundantly clear who the true aggressors in this conflict are,” Public Advocate Bill de Blasio said in a statement today. “The return of terrorist bombings to the streets of Tel Aviv is an assault on our values and our own security interests.”

Area elected officials also gathered with the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York and the Consulate General of Israel in Manhattan yesterday in a show of support.

Op-Ed: It’s time we called a spade a spade

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

BaySide Chabod Dinner Dance 3/19/06


It is happening all over again.

Hamas-controlled Gaza has been showering Israel with rockets consistently for months without letup.

Israel finally responds with a surgical strike aimed at taking out a Hamas military leader, whose absence will hopefully stay the violence. Hamas responds by intensifying their attacks – this time aimed at population centers such as Tel Aviv, areas that had never experienced this kind of terror.

Rafael (Israel’s very own advanced defense systems company) created the “Iron Dome,” which allows Israel to intercept and destroy 90 percent of rockets launched at it. As we speak, Israel is responding with more surgical strikes attempting with all their power to cripple Hamas’ military capability to attack Israel. A ground invasion of Gaza is on the table, and Israel will decide which way to go.

I have always been a proponent of dialogue and discussion. I believe that people of good faith can come together and resolve even the most complicated issues. However, this is all predicated on the parties involved being honest and forthcoming with their intentions. The facts and realities must be clear to all. Only then, can there be any hope of a common understanding. As long as the facts and truths of what is happening are fuzzied, there is no hope of dealing with, and fixing the problem.

Unfortunately, there are those in the mainstream media who insist on portraying this conflict as the Israelis against the Palestinians. Israel is portrayed as a mighty nation with a mighty army, and the Palestinians are portrayed as mostly poor and innocent civilians who are being brutalized by Israel.

That is categorically a blatant lie and distortion of reality.

This is a conflict where on one side you have a sovereign nation that has gone way beyond the call in attempting any which way possible to secure some kind of peace in the Middle East. On the other side you have Hamas, a group classified by the U.S. and EU as being a terrorist organization. Their agenda is simple – to destroy Israel.

Hamas is the greatest enemy of the Palestinians because they refuse under any circumstances to consider peace with the Jewish State, thus allowing for a peaceful coexistence.

They heartlessly set up their rocket launchers right next to playgrounds and hospitals, knowing that the Israeli counter attack will hurt their own people. It is shocking beyond words how they are brutalizing the very people they claim to represent and defend!

Just imagine if G-d forbid Mexico started shooting rockets into California and Arizona. What would the U.S. do? How would we respond? After 9/11, we went half way around the world to punish those who attacked us. I think everyone knows exactly what the U.S. would do if attacked by their neighbor and it isn’t pretty.

It is crucial that the media and the world at large recognize the truth of this crisis. This is not about the Israelis and Palestinians. Israel has always been ready to sit and talk and try to work things out. This is about a dastardly and cowardly terrorist group bringing havoc to an already unstable area and denying its own people the chance of a lasting peace with their neighbor.

In the words of Colonel Richard Kemp a top British military commander, “The IDF (Israel Defense Forces) did more to safeguard civilians than any army in the history of warfare.”

Israel does everything within its power to focus only on military targets in Gaza.

I believe that once the reality of the situation becomes crystal clear to all observers, and once the world at large, recognizes who wants peace and who is obstructing peace, that will be the first step in procuring a lasting stability and hopefully peace in the region.

Rabbi Yossi Blesofsky is the director of the Chabad of Northeast Queens

Queens on edge after Middle East uprisings

| mhayes@queenscourier.com

The recent turmoil in the Middle East have many Queens residents from the region asking why the violence reached such a high level, and when will it end.

Astoria has become home to many of Middle Eastern descent. And news of the four Americans killed in Libya, including the U.S. ambassador, hit hard.

“Those people who killed the ambassador, they need to be held responsible,” said Mustafa Elqaadiri.

Elqaadiri believes that those who took the four American lives did not act in accordance with his own, and presumably the killers’, Muslim faith.

“Our religion doesn’t say we should kill people. The people who made the movie [“Innocence of Muslims”] did something bad, talking about prophet Muhammad. We love Muhammad, but we don’t like the killings,” he said.

Since the incident in Libya, protests have erupted all over the Middle East in countries such as Yemen, Tunisia and Egypt.

In Cairo, protesters scaled the U.S. Embassy walls and replaced an American flag with an Islamic banner.

Yara Kassen came to Queens seven years ago from Egypt. She resides in Ridgewood, and works at an Islam clothing boutique in Astoria.

The raging protests have left Kassen scared.

“I don’t agree with what happened over there. These people, they’re not thinking,” she said.

The violence has not only affected locals sharing the same roots, it has reached the classrooms as well.

St. John’s University’s professor Dr. Emily Burnham is using the incident to spark discussion among students in her Introduction to Islam course.

“There’s so much happening,” she said.

Regarding the protests, Burnham attempts to see the acts from the mind of the protesters.

“There are definitely people that are there for more political reasons, and to demonstrate the voice of the people. Religious sensibilities have been offended,” said Burnham.

“The role of religion and topics of religion are governed by a different set of values [than in America], and freedom of speech takes a back seat to issues of respect and of protection — defense of a very valued tradition,” she added.

Although she was surprised and saw no sense in the killings, going onward she trusts American embassies will receive the protection they need.

However, despite a general disapproval of the violence, nobody can condone the message of the infamous anti-Muslim film, which allegedly claims Muhammad is a fraud and a womanizer, among other things.

Burnham recently watched the 13-minute movie on YouTube, attempting to prepare for her class’ discussion.

“I was really surprised at what I saw, really surprised at how obvious and powerful the intent to offend was,” said Burnham of “Innocence of Muslims.”

“I can’t agree with the movie, but I also can’t agree with what’s happening,” echoed Kassen.


Nations must work together to maintain peace

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

The recent story in the news regarding the possibility of Israel taking military action against Iran does not bode well for the international community.

If Israel chooses this course of action, it could have very dire consequences for the entire Middle East, and also the rest of the world.

While no one wants to see Iran become a nuclear armed nation, all non-military efforts need to be exerted to have Iran not build a nuclear arsenal. The United States, Russia, China, Great Britian and France need to work together, along with Israel, to diffuse this potentially dangerous situation. Israel certainly has a right to defend itself against possible attack, as do all nations.

We need to work together along with the United Nations to bring a nonmilitary resolution to this mounting crisis.


 John Amato

Fresh Meadows

‘Operation Swiper’ takes down largest ID theft ring in U.S. history

| tcimino@queenscourier.com

It was the largest identity theft takedown in U.S. history.

Last week, 111 people — members of five organized forged credit card and identity theft rings based in Queens and having ties to Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East – were charged in 10 indictments with stealing the personal credit information of thousands of unwitting American and European consumers and costing these individuals, financial institutions and retail businesses more than $13 million in losses over a 16-month period.

Eighty six of the defendants are in custody and 25 are presently being sought.

In addition, nearly two dozen of the defendants are variously charged in six indictments with participating in burglaries and robberies throughout Queens. For example, four defendants are charged with conspiring to commit a bank robbery in Forest Hills. Five are charged with stealing more than $95,000 worth of cargo from John F. Kennedy Airport and seven are accused of stealing approximately $850,000 worth of computer equipment from the Citigroup Building in Long Island City.

“Many of the defendants charged are accused of going on nationwide shopping sprees, staying at five-star hotels, renting luxury automobiles and private jets, and purchasing tens of thousands of dollars worth of high-end electronics and expensive handbags and jewelry with forged credit cards that contained the account information of unsuspecting consumers,” said District Attorney Richard A. Brown. “Even after the culprits are caught and prosecuted, their victims are still faced with the difficult task of having to repair their credit ratings and financial reputations. In some cases, that process can take years.”

Brown said that more than 90 of the defendants have been charged in five indictments charging 784 pattern acts with, among other crimes, Enterprise Corruption under New York

State’s Organized Crime Control Act. They are accused of being members and associates of organized criminal enterprises that operated in Queens and elsewhere and that, between May 2010 and September 2011, systematically schemed to defraud thousands of unsuspecting consumers and financial institutions – such as American Express, Visa, MasterCard and Discover Card.

According to the indictments, the defendants fraudulently obtained credit card account numbers through various means which were then used to manufacture forged credit and identification cards.

Once the counterfeit cards were created, according to the indictments, they were ultimately given to teams of “shoppers” who were sent out on shopping expeditions in New York, Florida, Massachusetts, Los Angeles and other areas of the United States to purchase high-end electronics and other merchandise – such as designer handbags, game consoles and jewelry – which either had been requested or could easily be fenced and re-sold, typically over the Internet.

During the shopping sprees, some of the shoppers used forged credit cards to stay at such five-star hotels as the Fontainbleau and The Royal Palm in Miami Beach and the Las Casitas Village, the high-end private villas of the El Conquistor in Puerto Rico. They are also alleged to have used forged credit cards to rent such luxurious automobiles as Lamborghinis and Porsches and, in one instance, a private jet to take them from New York to Florida.

The District Attorney said that the investigation – dubbed “Operation Swiper” – leading to the indictments and the arrests began in October 2009 when officers assigned to the Police Department’s Identity Theft Squad commenced a joint investigation with the District Attorney’s Economic Crimes Bureau into an identity theft ring operating in South Ozone Park.

The investigation involved physical surveillance, intelligence gathering and court-authorized electronic eavesdropping on dozens of different telephones in which thousands of conversations were intercepted – many of which required translation from Russian, Mandarin and Arabic to English.

The indictments charge that Imran Khan, Ali Khweiss, Anthony Martin, Sanjay (a.k.a. Rocky) Deowsarran and Amar Singh were “bosses” of criminal enterprises and received the necessary raw material – lists of credit card account numbers and various blank credit cards. The materials were alleged to have come from overseas – unknown individuals in such places as Russia, Libya, Lebanon and China – or from statewide suppliers, such as “skimmers” (individuals who worked in a restaurant or bar, retail store or financial institution and used a skimming device to swipe a consumer’s credit card information) or “Internet suppliers” (who obtained credit card accounts through illegal web sites).

The boss then allegedly sent the stolen account numbers to a “manufacturer” who re-encoded the information onto the magnetic strips of blank credit cards using a “reverse” skimming device. The manufacturer was also allegedly responsible for putting the written four security numbers on the front of a credit card, as well as the seven security numbers on the back, as well as writing and embossing the account number on the credit card.

Once the forged credit cards were completed, the items were distributed to the criminal enterprise’s “shopping crews,” which consisted of “crew leaders” and “shoppers.” Crew leaders allegedly supplied the fraudulent items to the shoppers and oversaw their planned shopping expeditions throughout New York and the U.S.

Among the local malls targeted by the shoppers were the Queens Center Mall, the Westchester Mall, the Americana Mall, the Roosevelt Field Mall, the Walt Whitman Mall and the Smithtown Mall.

According to the charges, aiding the shoppers were collusive store owners or employees who worked within a particular retail store where the shoppers were making their purchases or in a bank where they had access to cardholder information and could check the information for high value targets and/or steal credit card information from the available files.

Sometimes, it is alleged, a fraud ring would employ an “impersonator,” an individual who contacted financial institutions or retail stores and impersonated the true cardholder and made inquires in order to check the viability of the credit. Also employed were “bust out crews,” individuals who used the skimmed information of another member of the criminal enterprise to make thousands of dollars in purchases.

Once a shopper purchased high-end merchandise with forged credit cards, the merchandise was turned over to the crew leader who, in turn, gave the merchandise to the boss of the operation. The boss would then allegedly contact a “fence” – such as Fnu Gustawian, Kah Sheng Poh, Allen Lam or Benny Ahoo Ahdoot – and sell the merchandise to the fence at a discounted price. The fence, in turn, would then allegedly offer the merchandise for re-sale to the public.

Among the items allegedly recovered as a result of the court-authorized search warrants were approximately $650,000 in cash, seven handguns (two defaced), a box truck full of electronics, computers, shoes and watches, skimmers, card readers, embossers and various amounts of raw material, such as blank credit cards and fake identifications.

In addition to the counterfeit credit card and identity theft charges, some of the defendants are accused of participating in burglaries and robberies.