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NYC activist who changed minds in the Middle East now targets Afghanistan

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Faisal Saeed Al Mutar watched in horror as Afghanistan fell to the Taliban this week. 

As a refugee who fled Islamic fundamentalism in Iraq, the 30-year-old activist now lives in New York City and has spent his life trying to spur freedom in the Middle East. 

Despite two decades of military support, he believes the US failed to fortify the Afghan people with a democratic ideology that would sustain their battle for freedom. 

“People can’t fight for democratic values if they don’t know what democracy means,” said Faisal, the founder of the pro-liberty organization Ideas Beyond Borders, which spreads democratic ideas to the Middle East. “This was one of the biggest failures of the intervention.” 

Born in Iraq in 1991, Faisal grew up under the repressive dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. Despite widespread censorship and fundamentalism, his father, an orthopedic surgeon, taught him English and the importance of critical thinking. 

“He raised me not just to accept the facts, but to think for myself and develop my own point of view,” he said. 

In his early teenage years, civil war meant he had to hunker down at home to stay safe. During that time, he read Thomas Paine’s “The Age of Reason” as well as classical liberal Enlightenment thinkers like Rousseau, Voltaire and John Stuart Mill. 

“I found their ideas very relevant,” Faisal said. “They were fighting against theocrats and tribalism, and the Middle East is in the same place today. I developed an interest not only in these thinkers but in the idea of making their values available to those around me who were completely sheltered from them.” 

Desperate Afghans at the Kabul airport
Faisal was horrified to see desperate Afghans cry for help in the wake of their country’s fall to the Taliban.
Twitter @AdityaRajKaul

At just 15 years old, he realized there were no good Arabic translations of the Bill of Rights, so he spent several months making one himself and handed out printed copies among high school friends. Living under a regime with blasphemy laws, he found the First Amendment and its guarantee of freedoms of speech and religion fascinating. 

Soon after, he started blogging about his classical liberal views, exposing the lack of critical thinking in his society. At first he wrote under his own name, but he was forced to go anonymous when al Qaeda began kidnapping and killing pro-freedom activists. 

But that didn’t deter him. 

“I became desensitized to people getting killed,” he said. “After a while, the cost of not speaking out was higher than the cost of speaking out.” 

In the blogosphere, he found a like-minded community and his pro-freedom network grew. 

Then, at age 18, a classmate reported him to al Qaeda for dissenting beliefs, which landed him on a death list. Because his eldest brother had already been kidnapped and killed in 2007 for collaborating with the American military in Iraq, he chose not to tell his parents to protect them from worry. 

Faisal Saeed Al Mutar
At age 18, Faisal Saeed Al Mutar found himself on an al Qaeda death list for blogging about democracy.
David Belusic

He said he avoided leaving the house for anything but school and survived multiple kidnapping attempts by al Qaeda-affiliated militias. As soon as he graduated from high school, he flew out of the country for good. Fortunately, the Baghdad airport had not yet fallen under al Qaeda’s control. 

He hopped from Lebanon to Malaysia and was ultimately granted refugee status to the United States in 2013. Two years later, he reunited with his parents when they also moved to the States. But Faisal never lost touch with his mission to arm people back home with pro-freedom ideas. 

In 2017, he founded the organization Ideas Beyond Borders, which gives citizens living under repressive regimes access to untranslated and censored information. Though their headquarters is based in New York City, their staff of 120 is spread throughout the Middle East and North Africa. 

The organization translates Wikipedia articles related to critical thinking, liberty, science and pluralism, and publishes free translations of books like “On Liberty” by John Stuart Mill and “Enlightenment Now” by Steven Pinker. The group primarily translates into Arabic but has also expanded to Kurdish, Farsi and Pashto to reach the broadest possible audience. 

Baghdad
Faisal escaped war-torn Iraq in 2013 and is now trying to foster ideas of freedom across the Middle East.
Getty Images

Ideas Beyond Borders also produces original podcasts and videos that challenge violent extremism in creative ways, often by highlighting local role models. Recently, they donated 4,000 books to a university library in Iraq that was destroyed by ISIS. 

So far, the site has 5.2 million subscribers and reaches 40 million viewers mainly aged 16 to 35 in the Middle East and North Africa, with their largest followings in Iraq and Egypt. The content is mobile-friendly and easily accessed with the use of VPNs and encrypted messaging apps like Signal and Telegram. 

“The younger generation has lived through multiple forms of authoritarianism, and they are looking for an alternative to theocrats and dictators,” he said. “The mission is to make the inaccessible accessible.” 

Faisal said his inbox is constantly flooded with e-mails from young people whose lives have been transformed by an article or book he gave them access to. 

Now his next mission is to expand into Afghanistan. 

Ideas Beyond Borders is actively interviewing and hiring many of the same Afghan translators the US military once employed. Working in Afghanistan, they will translate relevant texts into the local languages of Dari and Pashto in order to spread the message of liberty and critical thinking to their fellow citizens. 

“We need to change the ecosystem of information the Afghan population has access to,” Faisal said. 

It needs to “come from within rather than by force.” 

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What Time Will ‘Riverdale’ Season 6 Be on Netflix?

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The season finale of Riverdale aired in late July on The CW. Notice we said season finale? Thankfully, the beloved series will return for a seventh season, but, unfortunately, Season 7 will be the final installment of Riverdale.

If you already streamed the current season, make sure to read Alex Zalben’s interview with Riverdale showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa on Decider. If you’re waiting to binge Season 6 on Netflix, well, you better clear your calendar because all 22 episodes are about to drop on the streamer. What time will the sixth season of Riverdale debut on Netflix? What time does Netflix release shows? Here’s everything you need to know.

WHEN IS THE RIVERDALE SEASON 6 NETFLIX RELEASE DATE?

Riverdale Season 6 premieres Sunday, August 7 on Netflix.

HOW MANY EPISODES ARE IN RIVERDALE SEASON 6?

The sixth season of Riverdale consists of 22 episodes.

WHAT TIME DOES NETFLIX RELEASE NEW SHOWS?

Netflix releases new episodes at 3:00 a.m. ET/12:00 a.m. PT.

WHAT TIME WILL RIVERDALE SEASON 6 BE ON NETFLIX?

Netflix is based out of California, so Riverdale Season 6 will be available to stream at 12:00 a.m. Pacific Standard Time (3:00 a.m. Eastern Standard Time) beginning Sunday, August 7. If the clock strikes 12:00 (or 3:00 a.m. for folks on the East Coast) and you don’t see the new episodes, give it a moment, hit refresh, and then enjoy the show!

WILL THERE BE A SEASON 7 OF RIVERDALE?

Yes! Decider recently covered that very topic.

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Actress Anne Heche Suffers Severe Burns After Crashing Car Into Los Angeles Home

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Actress Anne Heche, known for her roles in such films as Donnie Brasco, Volcano and I Know What You Did Last Summer, was involved in a fiery car crash in the Mar Vista area of Los Angeles on Friday.

According to TMZ, Heche was driving a blue Mini Cooper and had first crashed into the garage of an apartment complex. Residents of the apartment complex tried to get her out of the vehicle but she backed up and sped off.

Footage of Heche speeding down the streets of her neighborhood had been obtained by TMZ as well as her initial encounter at the apartment complex.

In the first clip, you can hear her car crash towards the end. It has been reported that the actress crashed into someone’s home, causing her vehicle and the house to erupt into flames. Heche suffered severe burns and was resisting being taken away in a stretcher. You can also view footage of this via the TMZ article.

It has not been confirmed whether alcohol has been involved in the incident since her condition prevents doctors from performing any tests to determine if she was driving under the influence. She is currently intubated in the hospital but expected to live.

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These are the vulgar license-plate requests the DMV has rejected

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Stay CL4SSY, New York!

The state Department of Motor Vehicles nixed 3,752 requests for vanity license plates in the last three years because it deemed them too raunchy, radical or simply ridiculous.

New York’s personalized plates go for $60 initially, and then $31.25 annually for renewal. You can get any plate as long as no one else has it and it’s not offensive.

Odds are a request for a plate that marks a wedding anniversary or shows your allegiance to a team — like METS86 — will pass muster with the DMV gatekeepers.

Vulgarity won’t get you to first base.

So plates with the phrase LFGM — the acronym for Pete Alonso’s “Let’s F–king Go Mets” rallying cry — did not make the cut.

And you won’t see anyone driving around with the custom plates MILFDAD, AS5M4N and WLHUNG.

Crude meanings such as “MILFDAD” are unacceptable by the DMV.
Crude meanings such as “MILFDAD” are unacceptable by the DMV.
New York DMV
NYC123
New York state Department of Motor Vehicles denied more than 3.5 thousand requests for license plates deemed inappropriate.
New York DMV
“AS5M4N” was rejected for referring to “Ass man.”
“AS5M4N” was rejected for referring to “Ass man.”
New York DMV

The DMV also put NICEBUNS, FATFANNY, GOTAPOOP and BENDOVER in the rear-view mirror.

One player unsuccessfully tried to score the plate YESDADDY, to no avail.

The DMV also shot down such dark requests as DEADGIRL, GENOC1DE, S8TAN, DETONATE and MURDERM3.

“SUM8ITCH” is not allowed.
“SUM8ITCH” is not allowed.
New York DMV
The DMV thoroughly nixed a request for “CNNLIES.”
The DMV thoroughly nixed a request for “CNNLIES.”
New York DMV
BOOBIE is prohibited.
BOOBIE is prohibited.
New York DMV

Getting political is a dead end too — FJOEBIDN, FDTRUMP and CNNLIES were nixed.

LUDEDUDE, NARCO, GOT METH and BLUNT also went up in smoke.

Staten Island attorney Bill Dertinger said his blue 1995 Jaguar SJS was tagged with ESQLTD after his company and his 2014 Porsche had the plate GHOSTGTS because the sleek sportscar was white.

“The plates can make you stand out — which can be a curse or a blessing,” the 54-year-old Dertinger said. “Make sure you don’t cut anybody off.”

A man attempted to sneak in “YESDADDY” onto his license plate.
A man attempted to sneak in “YESDADDY” onto his license plate.
New York DMV
The DMV stopped a request for “FJOEBIDEN.”
The DMV stopped a request for “FJOEBIDEN.”
New York DMV
The DMV also rejects any license plates referring to politics.
The DMV also rejects any license plates referring to politics.
New York DMV

There must be a New York Jets fan playing referee at the DMV because a request for the seemingly innocent plate GASE was sidelined. Ex-Jets head coach Adam Gase had an offensive 9-23 win-loss record during his forgettable two-year tenure.

The DMV would not reveal who gives the final yea or nay.

“The DMV reviews all custom license plate requests and works hard to ensure that any combinations that may be considered objectionable are rejected,” said agency spokesman Tim O’Brien.

“GLOCKS” referring to guns is not accepted by the DMV.
“GLOCKS” referring to guns is not accepted by the DMV.
New York DMV
“FLYMOFO” is not approved by the DMV.
“FLYMOFO” is not approved by the DMV.
New York DMV

He said guidelines on what plate combinations are restricted can be found on the DMV website: https://dmv.ny.gov/learn-about-personalized-plates. Approximately 50,000 personalized and custom plates are sold per year, O’Brien said.

Bagged Tags

The state DMV has rejected 3,752 requests for custom license plates in the last three years because it deemed them potentially offensive. Here are some:

YESDADDY

FJOEBIDN

FDTRUMP

GLOCKS

FLYMOFO

BOOBIE

AS5M4N

BUDLIGHT

DEADGIRL

SUM8ITCH

GENOC1DE

S8TAN

CNNLIES

DETONATE

MURDERM3

MILFDAD

WLHUNG

Source: NYS DMV

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