Semite refers to a group of related languages in Asia, now commonly referred to as the Holy Land in the Middle East. Arabic is one of those languages. Arabs are Semites.
Which should all give us pause when we see images like the one tweeted by the Israeli embassy in Ireland last week. They did take it down but the images speak for themselves but perhaps not in the way the embassy intended. Is Islamophobia now acceptable?
The news is rife with atrocities in Syria, Iraq, and Palestine, among other places. We clamor against death tolls and rightly so. But the public can grow weary of these images, preferring to turn back to their more comfortable programming.
I am particularly touched by the Gaza crisis because I’m watching how it has polarized friends around the world through social media. Perhaps people misunderstand the Palestinian cause because of the myths about this historical conflict. Perhaps because they don’t know any Palestinians either personally or culturally.
Artists, writers, musicians, friends: each have a role in building our world view of a people group. Sadly for most places in the Arab world, the people are represented by their politicians.
Unlike people in Arab countries, the rest of us can’t as easily make distinctions between people and their leaders. My Iranian friends love me though I’m American. My Pakistani research assistants write down notes from our sessions though I’m Indian. The world thinks of Gaza as being ruled by Hamas because that’s the predominate talking point.
Instead of death tolls or media soundbites, how about we think for ourselves? Can we see people for what they are: humans like us who have passions, desires, needs?
Let me share with you an artist, Mona Hatoum, who I learned about during the exhibit Turbulence at Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art. I live in the Middle East and this certainly allows me to gauge the messages the media feeds us about this part of the world. As a writer much of my recent work has been set here because I see it was part of my role to contribute to a wider group of stories about this place. I’m still an expat writing about a place that is not my origin but after nearly 10 years here I write with the other perspective in mind.
Do you have other suggestions of how we can combat media saturation?
The transformation of Facebook from a message board of romantic statuses into a pop culture newspaper has put us at odds with each other.
There was the 2012 Chik-fila imbroglio over their support of organizations that do not pay benefits to gay couples. And the run up to the 2008 and 2012 US presidential elections which brought mudslinging onto your handheld, causing many people swearing off Facebook until December. In both instances, people, formerly known as friends, were having debates, exchanges, and unfriending based on wall posts.
And now, this summer, during the most recent conflict in Gaza, has interrupted the deluge of wedding-engagement-holiday updates. Israel-Palestine has long been a polarizing issue – even before the advent of Facebook. Debate continues to rage on the nightly news as well as on personal media networks about Gaza, Hamas, Israel, and rights. As the physical conflict increases, so have reactions and interactions online. Living in the Middle East and being on vacation in the United States has meant I’m watching the conflicting opinions from both sides. I’m also realizing how little common ground there is online in the case of longstanding conflicts such as this one.
“My response to someone who told me they did not want to be friends anymore based on my posts on Gaza” popped on my timeline when I was contemplating the social fray that Gaza was e about the cost of sharing her opinion on Facebook. She went on to say: “Sharing those posts was and still is very important to me, because there is a humanitarian crisis going on now and I feel obligated to spread awareness regarding it. I am sorry if my posts have caused you to feel offended, but I have not shared them to offend you and am not ashamed of my beliefs and opinions.” The meditation on the boundary between expression and tolerance was probably lost on her friend who had probably stopped following her posts.
I’ve also been sharing about Gaza, and the disproportionate amount of violence being used, wondering if any of my US friends would object.
Another friend posted a 3 a.m. rumination about the conflict: “Tonight as I sit in silence my heart aches for the mothers and fathers that lost their children and will never again experience a “day”with their son or daughter. My heart aches for Palestine and Israel. How does killing a child justify anything?”
An immediate response to her post was telling: “What’s your heart aching for Israel for? Things are NOT equal to be saying this.”
She then replied within a few minutes: “It aches for the Israelies that want peace and want the killings to stop. They are not being heard. We are not being heard. It’s awful.”
What I saw mostly was people trying to live normal lives with bullet ridden buildings all around them and a democratically elected government trying to maintain its power base.
If we can’t talk about the world in social media, then why be social at all? What do you think: is it better to keep it simple and to personal events or engage in current events online? Or do the rules of civility for in person conversations apply to online discourse? No politics, no religion, or anything of interest?