How to Get Unfriended

From the blog Arabic Literature

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.”

I went to Gaza in 2012 as part of the Palestine Festival of Literature. I had the chance to see one of the most populated places on earth first hand: we helped have the first musical concert in a over ten years.

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?


Wordless Wednesday: PalFest Takes Writers into Gaza City

Novelist Ahdaf Soueif with students at Al Aqsa University

This week I’m traveling with PalFest, the festival of literature that goes into Palestine to bring authors to readers who are restricted in their movements. In its fifth year, authors, and bloggers have gone into Gaza to hold workshops, fora, and other interactive activities. Stay tuned for more.


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