Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Untouchable! Criticism and Resistance in Times of Social Media

Last weekend a friend of mine, an activist for the good Palestinian cause, got deleted on Facebook by a highschool friend she had obviously known for many years. My friend wrote to her now previous friend, asking for a reason. The response came swiftly: "I hope you know that my husband is Jewish." No, she didn't know until then, but now she knew.

That people like to mingle with other people who share the same ideas is of course a sociological fact that doesn't need further explanation. If anyone had thought that this would change with internet based social media, then he or she was wrong. You don't necessarily mix with different people while on the internet, you only mix with more of the same. Facebook has just surpassed 500 mio accounts and Twitter is closing in on 200 mio tweeters. A huge cybernetic global village fragmented in small and tiniest groups of friends and followers. It seems the world can only agree on Lady Gaga and Ashton Kutcher as the biggest common denominator.

Governments the world over are fighting against the free expression of opinions, in the real world and in its manifestations in cyberspace. And this battle is not only fought in countries like China, Iran and Syria, seen as oppressive regimes that are politically silencing their own people. Even countries that see themselves in a higher moral league are striving to brainwash and streamline their people. Israel has just proposed a new law that will demand from every non-Jewish citizen and from every immigrant to the country to swear loyality to the "Jewish and democratic state of Israel". The formula is devilish and perfidious in two ways: Firstly it directly connects Jewish and democratic and makes these words synonymous, which is undoubtedly an unbearable linguistic high treason. Secondly it makes Isreal equal to being Jewish, despite the huge percentage of non-Jewish citizens, making from now on every critic of Israel, of Israeli politics, an anti-semite and an anti-democrat, because he or she is not simply criticizing Israel, but the "Jewish and democratic Israel", therefore denouncing the Jewish faith and democracy itself at the same time. A double whopper from Jerusalem this is, but it is a long known fact that Israel is the master of information operations and control of the media.

Israel is in a constant state of self-inflicted resistance, and so is Hezbollah, their - shall I say? - Lebanese Siamese twin. They too know how to work the information sphere. Fearful of being indicted in the ongoing investigation of Rafiq Hariri's assassination in 2005, their leader came up with a simple but brilliant formula of his own: If you, if Lebanese support the Special Tribunal for Lebanon STL - the body tasked by the UN to solve the Hariri murder mistery - you support Israel because the STL was invented and is abused by Israel and the United States to finally bring their common enemy Hezbollah to its knees. As a Lebanese you are once again trapped and forced to take sides: Supporting justice (the STL) or supporting injustice (Israel), there is no middle ground, no way of reason, no path to move on towards a much needed development of society.

Tweeting all of this above got me in the line of fire myself last Saturday. Only slightly implying that Hezbollah might feel inclined to use force against their fellow Lebanese countrymen - as in May of 2008 - shouldn't they like developements regarding the STL, is a no-go for some in the Twittersphere. You are not allowed to criticize the party of God because then you would also diminish their feat and their success in making Lebanon Israeli-free (except the few hundreds Israeli spies that are probably still controlling the Lebanese telecommunication services...). No, I am not belittling anything! I admire them for their fighting spirit and for their resilience. But in a free society, and Lebanon is proud to be one, no one is exempt from questioning his intentions and his acts.

The critics of my tweet came from New York City, not from the Southern suburbs of Beirut or from Nabatieh. People being part of a diaspora community or living in exile seem to take much harder positions on politics in their countries of origin than those living in the region itself, in the conflict zones. While the Hamas chief enjoying life in Damascus, Khaled Meshal, wants Hamas forever to eradicate Israel, his people in the Gaza strip are worn out by the remote controlled occupation. The daily air raids and the cross border shellings haven taken their toll. Since operation Cast Lead in 2009, Hamas in Gaza is living in a undeclared state of truce with is neighbour and everyone still firing rockets at Israel is treated as a rebel.

So: You can't criticize Israel - it makes you an anti-semite. You can't criticize Hezbollah - every statement their General Secretary makes is deemed to be a holy sermon and their beating Israel out of Lebanon is a killer argument that makes the party immune to disagreeing arguments. You can't criticize India for its policies in Kashmir - or you will lose many followers on Twitter. But who is left then? You can criticize North Korea to start with. They have no friends, no media, no internet. You will be fine because they won't see and hear your criticism. And: they have the nuclear bomb which makes them acting cool like Muhammed Ali - dodging your punches until there is time for the final knock out, so you do have some room and time for criticism.

Or you can criticize the United States of America. They are used to it, everything they do is bad. But they don't give a damn about your critiques. 13'000 Wikileaks documents on Afghanistan and 400'000 on Iraq plus an estimated amount of five million tweets a day describing their policies as #Fail haven't changed their approach to the world an inch. They control the Sea lanes, they control space, they control the internet and they control the information flow. They make their problems your problem and they don't care how you cope with that.

By the way: the documents on Israel - Palestine published on Facebook that led to the unfriendly argument last weekend have meanwhile misterously disappeared from the internet (so I was told). Mark Zuckerberg is American. And likely even democratic!