“I always say there are two kinds of arguments,” says Sandmonkey. “There are the arguments in which you hope to find the truth and the arguments in which you want to defend an established truth.” It’s the first type of argument that seems to be prevailing. Take this post by Charles Malik (also a pseudonym), a Lebanese blogger, who found himself exploring the Israeli blogosphere last April, by chance on Holocaust Remembrance Day. He asks questions that would seem almost blasphemous considering the climate in the Middle East:
Think about what Israelis deal with on a daily basis: frequent suicide bombs, support for such attacks by the popularly elected Palestinian government, threats of annihilation from a country arming itself with nuclear weapons, constant words of hate from the Arabic speaking world, and remembrances of the Holocaust … . Not knowing about “them” is the worst crime we can commit. It invalidates them as humans, as if they don’t even matter. They are Stalin’s faceless enemy, the rabid dog, the evil bloodsuckers whom it is righteous to kill. Our papers definitely need to start covering more than major political events in Israel. We should remember their tragedies.
If the Arab bloggers tend to be those who have been exposed to the West, many of the Israelis interacting with them are recent immigrants like Lisa Goldman, who arrived six years ago, and Lirun Rabinowitz, who has been living in Israel for a year and a half. Rabinowitz shares his blog with a Lebanese woman and was recently invited to be a co-author on the United Arab Emirates community blog and, even more surprisingly, on an annual Ramadan blog, in which various bloggers write about how the Muslim holiday is celebrated in their countries. Recently, on the UAE blog, he was accused in the comments section of being needlessly provocative for putting the words “Tel Aviv” after his name at the end of his posts. To his surprise, a number of Arab readers rushed to his defense in the comments section.
Rabinowitz says that perusing the Arab blogosphere has deepened his understanding of what is happening inside Arab society. “When I go to them, I see what are they worrying about, what are they wondering, how they are feeling, what level of analysis they are putting on things, how keen they are to see my side, and when they are only prepared to see their own. Is there room for bridging? And I learn a lot about what their knee-jerk reaction looks like, what their analysis looks like, what their fears look like.” And to him, that added layer of knowledge is a rebuke to the other forces in Israeli society that he feels are trying to define the “enemy” for him. “You want to tell me that these people are stupid? Well, they’re not,” says Rabinowitz. “You want to tell me that these people want to live in a dictatorship? Well, they don’t. You want to tell me that they can’t be Muslim and tolerant and friendly at the same time? Well, it’s wrong. You want to tell me that they hate me just because they’re Muslim and I’m Jewish? Well that’s wrong, too. And they prove that to me every day. And I get this amazing opportunity to dispel every demonic myth and every stupid stereotype that I could have ever thought of, and that’s amazingly liberating.”
Is this hopeful? Yes, as long as one keeps in mind, once again, what a small segment of the population, both Arab and Israeli, is sitting in front of glowing screens and reaching out to the “other.” The bloggers will say, universally, that revolutions almost always start with a tiny elite. But we are a long way from this revolution’s doorstep. Instead, this blogosphere feels more like a small community of open-minded young people who have discovered pathways that were previously closed.
Still, seeds do grow. The grass-roots student wing of the civil rights movement, born at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina, in 1960, in what evolved into the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (or SNCC), was made up of young people, privileged enough to be attending college but not content with the pace of integration in America. They made themselves into a vanguard, tearing holes in walls so that others could then pass through after them. Someone had to take the first step, and who better than they — young, educated, and sensitive to the restrictions that were going to be placed on their personal and communal advancement.