Maybe the most dramatic way in which this blogosphere is affecting the Arab world is by breaking down that ultimate taboo. Even in a place like Lebanon, with a large portion of the population striving to create a liberal, modern society, Israel is the last barrier. That is rooted in Lebanon’s history, including recent history. Yet there is so much investment in seeing Israel as the source of all its problems that it has become a mindless reflex for many.
There are, of course, plenty of bloggers who use the Internet as a way to disseminate more hate and misunderstanding, many of whom also gained attention last summer during the war. One case, infamous among Arab and Israeli bloggers, is Perpetual Refugee, a Lebanese businessman who had occasion to visit Israel a few times, socialized with Israelis (even sharing a bottle of wine with Lisa Goldman), and subsequently wrote friendly posts about making peace. As soon as the war came, he made what was described as a “360-degree turn,” becoming virulently hateful about Jews, about how Israel “massacred innocent souls to fulfill its biblical destiny.” But Perpetual Refugee was something of a high-profile anomaly among the English-language bloggers.
“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.