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.

The young insider-outsiders of the Middle East, blogging openly about their frustrations with the Arab world, about its persistent prejudices and limitations, as a way of liberalizing their societies, are doing what the front line of any social movement does — they say the unspeakable, they form the bonds that were previously unthinkable, they stand in the places that they are not supposed to stand. The Arab world will reform only when mindsets begin to change and a culture of dissent burgeons where it has never been allowed to exist openly before. If there is a way to kick-start this process, it is surely in the post of a twentysomething blogger wondering out loud why things can’t be more open, more transparent — more different.

 

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Gal Beckerman is a former staff writer at CJR.