Poison Penmanship and Politics: Twitter and The Armchair Activist

opinions

The ever growing number of online freedom fighters has been an issue since the advent of the notorious Kony campaign by Invisible Children. At first impression, you must be wondering why it would even be an issue. Why would the increase in conscious citizens using Twitter to tackle real world issues be an issue? Romance.

Freedom fighting has often been romanticised as something heroic and courageous, filled with grit and bloodshed, something noble. The camaraderie, the union of men and women bound by oppression and fighting for a single ideal, freedom. Now this may be a cinematic description of what the Syrian rebels or PKK soldiers may be doing but nonetheless it paints a picture that does not exist. Now I do not doubt nor am I talking ill of those around the world in these political positions – however the fusion of the Internet and the romance of anti-establishment has created a new battleground for these online Guevara-influenced guerillas.

Social media was at the forefront of the Arab Spring and the ones I speak of bear no resemblance to them. I am talking about those who tweet excerpts of The 48 Laws of Power, nationalistic views and the odd picture of Karl Marx or Fidel Castro smoking a cigar with an abstract comment like “the ashes fall like my comrades in battle”. For the readers who get the impression I am a right wing nut with a disdain for anything red or left – no, I am quite the opposite. I was born and bred in London to Kurdish refugee parents. I’ve been submerged in politics, completely out of my control, since I can remember. Now rather than parade what I believe in and what I have learnt, the point I am making is that these armchair activists take themselves too seriously and honestly believe they are waging a necessary war via the Internet.

One click of a hashtag on Twitter and you are sent into a warzone of regurgitated facts and angry polemicists seemingly trying to build a nation with 140 characters. The romance of it attracts the superficial ones. Some do like being oppressed, most may not know it but they are driven by it, they like fighting for a cause and without it, feel redundant. So what do they do? They fight fire with fire. An endless war that they initially tried to end by taking up arms online and as a result they unknowingly become a victim of their own circumstance. The oppressed and oppressors are no different in this case, just two sides of the same coin. For people who are supposed to believe in the welfare of mankind and basic human rights, they are very quick to incite violence on their oppressors or those who disagree with them.

Now I get the same response over and over: “They’re raising awareness, it counts for something”. Yes it does but where does awareness end and action begin? The internet is a great tool and a great tool must be utilised, it is not intended to just add ease. It is easy to tweet a 140 character war cry from your armchair. However, I am not suggesting you get the next flight to Tibet and spearhead an independence movement. My intention is for you to be critical of superficial tendencies that get in the way of something so integral as peace and safety for your neighbour.

There is an undeniable romantic appeal towards freedom fighters and anti-establishment. As a result, people become so concerned with the supposed flashy and glamourous life of a guerilla. They do not act like thinkers and builders on Twitter. They act like the very same soldiers they “fight” against. Thus the internet is another battlefield and everyone is equipped with weapons ranging from Twitter to Facebook. People need to understand that the revolution will not be Youtube-d. Actually, it already has.

Advertisements

Why memoirs are no autobiographies

opinions

Studying politics ruins reading books for you because just about anything has to be interpreted in the light of the social and political circumstances of the surroundings.

One of the deficits of research on interwar Iraq, for example, is that most studies rely on records in Western, mainly British and American, and also a few German and Italian archives. Why? Not because Iraqis didn’t know or didn’t have the time to write, it is because Middle Eastern memoir literature is doubted to have the same interpretative character as autobiographies in the West. (Thanks to Edward Said for this ugly orientalism.)

It is self-evident that the information from personal memories cannot be taken at face value, which holds true for both Western and Middle Eastern memories. Literary studies teach readers to distinguish clearly between the author, the narrator, and the subject of narration. The author and the reader enter a pact, a ‘let’s pretend’, in order to provide the illusion of confidence in the information given. Hence, autobiographies and, less obviously, memoirs remain a construct.

They are essentially narratives with no direct claim to “truth”. Every statement by an autobiographer is made in a framework of contemporary discourse and has to be interpreted, as I said, in the light of the social and political circumstances of the surroundings. Many factors such as age, new experiences, and the confrontation with new socio-political demands make the individual filter, reassemble, and adapt remembered images according to “modern” requirements. Memoirs serve to explain the course of events up to the “now”-time, in an apologetic and affirmative manner. Shared memories create identities, and vice versa, adopted identities shape, if not even create, memories. As far as individual memories of incidents are concerned, they tell more about the quality of experience rather than about facts. The emphasis on specific topics, the narrative structure, as well as the occurrence of allusions and associations give hints at the perceived importance of the impression left by a certain experience at a certain time. Memoirs are written in the light of what happened afterward rather than of what happened before. Hence, the single account mirrors the whole. Furthermore, autobiographers can follow a didactical intention which is implicit in the process of singling out one’s own life to be worthwhile for public inspection: to set any sort of example. In the light of these assessments, it is hard to classify which of the texts treated in any kind of study on a subject, or even for yourself, would be a memoir and which would be a full-fledged autobiography with a high self-reflective value.

This classification is extremely important as it sometimes decides on a nation’s image to people not reading its own national literature but rely on international authors and reporters to give them a full view on things and positions.

There have been some grave decisions made on nation’s images throughout human history. Because there are not enough English books written by different perspectives. I call that ‘bad marketing’ for each nation. Let’s continue with our example:

Iraq has forever been linked with totalitarianism throughout the Nazi period in Germany. And this grave, very very bad image was very hard to rebut since ‘all’ research alluded to its truth. With Western media to draw conclusions only from Western authors, it is particularly difficult for anyone interested to find out about the ‘truth’, or the other sides of the story, as I call it.

What is fact though, is that Arabs, here: Iraqis were pro-fascist. In the Iraqi debate, images of leadership, references to a mythical past and subordination of the individual sounded quite fascist to British and US beholders in the wider framework of suspicions about a spread of fascism. For instance, the US Ambassador Knabenshue back then described a youth rally in January 1939 and reported home that the new Minister of Education, Salih Jabr, had given a speech ‘from a platform surrounded by microphones and with ‘other trappings familar to similar meetings in Germany and Italy.'” This quote in itself has no information value about Jabr’s intentions in the use of these signs or about the meaning that the audience attributed to the scenery. The quote only indicates that the event reminded Knabenshue of fascist practices. Nevertheless, quotes like this were used to prove that Iraqi Arab nationalism of the time was close to Nazism – when in fact, Germany was only one point of reference among many, many others in the nationalists’ discourse.

Also, what was their nationalist discourse for? They were pro-fascist to gain anti-imperialist support from their enemy'(Britain had occupied Iraq in that time)’s enemy (Germany & Italy). For them, being pro-fascist was a fashion, and their ideological commitment was superficial. But you don’t hear about these things, usually. Not if you don’t dig deep enough, that is.

If you study politics, history, sociology, it is imperative to take a look at the second narrative, always. The way knowledge is ordered and put into a hierarchy is ridiculous business, and I shall write about that in my next post.

But know this:

There is always another side to everything.