First Published for The Platform
The recent violence in the Gaza Strip excited three distinct groups in a battle far beyond the Middle Eastern frontline
It is ironic that even the best of intentions, when circumstances change, they can have unintended consequences. The man who invented the wheel, for instance, would never have expected Top Gear, where viewers are bombarded with a bit too much of Jeremy Clarkson. Likewise, social media has transcended its initial intentions.
The above reflects well in a friend’s acerbic Facebook status: “What is happening to Facebook! I don’t want to see pictures of dead dogs/abused kids/war victims on my five minute break – it’s a given that I’m against paedophiles/war/poverty without having to like some shocking photo! What happened to mindless fb stalking and comedy updates?! Jesus wept.”
Whether one agrees or disagrees, one would be inclined to consider this to be remarkably genuine.
The extra judicial killing of Ahmad Jabari, the head of the Al Qassam Brigades, led to the recent escalation of violence in the Gaza strip, with Israel using disproportionate force in ‘retaliation’ to Hamas rocket attacks. Israeli attacks resulted in over 100 Palestinian deaths and less than ten Israeli deaths. Palestinian casualties would have been much higher, if Israel had initiated a full scale ground invasion as in 2008, and if not for the truce between Hamas and Israel. Israel has said that it will never negotiate with “terrorists”, although Hamas very much fits the Israeli description.
Misfortune gives rise to the excitement of three very similar but different sets of groups: The Activists, Armchair Activists, and The Cynical Sedentary Scoffer’s.
Activists are staunchly dedicated to a cause. Much like career politicians, but perhaps not as allured by fame, fortune or material possessions, they are driven by an unblemished ideological underpinning. In this particular conflict, activists were usually pro-Palestinian, pro-Israeli/Zionist, or human rights activists. Pro-Palestinian activists largely comprise of Muslims, Lefties, Liberalsand/or Humanists. Solid activists live for a cause and find great satisfaction in the work they do and are, therefore, willing to sacrifice much of their personal comforts to get that one extra inch closer to their goal.
Then we have activists of the armchair variety – a tricky lot, and much like a Dulux colour palette, come in various hues and varying saturation. I trust an armchair activist is a person commonly understood to propel a cause sitting on an armchair (or toilet seat). Due to advances in social media, the vagaries of an armchair activist has become somewhat limited to being active online and disseminating information. Armchair activists usually take a lot of stick from various people for being “neither here nor there”. The reality, however, is very different – at least for most of them.
To be an armchair activist, one usually needs to have a sense of ideological bearing, diluted as it may sometimes be compared to activists out in the field. The content of their Twitter feeds or Facebook status may be determined by their personal interests, type of friends, followers, want for attention and recognition, and all of the above, or even none of the above.
If one is an activist, at some point in their lives they may have been an armchair activist or may even have had armchair stints. This may be at a time when being in the forefront of activism isn’t particularly feasible, like when one is a student and therefore can’t fully engage in activism due to time constraints. Therefore to consider the term ‘armchair activist’ to be heavily concentrated with negativism is preposterous, if not plain wrong.
The role of an armchair activist shouldn’t be underestimated – they provide a vital service by disseminating information that they rightly or wrongly think would aid their cause. Of course it is up to the receiver to verify information before they act upon it. As a full-time student inundated with assignments and exams, the most effective form of activism I can be involved in, is armchair activism, with my blackberry to hand.
Of course, a common mistake armchair activists make is to be too idealistic or rhetorical in their actions. This occurs when the gulf between theory and ground realities diverge and expand. Therefore armchair activists should be conscious of this inevitability and be measured in their tones.
I believe (or like to think) that by making my voice heard, I do make a difference and help to formulate opinion that would be useful. This might enable the average apolitical or political person to understand the world better and galvanise like-minded souls to work towards a noble cause.
Like activists, armchair activists come under intense pressure from various elements in society. From those who hold opposing views to those who have found too much immoral comfort in the status quo to want to change it, to the plain idiot who would much rather question the means of activism than come up with something original. Therefore defeatism is intrinsic to the psyche of some activists or armchair activists, and they fight such sentiments not to their peril.
The feeling that one’s tweets with the hashtag #Gaza would result in nothing is an understandable feeling. If armchair activism ceases, activists on the field will have to shoulder the added burden of disseminating information, thereby delaying progress in the cause, in this case exposing Israeli war crimes and fighting the powerful Zionist propaganda machinery.
If you have activist-y (for lack of another word) intentions, and yet, can’t really engage for one reason or another on the “frontline”, take heart in the fact that your services as an armchair activist are much needed. Purify your intentions and find the nearest armchair (or toilet seat), wherever your thoughts flow unhindered. Remember, however, that with your intentions and actions comes the responsibility to act within a discourse of morality and nobility that does not cause more problems.
This conveniently brings me to the third and final group, The Sedentary Cynical Scoffer. These are those who would much rather scoff at those who try, and pointedly do nothing productive themselves. This mostly being because they seem to think that activists or armchair activists act on matters that have no bearing on their own lives, or of others. One may not be a US citizen, but it does matter if Romney or Obama won the last US presidential election – though for most people Obama and Romney are as close to each other as bum cheeks, politically speaking. Given the position of the US in the world and the globalisation they perpetuate as a super power, it is a given and isn’t even worth mentioning that the president of the US is going to have a bearing in life wherever in the world you live.
So, the next time you see a Facebook status or tweet that is political and different from your tweet that possibly says “I just burped aloud, but no one heard #facepalm #aerobicdigestion”, please note that some others are driven, motivated and affected by what happens in their homes, in their own backyards or the backyard of a friend who lives next to a bully that is supported by the biggest bully in the neighbourhood, and a few other smaller bullies. People are driven by various facets of life, and as long as these facets do not impose tangible and direct harm, scoffing at another’s efforts only seeks to undermine your own standing.
Now, back to my armchair.