Posts Tagged ‘Middle East’


Can Twitter Help Raise Awareness for Gaza?

December 27, 2009

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the 22-day Israeli military raid on Gaza. Gaza, one of the two Palestinian territories currently under Israeli occupation.

I know Gaza is not a topic of polite cocktail party or happy hour conversation for most people. Most people probably aren’t quite aware of where Gaza is (here is a map for that), especially since it’s a tiny territory that’s only about 139 square miles on the coast of the Mediterranean.

So it is probably not widely known that one year ago, Israeli military forces killed 1,400 Palestinians, of which over 900 were civilians and over 300 were children. And considerable damage was done to Gazan roads, houses, and infrastructure — most of which has still not been repaired.

The UN Secretary General has acknowledged that Gaza is currently suffering from a dire human rights crisis. Since the attacks last year, the UN says, Gazans have been denied basic human rights and have been denied the resources to rebuild their infrastructure.

The mainstream media has hardly reported on the ongoing crisis there.  They’re focused on other stories — whatever sells the most papers or the most advertising, I guess.

So human rights activists around the world are using unconventional channels to air their concerns about the lasting human rights crisis in Gaza — they’re mounting a Twitter campaign to raise awareness. Buoyed by the success of the Iran election activists, who tweeted their observations about the controversial Iranian election and subsequent protests using the hashtag #iranelection, and capured the world’s attention — now Palestinian activists are hoping to start a movement of their own using Twitter as their primary tool of communication.

Their hashtag is #gaza, and today, December 27, from 3 pm – 7 pm GMT, they are encouraging everyone they know to tweet using the hashtag #gaza in the hopes of making Gaza the #1 trending topic on Twitter — which is no easy feat, given the millions of people using Twitter everyday.

The topic was already trending even before the campaign was scheduled to start at 3 pm GMT. It hasn’t hit #1 yet, but has been in the trending topics all day Sunday as Twitter users from all over the world share their thoughts, hopes, and fears for Gaza. The hope, of course, is to generate attention from the mainstream media and the larger public similar to the way the Iranian election protesters did.

The power of a trending topic, however, may seem silly to some but should not be underestimated.  Getting a campaign’s hashtag in the trending topics on Twitter makes the tag visible to everyone visiting — bringing the topic into the public consciousness and into the forefront of discussion. Twitter users who aren’t already aware of the issue will, hopefully, click on the trending topic to learn more about it — and maybe even choose to join in.

(images: Jillian York and Global Voices Online)

Will it work? We’ll know this week. My hope is that bloggers will start to pick up the story first as they notice that #Gaza has been sitting in the trending topics on Twitter all day, and then mainstream media should take a cue from political bloggers and start to report on it as well.

You can view all the #gaza tweets here.


Is America shifting on Israel, or is the media shifting on Israel?

June 16, 2009

One of the things I love almost as much as the news is the narrative being told about the events. It’s difficult for any given person to separate the facts and the actual events taking place from the media narrative being told about it. The Iran story that I’ve been watching lately is a perfect example. No one is really 100% sure what the facts are or what even constitutes fact. MSNBC will spin it one way. Fox and/or Mitt Romney will blame Obama. Bloggers will each try to put their own spin on it. And gradually, the narrative being constructed by the media may or may not reflect the actual facts.

Since Iran has been the Middle East story of the week, and America seems to be able to focus on only one Middle Eastern country at a time, the other big Middle East story of the week hasn’t been getting quite as much attention other than from foreign policy geeks. That story, of course, is the Israel-Palestine peace process.

A few weeks ago President Obama met with Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu. In early June, Obama delivered a speech to the Middle East from Cairo. This past Sunday, Netanyahu addressed his people on the topic of the peace process.

After these three historic events, a new narrative has emerged: America’s relationship with Israel is changing. Over the past couple of weeks have seen a plethora of articles and blog posts from both seasoned journalists and amateur bloggers alike, all suggesting the same ideas: the power of the legendary Israel lobby is weakening. President Obama is pressuring Netanyahu. Obama is the next Jimmy Carter [because Carter was the last US president who put real pressure on Israel to make peace]. Americans are gradually shifting from unconditionally supporting Israel to supporting a two-state solution. America’s relationship with Israel is changing dramatically. It’s a new chapter in the two countries’ relationship.

The question to me is: has American public opinion on support for Israel really changed? Or is this a shift in the media narrative but not actually a shift in America’s opinions and policy? Is the course of American foreign policy really shifting, or is this talk from speculative cable news pundits?

Is it REALLY a new era in America’s approach to Israel and Palestine? Or am I hoping for too much here?


Weekly Standard still trying to convince us Obama is Arab

June 3, 2009

President Obama arrived in Saudi Arabia this morning (click here for a really breathtaking picture of his arrival). He met with King Abdullah. And then, in what would normally be appreciated by most as a gesture of cultural understanding, respect, and open-mindedness, Obama said: “Shukran.” That is the Arabic word for thank you. It’s like the first word we learned in Arabic 101 (and yes, full disclosure, I studied Arabic for years).

But that doesn’t stop the Michael Goldfarb over at conservative mag the Weekly Standard from whipping out the fear-mongering:

It seems there is some legitimate confusion on just what languages Obama speaks, and as far as Arabic, the only real hint has came from Nick Kristof, who heard Obama recite the Muslim call to prayer in Arabic and with a “first-rate accent” back in 2007. With even the White House now smearing Obama as a Muslim, one wonders if the president hasn’t been concealing some greater fluency with the language of the Koran.

Really? The President says one word in Arabic, and Goldfarb is trying to insinuate that the President is a secret Arabic speaker, and possibly even a Muslim when he tucks in that Koran reference at the end of the post. Oh no, what did we get ourselves into! We elected a secret Arabic speaker!

The problem with the Weekly Standard here is twofold. First and foremost, there’s the obvious issue that being able to say “thank you” in a foreign language does not by any stretch of the imagination mean the person in question can speak that language. Especially when the language is Arabic, a language so difficult to learn that one can spend years studying and still not be proficient in conversation. It’s a ridiculous correlation to make. And Nick Kristof is hardly a judge of whether Obama has a “first-rate” Arabic accent. NO one who is a native English speaker develops a first-rate Arabic accent just like that. It’s more difficult than you might imagine.

Second is the problem that Goldfarb, like many conservatives, is once again using the Muslim Smear. Once again, they’re implying that speaking Arabic or being Arab or being a Muslim are negative, un-American, un-welcome traits in America. Once again, they’re trying to instill fear in the hearts of Americans who still are wary of Muslims in the post-9/11 era.

Doesn’t it ever get old?


Why The Al Arabiya Move is So Important for the US and the Middle East

January 27, 2009

I woke up this morning and the first thing, I did, over breakfast, was check my feeds. About 90% of my Google Reader is clogged with news and political feeds from just about every political writer, major news blog, and mainstream media outlet you can think of. Reading the news — and assorted political blogs — consumes like 20% of my day. I can’t leave in the morning without knowing what’s going on around the country and around the world.

So I was really, really excited when I read the news this morning and found out President Obama granted his first official interview as President… to Al-Arabiya, an Arabic-language TV station based in Saudi Arabia.

The symbolic importance alone of this decision is huge. But then you have to examine what he said during the interview:

“Now, my job is to communicate the fact that the United States has a stake in the well-being of the Muslim world, that the language we use has to be a language of respect. I have Muslim members of my family. I have lived in Muslim countries … the largest one, Indonesia. And so what I want to communicate is the fact that in all my travels throughout the Muslim world, what I’ve come to understand is that regardless of your faith – and America is a country of Muslims, Jews, Christians, non-believers – regardless of your faith, people all have certain common hopes and common dreams.

And my job is to communicate to the American people that the Muslim world is filled with extraordinary people who simply want to live their lives and see their children live better lives. My job to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy.”

During the whole campaign he downplayed his ties to the Muslim world for fear that his attackers would use it against him. Now he’s being open about it and reaching out to the most volatile, complex region of the world and offering, above all else, respect — something the past administration refused to offer. And the fact that we have a President that can even make such statements as in that first paragraph is still astonishing on its own.

The last time I got this excited about something in the media was when Colin Powell defended Muslims on Meet The Press and condemned the anti-Muslim attacks used in the election:

“Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he’s a Christian.  He’s always been a Christian.  But the really right answer is, what if he is?  Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer’s no, that’s not America. Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president?  Yet, I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion, “He’s a Muslim and he might be associated terrorists.” This is not the way we should be doing it in America.”

Obama, in his Al Arabiya interview, emphasized that the US will listen instead of just dictating, that the US is committed to Arab-Israeli peace, and that we care about the quality of life of all people — in Israel and Palestine and everywhere else. And the statements that he has made — and that Powell made towards the end of the election — are, I hope, indicative of a new era in US-Arab relations.

Look, I’m normally one to be kind of skeptical of politicians. I know how campaigns work. I know federal government is bogged down by all kinds of bureacracy. And I certainly don’t mean to constantly heap praise on Obama on this blog all the time — I certainly don’t agree with everything he does and I didn’t even vote for him in the primaries.

But, it’s really hard not to be optimistic about the future of the relationship between the US and the Muslim world when we have a President that is committed to honestly, respectfully, engaging the Arab world and actually making progress in the Middle East.

The most important thing he can do is what he has already begun doing: changing the tone of the conversation to one of respect.

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