If the last few weeks of media and social media have demonstrated anything, it is the power of language.
Is Israel a country of colonizers (in which case, by today’s standards, it is clearly evil) or a land of refugees (which might automatically make it good)? Is Hamas a genocidal movement (as they claim themselves) or a resistance movement (as they also claim)? Is Gaza a failed state or an open-air prison? Are Gazaoui civilians victims of Israel’s army or are they hostages sacrificed by Hamas? Is Hamas the government of Gaza or a terrorist group hiding in Gaza? Assuming that 8,000 civilians have been killed, is it genocide or does it show restraint? Does the conflict start in 1967, in 1948, in the 1920s, in the 19th century? When do we start the clock to decide who the land belongs to and who is a new immigrant, an invader? Is Iran an ally of Palestinians, a terrorist state, a colonizer nation? What about Syria or Jordan? What about the US? Is criticizing Israel’s policies antizionism or antisemitism? Is antizionism a call against Israel’s government or against Israel’s citizens? Did Jews emigrate to Israel from Europe and Arabic countries or were they driven out? What makes a person an Israeli? A Palestinian? A civilian? An acceptable target?
We’re all someone’s useful idiot
Just like images, words are never entirely neutral. They never have been. And depending on your answers to the above questions, chances are that you are cheering (or at least retweeting) one of the factions involved in the conflict. And if that’s the case, you are involved, if remotely, in killing people.
You’re not the only one, far from it.
Today, with the combined power of propaganda theoreticians, social media, bots and generative AI, any claim can be amplified and fill the public speech without giving any of our brains the chance to consider its validity. This plays upon our collective need to fight injustice, to define a us and a them, to do something, anything to protect whoever we have decided is a us, regardless of the cost to them. This also plays in our need to be the one thinking person faced with impossible odds, fighting NPCs and their propaganda alone.
If you have read George Orwell’s 1984, this may sound familiar. In the appendix, the author describes a language and news content so devoid of meaning that it can be uttered and screamed at the enemy without having to go through the higher brain.
But we are not citizens of 1984’s Ingsoc, fed with one single source of non-stop propaganda and deprived from access to a reliable language. If anything, we’re drowning in information from many sources with opposite bias and agendas. Which means that we can open books or news channels or websites that belong to them and read them through, attempting to understand them and why they think that they are right.
We don’t have to agree with them. But we can stop playing by the rules of our propaganda. If anything, that will make you and I better people.
Who’s right, then?
I wouldn’t dare tell you who is right and who is wrong in this conflict. It is not that I don’t care. I used to know people on both sides, or at least on two of the very many sides of this conflict. I hope that they are all alive.
No, the reason I’m not going to answer that question is because I believe that this is very much the wrong question. In such a cycle of self-perpetuating violence, being right is the path to righteousness, which means that your enemy, whoever they are, deserves to be crushed. Being wrong is impossible, because your enemy, whoever they are, has done so much bad that surely, your side can only be better.
We can pick a better question. One such as
How can we make things better?
Answering that question takes effort. It’s much harder than feeling righteous. It requires disentangling ourself from the certainty and righteousness of us. From doomscrolling, too. It requires the fortitude to look at them and their cause and their suffering and accepting that they are just as valid as us. Not necessarily right. But valid. It requires looking in the eyes of a grieving parent, one of us, and telling them, coldly, that this crime will remain unavenged.
It’s also a much more dangerous question, because it means leaving the comfort of being part of us and having friends or allies who can bounce our certainties back to us. People on both sides have been murdered by their us for daring to search for an answer to this question.
And I’m not going to give you an answer. You’ll have to do your own research.