The fascists are closing in
As the war between Hamas and the Israeli government rages on, I’m finding it hard to think about anything else. As if the enormous loss of civilian life is not devastating enough, I fear for the safety of Jews and Muslims around the world who are both seeing more hate and harassment in instances of antisemitism and Islamophobia since October 7.
Bigotry, intolerance, discrimination, xenophobia…are propagandist tactics used to dehumanize a group of people to justify the violence against them.
And many people online are walking right into the trap of weaponized tribalism. It’s all very alarming and yet so predictable.
The online discourse around this “conflict” has been emotionally charged, but so is war. I put “conflict” in quotes because language does not do justice to the death, destruction, and long-lasting consequences that this humanitarian catastrophe has had on Palestinian and Jewish communities.
It’s always the most vulnerable and innocent that suffer the consequences of institutional violence. I agree that much of this charged dialogue on social media is reprehensible and devoid of basic empathy for human suffering; I personally refuse to participate in the carnage of internet vigilantism, but I don’t fault those who do. Desperate times call for desperate measures.
If you’re feeling scared, anxious, worried, apprehensive, indifferent, numb, angry, sad, or all of the above—you’re not alone. Those who occupy socially marginalized identities—namely BIPOC activists—have been trying to warn us that our society is unfair, unjust, unequal, and rife with authoritarian megalomaniacs who will stop at nothing to pursue their wet dreams of world domination.
And here we are.
I don’t know the intricacies of this war. I’m still learning about its complex historical context that spans centuries. I’m trying to keep my eyes, ears, and heart open to multiple perspectives. I see a clear genocide unfolding of the Palestinian people and I think it’s important to call attention to it whenever we can. I also think it’s important not to write off or ignore Jewish suffering just because Palestinian suffering has been larger in scale. I don’t know about you, but I want to live in a world where I don’t have to advocate for either the murder of babies or violent settler colonialism in the name of justice. Maybe it’s naive to think that such a world exists; but I have hope. And yet, it’s not fair to equalize a clearly unequal power dynamic and call on peace from “both sides” just because we want the fighting to stop. Asymmetrical warfare is a real thing.
No matter how you slice it, it’s a lose-lose situation. That’s the thing about war. In the end, nobody wins. War is a collective loss for humanity.
We can only ever see the world from our own vantage point. As someone who doesn’t have direct ties to either Israel or Palestine, but is intimately familiar with genocide, I find myself occupying different vantage points depending on whose shoes I put myself in. Sometimes I feel guilty for resisting the pull of tribalism, but having empathy is not a horrible thing. Neither is having a balanced perspective.
The Hamas attack on Jewish civilians is abhorrent. And yet it makes sense in the context of Israeli’s ongoing ethnic cleansing and apartheid of the Palestinian people. This doesn’t make it right, or just. It just makes it….inevitable. I know it feels absurd to qualify any form of violence on innocent lives as more or less reproachable. And yet, SWANA people do, because we have to. Those on the frontlines of war and genocide do not have the privilege to occupy different vantage points when our lineages are being wiped off the map as we speak; we’re too busy trying to stop another genocide from happening. Bear in mind that when we don’t have imperialist powers backing us up, all we have is each other. Please do not judge or mock us for our tribalism. We are up against a very lonely and upward battle.
So, I’m not here to educate you about a conflict I don’t understand (if we can even call it that). Nor am I here to radicalize you into an ideology because I’m not a cult leader. I’m here to share my reflections, and offer reminders. You can take it or leave it.
I want to remind you that the bad guys are winning.
I want to remind you that far-right political extremists and their allies do not want peace; it doesn’t matter to them if they live in a prosperous world. Their goal is not to see their people flourishing; they are not interested in the evolution of the human race. They just want to live in a world where they are in charge and personally rich. Very, very rich.
This is true of Hamas, which receives a combined income of up to $450 million per year from its global financial network. While their leader enjoys a lavish lifestyle in Qatar, more than 80% of Gazans live in poverty. You cannot create a peoples’ liberation movement through the unequal distribution of wealth, power, and resources.
This is true of the Israel government, which supplies weapons to other authoritarian regimes like India, Azerbaijan, and Vietnam to commit state-sanctioned genocide. Not to mention, Israel’s prime minister Netanyahu who has become a global hate-figure for his role in escalating Israeli settler occupation in Palestine. In 2022 alone, over 950 Palestinian homes were demolished and more than 1,000 Palestinians were left homeless under Netanyahu’s leadership. You cannot create a democratic state by expelling and oppressing a local population.
This is also true of the U.S. government and other imperialist powers and their business partners, who hide behind the veil of diplomacy and selective compassion—secretly operating by the principle of “might makes right” while championing themselves as beacons of human rights. Hypocrisy. Hypocrisy, everywhere.
At some point, we have to put our ethno-nationalism aside and be a human who bears witness to the suffering of other humans. I think I’ve reached that point in my own personal journey, and I’m trying to lean into it and learn from this experience. Something I’ve learned recently is that making sweeping judgements based solely on our affiliation with the “oppressed” or the “oppressor” pigeonholes peoples’ morality into an absurd ‘if/then’ clause (i.e. ‘if you don’t stand with Palestine, then you are complicit in genocide’, or ‘if you don’t stand with Zionism, then you are antisemitic). These if/then clauses are usually followed by morally abhorrent sentiments that justify monstrous war crimes.
Look, I took this ‘if/then’ approach in 2020 when Azerbaijan launched its attack on the Armenians in Artsakh. I had to witness how the international community, including my non-Armenian friends and those whom I considered my allies, willfully chose silence and complicity. I thought, “if you don’t speak up about the Armenians, then you don’t care about human rights.”
This thinking did not work out well for me. It not only alienated me from the rest of the world, but it left me bitter, cynical, and nihilistic, which took a significant toll on my mental health and relationships. It took me years—years— to recover from that dark place and restore my faith in humanity. In many ways, I’m still recovering. I respect that everyone is on their own journey with this, but I personally refuse to be walked back there by radical extremists online who have absorbed and continue to perpetuate violent rhetoric of online propagandists. Again, I tried this approach. It did not work, because 3 years later Armenians still lost our ancestral lands. That’s because we are fighting a much bigger monster than we think.
Another thing I’ve learned is that once you lose your faith, you lose everything. Please read that again. In existential psychology, faith serves as the foundation for human resilience and our source of strength, fortitude, meaning, and purpose. Without faith, we fall into despair, disillusionment, and doom. Without faith, we lose sight of what we are a part of, we forget our ‘why’, and we either burn out, numb out, or miss the opportunity to leave a positive impact on the world, in our own way, within our own sphere of influence.
We can’t do everything, but we can do something, and if we fall into hopelessness we end up doing nothing.
And that’s exactly what propaganda does—it radicalizes us to adopt and defend an extremist ideology that appears to make sense out of our feelings of anger, grief and injustice, but instead it exploits them. Radicalization is not much different from cult psychology. In the same way that cults prey on our vulnerabilities, radicalists take advantage of our feelings of hopelessness by offering false promises of change, black-and-white, ‘us v.s. them’ narratives, or various diversion tactics that attempt to scapegoat our frustration onto “the other.” It. does. not. work.
Radicalists are not allies of democracy. Radicalists are more interested in defending their ideology than actually solving a problem or restoring peace and justice. Much like cult leaders, they will turn on you as soon as you question or challenge them. And much like cult leaders, they will use brainwashing techniques to walk you out of your conscience, your values, and your critical thinking. Beware.
Here’s an example of how radicalism is playing out, right here in the US:
In the U.S., those who express sympathy for Palestinians are getting canceled, including authors, lawyers, and activists—their voices are being excluded, conferences shut down, comments on social media edited. In the same vein, U.S. employers are rescinding job offers and blacklisting students who are affiliated with pro-Palestinian groups. Right-wing conservative groups are publicly doxxing and shaming college students who express ‘unpopular’ views—their names and photos are being published on a truck with a sign that supposedly outs them as “leading antisemites.”
Violation of free speech aside, this level of suppression and punitive measures do not contribute to any progress toward peace. Instead, it’s a form of retaliation and revenge against individuals seen as ideological enemies. These ideological powers are not working in support or opposition of a cause—they are working to undermine democracy. This should alarm you because it affects all of us.
Another example of how radicalism is playing out is the collective punishment that the Israeli government is committing against Palestinian civilians in Gaza. This not only undermines, but it grossly infringes on a core tenet of international humanitarian law—that of proportionality, which means that the harm to civilian life or property should not be more excessive in relation to the expected military benefit. Who is setting the terms for “excessive?” More importantly, who is enforcing them?
Not only is it glaringly obvious that military powers like Israel (and Azerbaijan, who unsurprisingly are strategic military allies), could give two shits about violating international humanitarian laws, but it’s equally obvious that they are getting away with it.
I cannot overstate how much it disturbs me to witness unchecked violations of international law, the suppression of free speech, and the divisive tacts being used to stifle meaningful dialogue. Yes to calling people out on their bigotry. No to shaming or intimidating people into silence. These actions are not in the spirit of democracy or justice. Instead, they threaten the very principles we need to uphold in order to build an equal, fair society. Not just for us, but for future generations. At this rate, we are not going to leave this world better than we found it. It’s essential that we resist the pull of tribalism. Our collective future depends on it.
If you feel compelled to choose a side, choose the side of democracy. Our common enemy is not the Jews, or Palestinians, or Azerbaijanis, or trans people, or immigrants, or whoever else we’ve been conditioned to see as “the other.” Like I said, we are fighting a much bigger monster than our ideological or geographical enemies. Our common enemy is authoritarianism. Authoritarianism goes hand in hand with something else I talk a lot about in this space: late-stage capitalism. In a rampantly capitalist society, everything is a commodity, including war. If there’s any part of you that wonders why the genocide and ethnic cleansing of Armenians does not get as much attention as Palestine, or Israel, or Ukraine, the answer is quite simple: it’s not profitable.
I’ll leave you with this, for today. The only “two sides” of war are people v.s. authoritarianism. In this authoritarian landscape, the struggle for freedom and human rights is not just limited to particular groups, or geographic regions, or individual perspectives. It permeates across our social systems, political institutions, and collective consciousness. It will affect us now, 30 years from now, and 100 years from now.
In this critical moment, the question remains: how will you show up?
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