Last week* I felt like my back had broken. Every night I slept in pain. Feeling stiff, disjointed, sore and disillusioned I would awaken. I tried not to be a recluse and hibernate my way through this agony and began surfing social media because its entertainment as well as educational, right?
I love the power of information spreading easily, fast, aimlessly and possibly mostly with a real purpose in mind. The internet is a bubble that sucks me in with its wonderful libraries, cinemas and shopping malls but I am weary now and this makes me actually sad.
I know to expect nastiness from trolls, buffoons and criminals to exploit the perception of anonymity of the internet but something akin to a movement of hate is not only reflected but propagated, celebrated online. I have come to wonder that an orchestrated movement is attempting to sow seeds of hate through the medium of the internet. It is not a unique attempt, many individuals, groups engage in nefarious behaviour but this particular movement has left me extremely shaken and concerned for the efforts of those of us who wish for cooperation, restraint, peace.
I grow tired of the need to shield my senses from the hate.
Just like many I have pondered the question of censorship and I am aware acutely of the raging debates surrounding freedom of speech. I fall into the camp of turning the other cheek. This is incredibly important even more now as the ‘movement’ of hate and provocation is becoming ever shameless and bold in its attempts to cause offense. The hate machine is churning out words, images, ideas, insidious, destructive and callous in their intent. Freedom of speech is sacred but I can’t help but feel a bunch of immature, bruised, cynical opportunist lunatics (of many shades of creed) have hijacked the original lofty, decent freedom for an evil enterprise. The creation of division, fear and hatred between neighbours, friends, family in the real physical world.
I must pause. I take a moment to settle the mist of gloom that is rising within me overbearing and cold.
In all honesty I feel embarrassed that I have reacted this way to the hate campaign online against an entire community of people of the world. This community shares the values of justice, rule of law, fairness, the sanctity of life and liberty. That is the community that I belong to.
Those who prefer hate come from all corners of our planet but I believe those who wish for harmony outnumber these individuals. Perhaps our voices are drowned out by the greater noise of the hate machine. Perhaps wanting peace is not the cool option anymore and maybe as a species on this planet we are becoming broken and afraid of the ‘unknown known’?
The unknown known fear mongering.
I have seen many awful things online but a blog post broke my heart and caused me to realize I had read something incredibly dangerous. I could share the details of the blogger and readers may make their own minds up but I abstain from the sharing of evil. Suffice it to say I was shocked and in awe of the beauty of the prose. The well thought out depiction of Arab/Muslim men as the sexual menace from an alien backward religion who race to reach our European lands as invaders…….and on it goes. A female ‘activist’ shared this blog piece on twitter claiming it to be the truth and illuminating about the nature of the men seeking to make new homes in Europe. I can only sigh at such thoughtless acceptance of stereotyping, hate, and judgement of random individuals. This attitude is in itself anti- European and undermines the aspirations of those who lived and fought for a fairer, kinder, civilized Europe.
I say again I have stumbled across such cold nastiness before but this piece was too much. The talented writer had chosen to use his skill to pen words of calculated demonization. I could not stop the feeling of utter despair.
The pen is mightier than the sword. But where will such words lead? What impact in the world of action? On our streets? In school playgrounds? In hospitals, cinemas, restaurants? On public transport? Will we live in fear of one another? Am I alone in asking such questions?
I will not succumb to hate. Alluring as it is after having watched children broken and dying with adults screaming horrific farewell epithets such as “Die you son of a whore” – yes, hate can become alluring. But thank goodness I have lived, I have understood. I know from the deepest realm of my soul that hate is unacceptable. It will destroy the individual as well as society as a whole. With that strength of conviction and fortitude I can breathe and say that I will remain true to my belief in the power of reconciliation over retribution. I stand with all the individuals outraged at the violence and the glorification of division in Israel and Palestine and of course, beyond.
And it’s not just the holy land in trouble is it? Our minds are on the line. The inhabitants of Planet earth are at stake, how healthy will our world be with the legacy of bombs, bullets and mines? And hate talk?
The spectators must judge with fairness and compassion, resisting the urge to take sides in an unholy war. I see patterns of connection between social media output (even from parts of the online scrapbook ‘Pinterest’), the wider hate movement and increased divisions between various peoples.
I realize I must walk away when such places online which connect deeply with the mind begin to send messages that seek to make a person weep in despair. I will not let the combined barrage of ugly words from the likes of charlatans with the gravitas of a mob following break my resolve to live among my neighbours with love and respect.
I disengage from these thoughts and notice my elderly neighbour navigating the path to her door. I know she is blissfully oblivious to the noise of the battle for hearts and minds between humans who stake claims on glory be it through God, pens or guns.
I watch the children, parents, commuters pass by my home and I think of the good luck we share in our peaceful neighbourhood. I recall the celebrations we enjoy each returning year. Like clockwork we decorate our homes and greet each other with peace in our hearts for one another. We are blessed to be free to engage in an array of festivals – Halloween, Eid, Christmas, Hanukkah, Guru Nanak’s birthday and most recently I added Diwali to the great list of opportunities to be joyful. Being British, being European has given us the right to make choices about how we live our lives.
*This post was originally written before the horrendous Paris Attacks on the 13th of January 2015, and the subsequent increase in anti-Muslim hate crime.
Nazia is a mother of three children. She has a degree in History (focus on modern Europe, Russia, Ottoman Empire, Origins of Islam, Mughal Empire, Middle East) from School of Oriental and African Studies London.