Muslim Women in Hijabs are the New Enemy

Since the Paris attacks, politicians such as Donald Trump have targeted all Muslims as the culprits of terrorism. Certain media have also joined in and this caused public outrage against Muslims and Islamaphobic attacks have increased to record highs in Western countries. The most frequent victims are the most obvious Muslims, women in headscarves (hijabs).

Muslim women in the United States have been removed from flights, spat on while with their children in markets, and physically and verbally assaulted for their attire and beliefs. In the United Kingdom, a Muslim woman was pushed off a train platform and was almost run over by an incoming train. Many Muslim women have felt compelled to take off their headscarves or have chosen to simply not leave unless its for necessities for fear of abuse.

In an interview with Muslim women who have chosen to take off their hijabs, Kate Kassem said that with the current political climate she felt harshly labeled and judged for her every action. Mariam Nouser took her headscarf off purely for safety concerns. She had been spat on while riding the subway and a woman had yelled at her to go back home, she took off her hijab but then put it back on. She did notice that in the short months that she didn’t have it on, people were more friendly towards her even though she is the same person.

But this treatment of Muslim women is not new and even extends to people who view themselves as liberal.  Certain feminists and liberals view women in hijabs as being oppressed and view the religion as inherently anti-women.

Refugees Not Welcome in the United States, land of Refugees, and Mistreated in Europe

After the tragic attacks in Paris by Daesh killed nearly 130 people, many countries wondered if refugees were the cause of the problem. An intact Syrian passport was found near the bodies of one of the attackers after he blew himself up at the stadium. Suspicion rose as to how a Syrian passport of a refugee was so conveniently located but American politicians and media took that as a sign. Congress has decided to refuse entrance of the 10,000 Syrian refugees that would originally be admitted as part of President Obama’s promise. While the country that was attacked, France, held on to its stance to bring in 30,000 refugees in the next two years.

The American government repeated history by refusing entry of Syrians in a similar manner to how it refused entry to Jews in World War II. In an eerily similar situation thousand of Jews including a proposal that would provide safe harbor to only Jewish children (including Anne Frank), America declined to help fearing that the situation would risk their citizens because some refugees could be Nazi spies, Now American (mostly Republican) politicians are echoing the same statements:

Ben Carson stated of Syrian refugees: “If there is a rabid dog running around your neighborhood, you’re probably not going to assume something good about that dog,” 

Chris Christie: “The fact is that we need for appropriate vetting, and I don’t think that orphans under 5 should be admitted to the United States at this point.”

Mike Huckabee:” Are they really escaping tyranny, are they escaping poverty, or are they really just coming because we’ve got cable TV?”

The bill passed with not only republican support but with also a large number of Democrat support. Now France has shown how to respond to a tragedy and how to live by American valueswhile the America is not only repeating a grave mistake they are also being hypocritical and allowing Daesh to win. Daesh as well as other terrorist groups thrive and grow “on the us versus them” mentality and while airstrikes are being launched on Daesh controlled areas innocent civilians are being killed. This chaos will be perfect to those who want revenge or those tired of seeing Western Powers exert their control and decisions over the Middle East . Daesh is unfortunately winning against the United States and any other country refusing entry of refugees.

The European Union while allowing thousands of refugees entry into their countries has been found guilty of dismissing basic human rights of refugees. Marginalized groups of refugees such as women, children, and gays have all faced certain forms of abuse within refugee camps. Many have even stated that while the countries are different, the problems remain. Whats even more surprising is that these issues have been brought to the attention of the host country’s government but they don’t view domestic, sexual, and physical abuse as being pertinent. It is clear that in both instances of the United States and Europe, relocating and helping refugees has been a failure simply due to politics.

America’s Drone Strikes: Feeding into the hands of terrorists

On October 3rd 13 hospital workers, 10 patients, and 7 unidentifiable victims were all killed in a U.S airstrike on a Doctors without Borders hospital in Afghanistan. Out of all of the dangers the hospital workers were trained to expect while providing healthcare, we can be sure that a direct hit on the hospital by a U.S. drone was not covered in their orientation manual. This example is just one of many that show that drones have strayed from their purpose, which is presumably not to murder innocent victims.  In order to stop the unnecessary civilian deaths and decrease the influence and power of terrorist groups, drone strikes should stop.

Drone warfare has increased in recent years as advanced technology is available and governmental leaders are more likely to use machines rather than risk soldiers’ lives, however this trade-off comes at a high price. Incidences like the hospital bombing are becoming more frequent causing increased civilian casualties. The drone strikes carried out by the United States have been the most severe on areas such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen where entire villages, families, and even wedding parties are being completely erased from existence.

To worsen the blow, terrorist and extremist groups have actually capitalized on the warfare decisions by using the bombings to convince traumatized survivors that America is waging a war against Muslims, and when your entire family is dead by a missile proudly bearing the American flag, how can you argue?

We are often told that casualties are collateral damage—an unfortunate cause of war—to achieve peace. However with every innocent life lost, the United States is escalating the war by creating new enemies. It is not surprising that areas where drone attacks are a frequent aspect of daily life are also those that face the biggest anti-American sentiments, composed largely of groups of men, women, and even children in Yemen and Afghanistan are chanting “Death to America!” revealing how America has become the pinpoint of hatred among countries that are targeted by drone strikes.

Americans need to reconsider the purpose—and consequently, the effectiveness—of drone attacks.  If drone attacks are meant to target and kill dangerous terrorists, we are failing.  The process of carrying out a drone attack seems vague at best, as Brandon Bryant, a drone strike operator, states from his own experience that from such a far distance, he could never be sure if he was killing insurgents with guns or sheep herders. Americans may be able to justify killing terrorists with drones, but does their moral code allow them to kill innocent people as well?

As for the effectiveness of these drone strikes, the deaths of terrorists in such attacks do little to actually prevent the occurrence of future terrorist attacks. Take for instance the death of Al Qaeda leader, Awlaki, who was annihilated by a drone strike along with an American civilian. Awlaki may have died, but his words lived on and inspired not only the Boston Marathon bombing, but also the Fort Hood shooting and the Charlie Hebdo massacre.

Americans need to think about the consequences of drone attacks. Leah Bolger, president of Veterans for Peace, describes drones as “terrorist tools that create more enemies for the United States with every innocent life lost.” Bolger traveled to Pakistan to interview drone strike victims where she found that children were afraid to go to school and villagers lived in constant fear of attack, knowing that no shelter would be able to truly protect them.

In addition, these civilians fail to understand the reason for these drone attacks. This fear and confusion creates the perfect environment for terrorist recruitment by groups like the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, who create stories of how the attacks are solely responsible for the poverty and unsafe conditions in the region. They target survivors of drone attacks and encourage revenge against the United States. If America is comfortable attacking innocent civilians in their countries, why should these survivors behave with compassion?

A former State Department official in Yemen provided a very powerful statistic regarding drones: “Every US drone killing of an Al-Qaeda operative there creates 40 to 60 new enemies of America”. Newer studies suggest that an overwhelming majority (about 90%) of deaths due to drone strikes are not the intended target. Human rights committees such as Amnesty International and the United Nations have been critical of the drone warfare tactics of the United States. Even officials within the United States are uncomfortable with drones used as weapons. Retired General McChrystal said, “To the United States, a drone strike seems to have very little risk and very little pain. At the receiving end, it feels like war. Americans have got to understand that.”

We see the media celebrating drone strikes with headlines such as “Drone Kills Terrorists” which seems like a measure of success until you consider how many civilians were caught in the cross hairs. Those same civilians are at great risk of being killed or suffering both physically and mentally, which make them not only targets of drones but also of terrorist recruitment. President Obama once said of Israel during a 2012 speech, “…there’s no country on Earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders.”  Given this statement by America’s own president, my question is, how can we expect to not meet resistance from countries we are bombarding with drones?

Feminism

This past week, Malala Yousafzai sat down with Emma Watson, actress and activist, to discuss Yousafzai’s documentary (“He Named Me Malala”) and her charity. During the discussion, Malala asserts that she is a feminist and that while the word used to make her feel uneasy she was inspired by Watson’s own speech to the United Nations to not shy away from the word. Yousafzai dubbed feminism another word for “equality”.

Feminism ,as a concept, has always been accepted by many organizations and officials. Women have been increasingly present in important social, economic, and political roles around the world however it is when the dreaded f-word is brought up do people start to become defensive. Western politicians (especially Republicans) decry feminism as an unnecessary movement and describe women who want equal pay, comprehensive female healthcare, and fair maternity leave as being preachy and ungrateful. They describe Western countries as post-feminist societies that have achieved equality and point to Middle Eastern countries such as Saudi Arabia as comparisons. However, the fact remains that the United States is still in need of feminism. Yes, women can drive but the United States is still guilty of marginalizing women.  The United States is one of seven countries that never fully approved of the international women’s bill of rights drafted by the United Nations in 1979, has never ratified the Equal Rights Amendment, and is the only high income country not to provide paid leave and equal pay. On the other side of the world,  Women’s rights in the Middle East seem to be complementary to the United States. In Saudi Arabia, women have always had equal rights pay and longer maternity leave (the minimum was just raised to 10 weeks for women and 3 weeks for men), however women suffer in terms of mobility and freedom to make their own independent choices. Culture and traditions bind women to their male relatives so their well being is tied to how liberal or conservative the male family relatives are. I have heard male relatives state with pride “We don’t have divorced women” (notice divorced men are allowed) with the same conviction and pride as someone who has won an Olympic medal. While other families are liberal and allow their daughters to travel and explore the world. The bigger issue is that adult women need to be allowed to be able to travel and have to go through obstacles to achieve custody of their children, attain divorces, and marry.

Michelle Obama recently spoke about women’s rights at Qatar, a country with similar laws to Saudi Arabia. Her speech blatantly called out outdated laws and traditions as obstacles for women’s success and education. In her speech she stated,  “If we truly want to get girls into our classrooms then we need to have an honest conversation about how we view and treat women in our societies and this conversation needs to happen in every country on this planet, including my own,” “We truly want to get girls into our classrooms then we need to have an honest conversation about how we view and treat women in our societies and this conversation needs to happen in every country on this planet, including my own,”. It is important that Obama’s speech talked about women’s rights around the world and doesn’t simply point the finger at one group or region. Thus, worldwide cooperation is necessary to advance feminism and achieve equality. Influential female figures in the Middle East can in turn cooperate with women in the United States to discuss equal rights just as Feminists in the United States have come to various countries to discuss female education and independence.

Why I refuse to call DAESH ISIS

Many media reports have called the terrorist activity group by their self-assigned name, ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) however I feel that their appropriate name would be DAESH. In Arabic the name DAESH is an acronym which is similar to ISIS without placing blame on Islam as a coconspirator to their human rights violations and crimes. Another reason to call the supposed “caliphate” DAESH is that the group themselves denounce the naming they want the association with Islam and while Muslim countries don’t give in to them, western media has quickly given in to their demand and has associated the religion with their crimes. After their string of violent crimes in the Middle East and Europe, numerous stories have not only explored the terrorist group but have made not so subtle hints that ISIS and Islam are one in the same, completely ignoring that a large majority of their victims are Muslims, that their implied associations between DAESH and Islam could place Muslims at risk for hate crimes, and that they are giving in to DAESH’s demands for legitimacy.

A name of a group might seem trivial however for a terrorist group that is as adept at social media and branding as DAESH it is the base of their recruitment operations. Just in the past year countries all over the world have been trying to stop weak-willed individuals from joining the caliphate in Ira and Syria. Twitter has been continuously shutting down accounts that report pro-terrorist activities and motivate terrorism but it has been a losing battle. DAESH uses social media by distorting the picture of Islam not only in as a blood-thirsty religion but also as a cure-all that will help with those that feel lost, depressed, or weak. They promise that by their acceptance into their “Islam”, the sky will be blue again and life will finally have purpose, which is an ambitious promise that has obviously worked. In several occurrences former European citizens that felt alienated, Americans who felt bullied, and citizens of certain Arab nations who felt as they have no place in their chaotic governments have all been tricked into the promise of a war that will free Syria from Bashar and set up a unified country free of outside influences. Many who have escaped from DAESH after initially planning to join them state how their association to Islam is only by name and is misleading. One Saudi escapee from the terrorist group explained how his job was to take girls from their families and essentially hand them out to soldiers to “enjoy”, how further explained that their name and various references to the Quran had him fooled into thinking that he truly was fighting an essential war that was freeing Syrians and Iraqis. Thus, the name can be a major factor in their advertising campaign.

Referring to DAESH as anything related to Islam is also disrespectful to Muslims, who are their main victims. The terrorist group has taken responsibility of various attacks on Saudi Arabia’s mosques, Turkey’s peace rallies, Syria and Iraq’s villages,  and Lebanon. The attacks have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Muslims which the “Islamic” state seems to have no regard for as they consider their attacks as victories and further encourage them. In their initial attacks, many world leaders and government officials called on the media and general public to distinguish between Muslims and terrorists  however now the DAESH’s mainstream name is ISIS and whenever the subject of Muslims arises (especially in Western presidential and parliament elections) ISIS is sure to also occur. Most of the counter attacks against DAESH are being carried and funded by Muslim countries such as the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey.

Many claim that assigning DAESH to Islam is a way to understand their plan of attack and motive however, the terrorist group clearly either threw Islamic rules on warfare or simply have no idea what they are. It should be noted that another DAESH escapee, has said that many of the recruits cannot read Arabic and simply memorize the verses of the Quran, the Muslim Holy book, orally without knowing the meaning behind the words. Many Islamic Scholars have placed evidence of this ignorance by showing these verses:

  1. Qur’an 22:40: “Permission to fight is given to those against whom war is made, because they have been wronged.” 
  2. Qur’an 22:41: “Those who have been driven out from their homes unjustly only because they said, ‘Our Lord is God’ — And if God did not repel some men by means of others, there would surely have been pulled down cloisters and churches and synagogues and mosques, wherein the name of God is oft commemorated.” 
  3. Qur’an 2:257: “There shall be no compulsion in religion.”

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Despite these clear instructions, DAESH has clearly broken all three rules by launching preemptive attacks without provocation, forced conversions into their version of Islam, and led in the destruction of churches.

Israeli Government vs. Israeli People

The conflict between Israel and Palestine has been going on for decades with tensions continuously increasing after the Israeli government imposed a blockade on Gaza that bans the import and export of goods, the population is also not allowed to leave Gaza. This ban has escalated violence in the region however the Palestinians in Gaza had previously used tunnels to Egypt to smuggle in water and other resources and Palestinians could leave Gaza through the tunnels. In the West Bank, another area in Palestine, Israel has been continuously increasing settlements in occupied territories despites it being an international crime. Politicians refuse to any tangible attempts to stop Israel or pressure the government to halt construction. They do however concede that the situation in Palestine is unbearable. David Cameron, UK prime minister, has called Gaza an “open air prison” and John Kerry partially blamed the settlements as fueling the most recent tensions in Israel and Palestine.

Now, increasing lone attacks have occurred on both sides of the conflict. Israeli forces have shot and killed at least 50 Palestinians. Israeli people have killed 2 people (one an Eritrean refugee and another an Israeli mistaken for a Palestinian) and most prominently a group of Israeli settlers have set fire to a house causing the death of an 18 month old baby. Palestinian youth have started throwing rocks on members of the Israeli Defense League and even carrying out stabbings, recently a Palestinian man carried out an attack in a synagogue in Jerusalem killing five Israelis. It is clear that tensions are escalating, and it is unfortunate that the respective governments seem to be only generating more hate and distrust. Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, has been perceived as increasing tensions with the Israeli government by forming a peace deal with Hamas and allowing them to be inducted in the Palestinian Parliament. He also recently spread false information when he said that Israeli forces “executed” a thirteen year old when the teenager was found alive and being treated in an Israeli hospital. Perhaps the most obvious opponent to any peace deal to is Israel’s Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu for his polarizing ideas about negotiating a peace deal, his racist attitudes toward Arabs, his controversial cabinet officials, and his constant attempts to constantly impede any attempts for Palestine to gain independence and legitimacy. He has recently stated that Hitler had no intention of killing Jewish people during the Holocaust but that a Palestinian Mufti was responsible for the genocide, an indirect way of placing hate on the Palestinian people. During his campaign he warned Israeli citizens of Arab voters voting and changing their government, regardless that Arab voters are still Israeli citizens. His cabinet consists of the most right wing government in the nation’s history. Naftali Bennet, Israel’s housing minister, in addition to increasing settlements at an alarming rate has stated that he will never allow a Palestinian State. Aylet Shaked, a member of the Knesset, is regarded as one of the most dangerous politicians in Israel as she has stated that Palestinians should be expelled from their house and Palestinian mothers should be killed so that they don’t give birth to “little snakes”. Rabbi Eli- Ben Dahan, Knesset member, has stated that Palestinians are “like animals and not humans”. Their comments and official positions in government explain the increasing racist attacks against Palestinians and Israeli Arabs.

However, many of Israel’s population are still hopeful and open towards peace. Their attempts to make peace with Palestinians. Attacks have only motivated them to make amends. Israeli citizens have helped Palestinians try to win cases against demolition orders from the Israeli government. In 2009, Israeli Physicists provided free electricity to impoverished Palestinian farmers after the Israeli government removed their access to electricity in an effort to remove them from the land. A non-governmental organization called Breaking the Silence, consisting of Israeli army veterans compile testimonies of their experiences and army actions done in occupied territories. They have shed light on the various war crimes and police brutality conducted by the army. On October 23, thousands rallied in Tel Aviv in a mass protest calling for peace chanting called for Netanyahu to resign and lasting peace talks to resume, officials from the left-wing party called for an end to Netanyahu’s regime that they perceive as dividing the Israeli state. Many have been critical of Israel, Nelson Mandela, the former South African president, has stated “We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians”. It seems that the Israeli citizens are critical of the government and believe that in order to ensure their freedom and lasting peace, they must also ensure the peace of the Palestinian people.

The Power of Social Media: An instrument for Activism

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The practice of activism has changed dramatically with the emergence of technology. Online magazines and blogs have given activists a new forum in which to discuss their causes and gain feedback. In the modern world, social media websites have become increasingly popular and not only provided instant feedback from followers but also created a network of supporters towards a shared cause. While public protests for civil liberties are still evident, social media has provided a site where activists can organize these events discreetly and report their progress directly to other social media users, which takes the power away from biased media channels. Social media activism has been an effective medium to raise awareness of a variety of causes through many different means, whether it is physical assembly against an oppressive government or a comical campaign that raises funds towards a deserving cause. Through social media and its popularity, marginalized groups are given a medium to discuss their perspective on important topics. Social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook have been able to facilitate the organization of unique causes. Such sites have been able to foster an array of causes such environmental, political, and social activism. Social media is an important instrument that everyone can use to generate important change within their community, country, and even the world.

Social media’s influence on activism came into prominence after mass protests throughout the Middle East were reported on and organized by activists on Twitter and Facebook. These sites became their medium because citizens could not organize and discuss their grievances openly due to oppressive and heavily controlled governments, social media became an instrumental advantage to those same activists. Criticism of such Middle Eastern regimes by its citizens would have posed a great risk and ruined any planned protest. By using social media, such citizens were able to raise international awareness of human rights violations in Middle Eastern countries: a fact that governments try very hard to suppress. In the initial stages of the uprisings activists were able to maintain the anonymity in order to get mass support before marching in the street. The results of the Arab Spring prove social media’s power. In 2011, Egypt was facing unprecedented levels of poverty and corruption and the public was wary that the economic and political situation would only worsen. After the Tunisian uprising in 2011 that ousted their corrupt government, Egyptian youth became motivated to fight corruption using the only medium they knew by which they could evade their government’s suspicion: the internet. The protest movement became incredibly popular after the hashtag #WeAreAllKhaledSaid was used to fight the police brutality that killed Khalid Said, a young Egyptian, at an internet café. Social media users used the hashtag to fight corruption and organize movements against police brutality and the Egyptian government. Following his death, a Facebook page called “We Are All Khalid Said” was made and accrued over 4 million followers. On this page, activists and disgruntled citizens interacted with one another to form protest movements and make demands from the government. (We are all Khalid Said, Facebook)

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From the Khalid Said incident, another hashtag arose that was used to form a protest: #January25. This hashtag set the date for a mass protest against President Hosni Mubarak and his corrupt government. The movement was successful in toppling Mubarak’s regime after months of large protests. Wael Ghonim, the Facebook administrator of the “We Are All Khaled Said” group, was jailed for facilitating such protests under Mubrak’s regime, but remains certain that social media has had a huge impact on social change. In an interview with Terry Gross on NPR, he stated that while the anonymity of social media users is often perceived as a flaw, it turned out to be a strength in the initial planning stage because it ignited an interest in participation from people who were originally scared and skeptical. Ghonim was arrested early in the protests and was unaware of the impact his planning had made. Egyptian social media users carried out Ghonim’s plan of attack and expanded on it by initiating the January 25th hashtag. In an interview with “60 Minutes,” he shared the importance of social media in a country that is oppressive and corrupt: “If there was no social networks, it [the revolution] would have never been sparked. Because the whole thing before the revolution was the most critical thing. Without Facebook, without Twitter, without Google, without YouTube, this would have never happened.” However, Ghonim does iterate that while social media was important in the Egyptian Revolution, it was merely an instrument: “We used all the available tools in order to communicate with each other, collaborate and agree on a date, a time and a location for the start of the revolution,” he says. “Yet, starting Jan. 25, the revolution was on the streets. It was not on Facebook, it was not on Twitter. Those were tools to relay information, to tell people the truth about what’s happening on the ground.” Ghonim also used social media to expose the hypocrisies foreign governments have exhibited when dealing with Egyptians in one short, simple tweet: “‘Dear Western governments. You have been supporting the regime that was oppressing us for 30 years. Please don’t get involved now. We don’t need you.’” Social media thus gave Egyptians a variety of tools during this time of strife by allowing them to organize protests, alert citizens of dire situations, and chastise the governments who aided the Egyptian regime become powerful and oppressive.

Social media does not always produce dramatic results like it did in Egypt. One of its other functions is to ensure that important historical events are not forgotten. It is also used to help raise awareness on causes and events that the media chooses to either ignore or not give enough attention to. For example, human rights violations around the world which are an area that the media fails to emphasize and makes foreign governments hesitant to intervene due to reasons such as international pressure, finances, and politics. People harmed by such violations are able to send a help signal through social media and gain international responses that generate attention and action.

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Political causes such as the intervention of human rights violations in Saudi Arabia, the investigation of war crimes in Israel, and the recognition of the Armenian Genocide are all events that gained international recognition through social media. Raif Baddawi from Saudi Arabia is a political blogger currently held in custody on charges ranging from insulting Islam, apostasy, and insulting religious figures (Human Rights Watch, Saudi Arabia). His punishment was initially the death penalty, which triggered outrage on social media, eventually leading to a reduction in his sentence to a still unacceptable 10 year sentence and lashings (Freeman). In response to her husband’s unlawful capture, Ensaf Haidar, Raif Badawi’s wife, decided to lead one of the largest social media campaigns in the region under the hashtag, #FreeRaifBadawi. This campaign exposed Raif’s situation on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to an international audience, causing Saudi Arabia to discontinue lashing Raif. In addition, it exposed the insincerity of foreign governments that selectively chose to fight for human rights in countries like Africa, Syria, and Afghanistan, while turning a blind eye towards violations in countries such as the wealthy and powerful Saudi Arabia. Thanks to social media, countries like Saudi Arabia are now accountable for their offences in a way that other countries have never alone given.

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In the summer of 2014, Gaza was under attack from Israel after a number of incidents occurred between these two countries. Israel named the attack, “Operation Protective Edge,” in which many Gazan civilians were attacked and killed. The tension between Palestine and Israel has persisted for the past 60 years, and while neither country is blameworthy more than the other, Western media has presented Israel as the victim and Palestine as the terrorist where they focus mainly on interviews with Israeli officials such as Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu and not on Palestinian officials and their perspective on the crisis. Hashtags such as #PrayForGaza, #FreeGaza, #GazaUnderAttack, #EndTheBlockade, and #BDS have been used on social media in an effort to eliminate media bias and to expose Palestinian suffering. During the 2014 attack on Gaza, a reporter named Ayman Mohyeldin was sent to Gaza to reveal the Palestinian perspective on the crisis but was brought back by NBC midway through the crisis, while Richard Engel remained despite not having the same knowledge of Gaza Ayman had. People on social media immediately took notice and demanded that he be sent back. Eventually, the pressure from social media users on Twitter, Facebook, and online petitions forced NBC to reassess their decision, and they sent Ayman back to Gaza until Israel had stopped its attack. Yousef Munayyer, executive director of The Palestine Center, remarked on this situation by saying, “Just shows you the power of social media.”(Stelter, 2014)

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Raising awareness of crimes in history is also a form of activism that attempts to prevent similar atrocities from happening in the future as well as show respect for the lives lost. Take for example the Armenian Genocide, in which the Ottoman Empire slaughtered countless Armenians, a tragic event that remains unrecognized by many governments (including the United States) due to their political connections to Turkey. The Armenian Genocide, while being a huge event in the country’s history, has gained little recognition over the years due to having been suppressed by Turkey and its political partners. In more recent years, social media has allowed the gruesome details of the Armenian Genocide to be brought to the surface. In fact, the 99th and 100th anniversary of the genocide in 2014 and 2015 have been trending worldwide topics on Twitter (Michellekeilich), thus encouraging increasing numbers of Turkey’s youth to educate themselves and demand their government to take responsibility for the murder of many Armenians (Riley, 2014).

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Social media’s biggest advantage is that it is far-reaching and achieves results quickly by instantaneously raising awareness of world events and allowing users to conveniently locate specific topics through hashtag symbols (#) respond to social and political issues. The Ferguson-Palestine social media connection embodies this benefit of social media by allowing two groups of people facing similar social problems to connect online despite physical distance. Both the “Black Lives Matter” and Palestinian groups deal with a systemized category of oppression in which both groups are racially profiled and targeted, leading to unlawful arrests and even death. This connection would not have been fully acknowledged if it weren’t for the medium available that enabled them to talk to each other and have them be fully aware of the others’ situation. They are now interconnected so that when protests of one group arises, the other is almost always notified and acknowledged. It is now normal to see a Palestinian flag at a “Black Lives Matter Rally” and a “Black Lives Matter” banner displayed in Gaza. Both groups are also able to exchange words of encouragement through social media. Nour Erekat, a Palestinian Scholar, states, “Palestinians used social media to share their advice on how to deal with tear gas and rubber bullets, and protesters chanted ‘From Ferguson to Gaza, we will be free.” (Quoted in Haaretz, 2015) Angela Davis, a political activist, explains the benefits of such a connection, “Mutual expressions of solidarity have helped to generate a vigorous political kinship linking black organizers, scholars, cultural workers and political prisoners in the U.S. with Palestinian activists, academics, political prisoners, and artists.” (Quoted in Haaretz, 2015) While both groups have not yet achieved their desired dreams of equality and freedom from brutality, the recognition and support of the other adds legitimacy and wider acknowledgement for their causes. This is especially important given the fact that there are groups within the United States that downplay the importance of the “Black Lives Matter” group or even criminalize them. Meanwhile in Israel, any resistance to their occupation is viewed as terrorism and yet, they continue to limit their freedoms. Seeing a Palestinian flag at a Black Lives matter protest gives people the chance to find out the Palestinian struggle and seeing “#BlackLivesMatter” spray-painted on the Israeli border wall builds support for the cause in the Middle East. The effect that this shared interest is shown recently when the television show Homeland, that is often criticized for perpetuating racial stereotypes, asked Arab graffiti artists to tag a set to make it look more like a refugee camp in the Middle East. These artists took advantage of getting their message across and spray-painted “Homeland is racist” which isn’t surprising but as the camera pans further into the ‘refugee camp’ there is a “#BlackLivesMatter” sign in Arabic, proving the effect and power of social media not just in the words but also in the continued use of the hashtag to spread the message (Boboltz, 2015). Furthermore, after the latest attacks in Palestine, activists for the Black Lives Matter Movement were motivated by the Palestinian encouragement to visit Gaza or create videos that show their support.

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    Outside of political activism, social media continues to be a driving force in humanitarian causes where disaster relief companies and medical researchers are launching huge campaigns not on our television screens but on our Twitter feeds. The website whoishostingthis.com, an internet review site of websites, posted an infographic that highlights the large impact social media has had on how the public, disaster relief companies, and even victims of disaster handle natural disasters. The image highlights how social media was able to notify survivors’ families of their safety, provide those survivors with words of encouragement, and how traditional news media and disaster relief organizations used the images on social media to compile information and send help. The science based magazine, Scientific American, also posted an article about the mass effect of social media on natural disasters citing that in the 48 hours following the 2010 Haiti earthquake, 5 million dollars were raised, only 48 hours after the earthquake, by the Red Cross due to social media campaigns. The article does mention a drawback of this seemingly advantageous tool which is that scammers, posing as victims, have solicited money and bank information through social media. However companies such as Red Cross and UNICEF do regularly warn social media users to not pay to individuals outside of trusted organizations (Maron 2013).While there are some disadvantages to social media, they are not numerous or effective enough to negate all the good that social media has achieved. An interview with Dr. Raina Merchant, an assistant professor in emergency medicine, explains how social media can personally help victims of natural disasters as opposed to traditional media: “…it’s happening well in advance of when traditional media sources are providing information about victims. Family members and friends might be more likely to trust information they get in real time from these sources.” (Sherwood, 2011) In the wake of a natural disaster, traditional modes of communication may no longer be viable or may take too long. Therefore, people turn to social media, posting about their statuses, on behalf of missing people, or ways they can offer help. After the Nepal earthquake, Facebook and Google worked together to compile a list of survivors and their locations, which volunteers at different camps helped relay back to the citizens of Nepal. Skype offered free calls to landlines and mobiles into and out of Nepal, while Twitter users helped share any useful information they might have seen. Also Twitter and Facebook set up options on users’ main page that allow them to directly donate to the Red Cross Disaster Relief hours within the incident. (New York Times, 2015)

Social media activism, in addition to social causes, has also helped advance research in medical and scientific fields. Nicholas Kristof, New York Times journalist, asserts the beneficial impact of social media activism and criticizes those who term the movement as “slacktivism” because it does not fall into their narrow description of what true activism is, that is direct and physical involvement with the cause. Kristof measures activism in the results obtained towards a particular cause, and while he concedes social media does not always work he states, “armchair activism is preferable to armchair passivity” (Kristof, 2015). He cites two effective social media campaigns that have often been perceived as failures in his article: the Kony 2012 campaign and the ALS ice bucket challenge. The Kony campaign in 2012 attempted to stop the mass killings and child army recruits under the militia leader, Joseph Kony, and while he is still on the run, Kristoff notes that due to the attention social media has amassed, both the United States and Africa have managed to reduce killings by his group by 90 percent. In the medical field, the money raised in the ALS ice bucket challenge for medical research for ALS (more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) has actually yielded a breakthrough. ALS is a neurological disease that results in a progressive loss of muscle control, blindness, and eventually death. During autopsies conducted on many patients who had died due to ALS, Phillip Wong, a scientist at Johns Hopkins, noticed that they all had protein clumps in their brain scans.  Wong and his research team eventually found that the protein TDP-43, when clumped together, cannot prevent cells from making unwanted protein, resulting in cell death. This finding can now lead to targeted treatment research of the TDP-43 clumps and further research is being done on other protein clumps found in various other neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s (Johns Hopkins Medicine, 2015). Wong tells Kristof in the article, “The funding certainly facilitated the results we obtained.” (Quoted in Kristof, 2015) In 2014, the ALS ice bucket challenge generated 115 million dollars in just six weeks with many repeat donors, this proves that it wasn’t just a fad but a campaign that actually resonated with a lot of participants. Google reported that searches for ALS and its symptoms were the highest they have ever been over the past decade, and the president of the ALS foundation, Barbara Newhouse, recognized the aid of social media: “Across the A.L.S. community, we are probably in our highest time of hope.” (Quoted in Kristof, 2015)

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Psychological studies have also supported the benefits of social media’s use of activism when people share individual stories rather than report statistics to promote change. David Ropeik, writer for Psychology Today quotes, Mother Teresa once said, “If I look at the mass I will never act. If I look at the one, I will.”(Quoted in Ropeik, 2011) Numerous psychological experiments have confirmed humans’ bizarre apathy towards massive deaths but their amazing willingness to help a single individual. In the experiments conducted, participants were shown two scenarios, one in which an individual story is shown, usually accompanied by a picture. For example, a picture of Roka, a 7 year-old Malian girl was shown to the participant. In the second scenario, the participant was given the opportunity to help thousands of starving children in Eastern Africa. More often than not, participants were more willing to pay money to Roka. Money donations actually decreased when a third case was presented that showed both Roka and the statistic (Ropeik, 2011). This study proved that people feel overwhelmed when having to think about huge numbers and perceive any donation they make to be inconsequential, but when faced with individual stories, participants are more willing to pay because they believe they can actually help. Social media takes advantage of this phenomena where singular stories of people in suffering have amassed large donations and help. Now as the refugee crisis continues, photos of children drowning, families begging for food, and parents peddling in the cold street while holding their kids have shared thousands of times generating sympathy and action. This action has not just been from good Samaritans but foreign governments are helping as well. (Abdelaziz, 2015)

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One of the biggest social media campaigns, run by Humans of New York (HONY)has capitalized on this principle by continually sharing individual stories of humans that gain a lot of attention and lead to amazing results. Brandon Stanton, creator and photographer of HONY, has helped improve the lives many people around the world by simply telling their stories. He has also not just helped the people but also challenged the controversial portrayals that the media places on countries like Pakistan and Iran, where the individual stories humanize the country and ultimately lessen tensions (Pharm, 2015). HONY stories on Pakistan’s people have gained great praise, especially Fatima’s story: “Fatima has devoted her life to ending bonded labor. She has been shot, electrocuted, and beaten numerous times for her activism. Quite literally, she places herself between the workers and their owners. The organization she leads, the Bonded Labour Liberation Front, is small but determined. It is working to set up Freedom Centers throughout rural Pakistan so that every bonded laborer has access to advocacy and legal aid.” (Quoted in Heyward, 2015) After telling Fatima’s story, Stanton formed an Indiegogo campaign to help her organization and within four days, he raised 2.2 million dollars (Heyward, 2015). A philanthropic organization that did not have a large sum of funds, now can help more people with this donation.

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Another story shared by Stanton didn’t receive financial support, but a single comment helped ease tensions encouraged diplomatic negotiations between two opposing countries such as Iran and the United States. Stanton shared a story about an aspiring humanitarian in Iran who received many comments, one of which was from President Barack Obama. This comment came at a time when the two countries were working towards a Nuclear Deal and Obama felt that this story affected him personally as a parent. Obama writes, “What an inspirational story, one of the most fulfilling things that can happen to you as a parent is see the values you’ve worked to instill in your kids start to manifest themselves in their actions — and this one really resonated with me.” (Taylor, 2015) Obama’s comment, though the most impactful, was not the only one indicative of social media’s power, many people now understand Iranians more and can distinguish between the Iranian government and Iranian citizens.

One of the biggest critics of social media’s role in activism is Malcolm Gladwell, a writer and New Yorker columnist. In his article, “Small Change: Why the Revolution will not be tweeted,” he uses the civil demonstrations to stop segregation to build upon his argument that social media will not have an effect on activism. He states in the article that social media activism lacks leaders and the hierarchical organization needed to form effective social and political movements (Gladwell, 2010). However, that is not the case, as Wael Ghonim of the Egyptian revolution and Deray Mckesson of the “Black Lives Matter” movement are both established activists that have used social media to spread their message and credit social media as a huge tool to success. In an interview with McKesson, the activist explains how Twitter helped form his campaign for the Ferguson protests, “Missouri would have convinced you that we did not exist if it were not for social media. The intensity with which they responded to protesters very early—we were able to document that and share it quickly with people in a way that we never could have without social media. We were able to tell our own stories.”  He further explains how through social media, a community was established that helped him develop a campaign: “There’s a democracy of feedback. I’ve had really robust conversations with people who aren’t physically in the space, but who have such great ideas. And that’s proven to be invaluable.” (Quoted in Berlatsky, 2015) Gladwell’s other main argument is that social media does not allow high-risk activism and is completely false. Gladwell’s claim is disproven by the fact that the Arab Spring is and continues to be a high-risk situation, and in many countries, simply tweeting your viewpoint poses a high risk. Gladwell seems to focus on social media’s failed campaigns and irrelevant uses and to hold them against the works of the Civil Rights Movement, but what he failed to see is that same movement has moved to social media in the form of “#BlackLivesMatter” (Scharfenberg, 2015).

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One of the biggest indicators of the power of social media is how official world leaders and organizations have chosen to interact with it. Following social media’s role in the protests in the Arab Spring as well as natural disaster relief, the United Nations declared that access to the Internet is a basic human right. In fact, a report issued in early 2012 had established “…the global and open nature of the Internet as a driving force in accelerating progress towards development in its various forms.” (O’Neil, 2012) This resolution came right before Internet accessibility in Syria was shut off and panic ensued as people around the world had no idea what was going on with its citizens, their loved ones, and the journalists and human rights activists reporting there. This shutdown in Syria was seen as an attempt by the Asaad regime to stop Syrians from organizing protests and attacks against the government, as well as not reporting their war crimes to the United Nations (Chulov, 2012). Other countries have taken better approaches to the rise of social media. Royalty, presidents, ministers and other governmental officials of various countries have all joined social media in order to better interact with the public and become aware of grievances before they escalate.  Using this platform, they reassure citizens should a tragic event occur and inform them of official decisions and campaigns such as #SelfieWithDaughters which is a human rights campaign to encourage female empowerment (Sharma, 2015). The official who launched the female empowerment campaign, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, greatly believes in the power of social media and is one of its most frequent users. He even advises other leaders to do the same: “…to leaders all over the world: you are not going to gain by running away from social media…The strength of social media today is that it can tell governments where they are wrong and can stop them from moving in the wrong direction… We used to have elections every five years and now we can have them every five minutes.” (Quoted in BBC news, 2015) He is now leading an effort, along with Facebook, to help connect all of India’s villages to the Internet.

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Social media is also being used to fight stereotypes of racial and religious minorities at a time when news media, journalists, television shows, politicians, and even social media users perpetuate hurtful and harmful labels. The hashtag, #TheAfricaTheMediaNeverShowsYou, is a Twitter campaign that dispels the image of Africa as disease-ridden and poverty-stricken by showcasing the various cultures, fashion, people and languages that exist there (Banning-Lover, 2015) Muslims have used the hashtag #MuslimRage following the controversial Newsweek headline that showed a stereotypical image of Muslims under the title “Muslim Rage” to combat stereotypes in a peaceful manner (McFadden, 2012). Online videos, as well as computer-generated memes on Twitter to make fun of the stereotypes that mainstream media maintains (White, 2014). Although these hashtags may seem to be trivial and funny distractions at best, they became worldwide trends and helped clear harmful misconceptions that perpetuate racism and ignorance. Through social media, people who feel unrepresented or treated unfairly based on superficial reasons can air their grievances online and connect with others that feel the same way, with people who can help change the perception, as well as hold those that perpetuate stereotype accountable.

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In conclusion, social media activism has been and is continuously used for various political change, campaigns such as racial inclusion and diversity in media, women’s empowerment and education, LGBT rights, and solutions to the ongoing refugee crisis.  The internet is a powerful tool for such campaigns that require international recognition as it connects activists of similar interest or expertise to come up with solutions to fight these injustices. Social media’s strength is that it allows increased participation in political and social issues and gives a platform for anyone to state their opinion on a specific topic. Important topics like the refugee crisis in Europe are currently being discussed on social media, where HONY shares inspiring individual inspiring stories, UNICEF launches a campaign to raise funds and accept donations, politicians are telling their constituents their views and ideas and the rest of the public on social media react to the news in their own way usually by either embracing the refugees into their country or protesting against them After these campaigns are initiated on social media sites, active participation usually occurs through actual protests, involvement in campaigns exercises, and even an increased awareness of an issue. Social media has made us aware of our own power as citizens and has turned many critical away from biased media. These overall benefits of social media activism debunk the myth of “slacktivism.” After all, without it, how far along would ALS research be? How much of an impact would the Arab Spring have caused? Would issues of racial inequality be as heavily discussed? Social media’s varied uses allow for a variety of social issues to be discussed on one platform and connections to be made among its users. Even at this very moment, different topics are arising on social media that people discuss, potentially leading to the betterment of their communities, their countries, or even the world.

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