Digital activism seems more visible during the current month of fasting. Is it used as a tool for transient popularity, instead of pukka protest?
A couple of weeks ago a cousin sent me a message to say she was tired of all the shallow pro-Palestine posts on her Facebook wall.
Since the start of Ramadan, her wall seemed to be saturated by the posts from people who did not ordinarily make political statements during the rest of the year.
There were posts linking to pictures or banners stating that the war in Gaza should end or graphics bearing the words “Free Palestine”. Not to mention profile pictures and Facebook cover photos relating to the conflict.
My cousin’s issue was not with the sentiment of these messages. Of course she doesn’t condone the injustices that are and have been taking place in the Middle East, or the loss of many Palestinian lives.
Her point was observational: no one posts about Palestine before Ramadan and soon after it, she reckoned.
Those posts would disappear and people would turn to more pressing personal issues that would occupy their posts on Facebook – like what they ate, or wore or did that day.
She was annoyed with the false and short-lived sense of activism, and what seemed like a sudden and shallow awareness and kinship regarding the Muslim people of Palestine by the Muslim people on her Facebook wall.
Did they feel like their social media activism was necessary to portray themselves as conscientious practising Muslims during one of the most significant religious months in Islam?
Initially I agreed with her without much engagement. I, too, had noticed an influx of these very posts on my wall. But without wanting to sound politically incorrect or insensitive to the plight of the people in Palestine, I reserved further comment and analysis.
Also, in all fairness, the incessant posts and social media activism coincided not only with the month of fasting, but also with one of the biggest attacks the Israeli military has ever issued on that territory.
Hundreds of innocent lives, including those of children, continue to be lost. And I paid a bit more attention. The issue is of significance not only to Muslim people, but to the international community.
Many people of different backgrounds have taken a stance, joined protests, marched and shared their views and opinions on social media.
And, while social media provides a space for the voices of many – including no less the people of Palestine who use it to mobilise support and have their voices heard – I have noticed that there are many who share a lot via social media, but say very little.
Has posting in protest become a vehicle for popularity during the month of Ramadan? Will I think you’re a better Muslim because you have repeatedly shared “Free Palestine” posters all over your Facebook wall?
These questions are not unsubstantiated. When I was at university, it was very popular among the more verbose of the Muslim Students Association to hate the United States and all things American.
Participating in marches and the occasional burning of a flag here and there definitely made you a good Muslim. I didn’t quite understand the notion.
The specific group of people to whom I am referring were also wealthy and often wore expensive American brands. The point of protest became very clear to me at that stage. It was selective. It was done (not necessarily by everyone) because it was popular instead of political.
During one altercation, I was attacked and openly criticised for wearing a T-shirt with a US badge on it. Why was I being anti-Islam?
Rallying together during specific times on the Islamic calendar has long been a trend. Ramadan is a period that is signified by a fast from sunrise to sunset. But those are just the practical aspects of it.
It is also a period of abstinence from worldly things, a period to practise humility and spirituality. It is a time of prayer, focus, meditation, conscientiousness and enlightenment.
Perhaps, then, it is fitting that there is a sudden splurge of compassion for people who are practising Muslims, just like any of them here, on the other side of the world – who are enduring the month of Ramadan under such horrific circumstances.
Empathy among brothers and sisters of any religion exists – such is the nature of religion, and so this very sense of empathy would be heightened during such an auspicious time during this month.
On the subject of humility versus humanity, Ramadan has also in some instances become a month of egos and parading – parading piety and popularity in a “holier-than-thou” contest.
I have seen beards get longer and more head scarves worn. These are physical attributes to a practice, and are – not all, but some of them – shallow and periodic notions in and of themselves.
Similarly, what seems like an extension of that on social media, I have seen occasional statements with very little enlightenment and a lot of show.
And after having thought about it, and observing, I have to take a stance, even at the risk of sounding politically incorrect.
I do not care what you do or how you do it for 30 days of the year, but who you are daily.
This is just like how I do not care for your support (because it’s popular) of the plight of Palestine’s people by posting the Palestinian flag for 30 days of the year, but rather how you can enlighten me with information about that very plight – always.
The art of prayer and piety has a place, but that place should not be for the purposes of a popularity parade – just like the politics of posting on protest.