Just a couple of weeks ago i participated in PaXIM – a working conference dedicated to communication for peace at Washington State University. Together with Dor Reich I presented a study we are doing on discourse surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the blogosphere. Since it is still a work in progress, i am uploading here only an extended abstract (the full paper should be finished during the summer). The point relevant for this post is that using heuristic developed for analysis of “peace journalism” we show that “the online environment hosts a surprisingly hostile discourse”.
However, a few days ago i read an article in Haaretz (HE) titled something like: “Syrian bloggers are trying to open a communication channel with Israelis”. Although the subtitle said “most of the blogs are run from outside Syria…” I was really curious and checked it out.
First, indeed all the blogs mentioned in the article are run from outside Syria. But not only that, 2 out of the 4 blogs mentioned in the article (with links provided only to 3 of them) are run by non-Syrians. This is something that keeps amazing me. Spending a few months or a few years in a country apparently makes you not just an expert on that society, but actually a part of it. I always found that confusing. Is being born in Russia and spending there my childhood makes me an expert on Russia? Many times i encounter attitudes that leave no room for doubt – the answer is yeas. But at the same time i doubt if spending half of my life outside entitles me of the Russian expert title. I assume that i could pick up on cultural clues and understand Russian society better than a person who has zero experience with this country. However, if we go back to the idea of a dialogue, is talking to me the same as talking to a person who is actually part of Russian society at this point of time, who lives it and fully identifies with it? Similarly, can an American professor studying Syria, be considered a representative of Syrian people for purpose of a discussion? Not to question the authority of the professor to understand, analyze, and comment on the Syrian society, but including him in “Syrian bloggers”?
Second, looking into the blogs themselves, and especially into the comments, it was difficult to find that attempt to build a communication channel with Israelis mentioned in the title. Joshua Landis’s blog is an interesting , but very “academic” commentary on Syria. At the same time the comments of his readers are examples of what can be described as war discourse. Similarly the blog of Ammar Abdulhamid is a blog of an opposition man. Together with the comments it is true to the idea of opposing the regime. Not really analyzing the blogs, but skimming them, i tend to think that the discourse created there falls into a similar pattern Dor and I found in blogs focusing on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Dialogue wasn’t something i found from briefly browsing the content.
However, there was one interesting example – an initiative called “Creative Forum: Creative Syria’s open forum for Syria bloggers and experts” (ironically run by two Americans). On that particular page the readers were asked to compose letters to a simple Israeli citizen explaining them why Israeli should give the Golan Heights back to Syria. The results i think are quite interesting. The posts (letters) and the comments created a discursive environment where Israelis, Syrians, and other people expressed their views on the subject and responded to each other in a relatively civil way. I find this a different and an interesting case to look into.
So, at the end, what is this post about? I think one point i wanted to make is about the utopian-deterministic stand the mainstream media is taking about the “new” media. Lisa and I had a long conversation recently about the problem with the deterministic view of ICT leading to peace. This is kind of a message one could see in an article such as this one, while in fact it is a distortion of a more complex phenomenon. At the same time, looking at initiatives like that of “Creative Forum” makes me thinking that the technology can be used in creative ways starting something that is close to an unmediated, grassroots discussion. It seems that this kind of initiatives is still at the margins and one thing is certain – it is not the technology by itself.