The Power and Pitfalls of Libya’s Social Media

If you’ve been following events in the MENA, you’ve probably stumbled across headlines of this type before; “Tyrant Toppled by Twitter”, or, “Social Media Creates a Revolution in the Middle East”. These are in reference to the events of the Arab Spring and subsequent overthrow of the regimes. Of course, a more nuanced analysis of the events of 2011 reveals that, while social media did play some part in promoting the uprisings, there was a whole host of factors and causes. In Libya especially, the role that social media played was considerably less than in its neighbouring countries, as internet access was still limited and the extent of social media was still being discover.

But while the role of the internet during that watershed year is debatable, the effect that it’s had in the subsequent transitional years is readily apparent. I’ve written before on the online trends and campaigns which have made a significant impact on the ground, and with shrinking civic spaces and civil liberties in Libya, there’s a growing utilization of the online digital world to advocate for causes and raise attention on important social issues.

The growing power of this medium was tested earlier this year, when a truckload of books were seized at a checkpoint near Al-Marj by police forces. A video posted on the police station showed an officer, and later a sheikh, condemning the books as promoting a variety of ideologies, from atheism to the Shia practice of Islam to satanism. The books themselves were ordinary novels ranging from Dan Brown thrillers to Paulo Coelho stories to Russian literature, but the security forces – perhaps unfamiliar with these works or confused by the symbolism on the covers – felt that they threatened the “moral religious fabric of society”.

The backlash was swift; a hashtag was launched hours after the incident #الكتب_تقرأ_لا_تصادر. Several organizations and groups, including the Ministry of Culture, decried the act, and the Al-Marj police station made a televised statement the next night changing their initial charge. Instead, they claimed the books were confiscated due to “illegal shipping” issues. The books are still widely available for purchase today, being openly sold in bookstores.

This incident is unique for several reasons. It was previously unheard of for officials and security forces to feel pressured enough to clarify their behaviour, and for this to happen purely through online pressure is a new paradigm for Libya. This paradigm was put to the test again a few weeks later, when the military governor of East Libya, declared that women would not be permitted to travel internationally through Labrag airport except with a male “companion”.

Again, the reaction was swift. Rather than a hashtag, the anger expressed online was less organized and greater in size. People lamented the steps backwards that Libya was taking, arguing that a war started against religious extremism was pointless if the same forms of oppression were being implemented by the other side. While the military governor appeared that same night to clarify the decree, saying it was for security reasons rather than religious, it only succeeded in angering the online protest further. Two days later, the decree  was stopped, revised, and completely rewritten. Instead of using religious terminology and singling out women, the new decree stated that all citizens – male and female – between 18 – 45 years old would require a security clearance to fly out of the country.

Now, the decision to restrict civil liberties is itself lamentable, but that social media was able to raise the voices of average citizens in a way that rewrote the decree is a small achievement that should be celebrated – and utilized. This year has seen more and more Libyan officials feeling the online pressure and clarifying their positions, sometimes as soon as 24 hours after the digital picket signs go up. In a country where those in power behaved with absolute impunity, this fundamental change in institutional behaviour is remarkable. To know that they are answerable for their decisions, and not having the means to intimidate online protesters (for now), has finally given Libyan decision-makers a sense of accountability.

Of course, that’s not to over-exaggerate this new-found power. Constant complaints aimed at decision-makers over issues like the collapsing state of the economy in Libya has produced little to no effect, although this is less of a sudden decision than a slowly increasing phenomenon, one that has crept up unsuspectingly on citizens. Perhaps the reaction from the ground would have been more intense had these changes happened abruptly. But as with the frog-in-boiling-water metaphor highlights, it was too late by the time the effects were felt.

It’s also important to note that while social media’s power is increasing for the good in Libya, it’s not without pitfalls. Where people can be mobilized over a cause, they can also turn into a mob. Many have used the power of social media to engage in targeted attacks of people, organizations and events that they don’t like or agree with, a form of online bullying with far reaching consequences in a country without laws or security. A hashtag is free, anyone with a connection create make one, and tapping into petty grievances can produce a very ugly reaction. There is now an increasing market in Libya for cyber security training, and knowing how to protect yourself and your information online, especially in the absence of digital rights legislation protecting citizens.

In a country where people are targeted for the opinions they express, it’s also interesting to see these online platforms now used as a form of protection – and not just by private citizens. One official told me, “I feel safe criticizing [high-level officials] through my Facebook, because I’m doing so transparently through a personal platform. It becomes harder for them to touch you without compromising themselves.”

As Libyans continue to tailor online platforms for their own use (one noteworthy trend I’ve noticed is the use of Facebook pages and groups for online marketing business), the parameters of this newfound dynamic between citizen and statesman will continue to be tested and explored. One can only hope that extreme measures will not be taken to quell these digital voices – although as past experience has shown, it’s almost impossible to control the internet.

A Question of Morals

“Morality, too, is a question of time.” – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Libya’s civil society has never been popular. Since its prominent emergence in 2011, it has been one battle for survival after another. From government institutions accusing activists of fueling instability, to religious extremists targeting CSOs for “importing anti-Islamic ideals”, to average citizens decrying civil society as an unwanted byproduct of the February 17 revolution and subsequent collapse.

And yet, despite the obstacles and the threats, civil society has persisted in trying to make a difference, particularly in areas where no other formal institutions can operate. While the common notion is that of civic activists as privileged youth looking for a photo opportunity, it’s a mostly thankless job that requires an endless supply of patience as you navigate through the countless security procedures and arrangements to implement any kind of project. But it’s becoming increasingly difficult to implement anything openly these days without facing a torrent of hate, criticism and downright violence reactions.

I’ve chronicled the difficulties of being a civil society activist in Benghazi over the past few years, from the hope and invincibility we felt after the revolution to the crippling fear in the face of extremist groups. As Benghazi began to heal from the latest war, we felt again that glimmer of hope, only to have it extinguished just as brutally as last time. It seems that the pattern continues; no matter the ruler or dominant ideology, civil society is detested.

And what is it that civil society does that could warrant such repulsion? Last year, a group of grassroots organizations decided to hold a community get-together under the theme “Tea and Milk Unites Us.” Tea and milk is a common breakfast drink in Libya (with well-boiled black tea and condensed milk if you’re a purist like me), and the idea was to unite a society fragmented by war through a symbol enjoyed by everyone.

The backlash was swift; “Men are dying on the field while you hold these useless events!” “You have no respect for the war waging near you!” etc. etc. The general objection was that of holding any kind of event during a time of war, despite the fact that these events tried to help the general population heal and forget for a moment the trauma of war.

During the last Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, an art gallery was held, again in the Children’s Theater (we don’t have many venues because, again, war). And once again, the online reaction was saturated with vitriol. “Talking about violence against women while violence against our troops goes on?” “Look at these girls/how they’re dressed/outside their homes/etc.” The general rule seems to be that the more women appear in these kinds of events, the worse the reaction will be. Here we began to see the accusations of “immorality”. The objection became less about the war and more about what’s considered decent in our “conservative Muslim society.”

Cue yesterday’s Earth Hour celebration in Benghazi yesterday.  Held on the campus of the Faculty of Medicine, the event consisted of candles that filled the quad, the traditional one hour lights-off, and a concert. This time, the criticism was almost entirely focused on the offense to our cultural decency and morality as Libyans.

On the internet, it’s advised to never read the comments. Unfortunately, when it comes to Libya, I do read the comments. People will express things online that they’d never say in person, and it’s interesting to know what the general attitudes shaping public opinion are in a city like Benghazi. For this event, it appears that increasing conservatism is sweeping through society. Here the reactions ranged from, “pop songs have nothing to do with Earth Hour awareness” to “Look at these devil worshipers!”

It went one step further, with demands that those who organized the event should be arrested, a move reminiscent of the days when Ansar Shariah were targeting activists. These calls, along with recent orders restricting CSO activity in the East, is a worrying sign that once again, civil society isn’t safe.

But is civil society immoral? A concert, particularly one in which both men and women are on stage and singing English-language songs, isn’t entirely natural in Libya, but not entirely uncommon either. If we’re speaking of customs and traditions in Libya, conservatism is a relatively new concept. But if the issue is of what’s acceptable today, it becomes a more complicated discussion. Benghazi and the East opposed extremist ideology because of how violent it was, and more importantly, how foreign it seemed. And yet, people are quick to vilify these events as being against public decency, deaf to the fact that they sound very like the ideology they fought so vehemently against.

It’s a tricky issue, one that is being used by various groups to sway public opinion to the point where the definition of Libyan morality is being molded before our eyes (if we assume morality is subjective and not universal). And the victim in the middle, as usual, is civil society.

A Tale of Two Cities

By the fourth year, the bombings and assassinations had become common in Benghazi. The sounds blended into the city’s background noise. Traffic horns, supermarket crowds, booms. We never accepted it, but there it was anyways.

These sounds, familiar to us, took Paris by surprise this week, shattering the pattern of the city’s busy existence. Terrorism is a hideous thing, but it’s made more horrifying when it catches you unaware, filling your surroundings with violence and bloodshed.

But unlike Benghazi, there’s a system in place, a procedure to follow, to protect the city from falling into further chaos. Also unlike Benghazi – where our own young men turned on us – these men came from somewhere else, filled with unexplained anger and blood lust. While nothing has been properly confirmed yet, there’s a lot of speculation that these attacks were carried out “in revenge” for France’s role in combating ISIS. Why they would target innocent civilians who have nothing to do with the jets over Deir al-Zour, nobody speculates on, because this is not an ideology based on rational thinking. It’s built on reactionary propaganda and the manipulation of emotion.

This wound will hurt France now, but its pain will continue to affect the refugees, Muslim or otherwise, long after the last bullet-ridden window pane is fixed. And it wasn’t just France that lost people. Morocco, Spain, Tunis, nationals from many countries were killed in the attack, “in revenge” for something they had no control over.

And Paris is the kind of city where people come together, a hub for travelers from across the world, discovering a beautiful city with a rich history, remarkable architecture and a good-hearted people. On my first trip there, I was slightly anxious. After the Charlie Hebdo attack, there were reports of hate crimes against Muslims, so I didn’t know what to expect. But my fears were alleviated on arrival; everyone was kind, helpful, welcoming. Which makes these attacks, to me, all the more heinous.

Social media, as usual, has misdirected the incident and broken it down into a series of talking points, arguments and other irrelevant drivel. Suddenly Paris is about defending “true Islam”, suddenly its about the bombing in Beirut, it’s about the forgotten Palestinian cause. A whole host of flags of different Arab countries become profile pictures, trying to out-number the France-flag picture in some kind of twisted competition. Those flags should be accompanied with the slogan “I only express solidarity with Arab countries when a Western one is attacked.”

In this tangle of self-righteous expression, the message of global solidarity against a merciless terror is lost. Yes, Islam doesn’t advocate senseless slaughter, but clearly some Muslims believe it does, a problem we ignore in our scramble to reassure the rest of the world that we’re not secretly murderers. Instead, prove it to the world by working to prevent another massacre. Yes, the Beirut bombing was severely under-reported, but why would you take that out on the fallen in Paris? They didn’t ask to be gunned down and get media attention, so pay your respects and direct your anger to the wider problem. Yes, Syria and Palestine and Libya are all forsaken, but they won’t be remembered if you only bring them up to prove a point about misdirected media.

If one thing is to be concluded from all this, it’s that we’re all suffering, whether prolonged in years or in a sudden bursts. Instead of turning on each other, it would be wiser to turn on the enemy. Not the young men who are brainwashed and confused, but to the radicalization process itself, to the vacuum of opportunities and the lost chance at a decent life.

To Benghazi, all this arguing and anger and confusion blends into the background, along with the explosions. We’ve given up on profile pictures and empty hyperbole a long time ago, and have taken matters into our own hands. We are, very slowly, recovering, having to do it, as usual, by ourselves. Paris will recover too, and probably faster, because they have more support. I don’t resent them for that, I’m glad that they do, because I’ve had to witness the same nightmare first-hand and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. We’re both cities made up of a rich diversity with a passion for culture, we’ve both experienced the same shock and heartache from the same sick, twisted ideology, and we’ll both, in time, move on.

Why Social Media in Libya is Both Awesome and Awful

Just like with Libya itself, I have a love/hate relationship with social media and its use in this country. It has absolutely transformed my life by connecting me with amazing people and helping to facilitate my jump into civil society. But it’s also been a source of frustration, seeing propaganda and rumors spread effortlessly and making a tense situation even worse.

A few weeks back I wrote a piece for Libyan Youth Voices entitled “The Revolution Will Be Hashtagged”, detailing the way social media has transformed Libyan life online through hashtag activism, and how this transformation is being felt on the ground.

But it also has a dark side. After the attack on Chris Stevens, the US ambassador to Libya, in September 2012, the hashtag #Benghazi was used by right-wing Americans to “demand answers for what happened that night.” Apparently they think it was a conspiracy theory or something, and they even created a ribbon to show that they will never forget the Benghazi attack. Never mind that they probably couldn’t even point out Benghazi on a map, but the fact that the name of my city, a place with just over a million residents and a history that goes back centuries, has been turned into a verb to mean “a coverup or horrific event”, is really depressing.

If I write something innocuous, like “finally found a store in #Benghazi that sells Reese cups!” I might get a response from some loony saying, “Tell us the truth about #Benghazi!!?” There is so much more life and struggle in this city than an unfortunate terrorist attack that you’re trying to milk for an ill-gained political advantage, you spineless leech.

But the positive side of Libya still continues to dominate. The latest hashtags are , which highlights the brave men and women working for Libya and repairing the damages done by militias, and  (Volunteer and be the hope), started by the Libyan Red Crescent to get people to volunteer.

Another awesome/awful incident takes place in the quagmire known as Facebook. My organization, The Young Writers of Benghazi, depends mostly on the Facebook page we set up to keep people updated with our activities and announcements. We have a Twitter account, but Facebook is much more popular.

Last month we decided to hold an online short story contest. Since it was Ramadan and everyone was stuck at home without much to do, we figured it would be a great way to stir up some Libyan creativity. We designed a poster to catch people’s eye and posted it in both English and Arabic. And we waited.

And waited. And waited. And no one sent us anything.

Online Contest FlyerAR

The Arabic flyer. Eye-catching, isn’t it? But thanks to Facebook’s new policy, not many people get to see it.

The page has over 1,500 likes, so it’s not like we don’t have an audience. Was no one interested in writing a story? Was the lack of a prize a factor in keeping people unmotivated to write anything? We posted and reposted about the contest, but still nothing but a few likes. And then I noticed underneath the posts it would say something like “50 people reached” and “boost your post”.

After some googling, I discovered that Facebook had set up a new policy, where paid posts would get priority on people’s News Feeds. That means, if people don’t regularly check up on our page, they might miss everything we say, unless we were willing for fork over at least 5 bucks for one day of post boosting.

For Libyan organizations and institutes that rely on Facebook (which is, let’s face it, ALL of them), this change is catastrophic. If my university department makes a last minute announcement saying it’ll be closed the next day, there’s a huge chance that I won’t see it unless I manually navigate to their page and check.

Moving to another social media site is an unpractical solution, as many Libyans are still unused to the rest of the internet and would be unwilling to learn how to navigate a new site. Facebook is easy and comfortable, and we’d be talking about the exodus of hundreds of thousands of Libyan internet users. While there is a noticeable increase in users on Twitter, it’s format is much more limiting than Facebook.

So, yeah, thanks a lot Zuckerberg.   Online Contest Flyer2

We’ve extended the deadline for another month and thankfully some stories have begun to pour in (ok, sprinkle in). But in the meantime, we have to start figuring out new ways to reach out to our audience and to the Libyan people. If we want to tackle the problem at the root, we need to start advocating for online literacy, and how to better utilize the internet. Just like everything else in Libya, we’re still taking baby steps to progress.

Three Years On

The days leading up to February 17 in Libya have been a mixed bag of emotions for the citizens, most of which became overwhelmingly negative after the Libyan Scouts building was bombed on the eve of the three year anniversary of the revolution. As an independent civil society organization with no political affiliations, this cowardly attack on the Scouts has left everyone confused.

It’s these unexplained attacks and assassinations that has brought down the collective spirit of the Libyan people these past months. Is this all we’ve accomplished? Is this why we had a revolution, so we’d become a haven of criminals and corrupt politicians?

For this reason, a lot of people have sworn that they will never celebrate as long as Libya continues to break apart. Celebrate when there are finally achievements worth celebrating.

But it’s unfair to say that nothing good has come out of the revolution. The fact that we can even discuss the state of the country and criticize our ineffectual government is in itself an achievement.

So we can talk, so what? It’s not like we’re doing anything useful with our words. 

Unlike the politicians on T.V. or the slacktivists on social media, some people are actually taking advantage of this freedom of speech to do something good. There have been countless campaigns in school across the country to raise awareness on issues of breast cancer, AIDS and domestic violence, to name a few.

But what about real change on the political front? Our government is still playing us for fools.

Except the government has realized that we’re no longer buying into their empty promises. The last protests against the GNC extension were well organized and peaceful, and sent a powerful message that the people can still unite together against perceived oppression. The candidates for the constitution elections are doing more to earn the trust of the people.

And the steady rate of crime? What kind of democracy has a weak police force?

Crime is not unusual in Libya. But unlike the Gadhafi-era days, we had never heard about any incidents. With the growth of local media and the increased use of telecommunications, news spreads faster and reaches a larger audience. That doesn’t mean that our security situation is great, but we have to be realistic.

What about all the corruption? Everyone from the higher-ups to small company administration are involved in embezzlement, nepotism, etc.

Is this news to you? Did the corruption problem suddenly hit us after the revolution? We’ve always had corruption. But we’ve never had this level of transparency and accountability before. It’s not ideal, but it’s a start.

Life under Gadhafi was less stressful. At least I didn’t have to hear bombs every night.  

It’s selfish to assume that just because life under Gadhafi was great for you, it was great for everyone. Despite being an oil country, we have low rates of poverty, no infrastructure and a weak economy. The absence of bombs doesn’t make a significant difference. Not to mention the fact that it was Gadhafi who was actively destroying the country.

But now we have dozens of Gadhafis! And we can’t even identify half of them.

So should we wait another 42 years to fight them? It doesn’t matter what the face of tyranny and oppression look like, they should be battled with the same passion and fervor. Except instead of RPG’s and anti-aircraft missiles, we have to utilize a different set of weapons; namely education, tolerance and unity.

So what have we achieved in the three years since those first days of our awakening?

We’ve become more aware of the difficulties of rebuilding Libya. People kept saying “it won’t be easy”, but we had high expectations from the start, and we allowed the failure of reaching these expectations to bring us down. We’re now more realistic not just of the obstacles but of our own weaknesses. Set attainable goals, like solving the electricity problems, instead of goals like “looking like Dubai”.

To give up on Libya after everything we’ve been through is to cheapen the blood of those who gave their lives so that we could have one more day to fight. When we say it’s NOT EASY, we mean that we will have to deal with heart-break and frustration and differences of opinions, along with everything else; this is part of human nature and therefore part of the struggle.

Some people have an endless supply of pessimism that they love to share with the world; it doesn’t mean you should give them credibility because you’re feeling skeptical.

Celebrating this day is a way to to take a break from all the turmoil, to acknowledge that we still have a long way to go but that we have the opportunity to progress. We’ll make mistakes and learn from them. But to give up is to stay that there is no more chance for progress and growth, which is fundamentally incorrect.

Do you remember the Scouts I mentioned at the beginning of this post? They cleared up the wreckage in their headquarters, decorated it with flags, and went out to celebrate. That’s the spirit Libya is made of.

The Drone Flew Over Benghazi That Night…

…over the heads of the annoyed but unwitting denizens of the city. It didn’t make a distinctive sound, more like a vibration. You could hear it in your pulse, long and low and continuous. Sometimes it dropped lower and you could swear the windows were rattling in their frames.”

“Why should the drone appear now, after months of absence? Could it have something to do with those rumors of captured Americans? And if the city is unsafe for foreigner, who’s even operating the damn thing?”

“As usual, the list of unanswered questions in Benghazi remains long and confusing. The citizens no longer care much, with their focus being on surviving a day-to-day existence. That’s not to say that living in the city is impossible, but the string of bombings and assassinations have left people rattled. We’re not used to this type of violence. Hell, there’s a good chance it’s not even Libyans perpetuating the violence. With a grudge from the Syrian regime over Libyan fighters in their country, to terrorist organizations eyeing the country’s aimless young men as fresh meat to recruit, the list of possible suspects almost matches the list of questions.”

“The drone watches all of this. Flying, observing, collecting information to be processed by minds and machines more sophisticated. Is the government even aware that there is a drone flying over the second largest city in the country it governs? I’m sure the list of things the government is oblivious to could fill several libraries. But I’m not sure if this is one of them. They’re definitely getting help from “friendly” nations. But assisting the current Libyan government is like giving a screwdriver to a fish; it possesses neither the appendages nor the necessary brain power to do anything useful with it.”

And so concludes the saga of Benghazi’s drone…for now. I actually wanted to write a rant on the abysmal state of journalism in the social media era (did I rant on this before?), but the drone was interrupting my thoughts. Also, I didn’t have a opening paragraph in mind. Two and two!

Screw journalists. Those soulless word zombies, ready to tear out the organs of a nation, ideology or a struggling city just for a story. Facts? Verified witness accounts? Pfff, just type out a few superlatives in the title, make vague allusions to some righteous cause that people want to defend (or tweet about to look righteous, same difference) and BAM! you have a moderately interesting story that’s bound to get a few likes/retweets/reddits (I don’t actually use reddit so I’m not very familiar with the terminology, but I assume it has the same general premise as other social media sites. Plus the users are called “redditors” so whatever, not like I’m far off the mark).

My rage is not new, but it is amplified. Following the chaotic events that have happened in Benghazi these past few months, every major and minor publication is rushing to write some article about the city, because, hey!, the US ambassador was killed here, remember? (Of course you remember, every right-wing loon has the name of the city hashtagged in the bio of their twitter account, as though every stone in the city is responsible for the death of a guy they had never even heard of prior).

But they can’t actually visit Benghazi. The city is a safe haven for Al-Qaeda and sundry other terrorist groups (according to that one post in a facebook group. A reliable facebook group, mind you).

So these journalists, in their rabid search for material to write about a country they probably couldn’t locate on a map, send out tweets and emails and requests to anyone who’s written the word “Libya” more than twice. “Hi there, would you be interested in answering a few questions for XYZ magazine about the situation in your city? Nevermind that you might be lying about your identity and current whereabouts! It’s not like it would happen on a social media site. What is this, MySpace in 2005? Guffaw! Also yeah ask your friends for quotes, too.”

Let me simplify the equation in case my midnight writing is hard to follow:

Journalist + Seeking Story – On The Ground Reporting = Bullshit

Don’t get me wrong. Even journalists who are on the ground can excrete bullshit reports. But the equation above is a surefire way to find articles with more semicolons than there are facts. I’m not going to link the recent wave of Libya-related articles because I don’t want to pollute my page with yellow journalism, but just type “Libya” or “Benghazi” in your search engine and you won’t be disappointed (in the results, I mean. You WILL be disappointed in the level of garbage being published. Unless you hate Libya, in which case piss off).

Now, I’ve been known to rage against globalization and the rise in stupidity being imported and exported. But I genuinely feel that, now that we’re all “connected” in the age of technology, there’s just been less effort to do things right. Back when the internet was used almost exclusively for porn, journalists weren’t distracted by arbitrary popularity indicators. You either sold papers or got viewership. But now you not only need to check how well your story is doing on various mediums, but see who else is talking about it, thanks to the rise in sites who’s sole aim is to regurgitate links from other websites. 

If the average human’s attention span can be held in a head-lock by the thrill of human attention being given on their social media pages, what makes journalists immune to this same pitfall? I would even venture to presume that the phenomenon is magnified for them, since they’re not just dealing with a handful of likes or reblogs, but dozens, hundreds, in some cases even thousands. The rush they get must be huge, not just for being acknowledged, but because they will see the attention as validation for their performance as a journalist. “Whoa, 3,000 likes and counting! Man, I’m an awesome online journo!”, they say, fist pumped in the air once before it returns to the crusty Cheetos bag in their dank living room.

And who is the victim here? The poor developing countries they’re writing about. If semi-credible press agencies publish/air these unconfirmed stories, some people will believe them. These people will tell others, citing the semi-credible source. It gets around, until parties interested in dealing with this country reconsider, which leads to the actual deterioration of the country. Not because it really was a safe haven for criminals/terrorists/West-hating crazies, but because that’s what people believed. The terrorists catch wind and think,”Yeah, they said there’s a whole bunch of us in that city, let’s go join them!” You see where I’m going with this?

Okay, so perhaps the situation I outlined is stretching the bounds of reality just a little. There must have been some event that had happened which led to the rumors circulating, and which caused these rumors to manifest as reported events. But I have heard stories that ended up being complete fabrications too many times for my paranoia meter to be working properly anymore, and propaganda wars have been in full swing in the MENA lately. I’m not going to be wearing a tinfoil hat anytime soon, but I will continue to be wary of journalists who are interested in Libya.

Media Conspiracy Theories are Overrated

Q. I believe Western media is controlled by:

a) The Jews

b) The Illuminati

c) The Rich Elite

d) All of the above

e) The media corporations are essentially businesses whose commodity is pandering to people’s prejudices. There’s no conspiracy, just a bunch of companies that know how to make money off the ignorant masses.

I had initially written a post about the so-called media conspiracy, in light of the media circus over the Boston bombers. Then the French embassy bombing in Tripoli happened, so I tried to tie that in, and it basically ended up being an incoherent rant about nothing in particular.

Complaining about a secret media ploy to undo the Middle East is a favorite pastime talking point here. We bask in the comfort of knowing that the failings of our region is the fault of ‘the West’, and not any inequity on our own part.

Of course I’m not saying there isn’t a bias in the media. And I’m not saying it’s not a deliberate bias, either. But I do not believe the entire media empire of the West is focused on undermining our region, religion or culture. We’re doing a fantastic job of that on our own.

Let’s be honest. No one would watch a breaking news segment if the headline was, “Small bomb set off at marathon, many saved due to everyone’s help, but still some deaths and injured. We won’t make any assumptions on who did it until we get all the facts, like responsible adults”.


(Btw, Dzohar Tsarnaev is actually being accused of using a WMD)

But it’s not a well planned vendetta against Muslims (I believe). Let’s be brutally honest with ourselves, a Muslim being accused of a terrorist attack is very believable. It’s easy to stick it to our religious group. There are ‘Muslims’ who have done unspeakably horrible things in the name of our religion, and while their acts couldn’t be further from what our religion preaches, the media isn’t looking for accuracy. It took a religious group that could be featured prominently, and used them to capture their audiences’ attention for a prolonged period of time, when news is going through a dry spell.

It doesn’t matter that there’s no such thing as ‘Islamic terrorism’, it doesn’t matter that a lot of the terrorists are angry over the wars in the Middle East and Asia. People get killed, and the brown men with the beards are to blame. No complex thinking, no unnecessary logic. Action, reaction, direct your anger here. I like this news station, they make everything simple and easy to understand.

We can see the repercussions of all this on social media sites. There are the sympathizers, who just absorb all the news. There’s the angry responders  who need to tell everyone how absolutely disgusted they are. There’s the angry responders to the angry responders, who are equally disgusted by how the latter group don’t use rational thinking and wait for the facts before laying blame. Then there are the people who are angry because everyone else is and they want to fit in.

I’m normally a fan of social media and how it connects everyone, but after seeing the catastrophes during the news story over the Boston bombing, I’m almost convinced that World War III will be fought over social media. They’ll call it the Facebook Wars, and future generations will look back at us who had an amazing technological miracle like the internet and used to it to call each other assholes in a variety of languages. And cat pictures, of course. Mustn’t forget those.

Confession: I wrote that last paragraph first, and just built this entire post around it. Interesting how things work out.

I still stand by my beliefs though. I don’t think there’s a secret society, pulling the strings of the rest of the world. I don’t believe the media is trying to get everyone to hate Muslims. I think we still just have a long way to go in adapting to our new, globally connected societies.


This is for me. Writing it out might help. I’m in one those moods; grumpy, low self-esteem, despondent. I think it’s because my sleep pattern has been disrupted, because university started. Hello 8:00 am, it’s been a while.

It could also be because university started. Being surrounded by the swarming mass of braying, drooling, simple-minded idiots that constitute the architecture department always has a way of making me feel dread for humanity. There’s this new trend I’m noticing among the guys; growing out their hair in a frumpy afro. It’s given the university a new homeless-shelter appearance, because naturally they have to pair this new hairstyle with the latest tattered clothing. Pants that are either too-tight or hanging off their ass, the over-powering smell of cologne as though they bathe in it (if they bathe at all), the grunge t-shirts featuring broken English.

There’s a picture on Twitter I saw recently of Libyan men in the 1950s. Tailored suits, clean-shaven, confident, and walking down the pristine streets of a Libya that had not yet seen the plague of Gadhafi. Is it Gadhafi’s fault that this generation is so trashy and vapid?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a 60-year old grouch that yells at kids to get off their property (that’s my dad). I just don’t think acting young and carefree means having to act like an airhead.

The whole Boston event was pretty depressing as well. The deaths and injuries, yes, but also the reactions. A Saudi man who participated in the marathon was questioned as a suspect, because he was the most Arab looking person from those running away from the explosion.

Some Arabs/Muslims on Facebook and Twitter posted ‘PRAYING FOR SYRIA AND PALESTINE’, and ‘Why don’t events in the Middle East get the same attention?’

1. The media of the Middle East and the media of the West focus on what is pertinent to their viewers. AlJazeera did not discuss the Boston bombing the way CNN did. But when you’re online, and viewing things in ENGLISH, you’ll be more exposed to Western media.

2. There has been almost non-stop coverage of Syria since the beginning of their revolution. When a major event happens in Palestine, we find out. Writing a comment of solidarity with Boston does not negate this fact. I think the ability of critics to only notice  Western-aimed sympathy is a reflection of their mindset.

3. If I want to only talk about America, I will only talk about America. If I want to talk only about Arctic polar bears, I will only talk about Arctic polar bears. Telling a person what they should talk about or focus on undermines the basic tenets of free speech. If you’re concerned about the crisis in the Middle Easy, YOU talk about it, and not only mention it when a catastrophe happens in another part of the world.

So, yeah. Sometimes social media makes you want to put your head through a wall. But it was still cool when the term ‘Muslims’ began trending on Twitter, and it was mostly positive tweets defending Muslims. You get the bad with the good, as it goes.

The books I haven’t started reading yet are giving me accusatory looks. I really want to read something, but after a couple paragraphs I can no longer muster the interest or even strength to hold the book up. I don’t read as much as I used to.

There’s a joke on the internet that says if you diagnose yourself online, you’ll be convinced that you’re dying. I’m almost sure I have hypothyroidism or abdominal cancer.

The lights are currently off right now, across most of Benghazi, in preparation for the carnival tomorrow. There’s going to be a carnival tomorrow. The launch of Benghazi’s campaign as the Capital of Culture. Because we’re so whiny and demanding, we need to be called the capital of something. I have so much respect for the small towns and villages that are almost never mentioned but who quietly do their work and improve their small part of world without any recognition or praise. Benghazi’s become too strident, like a teenage girl that just began to develop and needs constant affirmation of how pretty she is or else she’ll have a tantrum.

Nouman Ali Khan said, “If you are offended when someone corrects you, you have an ego problem”. I probably have an ego problem, but my offense is a result of my embarrassment. And the fact that I love self-pity. And seeing myself as a wounded solider against all the injustice of humanity. Note to self: Work that out. Seriously. It’s unseemly.

I feel better now.