With recent events in the Middle East escalating and spiralling further, I need to voice some thoughts that I held back for some time now. It all started with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Back then, I had already seen my social media feeds light up in frantic activity. Having endured a lot of self-appointed virology experts during the pandemic,1 I now had to endure armchair warfare experts and historians. Given how wildly off the most of their statements turned out to be, I have the feeling that their claim to fame was probably copious experience with Civ and Risk…
Nevertheless, the battle lines were drawn viciously and with a lot of vitriol. Profile pictures were changed, tag lines were added, and the Twitter feeds were full of statements of solidarity. So far, so good. Amidst all that noise, there were few people willing to listen, and consider what type of help would be really helpful. This is to some extent just par for the course, and I am guilty of that myself. It is so much easier to ‘stand in solidarity with someone’ if I do not have to change my views or my behaviour! I feel reminded of a quote by the young Augustine of Hippo:
O Lord, make me chaste, but not yet!
In that sense, social media has unfortunately driven many of us to be posturing and signalling instead of actually doing something. For the events in Ukraine, I am somewhat personally affected,2 and I found myself going for a social media hiatus because I was well fed up with people taking cheap discussion pot-shots and spitting at their screen while somewhere else, real human beings were dying.
(And the worst thing is, I am not one iota better; for every day, people are killed in conflicts all over the world, but I ignore most, if not all, of these conflicts.)
Now, with the vicious Hamas terror attack on Israel, a new ugly set of discussions is cropping up. There is one difference this time: the battle lines are way more murky; at the same time, the convictions of those that have no skin in the game run even deeper. I see many appalling, dehumanising statements by folks that are neither affected in any sense nor—or so it seems to me—do they understand this conflict as well as they think they do. I have no such delusions and know for a fact that I lack understanding of the context so I do not feel compelled to duke it out with others that are as ignorant as I am.
Now, the prevailing mores of social media being what they are, a lack of understanding never prevented a hot take, and outrage drives a lot of the engagements. Maybe, just maybe, now would be a good time for a little bit of listening and reflecting on what is said. These complex topics cannot be addressed by a good-or-evil narrative alone. That’s too much like ‘if you are not an apple, you are a banana!’3
I believe that a genuine contribution to any discussion requires some understanding that transcends feelings of outrage. If you are not one of the affected groups, listen first and think, lest you be taken advantage of. None of us want to end up like the vaccine-hating shill who peddles Ivermectin to people scared of a pandemic.4
I hope peace will soon be restored, but it does not look like it. One thing is sure, though: For any conflict to end peacefully, there is no need for armchair experts and keyboard warriors. I think it is all right to leave certain things to the pros. Heeding the ancient wisdom ne supra crepidam might not be the worst thing to do.
Which, by the way, was far from being over for many folks at the time of the invasion. ↩︎
The details are not important here. ↩︎
I deliberately used that comparison because only the most untruthful folks were denying the actual existence of the virus, whereas in geopolitical conflicts, the lines are often very, very murky. ↩︎