Social network activism is reaching new altitudes. Last week we had KONY2012 and now a new project is erupting. Before organizing a social movement or writing a certain ideology, one photo and one short message by Tel-Avivian Roni Edri has stirred up a new fashion, movement and discourse – all incorporated in the Israel-loves-Iran Facebook group.
Fear of war or sense of pacifism is one thing, but what does love have to do with it? Are we talking about real love sensed towards someone or a 1960’s motto? Does Israelis have a reason to love Iranmore than like other ethnicities? Well, it should be mentioned that even though Edri chose to use ‘love’ in this campaign, in his message he says that he doesn’t know Iranians, and that is why he has no hate towards the Iranian people. Love here is more of a default sentiment towards a stranger than true affection.
But there’s another thing about ‘love’ – it makes an impact. While for some the usage of ‘love’ here is cheap, many people feel that ‘love’ is a weapon that can contrast war. In a perfect world ‘love’ perhaps would not be the most suitable expression for this situation (isn’t ‘respect’ more appropriate?), but when trying to get attention and fight the rhetoric of politicians, ‘love’ seems to be the answer. This ‘emotional’ peaceful voice is the reason that many people are showing interest in this project and that the global media is giving it voice. About 90% of the group followers are actually neither Iranians nor Israeli, a direct result of the fact that ‘love’ touches the world, while for locals the issue is much more complex.
Another inetresting feature of this campaign is that, at least at this time, it avoids politics. It does not have the pretention to argue with all the dinosaur ‘experts’, with all the wannabe ‘historians’ and all the ‘serious’ politicians, but simply says: “war is not of our interest.” In a world in which governments have the power to enforce fear and tell us commoners that we cannot argue with issues of national security which we know nothing about, Israel-loves-Iran isn’t trying to become another drop in an ocean that is diluted by political propaganda. Instead, it expresses the idea that ‘we cannot hate someone we do not know’ and that killing without hating is the ‘wisdom’ of politicians only.
This open-hearted approach touches feminine cords of existence around the world while militant masculinities still carry the prominent voice in each location, especially in politics and economy. However, the success of this project shows again how activist movements in the age of social networks can prosper in one day and how global communication can bring an amazing boost to social initiatives.
Does this mean that from now on the voice of the peaceful people will be heard and shutter nationalist and political interests? This campaign should be regarded with cautious optimism. Governments and powerful war supporters can also utilize the internet platform, creating counter campaigns or perhaps stirring up controversy and dispute within the peace-supporting groups. The fact that Israel-loves-Iran is organized by people who are rather anonymous can encourage the objectors to find some ‘dirt’ in the background of the organizers (a criminal record? perhaps evading the obligatory military service in their past?) and try to delegitimize them. Another tool would be trying to show that the organizers belong to a familiar extreme political movement and thus convince the public that there are hidden political objectives behind this campaign. Power holders master the numerous ways to slander such initiatives and convince the public that they are cunning and manipulative.
In the spirit of this blog it should be highlighted that although I do slightly lament that activism becomes instant and fashionable instead of based on a substantial social foundation, throughout the last days people in Israel did get to talk with people from Iran through the internet and vice versa. The ability to avoid prejudice and to enhance understanding is an outcome that can build bridges for years to come, regardless of whether a war will take place in the near future. The ability to reach out and improve the understanding of the other without the mediation of the poisoned media or politician is precious, and I hope that participants will maintain it even if they do experience some political arguments with their counterparts in Iran or Israel. I also hope that people who were enlightened by this campaign will expand this pattern of communication to other sensitive zones. If this trend becomes not only about the colorful pictures but also about discussing fears and anger with each other, a new profound dimension could be added.
In Israel, as well as other places on the globe, there is a feeling in the last decade that society is becoming more nationalist, isolationist and suspicious of foreign interests. When politicians, elite groups or older generations promote such tendencies, we should remember that while they lead a negative (at least in my eyes) trend, they also fear the powerful global platform of communication. The simplicity of creating a global group of 30,000 supporters within five days is exactly what nationalist are trying to ‘protect’ against. It is naive to think that groups such as Israel-loves-Iran represent more than a small fraction of society, but it is good to know that their expansion potential is almost limitless.