As a Muslim Bangladeshi, social media has transported me across the world and enables me to engage people who were totally inaccessible to my parents when they were my age.
Twitter has introduced me to, among others, a world-known journalist, a prominent terrorism expert, and an accomplished writer and historian. We communicate with each other in ways that are transformative, and symbolic of this new world of social media.
They are all Jewish and I am Muslim, and we are breaking down barriers.
Our backgrounds and religions are relegated to the background as we share ideas, hopes, worries, and more. These friendships forged online are not tainted by stereotypes and prejudice, but are stronger because we respect one another’s differences. Maybe people who reach out on social sites are more inclined to be open, understanding and trusting?
Either way, those who are insincere can be blocked or deleted with the push of a finger in one second. Zapped!
The answer in part is that we search for those things which we can readily agree. We both condemn the murders of the three Jewish-Israeli boys the burning to death of a young Muslim-Palestinian. We all condemn violence on Jews and Muslims in Europe.
Those issues which are more complicated or less objective require patience and respect. For example, I might read: Why is Hamas building tunnels to Israel and shooting rockets at civilians? To which I respond: Why is Israel destroying hospitals, homes, blockading Gaza, occupying large parts of its farmlands as a de-militarized zone, and so on.”
When we are adamant that we alone have truth and are right and moral it becomes difficult.
The miracle of social media is that it permits us to hear, and even see, so many different viewpoints and facts. We are referred to newspapers, magazines, photos, government documents, satellite images, and real-time interviews. We have access today that even world leaders did not have only a few years ago—it is as if we are within the chambers of power.
All this information can overload those who are not tolerant or emotionally equipped to channel it in meaningful, hopeful, and useful ways—it can be overwhelming. For one person it might instill hope; for another it might cause despair.But data is just data—it is how we use it that counts. We on the social networks try to help each other understand—and most importantly we want the world to be better, safer, repaired and peaceful. We want justice.
Social networks also remind us how difficult life can be for those who want freedom, those who want to oppress freedom, and for those who try to mediate the difference. Each day we hear of Israeli actions that lead to continued oppression of the West Bank and Gaza; we hear of Gazans who shoot rockets in despair and anger at Israel; and, we hear of America, the closest ally Israel has, pretending to be an honest broker between its ally Israel and the nation Israel is oppressing.
We also debate the words of leaders. On American television, Mr. Netanyahu says that he wants peace, regrets the death of Gazans, and is for a two-state solution. But, when the same man, Mr. Netanyahu, is in Israel, he says there will never be a two-state solution, he will never relinquish security control west of the Jordan River, and “vengeance will be paid in blood.”
Social networking has made it impossible for leaders in the world to lie in this pathological manner. The more we share information with one another, the closer we are bonded in opposition to liars and criminals.
Historically Jews and Muslims have lived more in harmony with each other than we have with Christians and Europeans. Some of the greatest cultures and civilizations ever to develop were in Muslim-Jewish Babylon, Muslim-Jewish Ottoman Empire, and Muslim-Jewish Spain. We must remember our history and build on it.
When Jews and Muslims attack each other with European and American weapons and money, we might remember that Christian crusaders saw Muslims as pagans and Jews as Christ-killers. We were both victims of their swords. We must remember that Catholic Spain expelled Muslims and Jews from our Spanish lands and took all our wealth in the same year, 1492.
Social networking permits Jew and Muslim, Christian and Hindu, Buddhist and Atheist—of all nationalities—to create bridges that extend over the old animosities and greed of our leaders. We can extend our hands from Muslim to Jew, to learn, to teach, and to see that we all have good and bad. But the good is what we must build upon.
As for me, I am grateful for social media. It has opened my eyes, but more importantly opened my heart and mind to Jews and Christians whose views and hopes I could never have known without it.
In fact, social media has enabled us to bridge the gaps among cultures and religions. We are now responsible for ourselves as never before.