Change your Facebook privacy settings as soon as you’re done reading this.
This week, Ala’a Hamdan, a student at the University of Calgary, appeared on news sites across the world after she posted writings on Facebook intended to reflect the perspective of Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation.
The occupation of Palestine is always a divisive issue.
The conflict is complicated. Arguments on both sides are often fueled by emotion or religion, but the basic history is such.
Imagine it’s the 1940s. Jewish people are uprooted in Europe by the Nazis because of the Holocaust. An obscene number of them are murdered. The Second World War ends and the concentration camps are closed, but Jewish communities remain broken, individuals still stripped of their property and the stink of anti-Semitism continues to hang over much of Europe.
Under the banner of Zionism, sectors of the Jewish community have long advocated for a return to their ancient homeland, which is then referred to as the British mandate for Palestine. After the Second World War, the United Nations decides that the Zionists will get their wish, and much of Palestine transforms into the Jewish state of Israel.
The problem is that people already live there. And they don’t feel like leaving, so Israel colonizes them, violently.
A series of wars between Israel and the surrounding Arab states ensue. Arabs living in Israeli controlled territory — most of them identifying as Palestinians — are delegated to the status of second-class citizens, lacking the same political and civil rights as their Israelis elites. A flood of violence from both Palestinians and Israelis escalates every year.
These are only the basics. Two groups live in the same land. They both claim it’s theirs. They take turns killing each other. And they both go out of the way to highlight the crimes of the other side. Sound familiar?
2014 arrives and not much has changed. Ala’a Hamdan posts some of her creating writing on Facebook. The writings are over the top. But they are meant to express the views of the Palestinians in the photos they are paired with. These are angry stories, with the characters promising to fight the military occupation they’re living under to the death.
This point of view is not so radical. After all, would you condemn an Algerian in the 1930s for fighting the French, or a Czech in the 1970s for fighting the Russians? If Canada was occupied by North Korea, Iran, Russia or any of the other countries traditionally perceived as opposed to the West, would violent resistance be wrong?
But Hamdan’s writing did not discuss violence. Instead, it talked about self-sacrifice in a violent conflict through the perspective of people born into it. This is what the National Post thinks is worthy of a moral panic these days: a 21-year-old activist posting some mediocre political fiction on her Facebook page. And, gasp, she used to be the leader of a campus club that explicitly supports a peaceful resolution to the Israel/Palestine conflict.
This club, Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights, has an excellent reputation at the U of C. They won an award for the best advocacy group on campus last year, have a friendly relationship with the Hillel club on campus and, according to Students' Union vice-president student life Ben Cannon, have never been the subject of a complaint brought to the SU by anyone on campus.
The only complaints have come from external groups, like Calgarians United With Israel. CUWI lies on the opposite side of the Israel/Palestine debate.
If you want to get a feel for the pressure Hamdan now faces, Google her name. News organizations in Israel are calling her a “potential terrorist,” whatever that is supposed to mean. On Twitter, commentators are recommending that someone “throw this bitch on the next plane out” and that we should “use this story as a springboard to examine Canada’s immigration policy.”
Amidst the chaos of this National Post article and the external pressure that has been placed on the SU, Cannon has dug in his heels and refused to disband the club. He’s doing this on the principle we should all back free speech.
A university is a place for debate and debate is meaningless if people aren’t allowed to express unpopular ideas. Free speech is not there to reaffirm what makes you comfortable, it’s there to protect opinions that challenge mainstream thought and power.
We should commend Cannon’s stance on protecting the rights of a campus club. We should also support the SPHR and its members’ rights to express themselves how they please.
But if you want to avoid a similar mess, change the privacy settings on your Facebook.