Palestine: How UAE influencers and major brands took a stand
This week, social media was ablaze with some hashtags that couldn’t be silenced. Here’s the roundup on what buzzed this week
The Secret to Social Media
If there was one thing that sums up social media is Newton’s third law of motion: every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Mankind itself has never been as comfortable or as polarised in its hundreds of thousands of years of history. For every opinion, you’ll have a counter opinion. For every political ideology, you’ll have an opposite side of the spectrum that will complain that its being discriminated against. The more polarising the voice, the louder it becomes. Social media follows the law of the soapbox right after it follows the Newtonian laws: incite and get your cheers.
When Noise Becomes One
But occasionally, there comes a point when all the noise goes to one side and majority of the voices clamour for one cause or call to action: this time it was Gaza. An attack on Al Aqsa Mosque prompted a series of violent events that lasted around 11 days. Children died. A media building was bombed. Some media platforms came under fire on social media for not using the appropriate terms for the series of events. The Arab and Middle Eastern Journalists’ Association created a set of guidelines on ‘how to cover’ Palestine and Israel fairly and ‘accurately’. In one of the points, they mentioned how to avoid ‘both sides’ framing. They talked about trying to avoid the word ‘clash’. “Confrontations often begin with police dispersing demonstrations using tear gas and rubber bullets,” it said. Earlier an Associated Press reporter was fired for her ‘activism’ and many social media users lamented censorship from way of Big Tech (notably Instagram and Twitter) when they wanted to post pro-Palestine content.
Tales of Courageous Influencers
TikTok, a platform usually considered brainless by many folks who think they’re too good for social media or to follow trending stories, was burning with the scathing commentary that wouldn’t have been allowed in most platforms. And it didn’t stop there. For the first time, brands and celebrity influencers weren’t afraid to take a stand. Mega-influencers, usually afraid of stirring the hornet’s nest with their opinions, marched on the streets and shared items furiously on their platforms. Their courage was infectious.
Performative or Not, Does Wokism Work?
Be that as it may, many of the performative wokism that many influencers bandwagonned worked. Many celebrities marched in Pakistan to speak up for Gaza and Palestinians only a short while after Bella Hadid marched in New York. Curiously, no celebrity in Pakistan has ever — and I mean ever — marched for Gaza except for some right-wing folks and some of their pals in the industry. In India, Sonam Kapoor, Swara Bhasker, Naseeruddin Shah and Nora Fatehi were among the few who spoke up for Palestine even though the government openly condemned the violence and reiterated support to the ‘just Palestinian cause’.
Dua Lipa and Bella and Gigi Hadid were featured in a long ad in The New York Times — in the worst possible way a female celebrity in the United States can be featured. The World Values Network used their photos and said, “Hamas calls for a second Holocaust, CONDEMN THEM NOW”. Dua Lipa didn’t mince words in her response. She responded in kind, writing a somewhat lengthy note on her Instagram story, saying, “This is the price you pay for defending Palestinian human rights against an Israeli government whose actions both Human Rights Watch and Israeli human rights group B’Tselem accuse of persecution and discrimination.”
In 2011, when Tilda Swinton wore a Palestinian scarf, many op-eds flew in, one of them asked, ‘Has Tilda Swinton made Palestine solidarity chic?’. The Palestinian cause becomes a flashpoint for celebrities every few years and goes on the backburner when the noise dies down. So the question ultimately becomes — is celebrity performative wokism even working? What difference does it make?
Where Do You Stand?
The short answer is yes, now it does seem to be doing something — if not everything. Thanks to digital media, suppressing voices (of all kinds) has become impossible. Muzzling voices and manipulating the larger narrative isn’t as simple as it once was — you can’t just worry about four newspapers putting out what you want to hear, you have to control hundreds and millions of voices that armed with their smartphones that buzz on various outlets. #GazaUnderAttack and #SaveSheikhJarrah trended for weeks across Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and TikTok. UAE influencers such as Khalid Al Ameri, his wife Salama Mohamed, famed beauty guru Huda Kattan and YouTube sensation Anas Bukhash were among the many influencers who voiced their support for Palestine.
Because of strong voices such as these, folks who are consistently trying to make us and society more humane, there is a strong wind of change that is overwhelmingly digital and clearly revolutionary. The only question you need to now ask yourself is: where do you stand?