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A violent conflict presents those who are far away, who have no stake in the war, with the facile opportunity to exhibit their righteous indignation on behalf of the underdog, or to display their cold reasoning by choosing the side of the dominant force. They appear to seek the truth but what they find are the things that make them feel comfortable; ideology after all is in the same family of utilities like underwear and sofa. And they become efficient mules to carry news and disinformation to their circles.
Meanwhile, in the warzone, the conflict provides writers, and other forms of artistes, with extraordinary material. The success of art that is inspired by calamity is easily granted by the victims, because they are the muse after all, and by the rest of the world because it reveres the firsthand lament of an insider and is too ignorant to tell the difference between the great and the second-rate artistes, the reason why some bores from distressed places have won the Nobel for literature.
The conflict also exposes the fact that most people, including atheists of the type who say, “I believe in a force”, actually have a religion because religion is not about god, it never was.
All this was evident yet again as the conflict in Gaza broke in July. The communist and women’s rights activist Kavita Krishnan tweeted and posted on Facebook a tight shot of her bleeding lips, and the reason why they were martyred — she had gone to the Israeli embassy to protest and “Delhi police woman just bashed my lip open with helmet …Can’t silence Palestine.” Thousands of Indians shared on Facebook and Twitter their rage against Israel, or their hatred for Hamas. There were images of dead children in arms of distraught men, though some of these photographs were not from Gaza but Syria. “Killed by Muslims” as some people helpfully pointed out.
A story that evoked much anguished sharing was that the psychiatrist of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had committed suicide. Not only was this a hoax, but also a four-year-old hoax. But the report, which was carried by CNN’s website before being pulled, said that the psychiatrist’s suicide note had mentioned that Netanyahu had “sucked the life right out of me”. It was just too good for the lovers of humanity and it travelled at the speed of rage with comments like, “Not surprising”.
There was more authentic fodder, of course. Images of Israelis watching the bombardment of Gaza from vantage points, sitting on comfortable chairs and drinking, instead of, perhaps, humming a sad song, were accompanied by comments on the lines of ‘sick’, ‘disgusting’ and ‘bastards’, once again implying the moral superiority of people far away from the arms depots of Hamas. Yet, it is not improbable that they, too, were sipping a drink at the very moment they were expressing their online outrage.
A misfortune of Israel is that photo-journalism cannot capture its side of the story. Nothing can match the heartbreaking images of dead children, and unlike Hamas, Israel has worked very hard to protect its own. The success of Israel is that it makes for very bland photojournalism.
Commenting on how the images of dead children were influencing global public opinion, ‘The Australian’ carried a cartoon by Bill Leak entitled, ‘How The West Was Won Over’ that shows a Hamas terrorist telling a little boy, “There! Now you go out to play and win the PR war for daddy”. Many people who shared the cartoon marked their leaning by noting, ‘how insensitive’, or other such postmodern rebukes.
As is the trend, adolescent art rose for easy and wide appreciation. For instance, the image of smoke over destroyed buildings in Gaza transmuted into a clenched fist. And, not surprisingly, Kashmiris posted their heart-break poetry. They have ingested too long the intoxication of trauma and cannot kick the habit.
In a remarkable coincidence, which usually means it was no coincidence, a significant portion of Indians who were disgusted by Israel were Muslims. They included agnostic scholars who claimed they were only being humane and not partisan. They put on an air of intellectual fatigue when the lowbrow taunted them with their lowbrow question — where had they gone when ISIS and Syria were killing people?
So far, the current conflict in Gaza has unfolded, with minor changes, exactly the way it has on previous occasions. This repeating history is beyond the farce stage. But, as Facebook and Twitter have added millions more to their fold since the last conflict, the outrage of the no-stakes revolutionaries this time is much louder. To quickly educate the new swarms of concerned people, the mainstream media and blogs have delivered a steady supply of articles on the lines of ‘5 myths about Gaza’, ‘7 things you should know before taking sides’ and ‘9 key moments in the history of Israel’.
As righteous posturing is consecrated only when it is a tribute to the underdogs, it has created the impression that Israel is psychotic and Hamas a society of monks who have been forced to fire rockets at the oppressor. The no-stakes rage of the new lovers of Palestine is similar to the online passion of non-resident Hindus, who don’t have to live here until perhaps the good days come. Earlier, the middleclass revolutionaries had to have at least some stake in the revolutions they participated in. The affluent romantic collegiate naxalites of the 70s, for instance. They faced the threat of imprisonment though when the eventuality arose most of them did call their papas and get bail while their unluckier comrades endured custodial torture.
But these days the revolutionary experience is more pleasant.
(Manu Joseph is a journalist and the author of the novel The Illicit Happiness of Other People.)