[I originally posted this blog post here on MasterPeace]


It’s obvious that one cannot solve a problem without identifying what the problem is. A doctor cannot cure an illness without understanding the symptoms. And we cannot build peace without understanding the root causes of a conflict. The problem with today’s world, however, is that we let the media do all of the diagnosis without taking the time to understand the facts ourselves.

This has obviously been the case when it comes to people trying to put their heads around what is happening in Turkey. I’ve come across plenty of articles, blog posts, and television news coverage that complains of how the Turkish government hasn’t efficiently covered the recent protests at Taksim Square, some even going as far as to say that that is the main reason why so much misinformation about the protests has been circulating around the web, especially through social media like Twitter and Facebook. The most absurd of the misinformation I’ve heard of was the one that said the government was using Agent Orange against the protesters. Are you kidding me? Agent Orange?!

The scariest thing about misinformation is the fact that it diverts attention away from the real facts and reality. Add this to the fact that many people love sensational news and believe everything journalists say without taking a single moment to question them, and you have a disastrous situation that is on the opposite side of the peace spectrum.

It’s funny how quick people throw around the phrase ‘Arab Spring’ to define any type of protest in the Arab world. In this situation, people compared Taksim Square in Istanbul to Tahrir Square in Cairo. In all honesty, I’m not even sure if Turkish people consider themselves to be Arabs. First and foremost, I consider Turkish people being exactly that: Turkish. Why jump to categorizing what the protests in Turkey are in terms of race or heritage?

Western media has done a very good job at categorizing Muslims as being Arabs, and even when they make mention of non-Arab Muslims, they do a very good job at categorizing them as being terrorists that are influenced by Arab Muslims. What I found to be a little startling about the coverage on Turkey is that until the protests, western media had been praising the Turkish government as being democratic, that the Erdogan government and the Turkish economy is the strongest in its neighborhood. Throughout the year, Turkey was basically depicted as the opposite of Syria and what Syria should be.

People say that Turkey is serving for many countries as a model worthy of imitation that is based on Islam and democracy. I don’t even know what that phrase means. I assume that those who do understand what it means also assume that there is a particular model out there that works for Islamic countries to be democratic, as if it’s a challenge to have Islam as a dominant religion and at the same time have a democracy. This myth that both cannot work together is another thing being perpetuated by western media. But lo and behold people, there is no such thing as Islamic democracy, there’s only democracy.

What is my opinion about the protests? I honestly don’t have one. I’m not Turkish and I’m not going to pretend that my opinion on what happens there matters. The purpose of this blog post isn’t about what is happening there, but to point out how much such stereotyping and cultural caricatures kills peace.

As a firm advocate against stereotyping, I’m not afraid to say that nothing is more counter-productive to peace than reducing people to a collection of cultural similarities rather than a pool of complexities of actual real-life, day-to-day grievances distinct to a particular part of the world. Even to categorize a whole country is extremely difficult and impractical; communities, interest groups, individuals, and the variety of demographics of each country merits due respect and shouldn’t be clumped up under one label or cultural caricature. This is even more of a disaster and counter-peace  when it is done to describe popular movements.

To stereotype and label the details of a popular movement means to deny it its fight. Though most of mankind wants the same things like peace, democracy, security, social justice, human rights, health and educational opportunities, why on earth would we think that the details of a struggle to achieve these things is universal for every popular movement?

Let’s not confuse ourselves with what ‘popular’ means in popular movement. A popular movement is popular when a large number of people in that context are part of it. A movement isn’t necessarily popular because people in other countries have a similar movement. I prefer calling such instances ‘global movements’. No doubt however, global movements are only possible when local efforts are made towards achieving the movement’s goals. And to solve local challenges requires that you understand the local reality, which is almost always very different than the reality western media purports to be true.

Real solidarity does not rely on cultural caricatures, and social media is hardly a worthy judge to where and why people choose to show their solidarity towards a cause. If solidarity really stopped at posting an article on your Facebook wall, retweeting a tweet from someone who is at the scene while you’re in the comfort of your home on the other side of the world, or changing your profile picture/avatar to that of the movement you want to support, than we can say that social media killed the revolution.

I was particularly intrigued by a particular blog post I saw being posted by some of my Facebook friends who I know are not politically active and who probably can’t even identify Turkey on an atlas. After reading the blog, I came to conclude that those that I know who had posted it didn’t post it because of its content but because of the picture it had of police spraying something directly into a woman’s face. I’m not trying to undermine the content of this blog post… not at all! I’m just undermining those I personally know who posted it because I know they didn’t read and appreciate the blog post in its full content.

Another article that was brought to my attention by someone I definitely know who is politically conscious and aware, was what inspired me to write up this particular blog post of mine. A MUST READ for those who are sick and tired of the stereotyping, just like I am. Indeed as the author of this article was right when concluding that:

“Liberation is impossible when potential allies simplify and reduce people to a collection of cultural similarities, rather than acknowledging and adjusting for the complexities of actual grievances that reflect distinct experiences with oppression.”

The struggle continues!! A luta continua!!

  1. Rahwa Tesfai Ghermai says:

    Enlightening & v helpful as usual Rahelle!

  2. […] Some things to keep in mind (some of these are quoted from an article I wrote last year titled “Nothing Kills Peace more than Stereotyping”): […]

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