Monday, August 28, 2006

Bloggers Build Bridges in the Middle East

Blogs can be anonymous springboards for hatred and venom. They can also be sounding boards for cross-cultural exploration.

Today's Washington Post has an interesting article about the proliferation of communication between Israelis and Lebanese via blogging. Lebanese are forbidden by their government from communication with Israelis, but that great sea of anonymity which is the blogosphere has enabled some incredible dialogue to occur:

"You do get extremes of positions on either side, but what has been surprising and recent is the number of Israeli bloggers who are reaching out to the Lebanese blogs and putting comments there," said the Lebanese host of blog-aggregator Open Lebanon, who tracks more than 100 blogs a day in real time. (He asked to remain anonymous, citing conflicts of interest with his public profile at a large global firm.) "The majority of them could be classified as conciliatory. It is obvious Israelis will not favor a Hezbollah win, but would rather see a moderate, modern, democratic, strong type of government in Lebanon, so they gently 'push' the Lebanese bloggers towards these directions."

English is a convenient lingua franca. The Lebanese blogosphere, drawing from a trilingual Arabic-, French- and English-speaking population, is chiefly English. So when the war broke out, many Hebrew-language bloggers switched to English in a deliberate attempt to reach across the border, according to Goldman, who provides a regular roundup of the Israeli blogosphere for global blog aggregator Global Voices Online.


Chuman, the Beirut man who fled for Chicago, had sampled the Israeli blogosphere in April and found it a nuanced and informed contrast to what he could glean from traditional news outlets. "The lack of news about Israel -- not an unimportant country in the region -- is astounding," wrote the political consultant, under his then-nom-de-Web, Lebanon Profile. "Not knowing about 'them' is the worst crime we can commit. It invalidates them as humans, as if they don't even matter. They are Stalin's faceless enemy, the rabid dog, the evil blood suckers whom it is righteous to kill. Our papers definitely need to start covering more than major political events in Israel."

Several Israeli bloggers contacted him. "It was around the time of Holocaust Remembrance Day and memorials for soldiers and I was learning a lot. I'd never read that before. A lot of people were touched by what I wrote, and we developed quite a community," he said.

So there you have it. Blogs can destroy, and they can uplift. Just like any other tool at the disposal of humans. I, for one, believe that the forces of good will eventually prevail, so long as the free-wheeling and free-flowing nature of the blogosphere obtains.



Linking to the following blogs with open trackback posts: Bloggin' Outloud, Committees of Correspondence, Pirates! Man Your Women!, Urban Paradise (who's awaiting the wrath of Ernesto!)