This is a warning for this generation and the one to come: There is no more dangerous claim we face as a free people today than the hierarchical, authoritarian charge of incitement. This is such an important understanding to have as the postmodern era moves along, for those who sit in atop modernist pedestals do not want the status removed from their quo. And that’s putting it mildly.
The glorious freedom of the network is that the bottom of culture (you and me) can speak with each other, even “broadcast” to each other, absent the filters of modernity, which includes anybody “in charge.” Armed with this freedom, we are disrupting the old institutions, which have evolved from public service to service of the self. We all know it, but we live with it, because that’s the way it’s always been. But no more. Not only are we mad as hell and not wanting to take it anymore, but we can actually do something about it. This freedom, however, is dependent on us agreeing that we cannot permit censors of what information or knowledge flows along this “bottom,” and that’s why the word “incitement” is so dangerous.
I’m hearing and seeing this concept so often today – and especially during this summer of discontent – that it bears study and our consideration before we find ourselves censored and our freedoms diminished accordingly. To incite is to “encourage or stir up (violent or unlawful behavior).” Note the violent or unlawful aspect of the word, so the matter often is determined by whoever makes the laws that decide what constitutes unlawful behavior. Another definition is to “urge or persuade (someone) to act in a violent or unlawful way.” Again, the issue is the determination of the conduct’s lawfulness.
So incitement is the noun and means “the action of provoking unlawful behavior or urging someone to behave unlawfully.”
You’ve heard this word in the context of our politics this summer, the Black Lives Matter movement, the murders of police officers, terrorism, and I suppose soon, Pokemon Go. It flows nicely from the idea that everything is causal in our culture and usually the work of an organized group, someone or many someones we can attack. It’s a part of that wonderful American habit of blame, for after all, if we can find the blame, we can eliminate the threat, or so the thinking goes. It’s the underlying layer for much of our left-brain, beancounter-led, lawyer-sustained culture, and it’s going to be used as a way to silence people who disagree. That’s my promise. Sooner or later, you will see this come about.
But if you want a little insight to what lies ahead, you need to go inside my favorite source of human conflict in all the world, the Middle East and especially the fascinating study of human nature known as Zionism. The stage for this is the nation of Israel, and most readers know my biases here. I have Palestinian family in Amman Jordan, so my window on this world is different than most. Many of my friends think I’ve gone off the deep end, but I’ve merely done the study that’s available to anyone, so I clearly see things that others don’t.
So let’s look at Benjamin Netanyahu’s extreme right wing government and its use of the word “incitement” to get a glimpse of what’s possibly ahead for all of us.
Incitement isn’t just a word in Israel; it’s a core fundamental of hasbara, the propaganda language that Israel uses in speaking to the west. Since ours is the pocketbook that supports Israel, you’ll notice that Netanyahu creates English language videos for distribution here that always continue the basic narrative of Zionism: that the people of the world have an unnatural hatred of all Jews, that Israel was formed as a response to the Holocaust with its 6-million tortured and murdered Jews, that Israel must be supported because we can’t allow this to happen again, and that the need is great, because Israel’s neighbors are among the biggest hate groups in the world.
To this end, an important part of hasbara is the crackdown against those who “incite” violent acts against the Jews of Israel, and this means (mostly) the Palestinians. In December of last year, the Israeli Foreign Ministry created a ten-person bureau to monitor YouTube for videos that might incite actions against Israelis. Here’s how it was described in the Israeli newspaper Arutz Sheva:
The bureau will concentrate on three main issues: The first is finding videos containing inflammatory content and subsequently filing an official request to have the social media sites take down these clips.
The second measure will be the development of an application which will identify keywords such as “knife” and “Jews” in Arabic or other languages, enabling the ministry to track the creators and poster of inciting content.
The third, and perhaps most important, is the actual intervention of staffers in discussions on social networks, where they will be tasked with distributing hasbara materials from the Foreign Ministry.
I haven’t heard if any of this censorship has actually happened, and I imagine it will be a closely-guarded “confidential” business arrangement. Now, the target is Facebook. After unsuccessfully pleading a case that Israel should be granted personhood within Facebook (because Facebook’s rules would then make statements against Israel a violation of its terms), last week, Israel went to court against Facebook. Facebook is its big target, because a great many Arab families use Facebook to connect with each other, and that means the dissemination of the Palestinian narrative, which Israel cannot allow to be too widespread.
This censorship action is different than what it’s doing with YouTube, but the target is the same: so-called “incitement.” Here are key graphs from a Mondoweiss article: Israelis take on Facebook ‘monster’ with claims it knowingly incites Palestinian attacks
…the dispute has gotten ugly. Israel’s Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan called Facebook a “monster” last week for not increasing its censorship. Now this disagreement between Israel and Facebook is headed to the courts.
Relatives of four Israeli-Americans and one American tourists killed in Israel and the occupied West Bank between 2014 and June 2016 are suing Facebook for $1 billion in damages, claiming the social media site promotes “terrorism” and “knowingly and intentionally assisted” in their deaths.
The suit was filed in New York federal court. The issue got more interesting this week as Facebook began hiring 13 people to staff its Tel Aviv office, including Jordana Cutler, currently Chief of Staff at the Israeli embassy in Washington DC, and a longtime adviser to Benjamin Netanyahu. She will be head of policy and communications at the new Facebook office. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out where this is headed.
Netanyahu himself uses the incitement word every chance he gets when producing hasbara videos in the wake of news events that fit the message. The truth about Zionism’s ugly behavior in the name of what seems to be a righteous cause will one day become mainstream, although it’s hard to envision just how that will happen in the face of all these attempts to censor the bottom of culture from talking about it. At least half of the Facebook posts by my own family members are about the Palestinian conflict, so what’s to stop Facebook from censoring them? Nothing.
The results of this won’t be limited just to the Middle East, and that’s the real danger here, for once the snake’s head is inside the hole, the rest of it will follow. With violence in the streets of America today, efforts to clamp down on troublemakers are likely to include social media, and this is likely imminent.
A whole lot’s a stake here, friends. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.
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