The Middle East is known as the Cradle of Civilization, and as the old adage claims, the Cradle will rock. 2009 has seen a new global approach to the citizens of the Middle East as political unrest comes to a fevered pitch.
The war between Israel and Palestine came to a head once again as the world watched the military might of Israel blow down on Gaza. In June the world watched as the young citizens of Iran protested in the streets. The one commonality in both of these events, other than bloodshed was the widespread use of social media as the tool of expression in the hands of the victims.
The citizens of the Middle East have long been portrayed as a mystery to the Western world. Both the Islamic and Jewish countries portrayed as being ruled by religions and the people seemingly faceless in the sea of government rhetoric and religion.
Mainstream Western media has perpetuated this depiction, but with the advent of interactive social media, and technology such as cell phones and computers a new wave of information, global community and presence has emerged. The message and the medium are changing.
During the Israeli incursion into Gaza in 2009 Israel denied access to Gaza to the international media. The only images and information, which was not provided by the Israeli government sanctioned media was through social media networks and You Tube. Al Jazeera's reporters were constrained to filming and posting their reports via You Tube. Facebook and Twitter became the main modes of organization for protests worldwide in support of the Palestinians and to encourage the end of the Israeli incursion.
Conversely Israel created its own channel on You Tube to gather momentum and organize rallies in support of their side of the incursion. The Israeli Defense Force also created a Blog to provide information from their perspective to counteract the influx of Palestinian point of view on the web. The Israel consulate on New York even held a press conference on Twitter.
At that press conference the Israel consul of media and public affairs Davi Saragna was quoted as saying:
"We saw that there is a big debate, a very vivid debate about the situation in Gaza, and we wanted to bring our point of view, we wanted to share it with people on Twitter. We wanted to outreach to the young generation, who does not read the conventional media, but is still interested in events in the Middle East."
Al Jazeera Labs also launched a site where residents of Israel, Gaza and the West bank could upload updates from their cell phones or computers, either video or texts through SMS or Twitter. The results from the update was then verified, and posted via Microsoft Virtual Map. So the information was not only provided, but the exact location as well.
Palestinian Bloggers posted accounts of the siege in real time, not only putting a human face but raw human emotion to the siege. The incursion was seen in a way no other war had been seen. Not only were the images horrific, but also there was a human voice in the telling, as it happened, not in interviews or documentaries months afterwards. A new face of war had emerged, and it was all too human.
The same humanity was expressed in Iran a few months later. Within hours of the election on June 14th, young political activists took to the streets to protest the election results. The government responded with bloodshed.
The activists used cell phones, Twitter and Facebook to organize themselves, to document the events and distribute them globally. The government responded by blocking cell phones and filtering Internet connections in Tehran.
The Global community reacted. Notorious groups such as Anonymous and Pirate Bay provided bloggers and tweeters with anonymous IP addresses, and with knowledge on hacking and how to work around the obstacles the government were trying to put up.
The global community reacted to the images of organized and governmental atrocities on You Tube, the tweets and blogs. Anonymous voices, which could not reveal their names, locations or faces, were the only voices available. The global community on Twitter soon changed their avatars to green in support. Candle light vigils and protests were organized on Facebook and Twitter in support of the protestors, democracy and the end to the bloodshed. Hordes of web citizens changed their location to Tehran and their time zone on Twitter to hamper the Iranian government from finding the Tweeter voices.
Then an image that would change the conflict forever was posted on Youtube; a video of a young woman only 26 years old, who had been shot in the heart by a government militia sniper in the protests. Her name was Neda, which translates from Farsi to "Voice" in English. She became the face and the voice of an entire movement. As the world watched her final breaths, and a doctor frantically trying to save her life, the world was changed forever.
The Iranians had long been portrayed as docile people who were content in their religious government. Their elected representative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, presented a country bent on the destruction and annihilation of the country of Israel. Portrayed as a people who were against the Western world, and were supportive of the term "Death to the United States". They were our enemies.
With the uprising after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's botched election for a second term, suddenly the people of Iran were like us. They were not the people who Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the mainstream media had painted with a large brush. Films like Iran: Voices of the Unheard, told us a tale of secularists who were being silenced for 30 years since the Islamic Revolution.
Social Media was providing a face, a voice, and human emotion to the people of Iran. The global community responded and supported this human voice.
Many have said that the advent of the Internet and the growth in its popularity had taken the voice away of the generation that grew up with it, and those subsequent generations. There were no leaders as there once were in the 60's and 70's to mobilize a generation to action. Blogs, Twitter, e-zines, Facebook and web pages so easily created and accessed had created so many voices with so many causes that no one voice was emerging.
As the world unfolded in Gaza and in Iran, a new voice, a new singular voice has emerged. It is a Global voice, many coming together as one. No one person looking to lead, but a group of humanity coming together as one to evoke change.
The mainstream media, blocked by the governments in Israel and in Iran had no choice but to turn to the social media medium to provide the news to their audiences. CNN even created a super at the bottom of their screen to announce "This cannot be verified'. Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, made a mockery of this super, pointing out that for the last six months prior to the super's appearance CNN had been using social media to provide the news on television.
Surprisingly statistics show that only 5-7% of the world's population is participants on Twitter. Yet, Twitter is the main source of information for both Palestine and Iran. Twitter and You Tube are the main sources for mainstream media.
Ricky Ben David is a blogger for the Jerusalem Post. The Jerusalem Post is accused of fueling the Twitter revolution. Interesting considering the two main voices using Twitter are considered the enemies of Israel. In fact some tweets even accuse the journalists of the Jerusalem Post of being the faceless voices on Twitter riling up the revolution in a an act of government self preservation.
In a crucial time of change in the Cradle of Civilization, the civil unrest is using the only medium available to them as a cry for help, for support and most of all to fuel solidarity. One single voice no longer exists; there is no need for one leader to emerge when generations of web denizens are rallying as one voice to change the world.