When liberalism becomes fascism: Lebanon’s online lynch-mob

In the popular medieval series, Game of Thrones, Cersei Lannister, is forced to make a walk of atonement for her sins. Is Lebanon's online community following suit?
In the popular medieval series, Game of Thrones, Cersei Lannister, is forced to make a walk of atonement for her sins. Is Lebanon’s online community following suit?

When I was a child, my late grandmother, and out of concern for my wellbeing, gave me the following advice : “a woman is like a well polished diamond. The slightest scratch on its surface is a blemish that ruins its value irreversibly”. She was referring to my virginity of course, my grandmother being a product of her time. She had weathered the pressures and injustices of a society that considered her a commodity to be appraised.

My mother, having learned the same lessons from her own mother, elected to raise me in the way she deemed proper; in the way that she believed would offer me the best chances of survival.

Yet in my upbringing, I was able to question the very principles that my parents sought to instill in me. I was afforded the space to disagree and make up my own mind after weighing all the facts; a luxury denied to many.

With the benefits of age, I came to realize that the analogy of the diamond was a means of oppression; that diamonds as well as chastity, have no intrinsic value; that they are only worth the illusory value that we, as individuals, attribute to them.

It’s no secret, however, that “diamonds” are still seen as commodities of great value in conservative societies. Traditional thinking is difficult to override with reason. Culture, education, and religion hold a strong grip on notions that are viewed as determining agents of both life and marriage, and sometimes even death.

My grandmother and mother’s opinions on womanhood are the ones that they had to uphold in order to survive and attempt to thrive in the society of their time. Today, to the liberals among us, their views are nothing short of offensive and archaic.

Are they to be shamed and marginalized for the ideas that an unjust society instilled upon them? Am I, if I stand by them, throughout?

This week saw the online lynching of former beauty queen and actress Nadine Njeim, whereby she was attacked by “liberals”, “feminists”, and anyone with a social media account. She was called anything and everything, from “slut” to “bad-mother”, all in the name of women’s rights. Ironic, is it not?

Njeim’s attacks were propelled by an old interview that had resurfaced online, in which she had expressed opinions that reflect the ones championed by many women and men in society. To her [and them], gender equality is tantamount to a woman’s destruction, equal rights are frowned upon, and sex before marriage is a privilege only a son [and man] can afford. Such is the world that exists beyond our closed circle of liberal friends.

Njeim’s opinions are not solely her own, they are reflective of the larger society in which we live in; a society that includes family, friends, and foes.

But often on the online world, a mob is formed, where people emboldened by the popularity of their position resort to attacking the person who has voiced an unpopular opinion, rather than taking on the opinion itself. Njeim was the most recent example.

The questions to be asked are the following: Was it her position that made her an easy target? Was it her status? Her age? More importantly was she made the scapegoat for all opinions deemed unfavorable? Would her attackers do the same to a family member? Are we just hunters waiting for the next prey? Regardless of the answers, the results are one and the same: the lynch-mob has become the latest online trend.

The courage that arises out of being part of a likeminded crowd, is very seductive. Anything that a crowd achieves is experienced as a personal success on the part of each member of the group, while the responsibility for any collective wrongdoing is divided among all, so as to seem negligible.

No matter the ideological position being championed by such methods, personal attacks for the sake of suppressing an opinion, are fundamentally fascist; a tyranny perpetrated by the majority, and a great step towards intolerance.

While online bullying is a universal occurrence, locally the mere notion of liberalism, once a societal safeguard against ignorance and prejudice, is rapidly becoming synonymous with the mentality of the mob. Honest objectors to liberal ideas are being bullied out of the conversation rather than debated and persuaded.

Perhaps some members of the intellectual minority might view these instances of intellectual violence as the first victories in a long line of defeats at the hands of a fundamentally conservative society, but it is this blogger’s opinion that the price to be paid for these superficial victories; the price paid in the abandonment of ideals, is far too high and detrimental.

Having said that, I hope that we, as an online community, can one day debate ideas rather than the people behind them, and not resort to a unilateral discourse during which popular ideas are automatically celebrated to the detriment of minority opinion, but rather as a contest of merit.

About 
Nadine Mazloum is an Australian born, Beirut bred multimedia journalist, editor, and blogger. She most recently worked as StepFeed's Senior Editor. Before that, she was the news editor and resident blogger for the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation International [LBCI] and has held several positions with well-known media outlets both locally and internationally. Her work appears online both on LBCI and on her personal blog, NewsroomNomad©.

4 Comments

  1. Raghid

    May 19, 2016 - 9:21 am
    Reply

    Very nice article, but it is really hard to separate the opinion from the opinionist. The clash with Njeim somehow relates to the expectation that young, famous public figures should support modern beliefs such as women rights, human rights and equality rather than beliefs dating back to our parents and grandparents, whose generation and beliefs were a catalyst for a civil war. In addition, her opinion, which surfaced recently and can be considered discriminatory, came after an enormous human trafficking scandal in which men, encouraged by society to experiment in their life, resorted to paying for sex and indirectly sponsoring the torture of tens of women.

    • NewsroomNomad

      May 19, 2016 - 9:30 am
      Reply

      Absolutely, but again, I am in no way saying that she should not be criticized, but that the act of resorting to slut shaming as a means to counter argue is in reality counter-productive. Slut-shaming in the name of women’s rights is absurd. It’s an ad hominem fallacy.

  2. Jad K.

    May 19, 2016 - 6:42 pm
    Reply

    Great piece and I agree with you. This seems to be turning into a classic case of how the oppressed becomes like the oppressor once they are given the chance.

    I in no way agree with or support what Ms Njeim said, however, just like you, I find that the way people have lynched her to be deplorable. Let us not forget that we live in a society where people who think like her are still the majority, yet people on social media tend to forget that, because they seem to forget that only the educated minority are the ones active on social media. This can be clearly seen with what happened in Beirut’s elections a while back: Beirut Madinati would have seemed to have 90% (if not more) of the votes on social media, but we all saw the hard truth happen in front of our eyes when it came to the actual thing. That being said, the “educated” minority has disappointed me with how it handled this incident. This should be the slice of society that promotes and acts towards human and women rights, understanding and nurturing and helping people to kick old ignorant traditions, and make a transition into a more informed and fairer way of life. Instead, we saw them calling out to stone her. Sad. Very sad.
    How beautiful would it have been if someone would have invited her on another show, discussed the matter with her in a very polite and civilzed way, and (hopefully) gotten her to change her stance in front of the whole public, or if that wasn’t going to happen, we would shown the public how “people who think like us act maturely and in a civilized manner” , possibly making them reconsider a point or two.
    I always like to go back to science. It was found that verbal attacks trigger the limbic system just like a real physical danger, setting people in “fight or flight” mode, and thus getting them to be defensive (which to them it becomes “survival”) , ignoring rationality and logic. To better reach people, we should avoid such negative methods and attitudes, and try our best to reach them with kindness and maturity.

    Great piece Nadine. It was a pleasant surprise when I got to the end and saw you were the author (I had no idea when I started reading ^_^ ). Will be checking your blog regularly.

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