UP EXPERT OPINION: Gen Z: Working the internet, forcing a ceasefire

Posted on November 29, 2023

A young woman activist holds up a poster at a pro-Palestinian rally that reads, “Imagine being South African and supporting an apartheid state”

In 1999, Nelson Mandela, who was then president, visited Gaza and said, “Choose peace rather than confrontation, except in cases where we cannot move forward. Then, if the only alternative is violence, we will use violence.” 

For South Africans, these are two stark realities that need critical examination. More so now when we are told that we must be “neutral”, or “objective”, telling the oppressed to adhere to non-violence while silent at the 75 years of violence from the oppressor. This subtle manipulation claims a moral equivalence between the oppressed and the oppressor. 

Individuals, academics, artists, professionals and politicians are sanctioned, erased and discriminated against for speaking out about ethnic cleansing and genocide, while the actual perpetrators of the genocide and ethnic cleansing are given unlimited and unsanctioned coverage. 

For young people, these contradictory behaviours are glaringly hypocritical. How does one advocate pacifism for the oppressed, when violence is allowed for the oppressor? It is argued that “violence begets violence”, but the root of violence is oppression. 

In a critical examination of pacifism, Ward Churchill’s book Pacifism as Pathology, argues that embracing pacifism would amount to surrendering to the colonial project and maintaining the status quo established by agreements such as Sykes-Picot between the UK and France in  1916. 

He argues that nonviolent strategies lack the capacity to defeat the state, as they often reflect a misunderstanding of the state’s nature. The state’s power is self-perpetuating and it will employ any means to crush liberation movements. If such movements manage to survive the initial repression, the state is likely to turn the conflict into a military one, rendering nonviolent tactics ineffective against a military force. Pacifism, he contends, cannot defend itself against determined extermination. 

Pacifism: A viable approach or a potentially flawed acceptance of state violence?

Struggles against oppression inherently involve conflict with the state, which monopolises violence as the “legitimate purveyor of violent force within their territory”. The call for nonviolence implies a tacit connection to white people’s manipulations of struggles by people of colour. 

Nonviolent strategies, wrapped in authoritarian dynamics, inadvertently serve government objectives over popular ones and can mask, or even encourage, patriarchal assumptions and power dynamics. Drawing on Frantz Fanon’s insights, critics highlight that nonviolence emerges as a concept introduced by the colonialist bourgeoisie to maintain control in colonial situations. 

As the debate over pacifism unfolds, it prompts reflection on whether it is a viable approach or a potentially flawed acceptance of state violence and a form of “learned helplessness”. Perhaps this is what Mandela was alluding to in his 1999 speech in Gaza. 

In 1969, American political activist Kwame Ture said, “The liberal is so preoccupied with stopping confrontation that he usually finds himself defending and calling for law and order, the law and order of the oppressor.” 

Activists and authors like Remi Kanazi, author of  Before the Next Bomb Drops: Rising Up from Brooklyn to Palestine, question the pacifist approach saying, “You want resistance to be clean and neat. To fit within your palatable box. But settler colonialism never recognised your box and never put limitations on its draconian violence. Ruling over a people isn’t a game, it has consequences, and ending that rule doesn’t magically happen.” 

After 75 years of systemic violence, why would liberals still start the clock from the moment that the Palestinians resisted?

Questioning mainstream media

South Africans who lived through apartheid can attest to these contradictions which projected them as the “animal”, “the terrorist” and the “savage”. But there is a new generation of humans that is moving beyond these dichotomies and hatred.

They are not confined to, nor trust, the mainstream media anymore. They like to question. They want both sides of the story and they are connected. They are the Gen Zs. They speak a different language. It is open, honest and unfettered.  

They have been challenging the pro-genocide supporters on social media platforms. On X, one user writes, “The ANC was labelled as a ‘terrorist’ organisation by the USA and Germany during apartheid times, at the behest of the apartheid regime. Some minds are still stuck there … Well, nomen est omen [the name is a sign].” 

Young people recognise these dichotomies knowing that those who resist oppression have been living through systemic violence for decades. They respond through powerful animations and simple, uncomplicated reasoning. One X user wrote, “If you’re silent when Israel kills Palestinians, remain silent when Palestinians defend themselves.”

The Gen Zs are a “generation” of their own. Having grown up in a world where they have witnessed one war after another waged in their names and on the claim of “higher moral values”, they are rejecting war. After all, it is the young people who are sent to fight while the old men sit in offices and trade in people’s lives. These wars and regime-change operations have traded with what matters most to the Gen Zs and at their expense.

TikTok user @leviscocc, who has 1.6 million likes, posted this: “While you are struggling to pay your rent this month, I hope you remember that Israel gets subsidised housing, subsidised groceries, free healthcare, updated infrastructure, because the USA has given them over 158 billion dollars in US citizens tax money. Imagine if that money was invested back into our communities.” Users are sharing their acute observations. 

Changing perceptions and challenging propaganda

But to get to peace one has to make a choice. The success of peace-building processes depends on various factors and the role of the masses is one of them. Evidence shows that peace processes overlook a strategy that could reduce conflict and advance stability — the inclusion of women and the youth. 

Young people today are changing perceptions and challenging propaganda. Kids on TikTok are poking fun at the Israeli occupation forces for their video of “Khamas” in the Al-Shifa Hospital. 

Social media apps controlled by Meta, Instagram, Facebook and X have been working overtime to sensor Palestinian content. Palestinian singer Mohammed Assaf’s patriotic song Ana Dammi Falastini was removed from Spotify and Apple Music on the pretext that it was “inciting against Israel”.

On the flip side, @7amleh, a non-profit organisation, working to create a safe, fair and free digital space, submitted 19 test ads explicitly promoting ethnic violence against Palestinian activists after Facebook had previously approved an advert calling for the assassination of a political activist. All 19 ads were approved by the platform. 

The non-profit tested Meta’s content moderation policy and found that, “Meta not only silences Palestinians online but also profits from hate speech and violent content targeting them.” 

Activists within Google circulated an internal petition related to the company’s Israel project. However, only the Muslim individual received a call from human resources implying support for terrorism.

When Elon Musk announced that “decolonisation”, “from the river to the sea”, implied genocide, and would be banned on X, activists mocked him. 

X user @caitoz responded, “From The River To The Sea” Is Genocide, But Actual Genocide Is Not Genocide. That’s right kids: actual genocide is not genocide – the real genocide is saying words that make Amy Schumer feel uncomfortable.” 

Groundbreaking cultural shift

There is a serious disconnect between the elite, people in power and the new generation of global, woke and fiercely human younger generation.

TikTok has been accused of favouring the Palestinian voice. Those with the least moral authority claim that this is because “two Chinese web platforms that have mapping capabilities do not label Israel on their maps”. 

According to the company, the proliferation of pro-Palestine content on TikTok isn’t due to the app’s algorithm, but because teenagers simply tended to support Palestine more. As of 13 November 2023, the #freepalestine tag had received 25.5 billion views, and #standwithisrael had 440.4 million views.

An NBC News national poll indicated that 70% of US voters aged between 18 and 34 disapprove of President Joe Biden’s handling of Israel’s genocide in Gaza.  In a groundbreaking cultural shift, the younger generation is demonstrating a heightened openness to embracing the global community, fostering tolerance and cherishing diversity. 

The traditional days of news being exclusively controlled by authorities, interest groups and influential entities, such as Fox News and CNN, are a thing of the past. By 20 November, which is World Children’s Day, 5 500 children had been killed by Israeli bombs and attacks on Gaza, “1 800 children are missing under the rubble, most of them presumed dead”. 

“A further 9 000 children have been injured, many with life-changing consequences. Many of these children have lived through the trauma of multiple wars.”  

Today, the truth is within everyone’s reach, unfolding in real-time. The world finds itself at the threshold of a transformative journey, spearheaded by its dynamic youth. 

Positioned to reshape societal dynamics and recalibrate priorities, the younger generation is steering us towards a future characterised by inclusivity, understanding and a commitment to truth. More specifically, they are saying no to war. No to #Genocide. #CeasefireNow.

Dr Quraysha Ismail Sooliman is a National Institute of the Humanities and Social Sciences postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Political Sciences at the University of Pretoria.

This article first appeared in the Mail & Guardian on 27 November 2023.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the University of Pretoria.

- Author Dr Quraysha Ismail Sooliman

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