Marinating since SXSW – blame the barbecue

April 8, 2008 in Israel, It is what it is - opinion column | Comments (0)


In the spirit of disclosure the original “creation” date on this would be more accurate if it mapped to the time I spent in Austin, TX for SXSW.
But as with so many things of this nature, I only just compiled the thoughts and am now writing in the dark cabin of my United flight winging my way across the Atlantic (a quick glance at the in flight map shows we’re just passing over Greenland).
Yes, this has been marinating since SXSW – perhaps a credit to the superlative barbecue that one finds in Austin,TX. In any case its catalyst was a session at SXSW focusing on Muslim extremism on-line and how the moderate Muslim community is arising to combat the way in which the fundamentalist faction of their people is destroying the overall essence of their existence.
Okay, so that may be a gratuitous over-simplification, but the truth is that with a topic so ridiculously complex, I don’t know that there’s any other way I can break it down.
As with most of the sessions at SXSW, the dais was packed. I came in late so missed the introduction for most speakers. The ones I caught were:
Mohammed Hluchan – Senior Middle East Analyst for Verisign, iDefense
Frank Cilluffo – VP for Homeland Security at George Washington University
Mohammed Khan – Head of a “blog farm” dedicated to dispelling the myth that there is a monolothic Muslim community focused on a radical purpose
From a critical point of view, I think this session totally missed its potential. I, for one, went with the hope that the panelists would spent a little time talking about their perspective and then that we, in the audience, would have the chance to speak up, ask questions and get some dialogue moving.
This wasn’t the case.
Instead the moderator allowed the panelists to each pontificate. Sadly the first two speakers each went on for about 15 minutes – leaving 30 minutes for the last four speakers and for Q&A. This does not discount the value and information provided by those first two speakers. Candidly I think each of these folks would have been well served by having a 30-minute session of their own to talk about their work, and then interact with the crowd.
But I digress from the point I intended, which is to focus on the fact that – as we are all sadly aware – the “bad guys” seem far more capable of motivating, organizing and mobilizing than those who strive to find balance and peace. Again, a drastic oversimplification, but you get the gist.
Why is it that the “good guys” (who, in my world, are defined as anyone who’s not overly saturated in dogma and is willing to at least consider a point of view other than their own) seem constitutionally incapable of rising up against those small, but ever-so-vocal-and-powerful minorities?
It’s that whole one bad apple spoiling the whole barrel thing. But here’s the thing, we’re not apples right? Last I checked, human beings aren’t inanimate objects. We have moving limbs, opposable thumbs and have even been known on occasion to have cognitive reasoning and rational thought.
So why on earth can those who so deeply abhor all that is extremism not get their shit together and crush the venomous voices who, given a chance, would throw various societies into chaos merely for their own gain?
I do not point only to the Muslim community on this. We are all guilty at one point or another. How many times have you stood idly by while someone behaved in a way that you found reprehensible? How many times have you opted to stay silent rather than get involved because it’s just not your business?
One cannot condemn the entire Muslim world any more than one can condemn all Germans for what happened during World War II. To categorize an entire people as evil and wrong based on the actions of a subset of that group, in my opinion, makes those who do the condemning no better than those who they judge.
This trip I am now taking to Israel has many meanings for me. I’ll spend the first couple of days utterly immersed in all that is geek and tech. From there, it’s suits and business talk at a conference. Beyond that, the intention is to spend several days riding around Israel with a group of Silicon Valley peers experiencing everything we can about innovation in the State of Israel.
Underneath this trip, though, for me lies a question: What will it take to galvanize the silent majority so that they step forward? How can we, as a social collective, support each other so that those who are afraid to speak out can feel safe? What role does the technology industry play in this equation and how might social media take part in healing some of these deep wounds?
Where do we begin?


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