THE BLOG
05/11/2013 08:23 GMT | Updated 23/01/2014 10:52 GMT

'Activism', For Better or for Worse?

'Activism' is a funny little thing. A word that by definition means an action to bring a social or political change. However, most define the word as helping the greater good by rebelling against an establishment of some sort. And everyone is aroused by a little rebellion.

The inner proletariat kid in us is awakened by unified fronts rebelling against those we can't fight alone. So we support movements in hopes of sparking some kind of change, a change that would solidify our footprint on this world. Isn't that all we're really after? To have our names etched on the tree trunks of history?

However, some appear to be far more obsessed with being remembered rather than making the positive change. This obsession has created a marathon of egos, where everyone wants to be remembered for some sort of change, irrespective of its long-term consequences.

Take the 'Arab Spring' for example. A region that remained unfamiliar to the masses before the uprisings suddenly become the star of every small talk conversation heard across the world. The region knew they had captured the world's attention, and everyone wanted in. All you needed was a computer and an internet connection, and voilà, an 'activist' was born. Now these 'activists' had the unimaginable ability to be remembered beyond the borders of their village.

A combination of newsreaders thirst for the 'Spring' and the initial inaccessibility to the most volatile of countries, conveniently positioned these individuals as overnight ambassadors for these movements. Consequently, it is these individuals whom were capitalized for an "accurate" insight, which in turn, led and shaped the narrative we hear today. They were positioned as the official sources across all news outlets, and their local voices were seldom challenged. Therefore the voices that dominated the calls for change were relative to the context these 'activists' presented, rather than the realties.

I wonder how many readers notice the sources for news articles tend to be the same. The coverage of the 'Arab Spring' continues to be cyclical endorsements of the same 'activists' until their messaging was cemented on printing plates. So, was our analysis based on an accurate representation?

Almost three years later, the 'Arab Spring' is losing its novelty in popular culture, forcing 'activists' to repackage their campaign in hopes of increasing their movement's longevity. Let's look at Bahrain. 'Activists' have intensified their campaigns creatively to reignite the spotlight they once dominated.

These are some of the tactics 'activists' used just in the past couple weeks: 'Stop The Shipment', attempting to halt the shipment of tear gas from Korea; 'Revolution Museum', an exhibition of art and installations based on Israel's Holocaust museum 'Yad Vashem' (yes I said Holocaust!); Wikileak's Julian Assange sent a tracked "live mail art piece" from London to Nabeel Rajab (an imprisoned opposition member in Bahrain) appealing for his release; "Wanted for Justice in Bahrain", a teaser campaign that daily releases the names and pictures of individuals allegedly responsible for violations.

I wonder about those who casually add their signatures on a petition, or retweet a status in support, if they really understand what they are endorsing? For example: the 'Stop the Shipment' campaign neglects to mention the nightly riots Bahrain faces by the now legitimized 'activists'. The streets are plagued with fire-burning tires, petrol bomb showers, and homemade IEDs that resulted in deaths and life-changing injuries to bystanders, security personnel, as well as on the young rioters themselves. Yes, tear gas is the most non-lethal method used globally for riot control, and is actually a display of such self-restraint in the most life-threatening situations. Does anyone have a better idea how to protect my family and friends from those whom those who have justified violence as a means?

Although those signatories may have convinced themselves they are supporting a cause that has positioned itself as the gateway to a better life, they are misguided. It is solely the better life of the campaign organizers they are satisfying, neglecting those affected directly as a consequence. It is these campaigns that have distorted the roots of the cause, as the measure of success is not on the reform process, but on the number of signatures and media mentions the campaign receives. Are these people more interested in their 'activist' fame rather than meaningful change?

Instead of devoting their time and effort to building these elaborate and redundant campaigns that aim to demonize the Bahraini Government and its supporters, it would be far more beneficial if they prioritized today's critical issues. Promoting reconciliatory initiatives at a time when rifts are still very prevalent; supporting the 'National Dialogue' which the opposition have now boycotted as their pre-conditions continue to be rejected because they refuse to acknowledge the very premise of change by consensus; condemning the on-going targeted violence that has created a hostile environment for reform to flourish.

I do want to make myself very clear. In no way am I saying 'activism' isn't an effective way to create positive change. What I am questioning is how responsible are 'activists' and their supporters? Are they really helping the cause or merely helping themselves sleep better at night?