The Arab Rebels of Twitter
"Delete Israel and the West from the world, and we would still be as ignorant as we are. We would still be stabbing each other."
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Last Thursday, a day after the bombing attack in Iran on crowds at a ceremony marking the anniversary of an Iranian spymaster’s death, I coincidentally met an Iranian young man, 27 years old, from Tehran.
The first thing he told me when I mentioned the bomb attack, which ISIS ultimately claimed responsibility for, is that the Iranian regime was behind it.
“Why do you think so?” I asked.
“The attack took place 40 days before Revolution Day (February 11th) in Iran (the date in 1979 that the downfall of the Pahlavi Dynasty occurred). In Islam, we have a tradition that you honor the dead 40 days after their death. The Iranian government wants more people to come out to the streets on Revolution Day to make it seem like more Iranians support the government than actually do.”
I then asked him how many people of the nearly 90 million who live in Iran actually support the government. His response: “Maybe five million people.” Or about six percent.
“Interesting,” I said, and then asked: “What about you?”
“I hate the Iranian government,” he said. “I hate Arabs.”
“But Persians don’t consider themselves Arabs,” I responded, to which he gave me a sort of smirky look that said, “Who are they kidding?”
Whether or not this Iranian young man’s conspiracy theory proves to be true is beside the point. The more intriguing issue is that there seems to be a deep distrust among young Iranians in their government, shared by a larger swath of the public.
As I wrote in an early essay, two-thirds of Middle Easterners are below the age of 30, half of whom are younger than 20, and 40 percent of whom have yet to reach their 15th birthday.1 “Middle Eastern” increasingly means “young people.”
For the first time in history, many of these youngsters have received some education, although its quality is up for debate. They are no longer satisfied with the old, difficult, dirty jobs, but often lack skills needed to gain entry into the modern hyper-competitive global economy. The combination of their rapidly growing numbers, the quality of their education, government economic mismanagement, and the global economy’s idiosyncrasies have generated whopping unemployment rates.
Young Middle Easterners look around them and see not only economic failure, but also corruption and tyranny. Unsurprisingly, they often despise their governments, their representatives, and their foreign supporters.
Khaled Hassan is not one of these youngsters. An Egyptian political risk and intelligence analyst whose research looks at antisemitism, Islamism, and conspiracy theories, Hassan went from living in Egypt and harboring antisemitic views, to living in the United Kingdom and not only disavowing those views, but converting to Judaism.
“Do you really want to know why I support Israel? It’s not because of my Jewishness. It’s not because I like their falafel, (It’s nice, but the Egyptian one is way better.) It’s because if the entire world became Israel, we’d still be able to fall in love. To party. To dance. To hold hands. To go for a drink. To look after the vulnerable. To vote. To love and live under the rule of compassion and democracy. To have freedom of religion and freedom of speech,” Hassan wrote on Twitter. “On the other hand, if the entire world became the Palestinian Authority, Jordan, Qatar, Yemen, Syria, Gaza, Iraq, et cetera, you know exactly what would happen. Hate, fear, terrorism, and bloodlust.”2
Luai Ahmed was born and raised in Yemen, a country where hating Israel is as common as sneezing during allergy season. He moved to Sweden and became an activist — speaking out against Islam.
“Dear Muslims,” Ahmed wrote on Twitter. “The world is scared of us. The world is laughing at us. The world is worried about us. And there are legitimate reasons for their worry that we cannot keep denying. It is time for us to flush the word ‘Islamophobia’ down the toilet and start looking in the mirror and ask ourselves: How did we get here? How come the largest and most thriving terrorist organizations in the world are Muslim? Why do we keep repeating these stone-age traditions that have failed us and continue to fail us?”3
“Meanwhile, we are stuck on Earth in the Middle Ages, going to our poisonous mosques every Friday, reciting the same chapters and the same stories of Mohammed,” he added. “Why haven’t all of these books and teachings led to any scientific, technological, or medical advancements? 1,400 years of us, stuck, debating: ‘Which is the correct sect?’ ‘What is the correct interpretation?’ ‘Who is a real Muslim? ‘How can we convince people to become Muslims?’ Why on Earth would anyone want to become Muslim today?”
Ahmed argued that the fight Israel is fighting “is not just about the Jews. It’s about women who get killed for removing their hijab in Iran. It’s about homosexuals who get slaughtered by Sharia law in 13 Muslim countries. It’s about secular journalists who get killed for opposing their regimes. It’s about artists or comedians who draw Prophet Mohammed and get killed. It’s about ex-Muslims who get killed in Muslim countries. Delete Israel and the West from the world, and we would still be as ignorant as we are. We would still be stabbing each other. Stop blaming them — and look at yourselves instead. The enemy is not out there. The enemy is within.”
But Ahmed attested that it is not just Muslims who are the problem. It’s also Westerners who engage in the hypocrisy of selective outrage.
“Hundreds of thousands of Yemenis were slaughtered. More than 10 million Yemeni children are starving right now,” he wrote. “Everyone is silent about Yemen, yet everyone is a humans rights activist about Gaza. Why?”
Ahmed also had something to say about Western complacency: “As someone who sat in mosques as a child and heard the imams preach incessantly, ‘We must kill all Jews,’ I am not surprised by the level of antisemitism that has been brewing on social media since October 7th. But I am shocked by the complacency of many Westerners.”
He even took a jab at all the Westerners who says things like: “Well, it’s their culture, and we have to respect all different cultures in the name of diversity and multiculturalism.”
“Absolutely not,” wrote Ahmed. “I will not respect nor accept my Islamic culture as it is misogynistic, homophobic, and antisemitic. Mainstream Islamic culture needs to reform, it needs to adapt to modern secular law of equality, respect, acceptance, and freedom of speech. If Muslims and Arabs continue to reject peace and modernization, they will continue to live in war, bloodshed, and never-ending revolutions of anger and dismay. And we will continue to be feared and hated by the world, for leaving our home countries and trying to enforce our dogma — that destroyed our countries — on other people.”
Ahmed Fouad Alkhatib would know. He was born in Gaza City and now lives in the U.S. His grandparents were “pushed out of their homes in 1948,” and he “very much” carries a “generational trauma from their displacement.”
But Alkhatib also contends that, unlike “so many Palestinians and their allies,” the idea that the pro-Palestinian cause “can only be advanced by aligning with ‘anti-Zionist’ Jews is inaccurate and and outright wrong and detrimental. Zionists are an inevitable part of the solution.”4
“A Zionist,” he wrote on Twitter, “doesn’t by default mean ‘anti-Palestinian’ or anti-just peace and coexistence with Palestinians. I understand why so many would think otherwise, but we need a different framework for working with Zionists and their beliefs to move forward and build a different future.”
“So many of the early Zionists were very left-leaning, pro-coexistence people who wanted to live side-by-side with the indigenous Palestinian population,” wrote Alkhatib. “And yes, many were militant from the get-go or became militant after skirmishes and clashes with Palestinian revolutionaries (right or wrong, but that’s what happened). The idea here is that Zionism is a diverse movement that was not just a bunch of angry or hateful European Jews who were seeking the displacement of Palestinians. There were also numerous Arab Jews who adopted Zionist ideologies because they, too longed for a safe place that could unify them with their brethren.”
“Nevertheless, reductionist, simplistic slogans and rhetoric that pin on Zionists and Zionism all the ills, problems, issues, and current challenges experienced by Palestinians will neither advance the Palestinian cause, nor will they help in understanding and working with Israelis and Jews for whom Israel means so much,” wrote Alkhatib. “I’m not a Zionist. Still, I know that for peace to have any chance of succeeding, I have to work with Zionists and stop the endless cycle of demonization and dehumanization.”
These Arab voices are among the many that I see on Twitter (also known as X) every day. They are educated and literate, assimilated into their new countries, and obviously speak blunt, courageous truths. Luai Ahmed recently told a story about a credible Swedish journalist who sent him a message saying that he should be careful because he is becoming a “target for some of the West’s most dangerous Islamists.”
“But the West’s most dangerous Islamists,” wrote Ahmed, “are the clueless academics and journalists who sit comfortably in their ivory towers and force mass Islamic migration on gullible Westerners.”
Still, these important Arab voices are overwhelmingly outnumbered by millions of other Arabs and Muslims who — whether they remained in their home countries or immigrated to other ones — are engulfed by fundamentalist Islamic discourse, or at least tolerate it.
In many poor Arab and Muslim neighborhoods, only the mosque provides some refuge from the heat, filth, and chaos of city life. Crises of public finance have forced governments across Arab and Muslim-majority countries to retreat from providing many public services, abandoning these areas to private, often Islamist schools, clinics, hospitals, and welfare agencies.
Nationalism has not disappeared; it has been translated into Islamic discourse. And, as George Orwell once said:
“The nationalism of defeated peoples is necessarily revengeful and short-sighted.”
For young Palestinians, this quote couldn’t be any truer. Indeed, 22 percent of the population is between the ages of 18 to 29; 38 percent are under the age of 15.5 A young population should mean plenty of workers to grow the economy; people who are relatively healthy and not yet afflicted with ailments that come with age; and a surplus of new, fresh, and innovative ideas.
But young Palestinians are faced with skyrocketing unemployment and very little hope. Youth unemployment, including for college graduates, is 36 percent in the West Bank and an astounding 74 percent in Gaza. Unemployment rates for women are nearly a third higher than for men. As such, many young Palestinians — especially those who are somewhat educated and skilled — leave the Palestinian territories.
Already in 2006, then-Palestinian Authority deputy foreign minister Ahmed Soboh called for an end to the “brain drain,” saying that record numbers of Palestinians were applying to leave. In fact, following every major societal disruption, like wars or the first and second intifadas, some significant proportion of the educated class leaves to seek safety and security elsewhere.
Most of the Palestinian Authority’s politicians are much older than the average person, not least of which is the 88-year-old president, Mahmoud Abbas, who’s serving the 18th year of his four-year term. They do not seem particularly interested in making changes that will keep their youth thriving and motivated, if not incapable altogether. Both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas are, of course, anti-democracy and democratic ideals, such as free speech and a free-market economy.
One Palestinian man was jailed by the Palestinian Authority (which administers the West Bank) after advocating for more business-friendly government policies. As for Hamas: “Today, if you want to have a business in Gaza, you have to be either a member of Hamas or close to Hamas. If you don’t, you have no prospects,” said Ghaith al-Omari, a former Palestinian diplomat.6
There is one fast-track to upward mobility — you guessed it, terrorism — since both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority dole out millions in grants to Palestinian terrorists in Israeli prisons, as well as to their families, a self-perpetuating reward system that produces exponentially more terror, imprisoned terrorists, and “martyrs.” To be sure, these grants are subject to a rigorous cost-benefit analysis of if and how beneficiaries will support certain Palestinian factions, with those linked to terror activities often receiving more than others.
Fittingly, at the end of November as an Israeli-Hamas hostage-prisoner swap was underway, Luai Ahmed wrote: “Israel is celebrating getting their innocent hostages back. Palestine is celebrating getting their terrorists back.”
Hence, there is also no space for political activism in both the West Bank and Gaza. One poll found that 50 percent of people in Gaza feel they cannot safely criticize Hamas, while 50 percent in the West Bank feel they cannot safely criticize the Palestinian Authority.
Many Palestinians, though, blame Israel for all their misdeeds, miscalculations, and mistakes. If the Palestinian Authority and Hamas have done anything well, they’ve composed a popular, persuasive, and pervasive narrative: Despite or in spite of their leaders’ mind-boggling kleptocracy and corruption, the Palestinians’ problems are predominantly Israel’s fault.
Economic and political development in the Palestinian territories, they say, can only occur if Israel withdraws its security arrangements from the West Bank, voids its other security requirements on the Gaza border, and allows the free flow of people and goods. You know, the same flow that allowed Palestinians to murder more than 1,000 people during the Second Intifada, 70-percent of whom were civilians.
Palestine is, ironically, the only country in the world that never existed before its occupation.
“Palestine has the weakest case among all the world’s conflicts,” one Arab parody account wrote on Twitter. “However, because their opponents are the Jews, Palestine has an advantage over any other conflict in the world.”7
“American Thinking About Violence in the Middle East.” UC Santa Cruz: Center for Global, International and Regional Studies.
Khaled Hassan on X
Luai Ahmed on X
Ahmed Fouad Alkhatib on X
“We are doomed: Young people in Palestine are losing hope.” The New Arab.
“Situation in Palestinian Territories ‘is completely hopeless if you’re young’.” France 24.
Nakba on X