I’m going to be perfectly honest here: I can be snarky as hell. I’m sarcastic sometimes. When I feel like it, I can be a bit of a you-know-what-stirrer. I enjoy a good debate. I like to have the last word, and I’ll defend my position ’til my voice goes hoarse (or my fingers cramp up). Still, when navigating Facebook, I’ve long since make it a point to not comment on my friends’ political posts that I disagree with, no matter how much I may be tempted, because even though I won’t call anyone names or anything, I tend to be terrible at disagreeing diplomatically.
But if you make a political post on the Facebook timeline of one of my best friends, knowing full well that the two of you are on opposite ends of the political spectrum, and then you allow (and, by liking the comment, encourage) your friends to call her a four-letter word beginning with ‘c’ because (surprise, surprise!) she doesn’t agree with you, I’m probably going to say something.
That’s basically what happened a few days ago. A Facebook friend of one of my friends shared a political meme and tagged my friend (and only her) when he did so. This particular political meme espoused ideals that my friend did not share, and the person sharing the post knew this. Now, since this person tagged my friend, the post showed up on her timeline; it was visible to the friends of the person who shared it and the friends of the person (my friend) who was tagged in it.
Once it was shared, my friend, having dealt with this particular person’s harassment on her own posts for some time, succinctly informed the person that she was defriending him. And she did. And that was that. But the post remained on her timeline, because she was still tagged in it. And that’s how I saw when another person, someone my friend had blocked weeks ago because of his harassment, commented on the post and called my friend…you know…the c-word.
I probably should have stayed out of it, honestly. But this particular friend, a BFF of mine, has stood up for me in much less (openly) rude situations on Facebook, and I couldn’t bear to stay silent as she was, unbeknownst to her (because she couldn’t see the blocked person’s comment), publicly denigrated for all of her friends to see.
I said something about how the comment (not the person, mind you, just the comment) was vile and immature. It escalated from there, as I suppose I was immature enough to enjoy the silliness of the exchange (which, on my end, mostly consisted of me highlighting the terrible spelling that made up their vitriolic rants). I got called basic insults like “bitch,” “libtard,” and “liberal ho bag.” I got told that I wasn’t American because of part of my surname (obviously, the Mostafa part). I got told to shut up because they “have free speech” (oh, the delicious irony of not only the contradictory nature of this argument, but also the fact that people who wield it are so rarely aware of the contradiction). I got told to “stop breeding.” And I got told to stay out of “their” country.
Then it got a bit uglier with the addition of more blatant racism. “I feel like an American GI giving candy to half-witted tribals in Africa,” one comment read, in response to my apparent stupidity. “Nikki camel f*****,” another comment called me. “Shouldn’t you be hiding with a veil over your face somewhere while you watch your cousin sodomize a camel?” another comment read. I’ll note that when sharing these comments, I’m correcting all spelling and grammatical errors, of which, as I mentioned earlier, there were many. And another thing I find noteworthy–it’s interesting that so many American-thrown insults toward me and/or people from my husband’s area of the world seem to center around sexual encounters with camels. I think it says a lot more about what they think about than what I think about.
Anyway, all of that…blah blah blah. Sadly, it’s par for the course at this point. Nothing I haven’t seen before.
But then it got worse.
When at one point, after fielding most of the above insults, I jokingly said, “Wow! Suddenly I see the error of my liberal ways!”, the response was, “It’s okay, we don’t forgive you but we may yet let you live.”
I replied, “I’m sure you’ll let me live. You boys talk a mean game, but I’m pretty sure you’re not so heartless as to harm someone because they disagree with your politics.”
The response? “Lol, sure, whatever lets you sleep.”
Then I was instructed to drink a bottle of drain cleaner. Okay, whatever.
The encouragement to kill myself continued. Finally, one of the young men informed me, “You’ll see, we have ovens for Saudi Arabians.”
Excuse me, what?
See, right around here is where I get lost on this whole thing. Because no matter how annoying, rude, contradictory, or argumentative someone on the Internet is to me, it would never occur to me to respond to that person by threatening them, instructing them to commit suicide, or informing them that their family belongs in ovens. It just…baffles me. On some level, I can shake it off (my response to the directive to drink drain cleaner: “No thanks, I prefer Dr. Pepper”). But on the other hand, I’d be lying if I said none of it bothered me at all (obviously, because here I am, writing this post, although, granted, it took me awhile to write about it…because this certainly isn’t the first time I’ve encountered words like this). I just would never say things like that, and I don’t understand the mentality of anyone who does. I may disagree with you about a lot of things, but I will never say things like that to you. I will not threaten you or say that you deserve to be harmed. I will never try to intimidate you to shut you up. I will never wish death upon you. I will never try to make you afraid because you have thoughts, opinions, or beliefs.
And if you ever see me doing otherwise, please call me out on it.
I’ve never been threatened or insulted in Saudi Arabia for being the wife of a Saudi. Husband and I have been the recipient of a few snarky remarks (once, shortly after I arrived, a female cashier at a grocery store here in Riyadh asked my husband in Arabic why he couldn’t have married someone from his own country. He replied calmly to her. When I said goodbye to her in Arabic with a wide smile, she looked panicked upon realizing that I might have understood her. Then she wished us a long and happy life together), but we’ve never been threatened or insulted.
But I’ve been threatened and/or insulted numerous times by Americans (and like I mentioned earlier, the insults almost always seem to involve camels…so creative!), and all because I’m married to a Saudi and I don’t keep my mouth shut in public forums where everybody else is expressing their opinions, too. How is this okay? I don’t get it. Yes, I’m opinionated. Yes, I’m sarcastic. Yes, I enjoy a good debate. Yes, I like to have the last word. But I don’t wish (or threaten) violence upon anyone. (And another funny thing–I mean, funny if it weren’t so sad–is that frequently, insults center around how supposedly my savage Arab husband controls what I say…and people make this accusation at the exact same time they’re trying to, you know, control what I say.)
Folks have said that I “defend” life in Saudi Arabia, or that I “deflect” Saudi problems by focusing on American ones. But I have no doubt that if I had been interacting with Saudi men who disagreed with me, I could have faced the same sort of verbal abuse. Hatred exists everywhere, and it would be ludicrous to suggest that Saudi Arabia is in any way immune to that. Still, if there’s truth to the suggestion that I “deflect” from Saudi problems, then this is why. Unfortunately, for me, there are absolutely times when I feel much safer in Saudi Arabia than at home in America, which breaks my heart, because I’m American, my passport is American, my citizenship is American, my history is American, my family is American. And for me, as an American, this sort of thing is more scary to me than life in Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia undeniably has huge, glaring, abhorrent human rights issues. But those issues, while obviously deserving of any and all attention they get, aren’t what made me feel the need to double-check my iPhone settings to ensure that my photos and social media posts were free of geotags, even though I was half a world away. This experience did.
Because that’s the thing–these people were not unidentifiable Internet randos. These were young men, now in their twenties, whom my friend had as students when she was teaching high school several years ago. These were people that she would stop and chat with if she ran into them in Walmart. These were people speaking behind their real names and actual photos of themselves. These were not anonymous Internet trolls, venting the worst inclinations of humanity in the anonymous underbelly of the Internet. These were people whose workplaces were available even for me, a non-Facebook friend, to see, people who obviously felt zero risk of any sort of societal condemnation or repercussion from anyone who saw their words.
Please note here that I am not suggesting that they should somehow face prosecution or any other harm for saying what they did. That truly is free speech. However, free speech does not mean that a person has the right of immunity from any sort of repercussions of their words–here is a good, succinct clarification of this concept. And in my limited view, there are few statements that warrant societal condemnation more than openly saying that a group of people belongs in ovens.
For the past few days, I’ve been trying to decide whether or not I should write this blog post. On one hand, it seemed really important to me to say some stuff, to get my thoughts about this out of my brain. On the other hand, I couldn’t help but feel that for some people who would read this, the reaction would be, “Well, you were egging them on, so you deserved what you got.”
But I don’t believe that. I think that falls into a really, really ugly line of slippery slope thinking in which any number of horrific actions are excusable simply because another person didn’t seek to make themselves as invisible as possible. That’s exactly the sort of mentality that can rule the ugliest parts of Saudi culture–women who don’t cover up must want the attention of being stared at, followed, and otherwise sexually harassed, right? Yeah, no. I don’t abide by that, and I don’t abide by any other sort of thinking that fits that mold.
I will always speak out against this sort of dehumanization, especially when it’s happening to people I love by people in my own country. I will always speak out against the perception of mere existence as a threat, and violence–or threat of violence–that stems from it. And maybe I’m wrong (in fact, I hope I am), but it feels like these beliefs are flourishing in America, growing like ivy choking the walls of a beautiful house. And many of us don’t want to see it. We want to believe that our country is so star-spangled awesome that these guys were just being stupid little shits on the Internet (until, you know, they go on shooting sprees and then we’re like, “Yeah, he said this stuff, but we never took him seriously!”) or that none of it would have happened if I’d just kept my mouth shut. Which, of course, is just wrong.
This stuff is there, it is real, and it scares me. But this is why I keep writing, and sharing, and talking. Because I won’t be threatened into silence…especially when those threats are coming from my own country…from my own region of my own country, from people who grew up driving on the same state highways and back roads that I did.
So, yeah. I’ll be honest and say that this whole situation, which transpired over maybe an hour or so a few days ago, has bummed me out–not because someone doesn’t like me, my ideals, or my beliefs (because hey, they can get in line for that), but because the hate is so strong, and so violent, and so close to the surface. And someone might say, “Well, you obviously knew they were nasty people, because they called your friend the c-word, and yet you engaged them anyway!” Or, “You could have distanced yourself from the conversation once it was obvious that it wasn’t going to be at all productive!” And I guess all that’s true. That’s part of why I wasn’t sure if I should write this post–if I really had something to say or if it was just me whining about my butthurt fee-fees. But after a lot of thought, I still think there’s something important to be said about this. Because the hate still would have been there, even if it wasn’t expressed at that particular moment. It always makes its way out somehow. And whether it’s out in the open or held in the heart, hate is always ugly. Not to mention unproductive.
So I’m gonna write this blog post, I’m going to continue to talk, and I’m going to throw my support behind the blossoming awesomeness that is NotmyOzarks. Because I adore the Ozarks, and for better or worse, I will always come back. And I expect more from the Ozarks. I expect more from my home.