Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Censorship pt. II

Saba first appeared in my personal blog world early last February, when she suddenly planted a comment in the middle of yet another debate/rant session I was having with Goemagog on the Pave's Peculiar Pabulum site. It wasn't the most profound comment in the world, to be sure, but it struck me as being very much the right thing to say at the right time. At any rate, I was intrigued by this woman and curious to find out what she was about, so I visited her own blog.

When it appeared in my browser it was like a two-by-four across the face. Her site, entitled "Bahrain and Beyond", was anything but subtle. A young woman with a taste for Metallica and sassy deadpan, she was also a very vociferous champion of the Palestinian cause, and for a good reason. Her family hails from the West Bank city of Ramallah, once known as "the Prague of the Middle East" for its supersized share of poets, thinkers, and writers. Not surprisingly, Saba was all of the above. She was scarcely older than my senior students at ye olde academy, but she was clearly gifted, knowledgeable, well-traveled, and mature beyond her years. Some of the views she expressed on her site were rather extreme, but if anyone confronted her (as they often did) they quickly found they were dealing with no mere, empty-headed ranter. Her ability to back herself up by delivering on demand a massive barrage of documented information was impressive. She was a force to be reckoned with, and she attracted lots of attention.

Already an international controversy before the age of 20, Saba had the ability to grab people's attention and hold it with both hands. That also gave her the ironic ability to bring people together. A lot of surfers and bloggers visited her site, and many of them became regular visitors, myself included. In fact, several of the people in my current blog "family" I met either directly or indirectly thanks to "Bahrain and Beyond".

Of course, if one champions an extreme cause, one can expect extreme opposition, and Saba got it. The Jewish/Israeli reaction was swift, strong, and at times brutal. Even I was not immune; no sooner did I post an article praising "Bahrain and Beyond" on the Snabulus website than Snabulus , this blog, and a few others linked to it started getting hammered by anti-Palestinian propaganda spam. However, ironically, once again Saba's uncanny ability to bring people together came into play. In the process of the debate I came to be acquainted with some very interesting Jewish/Israeli bloggers including Shlemazl, Oleh, and especially Greg, who I now count among my blog friends.

Perhaps most ironic of all was the deep friendship that wound up sprouting between Saba and Greg. A visit to Russian-born, Chicago-raised, Tel Aviv-based Greg's site, "Hear O Israel", will show you that he is a Zionist in no uncertain terms. However, just like Dr. Epstein, my undisputed favorite of all the teachers I had in college, he is a Zionist of sense, reason, intelligence, and sensitivity and very much worthy of respect. His beliefs and Saba's seemed almost diametrically opposed, and yet they both shared support for the "two-state solution" of Israel/Palestine. They also realized that they were both equally sick to death of the whole Israel/Palestine conflict thing and wanted to distance themselves from it.

Together with Oleh, they created a joint blog appropriately called "Hope". It was a place where they could put aside all the ethnic/political/religious differences and just talk about life...and poetry. It was really a wonderful and inspiring project, and several of us more or less made ourselves at home there so we could try to be a part of this online oasis of humanity in a world gripped by an ice age of intolerance. Yes, it was a very good thing, and, unfortunately, good things seldom last long.

I often wondered why neither Saba nor Greg ever really tried to conceal their respective identities. In fact, it was almost like they went out of their way to make themselves accessible. That turned out to be a very dangerous gamble. In Greg's case, all he got was a lot of hate mail from extremists in the Israeli camp. As for Saba, her eagerly-anticipated dream summer holidays back home in Bahrain, Jordan, and the West Bank ended with a threat on her that she had reason to take very seriously. The aggressor had only one demand: cease all blog-related activities. Unwilling to put herself or her family in unnecessary danger, she submitted to his demands. "Bahrain and Beyond" suddenly turned into a blank template before any of us knew what was going on. Then, like a symbol of everything that is wrong with this age, "Hope" vanished.

The freedom to be and say what we want to in the wonderful world of blogland is something we all tend to take for granted, but we shouldn't. What we have here is a remarkable privilege, and there are many who would happily take it from us if they could. We should cherish this and defend it. Most of all, we should do our best to make it what we want it to be while respecting others' right to do the same. Who knows? Even your worst enemy might wind up turning out to be one of your best friends.

Best wishes to you, Greg, and good luck. Saba, all my best, and we will all miss you.


  • I saw Saba's blank page, but didn't know the reason why. I feel extremely lucky in comparison that my fiery blogging days were met only with skepticism or, at worst, condemnation and not threats.

    Hopefully Saba and Greg are able to find new ways to express themselves that don't lead to threats and intimidation.

    By Blogger Don Snabulus, at 1:01 AM  

  • Thanks for sharing with us with regards to Saba and Greg.

    Life's not so simple as we wished sometimes.

    I join in on your best wishes to them.

    By Blogger FH2O, at 12:12 PM  

  • We certainly do take this freedom to say what we think for granted. What an enlightening story you tell us about these two. It gives us a wake-up call to be activists - if we can - though and not be silenced.

    By Blogger Peceli and Wendy's Blog, at 12:46 PM  

  • Feel lucky to be able to speak up freely (except on variuos issues that are deemed to be "sensitive" by our government)

    My salute, respect and best wishes to Saba and Greg.

    By Blogger YD, at 4:58 PM  

  • Moody: thank you for posting this. I can think of many things I'd like to comment on right now but will stick to just one. You said "we all miss Saba."

    I want to let you know that I miss Saba immensely; beyond belief. She's really been a tremendously big part of my life and I feel a void in my soul now that we're not in touch as often as we used to be.

    By Blogger Greg, at 1:03 AM  

  • This situation is unfortunate. Which is one of the reasons I don't use my actual photo or name on my blog. Standing up for what you believe in can indeed be a dangerous activity if what you believe in goes against tradition.

    It is also unfortunate that there are societies that have no tolerance for a contrarian point of view.

    By Blogger Pa've, at 1:58 AM  

  • Thanks for your comments, everyone!

    I think this situation should serve as both a warning and a lesson to us all. I think it's important to stand up for what you believe in and not be intimidated. However, at the same time, it's not good to make yourself an easy target.

    I'm not so sure that I agree that there are "societies" that don't tolerate contrary views, but there are certainly "factions" that don't. Unfortunately, those factions tend to believe that they are not only right but also righteous, so they will do anything in their power to eliminate "wrongful" views in the belief that the ends justify the means.

    Still, I think enough of us are in agreement here that we shouldn't give up Hope just yet.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 4:51 PM  

  • Bring it on.

    By Anonymous Torquemaster, at 7:27 PM  

  • Wow. Thanks for letting us in on what happened. I wondered. I thought it was a technical problem and offered to help - how naive for someone who definitely should know better.

    Hopefully it teaches us not to cower, not to sit around with our thumbs up our backsides, but to try to make a difference.

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 7:31 PM  

  • Thanks for posting the whole story!

    I was wondering what the situation was.

    By Blogger Chris in MB, at 3:47 PM  

  • wow... this explains it all. i miss saba a lot as well. she was actually the *first* Arab girl that i became friends w/... had so many bad things happen in the past that it left such a bad taste in my mouth... so it was truly refreshing to meet someone that was so different. i miss talking to her and hope to one day hear from her again.

    By Blogger tooners, at 4:01 PM  

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