Charlotte's Web Thoughts
Charlotte's Web Thoughts
When Both Silence and Statement Become Complicity

When Both Silence and Statement Become Complicity

Where we are now.
(image credit: REUTERS/Mohammed Salem)

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I don’t know exactly how to explain it, but for folks my age, over the course of our lives, the concept that “silence is complicity” slowly went from being a rallying cry in activist communities to a generational imperative. We were the bridge for that societal transition.

We are, I believe, the first generation for which bullying started to be taken pretty seriously by authority figures and being an incurious bigot began to mean a significant loss in social standing. Adjacently, we were also the first generation to emerge from the post-9/11, public square chant of “see something, say something.”

As millennials enter our middle-aged phase, it’s fair to acknowledge we’ve learned the hard way that not speaking up enables evil things: hate crimes against marginalized communities, the illegal and immoral invasion of a country, government-sanctioned torture camps, travel bans, book burnings, and, among many other things: genocide.

For the past three weeks, in the midst of the murder of innocent civilians by the terrorist group Hamas, I have been astonished to witness a new wrinkle in our social fabric: it is has quickly become simultaneously impossible to either speak up or be silent.

When innocent people are being murdered, it’s morally unacceptable to stay silent, of course, but what happens when speaking up means somehow being perceived as taking a side between competing oppressions and their corresponding evils?

There currently exists a hair trigger sensitivity on this issue so pervasive in our national discourse that even so much as acknowledging the murder of an innocent civilian anywhere will draw hostility elsewhere.

It is no longer enough to express basic human empathy toward anyone suffering; it must be accompanied with extensive knowledge on foreign policy and the history of the Middle East, expressed through a litany of caveats, and even then, one risks being accused of condoning atrocities, either way.

In the past week, alone, I have been accused by online strangers of being in the tank for both the IDF and Hamas. Acknowledging the brutal murder of Israeli civilians by terrorists somehow means I’m condoning genocide against Palestinian civilians, yet calling for Palestinian liberation somehow means I believe Israel doesn’t have a right to defend itself against terrorists, much less exist.

Depending on the perspective of the extremists voicing these opinions, I am either an unapologetic neoliberal supporter of the open air prison that is Gaza or I’m a radical leftist who wants Israel wiped off the map.

For these extremist perspectives, there is no longer room for nuance, let alone grace; you must pick a side, they seem to say, and it had better be ours. At the same time, not speaking up—or, rather, the perception of not speaking up—draws anger from any given Very Online person who treats all of this like a team sport.

This weekend, a stranger DM’d me on Instagram and demanded to know why I hadn’t said anything about atrocities committed against the Palestinian people by the Israeli government. I had, of course, but they countered that I hadn’t done so via Instagram post, which, for them, I guess, is the equivalent of a press office.

Meanwhile, over on Threads—Instagram’s new-ish alternative to Twitter—I had posted that it’s morally unacceptable to deny water and electricity to Gaza, which was met with responses that demanded to know why I wasn’t taking Hamas seriously and openly wondered if I was condoning antisemitism.

Hovering above all this is a longstanding complexity in social justice: when it is better to amplify marginalized voices instead of speaking up ourselves and vice versa?

If I simply retweet the personal story of an Israeli survivor of the Hamas attack or a Palestinian survivor of an Israeli airstrike, but I don’t add anything in my words, am I doing enough?

At the same time, it has been completely heartbreaking to receive private messages from friends who are either Muslim or Jewish unnecessarily expressing thanks for me saying anything at all because they feel it’s become untenable for them to do so.

And we’re not talking grand statements. We’re talking the bare minimum. Common sense observations that have quickly become less-than-common. Simple truths like “murdering civilians is bad” and “hatred against an entire religion is wrong” and “we can separate people from the actions of their government.”

The national conversation on this conflict has become so fraught in such a short period of time that just about any observation risks becoming the target from a certain kind of mindset that believes recognizing the basic existence of others will lead to giving up a mile of survival for an inch of humanity.

I was astonished by some of the responses to President Biden’s Oval Office address to the nation last week. He made it clear that islamophobia and antisemitism are unacceptable, that civilians in Gaza and Israel and Ukraine have a right to safety and dignity, and that Putin and Hamas must be defeated.

And yet, he was somehow accused of folks on the far-left and far-right of not doing enough. The great horseshoe of performative nonsense reared its ugly head in response to a speech that was full of empathy, nuance, and clarity.

If a speech that balanced and thoughtful and humanity-focused is considered by some to be a failure, what hope do the rest of us have in the eyes of people who deem nuance to be a character flaw?

If you don’t know exactly want to say in this moment or you’re scared to say anything at all, I don’t blame you. It’s rough right now. An ill-timed, exasperated sigh is vulnerable to being accused of bias in either direction.

If you’re expecting me to hide behind a “both sides” defense to avoid saying anything that might offend extremists on either end, you’re sorely mistaken. I am more than happy to articulate my thoughts on this crisis.

I think Hamas is a terrorist group made up of antisemitic cowards who have been abundantly clear that they want to destroy Israel and drive Jewish people out of the Middle East, and they have used this to justify intentionally targeting and murdering more than 1,400 innocent Israelis and taking more than 200 hostage, many of them children.

I think Benjamin Netanyahu is one of the most incompetent, inflammatory, and hateful political leaders of the 21st century, and the Israeli government has a long history of committing atrocities against innocent Palestinian civilians.

I think Hamas uses innocent Palestinian civilians as shields against accountability for their atrocities, and I think the IDF consistently fails to take the humanity of innocent Palestinian civilians into consideration when seeking to hold Hamas and other terrorist groups accountable.

I think Hamas is no more synonymous with innocent Palestinian civilians than the current Israeli government is synonymous with innocent Israeli civilians. I strongly believe innocent civilians should never pay the price for the horrific actions of their government.

I think Israel has every right to protect itself against terrorists or any other credible national security threat, and I think the current Israeli government has taken advantage of the goodwill they received following the attack on Oct. 7th to inflict unnecessary and cruel acts on innocent civilians in Gaza and the West Bank.

I think Palestinian liberation is a moral imperative and Gaza has absolutely been reduced to an open air prison for more two million people—the vast majority of them innocent civilians, nearly half of them children—and I think any given Israeli citizen is rightly terrified of extremists who want to kill them simply for being Jewish.

I think it is more than likely that Hamas intentionally beheaded babies, and I think people who are haggling online over how the charred corpse of an infant came to be decapitated have completely taken leave of their senses and need to sit down and reevaluate their sense of morality.

I think Hamas used rape as a weapon of war during their attack, and it is disgusting to me that otherwise reasonable adults can’t bring themselves to acknowledge this.

I think the explosion at the Al-Ahli Arab Hospital last week was most likely not the result of an IDF airstrike, and yet, it is inexplicable to me that this is getting more attention than the fact that the IDF has clearly committed war crimes by ordering what they know is an impossible evacuation of the area before airstrikes.

I think media around the world—and American media, in particular—have been thoroughly abysmal in their reporting on the hospital explosion and are certainly to blame for needlessly inflaming an already impossible situation.

I think we all need to slow down and recognize that the unfolding catastrophes in Gaza and Israel are clearly ripe for disinformation. Don't readily accept any given thing you read on this situation without applying critical thinking and looking for confirmation. Slow down.

I think the IDF has viciously slaughtered innocent Palestinian civilians on a constant basis in the past three weeks, to say nothing of long before that, and it is has become increasingly difficult to avoid characterizing their actions as anything other than intentional.

I think anyone in the United States defending the actions of Hamas as “freedom fighters” or otherwise rationalizing the attack or claiming the Israeli government forced Hamas to murder innocent civilians are more than likely antisemitic and completely unserious adults.

I think anyone in the United States using this attack by Hamas to justify the air, land, and sea blockade of Gaza have lost their humanity for the cheap reward of false clarity and are also completely unserious adults.

I think anyone downplaying the immediacy of more than 200 innocent people being held hostage by Hamas are delusional and flatly hypocritical because there’s no way in hell they’d be fine with their loved ones being in the custody of an extremely violent terrorist group.

I remain unconvinced that a ground invasion of Gaza by the Israeli military is in the best interests of anyone, and I believe this because the IDF has repeatedly proven themselves to be unconcerned with the welfare of innocent Palestinian civilians, whom most certainly will bear the most fatal costs of such an operation.

I think both Muslim Americans and Jewish Americans have been ruthlessly targeted in the midst of this crisis (and long before it), and it is horrific to me that there are people who have seemingly learned nothing from the past two decades of war and their antisemitism and Islamophobia still go unchecked.

I think Wadea Al-Fayoume should have lived to see his seventh birthday, and his murder was the result of stochastic terrorism and that anti-Muslim public figures in our country are ultimately to blame for it.

I think shame should be brought upon anyone who claims to understand this conflict and its accelerating complexity but offers an opinion that is totally one-sided.

I think, above all, the highest priority should be the protection of innocent civilians.

I think everyone should be honest about their fears in this situation and be vulnerable enough with each other to admit that we’re all scared.

To me, that’s more important any statement that could be made right now.

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Charlotte's Web Thoughts
Charlotte's Web Thoughts
Charlotte Clymer is a writer and LGBTQ advocate. You've probably seen her on Twitter (@cmclymer). This is the podcast version of her blog "Charlotte's Web Thoughts", which you can subscribe to here: