Sunday, June 06, 2021

Why I Left The Most Successful Clubhouse Room

Dialogue has been my chosen form of activism for a long time. Soon after I joined  Clubhouse in early 2021. The live voice aspects of Clubhouse made it ideal, but the nature of people drifting in and out of rooms has also made it a tougher medium to navigate, after a few difficult sessions, I found my bearings. 

Then Sheikh Jarrah happened and shortly after a full on war started. Palestinian and Israeli friends asked me to help co-moderate Meet Palestinians & Israelis room, I did! The room kept going round the clock for over two weeks and broke records in terms of number of unique listeners and average numbers of hours spent. The room lasted for over two weeks, but I left it on day 8. Leaving a dialogue effort that I helped build was not an easy decision and I’m not sure it was the right decision, but I will share below the factors that led me to part ways with the room. 

1. Public Diplomacy: few days into the room, a new theme emerged by some of the comoderators advocating that the room is acting as a platform for public diplomacy. I view dialogue to be distinct from negotiations and diplomacy. The only purpose for dialogue is hearing the other and getting the other to hear you. Dialogue may not have any other purpose. Moreover, the history of the Palestinian struggle in particular is dominated by the issue who has the right to negotiate in the name of the Palestinians. The label of public diplomacy would act as way to stifle dialogue. 

2. There was pressure to ask people to have a picture and reveal their identity through social media profiles. I rejected this approach and never followed it whenever I moderated. I found it biased against people who disapprove of using photos on religious grounds, or people who fear identifying their locations and identities for whatever reason. I viewed this as an effort to silence pro Palestinian voices. 

3. There were attempts to challenge the identity of a Palestinian doctor speaking from Gaza. I hosted the very same young doctor, while I disagreed with some of the points he made, I had no reason at all to doubt his identity. I saw no effort to verify the identities of others who gave their own personal stories. Again I disapproved of the uneven handling. 

4. While I don’t claim to know all there’s to know about the history of the conflict, I have spent many years reading and researching the various aspects of the conflict. I have accumulated a degree of knowledge of the competing narratives. This has equipped me as a moderator to push back on extremist discourse and to center the discussions on true dialogue rather than what I see as propaganda. The straw that broke the camel back and made me decide to leave was what I felt were attempts to silence me, by different means. 

I don’t want the above to detract from my support and admiration for the whole effort. And I understood then and understand now that as the guns were silenced the war continued on using the tools of propaganda. I’m happy that my friends who started the effort originally were eventually successful in wresting back control of the project. 

Ultimately dialogue is about talking to and listening to the other, to the enemy, to a side that hold radically different views. Dialogue is about promoting understanding of the other, not agreement with other. Is it useful? I think it is but I accept that many others refuse it. 

Ayman S. Ashour 

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