Politics & Policy

The Sound and the Fury — and the Tweet

(Image via Twitter @FLOTUS)
Outrage over Boko Haram may be grounded in identity politics, but it’s not hypocrisy.

Mass schoolgirl kidnapping in Nigeria — to tweet or not to tweet? Is hashtagging one’s indignation about some outrage abroad an exercise in moral narcissism or a worthy new way of standing up to bad guys?

The answer seems rather simple. It depends on whether you have the power to do something about the outrage in question. If you do, as in the case of the Obama administration watching Russia’s slow-motion dismemberment of Ukraine, it’s simply embarrassing when the State Department spokeswoman tweets the hashtag #UnitedForUkraine.

That is nothing but preening, a visual recapitulation of her boss’s rhetorical fatuousness when he sternly warns that if the rape of this U.S. friend continues, we are prepared to consider standing together with the “international community” to decry such indecorous behavior — or some such.

#ad#When a superpower, with multiple means at its disposal, reverts to rhetorical emptiness and hashtag activism, it has betrayed both its impotence and its indifference. But if you’re an individual citizen without power, if you lack access to media, drones, or special forces, then hashtagging your solidarity with the aggrieved is a fine gesture and perhaps even more.

The mass tweet is, after all, just the cyber equivalent of the mass petition. And people don’t sneer at petitions. Historically, they’ve been a way for individuals, famous or anonymous, to make their views known and, by weight of number, influence authorities who, in democratic societies, might respond to such expressions of popular sentiment.

The hashtag campaign for the Nigerian girls — originated in Nigeria by Nigerians — was meant to do exactly that: pressure the Nigerian government to more seriously respond to the kidnapping. It has already had this effect. And attention from abroad has helped magnify the pressure.

As always, however, we tend to romanticize the power of the tweet. For a while, Twitter (like other social media) was seen as a game-changer that would empower the masses and invert the age-old relationship between the ruler and ruled.

This is mostly rubbish. Yes, the tweet improves upon the mass petition because tweets contain an instant return address that allows for mass mobilization. People can be summoned to gather together somewhere — Tahrir Square, for example.

At which point, alas, the age-old dynamics of power take hold. If the tyrant, brandishing guns and tanks, is cruel and determined enough, your tweets will mean nothing. Try it at Tahrir or Tiananmen, in Damascus or Tehran. They will shoot and torture you, then maybe even let you keep your precious smartphone.

Michelle Obama’s tweeting #BringBackOurGirls for the nearly 300 schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram terrorists poses an interesting case of the semiofficial tweet. This was no exercise in vanity. She does advise the man who does deploy the forces, and who in this case provided serious concrete support — intelligence, reconnaissance, on-the-ground advisers — to help fight the evil.

What was peculiar about her tweet, however, was its uniqueness: It’s the first time she’s expressed herself so personally and publicly about a foreign crisis. And she was nicely candid about the reason: “In these girls, Barack and I see our own daughters.”

The identity of the victims here — young, black, and female — undoubtedly helps explain the worldwide reaction. Two months earlier, Boko Haram had raided a Christian school and, after segregating the boys, brutally murdered 59 of them. That elicited no hashtag campaign against Boko Haram. Nor was there any through the previous years of Boko Haram depredations — razing Christian churches, burning schools, killing infidels of all ages.

Nonetheless, selective outrage is not necessarily hypocrisy. There are a million good causes in the world, and one cannot be devoted to all of them. People naturally gravitate to those closest to their heart. Thus last week’s unlikely sight: a group of congresswomen holding a news conference demanding immediate U.S. action — including the possible use of drones — against Boko Haram.

These were members, like Sheila Jackson Lee, not heretofore known for hawkish anti-jihadist sentiments. No matter. People find their own causes. Their sincerity is to be credited and their commitment welcomed.

The American post-9/11 response to murderous jihadism has often been characterized, not least by our own president, as both excessive and morally suspect. There is a palpable weariness with the entire enterprise. Good, therefore, that new constituencies for whom jihadism and imposed shariah law ranked low among their urgent concerns should now be awakening to the principal barbarism of our time.

Trending now (once again): anti-jihadism, a.k.a. the War on Terror.

Charles Krauthammer is a nationally syndicated columnist. © 2014 The Washington Post Writers Group

Most Popular

U.S.

The Gun-Control Debate Could Break America

Last night, the nation witnessed what looked a lot like an extended version of the famous “two minutes hate” from George Orwell’s novel 1984. During a CNN town hall on gun control, a furious crowd of Americans jeered at two conservatives, Marco Rubio and Dana Loesch, who stood in defense of the Second ... Read More
Law & the Courts

Obstruction Confusions

In his Lawfare critique of one of my several columns about the purported obstruction case against President Trump, Gabriel Schoenfeld loses me — as I suspect he will lose others — when he says of himself, “I do not think I am Trump-deranged.” Gabe graciously expresses fondness for me, and the feeling is ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Students’ Anti-Gun Views

Are children innocents or are they leaders? Are teenagers fully autonomous decision-makers, or are they lumps of mental clay, still being molded by unfolding brain development? The Left seems to have a particularly hard time deciding these days. Take, for example, the high-school students from Parkland, ... Read More
PC Culture

Kill Chic

We live in a society in which gratuitous violence is the trademark of video games, movies, and popular music. Kill this, shoot that in repugnant detail becomes a race to the visual and spoken bottom. We have gone from Sam Peckinpah’s realistic portrayal of violent death to a gory ritual of metal ripping ... Read More