The making of a twitter pile-on

The other day, I posted a comment on an online clip. A political commentator had decided to draw a comparison between Donald Trump, Qasem Soleimani and Osama Bin Laden. You can see the clip and what I said about it below.

Frankly, I wasn’t expecting any sort of response. But she decided to double down and quote tweet me to her c. 270k followers.

Despite claims to the contrary, there is clearly an argument here that Trump (in her view) is worse than these other two men. Clearly many of her followers understood it this way because (if you can bear to read the replies) many of them said so explicitly. My main concern in all of this was that my Iranian and Afghan asylum seeking friends would strongly disagree. In fact, to make such a comparison demeans the suffering of my friends at the hands of regimes they had to flee. When thousands of American people are fleeing the authoritarian Trump regime because of threats to torture, imprison or kill them, the comparison might be warranted. Until such time, it does significantly downplay the far more severe treatment my friends received at the hands of the Iranian and Afghan men she mentioned.

Some claimed that they ‘honoured’ the refugees who fled Iran and Afghanistan. But it is a funny way to honour them by ignoring what they say. I, for instance, am not the biggest Tony Blair fan. But when one of my kurdish friends told me that he loved Tony Blair because he was the man who got rid of Saddam Hussein, who enjoyed frequently gassing and bombing his own people, my views of Blair and his interventions must be weighed against the lived experience of somebody who was rather more pleased about them than I was. When others insist that comparing Donald Trump to those who have tortured their own people, killed their family and forced them to flee their homes is a touch offensive, we should minimally listen to that.

I was asked repeatedly how my friends saw these tweets and why the didn’t respond themselves. Frankly, I don’t know if they saw those tweets. What I do know is that they have made such comments to me whenever people in the West criticise America or Britain and their leaders this way. I was criticised for being ‘white-centric’ and having a ‘Westernised’ view. But it seems to me, when people from the Middle East are saying Western comparisons of their leaders to regimes that have made refugees out of their own people – when one of us listens to that and responds to it and the other one simply ignores it – it is not those hearing the concerns of ME refugees who have the Western-centric, white supremacy issue. It is those, because of their own Western-centric biases, who hold particular views about the Middle East and America, who refuse to listen to the views and opinions of people from the ME because it doesn’t square with their predetermined anti-Americanism and anti-imperialistic views of the world.

You don’t have to like Donald Trump or Tony Blair or any other Western leader to see the point here. There is nothing wrong with criticising our leaders when they do something worthy of criticism. But we undermine the real suffering of others when we draw lazy comparisons like this.

What was perhaps most surprising about the whole thing was how, based on very little evidence, people seemed ready to make pronouncements about me and what I believe. I was hailed as ‘right-wing’ by some and a Trump-supporter by others. Both comments are absolutely absurd. You only have to read the about page on this blog to see how foolish that really sounds. It is akin to the time that Ben Shapiro got in a mood because he couldn’t answer some of Andrew Neil’s questions and claimed he had some sort of ‘left-wing liberal agenda’. Anybody who knows anything about Andrew Neil will know how ridiculous that comment is.

Others decided I must have been making up that we work with asylum seekers. Apparently, I was using the term ‘my friends’ as a cover. It was ‘weird’ to speak up that they don’t like these lazy comparisons. Some insisted I definitely didn’t know any and I couldn’t possibly care about asylum seekers because I used ‘dehumanising language’ (I am unsure, even now, which bit of my language they meant!) I apparently dehumanised people who are my friends, whilst those who ignored them and offered no evidence that they are involved in the lives of asylum seekers definitely cared about them far more than I did because they typed onto Twitter that Donald Trump is a bad man – which, naturally, does an awful lot for our refugees.

I have (sadly) ended up in various twitterstorms before. But I haven’t, as yet, ever been in one where somebody with a very large following invites all their followers to comment. All of the (apparent) storms I’ve ever been included in – and I appreciate they’re not ideal – have normally been amongst believers where there seems to be a level of good faith. I don’t think anybody is trying to be nasty and, though things can kick-off, I think most are trying to make a legitimate case without actively trying to demean anybody else. This was the first time I have been on the receiving end of people, acting in bad faith, without any real desire to engage the point, piling on and seeking to demean in (sometimes) foul ways. It’s not all that fun.

I take a few things away from this:

  1. I feel lucky to have been on Twitter this long and find this is the first time this happens (when Twitter is contacting you directly to setup some filters to mute stuff, you know it’s probably beyond the norm)
  2. I still maintain Twitter is more good than it is bad. I have made that case here and here. I am prepared to tolerate this sort of thing.
  3. The ability to mute conversations is, frankly, a blessing