I'm reposting this article as it appeared in Al-Ahram Weekly
Ranting effectively about politics and social matters requires the correct approach, writes Azza Sedky
I watched a powerful and effective anti-Trump ad. It was simple but compelling. Adding no disapproving preface and no judgemental epilogue and pulling no punches, the ad simply quoted words that US presidential elections candidate Donald Trump himself had used against women. It showed him calling them “bimbos,” “dogs,” “fat pigs,” and other derogatory obscenities.
The content holds true, and, hence, holds Trump accountable. Instead of calling Trump a misogynist, or at least a person who thinks little of women in general, the ad incriminates him by repeating his own words.
Better yet, instead of taking aim at his bizarre hairdo cum comb-over, his facetious smile, or his obnoxious approach, it zooms in on actual words — a very effective tactic to scorn someone while remaining fair and objective.
This got me thinking of the state that Egypt is in. Day in and day out we face rabid streams of insults that go too far, sometimes further than the original incidents that caused the outbursts in the first place. The traditional media is the original perpetrator in this, but social media is a culprit, too.
TV show hosts begin their programmes by zooming in on the events, aka the crises of the day, critiquing each of them in turn. In the process they open a Pandora’s Box, fuelling responses on social media and queries among the general public.
With every story, or crisis, call it what you wish, we are pitted against one another, and fairness and objectivity get lost. “Ballistic” is the best way to describe the general reaction to events. The death of Italian student Giulio Regeni in Cairo causes some to tell Italians to avoid coming to Egypt. A slip of the tongue from an official culminates in a resignation. A TV anchor’s outburst leads to a dismissal. A talk show host’s planned US visit is perceived as a way to flee the country.
The demarcation of Egypt’s borders with Saudi Arabia and the ownership of the Tiran and Sanafir islands brings protests at one end and subservient devotion at the other. Even President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s call to donate to Egypt each morning is met with harsh criticism and disapproval, despite the endorsement and compliance of many Egyptians. And between each action and its counter-action an endless stream of chatter dumbfounds us.
In many of these cases the reactions are libellous, and at other times they are misleading or unexplainable. But the responses call for further validation from the original sources or from other groups, and the ripple effect of the war of words balloons. Strangely enough, we are the ones to blame for turning events into crises. The truth is what backs one’s words up, whether one is the original speaker or the one who reacts. And this is why the anti-Trump ad is so effective.
If you want to rant, then at least try to rant effectively. Here is what I suggest we should do to avoid falling into the trap of ineffective ranting.
Avoid name-calling — it doesn’t pay. Don’t call someone a racist, a traitor or a dimwit unless you are sure beyond a shadow of a doubt that he indeed is one. Better yet, prove he is one by referencing his own words or footage he was involved in, as is the case in the anti-Trump ad.
Avoid physical attributes as a means to belittle your opponent. Considering someone scrawny, obese, bald, soft-spoken, a donkey or a sheep for that matter, doesn’t cut it. For all you know, this sheep could be very shrewd in effecting change. More importantly, you will end up condemned by the majority.
Though it still did not dampen Trump’s triumph, his recent mocking of a reporter with a physical disability aggravated many decent Americans. The jerking motions he used to describe the reporter caused Trump to come under fire, and he had to retract his words with some feeble explanation.
When Tamer Amin on the Al-Hayat Channel recently fat-shamed TV anchor Azza Al-Hennawy, asking the head of the Egyptian Radio and Television Union to place a pair of scales outside the Maspero building since a 150-kilo presenter should not appear on TV, social media in Egypt similarly went livid.
Wait it out before reacting by endorsing or refuting what someone else says or reposting or retweeting. Much of what is out there is fake, made up, or photo-shopped. Be wary of photos. Today, photos often lie. Check locations and dates to make sure that the story reflects the incident it is talking about and not an earlier one. Anyone can post a photo from a protest two years back and tell us it occurred yesterday.
Video footage, though, doesn’t lie. This is why it remains a thorn in the side of the person involved and is often referred to in order to smear that person again and again. But make sure the footage reflects the discussion and not something else.
Differentiate between what is satirical buffoonery and serious observation. Egyptians tend to joke about everything from the trivial to the profound. Take everything with a grain of salt and keep your cool. Do we have to have a say about everything?
Be logical in your attempts at rebuttal. Use reasoning and rational thinking and don’t flare up. Ask yourself if you dislike what was said because it goes against your beliefs and way of thinking or because of its own demerits.
Listen. Did you get that one? Listen. Your adversary may have some merit in his point of view. Remaining adamant about one’s point of view means you are unable to move forward. Give credit where credit is due — even your opponent could be right every now and then.
Assume everything you see, watch and read is untrue unless it comes from a very reliable source. Too much junk inundates our lives, and we are the ones to blame if we consider everything we are exposed to as valid and true.
Mouthing off is our weakest point. In the bigger picture, it obliterates truth, perpetrates hatred, and severs social ties.
The writer is political analyst.