Posted by on September 15, 2014 in Blog
By Dina Salah-ElDin
Fall Intern, 2014
From Washington, D.C. to Cairo to Hong Kong to Kiev, posting updates from a city square where tens, hundreds, or even tens of thousands are marching for or against a cause or a government has almost become the driving force for much of the activity on social media. Over the past month, Twitter became the center stage from which the militant group known as the Islamic State declared its territorial gains in Iraq and its executions of two American journalists.
Last week, as President Barack Obama delivered a prime-time speech from the State Floor of the White House about how the U.S. will address the threat posed by Islamic State, once again, Twitter became the go-to spot.
Not only was the speech live tweeted by the majority US media outlets, congressmen, commentators, Arab Americans and generally anyone following the unsettling updates from the Middle East took to Twitter, but the social media site quickly turned into a Hyde Park, becoming a battlefield and a campaign rally stage, where the speech was attacked, supported, analyzed, deconstructed, endorsed and ridiculed.
In his speech, President Obama laid out his strategy to “degrade and destroy” the Islamic State. The strategy was a mix of conducting air strikes on IS targets and providing support to the Iraqi forces with in its ground offensives to defeat the militant group. Obama declared that the United States would lead a “broad coalition” to fight IS – a plan immediately put into action by Secretary of State John Kerry, who launched a visit to Jeddah to gather Arab allies around the U.S. plan. While he thought the support of Congress is essential, Obama did not say it was necessarily conditional.
Excluding Sen. John McCain, not a lot of senators or representatives chose to wait for post-speech TV shows to give in their two cents on Obama’s address and opted for 140-character comments:
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA.) tweeted her support:
I support the president’s ISIL strategy. He is right to use his authority to go on the offense.— Sen Dianne Feinstein (@SenFeinstein) September 11, 2014
Vice President Joe Biden backed the president:
"We will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are." —President Obama on #ISIL— Vice President Biden (@VP) September 11, 2014
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) was less enthusiastic:
A President who has made ending the war on terrorism a central focus of his foreign policy must now make winning it a priority.— Kevin McCarthy (@GOPLeader) September 11, 2014
And this was Congressmen Robert Pittenger’s (R-NC) tweet of disapproval:
President Obama should now offer respect for President Bush, whom he previously criticized.— Rep Robert Pittenger (@reppittenger) September 11, 2014
But Jeff Duncan’s tweet was perhaps the most undiplomatic:
It was these tweets addressing Obama’s statement that “ISIL is not Islamic” that stirred another extended debate on Twitter. Already putting up with relentless waves of Islamophobia, Arab Americans had to endure tweets as such:
Obama: "ISIL is not 'Islamic. He just countermanded anything he plans to say tonight. /right there is the fatal flaw— Daniel Horowitz (@RMConservative) September 11, 2014
ISIL is not Islamic and Lois Lerner and the IRS is not corrupt. Obama is such a freaking liar. #ObamaSpeech— prolifebuttons.com (@prolifebuttons) September 11, 2014
Obama: "ISIL is not Islamic" Hello? THIS ISIL? "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant"— Erick Brockway (@erickbrockway) September 11, 2014
Ray Rice is not Islamic? True. ISIL not Islamic? One bajillion Pinocchios who all have pants on fire.— Greg Pollowitz (@GPollowitz) September 11, 2014
Twitter may be rightly accused of not being the most reliable news source, but in assessing Washington’s take on Obama’s address, it was more immediate and much clearer than what the floors of the Congress and the Senate would offer. This week, Congress will be voting on authorizing Obama’s plan to provide moderate Syrian rebels with arms and training. What remains unclear, however, is how much this anti-Arab sentiment will exhibit itself outside of the Twitter-sphere, as the Arab world becomes the focus for the media industry as a source of violence-laden headlines, as well as for lawmakers and their constituents.