(Content has been deleted by author due to constant yelling from the voices in her head for inexcusable mediocrity.)
Once, a relative of mine yelled at me on twitter.
Out of the blue, she said that I was shaming our tribe with my avatar picture displaying my uncovered hair. And she didn't stop there, she mentioned my brother and told him the same thing. That I was putting our family in shame.
I took my time before replying. Two things weighed on my mind. One, This was family. Whichever way I was going to respond, I was going to have to live with it for the rest of my life. Two, I know for fact that responding in anger silences the voices in my head with unforgiving disapproval. It might feel glorious riding the high horse and calling her names, but as soon as the moment passes, I will feel like a used condom: dirty and disgusted and flat. (Because wrath is a sin, see?)
When I finally responded, I wrote from the Indonesian account in Arabic.
I said, "Transparency and credibility are respectful offerings to those who read my writings. What we show in public follows us around forever, effecting both our lives online and in the real world. I can't, for instance, degrade strangers on random, then steal their tweets and use it as my bio. [Something that she, along her timeline, did.] By the way, do you know how Hamza Kashgari was sent to prison? Screen grabs. Thank you for you kind attention, have a nice day."
She deleted her account.
Once, when my brother Anggi was in first grade, he had a school-sickness, or more commonly known as "I don't feel like going to school today. Because."
Anggi perfected his dramatic timing so that he caught the sickness in the car at the school gate. Baba, who drove Anggi to school, relented and brought him back home. Much to my mother's displeasure.
My mother, in one breath, donned her abaya, drove with Baba and Anggi back to school, and before the too-stunned-to-respond view of the entire all-male school, dragged my brother by the ear while at the same time yelled to nobody in particular: "Where is his class? Where is this boy's class?" -- Until she sat him down in his own classroom desk and chair.
Never again did Anggi catch a bout of school-sickness for the rest of his academic career. Neither did my cousins when they were so lucky to catch the school-sickness in my mother's house on school days.
Neither do, come to think, any my neighbors' children.
(Happy Birthday month, Ibu.)
Internet Mob Behavior
When the Hamza Kashgari fiasco happened, everything I feared about the Saudi society's judgment returned in folds. As if all the years of public writing and living in exile hasn't taught me a thing about trusting the anonymous crowd. If I had been thinking about writing to an Arab audience, reading about Hamzah being sent to prison over mere tweets, sealed my mouth and fingers silent.
Much to my horror, about a week after Hamza’s fiasco, my brother released the first episode of Takki. I spent the night watching the timeline for any bursts of hashtagging. Nothing bad happened to my brother or any of the crew and actors involved. In fact, as far as I know, they're doing swimmingly even under the judgmental eyes of the Saudi public.
How my brother survived the Saudi mob's attention, while Hamza and Firas did not, I was yet to understand. And it was going to take me a whole year to figure out the right keywords to google that phenomenon.
About a week ago, there was another gossip fiasco in the Saudi twitosphere: A man was photographed sharing a table with an uncovered woman. The hashtag to that translates as #MisterX'sScandal. It grabbed my attention because there was nothing scandalous about a man being in public with his uncovered wife. That it got blown up was what really took me aback.
Is the Saudi society really, really that sick?
Pause. Process. Project.
Now, the thing that mobs have in common, whether online or on the streets, is that they both represent the society at its most extreme state.
Society, whether we like it or not, is a responsive, adaptive and smart organism that behaves as naturally as an individual would given in the same situation. But smarter and, considering its size, more forceful. The mob, or crowd, or society in general, as a single unit, is accurate in its unanimous decisions.
Take, for instance, in Hamza Kashgari's case. Hamza had been poking around the lines of propriety for a while in his columns before he tweeted his doom. The way the mob behaved in response to his tweets were as natural as a pissed off child’s response to a beloved parent being publicly disrespected. I would have at least shunned if a man treated my master with disrespect. And if I weren't such a passivist I would have butchered his entire family too.
Similarly, looking closer into #MisterX'sScandal, I found out that Mister X was not just an innocent bystander being runned down by a bored, scandal-craving mob. A background check on Mister X revealed that he has been a mouthful bitch. And his mouth has offered nothing but vehement spitting upon everything it came across. So much that even his mates gave up on him.
In both Hamza and Mister X's sudden hashtagging, the mob was forced to respond. It was prodded and poked until it grabbed the first slip of tongue to retaliate so forcefully. The same response, I think I would have given if I were in the position to do something about it.
The Other Side of Mob Behavior
Whatever got me worried for so long about the mob’s behavior also blotted out the qualities that I might have liked about it too.
Again, since the mob is a smart organism, it would not exert its powers only in attack modes. It will also protect its interests and create amazing things. Such as the random acts of kindness during natural disasters. The millions of worshippers in mosques, churches and synagogues saying Amen in one voice, every day. And every time a mufti releases a stupid fatwa, or a politician is caught abusing his powers, the mob will protest and reassert its powers to create change.
That is democracy, the united opinion of the mob, in its simplest and most natural form.
So, it's not that one society is sick or that another society is better. That is a tired claim. Every society has its cultural quirks and points of outdated customs. But if you look closer, the things that we, as individuals, might dislike about a society, could be the very things that has kept that society from crumbling down to the ground, with you and I and the people we love and protect along with it.
I started trusting the voices in my head last year, on the last meditation course I attended.
Around the seventh day, I started feeling so woozy that I barely managed the mountainous terrain between my sleeping dorm and the meditation hall.
That was when the first voice said, "Low blood pressure."
During these 10-days courses, our diet is a twice-a-day meager vegetarian with very low sodium. It had happened to me before, coming home with my blood pressure so low that I needed to eat a whole kid to fix it. By the time I started feeling the same symptoms again on that course, I had already slipped the stairs and nearly killed myself in the drizzling dark once. I started fretting and worrying about dying from being too good a girl. There was no way I could manage getting a Big Whopper in that place.
Then the second voice said, "Soy sauce."
And I said, "That's gross. I ain't so crazy to listen to that kind of crazy!"
They said nothing. And on the next meal, I poured soy sauce on all my food , the only source of monosodium chloride available in the sterile dining room, and swallowed quickly because it there was no point in indulging medicinal food like that.
And the next time I heard them, the bragging voices in my blood-pressure-normalized-head said, "Glad to have your trust."