What Can I Do? You Ask

Category: Americas, World Affairs Topics: Noam Chomsky Views: 3513

Never once have I spoken at a University, church or a mosque without one or more of the audience raising the question: "can you tell us something tangible that we can do to change this situation?" The topic can be Palestine, the Iraq war, human rights or anything else, yet the inquiry remains the same. 

Initially my answers were generic: "just spread the word". Sometimes such answers are not satisfying, considering that urgency of the situation. Eventually, I tried to develop a bit more comprehensive, cohesive response to quell the feelings of helplessness. And it often worked. Many of my audiences became outspoken, some went as far as volunteering as human shields in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and others became active mouthpieces for peace and justice using whatever capacity they could afford. 

But these little gestures can hardly suppress the feelings of helplessness, to become universal codes that unite pro-justice individuals and groups around a common cause. I do believe that a segment of the intellectual activist community around the world must specialize in research and writing in topics that can answer the question of what the average citizen of this world can do to make a difference, and how activists can utilize their skills and beliefs to unite in their fight for justice. 

In a recent radio interview, American scholar Noam Chomsky was asked what an American could do so that he or she can effectively stop the Iraq war. Chomsky's response was indirect and helped little to direct the growing agitation among Americans to influence their country's foreign policy. In other countries, Chomsky said, people don't ask what can they do, "they just do it." 

Professor Chomsky was of course alluding to the fact that those who are serious about issues of social justice need little direction on what can be done. I respectfully disagree. In the United States, an average citizen is trained to believe that he has the power to enforce change through peaceful and democratic change. While the concept is theoretically true, practically, considering the influential role played by capital, organized pressure groups and consequently the media, many Americans feel as marginalized as those of undemocratic third-world countries. Considering such complexity, the "just do it" approach can hardly be effective. 

And, in an article titled: "Archeology of the Road Map", Palestinian scholar Edward Said finished a highly dispiriting reality detailed in his article by highlighting the successful work of Palestinian doctor Mustafa Barghouti through the work of his organization: "The National Political Initiative (NPI)." 

NPI's work includes providing medical care to over 100,000 poor Palestinian in secluded villages and the development of a pro-active political movement that mobilizes Jews, Arabs and activists from all over the world. 

The International Solidarity Movement (ISM), which labors to provide needed protection to Palestinians throughout the West Bank and Gaza is another brilliant example of the work of those who simply couldn't play the role of the audience anymore.

Yet, as I am always reminded, not every conscientious individual around the world is capable, for many obvious reasons to be dispatched into a war zone. True, and because of that, a much more defined and comprehensive discourse must be put forth to guide people of conscience around the world to do their part in the looming face-off between justice and aggression. 

In a recent commentary, I highlighted the need for such a discourse, a discourse that can serve as a dictionary for activists worldwide, that can cater to those deprived from the democratic tools of change and those who enjoy such rights, those who are capable of joining direct action groups and those who are not, those fighting for racial equality and those fighting religious prosecution. 

I was pleased with the overwhelming messages I received in response to my article. They were mostly agreeing, but some still raised the question: "So what is your alternative?" 

Since then, I have accumulated a very long list of world-renowned activists, journalists, community leaders and intellectuals, who fought for various causes throughout the years. The list also includes regular individuals who proved that no academic qualification or an appearance on a popular television show is required for a person to be capable of delivering change. 

With the help of selected journalists around the world, from different cultures, religions and backgrounds, I intend to illuminate the success stories of grassroots activists all over the world, to serve as an inspiring, yet realistic first step into effective activism. 

This is an open invitation to journalists, editors and publishers across the world to join me in this effort, to collect essays, solicit exclusive interviews and pictures, so that such a project might actualize. Individuals, who wish to share success stories in their communities, wherever these communities are located, are also encouraged to do so. 

Sometimes desperation and helplessness are more crippling that bombs and missiles. Through unity, organization and an unambiguous discourse however, the cycle of vulnerability that many of us felt in Palestine, Iraq and continue to feel, can be forever broken.

Ramzy Baroud is the editor-in-chief of PalestineChronicle.com and the editor of the anthology entitled "Searching Jenin: Eyewitness Accounts of the Israeli Invasion," now available at: www.palestinebooks.com

To buy "Searching Jenin: Eyewitness Accounts of the Israeli Invasion"

  Category: Americas, World Affairs
  Topics: Noam Chomsky
Views: 3513

Related Suggestions

The opinions expressed herein, through this post or comments, contain positions and viewpoints that are not necessarily those of IslamiCity. These are offered as a means for IslamiCity to stimulate dialogue and discussion in our continuing mission of being an educational organization. The IslamiCity site may occasionally contain copyrighted material the use of which may not always have been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. IslamiCity is making such material available in its effort to advance understanding of humanitarian, education, democracy, and social justice issues, etc. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law.

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, and such (and all) material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.

Older Comments:
First of all, the article is contributing to a very vital issue. The author's proposal seems sensible. There must be some "first steps" and then Allah(cc) may show the way. But don't forget: Unless we get rid of our nefs-i emmarah, I mean, the lust against all temporary pleasures; we cannot succeed in any attempt. we must try hard to get more and more proper on srat- mustaqeem while waiting for our turn to confer service for this exalted objectives.

Although this article does not answer the question of "what to do", it does, at least, ask this question.

Dear Believers,
AsSalaamu Alaykum,
Before we go around spreading "the word", we MUST first EDUCATE ourselves and our community about our Deen (Islam) and practice it in our daily lives. Only then can we begin to bring a change to our Ummah. We are so involved in our worldly life that we have forgotten the etiquettes of dealing with each other.

Our beloved prophet Mohammad (p.b.u.h) has been noted to have said support your brother when he's been wronged or doing wrong. His companion asked, he can support him when he is wronged, but how can he support him when he is doing wrong. To this the prophet replied, stop him from doing wrong and that is how you support him.

When was the last time you support your fellow Mulims that did wrong? A question not many of us can answer with confidence.

We have no one else to blame for the current situation of Muslim Ummah, then ourselves. The only way we can over come this is by uniting and standing firm for peace and justice.

Allah (swt) said the Qur'an:

4:135 O ye who believe! stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be (against) rich or poor: for Allah can best protect both. Follow not the lusts (of your hearts), lest ye swerve, and if ye distort (justice) or decline to do justice, verily Allah is well- acquainted with all that ye do.

Dear Editor:


Thanks, as a Chinese muslim, for your efforts in delivering the message. Although I am in support of your idea as well as your action for our common target there is still something more we need to carry out. As in your suggestion media is an effective way (if approachable) to bring awareness of such conscience to the public around the World but yet it is only a basic tool which helps leading to our target but, for the urgency of situation, we need to have some special and in-depth way to let people make their final decision on which path they could shoose.

For those doing the injustice we need to bring them the voice from the majority in support of justice...

For those with their minds as well as their eyes closed to fact of justice we need to help openning their closed ones (Inshallah) and feeling the tructh of the World situation...

For those with good willing for justice (no matter Jews, Christians, Muslims or even Buddhists etc) we need to organize them spreading this willing and even urging to save the situation...

My suggestin is not only to spread out our massage and awareness to th pulic but also calling people to wake up doing their own rights and responsibility if God has paced on them. To achieve this only demonstration (on streets, TV or radio or internet) against injustice is far from enough... WE NEED TO CALL ALL PUBLIC TO BE AWAY AND AGAINST THOSE PRODUCS OR SERVICE GENERATED BY OR IN SUPPORT OF INJUSTICE GOVERNMENTS... like for myself in China and many brothers and sisters in Islamic countries we are saying NO to those branded names in favor of pro-Israel, and now pro-US and pro-British policy...

But of course I will also cooperate with your idea by which we use use media power to give a more thorough awareness of the true situation in occupied Palestine or Iraq etc... at least I can help with such awareness in China calling for people's real action... HOPE TO DISCUSS MORE WITH YOU FOR WHAT W

I am all for this article....besides the cheap and useless rhetoric of the individuals who commenting before, I think that we need to indeed "spread the word." But to help Muslims who are not politically active, and who are not active within hte media or a human rights group, or something else of the sort, the message needs to be clear. First and foremost, invite all willing people to Islam, cling to the Muslim community, and support each other financially, and eventually, politically. Actions speak louder than words, and in order to be active, we need to know and understand Islamic history outside of Arabia as well. Make a voice in your community and raise awareness of injustice against Islamic populations around the world... and if you ask, how do we do that? Well, go to your closest Masjid and build a connection with your community, listen to the khutbaa, and follow the advice of the Imam and talk about it amongst those brothers or sisters sitting next to you, about how you can act upon it. We are so creative in all different things, but when it comes to simple things like, instead of giving our hard earned money to Kraft cheese by buying their products, we can't go to, or can't open, a Muslim grocery store and see if you can make reasonable substitutes. Something that small can turn out to be a big move, only if everyone did it...that doesn't mean that nothing will happen if you as an individual just make the changes and no one else does. It means you are making the 'intention' (Niyaat) leading to taking the initiative to actually carry out the 'action' of DOING SOMETHING.

I think what the articale is for is a great step forward. But I also think that the inertia that has gripped people after the Iraqi war is greater than what people might think. The media in Australia as well as the oppostion exploited and used the demostrations and the "mob's" anger towards a war that no human being wanted. I think the lesson to learn from this is to move forward and not become cynical as many here , in my opion, in Australia have become. I beleive that young people are the ones that will in fact change the world as many of us are socially conious and aware of the manipulations of the media, corporations and goverments. But it is important to act and not just talk about change. But change has to come from the inside as well as the outside. the must be support systems in place because a lot of demostraters get beaten and arrested. Which in turn makes others fearful and lose confidence in demostrations. In conclusion I would like to say that petitions, demostrations and such are great but there has to concrete change, unless enough people want bably there wont be a change.


I would like to send my appreciation to you Ramzy Baroud, for showing that you are writing on a positive note, demonstrating you are DOING something in the area of helping suffering Palestinians,and demonstrating how others are doing so. The fact that you declare your willingness and ability to utilize your writing skills to motivate anyone to participate in assisting Iraqi's and Palestinians, is most welcomed because it gives birth to an attemp at being charitable and righteous.

The Ummah's continual effort in creating at least some Muslim representation within the North American government will be fulfilled, Insh-Allah. Reminding ourselves that only 50 percent of the US population voted in the last Presidential elections, and 25 percent voted GW BUSH into the white house, the first thing we have to remind Americans, is to cast their votes. If we cannot motivate them, then someone else will. Let activists be those involved in raising awareness as well; to teach each other, humbling ourselves, opening our ears and our minds to those who are a minority within the USA. Maybe these people who are in a minority, and are voting, are trying to tell other Americans something, but they aren't listening because the sound they hear on TV and Radio is unclear...that the visuals of the Media are masked with portrayals. Is is not a common understanding that a person who masks the truth is lying? WMD not found; Blood for Oil verified, and hegemony uncovered. Fear of speaking the truth doesn't mix with this concept of democracy, but more with dictatorship.

Anyway keep up the good work, and don't be concerned with the rhetoric of any pessimist who posts comments here, esp. if they are trying to say something like, "let us all be individual judges of what goes on in the world." As you know, and I know, that is avery, very laughable attempt at trying to be holier than the Judge of us all.

Jazak-Allah Khairan

The very first thing one should do for helping the world to get rid of injustice and suffering is to become really informed, and not to trust propagandists.

Learn to sort out information, facts, from opinion. Learn to perceive the motives behind opinions. See that most loud opinions are actually tailored for launching a quite specific feeling, and study the nature of the message thus sent: is it pure intelligence, showing a genuine solution, or is it hatred of some sort? Is it enlightenment, opening the way towards more justice, or is it some sort of thoughts-narrowing towards some more violence?

Then watch for sources of balanced information, where you will find critics based on established facts (within the same text or providing real references to real sound sources) and the expression of non-impassionate reflection and common sense, whoever is being criticized. Never believe anything just because it comes from a specific source--we all make mistakes. Check the different sources; admit that they all are based on some sort of justification, and try to perceive which. Look for the reason beyond the motives.

Or admit that what you want is just to act, now, and not obligatorily to support justice and peace. It would be nice if it could be put together, of course, but it will be enough for you to *believe* from scratch that your action will be good. You won't feel alone in that crowd indeed.

When Ho Chi Minh asked China for help in fighting against US, Mao replied that each nation must fight its own wars. Ho fought and defeated US. Palestinians will have to fight their own war and win it (or lose it). Nobody else is going to fight for them. Remember, the otcome of Vietnam war was decided in the battlefields of Hue and Saigon, not in the streets of Washington, New York and San Francisco.

How can Palestinians fight it, I don't know; they have to evolve their own strategies. But to fight it, Arabs must be united. But the Arabs are awfully divided among themselves. So Arabs have to clean up their own act.

Sympathies will not win the war, but Brawn, Brain, and Unity will help.