When ideological clashes rear their ugly heads

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On Monday, Jan. 22, 2024, the University of Dallas campus was vandalized. The unknown perpetrator(s) disseminated anti-Israel messaging via placards and signs affixed to campus doors using adhesives. Photo courtesy of Anton Mislawsky via Unsplash.com.

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All articles published within this section of The Cor Chronicle are the opinions of the respective authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Cor Chronicle
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On Monday, Jan. 22, 2024, the University of Dallas campus was vandalized. The unknown perpetrator(s) disseminated anti-Israel messaging via placards and signs affixed to campus doors using adhesives. Prompting a speedy response from campus administration, this incident segues into an important reflection on our engagement with ideological opponents and a conversation about political demonstration and free speech.

The impetus behind the vandalism is apparent. In his Holocaust Remembrance Day message four days later, President Sanford repeatedly labeled the vandal’s messaging antisemitic and reminded us to be “alert to [such] speech and action on our campus.”

While the vandal’s messages sound heart wrenching, they are not unsurprising given the renewal of hostility between Israel and Palestine last October. In the months following Hamas’ surprise attack on Israeli civilians, dialogue between Palestinian and Israeli advocates has become increasingly belligerent, especially in pop culture and on social media platforms.

The usage of social media for social activism became increasingly popular in the late 2010s and arguably climaxed in 2020 with the murder of George Floyd. Social media presents a tempting outlet for political activism because of its inherent convenience— users can easily like, share and upload posts and links reflecting their views.

However, this convenience also makes social media activism detrimental to political discourse. Short-form posts discourage well-rounded and educated contributions to political events while rewarding demagoguery. Moreover, social media algorithms benefit from creating echo chambers for users under the guise of recommending content, and, within this framework, sensationalism (i.e “fake news”) runs rampant.

Within this culture of political participation, people are contextualizing how to engage with those with whom they ideologically disagree, and the effect has not been good. The recent recharged conflict between Palestine and Israel is no outlier.

A-lister Kylie Jenner took to her Instagram story to voice support for Israel but quickly deleted her post in the ensuing backlash. Similarly, Jewish-American actor Noah Schnapp’s unapologetic support for Israel prompted such a vitriolic response from fans that the actor elected to disallow comments on his social media accounts. Other celebrities, like Selena Gomez and Beyoncé, have been branded “Israel supporters” in Salem Witch Trial-style.

The main idea is blatant: Israel; advocacy is an epithet. As with every political conflict given vogue on social platforms, one side has been proclaimed the “good guy” while the other side, the contrary—a reality engendering a political atmosphere that is a hostile powder keg. Moreover, social media hostilities over political disagreement rarely remain confined to cyber- space.

Given this cultural pretext, the recent events at UD are not incredible but instead factor into an overt and ongoing societal discussion about how we engage with ideological contraries. However, Sanford’s response is clear—the actions of UD’s vandal do not characterize proper engagement.

So what does constitute proper engagement? Sanford offers a wise response to this inquiry. He asserts that in contrast to the cowardice and immaturity displayed by the vandal, “open inquiry, attempts at rational suasion, and debate” are characteristic of appropriate and laudable interaction between ideological opponents and within the pretext of political polarization.

Sanford cleverly demonstrated that UD students are expected to conduct themselves in such a manner, and his perception of the college is evident: UD is a campus devoted to fostering open discussion and transparency.

However, a particularly persuasive argument could be formulated against the identification of this event as “vandalism.” The Merriam-Webster Dictionary officially defines vandalism as the “willful or malicious destruction or defacement of public or private property”—a definition that arguably does not describe this incident. After all, if Martin Luther’s nail hole did not constitute vandalism, glue residue certainly does not. A thin, albeit conceivable, line exists between the destruction of property for its own sake—or even destruction of property as an extension of hostility (e.g. using red paint to write obscenities on a white car)—and using commonplace modes of displaying signage for the sole purpose of disseminating a mass message.

Additionally, this event could be placed within the framework of the First Amendment— to what extent was this merely an incident of acceptable political demonstration? The Founding Fathers and Enlightenment “philosophes” fought for the ability of the citizen to express potentially offensive speech, especially political speech. Furthermore, alarming literature as a form of political demonstration is central to key moments in American History (e.g. “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” and The Declaration of Independence). As a result, this incident also feels quintessentially American and republican.

While I ultimately agree with President Sanford about the ineffectiveness of this particular attempt at political demonstration, I do not view it as an invalid form of protest merely because of its offensive nature.

The UD community has not received further communication from Sanford about the incident, but in his foremost address, he urges anyone with insight into the perpetrator’s identity to contact the UDPD. It is my belief that the most meaningful outcome would include the vandal being informed that there are more effective ways to contribute to political discourse.

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