A few days ago, on the Facebook page of our podcast on Israeli politics, we posted a link to a discussion we recorded about murders committed by ex-prisoners who were released in exchange for Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier held by Hamas in Gaza for five years. The text accompanying the link read:
“Security experts have found that six Israelis have been killed by men released as part of the deal that brought Gilad Shalit back to his family three years ago. Don, Noah, and special guest Ilene Prusher ask: Should this grim calculus affect future Israeli hostage negotiations?”
Beneath it, a man named Ansar Salie posted a four-word comment:
“Die all you fuckers.”
Now, it is not unusual for a publicly-posted notice about Israel — any publicly-posted notice about Israel — to attract angry, hateful or threatening responses. This reflects the character of social media, which are mean and unrestrained, and in which Id outpolls Superego by orders of magnitude. And it reflects the fact that Israel and Zionism are now everywhere embattled. So seeing, “Die all you fuckers” on the Facebook page of a podcast about Israel was not a surprise.
Still, there was something about it that captured my attention. Maybe its economy, or its force. I wanted to know more about its author, and perhaps to understand why someone would spend his time trawling Facebook seeking posts that anger him enough to issue death threats from afar. I clicked on Ansar Salie’s name, in the comment, and was taken to his Facebook page. Its cover photo was two pictures side by side, one labeled “Appalachia, USA,” with hardscrabble kids in a tarpaper hovel, and the other labeled “Gaza, Palestine,” with five dead toddlers laid in a horrid row, a woman wailing above them.
It made sense to me that I’d find this kind of visual message topping the page of the person who had left the comment on my page. But when I scrolled down the page, a more complicated picture emerged. Salie’s profile, and homey and sweet photos that he uploaded, indicated that he lived in South Africa, near Cape Town. He works for a company called “Translogic Business Solutions.” Last week, he posted a photograph of a little boy atop a toddler bicycle, with the text “My life’s joy.” Beneath it, friends commented “Too cute mashallah” and “May Allah grant him success in life.” A few weeks earlier was a picture of a woman and two young girls, beautiful in taffeta. Beneath that, was this:
Further down, Salie had posted an image of an emaciated child, with the caption, “The world’s hunger is getting ridiculous. There is more fruit in a rich man’s shampoo than in a poor man’s plate.” And then this:
And then this:
And, jarring because it draws so fulsomely on the semiotics of classical anti-Semitism, was this:
But then also this:
It no longer comes as a surprise that a man can at once love his children and his mother, tenderly and with passion, and see others who are strangers to him as beneath dignity and undeserving of life itself. But scrolling down the Facebook homepage of the man who wrote to me and my friends, “Die all you fuckers,” the mélange of familial pride, love, idealism, oozy humor and steel-hardened hate left me dispirited and confused.
The man who bid me to die displayed no appetite for moral ambiguity and complexity. His homepage convinces me that his hatred was total and durable, grounded in tragedy suffered by his kinsmen, alloyed by Protocols-of-the-Elders-of-Zion type, calumnious anti-Semitism, and tempered by violent rage. At the same time, the homepage contains a (very) small grain of solace. What motivates the guy who bid me to die is not completely foreign to me. His tribalism is familiar to me, and I have sympathy for it. His concern for his kids and those of others, is familiar to me, and I admire it (though he has no sympathy for my kids, that is certain). His anger at injustice, that is familiar, too. And his outrage at the way his people are misapprehended as violent primatives. Also, his belief that the world must and can be a better place, by his lights.
Salie’s homepage left no doubt that what he typed on my Facebook wall was sincere. He thinks I’m a fucker and wants me to die. It also told me that in some imaginable future world, he might not wish me dead. In some imaginable world, I would click on pictures of his beautiful kids, and he on pictures of mine. But that world is not the world we live in, nor is it a world we are likely to share for many years to come.