Confronting the collateral damage
There’s certainly shock value behind any campaign titled “Hug a ‘Terrorist.’”
And although the emphasis is on the word “terrorist,” the initial backlash against the event was something that Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights, the club that organized the initiative, was expecting.
“A lot of people initially, were like, ‘oh my God, what is this [title]; that’s awful, that’s so insulting,’” said Yara Shoufani, a third-year political science student and President of SPHR.
On Nov. 13, students were buzzing in response to the controversially titled campaign which was part of a larger campaign called #NotCollateralDamage. The initiative brought two boys, ages 7 and 8, to the Student Centre holding a sign in front of their table that read “Hug a ‘Terrorist,’” and later, “do I look like a ‘terrorist’ to you!?” with the goal of showing the group’s perspective on the ongoing conflict between Palestine and Israel.
“Over the summer [...] there was a lot of rhetoric around Palestinians and people living in Gaza being terrorists,” Shoufani said. “It’s just this idea that this is what the media is trying to sell you, that these children are somehow terrorists, are somehow collateral damage.”
“If you stop visualizing them as this ‘other’ that’s so far away, and look at them as children, just like anyone else, it puts a face on them and makes them human, even though they should always be.”
The campaign was an idea originally inspired by a YouTube video filmed in the summer in Toronto, where two young girls held a similar sign on a busy downtown street.
For the afternoon, SPHR members filled the hall of the Student Centre to engage students on their position. Despite its controversial nature, Shoufani explained that the reception had generally been positive from the students she had interacted with.
However, a number of students expressed their disappointment and condemned the campaign’s controversial approach.
“I was shocked and outraged when I did see their campaign,” said Jacob Klugsberg, a fourth-year Health Sciences student. “Using the term ‘Hug a ‘Terrorist’’ really trivializes and undermines both the threat that is terrorism, which is a very real threat, and also the suffering that all victims of terror and all those affected go through—especially following the events two weeks ago in Quebec and Ottawa.”
Sean Haber, a fourth-year Arts and Sciences student and President of McMaster Israel on Campus, echoed Klugsberg’s statements.
“Not only is it a campaign [that] trivializes and undermines the severity of terrorism, but my own personal vested interest is that it’s an attack campaign against Israel,” said Haber. “I would challenge anyone to try to find one [...] Israeli source that would claim that all Palestinians are terrorists.”
Although Haber was emphatic on his displeasure with the event, he acknowledged the two-sided nature of the conflict. The difficulty in engaging a discussion was further acknowledged by both Haber and Shoufani, as both sides had yet to speak with each other.
Said Haber, “I guess any person who identifies with a certain side of any conflict always going to feel like their side is misrepresented... I think what the ultimate goal has to be is working towards a peaceful, two-state solution to the conflict.”
Critics of the event also found the timing problematic, with the event happening the same week as Remembrance Day. In response to this, Shoufani explained that the timing of events was always going to be an issue. The campaign had initially been booked at the Student Centre for Remembrance Day, but the club quickly rectified that when they realized the unfortunate scheduling.
“Even though the events aren’t related, we need to think about sensitivity and about people who might be going through things during this day and not put them through that,” said Shoufani. “We have been trying to accommodate as much as possible, but I think sometimes, there’s only so much you can do with timing and sensitivity.”