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The repercussions of a single op-ed

Last week, Isaac Silberberg published an op-ed in The Tech accusing the MIT Arab Students Organization (ASO) and Palestine@MIT of bringing a “9/11 supporter,” Mads Gilbert, to campus. As I read Isaac’s article, I felt his pain in losing a friend during the terrible attacks that befell our country fourteen years ago. I also felt apprehension and concern, because I knew what would happen after the op-ed was read by others: suspicion would fall once more upon MIT’s Arab community at large. I am not part of the ASO or Palestine@MIT, but I have many wonderful friends who are. Did Silberberg think these kind-hearted and intelligent people (in other words, typical MIT students) would bring a terrorism sympathizer to campus?

I wanted to give Isaac the benefit of doubt; perhaps he was simply misinformed. I didn’t know of Mads Gilbert before reading Isaac’s op-ed. But I do know how to Google and ran a search for “Mads Gilbert.” Webpage after webpage celebrating Gilbert’s achievements: Treating trauma victims in Norway. Volunteering and treating patients in the Shifa hospital in Gaza, despite medicine shortages and power outages. Criticizing war and violence, from the Vietnam War to the invasion of Iraq.

How could someone think Gilbert to be supporter of terrorism? I realized sadly that the op-ed I was reading was one more piece in what has become a cottage industry of articles designed to discredit Arab and Palestinian activists.

The facts about Mads Gilbert: Gilbert grew up in Norway and was trained as an anesthesiologist. In 2000, his team revived Anna Bagenholm, who was pronounced clinically dead after an hour of being trapped beneath frozen waters. During the 2008-2009 Israel-Gaza conflict, Gilbert joined humanitarian efforts in Gaza to treat patients, the vast majority of whom were civilian victims of Israeli airstrikes. For his work, Gilbert received numerous awards and widespread praise by the Norwegian public, the prime minister, and social commentators around the world.

His life’s works alone should cause one to hesitate before reducing Gilbert to a 9/11 supporter, even if it were not for his pronouncements that he is against the terrorist attack in New York. Even Gilbert’s original statement, which he has regretted and rescinded, is misrepresented in Isaac’s op-ed. It actually reads: “I am upset by the terrorist attack, but I am at least as upset over the suffering that the U.S. has caused. It is in this context that 5,000 dead has to be seen. If the U.S. government has a legitimate right to bomb and kill civilians in Iraq, the oppressed has a moral right to attack the U.S. with the weapons they may create as well. Dead civilians are the same whether they are Americans, Palestinians or Iraqis.”

I write this letter not for the sake of Gilbert, nor the ASO and Palestine@MIT. Their reputations have been stained, and the damage has been done. I write this for the future, recognizing that we live in an interconnected age where information spreads faster than ever before. An article that is written by a single person is shared by tens and is read by tens of thousands. Seeds of misinformation can be sowed, reaped, and replanted many times unimaginably quickly.

Thanks to digital and social media, we are all citizen-journalists. When misinformation abounds, none of us are entirely free from responsibility. Let us strive to become better citizen-journalists by diversifying our news sources, challenging our own assumptions, and sharing only the information that we have verified as true.

Abubakar Abid
Graduate student in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science