London, Asharq Al-Awsat – Whenever a crisis or a war erupts in the Arab world, a set of actions seem to always follow.
First, condemnation speeches are made and demonstrations are held in various Arab countries, demanding a suspension of relations with the West (in some Arab countries, with Israel as well). Of course, the flags of certain countries are burnt.
Second, government officials discuss holding an emergency summit. This, however, does not guarantee the meeting will take place.
Third, the Egyptian protest singer Shaban Abdurahim releases a new song pocking fun at the villain du jour. In the case of the Israeli attacks on Lebanon , this would be no other than Ehud Olmert, the current Israel prime minister.
In the past, Shaabolla, as he is known to fans, attacked the former Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, as recorded derogatory lyrics about Denmark, after the publication of offensive cartoons.
Last, but certainly not least, your inbox is certain to be filled with hundreds of emails urging you to take part in a number of campaigns or to vote on leading news or political websites, such as CNN or BBC, on an issue related to the crisis.
Then you receive an email or mobile phone text message with a list drawn up of products and brands that you are “required to boycott for religious reasons”.
The current conflict proves that, once again, mass boycotts are triggered by escalating tensions with “the west”.
Mass boycotts became popular during the second Palestinian intifada and the siege of late Palestinian president Yasser Arafat’s headquarters in 2002. They gained momentum during the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and came back “bigger than ever” earlier this year, after the publication of offensive cartoons in a Danish newspaper. As a result, a huge boycott of Danish product took place across the Arab and Muslim worlds.
Economic boycotts are perceived by many as a peaceful and legitimate way of making their feelings heard, regardless of the negative effects on the local economy. However, many of those actively boycotting certain products, companies or stores because they “support Israel ” or have an “anti-Muslim agenda”, often base their actions on inaccurate and false information, usually obtained from the internet.
“During wars and conflicts, the level of rhetoric and irrational behavior rises. Unless something has been properly documented, I would be very careful about trusting its authenticity,” according to Magda Abu Fadil, head of the Institute of Professional Journalist” at the Lebanese American University in Beirut.
A statement, allegedly written by Howard Schultz, Starbucks’ chairman, illustrates the growing role of hearsay in directing an economic boycott. The message, purportedly composed on July 11, 2006 is available online on Ziopedia.org, a site that claims to deal with “everything there is to know about Zionism”.
Schultz allegedly thanked his loyal customers who contribute, with each cup of coffee they buy, to supporting Israel . “Without you, my valued customer, I wouldn’t be able to raise hundred of millions of dollars each year to protect Israeli citizens from terrorist attacks and to keep reminding every Jew in America to defend Israel , at any cost.”
While Starbucks was the subject of heated email exchanges in the Arab world, no one bothered to visit the company’s official website to check the veracity of the letter.
After being made aware of bogus statement, Starbucks posted the following rebuttal on its website:
“You may have seen a rumor or web posting about Howard Schultz, Starbucks and the Israeli army. The rumor and web posting are factually inaccurate. Neither Chairman Howard Schultz nor Starbucks fund or support the Israeli Army. Starbucks in a non-political organization and does not support individual political causes.”
When Asharq al Awsat contacted Starbucks to further investigate the forged letter, it received this email from the corporate communications department. “At this point, the reply posted on our website addresses our current position on this issue and we have nothing else to add.”
Starbucks recently announced plans to open 1800 new branches worldwide by the end of this fiscal year. The coffee shop market in Saudi Arabia is said to be worth $4 billion dollars, according to figures obtained by Asharq al Awsat.
Another email claims that a nightclub in New York City was being built in the shape of the Kaaba (Islam’s holy shrine in Mecca ), based on information posted on a well-known extremist online forum. The new club, it said, was a “new slap to Muslims and disregard to Muslims”. A photograph of what is supposed to be a black cube-like building currently under construction was attached to the email.
“The Apple’s Mecca”, the email continued, would be dedicated for “night entertainment pilgrimage”, where “pilgrims” visit to drink and party.
However, a quick internet search reveals that the club doesn’t really exist.
The building pictured is part of an Apple store in New York City and sells consumer favorites such as IPods and Macs. Indeed, the giant cube is only the entrance to the store and is not black at all; it is made from transparent glass.
Steve Dowling, director of corporate public relations at Apple, said the store was opened on 19 May, on New York City’s famous Fifth Avenue.
“New Yorkers have given the new store a resoundingly positive reception since it opened in May. It has come to our attention that a couple of blogs refer to the store as “Mecca” and others have observed that, during construction, when the clear glass entrance was protected by a black covering, it looked like the Kaaba, the company said in statement to Asharq al Awsat.
“Apple has never referred to the new store as Mecca and the entrance is not an attempt to look similar to the Kaaba. We respect all people’s cultures and religions, and regret that the comments of these independent bloggers have offended anyone,” it added.
There is, however, a nightclub called Mecca in the United States , in the city of Milwaukee , but it is not shaped like the Kaaba.
“The internet is full of useful and exciting information. But, at the same time, it can be abused by people working for their own agenda.’ Said Abu Fadil. “I therefore deal with efforts to promote or finance certain political issues with great suspicion.” She added.