First Amendment Gone Awry

In the Midst of Multiple Wars, Muslims Americans Ponder the Effects of Posting for Palestine

By Carissa Lamkahouan

May/Jun 2024

Initially, Karina Guillen just wanted to stay silent about it — at least on her social media channels.

A married mother of two who reverted in 2019 and considered herself relatively young in the faith, she thought it would be better for her to learn about Islam and its practices before delving into the Palestinians’ plight and possibly courting controversy with family and friends.

“I really wanted to stay away from the politics [of it],” she said. “I know how a lot of my [Christian] family members speak about Israel and how they support it, so I wasn’t ready to open that dialogue with them.”

However, as the war dragged on and she saw the atrocities in Gaza resulting in an ever-rising death toll, she began to have second thoughts.

“I realized I had to pay attention,” Guillen stated.

Armed with a desire to educate herself, she learned more about the conflict and its history. She also began viewing the situation not only as one defined by the politics between the two warring factions, but also about the humanitarian crisis that both the Palestinian Muslims and Christians were suffering. 

That knowledge encouraged her to keep learning and, before long, Guillen felt informed and brave enough to post the articles where her friends and family members could read them. To her surprise and relief, no one who’d expressed support for Israel challenged what she was sharing online. However, as time passed, Guillen observed a change in their own public postings.

“My family never said anything to me about what I was posting, but they stopped posting so much about their support for Israel, and I believe I influenced them to see [that] this was a humanitarian issue. I believe I made them more aware and made them think that it was no longer just about religion or just about Muslims; it’s about a genocide and human rights,” Guillen remarked.

In fact, since she summoned the courage to speak her mind, a Christian friend confided to her that her bravery inspired her.

“She reached out to me and commended me for posting, because she doesn’t feel brave enough to speak up against what’s happening in Gaza,” she stated. “She knows it’s very inhumane, but because she’s Christian she feels she can’t support Palestine.”

For Some, Posting Comes at Their Peril

Many Muslims and non-Muslims agree with Guillen’s take on the issue, but not all have had the same positive experience after sharing their opinion. Since the war broke out, several organizations and news programs have reported the fallout people can suffer by supporting Palestine’s right to fight for its freedom.

On Oct. 26, 2023, The New Arab ( reported that the U.S. civil rights group Palestine Legal was monitoring how some of those who voiced public support for Palestine have been targeted. The group — via several posts on X (formerly Twitter) — identified more than “260 (reports) of harassment and censorship attempts.” It said that it has spoken to people who have lost their jobs or even had job offers rescinded after making pro-Palestinian social media posts or signing statements of support. 

On Dec. 22, 2023, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) reported that Canadian lawyers had been fielding calls from people about losing their jobs or being suspended, as well as from job seekers being flagged to potential employers after publicly expressing their support for Palestine. 

On Nov. 3, 2023, four UN special rapporteurs issued a press release expressing worry at the “worldwide wave of attacks, reprisals, criminalization and sanctions against those who publicly express solidarity with the victims of the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine.” 

The press release identified special rapporteurs as part of the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council, which is the “largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system.” According to the press release, “Calls for an end to the violence and attacks in Gaza, or for a humanitarian ceasefire, or criticism of Israeli government’s policies and actions, have in too many contexts been misleadingly equated with support for terrorism or antisemitism. This stifles free expression, including artistic expression, and creates an atmosphere of fear to participate in public life” ( Search under “press releases”).

On Dec. 22, 2023, Brishti Basu (senior writer, posted the following on CBC News: “The [UN] statement said that artists, journalists, academics, athletes and protesters have all been censored, suspended, blacklisted or otherwise threatened with workplace consequences for expressing their views” (  

The Pressure to Post Comes from Both Sides

While Guillen was initially worried about how her support for Palestine would be received, other Muslims face the same worry — but for very different reasons. 

Recently, writer Asma Khan (not her real name) found herself in a tight spot. As a rule, she had resisted writing on social media in support of Palestine. This decision largely stemmed from her husband’s objection and worry about his career.

“He is concerned about what I post on social media in general and how it could affect his job,” she said. “I could defy him and post whatever I want, but I don’t think that’s the key to a harmonious relationship.”

Despite what would seem to be a safe approach, Khan soon found that not everyone agreed. After being nominated for an award for her work, she was presented with a threat from the award’s panel of judges. 

“They were [all] Muslims,” she stated, “and they made a statement on social media to all the contestants and to their audience in general. I am paraphrasing here, but they said, ‘We are watching what you post or don’t post about Palestine on social media. If you are silent, or if you post any nonsense about ‘both sides’ having a valid point, you will be blacklisted. You will not even be considered for this award, and we’ll tell our followers to cancel you.’”

Khan said the judges’ stance shocked her and made her afraid not to post online about her support for Palestine. The experience led her to question what posting on social media means in terms of decoding people’s views on a subject and even ponder how writing a statement on Facebook, X or any other platform is viewed as a total and accurate reflection of a person’s character and beliefs. She even questioned how much impact posts from everyday folks could have.

“I would argue that social media is not necessarily the most effective way to support Palestine,” she said. “I would also argue [that] leaders and influential spokespersons for the Muslim ummah have a greater responsibility to post because they have a wide following and might actually change some minds.”

For Some, Speaking Out Sparks Fear and Guilt. For Others — Defiance

Houstonian Hannah Ali has only shared her support online for Palestine once or twice since the war began. Active in her subdivision’s homeowner’s association, the move left her feeling worried about how neighbors might take it and how they might treat her and her family if they disagreed.

In fact, she said she’s used Khan’s argument to justify not writing more or more forcefully about her views on her social media platforms. 

“When I think about posting something, I’ll stop and ask myself, ‘What can my posts even do to make the war stop?’” she related.

Nevertheless, her decision has left her feeling guilty, particularly when she views graphic videos coming out of the war zone, especially those featuring harm or even dead children.

“On many levels I really want to share everything I see so that people can see how bad it is in Gaza. But I rationalize away my decision not to post by thinking to myself, ‘Oh what good is it gonna do?’ or ‘I’m probably going to rub someone the wrong way with this and end up in a fight on Facebook.’”

Although Idriss Assal understands Ali’s reasoning and her hesitance, her attitude doesn’t work for him, especially as the fighting in Palestine has dragged on for months and more people are seeing the scale of the damage and death toll. 

The Texas-based finance manager said anyone who wants to make their solidarity with Palestine known online should feel empowered to do so. His reasoning: The more people who speak up, the less risk involved.

However, many would likely disagree. On Jan. 28, the Chicago Sun-Times reported on university students and recent graduates — including Jinan Chehade — losing job opportunities as a result of their public support for Palestine, support specifically tied to social media postings. The students’ experiences mirror those of others around North America, which can be found by a quick Internet search.

Carissa Lamkahouan is a freelance journalist based in Houston. Her work has appeared in, The Houston Chronicle, Inventors Digest, Animal Wellness, The Muslim Observer and other publications.

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