The question of identity plays out in several ways across the corpora.
One recurring theme was Us versus Them. This was observable between many groups: religious identities (Muslims vs. Jews vs. Christians), different Muslims sects (Sunni, Shia, Arab, others), countries (West vs. Middle East or Lebanon vs. Saudi, Lebanon vs. Israel, etc.), and status (refugee, immigrant, citizen). Part of the us-them dichotomy was articulated as hate speech of varying intensity. The Other was usually perceived as dangerous, criminal, or violent; at best, as inferior or a drain on resources. To a much lesser extent, users sought to understand the Other’s motivations, and sporadically show support.
Many conversations involved valid or unfounded contrasts between identities. There was a predictable degree of stereotyping with the occasional objection. Some conflation of identities also indicated how the Other was perceived and understood. For example, the words “immigrants” and “refugees” were often discussed simultaneously and interchangeably. Based on their backgrounds, users had differing opinions on the meaning of citizenship, and they also questioned first-generation immigrant citizens’ and their children’s capacity and eligibility to participate in politics.
Sometimes, all Muslims were treated as one while at others, sharp identity boundaries were drawn. Finally, there was contrasting and conflation of religious and political identities. For example, users discussed “Jew” as political construct vs. religious construct. Similarly, there was discussion about Muslims as described in the holy texts and in reality.
When it comes to religion, users chose to focus on differences or similarities to support their claims. For example, when debating same-sex marriage and homosexuality, users alluded to the commonality of Islam, Christianity and Judaism in forbidding it. However, when talking about terrorism and women’s rights, Islam was often singled out as a barbaric and suppressive religion that promotes terror, chaos, failure, filth and underdevelopment. Islamic and Christian religious leaders were mostly portrayed in a negative light if users believed that all religions involve social manipulation and economic exploitation. Islam was also often called an “ISIS religion.”
Another element dealt with identity as belonging and was most apparent in the keywords “refugee,” “immigrant” and “citizen.” Here, the discussion involved the significance of having a particular identity, and in the case of citizenship, what it takes to acquire it. This was also observable in discussions surrounding historical relationships between Muslims and Jews. The fluidity of the boundaries was also called into question by discussing whether an immigrant could ever “belong” or, like Hezbollah in Lebanon, if an organization could be “terrorist” and “part of government” simultaneously.