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My boycott is personal, not for the purpose of changing the world

My boycott is personal, not for the purpose of changing the world

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Opinion Freedom of Expression Personal Freedoms

Monday 4 December 202306:36 pm
إقرأ باللغة العربية:

المقاطعة كموقف شخصي، لا من أجل تغيير العالم


When people get angry about something, the idea of boycotting to make a statement resurfaces. Opinions about its economic efficacy vary, with some celebrating its ability to bring about desired change, and others warning of economic pitfalls that ultimately affect the boycotters.

Here, the boycotter, myself included, not an economic expert, is faced with the dilemma: to boycott, with the intention of creating the promised change, or to stop and avoid further compromising an already fragile economic landscape?

Why do I boycott?

I view boycotting from two perspectives. Some boycotters hope to influence the owners of major global companies to exert the relevant pressure on their governments. The companies’ losses subsequently either decrease or increase. Others, myself included, question the morality behind engaging with an entity that contributes to corruption. The boycott or disassociation here does not necessarily imply a plan that needs promotion or even disclosure; it is simply a refusal to engage with individuals who are deemed bad or unacceptable.

Here, the boycotter, myself included, not an economic expert, is faced with the dilemma: to boycott, with the intention of creating the promised change, or to stop and avoid further compromising an already fragile economic landscape?

With the passage of time, the second perspective has become the dominant force behind my decision to boycott. It might coincide with a general trend, but that does not serve as a criterion for judging my own behavior towards a businessman or a company. The only criteria for me is the answer to the question: ‘Does this person or company deserve my patronage?’

Small boycotts and a rejection of large ones

I adhere to 'The Small Personal Boycott List' that I maintain and implement without interruption. It is neither influenced by public opinion nor by trends. For example, I still boycott a well-known chain of koshary restaurants in Egypt after one branch refused to open their dining area for a Christian woman and her daughter during daylight hours in Ramadan. The customers were given the choice to either consume their food as takeout or leave the establishment without it; in other words, they were refused service.

I actually think that I am the only one who still remembers this incident and continues to boycott the chain. I recall teasing a Christian friend and proposing we dine at the aforementioned koshary restaurant. To my surprise, he agreed, and when I reminded him of the incident, he was amazed by my continued boycott.

Here, I continue to boycott because the restaurant did not apologize or take any action against the employee responsible for refusing to serve food to the Christian customers. The restaurant owners played the ‘forgetful’ card, which broadly succeeded but failed with me.

There is a famous café downtown known for its owner's involvement in some thuggish activities against political opponents of the current regime. He is sarcastically deemed an ‘honorable citizen’ by other so-called ‘honorable citizens’ who carry out dirty deeds on behalf of official institutions. As soon as I learned this, I stopped my visits to his café. Of course, the owner won't miss the cash from my order, but I would have much to regret if I still frequented his café.

My personal boycott list is also filled with the names of small or niche individuals and entities, of much smaller significance to those commonly featured on boycott lists. For instance, I made a decision long ago not to engage with businesses that host noisy late-night openings or celebrations in disregard of their neighbors. My list varies in its reasoning, and includes both companies with global reach and those local to my neighborhood.

There's a famous café downtown known for its owner's involvement in thuggish activities against political opponents of the government. After learning this, I stopped going. Of course, the owner won't miss my order, but I'd have much to regret if I kept going

On the other hand though, I refused to boycott French products after a campaign against their use to show support for Islam and the Prophet Muhammad. The event began when an extremist killed a French school teacher for displaying a cartoon caricaturing the Prophet. Regardless of the content of the cartoon, I certainly cannot condone a murder for such a trivial reason, and so I found myself on the opposite side of the general boycott. In this instance, it can be said that I boycotted the boycott.

I first tested this principle, to boycott for personal motives, just last week. I was debating which cigarettes to buy, foreign or local. I had previously decided to boycott a well-known Egyptian tobacco company for my own personal reasons; I had grown tired of its market manipulation and the intentional hiding of its cigarettes and alternatives which led to a price increase of over 100%.

I hesitated whether to continue my personal boycott of local cigarettes and to ignore the general boycott of imported ones, or whether to cease my personal boycott. Ultimately, I decided to maintain my personal boycott. However, my issue with foreign goods is general and will only end once the current goal of exerting economic pressure on Western governments has been achieved.

It's said that during the Vietnam War, a man stood in front of the White House holding a candle in solidarity with the Vietnamese people and against the war. When asked about the impact of his actions, the man replied 'Who said I protest to change anything? I protest so that I don't change, to maintain my respect for my humanity'

I boycott for myself, not for the world

Living with a list of personal boycotts means that I am constantly obligated to explain what I aim to achieve by not sitting in that specific café, by my lack of interaction with a sarcastic meme posted by a racist account, or my solitary boycott of a giant cigarette company – as if my boycott will hurt them. Simply put, my answer is always that I boycott for myself, not for the world.

It is said that during the Vietnam War, a man stood alone holding a candle in front of the White House in solidarity with the Vietnamese people and in protest of the war. A journalist approached him and asked, 'Do you think your protest alone will change anything?' The man replied, 'Who said I protest to change anything? I protest so that I don't change, to maintain my respect for my thoughts and humanity.'

That story encapsulates my view on many things, including the weapon of boycott. I do not boycott to change the world, but I boycott so that the good within me does not change towards the world. If the world changes at the same time, then welcome. If not, I will be the one they say has gained himself, regardless of whether the world is gaining or losing.


* The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Raseef22


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