Writing on CNN, Michael Wolfe has an article entitled ‘New media, new Muslim voices‘
Wolfe discusses the opportunities the American Muslim community now have to discuss, react, and if necessary refute news stories concerning them or their religion.
“Now, perhaps in the nick of time, the Web offers Muslims the chance to blog in their own words, tweet their reactions to a breaking news story or further progress in their own communities by exchanging ideas through online forums.”
“But conversations aren’t one-sided; they involve at least two parties. What does this mean? It means that the opportunity Muslims now have is shared with their neighbors. When a Muslim goes online to blog about why she wears a headscarf, a Christian or Jewish woman who is interested in the topic can ask her questions directly.”
What’s new with this?
I’ve got a couple of problems with Wolfe’s article. Firstly, what he is discussing is the same for every community with Internet access. I don’t see why Muslims need to be treated as a special case, about whom an extensive point needs to be made. Just like millions worldwide, they can blog, surf, email and everything inbetween.
I fail to see how, ‘in the nick of time’, the web suddenly allows Muslims to use the same tools as everyone else – as if they haven’t already. In the same way that, across America and the West, Muslims and non-Muslims will be having, and have been having, conversations for decades. These may be as colleagues, as friends, as neighbours and as partners. The Internet has an unparalled impact on our lives, but perhaps not in this part.
The wrong region
Wolfe’s analysis does have resonance, but not in America. The rise in Internet usuage in the Middle East is expodential. Despite firewalls, cenesorship, and often the difficulty of simply getting online, there is a wave of bloggers, activits, citizen journalists and everyday individuals doing just what Wolfe describes – sometimes in English, more often in Arabic or Farsi.
“Sometimes it is geography that separates us, or sometimes we are too shy or embarrassed to ask questions or speak out when face-to-face. The Web makes all of this much easier and unleashes unparalleled potential for humans to communicate directly with the rest of the world.”
By allowing more two-way communication between the ‘east and west’ (for want of a better phrase), between those living in Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran and the English-speaking world, the web is ‘making this easier’. But on a much greater, arguably more significant scale than that which Wolfe describes.