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Debate: Social media allows radical Islamism to spread - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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New media tools have evolved into diverse online forms, contributing to a stronger feeling of unity across the Muslim world. Islamist movements have diversified into various orders, such as the Salafists, the Muslim Brotherhood, Al-Qaeda and Hizb ut-Tahrir, which all work to improve their methods of disseminating ideas, expand their programs, and acquire assets.

They also always have an eye on militarizing and expanding recruitment. The means for achieving these goals have been simplified: text, voice, and images are used on the one hand, and debate, dialogue, and interaction are utilized on the other.

These groups have also benefited from instant and cost-free Internet communication among Muslims across the world. This has enabled Islamist organizations to promote their ideas after secular and Western ideas took hold in institutions of culture and information across the world.

Islamist movements have exploited Internet services not only to reach the masses, but also to work beyond the oversight of traditional media as regulations have grown, both domestically and internationally. The fact is that new forms of media are no longer subject to official channels of distribution in the countries where Islamist movements have taken hold. This phenomenon has increased political Islam’s popularity among the youth.

The worldview of Islamist movements is important as well. Their framework focuses on specific issues, positioning them within a circle of both positive change and freedom from authoritarian regimes, with the ultimate goal of establishing an Islamic caliphate.

These are movements that call people to God by way of the Internet, a medium boasting benefits that others lack. The advantages of modern technology are exploited by Islamists: the Internet now occupies the role of the mosque in managing operations, participation, training, recruitment, and communication between leadership and members. This communication has reached very high rates, attracting sympathizers from the masses and recruiting mujahideen in order to establish the proposed—or perhaps, actual—Islamic state.

It should also be noted that marketing these ideas by way of the Internet opens the door for establishing a proposed Islamic state. The presence of the virtual citizen becomes a way to avoid the dangers and annoyances of physical mobilization. Meeting one’s brothers and sisters in Islam becomes a question of technology and integrating their goals and beliefs.

The state itself has become part of the virtual reality of geopolitics around the world. It is based on strong communication, and not actual physical location. Whether any group is able to mobilize a mass of people, or even if it does not have a large audience, the electronic presence deserves recognition.

Many of these sites, such as islamonline.net, have been very successful in providing news and general information about Islam, sharia, and fatwas. The objectives listed on the site include strengthening the ties of unity, instilling a sense of belonging among members of the Muslim nation, supporting the process of sharing and cultivating knowledge, including expanding awareness about Arab and Islamic developments on the international stage, as well as promoting confidence and fostering a spirit of hope among Muslims.

Al-Qaeda has also used media to strengthen its constituency. It founded its own production company, As-Sahab, which produces videos of speeches delivered by Osama Bin Laden along with media and commercial materials about Al-Qaeda and Islamic jihad.
From 2005-2006, Al-Qaeda was able to quadruple its video production. In 2006, As-Sahab released fifty-eight audio and visual productions. In 2007 it released more than ninety such productions through more than 4,500 jihadist websites.

In the past, Al-Qaeda sent videos to television channels manually, which then edited and cut the tapes to produce what they wanted to broadcast on their screens. But now Al-Qaeda uploads the full content of its tapes on a number of websites and forums in order to avoid censorship. These interactions between virtual audiences and Al-Qaeda have translated into a dramatic increase in content distribution.

The counterpart to this article can be read here.

Dr. Nadim Mansouri

Dr. Nadim Mansouri

Dr. Nadim Mansouri is a professor of sociology at The Lebanese University

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