Douglas McLeod on Al Queda and the Digital Cultural Divide (Guest Entry)

The Internet in the Islamic World:
No Panacea for Democracy

Douglas McLeod

It doesn’t take an expert to realize that the Internet has revolutionized cultural and political life. Virtually anywhere in the world, one can observe Internet-related social change that touches the lives of vast populations. In many societies, even people who don’t own a computer can access the Internet in low cost, public cybercafés. As such, people around the world have become connected like never before. While the utopians among us have recognized the great promise that this interconnectivity presents in terms of access to information, expanded horizons, civic participation and the calling of democracy, there is a dark side to the Internet as well. Setting aside obvious Internet-associated perils such as pornography, scams and other forms of depravity, there are numerous other issues that bring cause for concern. Such dangers are particularly acute in the Islamic world.

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What’s wrong with being Muslim in America?

kareem1.jpgWhile gearing up for this Wednesday’s Inside Islam program: Young Muslims and New Media, I found myself thinking a lot about the question Colin Powell posed to Tom Brokaw on last Sunday’s Meet the Press. He said he was troubled by some members of the Republican Party who were helping to spread the rumor that Barack Obama is a Muslim. Powell said:

Well, he’s not a Muslim. He’s a Christian. He’s always been a Christian. But the right answer is, Well, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in America? …Is there something wrong with some seven year old Muslim-American kid believing that he could be president?

I missed Powell’s live endorsement over the weekend since I was out of town at a retreat center. There was another woman staying at the center who had her grandson in tow – a six-year-old just a few days short of turning seven. She was white; he was black; they had the same profile. He was an extraordinarily well-behaved little boy with flashing eyes and a smile to match who managed to sit through some long sessions without wiggling. I surprised myself by saying to him, “You know, Bradley, you might grow up to be president someday.” Would I have had the same thought about a little Arab-American boy?

What do you think? Do we have to wait another generation before Muslim Americans will be considered “real Americans – like you and me?” What will it take, do you think? We’d love to have your comments before Wednesday’s program with Reza Aslan and other media analysts at 3:00pm CT so we can read them on the air.

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Alaa al-Aswany Interview on Here on Earth

Here on Earth: Radio Without Borders interviewed Alaa al-Aswany, also known as the Sinbad of literature, yesterday.

There aren’t a lot of famous writers who are also dentists. Alaa al Aswany is Egypt’s most famous living writer who happens to also work as a dentist by day in Cairo. He says being a dentist enables his writing: his patients open up to him, confess their troubles and reveal their inner lives. Al Aswany’s first novel, The Yacoubian Building, published in 2002, overnight became the bestselling novel in the Arab world, and was subsequently made into Egypt’s highest grossing film ever.

The only Arab-language novel to have created greater buzz and sell more copies is his second novel, Chicago, which has just been published in the US. Set on the campus of the University of Illinois Medical Center where he himself trained as a dentist, Chicago explores the interweaving lives of a group of Egyptian students and professors trying to find their bearings in post 9/11 America.

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Turkish Soap Opera Sparks Controversy and Conversation

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Gümü? Stars: Songül Öden and K?vanç Tatl?tu? (Source)

The Turkish soap opera Gümü?, or Noor in English, is a pop culture phenomenon across the Arab world. Actress Songül Öden plays Noor, a young Muslim woman and fashion entrepreneur. The romantic relationship she has with Muhannad, her husband on the show, has won over a broad following in Arab countries and incited media buzz around the world. The fact that the program originally flopped in Turkey, a secular nation-state, but is immensely popular in religiously conservative countries like Saudi Arabia raises fascinating questions about the relationship between Islam and Muslim culture.

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The Jewel of Medina: A National Security Threat?

The controversy over The Jewel of Medina, a novel about Muhammad’s youngest wife, Aisha, has taken many forms. Recently, in this press release, Random House announced its decision not to publish the book because of the threat it poses to the company, author Sherry Jones, and more broadly, national security. An excerpt of the novel is available on NPR’s website and a simple Google search will reveal how many people are covering the controversy in the media and contributing original ideas about it, despite the fact that so far the book has not been released in English yet.

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In fact, the book has only been officially published in Serbia. Soon after it was released, however, it was removed from shelves and accused of being offensive to Muslims. The debate over free speech is a hot-button issue in the media today. Some think that The Jewel of Medina is a scandal on par with the Danish cartoons of 2005 and The Satanic Verses published in 1988. Even with serious backlash, the book has developed a following and advocates for its release are keeping a level-head despite threats of violence. Pirated copies and unofficial translations of the book led to its re-release in Serbia. Also, The Jewel of Medina is scheduled for official release in England later this month.

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Comedians Break Muslim Stereotypes

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Muslim comedian Preacher Moss founded the Allah Made Me Funny comedy group after September 11, 2001. Following years of touring around the world as a stand-up group, Azhar Usman, Mo Amer, and Preacher Moss filmed and produced a full-length movie of their performances. The movie showed in American theaters from October 3 to October 9, 2008.

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Hip Hop Diplomacy and The Boom Generation

Hip hop and diplomacy are just as unlikely a pair as heavy metal and Islam to the Western mind. Nevertheless, hip hop and heavy metal are popular forms of music among youth in the Middle East. As in every society, the younger generation struggles to find alternatives to tradition through travel, study, and rebellion. The next generation in the Middle East faces the pressure of rebuilding a region after years of war. They are playing metal and hip hop to rebel against the surrounding culture of violence and war. Popular music suggests that a lot of Muslim youth are choosing an alternative to political activism, living their daily lives apart from ethnic and religious conflict with politics in the West.

Hip Hop Diplomacy in Morocco

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Live interview with Reza Aslan on 29 October 2008

Media commentator, writer and scholar of religion Reza Aslan will join host of Here on Earth: Radio without Borders Jean Feraca for Inside Islam’s second radio show. Discussion about young Muslims and new media opens online before the show airs on October 29, 2008. We want your input. Ask Reza Aslan a question or suggest a topic on this post. Click here to comment. Bio, interview, and recent work available after the break.

Young Muslims and New Media

Comedy Centralreza_small.jpg Baba Ali Videoblogger
Photo Credits. Hooman Majd (Source); Reza Aslan (Source); New York Times (Source)

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Eboo Patel and The Interfaith Generation

Interfaith Youth Core (Flickr)Writer, scholar, and youth leader Eboo Patel is executive director of the Chicago-based Interfaith Youth Core and writes a blog for The Washington Post. Patel’s ongoing work with youth and study of religious divisions is rooted in his own struggle choosing between Indian, Muslim, and American identities and faith in a common “dream of pluralism.” In Acts of Faith, he defines pluralism as

a form of proactive cooperation that affirms the identity of the constituent communities while emphasizing that the wellbeing of each and all depends on the health of the whole. It is the belief that the common good is best served when each community has a chance to make its unique contribution.

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