“What the printing press is to Christianity in the 16th century, that’s what the Internet is doing to Islam now”
“I think the word that clearly defines the younger generation and also separates them from their parents is ‘globalized,'” said Reza Aslan, the author of two books on Islam, including the recently published “How to Win a Cosmic War: God, Globalization and the End of the War on Terror.”
Access to technology lags in countries with large Muslim populations compared with Europe and the United States. Access also varies between those countries depending on a variety of factors such as governmental control and economic development.
But the numbers of people using the Web and cell phones are growing — and quickly. “The percentage increases of Internet users in places like Iran, Pakistan and Egypt are astronomical during the past five years,” Aslan said.
It’s long been a concern that the Web is being used by extremist groups such as al Qaeda to recruit young Muslims to their cause. However, Bruce Etling, who co-authored recent studies of the Arabic and Persian blogospheres at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, said he found little evidence of such activity.
“In the Arabic blogosphere we found no specific clusters related to extremism, and when it was discussed, it tended to be in negative terms,” he said. “It was a counter-narrative we were surprised to find.”
There are several possible reasons why, he explained. It’s difficult for extremist groups to maintain a static presence on the Web — they constantly have to move to avoid being found.
Additionally, popular sites such as Facebook have strict terms of usage, which make it difficult for extremist groups — and their sympathizers — to build a following.
Aslan, who is also the executive editor of the social-networking Web site Mecca.com, said that research has consistently shown that the Internet is not an effective recruiting tool for extremists. He said extremist groups use the Web more as a marketing and communication tool.
According to the article observers say that young Muslims use cell phones and the internet primarily for social and recreational reasons, not political. Still, their ‘tech savviness’ “played a significant role in the recent protests after the disputed Iranian election.
Protesters used Twitter, cell phones and other social-networking tools to organize and spread word of what was happening on the streets.”
“What the printing press is to Christianity in the 16th century, that’s what the Internet is doing to Islam now,” Reza Aslan said. “It has opened up the monopoly over the interpretation of Islam that used to solely belong to the religious class.”
Reza Aslan further sees the interpretive authority of Islam’s traditional leaders, including those with an online presences increasinly challenged by the web communities operated and frequented by young Muslims.
At the same time he suggests that the internet could help forge a new, more global Islamic identity” as Muslims are now able to talk to fellow Muslims around the world.
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