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Guardian: Not much blog for your buck


Home Office research has thrown up some blindingly obvious insights into the Muslim blogosphere. Why did they bother?

“Government names most influential ‘pro-Islamic’ bloggers” was the headline on yesterday’s story about a new report from the Home Office’s counter-terrorism information unit, RICU. So, they’ve been rumbled at last, you might think.

But look more closely and you’ll find that the man identified in the reportas Britain’s third most influential “pro-Islamic” blogger is actually an atheist based in the United States. As’ad AbuKhalil, a Lebanese-American professor of political science at California State University who blogs as The Angry Arab is furious about it. “How ignorant are the researchers of the Home Office?” he writes. “How many times does one have to espouse atheist, anarchist, and secular principles before they realise that their categorisation is screwed up?”

He suspects that his blog was included because of its name. He rarely talks about religion on his blog, except when mocking the fatwas issued by reactionary clerics.

Top spot in the league table of Britain’s most influential “pro-Islamic” bloggers goes to Ali Eteraz, a Cif contributor. Back in 2007, he wrote a series of articles for Cif, from a liberal perspective, about reforming Islam.Islam in Europe, listed as the second most influential blog, is not what many people would think of as a proper blog. It’s basically a collection of news reports from the mainstream media about – well, Islam in Europe.

Another Cif contributor, Yahya Birt, is included in the list at number six. The bloggers’ “influence” rankings are measured according to the number of times they have been cited by other blogs. The author of the RICU report is David Stevens of Nottingham University whose research “is focused primarily within the area of contemporary normative political philosophy”. In 2008, he received a grant of £27,666.47 from the Economic and Social Research Council to conduct a study of “radical weblogs” as well as “to provide more general advice and assistance on RICU business”. The precise nature of the work was described as “somewhat sensitive” – “Consequently, the exact aims and outcomes of the project will not be publicised.”

Dr Stevens then went on a placement with the RICU team (pdf). Among other things, “he was asked to find out … whether a community of extremist ‘bloggers’ existed, and if so, how large and developed it was. And he was tasked with advising on which sites were the most important in terms of their readership, hyperlinks, textual references, and so on.”

One of Dr Stevens’ discoveries was that the bloggers in question mostly link not to militant websites but to articles in the New York Times, al-Akhbar (a Lebanese Arabic-language newspaper), the Guardian, the BBC and the Israeli newspaper, Ha’aretz.

You may be wondering what al-Akhbar is doing here and why seems to be so popular. The explanation is simple: The Angry Arab writes for al-Akhbar and his blog links to it constantly. Since he sometimes posts as many as 10-12 one-paragraph items on his blog in a single day, al-Akhbar scored 95 mentions during the study period, compared with 88 for the Guardian and 80 for the BBC.

Dr Stevens also studied what he calls the “infection” routes – how information passes from one blog to another. The establishment of the anti-extremism Quilliam Foundation “provides a nice case-study example of the conversation amongst bloggers,” he says.

“UmmahPulse wrote a commentary … on 26 April. The piece was republished on MAQASID on the 27 April and followed by a further commentary entitled ‘A call to Shaykh Babikr Ahmed Babikr to dissociate himself from the Quilliam Foundation’. This referenced entries on the noticeboard at the Sal@am discussion board dated from 24 April. Sal@am, in turn, lists further commentaries from other blogs, including Indigo Jo Blogs/Blogistan on Ed Husain from 1/12/07 and TraditionalIslam from 9/3/08 …”

There’s more, but I won’t bore you with it. The connections are also presented graphically in a diagram described as an “infection tree”.

Based on his research, Dr Stevens draws a number of conclusions:

• There’s a network of Islamic bloggers who post on UK-related politics

• They communicate with each other

• Their numbers are small but likely to grow

• Some bloggers post a lot more often than others

• Some bloggers post on UK politics in English from outside the UK

And that’s about it. Presumably RICU is grateful for the information and feels it was money well spent.

Source: Guardian

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. RunningMuslimah

    March 26, 2010 at 3:23 PM

    “Presumably RICU is grateful for the information and feels it was money well spent.”

    That’s…just beautiful. I could’ve told you that.

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