Social Media And The Struggle for Tomorrow

Social Media isn't just a place to troll, slide into someone's DM's and share cat videos (Seriously, please stop.) It's also a battleground for ideas that is rapidly becoming more important than actual battle grounds. Hyperbole? Read on to find out.

Muslims have never gotten over losing Andalusia (Spain) to the Reconquista. No discussion about Islam and Europe can take place without us pining like BoAbdil – the last Muslim ruler of Granada who cried like a child as he was exiled from his homeland. We lament about how we brought enlightenment to Europe and then managed to find ourselves totally eliminated from the Iberian Peninsula.

BoAbdil – the last ruler of Granada

If only we knew.

We cry at the loss of Andalusia and rarely reflect on the true enormity of what happened. The whole of South America, the Philippines and indeed the Americas were conquered or “discovered” by the forces of Catholic Spain shortly after they sent the Muslims packing. Were it not for our own ability to play ourselves, the world would look very different today.

The next Andalusia?

Today, we are in the midst of making another monumental mistake. And it may end up making the loss of Andalusia look trivial by comparison.

This mistake, this error, this battle that we cannot afford to lose is for the control of the Social Media narrative about us and our faith. The advent of the Social Media revolution is no less a game changer in the history of the world than the Industrial revolution before it. And just like the Industrial revolution made previously insignificant nations into world powers and reduced world powers into colonised outposts, the Social Media revolution will do the same.

Until just over a decade ago, the control of information – and therefore the levers of power – were in the hands of the wealthy and elite few. It was Fox News, CNN, and the BBC that set the agenda on TV. It was the Washington Post, Time Magazine, The Times of London and Le Figaro that set the agenda on Newspapers and Magazines. The editors of these channels and publications and their owners could decide whether a genocide was worthy of coverage or not. They could choose to paint a leader as a villain that needed to be deposed or a hero that needed to be obeyed. In the court of public opinion, they were the power behind the thrones, pulling all our strings.

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Today, their dominance is almost over. Instead, we get our information and news from Social Media. The BBCs YouTube channel has just over 1 Million subscribers whereas Zoella (a lifestyle blogger just out of her teens) has more than 10 Million. Fox News has over 15 Million Twitter followers while Justin Beiber has more than 90 Million. The numbers are staggering, but it is a fact that individuals and small operations are having their voices amplified and heard on Social Media at a level that was previously virtually impossible.

The possibilities are amazing. For the first time, we can talk about ourselves rather than being talked about by pundits from other communities or by talking heads with their own agendas. We could put across discussions regarding long held grievances without having it filtered through the lens of a news organisation with a biased eye. For once, marginalised sections of the Muslim community could speak for themselves rather than be spoken for by “community leaders.”

While this is a great thing for transparency in the sharing of information and giving more power to the people – there is a huge downside to this whole enterprise.

The next Reconquista?

The individuals and organisations that are proving most adept at exploiting Social Media for their own purposes are those at the extremes of society. The extremists amongst the Muslim who advocate violence against civilians and organise to carry out acts of terror are possibly the single most effective and coordinated group of Muslims online. There may be far more Muslims sharing a Mufti Menk tweet or a catchy video by Maher Zain, but it’s the extremists that are getting things done. They are using Social Media to not only propagate their ideas, but to coordinate them. [1]

But even these precocious violent new kids on the block are being left in the shade by the white nationalist–Nazi-Anti-Muslim brigade. [2] You can’t fail to spot them if you’re ever online. You can see them commenting on every article, sending torrents of vile abuse towards anyone who stands in their way and backing each other up to the hilt.

A recent study by the George Washington University study on extremism “revealed that the social media presence of white nationalists and Neo-Nazis is growing at an exponential rate. According to the study, the white nationalist movement on Twitter increased by a whopping 600 percent, surpassing that of ISIS sympathizers.” [3]

What happens if we lose the social media war?

If we lose the social media war against extremism, the best-case scenario is that we continue down the slippery slope we’re on now. We see ever increasing attacks followed by reprisals, followed by attacks.

That is the best-case scenario.

The worst-case scenario would mean the marginalisation of the middle ground to such an extent as to have profound psychological, political and theological consequences for generations to come.

No pressure.

To put it bluntly, the longer the moral majority of both Muslims and non-Muslims remain disunited, disorganised and lacking in coordination – the longer the extremists on both sides of the spectrum will continue to set the agenda, be the loudest and most persistent voices in the room and ultimately succeed in their quest for a clash of civilizations.

Organised evil will always defeat disorganised good. However, if the good got organised… well, that would be a whole different ball game.

References:

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/may/25/social-media-extremism-and-fears-we-are-losing-the-online-war

[2] https://www.cjr.org/analysis/breitbart-media-trump-harvard-study.php

[3] https://cchs.gwu.edu/files/downloads/Nazis%2520v.%2520ISIS%2520Final_0.pdf

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6 responses to “Social Media And The Struggle for Tomorrow”

  1. Ahmed says:

    Good eye opener, but what do you suggest is the solution? Organize and do what exactly?

  2. George Apostolou says:

    Good piece, and I share Ahmed’s question.

    There are plenty of people of goodwill among Muslims and non Muslims who genuinely want a happy and well-integrated modus vivendi within western countries. But far, easier said than done.

    There are a couple of things which might at least help. In western countries (like my own, Canada), more effort should be made towards inclusiveness, and particularly to demonstrate that Muslims are welcomed, respected and protected. While, a helpful concession from Muslims would be to cease the promotion of the term ”islamophobia” which is now ubiquitous in our formal media and on-line.
    I have questions, concerns and, yes, serious criticisms of Islam. This is just a matter of intellectual honesty. And yet, it clearly qualifies me as an Islamophobe, thereby disqualifying and discrediting what I have to say. That word is not helpful.

    Ultimately, I believe the solution lies in opening our minds and allowing for the possibility that we each may learn something of value from the other. Alas, the precondition of open minds may be a bridge too far.

    • Mohammed Wajid Akhter says:

      Dear George,

      Thank you for your frank and refreshingly balanced comment. I would not be so negative.

      As you mentioned, there are plenty of good people out there. The problem is that we are not coordinated or motivated towards a share vision of what could be possible.

      Meanwhile the not-so-good people are highly motivated and have a clear vision of what they want to achieve.

      My practical suggestion for the Muslim community is that we need to take Social Media seriously. We need to invest in understanding, studying and utilising it to organise, coordinate and establish the moral majority. This is possible because we see the exact opposite being done on a daily basis.

      • George Apostolou says:

        Good luck to you Mohammed.

        Social media is now, of course, a polarizing battle ground. In Canada, that reality is exacerbate by a taboo on open and honest discussion in our mainstream media (with some exceptions, to be sure). A couple of days ago in Toronto, a little girl was assaulted by someone who apparently wanted to cut off her hijab. While the news media made a rather large international story of the incident, our social media was overwhelmingly saturated with expressions of disbelief of the the girl, insults to her and her family, and a lot of anti-Muslim and anti-Islam sentiment.

        Perhaps with the best of intentions, we find ourselves, superficially at least, among the most politically correct nations of the world ….. obsessively and dysfunctionally so.

        My hope is that we can overcome our paralysis, and engage with one another out of the shadows of social media and in the public square, where the discussion needs to take place. We need to expose and
        explore what it is that drives fear and distrust on all sides, which obviously exists.

        To think that resolution of issues will be easy is, I believe, foolish. But to avoid honest engagement could be disastrous.

        Cheers.

  3. Marco says:

    “We lament about how we brought enlightenment to Europe…”

    It’s sad how delusional and hypocritical Muslims often are. They decry imperialism when it’s done by Western powers, but celebrate (and encourage) it when the oppressors are Muslims.

    Many have bought into fairy tales about Al-Andalus, when the reality is that Spain experienced its Golden Age after the Muslims were kicked out. The Moors (and most of the Muslim world) achieved little of worth for the rest of history.

    As an actual historian of the period, Professor Fernández-Morera, states: “…the invasion, conquest and colonization of Christian Spain during the first half of the eighth century was a disaster for the Christian population… The pre-Islamic Christian population was in no need of being civilized. Its level of civilization was far higher than that of the Muslim warriors.”

    Please keep your “enlightenment” to yourselves in the future.

  4. Assalamu Alaikum.

    If we look to business, people are studying SEO (search engine optimization ), social media marketing, growth hacks etc. If they don’t, they won’t keep up. More and more people are using social media as a way to work from home. It is growing, we either grow with it or we lose the narrative.

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