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Social Media And The Struggle for Tomorrow

Dr Muhammad Wajid Akhter

Published

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.

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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.

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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Dr. Muhammad Wajid Akhter - Doctor, Medical Tutor (Social Media, History & Medicine) - Islamic Historian - Founder of, and current board member to Charity Week for Orphans and needy children. www.charityweek.com - Council member, British Islamic Medical Association

7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Ahmed

    January 10, 2018 at 3:19 PM

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

  2. Avatar

    George Apostolou

    January 13, 2018 at 3:23 PM

    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

      Mohammed Wajid Akhter

      January 13, 2018 at 5:02 PM

      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.

      • Avatar

        George Apostolou

        January 14, 2018 at 2:03 PM

        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. Avatar

    Marco

    January 16, 2018 at 9:23 AM

    “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. Avatar

    Monique Hassan

    January 17, 2018 at 9:02 PM

    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.

  5. Avatar

    razzaq hamdani CEO

    March 25, 2018 at 12:14 AM

    Social Media is used to propagate islam, wrong hadiths, wrong translations of Quran are shared to confuse muslims, we should play a vital role in this field All Muslim Scholars should run a Verified Social Account and teach muslims true islam

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#Society

Beyond 2020: Grounding Our Politics in Community

Kyle Ismail, Guest Contributor

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As tense and agonizing as these unending election days have been, it pales in comparison to the last four years.  I plainly remember how it all began on the night of November 07, 2016. I watched as the political map of the US became increasingly red late into the night. All the social media banter, conspiracy theories and left-wing critiques of candidate Hillary Clinton, formed an amorphous blob of white noise as I heard Trump announced as the next president. Now that Trump has run for re-election, half the country was hoping for a repudiation but will have to settle for the fact that despite a small margin, Donald J. Trump will not have a second chance to erode our democratic institutions and divide us. But we can’t move forward until each of us acknowledges our own pathological role in what we’ve become as a deeply divided country. 

We need to grapple with how we can gradually improve the circus-like reality that has become our ordinary, daily politics. We’ll relive more and perhaps improved “Trumps” if we don’t accept our own responsibility in creating a divided America. This starts with being better members of local communities. Here are a few of Trump-induced realizations that I’ve come to accept:

  1. Caring about our immediate neighbors and listening to their challenges and concerns is the part of political engagement that we all have to embrace above and beyond actually voting if we hope to be more than a 50/50 nation.
  2. Social media and its profit-driven algorithms are actually eroding how we see each other but could also be altered to help better educate us about our local social/political landscape.
  3. Local Politics has direct impact on our lives and is also at the heart our religious obligations to our neighbors. It also sets the tone for where the federal level derives policies that prove to be best practices (some examples are included below).
  4. Agitation and protest are not the same as being politically organized on a local level. Protest is sometimes needed, but it will never replace consistent and patient work. We learned this lesson with the Arab Spring as that movement failed to transform into a movement that was able to govern effectively. And the same appears to be true about the Black Lives Matter movement.

The voting is over for now. But voting is really the smallest part of being committed to bettering our communities. It was Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) who gave the most specific definition of community/neighbor and encouraged his followers to guard the rights of the neighbor:

“Your neighbor is 40 houses ahead of you and 40 houses at your back, 40 houses to your left and 40 houses to your right” Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him)

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Why does this relate to being politically organized?? The need for political organizing comes when any group of people want to create change in accordance with their values. We’ve all watched protest after protest that change little to nothing at the neighborhood level. This will continue to happen without organization, which span school boards, block clubs, nonprofits, and religious community outreach.  How can Muslims enjoin right and discourage wrong in any meaningful way? It comes through having authentic relationships with neighbors and turning that into organized and engaged communities.

Rosa Parks

Nothing illuminates the value of such relationships better than the story of Rosa Parks in her role in the Montgomery Bus Boycott. People often think that she was the first brave soul to defy the custom of allowing whites to sit before African-Americans could be seated on her city’s buses. Nothing could be further from the truth. The difference was that her sets of relationships were so interwoven into her local community that it forced a massive response. Park’s connections spanned socioeconomic circles as she had close friendships from professors to field hands. She held memberships in a dozen local organizations including her church and the local NAACP. She was a volunteer seamstress in poor communities and provided the same for profit in wealthy white circles. When someone with her relational positioning was able to leverage the political organizing ability of MLK and Dr. Ralph Abernathy, the Montgomery Bus Boycott was sparked.

When something happens to Muslims, who can we mobilize to respond? Who becomes angry? Who do we work with in our communities to create policies that reflect our values And what are our internal barriers to such cooperation?

“Whosoever of you sees an evil action, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart—and that is the weakest of faith.” Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him)

Our Predecessors Organized Locally

At some point in time voting became the sum total of political engagement in the minds of many and is now deemed by some as worthless. We quickly forget that the organizations that battled for voting rights were first locally organized to improve communities. SNCC, SNCC, CORE, NAACP, and the Urban League all formed to create change in various ways and the fight for voting rights was a component of these local agendas. So when we’re tempted to believe that voting doesn’t matter, it’s likely due to our lack of engagement in local issues that form the contours of our community life. If you’ve ever heard of Ella Baker or Fannie Lou Hamer (worth researching!), you probably never bought into this type of logic.

One of the many lessons we can pull from this rich history is that we cannot pursue policies, seek alliances, or negotiate a position with political parties (see Ice Cube’s debacle in negotiating with Trump) without first being organized from within. No set of friendships or outside philanthropic support can supplant the need for internal organization. This lack of organized political engagement has weakened Muslims in general but has fatally weakened African-American Muslims as voices within the larger Black community – a voice that gave Islam its first fully accepted and influential place in American society.

Immigrant-based Muslim communities could also benefit from a local approach because despite being several generations in America, their American bonafides are still not set in stone. Concerns about Islamophobia will not change outside of developing authentic relationships with non-Muslims.

This also pushes back against a culture shaped disproportionately by social media algorithms that promote isolation and division for the sake of profit. Our attention to the national news cycle also takes our attention away from local communities where our power is formed. In this type of political malaise, re-engagement in local politics and community relationships can bring us back to important principles that resonate with the values of Islam.

Local politics help shape federal policy

The final word on any law or policy rests with the federal government, but much of what becomes orthodoxy begins with a few concerned citizens in local communities. As with community policing, criminal justice reform, climate sustainability, or any issues that has not caught on, the federal government will often step back to see how a new law plays out at state and local levels. Illinois didn’t wait for Obamacare but has a well-established program to ensure that anyone 18 and younger in Illinois has health insurance through a program called All Kids . Colorado has, in the midst of protests against police brutality, altered their law of Qualified Immunity to make police more accountable. And California has advanced the conversation on reparations  by sanctioning a study to understand how the state could benefit by redressing the descendants of American slavery.

By advancing issues and electing representatives who support the causes we believe in, we insert ourselves into a narrative that would’ve otherwise been forged without us. There’s no shortcut in this process short of rolling up our sleeves to understand our local systems and existing organizations. Moneyed interests are prepare to control the narrative regardless of who the president is and we have to remake this system from the ground up. Our history provides us with a roadmap to do this and it goes far beyond being citizens who only argue over national issues while standing on the sidelines. Remembering our 40 neighbors as advised by the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) is the best place to start.

Some helpful links:

Local Elections

State Legislatures

School Boards

County Prosecutors

Mayors

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