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So that we don’t allow progression to serve regression

In their conquest for power, and in the name of religion, Islamic political parties seek to eliminate others

Faisal J. Abbas

Published: Updated:

In their conquest for power, and in the name of religion, Islamic political parties seek to eliminate others. In this sense, Political Islam isn’t any different from the radical Christian right or Jewish hardliner groups.

Given their political-religious background, such parties usually have an odd relationship with technology. In essence, every intention is a “Biddaa” (heresy) and every “Biddaa” is haram (forbidden), UNLESS of course it proves useful in serving these religious parties’ political dominance. Obviously, whatever is haram then becomes halal (allowed).

This odd notion obviously includes media, especially in light of the technological developments in the field of mass-communication witnessed over the last few decades.

For example, Islamists were harsh critics of Arab satellite TV stations after their launch in the 1990s. Clerics issued fatwas banning watching these channels and went as far as labeling the owners of television networks as infidels. Nowadays, the Islamists have clearly changed their tune and instead of destroying satellite dishes, they now own their own TV stations and un-censored channels where they spread their ideology, incite against their enemies and legitimize bloodshed.

It didn’t take Islamists long to coexist with the web and utilize it to serve their agenda

Faisal J. Abbas

A similar story was repeated with the advent of the Internet. At first, it was forbidden by the Islamists, who opposed it fiercely and warned that it would be used as a tool to spread vice. Once again, it didn’t take them long to coexist with the web and utilize it to serve their agenda and in the early 2000s, they maintained a strong online presence through extremist web forums.

Then came the recent developments owed to the spread of broadband, handheld devices and the rise of social networking. It wasn’t surprising that Islamist groups would rush to benefit from these advances, especially after the proven impact of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube during the Arab Spring revolutions which began in 2011.

Speaking of the Arab Spring, we should note – as an example – that the Jan. 25 revolution in Egypt was not an Islamic revolution, and that the Muslim Brotherhood were not the ones who planned, executed or made it successful.

It is also important to remember how, shortly afterwards, commentators and political analysts began saying that the Brotherhood hijacked the revolution and used it to consolidate power, which went on in Egypt until another revolution took place effectively ending Islamist President Mohammad Mursi’s reign, less than a year after his ascent to power.

A media savvy Muslim Brotherhood

However, the Brotherhood did not only hijack the revolution, they also hijacked many of its communication platforms. For instance, many noticed the decline in importance of Wael Ghonim’s famous “We’re all Khaled Saeed” Facebook page, which played a major role in triggering the revolution of Jan. 25, in favor of Brotherhood-backed pages and sites. This became more evident during their time in power, as the Brotherhood were extremely active on social media. It is also worth noting that they aimed to be particularly active in communicating in English, especially through their English site “Ikhwan web” and its Twitter account which has more than 114 thousand followers.

It is also worth mentioning that the Muslim Brotherhood own an interesting integrated digital communication platform, which includes their Arabic website Ikhwan online, a video site called Ikhwan Tube , the Ikhwan Wiki site which presents the official history of the group, and “Ikhwan book” which is an attempt to create a social media network for the group’s supporters.

Even after they lost power, the Brotherhood’s cyber activities did not wither or fade; one simply has to monitor the number of people who currently have the infamous Rabaa hand as their profile picture to see how efficient the Brotherhood is when it comes to digital communications.

Having said that, social media is a double edged sword and it is also a great tool to pull apart extremist religious speech and expose the agendas of people who are exploiting Islam to fulfill their ambitions.

However, the “battle” is unbalanced.

Coming out on top

While Islamic groups are renowned for being well-organized, this does not apply to the Arab liberals (if we consider them to be the opposite camp). While the exploitation of social media to serve political Islam is looked upon as a religious obligation by clerics and their followers, such a motive cannot be matched by a mere earthly opposition political group.

In this context, one can understand the testimonial of Brian Michael Jenkins, a senior advisor at Rand Corporation, a non- profit think tank which conducts studies and research for the American military. In 2011, Jenkins testified in front of the congressional Homeland Security Committee that al-Qaeda was “the first to fully exploit the Internet.”

He added: “it regards itself as a global movement and therefore depends on a global communications network to reach its perceived constituents. It sees its mission as not simply creating terror among its foes but awakening the Muslim community. Its leaders view communications as 90 percent of the struggle.”

Indeed, it is surreal that the enemies of progress, like these terrorist groups, are those who benefit the most from modern technology. We need to admit this reality, understand its dimensions and face it properly so that we don’t allow “progression to serve regression” (a phrase coined in Arabic by veteran journalist Othman al-Omeir).

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Jan. 6, 2013.

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Faisal J. Abbas is the Editor-in-Chief of Al Arabiya English, he is a renowned blogger and an award-winning journalist who is working on an upcoming book on Arab Media. Faisal covered the Middle East extensively working for Future Television of Lebanon and both Al-Hayat and Asharq Al-Awsat pan-Arab dailies. He blogs for The Huffington Post since 2008, a recipient of many media awards and a member of the British Society of Authors, National Union of Journalists, the John Adams Society as well as an associate member of the Cambridge Union Society. He can be reached on @FaisalJAbbas on Twitter.


Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.