Monday, February 02, 2009

Understanding Islam, Digitally


Comes word from Joshua Fouts* at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs that he and fellow fellow Rita J. King have some long-awaited work products from their "Understanding Islam Through Virtual Worlds" project.

They've either created or toured various Muslim-centric worlds within Second Life, made friends, conducted interviews, and concluded that virtual-reality worlds like this can be excellent venues for low-risk communication and collaboration between East and West.

Plus they've got the YouTube video, policy recommendations (PDF), and even comic book (PDF) to prove it.

There's a lot of potential to be mined here, particularly since the new U.S. administration is clearly more tech-savvy than its predecessors.

At this point I would make the same points I usually do whenever I hear anyone trumpeting the Internet as a key to international citizen-to-citizen communication: On a global scale, almost no one is on the Internet--barely one person in six, if you believe Wikipedia. There are especially few online in the Muslim world, and those tend to be disproportionately wealthy and well-educated.

Then I would normally ask, What's the point of trying to use Second Life to reach and communicate people who already have access to the Internet's massive buffet of information and opinion?

But then I remember that Cold War public diplomacy was not just focused on radio and other mass media as tools to reach foreign publics; there were also the U.S. cultural centers, touring jazz bands, speaking tours by prominent Americans and so on, all of which were almost unavoidably aimed at wealthy elites in other countries.

Seen through that light, virtual projects like "Understanding Islam..." should get serious examination by policy-makers as an additional arrow in the PD quiver, not to mention funding. Particularly since Dave Brubeck is now a bit too old to travel.

*Full disclosure: I worked for Josh and his former employer, the USC Center on Public Diplomacy, at a public-diplomacy conference in early 2006.


22a-rbZD.007 said...

Working in an American job setting with dozens of enlightened muslim emigres of very high technical attainments, I am aware that in the Ummah, the creme-de-la-creme are already globally connected, and at my corporation a first generation American of muslim descent has just achieved the title of VP of IT (CIO).

Those who intend to leave the negative aspects of Islam behind, apparently have no trouble doing so.

What troubles non-muslims, is not this stream of talented emigres.

What troubles the ethically aware citizens of the non-muslim planet, is the apparent reliance on Friday afternoon street mobs, incited at mosque to do blackshirt street intimidation in dozens of settings--- even fully Islamic settings (such as the Maldives, where non-Maldivian contract workers are routinely brutalized).

Before even mentioning extremists on martyr missions, dozens of backward, clearly unethical domination artifacts survive in the tribalist miasma that is Islam-as-practiced.

Chauvinism and xenophobia are preached as holy duties, to millions having no other view of the remainder of the human race.

Has Ms. Eureka Dejavu (& Mr. Schmillson Nillson)addressed these realities?

Or have they created a saccharine doppleganger of Islam, cleansed of its crippling medievalisms and self indulgent tribal smallnesses?

Add in the reality of Wahabbist extremism, the great Shia/Sunni rift, and millennia of enthusiastic troublemaking in the arc of fire separating Dar al Islam from Dar al Harb, and Fouts/King will need a very, very gritty virtual model to encompass the real, and not lead participants astray!

How well have they done?

Joshua S. Fouts said...

This is an excellent point and one that came up throughout the past year. We've addressed it in more detail in a new post on our blog:

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