Reconstruction of Islamic Media

Abstract: It is undeniable fact that media whether in form of print, radio, television or internet shapes and arguably, at times, manipulates what people perceive to be truth or reality. It is such a medium, which adds value to our knowledge of events at cognitive and social level otherwise; we sustain only to personal and oriental experience.

In post 9/11 era, the study of comparative work on Islam as marketplace religion and development of progressive civil society within, has suggested the role of new media for weakening the supremacy of established power players, such as state within state and conventional clergy. In conventional clergy, the confidentiality is an important component of media system, hence disenfranchising the major population from decision-making process and hurdling mediation in multi-party environment. It is imperative for Muslim public spheres to reconstruct Islamic Media by destructing its conventional approach, which ultimately result in achieving a pluralistic society and have the potential as enabler of interventions in public exchange while largely evading the control of the state within state and established conventional religious clergy.

Reconstruction of Islamic Media is decisively divided into two models apparently distinct and to a certain point intersected 1) Spherical – which is a set of conventional clergy and descendants with the tendency to either change or extinct and 2) Exponential – which is a set of new media adapters and contemporary interpreters of Islam. This paper argues the importance of above two models as milestones towards Reconstruction of Islamic Media and evaluates the possible intersection point where rigid becomes moderate.

In this paper, the implications of Reconstruction of Islamic Media in two Muslim Educational Institutions has also been successfully evaluated and been discussed at length that how new media technologies paved their path towards reforms and developed a sense of working together for the proximate goal of a better human community.

Keywords: New Media, Islam, Reconstruction, Social Constructivism, Conventional Clergy, Conventional Mediation, Apathy, Spherical Model, Exponential Model, Contemporary Interpreter, Madrasah Reform, Marketplace

Letter of Inquiry
Necessary Knowledge for a Democratic Public Sphere:
Bridging Media Research, Media Reform, and Media Justice

The Proposed Project:
Religious Pluralism and New Media:
Fostering and Documenting Civil Society’s Emergent Conversations
Across Differences of Nation, Culture, and Religion

Organizer:
Lynn Schofield Clark, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor and
Director, Estlow International Center for Journalism and New Media
Author, From Angels to Aliens: Teenagers, the Media, and the Supernatural (Oxford University Press, 2003/2005) and Editor, Religion, Media, and the Marketplace (Rutgers University Press, 2007)
Department of Mass Communication
University of Denver

Collaborating Not-for-Profit Organizations:
The Movement for a Tolerant World: Co-founders Rabbi Levi Brackman and Imran Aziz
The World Association for Christian Communication: CEO Randy Naylor

Scholarly Collaborators (to date; others pending):
Dr. Margie Thompson
Associate Professor and
Director, International and Intercultural Communication Program

Co-author of research on Sharhzad News (Iranian women blogging about Iran)
University of Denver

Dr. Heidi Campbell
Assistant Professor
Author, When Religion Meets New Media and We Are One in the Network

Texas A & M University

Dr. Mia Lovheim
Assistant Professor
Author, Seekers in Cyberspace: Young People and Religion in Modern Society
Uppsala University, Sweden

Soheila Sadeghi

Senior Lecturer
Sociology and Women Studies
Director, Centre for Women Studies, Tehran University
Religious Pluralism and New Media:
Fostering and Documenting Civil Society’s Emergent Conversations
Across Differences of Nation, Culture, and Religion

Project Description:

The Internet and its related technologies hold great potential for the building of a progressive civil society. Advocates for media democracy note that the technology, and especially its open source applications that support collaborative processes, have the capacity for expanding the range of voices that are accessible within a deliberative democracy. These technologies also hold the promise of fostering relationships across differences of nation and culture. Yet to build such relationships and to expand the range of voices accessible online requires intentional effort.

The “Religious Pluralism and New Media” project grows out of just such an intentional effort. The research project’s beginnings rest in the work of progressive advocates who have worked in digital media to develop a model for collaborative learning utilizing new technologies. The advocates, leaders of The Movement for a Tolerant World (http://tolerantworld.org), are both under 30 and hail from Jewish and Islamic traditions. Recently, they have joined forces with a group of scholars who specialize in gender, world religions, and new media, as all share a common interest in developing a workable model for online collaboration that crosses differences of nation, culture, and religion in the pursuit of greater human rights for all people. The proposed research project seeks to augment The Movement for a Tolerant World’s advocacy efforts by enlarging the use of its open source platform among student populations while also documenting the developments of the collaboration that occur there. The proposed project will therefore provide both a curriculum tool and a set of research findings on how cultures of collaboration are developed online.

As a goal-driven advocacy effort, The Movement for a Tolerant World has been concerned with building “real tolerance, democracy, and peace across communities, societies, and the world” (TMTW, 2006). The Movement’s leaders believe that “the true nature of religious conflict does not stem from disagreements over theological issues but rather from religious stereotypes and association of religious identity with ethnic divisions and economic factors” (TMTW, 2006). The Movement for a Tolerant World employs Internet technologies to provide a platform for collective blogging, online fora, space for editorial comments on news stories related to issues of religious tolerance and intolerance, and other online resources. Each of these elements are mobilized to introduce people to one another through discussions of shared goals of tolerance and shared commitments to the opposition of dictatorships, intolerance, and terrorism. Not all who come to the online discussions of The Movement for a Tolerant World bring with them a religious affiliation or perspective, although some do. Discussions of differing religions, nations, and cultures are encouraged, as are discussions of differing experiences of intolerance whether based on race, class, gender, sexual orientation, or nationality. The Movement is committed to the idea that the young people who affiliate with its aims “will uphold and work towards the values of tolerance, peace, human rights, freedom of speech and religion, cultural diversity, respect, individual dignity and democracy. At the same time they will declare that they are prepared to fight against bigotry, hate, intolerance, stereotypical behavior, terror and violence” (TMTW, 2006). Thus, young people who choose to become a part of The Movement find common ground in their commitment to intolerance of all kinds.

The Movement for a Tolerant World is therefore opposed to religious fundamentalisms that contribute to the development of terrorism. Its leaders and members also seek to differentiate themselves from religious groups that embrace ideologies of hate and intolerance. In this sense, then, The Movement for a Tolerant World promises to bring new allies to existing progressive social movements that seek similar aims but tend to avoid discussions of religion. By enabling the discussion of religion and fostering a dialogue among both religious adherents and less religiously interested young people, The Movement’s discussions of religion’s role in conflict hold great potential for advancing civil society’s understandings of how democratic action might flourish in a religiously plural world. As media democracy advocate Robert Hackett (2000) has argued, “religious commitments, too often ignored by the contemporary Left as a potential agent for progressive social change, have also inspired media activism…the ecumenical, inclusive and dialogical vision of the WACC and other progressive religious organizations, committed to the values of human dignity, love, and solidarity, has inspired critique and action against the materialistic, consumerist and narcissistic individualist biases of commercial media.” It is certainly hoped that the “Religious Pluralism and New Media” project will foster exactly this kind of response.

The “Religious Pluralism and New Media” research project will launch in early 2008 with a jointly-designed and simultaneously implemented curriculum that utilizes The Movement for a Tolerant World’s website and materials, and includes readings of various World Association of Christian Communication publications, such as The Media & Gender Monitor, Fundamentalisms Revisited, and various issues of Media Development (each of these emphasize communication as “a basic human right that defines people’s common humanity, strengthens cultures, enables participation, creates community and challenges tyranny and oppression” [WACC, 2007]). Elements of the curriculum include both in-person and online collaborative conversations and the development of joint analyses that focus on specific instances of media representation of religious intolerance or stereotypes. Students will therefore be encouraged to participate in a structured experience of collaboration as they draw upon their own personal experiences and their developing knowledge of those whose personal experiences differ from their own. Each participant will also be asked to continue as a member of The Movement, and will be invited to offer suggestions on how to further foster collaborative relationships across differences of nation, culture, and religion.

Once the first phase of the research is complete, researchers and advocates will analyze the materials developed in The Movement for a Tolerant World and the discussions that took place in person among the various university constituents. The researchers will consider patterns in the conversations, noting instances in which conversations seemed passionate and engaging and instances in which dialogue seemed halted or certain participants seemed silenced. Working together, they will develop an interpretation of these findings and the implications of their findings for others who wish to develop online cultures of collaboration. They will then seek to implement a second round of participants with a larger number of collaborators from universities around the world.

This research is thus designed to offer insights into how to incorporate social networking and multi-university collaboration into a university course curriculum that encourages conversations that cross differences of nation, culture, and religion. As Western universities continue to seek ways to meet the growing demand for greater understandings of the Arab world, this kind of close collaboration that intentionally links students from different universities across the world in a dialogical model of knowledge-building will fill a need and make good use of the available technology. At the same time, with its attention to the analysis of trust-building and conversational development as it has occurred online settings, this research project will yield findings that highlight the ways in which other groups might foster cultures of collaboration online. This is a dire need, as noted by Surman and Reilly (2003) in their review of how the Internet might best be appropriated for social change. It is the goal of this research project, and of The Movement for a Tolerant World, to employ the Internet to foster the kind of understanding and mutual respect that leads to greater participation in campaigns for human rights that are taking place around the world and that are in constant need of new alliances.

Hackett, Robert A. “Taking Back the Media: Notes on the Potential for a Communicative Democracy Movement.” Studies in Political Economy 63 (Autumn 2000). Available online: http://www.sfu.ca/~hackett/takingbackthemedia.html

Surman, Mark and Katherine Reilly. Appropriating the Internet for Social Change: Towards the Strategic Use of Networked Technologies by Transnational Civil Society Organizations (November 2003).

TMTW (The Movement for a Tolerant World). All materials from The Movement’s website:
http://tolerantworld.org. Developed in 2006.

WACC (World Association for Christian Communication). All materials from WACC’s website:
http://waccglobal.org