Marwan al-Husayni *
A recent study by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) found the Arabic content on the Internet amounts to less than 3% of the world content. This is a poor status when thinking of interactivity of the new media. How much of this percentage pours into dialogue? And by dialogue I do not refer to mere chat.
A close look at the Arab content on social networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, gives one a gloomy scene. Prayers, words of wisdom, praise and words of hatred consume much of this content. Is this a shock?
The simple definition of “Social Media” as stated on Wikipedia says that “Social media includes web-based and mobile technologies used to turn communication into interactive dialogue.” How much of the Arabic usage of Social Media is Interactive or Intercultural or goes under Interfaith?
To what extent do Arab users regard “Social Media” as a tool for understanding the differences between their societies, cultures and religions? Does technology encourage them to understand and accept the diversity of life?
Such questions are of high importance when talking about the Arab rationality or the “Arab Mind”; A term that was made popular by the late Moroccan thinker Muhammad Abed Al-Jabiri. According to him, the “Arab Mind” which is a “resigned mind” needs reinnovation.
Raising hot Issues associated with Politics, religions or society is an unspoken taboo in the Arab public life. Three powerful institutions are responsible for a long-term process of intimidating the individuals. Governments, societies and “God’s representatives” are responsible for extending fear and creating new taboos. Most of the ordinary people take this implicit fear as sacred.
Social Media was a powerful tool in the so-called “Arab Spring”. It helped mobilizing people towards expressing themselves. But I am afraid the events after 2011 suggest that it was a temporary status of public anger. Now as the dust settles, fear returns to its sacred temple: The Arab mind.
One can easily carry on a chat about sports, literature, cooking, climate change or arts. Talking politics, religion or big causes over the web requires second thoughts by the Arab individual. I think that this is the norm for the Arab interactivity in digital circles.
Long histories of political, social and religious oppression in the Middle East led to a general status of intellectual resignation. It needs more than one spring to overcome sacred prohibitions and fears. Real dialogue with the self and the other is a major first step towards such end.
Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and blogs are interactive spaces. They are open to creativity, responsibility and freedom of the human mind and soul. Recreating our sacred fears instead of facing them through such spaces by dialogue is a futile act. Fear leads to fear, not to creativity.
It takes some courage to overcome fear, but it takes a whole life to understand “Sacred Fear”.
* Media Strategist, Interfaith and Intercultural specialist