A large amount of academic research has analysed and documented the fact that Muslims are often presented in a negative or stereotypical way in Western media and popular culture. This article focuses on how the Internet can also be used in spreading and publishing anti-Islamic and anti-Muslim opinions. Although the Internet is significant in the development of contemporary society, no studies have focused on the importance of information and communication technologies in spreading Islamophobic opinions. However, the new technologies can also be used for monitoring and combating Islamophobia, and many Muslim organisations are today using the Internet for these purposes. The article is based on an indepth analysis of both anti-Muslim and pro-Muslim homepages that can be related to the debate over Islamophobia.
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Several studies have been published on hate crimes, anti-Semitism and homophobia on the Internet and in printed books and reports. Cf., for example, the homepage of the Tolerance and Non-Discrimination Information System http://tnd.odihr.pl/?p=ki-in); Media awareness Network (http://www.media-awareness.ca/english/issues/online_hate/index.cfm) or the Anti Defamation League (http://www.adl.org/hate-patrol/internet_hate.asp). However, to the best of my knowledge no study has specifically focused on Islamophobia on the Internet, though there are many studies of Muslim extremists spreading hatred and violence on the Internet.
However, it is important to remember that “The Internet is not contributing so much to the dissolution of the self or the modern social order. Rather it is facilitating the more complete development of the self as the focus of social life under conditions of intensified reflexivity, while continuing the very modern expansion of the range of our sense of community to the globe itself” (Dawson 2004, p. 390).
This limitation is related to both methodological problems and problems of definition. The Internet is expanding rapidly, and it is impossible to keep up with the pace of the expansion of cyberspace. Furthermore, the definition of Islamophobia is also problematic, and it is necessary to have a clear understanding of what we are looking for on the Internet (I will return to this problem below). The quotation is taken from Dawson (2004, p. 388).
In order to collect more empirical data on religious activities, identity processes and discrimination in cyberspace, there is a growing need for more heuristic and theoretical discussions about how to do Internet research in the field of humanistic studies and social sciences. An important contribution to this question is the book Doing Internet Research: Critical Issues and Methods for Examining the Net, by Jones (1999).
According to Dawson (2004, p. 389), “Two themes have dominated the research done on the sociological consequence of the Internet: its impact upon our shifting conceptions of personal identity and on alternative forms of community.”
The two quoted questions are numbers 2 and 3 in the list provided by WikiIslam. See http://www.wikiislam.com/index.php/101_questions_to_ask_a_Muslim.
For many Muslims, this is a problematic question that is hard to reconcile with western attitudes to the freedom of religion. However, it is essential to stress that Muslims often argue that the individual has been given freedom of choice, and that if he or she decided to abandon Islam, that is a matter of personal choice.
Islamophobia: A Challenge For Us All, p. 5, Runnymede Trust (1997).
The European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC), for example, discusses how to define Islamophobia in its report Muslims in the European Union: Discrimination and Islamophobia, published in 2006.
Immigrants from Iran after the revolution of 1978/1979 have, for example, articulated some of the most critical discourses on Islam and Muslim cultures. I am not trying to say that their experience of an Islamic government is not genuine, but from an academic point of view it is difficult to make them into spokespersons for all Muslims. Both historical examples and contemporary discussions among Muslim theologians and “ordinary” Muslims illustrate clearly that it is not possible to talk about Islam as a homogenous phenomenon. Interpretations of Islam have always varied depending on social, economic and cultural conditions and power relations, and there is no indication that this will change in the near future.
My analysis and description of both WikiIslam and the other Internet hubs discussed in this section could all be seen as a humble attempt on my part to follow and partly answer Dawson’s call for more research. He writes: “We need to know more about what is on the net, who has put it there, and why” and “A great deal of basic descriptive work must be done” (Dawson 2004, pp. 387–388).
The aim of CAIR is “to enhance understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.” See http://www.cair.com/default.asp?Page=About.
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A draft version of this article was presented at the 8th EUROFOR Marie-Curie Conference, European and National Agencies Dealing with the ‘Non-Accepted’, Berlin, 14–17 December 2006. I am grateful for the support I received from the Berliner Institut für Vergleichende Sozialforschung/Europäisches Migrationszentrum, the Swedish research project LearnIT, funded by the Knowledge Foundation (KK-stiftelsen), and the Linnaeus Centre for Research on Learning, Interaction, and Mediated Communication in Contemporary Society (LinCS), supported by the Swedish Research Council. I also appreciate all the positive comments and reactions I received from the participants at the above conference, especially from my college Dr Åke Sander. I would also like to thank Dr Henrik Bogdan, Göteborg University, who helped me with information about the new religious movement called Heaven’s Gate.
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Larsson, G. Cyber-Islamophobia? The case of WikiIslam. Cont Islam 1, 53–67 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11562-007-0002-2
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