GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Religious Use of Social Media in the Gulf and Iraq
Paper Proposal Text :
While the Youth’s use of social media in the Arab Spring has been much remarked upon and reported, the use by conservative forces has gone comparatively unnoticed. Yet in the year that #Pontifex went live, other religious forces in Iraq and the Gulf are increasingly embracing modern technology to propagate their faith, and deliver their message. This paper will consider the changing platforms and applications which these groups use, together with their traditional means. The paper will also identify the outliers to the standard pattern, and suggest reasons for this divergence. It will conclude by considering the implications for religion in the region.

Much has been made of the role that modern communications technology, and in particular that of social media, played in fostering the Arab Spring, in mobilising and organising within the countries, in generating support among the Diaspora, and public relations / lobbying of foreign governments. The upwelling of democratic yearning was visible not only via the traditional media channels of newspapers, radio and television, but also to everyone who chose to follow any of the actors, or the action, on-line. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, all contributed to the picture in ways and dimensions that would have been unimaginable only 20 years before.

Indeed, the e-battle for hearts and minds soon occupied more mega-bytes than the internal communications organising and orchestrating the protests, particularly among the helpless but involved Diaspora. Similar actions, and commentary, were also made during the Tehran Spring of 2009, from which many in the region, and among Global Youth as a whole, seem to have learned lessons.

Comment and analysis has also looked at the response of Arab governments – monarchies and republics alike - to the use of new media: their responsive e-tactics, their hardware and software procurements, and their methods of coping with the results. As with any other advance in capability, both sides have learnt from each other: the governments have learnt proactive push of information from the democrats, while the democrats have learnt discretion and dissimulation.

Yet there is another conservative group whose power is also threatened by the democrats’ revolution, but whose position and positioning has received little notice – the clerics. Clerics have always written epistles to their flock, and have adjusted to the modern era: magnetic tapes of exiled clerics’ sermons have been dispensed overtly and clandestinely in suqs and bazaars throughout the Middle East. This paper will examine how Islamist clerics, both Sunni and Shi’i, have adapted to the social media age. It will discuss the platforms they use and their means of propagation of their message, as they seek to retain their influence domestically and internationally, in an era when religion is ever more challenged by secularism, and hierarchy by egalitarianism.

Given the very recent nature of the evolution, little research has as yet been carried out into this area. Sources will therefore be a mixture of news reports touching on the subject, on-line research, and interviews with participants and recipients.