In a globalized media landscape, the concepts of religious fundamentalism and legislative rights seem to be clashing in similar sacred places, online. Virtual battles between beliefs are occurring within contradictions in public policies and moral values. Resistance to change is sometimes expressed through various kinds of fundamentalism, when interpretations of one’s faith consumes them. Religious leaders and adamant atheists have been spreading their values for thousands of years, and many work passionately to preserve them. Extremists have committed violent attacks, while other fundamentalists recited scriptures and laws encouraging tolerance and upholding civil rights, whenever barraged by adversity. Social media has become a powerful platform for hosting both collaboration and disagreements.
A few years ago, I benefited from a conversation that explained technology’s religious implications. A shop owner in Doha, Qatar, discussed the introduction of radios in an arid Muslim village, located along the Arabian Gulf. The elder man said his childhood embraced a simple life. More than half the country’s inhabitants had left, due to a failing saltwater pearl trade. The man’s grandmother provided the midwife services during his birth 1931. His family lived in a home with two-foot walls combining irregular-shaped boulders and fragments of sea coral and shells, sealed in mud and sand, topped with layers of imported timbers. Beyond Qatar’s southern border, Abdul Aziz Al Saud was establishing the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, while using telegraph services to unite the sprawling desert peninsula. Years earlier, the ruler proved radios couldn’t be the work of the devil by broadcasting a person reading the Koran. The shop owner recalled squandering several evenings with other boys eavesdropping on radio shows in Doha, where only three houses had electricity. The kids quietly piled up against their walls, eagerly listening for music, news and stories. They paid attention to the “sandoq sehri,” an Arabic phrase for “magic box,” even when they didn’t understand the languages, hoping an Arabic voice would return. To this day, Arabia’s radio stations continue to transmit passages from the Koran, at least five times per day.
Greiner defines religion as “a system of beliefs and practices that help people make sense of the universe and their place in it” (p. 130). Like languages, religion is as an extension of culture. While linguistic dialects morph to meet a communities needs, faith in God is far more rigid and definitive. Fundamentalists don’t redefine religion over time; they rely on continued interpretations of their sacred scriptures by trusted individuals. For example, Muslims on the Arabian Peninsula believe one must fully understand formal Arabic, the language of their holy book, to truly understand Islam. Religion explains social constructs and appropriate behaviors; similar to public policies written by statesmen. Unlike laws backing government-created constitutions, religious beliefs promote piety in a society by encouraging faith in a power greater than man.
According to Greiner, Christianity’s spread is the most prevalent, reaching a third of the word’s human population, while Islam follows with 21 percent and atheists at 14 (p. 131). An estimated 2.3 billion people are classified as Christians, believers in the words of the bible and worshipers of the Holy Trinity: the Father, the Son (Jesus) and the Holy Spirit. Christianity split into various factions after its inception, fragmenting into cultural constructs. Roman Catholics, followers of Western Christianity, recognize the authority of a pope. The belief in the Eastern Orthodox Church was founded in the city of Constantinople (present-day Istanbul, Turkey) and does not support the papacy. Eastern Christianity further separated into 15 other churches, including the Greek and Russian Orthodox. Western Christianity was divided by the Protestant Reformation, which removed several Catholic preferences. Roman Catholic, Protestant and Eastern Orthodox represent the conventional branches of Christianity.
Muslims represent more than one-fifth of the world’s population (Greiner, p. 133). They submit to the five pillars of Islam: the testimony of faith in God and Muhammad as the final messenger; the performing of five daily prayers; the giving of Zakat (support to the needy); the daytime fasting during the holy month of Ramadan; and the participation in a pilgrimage to Mecca (Islam-guide.com, 2011). Muslims believe the Koran, Islam’s holy book, records the word of God as revealed to the prophet Muhammad. They also recognize many of the prophets found in the Old and New Testaments, including Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus, who are known as Nuh, Ibrahim, Musa and Isa, respectively (Bayynat, 2011). Sunni and Shia branches emerged after Muhammad’s death in 632, amid disagreements for a successive leader of the Muslim community. The Shia, or Shiites, felt it should be someone from inside Muhammad’s family, while the Sunnis accepted someone from outside (Greiner, p. 133).
Christians and Muslims have long promoted the diffusion of their beliefs to increase and strengthen their populations. Their communities have many sacred spaces in the Old World; several are collocated within the same states, such as Turkey, Cyprus, Egypt, Syria, Israel, Jordan and Lebanon. Social media is presenting a growing global resource for spreading religious agendas, among universally-used online communities. More than 3.3 million people have linked to the “I Love Islam” group on the social-networking website Facebook. More than 82,000 people follow “IslamicThinking” on Twitter’s micro-blogging service; “MuslimMatters” is one of the community’s fastest growing Twitter accounts. The Christian use of social media, like the religion, appears much more fragmented. On Facebook, there are several pages with more than 100,000 participants, while Twitter hosts several profiles exceeding 20,000 followers. Atheists also have several online groups. A Facebook page called “The Thinking Atheist” has more than 45,000 members.
Social media has proven itself both a tool for promotion and defamation. A Facebook event for May 20, 2010, was created as “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day.” It launched a campaign in support of the Comedy Central television show “South Park,” according to the page’s description. An episode had depicted the prophet Muhammad in a bear suit, an image that rallied resentment from radical Muslims. A New York-based website called “RevolutionMuslim.com” warned creators, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, that “what they are doing is stupid, and they will probably wind up like Theo Van Gogh” (Collins & Gold, 2010). Van Gogh, a Dutch filmmaker, was murdered after producing a film about the abuse of women in some Islamic societies. Seattle artist Molly Norris created a provocative poster of Muhammad that sparked the Facebook page, explaining that “as a cartoonist, I just felt so much passion about what had happened. … it’s a cartoonist’s job to be non-PC” (Malcolm, 2010). The creator of the Facebook event, Jon Wellington, said: “I am not a cartoonist, and I loved [Norris’s] creative approach to the whole thing – whimsical and nonjudgmental.” The campaign spawned feelings that were far from “whimsical and nonjudgmental.” Supporters, seemingly uncontrollably, uploaded derogatory drawings of Mohammed with distasteful positions, attire and captions. Protesters pleaded for the page’s removal. Pakistan, an Islamic Republic, issued a court-ordered nationwide ban on the social media site (Rodriguez, 2010).
A diffusion of ideals online had caused far-reaching outcries. After the dust settled and the Facebook event was archived, “The American Muslim” website published a petition affirming the rights of free speech for Norris, Stone, Parker, and all others, including themselves – calling all Muslims in the United States, Canada and abroad to avoid violence, clarifying that Islam calls for hate condemnation within the boundaries of laws:
“We, the undersigned, unconditionally condemn any intimidation or threats of violence directed against any individual or group exercising the rights of freedom of religion and speech; even when that speech may be perceived as hurtful or reprehensible. We are concerned and saddened by the recent wave of vitriolic anti-Muslim and anti-Islamic sentiment that is being expressed across our nation. We are even more concerned and saddened by threats that have been made against individual writers, cartoonists, and others by a minority of Muslims. We see these as a greater offense against Islam than any cartoon, [Koran] burning, or other speech could ever be deemed. … As Muslims, we must set an example of justice, patience, tolerance, respect and forgiveness” (The American Muslim, 2010).
The battle over respecting religious beliefs in global media platforms heated up again in November. The offices of French magazine “Charlie Hebdo” were firebombed after printing a controversial cartoon of Muhammad under the headline “100 lashes if you don’t die of laughter!” (Willsher, 2011) Hebdo’s website was hacked and a message was posted: “No God but Allah” The satirical publication returned fire by publishing a cover depicting an editor of Charlie Hebdo making out with Muhammad under a banner that read: “Love is stronger than hate.” Sheila Musaji, “American Muslim” editor and a cosigner of last year’s petition, reaffirmed the American-Muslim commitment to non-retaliatory violence, suggesting “whoever is responsible is a criminal, and deserves to be punished to the full extent of the law.”
The online universalizing of religious, atheist and government fundamentalism is causing a lot controversy and serious threats to safety. People want to understand their world and their place in it, which is why they readily accept propaganda. Individuals who collaborate about religious and political convictions must harbor tolerance when faced with differences in opinion. Faith offers an explanation for the unexplainable. It consoles where there’s no condolence. It provides hope when hope is lost. Ongoing faith requires obedience in absence of evidence, and it shouldn’t require imposing values on others for validation – faith is knowing your values are valid, regardless. We’re best as a collective entity of experiences, rather than several isolated ones. Human intellect is powerful the world over, and some folks simply choose to harness that into different directions. The true intellectual mind is capable of hearing them all.
Bayynat. (2011). Prophecy. Retrieved December 1, 2011, from Bayynat: http://english.bayynat.org.lb/messengers/Prophecy%20.htm
Collins, S., & Gold, M. (2010, April 23). Threat against ‘South Park’ creators highlights dilemma for media companies. Retrieved December 1, 2011, from Los Angeles Times: http://articles.latimes.com/2010/apr/23/entertainment/la-et-south-park-20100423
Greiner, A. (2010). Visualizing human geography. Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley & Sons in collaboration with The National Geographic Society.
Islam-guide.com. (2011). What are the five pillars of Islam? Retrieved December 1, 2011, from Islam-guide.com: http://www.islam-guide.com/ch3-16.htm
Malcolm, A. (2010, April 26). Creators of ‘Everybody Draw Muhammad Day’ drop gag after everybody gets angry. Retrieved December 1, 2011, from Los Angeles Times: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/washington/2010/04/creators-of-everybody-draw-muhammad-day-abandon-effort-after-it-becomes-controversial.html
Rodriguez, A. (2010, May 19). Facebook dark in Pakistan amid uproar over Muhammad caricatures. Retrieved December 1, 2011, from Los Angeles Times: http://articles.latimes.com/2010/may/19/world/la-fg-pakistan-facebook-20100520
American Muslim. (2010, October 26). A defense of free speech by American and Canadian Muslims. Retrieved December 1, 2011, from The American Muslim: http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/a_defense_of_free_speech
Willsher, K. (2011, November 8). Charlie Hebdo front cover depicts Muslim man kissing cartoonist. Retrieved December 1, 2011, from The Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/nov/08/charlie-hebdo-muslim-kissing-cartoonist