The world has changed a lot over the last 20 years. These dramatic changes during these decades have had a great and dramatic effect on the lives of people the world over. This includes the Arab world. While others have risen to the challenge and prepared for these changes and even controlled them, the Arab world unfortunately has not risen to the occasion. I am not being unnecessarily critical or harsh but I believe that the role of those in the media is to educate others and shed light on problems and issues that may seem silly fads, but will be a matter of the survival of our ideologies in the near future.
The advancement in communication technology, the speed of information, electronic mail, the commercialization of satellites (which were previously for military purposes) has removed all borders and then there is now no such thing as cultural or intellectual sovereignty. Now you can receive anything, at anytime and anywhere. Thus the censor has became as extinct as the dinosaur, as one Arab intellectual remarked.
But what have we done to protect ourselves from this invasion into our culture, way of life, beliefs and ideology? During World War II and at the height of the East-West confrontation, there were jamming devices. Now they have became redundant because the world itself has changed. People are viewing the world as a "global village" where there will be an overriding culture - that of Michael Jackson, Madonna, fed by films and books that everyone has to be "familiar with." And of course we have to be the "recipients" of this culture. This is because the West with its political, economic and military might feels that it has the right to force down our throats its own culture and brand of life. By using the media which it has invented itself, it brings to our doorsteps and right into our living rooms a daily digest of its own soap operas and scandals. Thus we all know about O.J. Simpson, Lorena Bobbit, Sharar Stane and a lot of things that we have no connection with. This is at a time when the majority of the Muslim world cannot name four sahibis or companions of the Prophet, remember the names of the wives of the Holy prophet or distinguish between the battle of Hittin or Al Qadsiyah. Yes, I am afraid this is true!!
As I said, the communication technology has leveled the world information. Its intelligent use and speedy distribution has now become the most important thing in our modern world.
And now the Internet is taking root in the lives of millions of people. In the past couple of years the Internet has slowly started taking over the world.
What is the Internet? It is computers talking to each other. Thus we have millions of computers around the globe exchanging information through the so-called World Wide Web. This is like a giant encyclopedia, where people can find any information on any topic in the form of text, graphics, video and sound. The technology was introduced this year to provide animation as well. Then of course there are news groups and discussion groups to which millions of people subscribe. They discuss everything on the Internet , publish their comments free of any censorship and place articles on any topic they chose. They can even start their own news groups.
Already there have been a lot of articles about Islam. Unfortunately the majority of them have been variously against it.
I will just quote something light!! "The disassociation of the body and the ego may explain why the public amputation of a thief's hands is tolerated as standard punishment in Saudi Arabia. It also explains why an Arab employer living in a modern house can provide his servant with a room that is a box-like cubicle approximately 1.5 meter by 2.5 by 1.5 in size that is not only hung from the ceiling to consume floor space but has an opening so that the servant can be spied on."
Dear readers, apart from the Internet this is part of an obligatory English course for American Students at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque!!
However, we should not blame these people for spreading lies and filth about us. We are to blame and I say it with both sadness and candor. When the Internet technology spread, millions of people the world over started using it. The latest figures show about a 45- million people and increasing by 50% every six months. What have we done?
"We should ban it," said a university professor. I laughed! The only way you can ban the Internet is by cutting every telephone line in the Arab world, smashing all computers and returning back to the Middle Ages.
Why not look on the other side of the fence? Why not use this powerful medium not only to defend our views but also to spread our own values to these millions of spiritually starved people. As we sit and form groups to discuss the Internet, our enemies have gone ahead and placed themselves firmly on the communication and information map of the world. There are many millions of Muslims who use the Internet, and they are disturbed about the false image about Islam. There are some academic sites from the University of Texas and the University of Oregon. However, they are limited and in hard to find sites.
While we wait in unjustified fear and weakness, the Ahamadiah or Qadiyaniyah group, has set up a computer generated mosque on the Internet. They have a site for fatwas and give negative reporting about Islam. For those who don't know the Ahamadiah Groups, they believe there is another prophet after the Holy prophet Muhamed. They are very active in the United States, Europe and are expert at using information technology.
In the Internet there are no registered trademarks. If you take a name it becomes yours. The Ahamadiah Group has taken the word "Islam". Many others have registered names Islam, so that they can use it for their own nefarious purposes.
But do not blame them. Let us blame ourselves.
Islam is not, as the West would have it, a religion for the Third World. But no wonder they believe this, given our reluctance to spread a message that is as valid for the electronic age as it was when first given by God.
The question is what can be done about it? Arab governments have thought about setting their own Web sites. However, let me be very blunt. Nobody likes to visit "Official sites" on the Internet. They view it as a propaganda. The age of propaganda has died. Information is now privatized and while many in the Arab world believe they can "hold or even control information", that period will be history soon.
The battle over cyberspace has begun. The Internet has challenged every form of broadcasting known to the world.
The question will arise who controls the emerging international information highway? The struggle will put government officials of the internet in order to preserve national authority against these members of an emerging Cyber/Civil society that refuses to recognize international boundaries.
The battle ground in China was a defeat for the Chinese government which realized that if it were to attempt to impede the spread of computers it would create tremendous resentment in a population eager to enter the computer age.
I cannot say it loudly or more heartfelt. We must carry the true message of Islam to every corner of the earth and the Internet has made this possible. It is time to rise from our self-important work and do the work of God.
For Muslims, it is now time to start facing the challenge ahead of us. It is good to have your own satellite stations but you have to speak to your own people and with your own language. You are preaching to the converted.
As we ignore the Internet, then we are not facing our responsibility to fight moral and religious pollution. If we ignore this medium we will leave the field to individuals and unorthodox sects who unfortunately are playing on the minds of millions.
It was in the light of this that we formed the arab.net which is the largest Web site serving the Middle East on the Internet. It means any on wanting to know about the Arab world has to go through this site. It is our opportunity to show the world what Arabs, especially Muslim Arabs can provide in terms of information.
While we were going through the best of Internet sites we discovered that names like Allah, Muhammed, Muslim, Jihad, Islam were grabbed by others of dubious intentions. A Serb registered the word Jihad!! Can you imagine what he will write? On our own initiative we registered the words: Makkah, Madinah, haj, Allahuakbar, Mohamed and Moslem. In Internet protocol, this means that anyone using the words to search for information will come directly to these sites.
We can do better. This is a world stained for spiritual comfort. If we are able to project ourselves in the right manner and in clean and precise language we can fulfill our duties as citizens of the world.
But let us not waste days and weeks discussing how we can support us everyday.
If you have never used the Internet you will not understand that every day may mean literally thousands of words written about the very things we believe in.
The Internet has no time for bureaucracy. While we have committee meetings in grand rooms over months at a time, Internet users hold teleconferences in minutes.
Wait and pay for it with the most beloved part of our lives - our faith.
Even companies in the Middle East have preferred to go with foreigners rather than be grouped under the Internet umbrella serving the Middle East. I find the disloyalty to our business and social environment appalling. It will also not be very profitable for them. This is just another example of where we are our worst enemies.
With all the wealthy people in the Arab world, I have not found one who loves his culture so much that he could help us raise money for an on-line Arabic language course. None.
We accuse the West of spending more money on their pets than on welfare. I accuse myself and my brothers of sometimes having the same wrong priorities.
Next time you go to spend a few thousands dollars on a painting, or a new suit, or a new sound system, or even an ashtray, think of what this could contribute to the spread of the truth. Chances are you will think again.
If we don't think again, then don't complain about being misunderstood.