Religion, Conflict, and Digital Communication in the Greater Muslim World:
Dialogue Among Policy Makers and Researchers
To register for the daytime workshop please email Billur Aslan on Billur.Aslan.email@example.com
To register for the evening debate in Parliament click here.
Monday 16th December 2013, London
While an excess amount of media attention and government resources are regularly expended on acts of violence and terrorism emanating from Muslim populations, less focus is given to the critical role Muslims institutions play in facilitating conflict resolution, peace-building, and social reconciliation. In Bosnia, Rwanda, Egypt, and Pakistan, it is often the case that Muslim religious authorities take lead roles in mitigating violence. Because they regularly confront perpetuators of violence on theological and moral grounds, they often put themselves, their families, and associates at high-risk. What are the experiences of policy makers working with Muslim religious authorities in these vulnerable and dangerous contexts?
These historically important yet paradoxical roles of religious networks have been amplified by the near universal spread of digital communications technology in the twenty-first century. As so much of the day-to-day work of governance and social change move online, so do religious organizations, using the World Wide Web to build coalitions or “manufacture constituencies” to pursue social change. Growing concerns over online radicalization by radical Muslim groups, as well growing use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) for development and security in unstable and transitioning communities demonstrate the potential significance these trends will have for the future of international conflict.
Our key questions are:
- Can Muslim religious authorities, institutions and local networks provide solutions to the shared global challenges of social conflict and political violence?
- What, if any, role do digital communications technologies play in this process?
Senate House, University of London
Seminar Room 264
10:30-11:00 Arrivals, tea/coffee
11:00-11:15 Introductions, Akil Awan and Shawn Powers
11.15-13:00 Panel 1: The British context
Chair: Lord Nazir Ahmed
Speaker: Daud Abdullah, Muslim Council of Britain
Speaker: Robert Lambert, University of St. Andrews
Speaker: Jonathan Githens-Mazer, University of Exeter
13:45-15:30 Panel 2: The international context
Chair: Ben O’Loughlin
Speaker: Abbas Barzegar, Georgia State University
Speaker: Sara Silvestri, City University London
Speaker: David Herbert, University of Agder, Norway
Respondent: Faisal Devji, University of Oxford
15:40-16:30 Open roundtable, Chair: Akil Awan
Can religious media bring peace?
Houses of Parliament, Committee Room 4
Keynote: Khaled Hroub
Followed by open discussion.
Dr. Khaled Al-Hroub is professor in residence of the faculty of liberal arts at Northwestern University in Qatar. He is Director of the Cambridge Arab Media Project (CAMP), University of Cambridge. He authored Hamas: A Beginners Guide (2006/2010), Hamas: Political Thought and Practice (2000), and edited Political Islam: Context versus Ideology (2011) and Religious Broadcasting in the Middle East (2012). In Arabic he published Fragility of Ideology and Might of Politics (2010), In Praise of Revolution (2012), Tattoo of Cities (literary collection, 2008) and Enchantress of Poetry (poems, 2008). He is currently writing a book on a Critique of the Arab Renaissance Project.
This is the first of two workshop-based dialogues between policymakers and academics on the nuanced role of Muslim institutions in international affairs in the age of ubiquitous digital media. The workshops are funded by the British Council USA. The conveners are Shawn Powers and Abbas Barzegar (Georgia State University), Ben O’Loughlin and Akil N. Awan (Royal Holloway, University of London).
The UK Parliament's select committee on Soft Power and UK Influence has published the written evidence submitted by experts and organisations who are part of the UK's presence in the world, including the BBC, British Council, BP and all of the arms of the British state. These submssions are available in a pdf here.
For those interested in political communication there is a lot of material concerning how states communicate with each other, with home and overseas audiences, and the role of media in boosting or diminishing a country's image and reputation. Political communication scholars like Philip Seib, Robin Brown, and Laura Roselle have contributed their thoughts.
The committee is still taking verbal evidence. It will publish a report in March 2014. The NPCU's Ben O'Loughlin is advising the committee. The soft power committee's work has been picked up by the press including, rather unexpectedly, in Marie Claire magazine.
This afternoon the House of Lords Committee on Soft Power and UK Influence will interview Prof. Joseph Nye. Ben O'Loughlin, serving as Specialist Advisor to the committee, has recommended that the discussion probe whether, 23 years since his original 1990 article on soft power, Nye thinks we are any closer to understanding how power and influence work in international affairs. Special attention will be paid to how states, companies and NGOs are harnessing digital media to exercise influence, and how powerful actors seek to shape the ecologies within which power operates in the first place. All welcome.
Professor Joseph S. Nye, Harvard University, via video conference
Ben O'Loughlin has a chapter in the exciting new volume, Traumatic Affect, edited by Meera Atkinson and Michael Richardson, both at University of Western Sydney. Ben's chapter, 'The Mediatization of Trauma and the Trauma of Mediatization: Benjamin, Tulloch, and the Struggle to Speak,' can be downloaded here. The volume contains a selection of essays exploring the nexus of trauma and affect through different cultural, historical and political cases. It includes the republication of Shoshana Felman's classic essay, 'Benjamin's Silence'.
On October 9, Andrew Chadwick will be speaking about his new book, The Hybrid Media System: Politics and Power, at a seminar jointly hosted by the School of Media, Film and Music, the Science Policy Research Unit, and the Centre for Material Digital Culture and Digital Humanities at the University of Sussex. More details here.
Has the Image Killed the Imagination?
Professor Ben O’Loughlin
Department of Politics and International Relations
Try to imagine the future. You can’t. You’re reading this. The screen has you trapped. Another image is catching your eye now too. The image is crowding out the future, a continuous drain on attention. Politics is dreams, goals, plans. It needs the future. Without time to imagine, what is left of politics?
All welcome, admission free. The lecture will be followed by a reception in the Windsor Building Foyer.
To register for this event please click here.
- Location: Windsor Building Auditorium
- Date: 21/11/2013 (18:15)
- For further information please contact: Sue Heath, Events Officer, firstname.lastname@example.org
The August issue of Media, War & Conflict is out here. The issue opens with an article 'Surprise Homecomings and Vicarious Sacrifices', presented by Lisa Silvestri at the MWC 5th anniversary conference at Royal Holloway in April. Below is the editors' summary of Lisa's piece and the rest of the articles. We hope you will enjoy reading this issue.
Much academic labour has been invested in studies of how the media behave when a nation prepares for war and wages it. Relatively little has gone into studies of media behaviour in the ebbing of wars, and in their aftermath, although the part media play in post-conflict rebuilding and reconciliation has been examined (see for example Best et al. in Media, War and Conflict 4, 3).
Two articles in this issue of Media, War and Conflict turn our attention to this relatively neglected area. Lisa Silvestri discusses YouTube homecoming videos showing American servicemen being reunited with their families, especially their children. She suggests that through these video presentations of the emotional sacrifices made by the families of soldiers, audiences are able to experience a 'vicarious sacrifice'. Such means of vicarious involvement in war are important in an age when for most citizens in North America and much of Europe there is no direct experience of wars which the soldiers of their nations are fighting, not any perceptible effect on their lives. They are important in raising awareness of war and its costs, and of specific conflicts which otherwise some people would be entirely oblivious to. They are also important in shaping public opinion, and, as Silvestri points out, in inviting membership of a national community. Some readers might take issue with the general characterisation of these videos as 'sentimental', and also see more opportunities for audience identification in them other than those with the children which Silvestri focusses on. They must however offer some opportunity for idealisation, and for occluding what it is the soldier has returned from, in a way that news bulletins reporting the latest casualties in Helmand, with their names and photographs, do not. Audience identifications with the families of those dead men will not be pleasurable. Individual homecomings, while not in reality necessarily marking the end of war, will evoke the sense of its coming end, without confronting the audience with its full costs. Yet they will leave it open for audiences to choose from the full range of views of what the war was about, its damage and results.
Read on here [pdf].
From 23-29 November 2013 the Council of Europe will hold the World Forum for Democracy in Strasbourg. The week long series of events is focused on the theme Re-Wiring Democracy: Connecting Institutions and Citizens in a Digital Age. There are events for the public as well as expert groups and high profile testimonies.
The Council have generously agreed to hold a lab on Semantic Polling, a concept developed at the New Political Communication Unit that refers to the gathering and analysis of social media data to understand public opinion. The NCPU's Ben O'Loughlin will act as discussant and provide a critical response to experiments runs by a set of innovators working in this area:
Ms Tanja AITAMURTO, Finland, Visiting Researcher at the Program on Liberation Technology at Stanford University
Tanja Aitamurto is a visiting researcher at the Program on Liberation Technology at Stanford. She examines how collective intelligence, whether harnessed by crowdsourcing, co-creation or open innovation, impacts processes in journalism, public policy making and design. Related to her studies, she advises the Government and the Parliament of Finland about Open Government practices. Based on her previous research findings, she runs a pioneering experiment to crowdsource a law in Finland with the Ministry of Environment and the Committee for the Future.
Mr Mikael JUNGNER, Finland, Member of Parliament
Mikael Jungner is a member of the Finnish Parliament and former Secretary General of the Finnish Socialdemocratic Party. He is the former CEO of a Finnish Broadcasting Company and former Political Secretary to the Finnish Prime Minister. Mikael Jungner is a lawyer by training. His main interests are in social media and start up's.
Mr Joonas PEKKANEN, Finland, Founder of Open Ministry
Joonas Pekkanen is the founder of Open Ministry, an NGO that aims to crowdsource legislation. Pekkanen has studied Finance and Law. He worked for 10 years as a co-founder in several internet and mobile startups prior to his pro-democratic endeavours. Pekkanen is a member of the Open Government Partnership committee in Finland and on the board of Open Knowledge Finland.
Ben has conducted a range of research in this field with Nick Anstead investigating how companies (including Semiocast), pollsters and journalists make sense of online polling. They found this was a largely unregulated area in which claims about "public opinion" based on social media monitoring research hit the news with very little scrutiny of the methods or meaning of the data or claims made about it. However, these techniques do allow fine grained analysis of shifts in public sentiment that can be used as incredibly large, real-time focus groups.
We are grateful to Roberto Fasino at the Council of Europe for his help with the event.
Places are still available for September 2013 to study for the MSc New Political Communication at Royal Holloway, University of London. Following the recent addition of five new permanent faculty including Dr Cristian Vaccari, we are now able to teach a greater number of Masters students.
Established in 2007, this Masters degree remains unique in its emphasis on digital politics. It can be taken over one year full time or two years part time and is based in the New Political Communication Unit, which is a research centre based in the Department of Politics and International Relations and co-directed by Professor Andrew Chadwick and Professor Ben O'Loughlin.
The MSc consists of a core course in New Political Communication, and students may take options from courses across the entire range of politics and international relations options. Popular choices for students on the MSc New Political Communication include Social Media and Politics; Media, War, and Conflict; and Internet and New Media Politics.
To read more about the programme, click here.
For information on how to apply please visit the Deparment's website here.
If you have a query about the programme or how to enrol, please contact Dr. Michael Bacon, Postgraduate Coordinator, at Michael.Bacon@rhul.ac.uk.
Students who have taken this Masters in recent years have gone on to work in political parties, government, diplomacy, filmmaking, journalism, public relations, NGO work, and to carry out PhDs at Royal Holloway and the University of Warwick, among others.
The NPCU's Dr Akil Awan was invited as the lead academic expert witness at the All Party Parliamentary Group for Global Uncertainties on the eve of eighth anniversary of the 7/7 London bombings, where he briefed parliamentarians and policymakers on violent extremism in Britain, before taking questions on the UK’s counter-terrorism strategy.
He argued that policymakers, the media, and security services had been guilty of using lazy language which had had the negative effect of presenting radicalisation as a simple conveyor-belt like process, when academics were still uncertain about the causes.
Morover, he suggested that if we were able to manipulate the outcomes of radicalisation away from violence, young people might be encouraged to experiment with radical views in order to shake them out of political apathy. Indeed, he offered, that radicalisation of young people could even potentially be a good thing, as it usually indicated a political awakening and a desire to change the world around them for the better
He contrasted the political engagement of radicals with the widespread apathy among Britain’s youth in recent years, evident from very low voter turnouts among 18 to 24-year-olds in recent elections.
He argued that this was naturally of great concern for wider society. The extent to which people are engaged with politics is critical to a democratic society, but the potentially dangerous language which has brought terms like ‘radicalisation’ into the popular lexicon, means young voters can be wary of expressing unconventional views, discouraging healthy political debate.
There’s an old adage that says: ‘If you’re young and you’re not a radical, you’ve got no soul; whereas if you’re old and still a radical, you’ve got no sense’. That sums up the important part radical politics plays in the normal political awakening of young people throughout history. It isn’t something to be feared.
Awan's book Radicalisation and Media is out in paperback here.