Report on the Arabic Blogosphere

Dustin over at His Peace Upon Us, a thoughtful and recommended new Christian blog dedicated to dialogue between Christians and Muslims, reports on  a very interesting study of the Arabic-language Blogosphere.  Its title is "Mapping the Arabic Blogosphere: Politics, Culture, and Dissent" and its authors are Bruce Etling, John Kelly, Robert Faris, and John Palfrey.

Dustin writes:

The Berkman Center for Internet Study and Security did a massive study on the Arabic blogosphere. Who blogs? What do they blog about? You can read the summary of the report at the Berkman Center site.

I found it interesting that they blog more about human rights than they criticize Western culture and values. That’s probably not what most would expect.

Very interesting indeed.

Haven't read all of the report, but 3 interesting details jump out at me:

  • I'm not suprised that Saudi bloggers hold a decent sized chunk of the Arabic Blogosphere–They've got money, a strong sense of national idenity, and fewer distractions during their leisure time (e.g., cinemas are still verboten in ABBR title="Kingdom of Saudia Arabia">)–but judging by this report Kuwaitis seem markedly more active online than their fellow GCCers in Qatar, UAE and Bahrain. Forget the populations and populations' citizenship/foreigner breakdowns, but it surely this is disproportionate. (A prediction, given the Khaleeji Consumption Disorder epidemic: Soon we will hear of Gulf states rushing to  buy cutting-edge bloggers from Africa to write under their flags, like they do Olympic athletes.)

  • Arabic Bahais. Not the first thing you think of, but they're out there, and very legitimately speaking out against the discrimination they face. (Speaking of which, there is something pathetic about the need some feel to harass these peaceful people. If you're offended by their rejection of Islam or concerned about the message its sends, try focusing your energies on giving them less reason for doubt instead of seeming to prove them right.)

  • I might've overlooked something in the complete report, but I don't see any discussion of Arab Christian bloggers. I wonder what the explanation is for this apparent disparity. Are they not as active online? Did the researchers perhaps give inadequate attention to their networks?

What I'd really like to see is a study of the contemporary contours and groupings of the Salafi/Wahhabi corner of the Blogosphere, which has gone through a lot of changes (not to mention a huge amount of in-fighting) since their heyday online in the early days of the Internet, when it claimed or influenced some of the best known Islamic websites and fora.

I'm sure there are oodles of somewhat relevant "threat assessment" reports in the intel/security arena, but doing this right would be a very difficult undertaking even experienced researchers who master Arabic fully, as the ideological and doctrinal nuances are so fine (and, to many outsiders' eyes, trivial). The background required to really understand the changes isn't likely to be picked up just by lurking in their forums. (Perhaps Berkman needs to hire Umar Lee as a consultant.)

Update (2009-07-21): Had a typo in my excerpt from His Peace Upon Us. Wrote "KSA" instead of "Berkman Center site" at the end of the 1st paragraph.


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