How the Internet is changing the Muslim world’s view of the West

By: Elizabeth Tenety

Source: The Washington Post

The Internet can do many things — help mobilize massive social uprisings in the Arab Spring, raise thousands of dollars for needy girls in an online “flash mob” and drive 500 million people to watch “Charlie Bit Me.”

Can it also work to de-escalate tensions between the Muslim world and the West?

A new poll released Friday from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life indicates that Internet use among Muslims across the Middle East, Europe, Asia and Africa is associated with more positive views of Western culture. Muslims who use the Internet are also more likely to see similarities between Christianity and Islam (the two faiths share common prophets).

Among the key findings:

  • “Muslims who use the Internet are much more inclined to like Western movies, music and television, and they are somewhat less inclined to say that Western entertainment is harming morality in their country.”
  • “The survey also finds that Muslims who use the Internet are somewhat more likely than those who are not online to see commonalities between their own faith and Christianity. Statistical analysis shows that Internet use is associated with a more open attitude toward Christianity.”
  • “The survey findings also show that Internet use has relatively little influence on Muslims’ views of Islam’s teachings. Holding other factors constant, Muslims who use the Internet are about as likely as those who do not use it to say that Islam is the only path to heaven (rather than saying that many faiths can lead to eternal salvation). Internet users and non-users also are about equally inclined to say that Islam has only one true interpretation.”

The results from Pew that show Muslim Internet use generally correlative with more positive views of Western culture in contrast with recent examples of the Internet as a medium for radicalization. So-called self-radicalized Muslims extremists like Boston bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev and attempted Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad, are believed to have been radicalized at least in part by viewing sermons of jihadist preachers online.

So while the Internet can give you access to people far outside of your physical community, allowing you to appreciate your commonalities, it can also connect sinister actors to one another in ways never before possible. It’s both promise and peril for those who hope to remake the relationship between the Islamic world and the West.