It is really impossible to attend all conferences and sometimes you have to skip the really interesting ones. This was the case with the Islam and The Media conference organized by the Center for Media, Religion and Culture. In the past I have written several things about Dutch Muslim youth on the Internet focussing on the period between 2001 and 2005. I focused their on internet practices and attempted to connect their online and offline practices (you can read the ISET Working Paper HERE). In my current research on Salafi youth internet plays a role but I have tried to integrate it in the whole research approach (including methodology) while my colleague Carmen (who did attend the conference) focuses on knowledge practices and user genres in relation to activism and internet.

One of the interesting aspects of the conference was the use of Twitter at #IMC. I haven’t been on Twitter that long (a few weeks…) and I still have hard time finding out what the use of it is. Keeping up with breaking news is certainly one of the benefits, but I also found out another one. One of the participants, Linda Duits, was twittering about the conference and mentioned the presentation of Wilders’ movie Fitna (see my analysis HERE). I asked her about it (she was not the presenter) and one hour later I had the presentation in my email box. So maybe Twitter and me will work out in the end after all.

From another colleague I heard about the lack of attention by journalists (and policy makers?) for this conference. This is not new although I keep being surprised about it. Given the attention in media circles and policy circles for the internet in relation to radicalization of Muslim youth (see Huffington Post, CBS 60 minutes and Reuters) one would expect media would be interested in a conference such as IMC. Stewart Hoover (Director of the Center for Media, Religion and Culture and author of several publications on media and religion, including the very inspiring Mass Media Religion, The Social Sources of the Electronic Church and Religion in the Media Age) picks up the same issue at his blog responding to a NPR’s Morning Edition story on online Jihadism:

Islam and the Media « StewartHoover’s Blog

So you can see how I might find it ironic that, just a few days after it concluded, NPR chose to give major attention to Islam and the media with no reference either to our meeting or to the kind of scholarship presented there. Now, of course I am not naive about news processes and news values, so am not really surprised. But there is a lesson in this.

What was the NPR story about? It was about “online jihadism” and referred specifically to the recent CIA assassination in Afghanistan and the way the perpetrator is being remembered in some places online. This means that, in spite of all the good scholarship out there that is helping us understand the range of ways that media and mediation are inflecting Islam, the primary media framing is still around terror and security. That, we continue to learn, is the “real story.” If they had attended the meeting, they would have received a much deeper understanding of many of the questions they asked in their story (and that their interviewee could only speculate about). They wanted to know a lot about both the production and reception of online jihadist material. Scholars present at our conference brought important insights into these matters and could have helped broaden and deepen public understanding of the implications of what is happening online.

Hoover argues that the security angle is important but that that is only part of the story. One of the things lacking in media (and among policy makers) is an analysis of the reception of online messages. Much of the analyses seems to be based on the assumption that the internet (and the texts and videos on it) are contagious and that radicalization is contagious too; combined the constitue an ‘explosive’ mixture. This is usually based on written statements of (former) Jihadis. An analysis that takes up the issue of reception by the audience and that also includes facts from lifestories of the people behind the online nicknames is important because otherwise online statements are (partly) taken out of (offline) context but also out of an online context because usually there is an online history behind these messages (of the arguments my colleague Carmen makes). A next step of course is how to convince journalists (looking for stories that makes sense to the public) that an interdisciplinary view is necessary, as Hoover correctly argues? Certainly blogging is one thing as I have stated before. This will be one of the issues that will be explored during an international workshop later this year (if everything works out). Will be continued…