September 2, 2008

Web 2.0... The Double-edged Sword for Peace in the Arab World

If we listen carefully, we can hear the beat of drums just beneath the great din of our technological age. The Web, being the height of humanity’s collective achievement, has become the battleground for the minds of men.
The victors shall decide whether our earth shall be ruled by fear, or reason.

The Arab world is one of the fastest growing Internet markets in the world. It is also a land dominated by religious, racial, and social fanaticism.

In all but the most advanced Arab countries; misinformation, intolerance, and war mongering permeate the social structure. Beginning with the nuclear family, to religious communities, all the way to the institutions of government; many Arabs live their lives isolated from any ideas that have run the gauntlet of comparative analysis.

Should we assume that all this misunderstanding, ignorance and blind hatred will immediately be assuaged by the ubiquitous availability of the Internet? Won’t democracy and inter-racial cooperation be the inevitable result of the limitless interpersonal communication the new web affords? Well, many people believe exactly that. While I share their belief in the supremacy of reason; I’m concerned that the grip of fundamentalism is likely to tighten before it falls limp. When these societies are empowered with this magnitude of social connectivity, it vastly increases the ability of fanatics to reach those minds that are up for grabs. To be sure, the intellectuals are also empowered, but they are also greatly outnumbered.

Even in our own marketplace, the most meritorious ideas can be lost in the cloud of noise. Consider the staggering number of conspiracy theory sites and blogs. Such sites vary in their content from the plausible to the incredible, and their audience size ranges from laughable to the phenomenal. In the cases of the more incredible among them, the relative worthlessness of the idea does not prevent the idea from reaching large numbers of people.

I suggest that the inevitable diffusion of the Internet into the Second and Third world will bring a wave of peace, but that peace will be preceded by an inescapable (albeit fleeting) dominance of fanaticism.

The majority of the third world is ruled by a predisposition for action (i.e. totalitarian efficiency) as opposed to the First world predisposition to discourse (or, if you like, sluggish bureaucracy). The difference between the loosely defined worlds will be highlighted by the power of the new web. In our world the web has streamlined our bureaucracy, allowing the existing discourse to happen at an exponentially faster rate. In the Third world, the first thing to be streamlined will be the ability of fanatics to rally support.

I predict that fanaticism will eventually fall to reason. However, we must accept that the eventual Arabian renaissance will be preceded by darker times. Waves of fanatical enterprises will attempt to artificially recreate the Arabian Golden Age. Just as in post-war Germany, Hitler tried to force the birth of the Third Reich, similar attempts to domesticate minds of men are forever destined to catastrophic failure.

The only road to wisdom is age. The only road to knowledge is education. Man can neither wish himself a sage, nor will himself a scholar. The only road to peace is arduous discourse. Mankind can only reconcile his differences on the uncompromising and level battlefield of reason.