Islam, Youth & New Media

"Islam Today: New Media and Youth Culture in the Middle East, South Asia and Southeast Asia" is a new collaborative program being organized by UC Berkeley's Centers for Middle Eastern Studies, South Asia Studies, and Southeast Asia Studies for 2009-2010.

This program, with funding support from the Social Science Research Council in New York, is designed generally to increase public understanding in the U.S. about Islam, by looking at how Muslim youth around the world are using new media to explore their identities, seek out and create "virtual" communities, and confront harmful anti-Muslim stereotypes, especially after the anti-Muslim backlash in the post 9/11 era.

This series of programs will bring together faculty, community organizations, activists, politicians, filmmakers, comedians, writers, musicians, private sector companies, bloggers, and young people active on social networking websites connected with Islam. Since the topic of discussion itself involves new media and culture, the issues raised through this program will be disseminated through these various mediums - blogs, websites, comedy routines, and popular writings - thus not only reaching a range of communities in the Bay Area but also the virtual communities connected with one another through online forums and networking.

Muslims from all parts of the world since 9/11 are facing discrimination and even threats of violence. For many young people, this post-9/11 world has sparked a new, if not confusing, relationship with their own identities as Muslims. While some young men and women may not have even identified themselves strongly as Muslim before 9/11, they have found that even just their last names may now trigger their being targeted, profiled, and even discriminated against. Others, who may have always had a close relationship to Islam and Islamic practices, have been suddenly forced to defend their religion to those who brand all Muslims as terrorists. These difficult times have led young Muslims all over the world to try and find answers, connect with other individuals in similar situations, debate issues, and even subvert commonly held notions of Islam.

The ability to use the media for "networking" has been significant for these youth, as many have often felt isolated and have come to find solace in these virtual communities. As one young Muslim said, "Young Muslims are ‘resorting to this virtual world because we have no space in the actual world...'" The creation of community through media and the subversion of stereotypes through popular culture, including comedy, comic books, film, and music, have all allowed for this new generation of Muslim youth to develop their own identity. At the same time, the clash between traditional and modern forms of religious practice and ideals is continually being played out in these different forums. The ultimate goal for many young Muslims who use new media or youth culture as forms of expression are to change negative opinions and dispel stereotypes.

As technology continues to evolve, including the means to connect and communicate in cyberspace, and as the countries of these three regions grapple with the changes wrought by modernization and by the effects of changing patterns in political alignments, young Muslims should see ever more opportunities to make themselves heard. What this emergence of new voices may suggest for the future of Islam, for the futures of their home countries, and for the U.S. itself, needs to be explored.

We are organizing three events as part of this program. They are:

Politics & New Media in the Muslim World: Our first forum will focus on how Muslim youth are using various forms of new media as a way to network with like-minded individuals, find answers to difficult questions, and challenge commonly held attitudes and stereotypes about Islam, particularly in the post 9/11 era.

Islam, Social Lives & Online Networking: Networking has been significant for these youth, as many who feel isolated have come to find solace in these virtual communities, as well as a place where they establish their own presence and express themselves.Our second forum will explore the ways in which young Muslims use the media for creating virtual communities.

Festival on Youth, Islam and the Arts: This festival will involve a series of events designed to focus on Muslim youth and some of the forms of popular culture and expression that are being used to establish a new Muslim identity and change negative attitudes. The last few years have witnessed a rise in comedians, music groups, and filmmakers exploring the struggles Muslims have been facing around the world since 9/11 and examining commonly held beliefs about Islam. Young people are using these various mediums to creatively and subtly challenge perceptions and ideas.