Friday, March 24, 2006

The Internet: Our Printing Press

"What effect did the printing press have on Europe? How?"

This was one of the questions i had on last year's history final. I remember sitting in the examination room, racking my brain for an answer. I found an answer all right, but got a little more than i bargained for in the process.

The invention of the printing press led to the Reformation. Printing gave all people access to the Bible and other books; access to information. Printing also allowed people to record their own thoughts and send them out for the rest of the masses to read and discuss. People within these masses could in turn write their own views or comments, and print them. Here we had the exchange of ideas. This allowed reformers like Martin Luther have their voices heard, leading directly to the Reformation.

Writing that answer got me thinking. Before the printing press, Europe was rotting its way through the Dark Ages, a period where life is best described as “nasty, brutish, and short”. Power lay in the hands of corrupt and often cruel leaders, who cared nothing for the masses' situation and used the masses' ignorance to their own advantage. Then this printing press came out of nowhere, and through it the course of history was altered.

Sound familiar?

For the past two centuries, the Arab and Muslim world was living its own Dark Ages. With the decline of the Ottoman Empire, the once blooming culture of the Middle East was reduced to mere ignorance. Then came a period of Western colonialism that lasted until the first half of the 20th century. Independence, though, did not save the Middle East from the clutches of its Dark Age. Cruel, corrupt leaders took the place of the colonial powers, and thrust the people even further into the well of ignorance.

The few who had escaped the grasp of ignorance in their newly formed countries could do little to better the situation of their societies. They were scattered in different parts of the world, and any type of communication that threatened those in power meant permanent exile or even death.

So what's our way out of this Dark Age? Europe got the printing press. What about 21st century Middle East? What do we get?

And that's when it dawned on me. The internet.

This new technology, barely a decade old, was the answer. With the internet, people on all sides of the world could communicate quickly and efficiently. Once an idea got out there, no group could attempt to shut it down, because it was part of the intangible world called cyberspace. These groups could stop people from physically meeting and discussing new, “dangerous” thoughts, but they could do nothing about the millions of emails sent and articles written and websites posted everyday. It was out of their hands. The exchange of ideas could occur, leading to a major change in society. People could read about things they didn’t have access to previously, discuss them, then write their own ideas for the rest of the cyber-world to see. It was unstoppable. And I realized with another shock, it was already beginning.

Emails, forums, blogs, and websites touching all aspects of Arab and Muslim life are sprouting all over the internet. Sites like Muslim Heritage and blogs like Saudi Jeans are just two examples of the wealth of information and ideas out there. Better yet, the freedom of speech on the internet has leaked into mainstream media outlets. It’s contagious!

A Revolution is bubbling underneath the shrouds of ignorance. It will not happen overnight, but everyday is a step closer to it. I recently discovered an Arab blog network called Toot, yet another step towards our "Revolution". This network is a window into the new world of Arab blogging, in which Arabs from all over the world can interact, reading each other's blogs and publishing their own. (Ah, the power of globalization.) And not only does the site have great packaging, but, can you believe it, substance! Its stuff like this that the Arab and Muslim world needs to move forward in today's world.

For future notice, when i say "Revolution", i don't necessarily mean overthrow-the-government-in-a-bloody-coup type of revolution. I mean an intellectual revolution, a social revolution, a religious revolution, a cultural revolution. Preferably, a peaceful revolution. The world's already lost too much blood. We've got to save whatever we can of it.

So, on that note, out of the Dark Ages we go!


Abed. Hamdan said...

Good point you have !! I think again of what you've written, it makes sense...

Anonymous said...

Yes, the Internet has great potential as a tool for liberation, in the Arab World, in China, and perhaps someday in Africa if living standards rise enough to give people internet access. In the same way, the Internet offers Americans, like myself, a way to communicate with each other that is not under the control of the Corporate Media, who intend to keep us under the spell of ignorance of and arrogance toward the rest of the world.

May God bless us all in the worldwide struggle for truth, freedom, and justice.

Fannie Farmer (Mrs.)

Sand Gets in My Eyes said...

Great post. The impact of the internet is evident every day here in Saudi - and is helping to open up the world in ways my generation never imagined possible. Cudos to your generation for taking this particular opportunity and making it your own. Some day, history will record your efforts.

Anonymous said...

its a revolution hapening everywere, but countries that oppress freedom of expression are the one to gain the most.

loved your post!

Pro-Freedom said...

If it reduces substantially the influence of the Islamofascists, promotes the idea of women being able to decide what she wears, who or whether she dates outside her religion, counteracts the idea of non-Muslims being targets for execution and violence, stops blaming outsiders for their own troubles, stops the silly notion of "Third World Solidarity" and promotes, instead, individual initiative, promotes civil discourse instead of populism, promotes modernization of infrastructure, civil and legal systems, then I would agree.

Otherwise, I have my doubts.

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