Leaving Islam





Islam and the Internet  

By Wolfgang Bruno  

Works such as “The Coming of the Book” or "The Printing Press as an Agent of

Change" have documented the monumental changes to Europe and Western civilization triggered by the introduction of printed books. Printing, already used in China for centuries, was reinvented in Europe by people like Johann Gutenberg. Its effects were immediate and profound. Perhaps 15 – 20 million copies of different books were printed even before the year 1500. Conservative estimates indicate that at least 150 – 200 million books were made in Europe during the 16th century. When Martin Luther put up his Theses in Wittenberg in Germany in 31st October, 1517, within 15 days they had been translated into German and summarised, printed as flysheets and distributed throughout every part of the country. Orders by Rome to burn books made by Luther and other Protestant heretics only served to trigger the curiosity of the masses. Attempts to silence the critics and re-impose strict censorship were futile. Banned books circulated in France in ever greater numbers despite all the regulations forbidding them. The tide of the first mass media revolution could not be held back.  

To claim that the invention of the printing press alone created the Christian Reformation would be too simplistic. The Renaissance and a slowly expanding educated audience had created new forces and needs. Political backers such as Frederick the Wise of Saxony saved Luther’s life long enough for him to finish his work. Still, it is hard to see how the Reformation could have taken place in this manner without the printing press. The fates of other critics such as Jan Hus might have been very different had they had Gutenberg’s invention at their disposal. At the very least, the printing press served as an important catalyst for and facilitated changes already underway.  

Many have made comparisons between the Islamic world today and Christian Europe in the 16th century. As some like Robert Spencer have suggested, there may be closer analogies to the Wahhabi movement. However, it is possible that in hindsight, modern communication technology such as the Internet may prove a turning point no less crucial to Islam today than the printing press was to Christianity. The global number of Internet users is approaching one billion and growing fast. Now, the Internet may not be the magic vessel for unrestricted freedom of speech as was once hoped for, but it can still retain just enough flexibility to represent a potent challenge to authoritarian regimes and ideologies.  

Mass communication and education will lead to contradictory results, and could even be imagined to strengthen Islam. The Islamic Umma, or community, can be viewed as an old-fashioned Arab tribe in its aggressive dealings with outsiders, and the demand of absolute loyalty within the community. With the introduction of Islam, a new “super-tribe” was born, directing Arab tribal aggression outwards instead of inwards, and what ex-Muslim Anwar Shaikh has called the Arab National Movement was created. Later, the Umma was taken to include all Muslims. Although this concept of a global community of Muslims supporting each other against the infidels has always been a central part of the Muslim world view, it has for the most part remained a theoretical construct. With globalization and even the spread of the infidel English language as the world’s lingua franca, Islamic communities across the planet can keep in closer contact than they have ever done before. Islamists immigrants in the West can take advantage of Western freedoms to mount an effective propaganda machine. Individual PC users now have more capacity at their fingertips than NASA had during its first moon launches, and setting up your own website is cheap and easy.  

The new technology will give Islam a chance to realize its original aim of global universalism, and thus increase the clashes with the non-Muslim world. The revival of

Muslim identity is spreading outside the Middle East, including Southeast Asia, Central Asia and Europe , where religious identity has traditionally not been as strong. This revival has been accompanied by a deepening solidarity among Muslims caught up in separatist struggles in Chechnya , Iraq , Kashmir and southern Thailand . Jihadist groups on the Internet are multiplying, as can be testified by the Internet Haganah. One can argue effectively that the current Islamic tensions have much more to do with long-term communications changes, combined with high birth rates and Saudi petrodollars, than with the policies of any specific countries like the USA or Israel .  

Even if new media may in the short run actually assist Islamic extremism, it is conceivable that in the longer run, new media will challenge the very existence of Islam as we know it. The Internet and Muslim exposure to Western society has also created the first organized networks of ex-Muslims in history, the counterpart to the Jihadist websites. These ex-Muslim sites may still be of marginal importance, but it is hard to overestimate the monumental threat they pose to Islamic orthodoxy. Infidels should make use of this combination of ex-Muslims, the Internet and greater Western freedom of speech in a deliberate effort to copy the example of 16th century Europe . We should make a selection of, say, 20 or 30 of the best critical books written about Islam by ex-Muslims and non-Muslims. Pay the authors a substantial amount of money for the manuscripts, or buy the copyrights from whomever owns it. Make sure they understand that they receive a one-time sum in return for sharing their work with humanity. After this, the books in their full length should be made available in English on the Internet, perhaps later in translations into other major languages. From then on, anybody who wants to can freely download, copy, republish and reprint the books. This would trigger a chain reaction, as the printing press did with Luther’s pamphlets. The information would spread around the planet faster CAIR can say “Islamophobia”. The genie would be out of the bottle, and no amount of intimidation, hacker attacks or “hate speech” lawsuits could return it to the bottle. In combination with funding and support to websites by ex-Muslims and some others like Jihad Watch, we would basically present Islam with a “sink or swim”-ultimatum: Islam will have to reform if it can, or Islam will die. The entire operation would cost some hundreds of millions of dollars, not more than what can be done quietly and unofficially. We can spend this small amount of money on a “Gutenberg Fund”, or we can use hundreds of billions of dollars on defensive measures that will do little to change Islam.  

Since Islamists with the murder of Theo van Gogh demonstrated their fear of Western free speech and their desire to curb it, giving them such a hefty dose of it seems like a sweet and fitting reply. This initiative would not mark the end of the struggle, of course, but we would already have won a crucial, if not decisive victory. Christianity was up to the challenge presented by modern education and mass media. It’s time to find out whether Islam is similarly up to the challenge.  








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