Posts Tagged With: cybespace

Retelling Tale of a Long Tunnel


This month of March brings a particular mirth and joy as we read in FB posts some friends finishing their graduate and post-graduate studies – not to mention the many graduation photos of FB friends’ elementary and high school kids.

With such feeling, I can’t help but retell my own tale of a long tunnel with the intention of sharing personal reflections and identifying moral lessons that may guide others before experiencing the same; hence, this marginalia…

Exactly within two years, I finished my master’s degree in International Relations at Shahid Beheshti University (formerly known as National University of Iran) located in northern Tehran.

During the oral defense for my thesis, one of my professors and members of the defense panel asked me to compare and contrast the impacts of a Middle Eastern political event, if there are any, upon a specific sociopolitical trend in Malaysia (a Muslim country whose official religion is Islam), Indonesia (a Muslim country without any recognized official religion), Thailand (a non-Muslim Buddhist-dominated country with considerable Muslim population in the capital and in the south), and the Philippines (a non-Muslim Christian-dominated country with considerable Muslim population in the south).

This question of Prof. Haji-Yousefi gave me an idea on what to write in my doctoral dissertation, and I really decided to deal on that topic. In fact, I had practically started gathering pertinent reading materials. After passing my two semesters of doctorate (2001) at Tehran University, however, I doubted if I could get any travel allowance to go to Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand to collect first-hand materials and conduct field interviews. Travel allowance for such purpose is not part of my scholarship grant, the concerned personnel of the Higher Education Ministry reminded me.

As such, I settled on pursuing a purely or largely library work for my dissertation. My keen interest at that time with post-positivist theories in International Relations seemingly augured well for this decision. The topics of my research papers in different courses illustriously expressed this personal interest in IR theories in general and post-positivist theories in particular: “Alexander Wendt vs. Kenneth Waltz: A Critique of Constructivist Theory’s Critique of Structural Realism;” “Human Rights in International Relations: A Methodological Survey;” “Iran vis-à-vis Other Regional and Non-Regional Players in the Post-Soviet Central Asia and the Transcaucasus: A Study of  Converging and Diverging Interests;” “The Globalizing Impact of Transnational Corporations (TNCs): The Case of Microsoft Corporation;” “Neorealist and Constructivist Accounts of Security Cooperation: A Comparative Analysis;” “Alexander Wendt and Kenneth Waltz on Power: A Comparative Study;” “Robert Gilpin’s Thought on International Political Economy: A Critique;” “Realism, Liberalism and Constructivism on Human Rights Norms: A Comparative Study;” and “The Principle of Self-Determination: Its Conceptual Shift in International Law.”

For the second time, I decided on what topic to deal with for my dissertation. This time I was determined to delve on the ongoing debate between Waltz’s 1979 magnum opus Theory of International Politics and Wendt’s 1999 major work Social Theory of International Politics that respectively represent structural realism and the positivist camp, on one hand, and social constructivism and the post-positivist camp, on the other. After taking up my two required courses in research methodology with an ultra-positivist and empiricist professor, however, I began to anticipate the difficulty for any post-positivist study such as mine to get approval from the septuagenarian professor who approves the methodological aspect of any thesis proposal submitted to the IR department. For this reason, even after taking and passing the required comprehensive examinations, I was hesitant to submit my dissertation proposal to the department.

As in previous years, I was able to buy approximately 100 book titles on various subjects at the 17th Tehran International Book Fair (May 4-14, 2004)—the biggest annual cultural event in Iran. A whole year of savings would make it possible to take this rare opportunity. Among this new collection of books, I first read An Islamic Utopian: A Political Biography of Ali Shari‘ati by a certain Ali Rahnema. Typographical errors of the book simply irritated my eyes which have been used then to proofreading voluminous books as part of my translation works at an international cultural institute. I then picked up Tim Jordan’s Cyberpower: The Culture and Politics of Cyberspace and the Internet (1999). Jordan approaches the discussion by highlighting what he calls “three levels or circuits” of power in the cyberspace, i.e. the power of the individual, the power of the social, and the power of the collective imagination or imaginary. He does so by adopting three concepts of power as his theoretical framework, viz. power as a possession by Max Weber, power as social order by Barry Barnes, and power as domination by Michel Foucault.

I finished reading this introductory book on the politics of the Internet in two days, without knowing then that it would catapult me to a final settlement of my dissertation topic but plunge me into a long dark tunnel of exploring a theory in sociology—and not IR—to account for a macro-phenomenon in the virtual world.

“Barry Barnes’ Theory of Power as Social Order: The Case of International Quds Day in the Cyberspace” is the tunnel.

Congratulations to all the graduates!

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The Modern Poet’s Burden


Paul Joseph Goebbels, the Propaganda Minister of Adolf Hitler, once said, “A lie, if it is repeated a hundred times, becomes the gospel truth.”

The World of Propaganda

When the people of Sham received the news that ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib was fatally wounded by Ibn Muljim in the mihrab (niche) of the Kufah Mosque, they could hardly believe that Abu Turab (‘Ali ibn Abi Talib’s epithet) would visit a mosque and much less that he knows how to pray! These they were saying about a person who would spend the whole night privately conversing with His Lord, entreating, imploring and beseeching Him in utmost humility and abjectness. Lady Zaynab bint ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib – that articulate voice of ‘Ashura – had to swim against the tide of ‘truth,’ ‘justice’ and ‘movement’ in inverted commas in order to hoist the true banner of the truth of Muhammad truth, the justice of ‘Ali and the movement of Husayn. Regrettably, the minbar (pulpit) – that sacred Prophetic platform for the conveyance of the Divine revelation and dissemination of socio-political instructions – was not spared from the blemish of black propaganda. As can be recalled in history, it was in the very minbar that the foremost defender and believer of the faith and scribe of the revelation would be cursed every Friday prayer throughout the then Muslim world from Sahara Desert in the west to the Ganges River in the east. This malpractice would continue for more than a generation until it was finally ended by Umayyad caliph ‘Umar ibn ‘Abd al-‘Aziz. Yes, whether we like it or not, we are living in a world of propaganda. Look around us – billboards, tarpaulins, graffiti, monuments, and simple signboards. These are all tools of propaganda. Yes, ours is a sphere of incessant struggle; ours is a stadium of perennial competition of winning the hearts and minds of the people. Yes, ours is a world of media spinning and manipulation.

The ‘Poets’

In Arabia during the time of the Prophetic mission, this role being played by the mass media, as we know it today, was played by the poets or shu‘arā’. At the very beginning of ‘The Message’ film, poets could be seen in a poetry-arena vying one another in impressing more the tribal and clan chiefs and prominent figures with their words of flattery and eulogy. On various occasions – marriage ceremony, war declaration and burial procession – poets would compose rhymes and elegies to incite emotions and move people. Innermost feelings were also expressed in poetry. For instance, Abu Talib’s unflinching allegiance to the Faith of his forefathers Ibrahim and Isma‘il as well as his unwavering support to the mission of his nephew Muhammad could be gleaned from his poetical verses. In the same manner, Yazid ibn Mu‘awiyah’s skepticism and mockery of the Prophetic mission and the sending down of revelation could also be found in his couplets, as recorded in history.

The Poets in the Scripture

Given this pivotal role of the poets at that time, it is not surprising that Chapter 26 of the Qur’an is known as Sūrat al-Shu‘arā’ (or, Chapter: The Poets). Interestingly enough, out of 227 or 228 verses of the Chapter, the poets were the topic in only the last seven verses, yet the sūrah is still called Sūrat al-Shu‘arā’. Without quoting anymore in this marginalia the Arabic text, an English rendition of the said verses is as follows: Shall I inform you (of him) upon whom the satans descend? They descend upon every lying, sinful one. They incline their ears, and most of them are liars. And as to the poets, those who go astray follow them. Do you not see that they wander about bewildered in every valley? And that they say that which they do not do, except those who believe and do good and remember God much, and defend themselves after they are oppressed; and they who act unjustly shall know to what final place of turning they shall turn back. (Q 26:221-227) The following points can be inferred from this passage: * That the majority of poets were condemned for being liars and sinners; * That these poets were followed by the misguided ones; * That these poets had no specific agenda of their own – they wander about bewildered in every valley; * That these poets say in their poetry what they themselves do not do; * That there is also a group of poets not included in the categorical condemnation – those possessing such qualities as (1) belief in God, (2) doing of good, (3) constant remembrance of God, and (4) defending the rights of the oppressed.

The Poets’ Burden

In today’s setting, this exceptional group of poets may be represented by a very few media people and journalists who are neither submissive to the selfish interests of the corporate media nor included in the payroll of politicians and power-holders. This is while the rest of the media people, with due respect to those who are not guilty, are a showcase of those characteristics of the poets for which they are categorically condemned by the Scripture – being liars, sinners, followed by deviants, paying lip service and having no wholesome agenda. As such, the burden of the upright ‘poets’ of today is to possess those four exceptional qualities – (1) belief in God, (2) doing of good, (3) constant remembrance of God, and (4) defending the rights of the oppressed – while upholding the ideals of journalism – honestly and fearlessly relating the events to the people.

Media 2.0 as the Modern Poets’ Arena

This burden of the upright journalists is compounded by the nature of the new playing field. Not too long ago, the study of media would deal with the post-Gutenbergian mass communication through a small number of key forms like the printed books, newspapers, cinema, radio, and television. It was characterized by the writer or reporter shaping the ideas and opinions of the recipient or reader about the events. This is what mass communications students call ‘Media Studies 1.0’. With the advent of the computer technology and the paving of the information superhighway, there is now a murky distinction between the news producer and receiver.  Gone are the days when the news production owners had the sole monopoly of the creation and production of the events’ narratives. Through social networking sites, for instance, the ‘conventional’ news receiver could easily react to the news, thereby shaping the opinion of other ‘receivers’. Most often, the news of an event would shape the trend and even the outcome of that event. (For instance, a septuagenarian wife reported in the news that her fellow septuagenarian husband was missing. After sometime, the missing old man was found through the voluntary efforts of young netizens who had helped in locating him throughout Metro Manila and the surrounding towns.) This ambiguity concerning the producer-versus-receiver and event-versus-news divide is dubbed ‘Media Studies 2.0’. In fact, some media scholars and practitioners are now talking about Media Studies 3.0. For the meantime, it is not our concern to delve into this matter.

The Challenge Facing the Upright Modern Poets

After stating the nature of the media, its crucial role and the present playing field of the players, let us lay down the aspects of the challenge facing ideal journalists or what we may label as ‘upright modern poets’. The challenge facing them is to narrate the true account of events in the most convincing manner. Unless the concerned netizens tell their own story, others will do so on their behalf – but in the most unjust and unfair way possible. This is our own version of the “Publish or perish” dictum.

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