Something to Say and Somewhere to Say it: The Rise of the Middle Eastern Blog
Benjamin Parrish Cook
Dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of MA in International Security and Conflict Studies,
5. The Blog
6. Penetration, Usage and the Digital-Divide
7. Select Middle Eastern Blogospheres by Country
8. Censorship and Harassment
9. Raising Voices
10. Habits of Democracy
11. Blogs as Public Diplomacy
12. Soft Power
I would like to acknowledge the contributions of: Collen Reiling, Willis Catoe, Mike and Judy Cook, Aine Bonner, Molly Wallace, Dr. Maura Conway, Dr. Francesco Cavatorta, Imad Shawa, Shay Duffy and Arthur Gaffney. I would also like to thank all the bloggers in the
This paper examines the growth of Weblogs in the Arab world and posits that through the use of weblogs a habit of democracy if formed and a deficit in freedom lessoned. Simultaneously the collective power of these weblogs constitutes Public Diplomacy, both direct and indirect. This Public Diplomacy is effecting changes in public opinion and in turn governmental policy. This phenomenon is an example of Soft Power. The attractive nature of these online conversations lessens the need for coercive acts that might be used to give weight to an issue.
European Union – EU
Information and Communication Technologies – ICTs
Middle East – ME
Weblog – Blog
He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.
That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density in any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation. -Thomas Jefferson
I foresee a universal information system (
The Middle East (ME) is often spoken of in terms of a freedom deficit. Chief among these deficiencies is freedom of speech. Generally speaking the typical Middle Easterner has to contend with state run media and a lag in modernity that puts him or her at a real disadvantage when wanting to voice an opinion or hear another’s. As ME states creep towards some since of modernity voices that were once stifled or censored are beginning to break thru the state imposed silence.
Bursting on the scene post
Jump ahead to today, as blogospheres grow in
As a whole the Middle Eastern blog community is becoming self-aware. It is making moves to index and network its voices so that they take on the added power of being collective voices. The importance of these ME voices has not been lost on the rest of the world. Internet sites dedicated to expanding the reach of ME voices, and in fact all global voices, have become not just popular but also key to gathering and disseminating information through out the world. As the ME blog’s importance spreads and the voices that were once made silent are heard an interesting phenomenon occurs. Middle Easterners begin to see the weight of their voices. The world shrinks. International, regional and local relations are affected, even if minutely, by the collective strength of the exchange of information that is the
This new strength that has traditionally not been available to the average Middle Easterner in
The following details the new frontier in global voice that is the Middle Eastern blogosphere. Presented is an analysis of the state of the blogosphere, its hurdles and its future. As well, how these blogs help to create important habits of democracy and how these habits play a role in the ME and its continuing struggle to be heard. Finally, points on how this exchange constitutes Public Diplomacy and through this diplomacy how these voices are in effect Soft Power influencing policy and world public opinion.
What is a blog (weBLOG)? Generally an online journal meets the criteria of blog when it is regularly updated and past posts are archived and dated. Additional criteria may be attribution through linking and Real Simple Syndication (RSS). As this new media evolves what a blog is will certainly change. Blogs are “new.” The Internet as we recognize it is still only in its teens and blogs are slightly younger. Blogs numbered in the twenties before 1999. Now in 2007 if you ask the blog index and search engine Technorati to search for blogs containing the term “
Today you can find blogs all over the world touching on as varied subjects as the people who write the blogs, from an 18 year old Chinese girl living in Hamilton, New Zealand introducing herself to the world via MySpace to an American student in Dublin Ireland going on about his pub adventures via Blogger to a mother of three in Mosul Iraq trying to make sense of her chaotic life. Each of these people is an active participant in the new media of blogging. Each contributes to a massive dialog that is largely unfiltered, unedited and patently democratic. It is these great strengths that are also blogging’s great weaknesses. Many have observed that blogs are certainly a source of information, but what kind and what value is this information? Do blogs exist in a “State of
Penetration, Usage and the Digital-Divide
The ME region has experienced exponential growth in internet penetration but that is mostly because of the large deficit of internet availability. In other words there is much room for internet availability to grow. Within this still small but growing group of people that have an internet connection there can be considered a ME blogosphere, and as a subset a blogosphere for each country, and in many cases a local blogosphere for some cities. There is only spotty data for the demography of a Middle Eastern blogger except that internet usage as a whole falls down traditional lines, which is to say that it is dominated by males.
A few words on “blogosphere”, a blogosphere is simply a community of blogs. Merriam Webster’s Open Dictionary defines it as “The combined collection of all blogs and bloggers on the entire Internet from all parts of the world.” While this definition is true it is also incomplete. Any community of bloggers of almost any size could be considered a blogosphere. There is a Middle Eastern blogosphere, a Jordanian blogosphere as well as a Lebanese blogosphere, each a community of varying size. Or as Marc Lynch puts it “currently there is less of an "Arab blogosphere" than a series of national blogospheres loosely linked at key nodes in each. Most aggregators (such as Saudi Blogs, Jordan Planet,
From 2000 to 2007 the availability of the internet in the
Of course affecting usage and not necessarily penetration is the fact that the internet is still an English language medium and some say a Western cultural medium, though becoming less so every day. Up until 2005 there were no online blog templates like Blogger or LiveJournal in Arabic. As well, some bloggers thought government censors were more concerned with what was posted in Arabic rather than English. Arabic speakers worldwide account for 5% of the world's population but only 2% of the world’s Internet users. Creation of online content at one time required some knowledge of English based Hyper Text Markup Language or HTML. Now with the advent of web based publishing no HTML knowledge is needed for the common soul to publish content. Sites like Blogger and LiveJournal allow the creation and distribution of content without knowing a line of code and only basic English.
In terms of culture the ME is still dominated by tribal and Islamic influence. Mistrust of things Western is the standard it seems rather than the exception. Ali Mazrui and Alamin Mazrui writing in the Harvard International Review suggest that “Islamizing” modernity to include media would help the region come to grips with the digital divide it is now experiencing. In fact, they suggest it could usher in an Islamic “Reformation”.
Each of these contributing factors increases the global digital divide. Countries in the ME experience a lack of participation, competition and effective regulation of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs). From the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development 2006 report:
Regardless of how we measure it, there is an immense information and communication technology (ICT) gap, a “digital divide”, between developed and developing countries. A person in a high-income country is over 22 times more likely to be an Internet user than someone in a low-income country. Secure Internet servers, a rough indicator of electronic commerce, are over 100 times more common in high income than low-income countries. In high-income countries, mobile phones are 29 times more prevalent and mainline penetration is 21 times that of low-income countries.
ICTs have been tagged as the main determinant for the marked acceleration in productivity seen in the
As more people come online in the ME more content is available to see. The much debated idea of Tim O’Reilly’s era of “Web 2.0” suggests that as countries in the ME comes online they will be not just consumers of content but creators. This ownership of content that is culturally accessible to many more Middle Easterners than just the English speaking demographic should grow usage and usefulness. The ME blog has become the content of choice at the moment. While other content trickles in like Ikbis, an Arab based YouTube video and photo hosting site, blogs are off and running. In fact a prevalent Jordanian blogger told journalists that statistics from Arab internet service providers and larger blog service providers put a ten fold increase as the expectation for this year.
Select Middle Eastern Blogospheres by Country
As explained earlier each country has a blogosphere. ME countries are starting to enjoy great growth in these loose “country-centric” communities. A quick check of Saudiblogs.blogspot.com counts eighty-plus Saudi Arabian blogs. Here Saudi blogger Ahmed al-Omran laments the control Arab governments use to have over information:
For a very long time, almost everyone agreed that media in the Arab world did not reflect the reality of things in a part of the world that has been plagued with wars and conflicts over the past six decades. Some ten years ago, satellite TV channels started to invade the region ushering in a new era for Arab media, especially with the introduction of channels like al-Jazeera, which changed the way we received our news. However, Arab media remained for the most part either owned and/or controlled by governments, and the few alternative news sources available were highly censored and access to them was limited if not nonexistent.
The now defunct jordanplanet.com has splintered off into a smaller
After having given up
I am as optimistic about
You could only imagine my own shock as I found myself trying hard as a I can to resist swelling tears as I was watching the Iraqi team win the semifinal on a penalty shot against
Yes, I do realize that probably it may have no effect on the bloodbath back home, and things could be darker than one would ever imagine, but what this thing did for me, and hopefully for many other Iraqis, is that it reminded us that there is indeed something that is common between all of us that is real and genuine, a deep chord that is resonating still inside, whether it was already present and we lost it, or whether we are all hoping for that could transpire practically in the future, in any case, for the first time in my life, I believe in Iraq with conviction, and that is certainly enough.
Sunshine brings us another post where you feel a lifetime could have passed for all the events that happened in a week. She writes:
“It has been a messy week , full of events , some were good , some were bad, in addition to tragic events mentioned in the media…” but there is way to much to do it justice here you just have to read it for yourselves.
Aunt Najma goes by car from
The road to Mosul and the first few neighborhoods are devastating, ruins all over, the walls of the houses have way too many holes caused by the bullets, there were remains of bomb cars and the street was very damaged.
M.H.Z. is in the Kurdish-Iraqi city of
Most of the people here are so great, they always say that we are dear guests, they always say how sorry they are for Baghdad, and how beautiful it was, and how they wish that we all go back home someday so that they could come visit us in Baghdad.
to its contradictions:
When the Iraqi soccer team got the Asian cup, celebrations were all over the world, the Iraqi flag was seen everywhere, except in Arbil, it was banned, and the police prevented the partying people from raising the Iraqi flag!!. Well, it’s too simple, if it’s not
Reading these few but representative posts it is perhaps easier to see the importance of blogs in
The Palestinian blogosphere like the Iraqi blogosphere is never at loss for important and engaging content. The website palestineblogs.org boasts 256 blog feeds and is one of the most intuitively arranged aggregators I have observed. A quick perusal of palestineblogs.org’s offerings and you find politics as usual as well as anti-Zionist, anti-Western and anti-American posts that could be considered factual or conspiratorial depending on details and inclinations.
Finally, the Egyptian blogosphere.
This independent action is not without risk.
Even though harassment is potentially around every corner important conversations continue, for example In the conversation below an Egyptian professor tackles three issues in the
“It is again the same culture that burned the consulates during the famous Danish cartoon protests in Syria, and killed a old nun in Lebanon in protest of the Pope's remarks accusing Islam of violence! These ignorants didn't know that what they really did was to proove his point!”
From the comments:
“حفصوتشا ام مصطفيتش said...
what shall we say ?!!?? again its the wahabyah dogma that invaded the pure and simple rules of human living wihtout any consideration to others…
…i dont think that it was muslims who did the 11/9, its way beyond our abilites otherwise we could have done somehting long time ago, and lets say that it was done by arabs, i would assume that they were only puppets in the hands of bin laden whos another puppet in the hands of the states itself.”
The blogger responds:
“Nah·det Masr said...
I think as a community we have a problem in the tolerance department… However, I strongly disagree with you regarding the perpetrators of 9/11 since I have seen a TV show on Aljazeera, where Khalid Shaykh Mohamed described the details of their planning of their crime…”
Finally an American comments:
For an American...it is "easy" to talk about how people need to self-critic, debate, explore, criticize...but in much of the Arab world, people who write articles like this one and end up like Kareem [in jail] or worse. What were the authors own words about being afraid to speak his opinion in the mosque?
I admire you and the sites I am finding like this one.”
Nah·det Masr responds:
“Nah·det Masr said...
Howie, thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. I am sure that all of us humans share the same universal set of values…
Blogging is magical in that you get to express your true beliefs and thoughts under the false sense of security and anonimity. The good surprise is that you find that many people share your thoughts!”
This exchange highlights how an important global issue can bounce thousands of miles in and out of multiple cultures and experiences. The blogger here is an Egyptian professor that has ceased updating his blog. I hope it is because of a busy schedule and not something more nefarious.
Censorship and Harassment
Middle Eastern regimes are finding out that censorship has its costs. In our global and interconnected world what happens in
Much has been said in the news about the “Great Fire Wall of China” filtering words like “democracy” and “freedom” and how Western companies such and Yahoo and Google are facilitating this censorship. The ME is similar. Countries often filter for things that are morally questionable and promote dissent. To help combat this, the organization Reporters Without Boarders created the “Handbook for Bloggers and Cyber-dissidents.” In it they suggest ways to blog anonymously and to get around filters and censorship.
All across the ME regimes have used a dearth of excuses to justify censorship and harassment of bloggers, seemingly for the public interest. Kianush Sanjari from
The pseudonym in the
While large scale plans from the West to promote the raising of Middle Eastern voices have not yet happened, smaller organizations have taken it upon themselves to showcase these conversations. Chief among these is Global Voices Online. Started in 2004 by Ethan Zuckerman and Rebecca MacKinnon Global Voices Online indexes, sorts and promotes English language blogs from all over the world. There is an editor for each country assigned. This editor sorts through the relivant posts and selects a representative batch for viewing. The presentation of this select group is called a “blog roll”. It takes a reader only a few minutes to get the pulse of a particular countries blogosphere. More than just reading a post from someone living their life in Ramallah, blogs allow for a conversation.
Commenting on blogs is promoted. Comment and response have been known to go on for weeks even months. In areas of particular distress like Iraq or Lebanon these conversation are important. Interested parties are able to discuss the conflict as it happens. Never before has there been an unedited public real-time conversation between the constituents of the combatants. The blogs of
The US State Department has made moves towards a facilitating roll for ME bloggers, though they are sluggish. A more active role would have seen the
One of the most important facets of any developing countries blogosphere is their diaspora. All over the world native Middle Easterners that enjoy the freedom to blog without fear facilitate conversations inside their home region. Roba al-Assi a blogger from Jordan and contributor to Global Voices Online estimates that only 50% of Jordanian bloggers actually live in
Global Voices Online gathered suggestions at a recent blogging community forum assisted by the
support new bloggers by linking to them, commenting on new blogs. this is important to helping to build a blogosphere.
create a home like a weblog ring, create a space for the community to be gathered
outreach and training to teach young people how to blog in schools, etc. holding seminars.
local media writing about bloggers helped publicize and caused a lot of people to start blogs.
starting out in tech, then moving onward to broader subjects… political, social issues, more debate, etc. more focused on quality of conversation…
not all new bloggers know what an RSS or Atom feeds are. Creating a local aggregator has been very useful and became very popular.
These suggestions at first blush might seem obvious and simplistic but consider that many countries are only now starting to develop a sofistication for all things “internet.” It is easy to take for granted knowledge that is basic to societies that have been online for decades. As well, technology in the areas in question grows at a dizzying rate. What is today’s Blogspot, Google and RSS is tomorrows Geocities, AltaVista and BBS.
Another important facilitator of Middle East voices is the Bitterlemons group of webpages to include bitterlemons.org, bitterlemons-international.org and bitterlemons-dialogue.org. “[Bitterlemons] is edited by Ghassan Khatib and Yossi Alpher. [Khatib is a Palestinian public servant and academic. Alpher is a former member of the Mossad and is a consultant on Arab-Israeli issues.] Bitterlemons… editors decide on a topic and invite four writers or interviewees to discuss that subject [online].” This group of websites provides a forum for all interested parties to make “intelligent and articulate views” public. And while this group of websites, partially funded by the European Union, is not exclusive to bloggers or creators of online content it does act as an additional conduit for raising voices.
Habits of Democracy
What is democracy? Can there be more than one kind? What are the elements of a democracy? Is there a conection between the blogs, the internet and democracy? Democracy is a word that gets batted around a great deal. Along the way it has picked up contexts and meanings that may or may not be appropriate. To continue the discussion of Middle Eastern blog’s contribution to democracy it is imperitive that democracy be clearly defined.
There is no short definition of democracy. Democracy without its context is always something less than democracy. Most simple definitions mimic this:
the political orientation of those who favor government by the people or by their elected representatives
a political system in which the supreme power lies in a body of citizens who can elect people to represent them
majority rule: the doctrine that the numerical majority of an organized group can make decisions binding on the whole group
Add the context and it looks like this:
Sovereignty of the people.
Government based upon consent of the governed.
Guarantee of basic human rights.
Free and fair elections.
Equality before the law.
Due process of law.
Constitutional limits on government.
Social, economic, and political pluralism.
Values of tolerance, pragmatism, cooperation, and compromise.
One very famous definition is that of Abraham Lincoln "of the people, by the people, and for the people." Things become further complicated when terms like illiberal and liberal democracy are used, or constitutional democracy. Each of these describe a facet of democracy rather than the whole. In other words, a description of a piece of context rather than the whole.
What is present in every definition, though more visible in some, is the importance of voice. Clearly the people must voice their will in order for it to be followed and protected by a democratic government. Therefore it can be said the first step towards democracy is voice. It is a necessary but not sufficient piece of the democracy puzzle. If one lives in a society where their voice is stifled then they live in a country with something less than democratic rule. Often we associate the “vote” as the first part of the democracy puzzle, and when that vote is an accurate representation of a citizen’s voice it is. But if that vote is in any way lessened or tampered with it is worthless as a piece of democracy because it no longer represents the voice of the person who cast it. Votes are not the only time a citizen’s voice is heard in a democracy. In order to govern there must be debate. In order to carry out the peoples will that will must first be ascertained. The people’s voices must be heard.
In societies where the importance of voice is not common or established there is no chance that the government represents the will of the people. Democracy is more than the sum of its necessary parts. Real democracy relies on the advance of a “democratic civic culture.” Diane Ravitch, former
Often people assume that these tendencies towards democracy are innate. That our creator endowed us with these habits in tacked and we need only summon them given the opportunity. Yet people struggle with minority rights, social and economic pluralism, and tolerance. Perhaps a more useful idea is that the yearning to be free and the exercise of liberty is innate and natural and democracy is how it is best practiced and protected. Democracy is something to be learned not called forth. One hopes to be a habitual user of democracy.
A habit implies repetition. Something must be done over and over or practice again and again for it to become second nature. As explained before the
The Madrid Conference on Terrorism, Democracy, Safety and Security in March of 2005 listed the internet, and certainly as an extension blogs, as “a foundation of democratic society in the 21st century, because the core values of the Internet and democracy are so closely aligned.” Global Voices Online details this alignment as follows:
· Both the Internet and Democracy codify humility -- which is the understanding that anyone may suggest a better way of doing things and have the opportunity to convince others.
· The Internet is fundamentally about openness, participation, and freedom of expression for all -- increasing the diversity and reach of information and ideas.
· The Internet empowers people to communicate and collaborate across borders and belief systems.
· The Internet unites families and cultures in diaspora; it connects people, helping them to form civil societies.
· The Internet can foster economic development by connecting people to information and markets.
· The Internet introduces new ideas and views to those who may be isolated and tempted to political violence.
· The Internet is neither above nor below the law. The same legal principles that apply in the physical world also apply to human activities conducted over the Internet.
As has been prodicted by both Thomas Jefferson and Andrei Sakharov blogs and the internet are bringing people closer. The world is flattening. Blogs are allowing us to discuss this situation. What stars would have had to align for the average person in South Carolina, USA to converse candidly about Islamic extremism with an average Egyptian in Cairo before the internet? Before blogs?
Blogs as Public Diplomacy
The earliest know use of the phrase “public diplomacy” was from the London Times in 1856. It was used to describe how then President Franken Pierce should act unto his own populace as he acted abroad; this is not really what it means today. Much later in April 1917, President Woodrow Wilson created the Committee on Public Information, designed to persuade the citizens of foreign nations of the decency of
During this time the Edward R. Murrow Center of Public Diplomacy was established and the Dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at
Public diplomacy… deals with the influence of public attitudes on the formation and execution of foreign policies. It encompasses dimensions of international relations beyond traditional diplomacy; the cultivation by governments of public opinion in other countries; the interaction of private groups and interests in one country with another; the reporting of foreign affairs and its impact on policy; communication between those whose job is communication, as diplomats and foreign correspondents; and the process of intercultural communications.
Public attitudes, international relations beyond traditional diplomacy, interaction of private groups, the reporting of foreign affairs, communication between those whose job it is to communicate and intercultural communications all deal directly with the concept of blogging and will be explored later on.
It is important to note that the term Public Diplomacy has a bit of a checkered past. Public Diplomacy was once considered to be propaganda. International Relations at the time had no concept that Public Diplomacy worked public-to-public rather than just nation-to-public. Parsing propaganda from Public Diplomacy can be done by the 2005 Edelman/Technorati study that suggests that bloggers believe “average people” are three times more trust worthy than authority figures. This leads us to explore briefly the idea that propaganda has come to reflect a negative connotation not found in its early meanings. It is a fine line easily traversed. Propaganda, as defined by Princeton Universities WordNet, is “information that is spread for the purpose of promoting some cause.” This seems harmless enough, but as described early in reference to “democracy” it is the context that matters. According to the
The definition of Public Diplomacy, it is fair to say, can include propaganda with its negative context in tow. As well, Public Diplomacy may also be described as the public conversation between two or more nation’s interested parties, which has some measurable effect on government policy, and it is this public-to-public meaning that is assumed throughout the rest of this work.
There are two types of Public Diplomacy. Direct Public Diplomacy is when interested parties actively try to influence policy. Indirect is when policy is influenced passively by actions taken for reasons other than policy change. A blogger that reports daily the travails of his or her country in hopes of drawing attention to them would be an example of direct Public Diplomacy. A blogger like Jordanian Roba al-Assi whose blog And Far Away is a collection of ruminations on everything from shoes to college exams is an example of indirect Public Diplomacy. Roba’s blog may still influence others by passively dispelling myths and stereotypes about Middle Eastern women without directly posting about such issues. Or it may bridge divides by showing common interests. Try this exercise and imagine a young woman in
Fuddruckers holds a lot of emotional significance for myself. There isn’t any other restaurant that my tastebuds know so well, not even the cliche, international flavors of MacDonald’s and Burger King. During our last 5 years in
She is not talking about
An example of direct Public Diplomacy is this exchange of views on the blog Yaba Yaba an Israeli blog:
I’ve been reading many Lebanese blogs. Much more than is good for my work, but then - I already admited I can’t really get any work done. I read them because I am want to know what is going on in Lebanon, what people are feeling, and frankly - I don’t trust the media.
And everywhere I go there are Israeli comments. Arguing, explaining, sympathising, provoking, apologizing. Now, I know we’re a vocal nation, but still - why are Israelis - some of them in shelters - so keen on reading and answering Lebanese bloggers?
And more then that, I wonder - what does a Lebanese feel when he sees 20 Israeli comments on his blog?..
Here someone from Lebanon comments.
Thank you for inviting me to write a comment on your blog.
You asked me to write on why we, Lebanese, see the conflict, and the israeli people in general.
Well, first of all, I only speak for myself.
I’ll be very brief in describing my point of view.
I am first of all very deeply saddened by all the civilian deaths on both sides. Nothing is worth on child’s life.
As for the reasons of the conflict, I am no fan on Hizbullah (HA). As nasrallah so nicely put it the other day, they “are fighting the war of the islamic nation, whether the lebanese want it or not”. .. Furthermore, I invite
Thank you yishaym, for giving the opportunity for the lebanese to express their thoughts on an israeli blog…
I don’t read many israeli blogs, I don’t know many addresses.
Thank you for the tip, will go pay this blog a visit.
Finally Yaba Yaba somes it up perfectly.
“You can’t shoot people in blogs. You have no choice but to talk. And listen. Judging by the cross commenting, Israelis and Lebanese want to hear each other, even when the message is hard.”
This direct exchange across battle lines is the essence of direct Public Diplomacy. This frank conversation cuts through the rhetoric and spin and asks those affected to comment.
Gullion’s definition as mentioned before when dissected describes not just Public Diplomacy but weblogs as well. Public attitudes; blogs if nothing else are the public display of inclinations and attitudes. International relations beyond traditional diplomacy; as cultures and societies become more interconnected and globalized and as the concept of Human Security trumps National Security what happens in countries thousands of miles away becomes much more visible and can have an effect on countries traditionally disaffected. Blogs are becoming the chronicle of record in many of the places that have state influenced media. Interaction of private groups; Non Governmental Organizations have seen the potential of a connected society, a society that blogs will play an increasingly important role in. The organization One Laptop Per Child has set the goal of providing a laptop for ever child in a developing country. The connectivity potential of this effort is staggering. The reporting of foreign affairs; as mentioned before, blogs have fast become the go to source for the pulse of a developing situation. Be it a conflict or social uprising blogs continue to provide real time information. Communication between those whose job it is to communicate and intercultural communications; the legacy media was at first slow to see the importance of blogs. Now most major media outlets use blogs as an off the cuff avenue for the traditional journalist to comment and report. In terms of intercultural communications, no medium has provided the connectivity that blogs have provided. It is now possible to participate in global conversations thousands of miles away with cultures and societies that you may never have the chance to meet with face to face, all done from the comfort of your desk or easy chair.
Blogs by themselves can be very powerful but together they can define a debate, characterize a war or hold a government accountable. They can even work to free a political prisoner. How is it that blogs can do these things? Blogs do not have special police powers or seats in a parliament. Blogs don’t have standing armies or militias. Yet blogs have influence. This influence is Soft Power.
According to the father of Soft Power Joseph Nye Jr. Soft Power is “the ability to get what you want by attracting and persuading others to adopt your goals.” Soft power is getting what you want by attraction rather than coercion. Thomas Jefferson said it thusly, “Not in [my] day, but at no distant one, we may shake a rod over the heads of all which may make the stoutest of them tremble. But I hope our wisdom will grow with our power and teach us that the less we use our power the greater it will be.” Soft power means the other guy looks at you and says “I want what works for you to work for me too, show me how you do it.” Hard power is saying “I have had enough and you will do this or face the consequences.” Blogs have Soft Power via Public Diplomacy. Blogs persuade via conversation and debate. Blogs persuade via credibility derived from numbers and equality derived from access. Every blog post is subject to an immediate fact check. Blogs have the potential to be fact checked hundreds if not thousands of times. Contrary views are only a click away.
Some say that blogs do not reach an appreciable amount of readers to effect serious change. Marc Lynch writing for Arab Media and Society disagrees and suggest that “the relatively small number of blog readers and participants might suggest a built-in ceiling for the political impact of Arab blogs. But volume might not be necessary for political influence. Since much of the new energy in Arab politics comes from relatively small groups of activists, a technology that empowers their efforts could have a disproportionate impact. Arab blogs are read by political activists, journalists, and politically influential elites (as well as foreign scholars and governments), and independent Arab newspapers increasingly cite blogs as sources for their stories. Thus, even a handful of creative, engaged, and effective political bloggers can make a dramatic difference.” Lynch relies on a quality over quantity estimate.
This attraction in essence lessens the perceived need for coercive means in the
Blogs have come a long way in a short time. The exponential growth of the internet and with it blogs ensures that any kind of prediction as to the state of the blogosphere and what its capabilities or tendencies will be is foolish. What is useful and popular now may be outdated and useless in a year’s time. It is safe to say that a seed has been planted. The habits of democracy have an opportunity to take root. Voices have a better chance today in the
Among bloggers and governments there are several steps that can be taken as a way to increase soft power and therefore decrease the perceived need for more coercive measures. Chief of which is the continued fight against censorship.
The best summation as to where the
Bloggers and the blogging community including sites like Technorati and itoot.net have an important role to play. New and innovative methods should be explored to promote disparate views from all over the region and the world. Sections of these websites should be dedicated to cross conflict blogging. Websites like Global Voices an organization that supports“bridge bloggers” or bloggers that discuss their region or country with a global audience are making significant strides in this direction. Bloggers need to keep their blogs open to different views by inviting guest bloggers from areas prone to censorship. By doing so they can contribute in a way that immortalizes censor-prone views so they can not be taken offline. Like Journalist Michael J. Totten’s Middle East Journal who has guest blogger Sand Monkey an Egyptian blogger in Cairo self describe as “cynical, snarky, pro-US, secular, libertarian, disgruntled” and further asks you to make a donation if you support “Neo-con American Right-wing Zionist Christian Imperialist Conspiracy in the Middle-east!”
Blogs are democratic by nature, each its own vote. Like all votes, by itself it is not very weighty but the aggregate of many like minded votes is powerful. Places like itoot.net network and sort thousands of Arab bloggers. Here one vote turns to many one voice joins many and attraction rather than coercion hold sway. The soft power of the Middle Eastern blog is in its infancy. As connectivity grows in that region so will the volume of the blog voice. Internet usage in the Middle East has grown 479% since 2000. Sadly that only represents a 10% penetration compared to 69% in North America and 38% in Europe. Optimistically that leaves room for growth. Realistically these statistics serve to further illustrate the great deficits of the Middle East. If the Middle East continues its current growth in internet usage and leverages it to become more of a participant in the global conversation then that is a true seed of democracy.
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Additional Sources Consulted and Frequented Blogs
Across the Bay http://beirut2bayside.blogspot.com/
A Heretics Blog http://amarji.blogspot.com/
Iraq the Model http://iraqthemodel.blogspot.com/
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 Gill, Kathy, E., (2004) How Can We Measure the Influence of the Blogosphere? Pg. 1.
As well, there is one notable exception;
 Merriam Webster does not have a definition for blogosphere. The best definition is found on Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blogosphere
 Blogger and LiveJournal are websites that provide free subscriptions for online journals or blogs and require only minimal familiarity with the internet in order to post.
 http://nahdetmasr.blogspot.com/2007/01/culture-of-hatred.html Retrieved
 It is important to note that the US State Department has put in place some plans to facilitate blogging and has actively lobbied for the release of jailed bloggers. On its website it chronicles the plight of jailed bloggers all over the world from its press release office page. As well the State Department has bloggers on staff that routinely engage Arabic language blogs to dispel myths and conspiracy theories. The State bloggers always identify themselves as such. More about this at: http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/80924.pdf
 CNN reporter admits Hezbollah “had control” of his news story. http://newsbusters.org/node/6552
 Geocities was one of the webs first “free” webpage creators now part of Yahoo. AltaVista was an early and popular search engine still in use today and BBS is short for Bulletin Board System and is a forerunner to blogs.
 Yaba Yaba http://yishaym.wordpress.com/2006/07/20/blog-people-blog/
 Yahoo News http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070309/ap_on_hi_te/turkey_youtube
 Open Net http://opennet.net/research/regions/mena
 Bitter Lemons http://www.bitterlemons-international.org/previous.php?opt=1&id=168
 Global Voices http://www.globalvoicesonline.org/top/about-global-voices/
 Michael J. Totten http://michaeltotten.com/