Saturday, April 18, 2009

Follow-up: Researching Islamic Cyber Environments & Visual Media

Some brief, refined thoughts on my last several posts, and my project, The Art of the Martyr & Mujahid:

I gave a 15-minute conference-style presentation on my project last night in a seminar I'm taking. I received mixed reviews. Some thought the topic "dark." Although I agree it is "dark," I do not think this is a useful category or reason to not research a topic. Some of the other Muslim students seemed (to me, and I could be wrong) uneasy with the topic because it presented "Islam" and "Muslims" in a bad light. I have the same concerns. I fear particularly that the visual media I've found will overwhelm any contextualization of my written analysis, because of the power of images. Many of the images also fulfill Islamaphobic and Orientalist stereotypes, i.e. "Islam" as a "terrorist" religion. In some ways, it almost seems like "Orientalism" by a segment of the "Orientals" (particularly with regard to the al-Qa'ida images).

On the other hand, however, I strongly believe that it is a legitimate research project. My goals are also to dispell the idea that Hizbullah/HAMAS (nation-state centered groups with specific territorial interests)=al-Qa'ida (a transnational group without geographical restrictions to its ideology)...I think that their visual media shows otherwise. The former two are concerned with a specific geographical location, their nation-state (or potential nation-state), and Jerusalem as a Muslim holy city. Al-Qa'ida and its affiliates are not confined to a specific geographical project. Rather, the images I've found suggest that theirs is much more a "pan-Islamic" ideological war, defined by their own radicalism, a war that has been sanctified by their leaders and supportive theologians.

The issue of "authencity" of the web sources was raised, which I had already thought about and mentioned. This is legitimate, but much of the visual media is easily "reproduceable" on the ground in Shi'i parts of Lebanon or Palestine, as I know personally. The al-Qa'ida stuff may be a bit harder to reproduce, i.e. obtaining similar visual media "in the field," but I have seen photos of similar images around parts of the Muslim world. Also, the sub-field of "jihadi" studies, and even other sub-fields within Islamic and Middle Eastern/North African studies generally accept the "authenticity" of certain web sites, particularly official ones run by groups and major online discussion forums.

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