The BBC weighs in the contestants in a heavyweight social media boxing match between the “e-Muftis” of Jordan and Internet-savvy Islamist radicals:
In one corner, there’s the religious establishment of a global faith – complete with 1,400 years of collected learning. In the other, there is the self-styled Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL/IS) and its daily dose of propaganda videos flooding the Internet. Have traditional clerics got what it takes to be heard in this digital culture war?
It is clear the radicals currently hold the social media championship belt. “Even if every Muslim scholar in the world constantly tweeted against IS, young Muslims on social media could simply turn their backs and carry on reading IS’s output,” says the BBC. “But Jordan’s e-Muftis are among those beginning, slowly, to put up a fight online.”
The first round of the online slugfest took place in jihadi forums, where the e-Muftis argued with ISIS fanatics over whether the hideous immolation of captive Jordanian pilot Mu’ath al-Kaseasbeh was justified under Islamic law.
The Grand Mufti of Jordan, Abdul Karim Khasawneh, did not seem to fully grasp the urgency of competing for hearts and minds online, dismissively asserting that “the young generation have more power to do this than the older one.”
However, BBC correspondent Dominic Casciani was favorably surprised to find a “growing electronic department” staffed by “young scholars” equipped with PCs and smartphones above the Grand Mufti’s office, already staking out turf for “traditional Islam” on Facebook and Twitter, with an eye toward establishing a presence on every social media platform used by ISIS and their ilk.
“These are the means through which the world communicates nowadays,” said one of those young scholars, Dr. Jamil Abu Sarah. “Many years ago, if we wanted to publish a ruling, we would print 2,000 copies and spread them, give them out to people. But now we can reach 100,000. Our audience is international. We are introducing translations of these fatwas – we’ve started with English.”
It’s a bit odd hearing the muftis talk as if the immense social media presence of Islamist radicals is a new threat they are only slowly awakening to. The hour is late for the e-muftis to “begin, slowly, to put up a fight online,” as the BBC puts it.
And the Jordanian government can afford to field a much larger and more effective operation. The Saudis certainly can. The BBC mentions the Saudis’ “anti-Islamic State” TV campaign last year, in which “scholars took questions on phone-in shows and they even had a stab at hashtags.” Zillionaire oil plutocrats can afford a lot more than a few Dial-a-Cleric telethons and a stab at hashtags.