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Web Watch: Hatred will drive people into online Ghettos

Web Watch: Hatred will drive people into online Ghettos

Imagine British Telecom allowed people to call you up and spew religious hatred down the phone. Imagine all your pals received the same phone calls. No-one would blame you for switching to O2, even if the service was nowhere near as good. In the age of social networking, the methods have moved away from crank calling, but the impact has proved much more severe.

Muslims all around the world are furious with Facebook after a string of anti-Islamic pages and campaigns. The notorious Draw Muhammad Day cast the first stone, daring artists all over the world to depict Muhammad – a cardinal sin in Islam – as a protest against the Danish cartoon controversy. Another page started up recently advertising Burn A Quran Day, which is set to take place on September 11 outside a Florida church. More than 6000 people have already pledged their support for this inflammatory and divisive day of hate. In contrast, a rival campaign called Burn A Bible Day boasts barely 50 supporters. These antagonistic pages are only the tip of an ugly and Islamophobic attitude surging through Facebook and other social networking sites.

Unsurprisingly, Muslims are starting to vote with their mouses and click somewhere else. Pakistan actually shut off access to Facebook after the first Draw Muhammad Day, though it was only a temporary solution. More than 2.5 million Muslims using Facebook threatened to leave the site after it took down four popular Islamic pages, claiming they were being used to send spam – the sort of junk mail that plagues the internet. Now several Muslim-only social networking sites have started up. The first was a site called MillatFacebook which aimed to “unite Over 1.57 billion Muslims and peaceful people from other religions”. Although 333,000 people signed up in the first few weeks, it has been dogged with problems, mostly because it is very clunky and badly designed.

Last week The Muslim Brotherhood, an international Islamist group, started its own Facebook clone – which is likely to be far less benign. The Brotherhood is in opposition in Egypt and cannot get on the TV, so its interest in a social networking site is clear. Yet its links to violent groups have been asserted over and over. If angry young Muslims leave Facebook and sign up here, the risk of cyber-indoctrination seems far greater.

All the social networking Islamophobes complain a strain of Islamic supremacism is attacking the Western world, bent on putting up mosques near Ground Zero and killing critical blasphemous filmmakers in a mission to stifle any opposition to Sharia law. Of course, this is true of a tiny small minority within the Muslim world. By offending moderates and driving them into online ghettos, what chance is there of reaching some sort of cultural detente? The internet cherishes freedom of expression, but this should not come at the cost of driving yet another wedge between communities.