You’ve seen their mugshots: A Nigerian charged with trying to blow up a plane on Christmas Day; five young American Muslims detained in Pakistan, apparently desperately seeking jihad.
You’ve heard they went online in search of radical imams ready to recruit every Muslim within a foot of an Internet connection.
I bet you haven’t heard of these mugshots: Iranian men in chadors and headscarves.
As part of the “Men in Headscarves” campaign, Iranian men have been posting pictures of themselves wearing the head and body coverings the Iranian regime imposes on women. Their pictures have spread on Facebook and YouTube in support of Iranian student activist Majid Tavakoli.
Authorities arrested Tavakoli in December after he called for more democracy and urged students to reject “tyranny.” The next day, government newspapers published pictures of Tavakoli dressed in a chador and claimed he had tried to escape arrest disguised as a woman.
Yes, violent radical groups such as al-Qaida and others have used the Internet to their advantage. That is not new.
But what is new is how young Muslims around the world have been using the Internet to challenge authority. Their exciting work is overshadowed by news of angry, young Muslims online.
Do you know of the Egyptian blogger who helped convict police officers for the sodomy of a bus driver by posting footage of the crime on YouTube? How about the female Saudi blogger who challenges her country’s restrictions on women (she is married to a former officer of the morality police, who often enforce those restrictions).
Pick up Gary Bunt’s iMuslims: Rewiring the House of Islam and learn that for every online al-Qaida recruiter there are thousands more Muslims reforming Islam online. Interpretations and commentaries on the Qur’an fill the Internet and recreate the vibrant intellectual atmosphere that many Muslims lament we’d long ago lost.
I see it every day on Facebook, where I have almost 5,000 friends. We argue over everything from polygamy and burqas, to being gay and Muslim. You rarely see such diverse opinions in news reports on Muslims.
Twitter is just as vibrant. An American Muslim I follow summed up the sentiments of many towards those five young American Muslims: “I say we welcome these kids home from Pakistan with a swift kick in the ass. Who’s with me?”
The Internet deals a blow to radical groups by giving anyone online the chance to answer back. For every Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, there are dozens of Iranian men taunting the regime that runs the Islamic Republic of Iran.