Digital Rebels Islamists, Social Media, and the New Democracy Haroon Ullah

Publication date:
06 Feb 2018
Yale University Press
304 pages: 216 x 140mm
12 b-w illus.


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A lively, up-to-date investigation of the expanding influence of social media in the Islamic world

The role of social media in the events of the Arab Spring and its aftermath in the Muslim world has stimulated much debate, yet little in the way of useful insight. Now Haroon Ullah, a scholar and diplomat with deep knowledge of politics and societies in the Middle East, South Asia, and Southeast Asia, draws the first clear picture of the unprecedented impact of Twitter, Facebook, and other means of online communication on the recent revolutions that blazed across Muslim nations.
The author carefully analyzes the growth of social media throughout the Muslim world, tracing how various organizations learned to employ such digital tools to grow networks, recruit volunteers, and disseminate messages. In Egypt, where young people rose against the regime; in Pakistan, where the youth fought against the intelligence and military establishments; and in Syria, where underground Islamists had to switch alliances, digital communications played key roles. Ullah demonstrates how social media have profoundly changed relationships between regimes and voters, though not always for the better. Looking forward he identifies trends across the Muslim world and the implications of these for regional and international politics.

Haroon Ullah, a member of Secretary of State John Kerry’s policy planning staff at the U.S. State Department, focuses on public diplomacy and countering violent extremism. His previous books include Vying for Allah’s Vote and Bargain from the Bazaar. He lives in Washington, D.C.

“In view of recent events, Digital Rebels makes an unquestionably timely and valuable contribution. The geographical breadth of the author’s discussion is matched by his analysis of a wide variety of online platforms and techniques employed by many different Islamist organizations (both moderate and extremist) in their efforts to recruit followers and disseminate their messages. The book is equally insightful on the transnational implications of the use of social media by Islamist organizations—how it contributes to the dissemination of an Islamist message (in its different versions) across national borders and how it can accelerate the process of radicalization in the contemporary world where, thanks in part to social media, ‘national borders no longer matter.’ The overall picture of a cyber-savvy community of discourse whose adept use of social media is inherently radicalizing is an ominous one.”—James P. Jankowski, author of Egypt: A Short HIstory

"Ullah brings the expertise of a scholar with first-hand knowledge . . . and the perspective on US policy of a diplomat who was a member the late Richard Holbrooke's 'AfPak' team. The result is authoritative, insightful, and timely."—Strobe Talbott, President, The Brookings Institution, on Vying for Allah's Vote