Facebook reflects struggle over Islam’s role

In the Middle East, the devout and the secular are duking it out online. But does one side hear the other?
By Jeffrey Fleishman, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
September 19, 2008
CAIRO — His fingers tapping like a tiny army over laptop keys, Waleed Korayem, a university student who quotes Einstein and Voltaire, skims the Internet in a noisy cafe and opens his Facebook group, the one that drives Islamists into fits of rage: Yeah, We Are Seculars and We Are Proud.

It’s hot and he is sweating, clicking through cyberspace venom and passionate screeds of Muslims debating Islam and democracy in the Middle East. Some of it is playful, some of it mean, but beyond the aliases and funny log-on names, this electronic parallel world has given young Muslims a voice beyond their mosques and repressive governments.

“This is not just a technical war, but a moral one. Facebook is reflecting what’s happening in Muslim society,” Korayem said. “I’m engaged in dialogue between Islamists and secularists. But there’s too much tension. No one wants to revise his opinions. It’s turned into a screaming war. Islamists speak to me as a disbeliever. They want to convert me. They quote verses of the Koran as if to awaken me.”

The struggle is over Islam’s role in the new century. Facebook groups like Korayem’s seek separation between the spiritual and the political. Conservative pages and groups call for Islamic states and a pulling away from liberal Western influences.

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