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Digital Diplomacy: Understanding Islam through Virtual Worlds

By Joshua S. Fouts, Rita J. King | Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, Dancing Ink Productions | February 2, 2009

The Understanding Islam through Virtual Worlds project explored how the Internet can lead to a greater firsthand understanding of Islam for policymakers, diplomats, and people worldwide, and how the Internet allows people to experience the culture of Islam in a manner conducive to substantive dialog between cultures.

The conclusions presented in this report are the result of nearly a year of research across the Internet, which we consider to be one virtual world fed by countless websites. We have no illusions that radical Islamists are going to reverse course because Second Life has appeared. However, as part of a broader public diplomacy strategy, engaging and interacting with people in virtual worlds who self-identify as Muslim can contribute to a well-developed and inclusive perspective on religion, society, and democratic coexistence, which serves to undermine conditions that can lead to radical views and violent actions.

Our findings do not recommend replacing physical world activities with virtual ones, but rather supplementing the critical experiential element that is found so richly in exchange programs and sponsored professional visits. We can draw on the art, creativity, and interaction of individuals in the virtual world and take what they've learned into the physical world.

Government has a key role to play in this, but only if it understands that communication paradigms have changed. We recommend expansion and empowerment of digital diplomacy efforts, and augmentation of exchange programs by adding a virtual component.

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