Internet and Revolution talk Jan. 24

Jan 09, 2013

Camden — How is technology — with its ever-expanding array of cell phones, text messages, CDs, flash drives, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, and Skype — affecting the so-called “Arab Spring”?

Join Professor Paul Holman for his talk: Internet and Revolution on Thursday, Jan. 24 at the Camden Public Library. The event runs from 7 to 8:30 p.m. and is free and open to all.

This political upheaval has now lasted for over a year, and its lessons are important. Some are negative. Communications technology — in and of itself — did not cause the fall of Arab dictators in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya. This is not the first time that the Middle East has experienced such a wave of inter-connected revolutions, and their success is in no way guaranteed. Secular parties now compete for power against Islamists, policemen, soldiers, and holdovers from the old regimes, creating new governments whose agendas often worry both Americans and the many allies in the region.

Even so, there are some positive and exciting lessons about the impact of the Internet on the Middle East. At first, millions of young Arabs went online to communicate with their friends, to download music, and to taste the fruits of world culture. However, by the very nature of this medium they began to realize that masses of their fellow citizens shared their desire to achieve human dignity, create more jobs, and overthrow corrupt regimes. Many suffered for their actions, during the demonstrations and the conflicts of 2010-2012, and they will not soon forget what they have accomplished. They feel empowered for the first time to take a direct part in politics. They are comparing notes with their peers in other countries — such as Morocco and Jordan — which have responded to the upheaval by undertaking modest reforms of their own.

Unfortunately, anti-Western extremists such as Al Qaeda and Hezbollah are adept at using the Internet for their own purposes, while dictatorial regimes are working hard to stop the “Arab Spring.” Syria and non-Arab Iran, for example, have tried to control the Internet by learning from China, Russia, and Cuba. Dissidents are tracked online because their channels of communication are few and recordable. If they log in at Internet cafes, their messages are monitored. Participants in anti-regime Web sites have been physically harassed and arrested.

The lecture will address all of these issues, stressing the opportunities and challenges presented by the Internet, as well as the threats to American interests in the Middle East. It will conclude by reflecting on how American foreign policy can respond to these events and what individual citizens may do.

Holman is a visiting professor of International Relations for the University of Maine in Orono, serving concurrently as an adjunct professor at the Naval War College. He co-edited a number of books including the multi-volume series "Fundamentals of Force Planning, and Ethnic Nationalism and Regional Conflict."

Co-sponsored by the Camden Public Library, this presentation is offered as a free community event in anticipation of the 26th Annual Camden Conference: The Middle East: What Next?, Feb. 22-24, live from the Camden Opera House and streamed to satellite venues: Hutchinson Center in Belfast, The Strand Theatre in Rockland, and The Grand in Ellsworth.

For more information visit the website at, email or call 236-1034.

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