ECPR General Conference
Universitetet i Oslo, Oslo
6 - 9 September 2017




#Islamisation: A Brief History of an Imaginary Present

Extremism
 
Internet
 
Islam
 
Political Sociology
 
Populism
 
Presenter
Hugo Leal
University of Cambridge
Authors
Hugo Leal
University of Cambridge

Abstract
This paper intents to outline the history of an imaginary present, the idea that “Western Civilization” is undergoing a process of Islamisation, which uses mass migration as deployment mechanism. More specifically, I will trace the evolution of #Islamisation, the online incarnation of this increasingly shared and spread conspiracy theory, and provide some clues about its connection with the emergence of populism and extremism in Europe and the United States.
The internet became the centre stage for the advancement of conspiratorial modes of thought and there is an apparent lack of understanding about the way network effects contribute to the rise and fall of conspiracy theories, populism and extremism. Like small plot devices in a larger narrative, certain rumours or fringe conspiracy theories can be fundamental to understand the backdrop against which the current political scene unfolds. This is particularly acute in a media ecosystem where online social networking plays a central role in the way information flows and public opinion is formed.
Research on online communities has consistently stressed their polarised nature. On the one side, this is just an expression of an identified tendency for like-minded people to clump. The flip side of clustering is segregation. Political, religious or racial segregation is not only a defining characteristic of the online communities, but a general social trend.
Social media networks reproduce this sect-like pattern (Guerra, Meira Jr, Cardie, & Kleinberg, 2013). Web platforms, like Facebook or Twitter, show a great deal of polarisation and clustering (Bakshy, Messing, & Adamic, 2015; Conover et al., 2011). This online entrenchment takes the shape of “echo-chambers” (Sunstein, 2009, p. 44), spaces marked by the internal reproduction of ideas and opinion reinforcement. Conspiracy theories are a typical by-product of echo-chambers. Highly shared and minimally challenged ideas tend to thrive and resonate throughout a traditionally bounded space inhabited by like-minded individuals eager to sanction their worldviews. When challenged by outsiders, conspiracy pedlars tend to shut down from the world and entrench. However, in the last years, some echo-chambers seem to have gained access to a wider audience and their signals are now being received beyond the limits of the self-secluded clusters. This seeming transition from entrenchment to encroachment is a new phenomenon in world politics.
The analysis of the #Islamisation conspiracy theory will show how echo-chambers are resonating beyond their formerly bounded limits through network dynamics. At the same time, it will demonstrates that #Islamisation is a conspiracy theory with a clear political intent. In this sense, it allows us to trace the connections between conspiracy theories, populism and extremism.
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