by Mohamedarif Suleman (Dar es Salaam, Tanzania)
Let us first start with the definition of the title – a poisoned chalice is something that seems attractive at first but becomes unpleasant (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/poisoned%20chalice). Another definition from https://www.oxfordreference.com is An assignment, award, or honour likely to prove a disadvantage or source of problems to the recipient; the phrase is found originally in Shakespeare’s Macbeth (1606), in a speech in which Macbeth flinches from the prospective murder of Duncan.
So what is this attractive thing that pulls us towards it all the time, but can prove to be a huge problem to our society in the end, in spite of its so many other positives? You guessed it right – the Internet. Successive generations have been gradually introduced to this most amazing tool with such fantastic uses. For instance, my generation could have been introduced to the first gadgets in the early teens, when our parents had crossed their 40s. But because they had already become part of my life, they came in earlier in my children’s lives.
In 2020, 71 percent of the world’s youth (aged between 15 and 24 years) were using the Internet, compared with 57 percent of the other age groups. On the global scale, young people were thus 1.24 times more likely to connect than the rest of the population. In developed countries, where 90 percent of the population is already online, the ratio was small (1.14). In developing countries, the difference stood at 1.32, and in the LDCs it reached 1.53, as 34 percent of young people were connected compared with only 22 percent of the rest of the population. For Africa, the ratio was 1.47, and for the Asia-Pacific region, it was 1.35. The greater uptake among young people bodes well for connectivity in areas where the demographic profile is skewed towards youth, such as the LDCs, where half of the population is less than 20 years old. It means that the workforce will become more connected and technology-savvy as the young generation joins its ranks. This in turn could improve the development prospects of these regions. (Source: International Telecommunication Union (ITU) – The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is the United Nations specialized agency for information and communication technologies)
Considering how the internet and the tools that depend on them are so vital today and also help us in our collective advancement, it simultaneously poses a stark threat. For one, the direct link between children in this generation and the makers of world agendas that drive our lives. Today’s teenager does not have to wait for an elder’s opinion before forming his or her own based on the drummed up messaging that he or she encounters on a regular basis. In many cases, this can be beneficial, especially in matters of education and learning. But as the English say, the proof is in the pudding, or more appropriately, the devil is in the details.
The entertainment industry has long been used by the kingmakers to carve fresh narratives about many political, economical, social, and religious issues. This reminds me of the early readings I had as a Fresher of how Multi-National Corporations (MNCs) become the emissaries of their home country to transmit a change in lifestyle by affecting host nation cultures. This could be through apparel, food, or simply etiquette and values. So, in a nutshell, for instance, the McDonalds and the Cokes of the world helped transform how people eat – on the go, fast. There are several other examples covering all aspects of life.
Movies and entertainment content are today not confined to family movie nights over weekends but are actually available on-demand, and a careful, closer inspection of this will reveal that the salient message of trying to ‘sanitise’ the world social order, is to repeatedly pass the same-sex union message, portrayed by the darlings of many young people, thus counting for something.
In an interesting piece by the UK-based Scholars Strategy Network, the report entitled ‘How the Media Has Helped Change Public Views about Lesbian and Gay People’, Phillip Ayoub and Jeremiah Garretson contend thus ‘In the United States and beyond, few shifts in public opinion have been as rapid and widespread as attitudes about lesbian women and gay men. In our recent work, we explore how the media has contributed to this major change. Our research shows that the media can play a transnational role in shaping political attitudes towards sexuality and minorities in general, especially affecting the views of more impressionable, younger individuals.‘ The report is in reality advocating for the positive role media is playing in all of this, it goes on to say, ‘Information that flows through media – via television, movies, music, books and many other channels – encourages contact and communication between groups and even across national boundaries. Gordon Allport, an influential psychologist, is often cited in scholarly research for his contact thesis – which, put simply, says that under the right conditions, interpersonal contact is one of the best ways to reduce prejudice between majority and minority groups. Building on this idea, we argue that “imagined contact” even with characters in a TV show can change perceptions of outgroups. The central question driving our study is: Does the specific nature and context of a nation’s media influence attitudes towards homosexuality?‘
Now, where does that leave us as a Muslim society – a society that is spread across the globe, in environments that have open-air sexual gestures, discussions, and representations, and in societies that actively repress these same things. The new generation is forming their own opinion regardless, the deeper question is how well equipped are we to train our children to cope with this open enemy that contravenes our religious edicts? Do our leaders have the long-sightedness to incorporate these matters into our communal manifesto? Do our eminent scholars have a plan for protecting us from this malaise? Or are we still deeply stuck somewhere in history and are now inept to deal with present circumstances?