New Media Contributes Deterritorialized Nationalism Among Diaspora, says Janroj Yilmaz Keles

New Media Contributes Deterritorialized Nationalism Among Diaspora, says Janroj Yilmaz Keles

Dr Janroj Yilmaz Keles believes that new media has become a critical tool in facilitating cross-national digital participation and also in the flow of knowledge, information, providing multiple supports and imparting a sense of belonging, sociability and constructed identities to diasporic population. In an email interview, Dr Keles deliberated on various issues related to new media and diaspora in an interview with Vijay Soni, Member GRFDT. Excerpts from the interview:

 

You have done some of the pioneering works in the field of media and diaspora. How has New Media played a transforming role in the lives of diasporic population?

In sociology of migration, the concept of “diaspora” and “transnationalism” have been deployed to understand the major population movements including all forms of dispersed peoples and later labour migration and the complex process of the reproduction, maintenance and negotiation of diasporic cultural, linguistic and political identities, networks/activities amongst and between diasporas and settlement societies as well as across the boundaries and borders of the multiple nation-states.

Historically, diasporas have communicated with their homeland through the exchanged of letters, telephone and visiting their homeland at some point. Until the 80s, the diaspora population consumed only print media and the TV programs of their country of settlement where they have either been ignored, stereotyped and categorized as a separate group, as opposed to the nationally defined hegemonic discourse ‘us’ in the countries of settlement. Video from the homeland entered into migrants’ lives in the 1980s. But the turning point came in the late ‘80s and ‘90s, when, cable television production, transnational satellite TV, the internet and digital technologies inter-connected people from different geopolitical spaces and took them virtually ‘home'. The Internet and its applications such as social media have also revolutionized the way migrants communicate transnationally.

The rapid development of communication and transport technologies have led to wider opportunity and possibilities for people from a migration background to be part of cultural, political, civic and economic activities transnationally. The new media has become crucial tool in facilitating cross-national digital participation and inclusion through new and innovative virtual networks that contribute to the interpersonal ties, which provide exchange, flows of knowledge, information, multiple supports, sense of belonging, sociability and constructed identities

Today, the interactivity within diasporic groups encompasses the spaces they live in and the spaces they imagine as their homeland through real transnational and virtual networks. These new multi-connected, multi-referential online relationships;

 

1. Contribute to reviving of strong diasporic identities in the countries where diaspora communities have settled and built strong political, economic and cultural spaces e.g. Sikh diaspora in Canada, Armenian diaspora in the U.S and France, Kurdish diaspora in Germany. Historically, certain diasporas particularly displaced diasporas have a strong ethnic identity and political affiliation and attachment to their imagined homeland because of the collective trauma of displacement, memory, loss, longing for the return to the real or imagined and mediated homeland. These diasporas use communication technologies, particularly the internet for re-imagining their own communalities, constructing a sense of community, belonging and solidarity among themselves. This process has led to the development of strong diasporic and new ethnic identities in the settlement countries. These virtual networks also enable Diasporas to share their resources and accumulate social capital and mobilize individuals and communities for social, economic and political benefits among themselves in their settlement country. In this context, the Internet facilitates digital bonding and bridge social and economic capital for the Diasporas.

2. Provide virtual spaces for the struggle of geographically displaced diasporas to create political awareness for the ethnic recognition in their settlement countries and campaign for certain political aspirations and projects e.g. the Kurdish, Palestinian and Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora and their transnational political mobilizations for an independent homeland. The diasporic political mobilization is often organized through media particularly through social media and mobile phones. In this context, the Internet has become an institution for the stateless Diasporas to develop and disseminate their language, culture, and sense of belonging and political aspiration.

3. Contribute to the development of the social cohesion and multi-culturalism in the settlement countries. Diasporas are not the passive audience or "victims" but they are able to create media content (ideas and opinions) and influence public spheres in their settlement countries through their interactivity via media, particularly new media. The new media facilitates spaces for diasporas to negotiate with the dominant mainstream society and culture. This negotiation of cultural differences leads to the formation of strong translocal, glocalized, hybrid, cosmopolitan cultures and identities and social relations among differently racialized and ethnicized people in the settlement countries.

4. Facilitate new conversation between movers (diasporas) and stayers (people at the homeland). Because the Internet has changed the nature of ‘relationships’, compressing time and space as it removes the distance between “thereness” and “hereness”. It has connected people from different political and geographical spaces and created virtual conversations, which have led to the emergence of the deterritorialized and virtual social networks, or virtual digital public spaces, which make possible for diasporas to sustain a strong connectedness with their homeland. This connectedness influences the pathways of diasporas and their hope to return to their homeland and/or invest in their homeland e.g. investment of Sikh diaspora in the Punjab state of India or the return migration of highly skilled Kurds from Europe to Kurdistan-Iraq to participate in re-construction process of the de-facto Kurdish state.

5. Play a crucial role in the well being of people and that virtual connectedness prevents isolation of diasporic individuals; it enables Diasporas who miss their friends and family to establish contact and it is particularly important for individuals unable to visit their homeland or families because of the repressive and oppressive government in the homeland. So the new media removes the geographical and political barriers that have prevented geographically displaced diaspora from returning to their homeland and allow them to keep in regular contact with their co-ethnic group, religious community or family, and friends in the homeland.

Do you think that New Media has helped in strengthening the feeling of nationalism amongst the Diaspora?

The new communication technologies contribute to a new form of deterritorialized nationalism in the age of globalization. This form of nationalism can be witnessed among the diaspora during periods of extraordinary times in the homeland. e.g. if there is an ethno-national conflict in the homeland or if a dictator tries to take absolute power and persecute  the critical voices in the homeland and in diaspora e.g. the mediated nationalistic discourse of the current president of Turkey, Mr. Erdogan, who attempts to mobilize his nationalist and conservative supporters in Europe against the critical voices who were forced to leave Turkey to exile. The discourse of banal nationalism is used in pro-Turkish government newspapers, TV stations and the social media to mobilize some nationalist and conservative Turkish migrant groups. However, we should not forget that diasporas have access to the multiple sources and they are usually informed by their ethnic media as well as by the media of their settlement countries. Therefore, it is not easy for the nationalists from the homeland to influence the diasporas through nationalistic ideas, discourses, and images.

 

Ethnic identity is an important aspect of diaspora's life. How has it been impacted by the digital media?

The denied, subordinated and suppressed ethnic identities by the dominant ethno-centric nation-states in their homeland have been revived in the diaspora. For example, the modern Kurdish language has been developed by the Kurdish diaspora in Sweden. Digital media has connected the diasporas around the world and acts as an institution for the ethnic groups who are subordinated in their ancient homeland. In this context, the digital media has challenged the state policies, discourses, and practices that deny and/or suppress the subordinated ethnic groups in their homeland and made the state policies, discourses, and practices meaningless. The Turkish Constitution banned the use of the Kurdish language in public in the 80s. However, satellite broadcasting, the Internet and desktop publishing by the Kurdish diaspora in Europe has made Turkish law on Kurdish identity and language meaningless. As a result of this, the Turkish government has decided to broadcast in the Kurdish language to “protect interests” of Turkish state in Turkey/Northern Kurdistan

 

Do think that religious identities and ethnic disparity of Diaspora brings them in indirect conflict with the people of the host countries?

It depends on the host countries’ policies of incorporating ethnic and religious minorities into political and cultural participation and the labour market. For example, the Swedish government incorporated state-funded migrant associations as part of the decision-making process and considered them as social agencies with rights and obligations until the 90s. They were expected to reproduce their ethnic culture and provided help, advice to migrants to integrate them into majority society. However, this 'Swedish model' has increasingly been blamed by the far rights groups for creating ‘cultural differences’, ‘segregation’, ‘isolation’ and hindering migrants’ integration into Swedish majority society. Therefore, Swedish government policies moved from seeing migrants as part of a collective corporate identity to treating them as individuals, focusing instead on anti-discrimination legislation and integration, for example the 2003 Act to deal with discrimination at work, education and in society.

The concept of multi-culturalism is the British or Canadian governments' policies. So the multi-ethnic, multi-faith, multi-linguistic and multi-cultural aspects are part of the globalized and liberal countries. 

 

In recent years, there has been anti-immigrant feeling in some of the countries. Online social media fuels much of these conflicts. Do you agree?

Yes, I do agree that online social media plays a crucial role in shaping hostile political and policy discourses concerning migrants. Online social media discourse uses a certain and identical narrative structure and a range of hostile linguistic and visual characteristics to paint a misleading picture of migrants, particularly refugees and asylum seekers. The various research found that the themes with which migrants regularly collocates are, for example, “floods,” “invasion,” “criminality,” “drugs crime”, “crisis”, “chaos”, “criminals”, “foreigners” and “illegal migrants” as threat to social cohesion.  

Using the statements of the extremists and far rights’ politicians concerning migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers, social media disseminates negative and hostile tendencies in tone and content and has served only to exacerbate public anxiety. It has been propagated in media, particularly social media in the UK, Germany, Sweden and other countries that the majority of society are “concerned”, “angry”, “alarmed” about the “mass immigration" and blames governments for “loss of control of the borders.” However, media ignore the fact that a remarkable portion of ordinary people in Western countries has actively joined in the “refugees welcome” campaigns to help refugees and asylum seekers in 2015 and 2016. Moreover, they ignore the fact that without the work of migrants, certain sector such as health, food, IT and education will collapse. Far Rights groups have effectively used social media to disseminate their racist discourses and hate speech against migrants in many Western countries. These groups use particularly online social media to escape from a potential prosecution in some countries where the law forbids incitement of violence on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or religion.

 

Do you think the social media has become dysfunctional in maintaining social order?

No, I do not agree. The Internet is under the control of the governments and the conglomerate capitalists who have control over communications, culture and social order. Yes, the new communications technology demonstrated a liberating potential for those whose identities were denied and for those who are subordinated, marginalized and excluded from the participation in governance process in their country.  The impact of the Internet, especially social media on the growth of online activism among young people has been widely discussed.

In recent years, particularly in the context of the Arab Spring, 2011 Occupy Wall Street movements, the 2014 Occupy Central protests in Hong Kong shows that social media plays an important role in facilitating people's social and political participation, their collective activisms through political movements, protests and forming an opinion. The Internet has made the mobilization of people possible for various issues in many countries. In this sense, social media becomes a hub for performing a new citizenry, constructing and expressing individual and collective identities, political opinion and positions, belonging and solidarity but simultaneously these issues are also constantly negotiated.

Virtual spaces may have a liberating potential, a new form of digital participatory citizenry and interaction between differently socialized, racialized and ethnicized people. However, it is important to mention that the information and services offered by these virtual communities are mainly consumed by those who are computer literate. Computer illiterate people become increasingly “information-poor” and are therefore confronted with exclusion and inequality. The differences in skills for utilizing the Internet are due to age, gender, ethnicity, poverty etc. This phenomenon is defined as the “digital divide” between “those in possession of the information globe and those that are not”. The digital divide is related to poverty. Those who are computer illiterate and lack English language knowledge have problems accessing the Internet and using certain software programs to create content. They have difficulty in accessing information and digitalized governmental services and even economic resources, e.g. they may be unable to fill in job applications etc.  On the other hand, having access to Internet-based information from multiple sources can give political and social status to certain individuals within the small but politically as well as economically active groups.

To sum up, the Internet provides opportunities to people for multiple issues but governments use their power to monitor all the Internet traffic and prevent any dysfunctionality. The governments have been criticized for increasing surveillance of citizens that are leading to the restriction of political and personal freedoms of the citizens.

___________

Dr Janroj Yilmaz Keles wears many a hat when it comes to research on path-breaking and emerging subjects like impact of new media on diaspora, digital identities, nationality and social networking. A Research Fellow at the Department of Leadership, Work and Organisations at Middlesex University, Dr Keles has worked extensively on Iraqi –Kurdish people living in the UK. His book Media, Diaspora and Conflict is highly acclaimed. He is currently working on transnational mobility and digital social networking, which is funded by the British Institute for the Study of Iraq.
He may be contacted at Email:
J.Keles@mdx.ac.uk

 

Interview by Vijay Soni, Ph.D. Scholar, School of Interdisciplinary and Trans-disciplinary Studies, IGNOU. Email: veejay.soni@gmail.com

 



Interview Date:   Tuesday, Aug 01, 2017
Person Name:   Janroj Yilmaz Keles

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