Bye Bye, Islam! How the Virtual Space Enhances Anti-Muslim Campaigning
Shoot a mosque and you will earn 2000 points, shoot a Muslim calling for prayer and you are another 1000 points ahead! What sounds like a mere disaster in terms of religious intolerance can now be seen online with the “Bye Bye Mosque” game, published by the Austrian right-wing Freedom Party (Freiheitliche Partei Österreich) in the Austrian federal state of Styria. Ever since its release last week, this campaign provoked public outrage and debates about the far-right uninhibitedly spreading religious hatred in the country and its never ending campaigning against Islam.
Right before the parliamentary elections, this shooting-range game invites its players to virtually stop the building of minarets and mosques in order to safe the environment from the invasion of Islam. Within one minute, the player collects points by targeting minarets and mosques before they can come into being. Once the buildings are shot down, the player is given more time to shoot Muslim muezzins (the people who are in charge of calling for prayer). At the very end of the game, the participant shall be reminded: “Styria is full of minarets and mosques. Vote for Dr. Gerhard Kurzmann and the Freedom Party on September 26 so that this doesn’t happen.”
As the sharp criticism of all oppositional parties and the Islamic Denomination of Austria (Islamische Glaubensgemeinschaft in Österreich, IGGiÖ) resulted in a charge against the Freedom Party, the video was condemned from the web in the course of last week. However, to this very day, you can still watch an illustrative part of it on Youtube: Now after watching this, you might ask yourself a reasonable question: How far can political campaigning actually go? Is this virtual hunting of Islam considered to be an effective tool for dealing with fear that actually exists in real life or is the main aim of it just to bring politically apathetic youngsters back into politics?
In order to defend this campaign, general secretary of the Austrian Freedom Party Herbert Kickl announced that the game was not about “real“ shooting, but about the “pushing of a stop-button in order to prevent a false political decision“. However, considering the debate about Muslim integration, which is wide-spread in Europe as well as in the United States, it is dubious what happens with Islamophobia in real life once the virtual game might be justified as mere “political decision-making”. Can the real and the virtual world collide and enhance these conflicts? Also, how come do initiatives like this receive outrageous media attention so easily?
Let’s take it to the States. Prior to the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Terry Jones, pastor of a small Florida-based church and author of the book “Islam is of the Devil” announced that he will be staging the “International Burn a Koran Day” on September 11th this year, which his church was also promoting on its website and on Facebook. As Jones’ initiative coincided with a controversial debate on building a Muslim community centre in the neighbourhood of Ground Zero, he managed to spread his word through various channels and gain followers very fast. Starting in small newspapers, the Burn-A-Koran initiative has by now made its way to CNN and all over the global media. As the journalist Brian Stelter argues in the New York Times, it is like paying an “extraordinary amount of attention for a marginal figure with a very small following“.
The question in regard to the role of new media is: Can the accelaration of communication through new media channels be blamed for that immense attention political ideas like this receive? Even though journalists and media industries are in charge of covering and spreading out these stories, the possibilities of ‘do-it-your-own’ in communicating political actions via new media channels, such as the announcing of initiatives through Youtube, Facebook, Blogs and political campaigning through online games, are paving the way for genuinely marginal projects to very fast become of huge interest and get totally out-sized attention in the broadcast media. And maybe in the end, these initivatives are being attached exaggerated attention to – way more than they actually deserve.