Findings from the Understanding Islam through Virtual Worlds Project

Feb 9, 2009

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Media Advisory

February 9, 2009

Contact: Madeleine Lynn Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs (212) 838-4120 ext. 222, email: [email protected]

Findings from the Understanding Islam through Virtual Worlds Project

New York, New York--After a year of research across the Internet and four continents, Dancing Ink Productions' Rita J. King and Joshua S. Fouts, senior fellows at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, have released the findings from the Understanding Islam through Virtual Worlds project. The project was funded by a grant from the Richard Lounsbery Foundation.

The findings include: "Digital Diplomacy," a report containing recommendations on the potential use of virtual worlds for public diplomacy to be submitted to the relevant Congressional committee and the Obama Administration; "Collaboration, Community and Culture," a mini-documentary produced in collaboration with Ill Clan Animation Studios; and a graphic book chronicling the journey. To access all three, go to Dancing Ink Productions.

The project results were released at a January 29 event at the Carnegie Council. For a video, audio and transcript of the occasion, which included a short performance by Iranian hip hop artist Yas, go to: http://www.cceia.org/resources/video/data/000113. What are virtual worlds? Basically, they are simulated, interactive, online environments that can be accessed by multiple users. Users inhabit these worlds via representations of themselves known as "avatars." Second Life is one of the most sophisticated and popular of these new worlds, with millions of "residents" across the globe—70% of them outside the United States. Through the use of computer translation programs, three-dimensional avators from different countries and backgrounds can meet and converse freely in Second Life, in a way that would be impossible in the real world.

"We have no illusions that radical Islamists are going to reverse course because Second Life has appeared," say Fouts and King. "However, as part of a broader public diplomacy strategy, engaging and interacting with people in virtual worlds who self-identify as Muslim can contribute to a well-developed and inclusive perspective on religion, society, and democratic coexistence, which serves to undermine conditions that can lead to radical views and violent actions."

"The Carnegie Council is committed to supporting policy entrepreneurs like Josh and Rita, even if it means following them into unfamiliar lands like Second Life," says Carnegie Council President Joel Rosenthal. "It has long been our mission to harness the power of ideals such as freedom and justice in ways that ignite the moral imagination. Josh and Rita have illuminated a new path for practical public diplomacy in an area of supreme urgency. Furthermore, they have done so by elevating humanity's most distinguishing feature: the imagination." The Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs (www.cceia.org), established in 1914 by Andrew Carnegie, is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing understanding of the relationship between ethics and international affairs. The Carnegie Council convenes agenda-setting forums and creates educational opportunities and information resources for a worldwide audience of teachers and students, journalists, international affairs professionals, and concerned citizens.

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