Arab Religious Skeptics Online
Fig. 1. Courtesy of The Berkman Center for Internet & Society, 2015.

The Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University published a report in its Internet Monitor series titled Arab Religious Skeptics Online: Anonymity, Autonomy, and Discourse in a Hostile Environment authored by Helmi Noman. The report "analyzes the content, discourse, and structure of three prominent Arab atheist web forums and examines the relationship between the networked information economy and the emergence of religious skeptics in Arab cyberspace."

The Arab atheist community is largely an online phenomenon, with limited visibility offline and with virtually no umbrella groups. It exists in unfriendly, if not hostile, political, social, religious, and legal environments. This paper aims to deepen our understanding of virtual space by analyzing the Arab atheist community online: its content, discourse, and structure. The research examines the relationship between the networked information economy and the emergence of religious skeptics as manifested in Arab cyberspace. A central question is whether the Internet enhances individual autonomy in matters of faith. Given that the Arab atheist community online is prevailingly anonymous, the paper assesses the potential and limitations of anonymous and pseudonymous speech online and the extent to which this facilitates or hinders sharing, debating, community building, and collective action.

Helmi Noman is a Research Affiliate of the Berkman Center. His research focuses on the Internet, media and telecommunications laws, and issues surrounding filtering and censorship in the Middle East and North Africa region. Helmi's research also explores the impact of information and communication technologies on the Arab information societies, Arabic web content, how the use of the Internet defies the social and political structures in the region, and the potential systemic changes cyberspace can bring to real space in the Arab region. His research projects include examining how politically and socially vulnerable communities in the Arab world use anonymous and pseudonymous speech online and mapping and exploring the structure and content of the Arab blogosphere and Twittersphere. As a Fulbright Scholar, Helmi received a Master's degree in Communications, Computing, and Technology & Education from Columbia University.

The full report is available for download in PDF here.