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Religious Populism, Cyberspace and Digital Authoritarianism in Asia: India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, and Turkey

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posted on 01.01.2022, 00:00 authored by Ihsan YilmazIhsan Yilmaz, Raja M Ali Saleem, Mahmoud PargooMahmoud Pargoo, Syaza Shukri, Idznursham Ismail, Kainat ShakilKainat Shakil
Turkey, Pakistan, India, Malaysia, and Indonesia span one of the longest continuously inhabited regions of the world. Centuries of cultural infusion have ensured these societies are highly heterogeneous. As plural polities, they are ripe for the kind of freedoms that liberal democracy can guarantee. However, despite having multi-party electoral systems, these countries have recently moved toward populist authoritarianism. Populism —once considered a distinctively Latin American problem that only seldom reared its head in other parts of the world— has now found a home in almost every corner of the planet. Moreover, it has latched on to religion, which, as history reminds us, has an unparalleled power to mobilize crowds. This report explores the unique nexus between faith and populism in our era and offers an insight into how cyberspace and offline politics have become highly intertwined to create a hyper-reality in which socio-political events are taking place. The report focuses, in particular, on the role of religious populism in digital space as a catalyst for undemocratic politics in the five Asian countries we have selected as our case studies. The focus on the West Asian and South Asian cases is an opportunity to examine authoritarian religious populists in power, whereas the East Asian countries showcase powerful authoritarian religious populist forces outside parliament. This report compares internet governance in each of these countries under three categories: obstacles to access, limits on content, and violations of user rights. These are the digital toolkits that authorities use to govern digital space. Our case selection and research focus have allowed us to undertake a comparative analysis of different types of online restrictions in these countries that constrain space foropposition and democratic voices while simultaneously making room for authoritarian religious populist narratives to arise and flourish. The report finds that surveillance, censorship, disinformation campaigns, internet shutdowns, and cyber-attacks—along with targeted arrests and violence spreading from digital space—are common features of digital authoritarianism. In each case, it is also found that religious populist forces co-opt political actors in their control of cyberspace. The situational analysis from five countries indicates that religion’s role in digital authoritarianism is quite evident, adding to the layer of nationalism. Most of the leaders in power use religious justifications for curbs on the internet. Religious leaders support these laws as a means to restrict “moral ills” such as blasphemy, pornography, and the like. This evident “religious populism” seems to be a major driver of policy changes that are limiting civil liberties in the name of “the people.” In the end, the reasons for restricting digital space are not purely religious but draw on religious themes with populist language in a mixed and hybrid fashion. Some common themes found in all the case studies shed light on the role of digital space in shaping politics and society offline and vice versa. The key findings of our survey are as follows: The future of (especially) fragile democracies is highly intertwined with digital space. There is an undeniable nexus between faith and populism which offers an insight into how cyberspace and politics offline have become highly intertwined. Religion and politics have merged in these five countries to shape cyber governance. The cyber governance policies of populist rulers mirror their undemocratic, repressive, populist, and authoritarian policies offline. As a result, populist authoritarianism in the non-digital world has increasingly come to colonize cyberspace, and events online are more and more playing a role in shaping politics offline. “Morality” is a common theme used to justify the need for increasingly draconian digital laws and the active monopolization of cyberspace by government actors. Islamist and Hindutva tro

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Pagination

1 - 44

Publisher

European Center for Populism Studies

Place of publication

Brussels, Belgium

Language

eng

Research statement

-

Publication classification

A6 Research report/technical paper

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