14-15 November 2016, LOCATION: Sharq Village. Doha, Qatar.
Under the auspices of the Minister of Transportation and Communications his Highness Mr. Jassim Saif Ahmed Al Sultaiti, the Qatar Centre for Heritage and Identity organized a two-day conference on 14 and 15 November 2016 exploring the impact of technology and social media on national identity. The conference focused on issues and challenges of identity within a Qatari context through eight papers presented by Qatari academics. It also incorporated a regional and international perspective through the participation of academics from Oman, Turkey, Palestine, Hungary, and Bahrain. Dr Waleed Serhan attended this conference on behalf of the National Museums and the National Imagination research project and has this report.
The various speakers dealt with issues of identity within the wider framework of globalization, and more specifically how the global affects the Qatari local. Within this view, the presenters stressed that Qatari culture and identity is threated by global forces, especially under the free flow of information that Qatari youth are exposed to in comparison to the previous generations. While the majority of speakers acknowledged the inevitability of adapting to a post-modern world, the need to protect and promote Qatari culture and identity was reiterated. With the pervasiveness of social media among the youth and more than 2000 satellite television channels entering Qatari homes on a daily basis, the role of the family in protecting, preserving, and promoting Qatari identity, culture, and values was strongly emphasised. Despite this perceived sense of threat and danger engulfing Qatari, Arabic, and Islamic culture, the presenters reiterated the need to remain open to other cultures.
In addition to Arabic and Islamic values, all presenters stressed the utmost need to protect the Arabic language as the carrier of culture when its usage even among Arabs is in decline. Yet, foreign languages and primarily English were still viewed as necessary for work and travel.
Views of identity ranged between presenting identity as static and fixed to those calling for cultural renewal which thereby considered identity to be constantly changing and fluid. The importance of cultural production was emphasized in this regard whereby Arabs do not remain at the receiving end of globalization and become a more active and influential force on the international arena.
The presenters from Oman, Turkey, and Bahrain explained their specific contexts in protecting and promoting local culture and identity in the face of global forces, with an emphasis on the role of the state in Oman and Bahrain and the role of the ruling party in Turkey. In contrast, the Palestinian case highlighted the maintenance of a strong Palestinian identity on a popular level despite lacking state and institutional support. The paper from Hungary explored the impact of social media on the youth from the perspectives of both techno-pessimists and techno-optimists.
Waleed Serhan, 27/11/2016