Politics, Modernity and Twitter

When trying to decide on what to write about in my first Terry entry, I knew I wanted to cover an event that represented, in some tacit, discreet and (mawkishly) sentimental kind of way, my interests and passions as a whole. My hopes were answered with this:

Cairo Speech

In case you haven’t heard about and/or seen it already, President Barack Obama gave a speech yesterday in Cairo University aimed at redefining (or, at least, signaling the redefinition of) the United States’ relationship with the Islamic world. Referencing the Qur’an and the Hadith, invoking his ties and experiences with Islam “on three continents”, and condemning illegal settlements in Gaza, Obama was set on conveying a message of friendship, kinship and reassurance. Judging by the frequent applause (and the occasional “we love you!”), the speech was, if anything, a rhetorical success.

If you happen to follow the White House on Twitter, Facebook or MySpace, you might also have noticed a flurry of updates aimed at raising public awareness of the speech. In addition to posting a video of U.S. ties to Muslim communities on its blog and issuing regular Twitter, Facebook and (free) cell phone text message updates, the White House also posted a transcript of the speech in 13 different languages soon after the President left the podium. In an internet where even Fidel Castro has a blog (not to mention North Korea’s Twitter), this was to be expected from a staff that has been credited with revolutionizing elections and politics through their embrace of online media (just ask Hillary Clinton).

What fascinated me, however, was the intended audience of both the speech and the White House’s online effort. A majority of the world’s Muslims live east of Pakistan. Most of the points raised by Obama (Palestine, Iraq, Iran, etc.), however, concerned not the ‘Islamic world’ per se, but the Arab world and Iran.

This is important because, interestingly enough, a majority of the Arab world consist of countries where the majority of people are below the age of 30. The same goes for Iran. Whether Obama likes it or not, in attempting to mend ties between the Arab world, Iran and the West, he is ultimately approaching a group of societies that is, at least demographically, young.

I guess the question one can then ask is this: are there lessons that were learned during the president’s run for office in 2008 that the White House might apply to this situation and, if so, will the Obama meme – one of the most well-spread and well-received memes of our lifetimes – work on the scale of (sub)continents? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

I suppose you might ask why I care.

I could give you the typical answer, and say that we live in one of the most culturally dynamic and interesting times in history. I could also tell you that, as a future History/Econ major that is helplessly obsessed with anything politics, religion and philosophy, I’m prone to finding global trends where (at times) there are none. Or, I could tell you the truth and say that I’m just curious. That seems to be a theme here at Terry.

My name is Nick, I am a second-year Arts student at UBC, and I am your new humanities blogger. Lovely.

EDIT: The New Yorker now has an excellent piece up about ‘The Obama Effect‘.

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Nick is an undergraduate studying history and economics at UBC. Nick is interested in international relations, philosophy of mind, creative writing, design, marketing, and a bunch of other things. Nick produces music, does graphic design, and sometimes plays tennis.

3 Responses to “Politics, Modernity and Twitter”

  1. Sarah Andersen

    Welcome to the terry crew, Nick! 🙂

  2. Geoff Costeloe

    Thanks for joining in Nick, its great to represent the more humanities side of the Terryverse.

    Your post reminded me of something my Dad told me once: the worse thing that a state can have in terms of stability is a large cohort of young, unmarried, unemployed men (YUUM). Most of histories social/political revolutions have been largely driven by this group (sorry to the feminists on this one). They often also resort to crime and violence because there is little hope in them achieving anything else. Based on these observations, if true, there are 2 predictions one could make.

    The first is that there will be only limited stability in the middle east (as well as many African nations) unless this group of 18-30 year old men have a potential future educationally, financially, or politically. Having a society that creates opportunities for this demographic (as well as for women) may be the best way to ensure long term stability. It is a catch-22 to create these opportunities however. If the country isn’t stable then it is unlikely to receive the foreign investment needed to create jobs and build schools. In my opinion this is the core issue to solving much of the instability in the developing world.

    The second major observation is the effect that YUUM will have on developed nations. The biggest impact will certainly be felt in China where there are 32 million young male bachelors (search ‘bachelor’ on Terry for an article by Sarah). The Chinese government must be shaking in their boots thinking about the social/cultural change these YUUMs will have on the closed society.

    Great post though!

  3. Nick Zarzycki

    Good points Geoff, though I don’t know whether the middle east’s problems with gender disproportionality/opportunity are quite as pronounced as Africa’s (that’s to say, at least, that there are just as many YUUMs as there are YUUWs in the Arab world). The same goes for unemployment (though I’m sure, as Obama mentioned, that there’s plenty of room for economic growth in the region.) But you’re definitely right about stability being a major problem.

    What I’m really interested in is how this really young audience is going to perceive and receive the Obama ‘brand’. When running for president last year, Obama had the Clinton machine and American conservatism to put up with. In the middle east, religion, culture, history and politics are going to pose a much more complex (and interesting) challenge.

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