David Garcia on Wed, 3 Apr 2002 16:59:44 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Islam and Tactical Media on Amsterdam Cable

The text below is my contribution from Amsterdam to a Virtual Case Book 
based on a series of regional snapshots to the impact on tactical media
initiatives to the events of September 11th.
This project is organized by New York University, The Center for Media,
Culture and History in cooperation with "Picture Projects", whose work
includes the remarkable 360degrees
<http://www.360degrees.org/360degrees.html> are currently working on a
series of "Virtual Case Book's". The first of which takes as its subject
"Tactical Media Responses to September 11".

                    Islam and Tactical Media in Amsterdam

"Tactical mediaıs mobility connects it to a wider movement of migrant
culture, espoused by the proponents of what Neil Ascherson in his book "The
Black Sea", described as the stimulating pseudo science of Nomadism. ŒThe
human race say its exponents are entering a new epoch of movement and
migration. The subjects of history once the settled farmers and citizens,
have become the migrants,the refugees the gastarbeiters, the asylum seekers,
the urban homeless.ı . . ." migrant media practitioners have studied the
techniques by which the weak become stronger than their oppressors by
scattering, by becoming centreless, by moving fast across the physical or
media and virtual landscapes. ŒThe hunted must discover the ways become the
It all feels a bit slow. Perhaps not having a client might mean to little
(The ABC of Tactical Media, extract 1: David Garcia and Geert Lovink )

The extract, quoted above, written in 1997 could not have anticipated
anything as devastating or nihilistic as the September 11th attack. On
re-reading the essay it seems, that although to a small degree prescient we
were also extremely naive. Naïve in our implicit assumption that tactical
media (giving voice as it does to the excluded and disenfranchised) would
automatically be harnessed to emancipatiary social movements.

In Amsterdam there are two main groups making tactical media who have been
affected by September 11th. On the one hand, as in most western metropolitan
centers, there are loose coalitions of media makers made up of the old and
new left. For these groups media tactics are an important tool in their role
as part of a worldwide movement battling for global economic justice. As in
other countries these local groups are having to re-examine their tactics in
the light of a "transformed semiotic (and actual) landscape". But there is
also another network of tactical media makers working in Amsterdam: large
and diverse clusters of Islamic organizations have developed their own local
media culture. Among these groups there are a number of mosques and related
Islamic organizations that are using small scale media to inform and
mobilize on behalf of the extreme wing of theocratic Islam. Not surprisingly
they are having to come to terms with a new reality as the content of these
transmissions are coming under greater scrutiny than ever before.

Itıs no accident that the term tactical media first appeared in Amsterdam.
The city has a remarkable history of anarchic media experimentation and
civic networking. Nearly a decade ago I described Amsterdam as a "pirate
utopia for tactical media". Since then considerable damage has been done to
the environment that legitimized this claim. Nevertheless some important
aspects of the pirate legacy remain, more or less, intact. Most
significantly, Amsterdamıs long established community accesses radio and
cable television.
The Netherlands was the first European country to establish a 100% cable
infrastructure, as a result Hollandıs cable TV is not a luxury but a near
universal utility. Amsterdam is also the only major Dutch (or for that
matter European) city to have taken "tactical" advantage of cable
television. No other city in Europe (except possibly Berlin) has Amsterdamıs
history of experimental television or its policy of "community access" TV
and radio. A policy, which is both interesting and important only because it
is matched by a significant demographic. Anyone with a TV in Amsterdam can
receive the two "open channels". This evolving open network has been hosting
experimental and tactical media (as well as more conservative transmissions)
for more than twenty years.

Apart from the technical infrastructure there is also the nature of the city
itself, a multilingual port of call for travelers and migrants from around
the world, Amsterdam has the intensity of a major metropolis but it is
actually a small town. Those watching TV at home are quite often within
cycling distance from live transmissions. These factors combine to allow
Amsterdam television to be an intimate communications medium. Perhaps the
closest television can come to the best and the worst of the internet.

Migrant Media
As the years have passed Amsterdam has gone from one to two  open channels.
And these channels have been used more and more by specifically "migrant
media". There is a "respectable" municipally supported program for migrants,
which aspires to a broadcast standard of professionalism. And there are also
a host of independent media makers whose approach to television is much
looser. These transmissions  range from those with ambitious production
values to those who simply download satellite transmissions and hook them
into the local cable. But whatever the approach the extent and popularity of
these programs indicate their importance in helping migrants to stay in
touch with some idea of home.

Of Amsterdamıs migrant media makers, Islamic groups are one of the largest
cultures currently making use of the open channels. Even in a brief survey
it is important not to conform to a monolithic representation of Islam. The
richness and diversity of Islamic thought and opinion is to a degree
reflected in the range and style of Amsterdamıs local transmissions. At the
last count there were 12 Islamic organizations transmitting regularly.
Which, if you consider that Amsterdam is a small city of just over a million
people, is fairly extensive.
The transmissions cover a wide spectrum of opinion and an equally wide
geographical range. Many of the exclusively religious transmissions
originate from local Mosques, which have direct connections to different
Arabic countries and so the programs will be targeted at specific national
communities. However quite a few of these transmissions are simply satellite
downloads of religious teachers speaking from the country of origin.
Turkish Islam is also an important part of this local media picture, and
Turkish transmissions cover the full spectrum of religious and political
opinion. For example A Turkish group, TTA, is one of the most militantly
anti-western of those using the cablenetwork. On the other hand there are a
number of groups notably Alternatief or Klas TV/Harman which although
Islamic are generally opposed to the fundamentalist wing of the religion.

Both before and Since September the 11th a number of complaints have been
lodged with SALTO (the government agency tasked with structuring and to a
limited degree controlling the output of the open channels). Only one of
these complaints was considered  serious enough to warrant investigation.
Since September 11th SALTO itself has been approached by the Dutch secret
service and asked to reveal information about a group of program makers
called "Islamic Aid", which had a name similar to a group with proven links
to Al Qaeda. But, as it turned out, the Amsterdam organization was
completely unconnected to this group.

During their years of development the local media produced by Amsterdamıs
Islamic cultures have been mostly ignored by all but their intended
audience. However after September 11th Hollandıs position as a tolerant
nation has been badly shaken. And have to a degree contributed to a violent
(and unprecedented) swing to the populist right.
To outsiders Dutch culture can appear more enlightened than it actually is.
The famous Dutch tolerance is not particularly "inclusive", it often
consists of a policy of creating "permanent autonomous zones"  in which
controversial minorities can (and are even encouraged) to do their own
thing, as long as they donıt rock the boat and shake a fundamentally
conservative status quo. For years this policy has proved effective at
keeping political minorities, if not always off the streets, at least out of

After September 11th the Dutch sat up and took a new look at the Islamic
cultures living in their midst, perhaps for the first time listening closely
to what was being said. The broader implications of globalization had
suddenly become apparent.
The militant wing of theocratic Islam has proved tactically adept, utilizing
simple combinations of satellite to cable connections has helped to connect
global networks to local media. In true tactical style, the tools of media
technology have been turned on the technological society itself. The local
and regional consequences of these facts are still unfolding.

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