Citizen Lab Senior Researcher Helmi Noman contributed a report to Internet Monitor, in which he focuses on key events and developments in Internet freedom issues. Internet Monitor, a research project that evaluates the extent of internet controls across the world, is produced by the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University. The report, entitled “Arab Religious Skeptics Online,” considers the structure and presence of atheist sentiments in Arab cyberspace. Noman inquires into whether the Internet enhances individual in autonomy in matters of faith, and how anonymous speech online facilitates or undermines it.

In particular, the report focuses on three prominent Arab atheist web forums: the Arab Irreligious Network, the Arab Atheist Forum, and the Arab Atheist Network. Key findings include the egalitarian structure of these forums, which Noman says allows for discussion of highly sensitive content. He adds that this is in sharp contrast to offline discussion in many Arab societies. In addition, Helmi Noman explains that the community is robust, but isolated given the number of counter campaigns launched against Arab atheists, both online and offline. The current anonymity allows members to conceal their identity, and thus maintain immunity against retaliation. Noman inferred that if the community willingly becomes less anonymous in the future, it would be the result of better acceptance offline.

Read the full report here. Other papers in the Internet Monitor series can be found at this link.