Thursday, July 24, 2008

Counter-jihad 2.0

Tom Barnett links to an op-ed by RFE/RL's Daniel Kimmage on countering Al Qaeda's media operations:

It’s also an indication of how a more interactive, empowered online community, particularly in the Arab-Islamic world, may prove to be Al Qaeda’s Achilles’ heel. Anonymity and accessibility, the hallmarks of Web 1.0, provided an ideal platform for Al Qaeda’s radical demagoguery. Social networking, the emerging hallmark of Web 2.0, can unite a fragmented silent majority and help it to find its voice in the face of thuggish opponents, whether they are repressive rulers or extremist Islamic movements.
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But Al Qaeda’s online media network is also vulnerable to disruption. Technology-literate intelligence services that understand how the Qaeda media nexus works will do some of the job. The most damaging disruptions to the nexus, however, will come from millions of ordinary users in the communities that Al Qaeda aims for with its propaganda. We should do everything we can to empower them.

The most powerful means for countering radical Islamist propaganda is simply mobilizing thousands even millions of ordinary citizens using available technology to speak freely. A decentralized, leaderless, self-organizing meme-generating cacophony would overwhelm and drown out Al Qaeda's propaganda.

Kimmage points out that the efforts of authoritarian regimes to stifle Web 2.0 activity actually helps Al Qaeda and its associates by preventing alternative voices from arising.

Unfortunately, the authoritarian governments of the Middle East are doing their best to hobble Web 2.0. By blocking the Internet, they are leaving the field open to Al Qaeda and its recruiters.
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There is a simple lesson here: unfettered access to a free Internet is not merely a goal to which we should aspire on principle, but also a very practical means of countering Al Qaeda. As users increasingly make themselves heard, the ensuing chaos will not be to everyone’s liking, but it may shake the online edifice of Al Qaeda’s totalitarian ideology.

Freedom of speech and the press whether online or off are essential tools in fighting the war of ideas. But it is not just authoritarian regimes in the Middle East who are the problem here. There is an ongoing campaign within the West to stifle free speech and press via hate crime laws, "human rights" commissions, fairness doctrines, and the PC culture that demands that individual rights should be suppressed to ensure that no one is offended. All of which makes it more difficult for us to wage the kind of open, freewheeling campaign of ideas to counter Islamist propaganda and recruitment activity. There is an appropriate role for government in encouraging some of these regimes in the Middle East that are producing many of Al Qaeda's recruits to open up internet access. But the US government also must stand by freedom of speech and press when radical Islamists and Muslim governments seek to force Western countries to abandon their hard won freedoms. Unfortunately the Bush administration has proven to be extremely weak in this area, falling back on meaningless diplo-speak in response to the cartoon jihad.

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