The Internet as Jihad amplifier

From Asharq al-Awsat, Riyadh:

“Does anyone in the Ummah [Muslim nation] and among the Mujahideen have new ideas on how to revive and spread the jihad ideology? Are there any new thoughts on how to strike the enemies of Islam?”

These are not questions that you would hear on television programs in regions that are troubled on both security and political levels.

It is rather an email message that surprises you when you read it in the morning alongside other messages in your inbox that clarify and explain how to make primitive bombs using simple materials that are readily available…

It is no secret that the internet has become the preferred method for recruitment of Islamic terrorists. Al-Qaeda and others are utilizing the World Wide Web to spread their deadly propaganda and recruit new operatives which has forced security experts around the world to alter their methodology in hopes of thwarting future terrorist attacks, or capturing wanted terrorists.

It’s possible that the Internet, in the form of websites, list servers, etc. is more than just a tool that’s made the operation of international terrorist groups easier.

It may have facilitated the creation of a whole new type of group that didn’t exist previously: the independent, decentralized network of local Islamists, often native-born in the West, like the ones responsible for the London transport bombings.

These decentralized terrorist cells are the most difficult for counterterrorist forces to uncover, since they may not need to travel to Afghanistan or some such place in order to receive indoctrination and training.

But there is an even greater danger: individual Muslims, in constant touch with Islamist leaders and others like themselves throughout the world, can go through a process of radicalization and validation of radical beliefs online. The Internet makes it possible for them to be immersed in a culture of like-minded people, something which would not be possible otherwise, and which is capable of amplifying beliefs which would be deviant in their local environment. This is the same phenomenon that’s given a huge boost to the population of pedophiles, who share ideas and child pornography with kindred spirits online that they would otherwise never meet.

As a result of this ‘amplification’, people with Islamist leanings who would otherwise never consider becoming active Jihadists may now do so. And I think some of the difficult-to-explain incidents that have been called “sudden Jihad syndrome” may be a result of this process. When a perpetrator of such an event is arrested, local authorities often say that the motive could not be terroristic, because they are unable to connect him to any terrorist organization.

But sometimes virtual connections are as strong or stronger than physical ones.

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