Image courtesy The Economist
An interesting article published in the Economist explores the use of the interweb by Al Qaeda in particular and terrorists in general to promote and record their beliefs, actions and tactics. Internet jihad: A world wide web of terror states that:
In short, the hand-held video camera has become as important a tool of insurgency as the AK-47 or the RPG rocket-launcher. As Mr Zawahiri himself once put it in an intercepted letter to Zarqawi, “More than half of this battle is taking place in the battlefield of the media.” Or as one jihadi magazine found on Irhabi007’s computer explained: “Film everything; this is good advice for all mujahideen [holy warriors]. Brothers, don’t disdain photography. You should be aware that every frame you take is as good as a missile fired at the Crusader enemy and his puppets.” Just before his arrest, Irhabi007 had set up a website that, he hoped, would rival YouTube, to share jihadi videos. He called it Youbombit.com.
The article goes on to mention that “In a global network, outside the control of any single government, attempts to close down extremist sites are little more than short-lived harassment. What is needed is a systematic campaign of counter-propaganda, not least in support of friendly Muslim governments and moderate Muslims, to try to reclaim the ground ceded to the jihadists.”
While this essay delineates the contours of the use of the interweb by the likes of Al Qaeda, it does not address the problem of State sponsored terrorism and repression, such as the that experienced by citizens in China and Egypt. Dissidents to the incumbent regimes in both countries are jailed, on occasion tortured and subject to jail sentences and harassment after being branded as threats to national security and the establishment by those unwilling to cede any space for the growth of democracy and fundamental rights. In Sri Lanka, the recent closure of Tamilnet raised the ire of many media freedom advocates since it was not seen as a move conducive to addressing the raison d’etre of terrorism in the country, aimed as it is to a diasporic audience and far less extremist than some of the other sites that can continue to be accessed. It is here that we must be cautious about endorsing carte blanche counter-insurgency propaganda. Too often, such propaganda is as biased and partial as that which it seeks to replace. The war, as it is called, of media on the interweb cannot be won by shrill voices each shouting down others in a manner that severely vitiates the growth of reasoned voices and debates that address the roots of terrorism.