12 July 2007

Cyber Jihad

"As with nuclear or biological warfare, the Web is a dual-use technology. Technically adept Muslims, using out-of-the-box PC software and hardware, are outputting an electronic torrent of slick Web sites, discussion forums, videos, e-magazines and long-form movies, all with one purpose--to incite Muslims to join the jihad against the enemies of Islam in Baghdad, London, Glasgow or New York. Forget those Iraqi attack videos on YouTube; this is a sophisticated, globally distributed propaganda operation ... The language is invariably religious. There's no effort here to appeal to nationalistic sentiment; thus, for a global audience, the Islamic argument becomes wholly religious."

An RFE/RL Special Report by Daniel Kimmage and Kathleen Ridolfo: Iraqi Insurgent Media: The War of Images and IdeasSo writes Daniel Henninger in today's Wall Street Journal, describing a new study of Islamic media propaganda, "Iraqi Insurgent Media: The War of Images and Ideas" from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

The report documents in significant detail the extent that media outlets and products created by Sunni insurgents in Iraq and their supporters seek to win hearts and minds by creating an alternate reality that feeds into the global jihadist media, and how this is "undermining the authority of the Iraqi government, demonizing coalition forces, fomenting sectarian strife, glorifying terrorism, and perpetrating falsehoods that obscure the accounts of responsible journalists." The authors argue that efforts to counter insurgent media should not focus on producing better propaganda than the insurgents, or trying to eliminate the demand for the insurgent message, but rather on exploiting the vulnerabilities of the insurgent media network:

"The popularity of online Iraqi Sunni insurgent media reflects a genuine demand for their message in the Arab world. An alternative, no matter how lavishly funded and cleverly produced, will not eliminate this demand. But this does not mean we should concede the battle without a fight. The vulnerabilities of insurgent media remain to be exploited."

"The lack of central coordination impedes coherence and message control. There is a widening rift between homegrown nationalist groups and the global jihadists who have gathered under the banner of Al-Qaeda in Iraq. Moreover, insurgent media have not yet faced a serious challenge to their message on the Internet."
With the White House's interim Iraq report today warning that although military progress is satisfactory, political reconciliation is lagging, quite clearly it is not just the security situation in Iraq itself that remains "complex and extremely challenging." The battle is being waged right here in cyberspace.