Information Warfare: Facebook For Fanatics

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October 6, 2010: Islamic terrorists have found the Internet to be a powerful recruiting, fund raising and organizing tool. This is especially true of Moslems in the West, who are much more likely to have Internet access. Over 80 percent of people in Western nations have Internet access, while in Africa it's only 11 percent, and in the Moslem world overall (including the wealthy Gulf oil states) less than a third of citizens have access. Far more people in these countries have cell phones. This is because cell phones are cheaper, and far more people are illiterate in Moslem nations.

The poverty rate is much higher in Moslem states, thus Islamic terror groups find cash a powerful incentive for potential recruits who are already inclined to accept the religious arguments for mass murder and suicide bombs. But the Internet is an essential tool for recruiting in the West, where Moslems are far more prosperous, and likely to be literate. Moslems living in the West have far more economic and educational opportunities. The use of social media to attract potential recruits in the West enables the recruiters to spend the time needed to bring new, literate and more solvent people into the terrorism trade.

This is not without its risks. Intelligence and police agencies in the West have powerful tools for trolling the Internet and detecting Islamic terrorist activity. As police agencies, they can get court orders to obtain more information about users of social media. The terrorists evade some of this scrutiny by inviting more promising recruits to more (but not absolutely) secure parts of the Internet. The most useful recruits from the West are those with Internet security skills, that enable the terrorists to keep some of their activities more secret. This is a cat-and-mouse game that never seems to end, and will not be described in detail for several more years.

But as the Internet slowly spreads through the Arab world, it is allowing more like-minded people to get in touch with each other, and discuss less violent topics that unite them. Usually, the only time you hear about Moslems using the Internet is when al Qaeda, or other Arab terrorist groups, use the Internet to plot and plan their next atrocity. But even more Arabs are trying to figure out why so many Arab states don't work, and how to fix that.

In these groups you find that most Arabs agree with al Qaeda on one point; most Arab nations are run by corrupt and inefficient governments. While al Qaeda's efforts to fix that have not been very successful, there are many other groups seeking a cure. These groups are advocating things that al Qaeda considers heresy (democracy, education and liberty for women, economic freedom), and gaining some traction via another Western device al Qaeda has a shaky relationship with; the Internet.

The numbers are glum. Of the 23 Arab states, nearly a quarter are considered "failed states" (Somalia, Sudan, Iraq, Yemen, Palestine and Lebanon). These are also the states with the lowest Internet participation. The proportion of Arab failed states is close to the global number (21.5 percent failed states). What's more alarming is that 11 of the "non-failed" states are heading that way. In other words, 74 percent of Arab states have failed, or are on their way to failing. The growing discussion, and debate, on the Internet, has made its way to the mass media, including the satellite news networks that, like the Internet, have fueled ever more debate on the nature of the problem and likely solutions.

Failed states is what unstable countries, prone to rebellion and civil disorder, are called these days. What they all have in common is a lack of "civil society" (rule of, and respect for, law), and lots of corruption. The two sort of go together. No one has come up with a quick, or easy, solution for failed states. It's all a matter of effective local leadership, and that frequently fails to show up. There has been some success in helping good leaders develop, by assisting with installing a democracy. But just letting the people vote often leads to someone, who looked like a good guy, turning into a dictatorial "president for life." Haiti has, for two centuries, trying to develop a civil society, and for over a century has been using democracy in that effort. Has not worked, and prospects are bleak.

Iraq is being keenly watched by the Arab world. It's one of only two Arab states to have held free and fair elections lately (the other being Mauritania). Iraq, however, is in the center of the Arab world, and it's success, or failure, as a democracy, will determine how well democracy will fare in the region.

A growing consensus among Moslems is that the old reasons for the poor government in Arab states no longer apply. Since the 1950s, centuries of Turkish, and, more recently, a few decades of European rule, were to blame. Tiny Israel also got some blame. But it's become obvious that the Turks, Europeans and Israelis are not the cause. The problems are internal, and the search is on for workable solutions.

The Internet discussions have gone a long way in getting Muslims to look beyond the usual clichés for the causes of their problems, and possible solutions. These discussions do not get as much attention as more anti-social Moslems plotting atrocities in Western cities, but the seekers of change are more likely to produce a workable solution.

 

 


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