Thursday, December 31, 2009

Radical Islam's "electronic caliphate" is an oxymoron

On the edition of the “old” Washington Times, Dec. 31, 2009, Arnaud de Borchgrave has a major commentary piece on p A15, “Unholy war in cyberspace: Real battleground is no longer Afghanistan”, link here.

The writer pulls our thinking away from George W.’s Iraq and even Obama’s escalation in Afghanistan, to focus on the legions of privileged but religiously or ideologically disenchanted young Muslim men all over Europe and especially rogue elements back in poor sections of Pakistan. He talks about the Taliban as a “shadow government” ready to go again, and Al Qaeda as having evaporated or sublimed into forming a “second life” caliphate over cyberspace. The battle between Sunnis and Shiites becomes a small detail for the caliphate to overcome, even if it has gone on for centuries. Remember, different sectors of radical Islam hate each other as much as they hate the West (we found that out in Iraq, as if we didn’t already know).

The ideology of radical Islam is itself curious. It seems to show how the extreme right and extreme left come together on the unseen side of the world, whether religion is involved or not. Stalin and Hitler were more alike than they were different (even if they became military enemies – again an irony), that the results of their behavior for humanity was similar.

But there is a curious paradox in the notion of an “electronic caliphate”. The Internet was born out of individualism and the idea that anyone can invent himself or herself as a celebrity. The “caliphate” itself becomes an oxymoron, where the Web is captured as a propaganda tool, serving an ideology that feeds on notions of need and “worthiness” (along with the view that the world is a zero-sum game), the two pillars that authoritarianism feeds upon.

Nevertheless, the use of the Web to seed terror plots becomes a serious issue that could undermine the freedom of speech for all of us. We heard this before, right after 9/11, with talk that ordinary home computers or amateur websites could inadvertently host “steganographic” instructions placed by hackers. And it does seem that some young men, perhaps almost schizoid in temperatment, with little satisfaction in family or social connection as we understand it run to the extremist ideology on the web.

Update: Jan. 1

CNN is describing Anwar al Alwaki as the "Osama bin Laden" of the Internet, with ties to both the Detroit and Fort Hood incidents through his Internet propaganda.

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