The American Muslim receives positive mention in HSPI Report on Countering Internet Radicalization

Sheila Musaji

Posted Jul 10, 2007      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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The American Muslim receives positive mention in HSPI Report on Countering Internet Radicalization

Sheila Musaji

The Homeland Security Policy Institute at George Washington University recently released a report on internet-facilitated radicalization entitled:  “ Radicalization: A Counter-Strategy”.

According to a press release from the HCPI:

Through a compelling ‘call to action’ based on myths and falsehoods, terror networks have made savvy use of the Internet to radicalize potential recruits worldwide. With the “war” now shifting to one of ideology, cyberspace is the battlefield, and the United States has not yet developed an effective narrative as part of its counter strategy. That’s the conclusion of a new report issued by The George Washington University’s Homeland Security Policy Institute (HSPI) and the University of Virginia’s Critical Incident Analysis Group (CIAG) titled, “NETworked Radicalization: A Counter-Strategy.” The report is the second in a series addressing the issue of terrorist radicalization.

Frank J. Cilluffo, Director of HSPI, presented the report’s findings and recommendations before the May 3 hearing of the Senate on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, to address extremist use of the Internet to spread radical ideology and the impact of those efforts on potential followers. He described how terror networks have moved from using the Internet for operational planning (such as 9/11) and propaganda (videos of beheading of Nicholas Berg and Daniel Pearl) to a means of social networking to radicalize new recruits. According to the report, Internet chatrooms are now major venues for recruitment and radicalization by terrorist groups like al Qaeda, and video-hosting websites like YouTube broaden the outreach. The report also indicates that websites are being used more and more to feature extremist interpretations of religious doctrine with little being done on the other end to refute, counter, or when appropriate, shut down the dialogue.

Stating that the U.S. is facing a global insurgency based on an extremist “jihadi” Salafist movement, Cilluffo asked the panel “How can the nation that gave rise to Silicon Valley, Hollywood and the Internet itself, be outplayed in the realm of ideas? Domination of the battlefield is not much of a feat when the contest is one-sided because one team failed to show up.” He went on to point out that “As a practical matter it is difficult to squelch an extremist presence online. “A web site targeted in one country can often simply move to a new server in another. Like a game of ‘whack-a-mole’ you may knock down one site only to find another pops up elsewhere.”

The multidisciplinary task force of experts, co-chaired by Mr. Cilluffo and Dr. Gregory Saathoff, Executive Director of CIAG, was formed late last year to study the potential threat of terrorist organizations using the Internet for radicalization and recruitment of new members, and to devise potential prescriptions to address these threats.

The report suggests the U.S. needs to catch up in this electronic war of words and add non extremist voices from the grassroots. Recommendations emphasize the importance not only of the message but the messenger in delivering the counter narrative. Engagement of the Muslim community in this will be essential according to the findings. “Unless elements of the counter-narrative emanate from within the Muslim community and are conveyed by voices that are trusted and credible within those communities, the opportunity to achieve impact will be limited at best.”

When possible the report advocates disrupting the extremist activity on the Internet through any legal and technical means possible and deepening the behavioral understanding of radicalization using this new tool. In addition, the report suggests the crafting of a strategic communications plan to reclaim ground lost on this electronic battlefield. A policing strategy incorporating local cultural strategies is also identified as a must. “Local figures are best placed to identify radicalization at its earliest stages. Cultivated mutual respect and understanding between officials and communities founded on a solid understanding of Muslim culture and Islam is crucial.”

Page 11 of the report states:  “To generate a sense of context, a sampling (albeit unscientific) of noteworthy and creative initiatives—many of which are not very well known—are highlighted below. Admittedly, some of these measures may be limited in their ability to counteract the impact of the extremist narrative, which is being accepted and adopted by an important minority around the world. It is also important to recognize that certain countries and institutions may be sending mixed messages by simultaneously engaging or acquiescing in other activities that would seem to undercut the efforts referenced.”

The report then lists a series of organizations and efforts in a number of countries around the world that represent positive attempts to counteract the extremist narrative.  In the United States the report lists 7 such efforts: 

1)  The 2001 fatwa condemning terrorism and extremism issued by American Muslim jurists and ultimately endorsed by more than 120 U.S. Muslim groups.
2)  The 2005 Fiqh Council of North America fatwa against terrorism and extremism.
3) The American Muslim,” an online journal, seeks to highlight the voices of Muslims who have spoken out against terrorism and extremism. The magazine describes the latter voices as “the Muslim majority who don’t get publicity.”
4)  The “On the Road in America” reality series.
5)  The Terrorism Research Center’s “Terror Web Watch.”
6)  The Muslim Public Affairs Councils Grassroots Campaign to Fight Terrorism Handbook.
7)  The Department of Homeland Security (DHS)’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties’ “intensive training DVD for DHS personnel who interact with Arab Americans, Muslim Americans, and people from the broader Arab and Muslim world.”

As the Editor of The American Muslim, I am proud that our efforts to counter extremism and terrorism have been recognized.  And, I am confident that we can expand on our efforts in the future.