Monday, October 15, 2007

Preventing an Internet Jihad...

In the war on terror, winning hearts and minds is achievable through a variety of means, and how events are being depicted to the public is critical among them. For the United States to fight terrorism, it has a definite interest in stopping the spreading of jihadist propaganda, and this has become a growing problem on the Internet.

The front page of the New York Times' website is featuring an article on Samir Khan, a 21-year-old American living in North Carolina who produces a blog that "serves as a kind of Western relay station for the multimedia productions of violent Islamic groups". Basically, when supporters of Osama bin Laden post propagandist videos on the Internet, Mr. Khan's blog helps translate them into English and organizes links to all the different material that's out there in cyberspace, specifically targeting a Western audience.

What can be done to prevent this type of Internet Jihad? Of course, here in the United States we have free speech, however it applies mostly to governmental regulation (the private sector can still curtail it to certain extents), and there are also legal exceptions to free speech (such as defamation and hate speech). Several steps can be taken to mitigate the effects of an Internet Jihad.

The article mentions that Mr. Khan's father has repeatedly cut off his son's Internet access and that Mr. Khan "recently added a disclaimer to his blog disavowing responsibility for the views expressed on the site". How exactly someone can disavow responsibility for something they are themselves promoting publicly is beyond me. But that aside, parents have obvious powers that they can exercise if their kids use the Internet to promote jihadist messages (or any other material furthering messages of hatred and violence).

Mr. Khan has also apparently been "fending off citizen watchdogs who are working to knock sites likes his off the Internet. Twice in September his blog went dark when his service provider shut him down, citing complaints about the nature of his postings".

First of all, who are these citizen watchdogs? Are they individuals or organizations? But more to the point, private commercial firms certainly hold great power in stopping Internet Jihad through their control of how most of us connect to the Web. For example, Verizon can leverage their ownership of the telecommunications infrastructure - the wires and cables underground - that physically connects networks and machines to each other. Meanwhile, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) like AOL can cut off Internet service to their customers who fail to abide by their terms of service, and companies that host people's websites and blogs can likewise take down whichever sites use their services to jihadist ends. At the individual level, people can choose to boycott, not only the jihadist websites themselves, but also any advertisers who help fund them.

But here's where the problem gets tricky. In response to some of these measures, Mr. Khan recently moved his blog to a website called Muslimpad, whose American operators have moved from Texas to Amman, Jordan - seemingly out of reach of U.S. jurisdiction. However, while this geographic shift complicates things, Mr. Khan himself still resides within U.S. borders and therefore must be held accountable for his actions to the utmost extent, under U.S. law, by both the government and private commercial firms, without which he could not connect to his blog and continue spreading jihadist propaganda.

The bottom line is that we can preserve free speech while still going after producers of jihadist materials with these other legal tools at our disposal. There needs to be more coordination between the public sector, private commercial firms, and individuals netizens so that more pro-active (yet legal) actions are taken against America's enemies.


At 5:30 PM, Blogger DSherman said...

Prof. Domanski-
I could not agree more with your assesment of how the internet, with all it's great advantages, has also become a phenominal tool for terrorist organizations such as al Qaeda or even the KKK on a domestic level to spread their hateful message and find new recruits. It is a difficult fine line between preserving freedom of speech but also stopping the spread of such hateful and deadly ideology.
I knew you would be disapointed in me if I did not say hello with out some minor political chatter.
I hope your doing well, I've been meaning to catch up with you for sometime. I was sad to see your website is down and i cant find your e-mail. Shoot me a message at
Talk to you later,


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