October 22, 2019

New rule: Fanatics can’t use Twitter

Each week, we are forced to bear witness to hideous acts of terrorism committed on a piece of barren sand thousands of miles away, then transmitted to our eyeballs via miracles of modern technology, like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, the Internet.

Evidently, fanatics don’t do irony.

Beheadings right out of the Middle Ages come to us via futuristic satellites. We hear jihadi claptrap calling for the destruction of the West via devices the West invented.  

It turns out, not only are these people murderers, they’re hypocrites.

I’m aware consistency is not a major concern of terror groups. These self-styled defenders of Islam have killed far more Muslims, from Pakistan to Syria to the Muslim victims of 9/11, than they have people of other faiths.

But there’s something about the terrorists’ rejection of all things Western—except our technology — that confounds me.

Haifa University Professor Gabriel Weimann has been studying the use of digital media by terrorists for 16 years. In an interview in June with NationalJournal.com, he pointed out the obvious contradiction that the Internet and social media were created by the West.

“And who is using it against the Western model of society?” he said. “Those groups that come from societies and religious beliefs that criticize the West … they never developed anything about the Internet or its many platforms. Never — not even an inch of progress. They only learned — and very fast — how to adopt our own devices against us.”

I understand we shouldn’t expect people who crucify children, kidnap 300 schoolgirls and behead humanitarian relief workers to fight fair. But using tools developed by a free society that draws on the strength of all its citizens, of all backgrounds and beliefs, in order to destroy that society seems, at the least, bizarre.

“[Nigeria] is proof that even those groups like Boko Haram — that are very traditional, extremely traditional groups [whose cause] is going back to the old rules of Islam — are using the most advanced, non-religious tools of the Internet,” Weimann said.

A United Nations report this year on terrorism and the use of the Internet found that terror groups relied on cutting-edge social media both to spread their message of terror to the rest of us, as well as to lure in new recruits.  

The Internet is a virtual palace for the dispossessed, where the anti-social can find any number of siren calls to extremism. 

There are some 9,000 terror group sites on the Web — in addition to countless social media entries. The downside for international law enforcement agencies is, that is a vast amount of data to sift through. The upside is that their dependence on the Web leaves a trail to follow.

The challenge is that, in general, terror groups have been more adept and sophisticated than their trackers at using social media.

This is all especially bizarre when it comes to Jews and Israel. Hamas uses social media to proclaim a great victory in their quest, as their charter says, to kill Jews wherever they find them. ISIS and Al Qaeda also make a point of singling out Jews for death. The fact that they let us know this on Facebook, Twitter, the Internet, instant messaging — inventions all developed in whole or part by Jews in America and Israel — doesn’t seem to give them pause.

It should be a rule that you can’t kill people whose inventions you depend on or enjoy. That goes for vaccines, movies, surgical procedures, hardware, software, whatever —  if you like it, want it or need it, and it came from a hated Westerner or, even worse, a Jew, you are forbidden from using it. Ever. Those things you and your children need were created by men and women nurtured by the very societies you despise and seek to destroy. No memory sticks — developed at Tel Aviv University — to keep a record of your decapitations. No instant messaging — also developed in Israel — to instruct your next suicide bombers.

One source of hope is that the same weapon that terrorists have turned against us can be turned against them. In Nigeria, the social media campaign #BringBackOurGirls galvanized public reaction to the Boko Haram kidnappings. This week, Muslims around the world showed their disgust at ISIS by imitating the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge with the Burning the ISIS Flag Challenge. That can put a crimp in recruitment.

And it’s important to understand that the Internet itself is ultimately a progressive force in the Muslim world. A 2013 Pew Research Center study found that Internet use among Muslims coincides with more open views of Western culture.  

“Holding all else equal,” the study reported, “Muslims who use the Internet are much more inclined to like Western movies, music and television, and they are somewhat less inclined to say that Western entertainment is harming morality in their country.”

The answer may be more connectivity, not less. 

After all, the Internet cuts both ways. It was through it that we all learned that Osama bin Laden’s room was full of porn DVDs — which may be all the explanation we need for why terrorists just can’t resist our technology.

Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Twitter @foodaism.