Al-Qaida on the Internet

Are America's Muslims Becoming Radicalized?

In its report on recent developments in Islamist terrorism, the US Senate Committee for Homeland Security warns about Al Qaeda's sophisticated recruitment methods. For the first time, it mentions the possibility that America's Muslims may become radicalized. Joseph Croitoru reports

(photo: AP)
The Internet as a weapon of terror: two men react with dismay to see how the group Jaish Ansar as Sunnah spreads its message of terror on the Internet

​​It was only recently that the United States Department of Homeland Security issued various controversial recommendations for regulating the language used when discussing Islamism. Critics complained that the recommended avoidance of terms such as "Jihadist" or "holy warrior" was unrealistic. Above all these new language guidelines reflected concerns about the radicalization of American Muslims, whom it was clearly important not to anger any more than necessary with blanket terrorism-related accusations. The US authorities are now for the first time articulating the fear of such a development openly.

This is witnessed in a report published by the US Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs with the title "Violent Islamist extremism, the internet, and the home-grown terrorist threat". It deals above all with one subject: Al-Qaida's increasingly refined recruitment techniques, which now seem to have born fruit among US Muslims. Anyone detecting the usual Bush-administration, republican attitude to security here would be wrong.

The internet as a weapon

A Muslim man makes his way along Coney Island Avenue, in the Midwood neighborhood of the Brooklyn borough of New York (photo: AP)
In the US, Muslims were followers of a faith that had, by and large, existed under the radar of much of the American mainstream. But ever since 9/11 Muslims, and Islam itself, have come under intense scrutiny

​​The current head of the Committee on Homeland Security is in fact the first Democrat to hold the post, and an Afro-American to boot. And it hardly seems a coincidence that the report begins with the sensational case of the black American Muslim, Kevin Lamar James. A few years ago James formed a Jihadist cell in a Californian prison with other Afro-Americans and planned attacks on government officials and American-Jewish establishments.

The fact that the conspirators took example from Bin Laden is used in the senate report as a perfect example for the success of Al-Qaida's new recruitment techniques. The internet is seen as having developed into a crucial tool which may even soon make training camps obsolete, such as existed in Afghanistan. The report's authors have attempted to penetrate the mentality of the global terrorists and have developed a four-stage model to illustrate the stage-by-stage indoctrination of Muslims by Bin Laden's organisation.

According to this model, after a so-called "pre-radicalization" phase comes the gradual "self-identification" with radical Islamism. While this may occur in isolation on an individual level, the next stage, direct "indoctrination", is usually a result of contact with Jihadists. The authors identify the passage to active terrorism as the climax of radicalization, accompanied by the readiness to die as a martyr; this is described as "Jihadization", a term the Homeland Security Department was still seeking to ban from public discourse a few months ago.

Increasing use of the English language

(photo: AP)
Video messages from Al Qaeda circulate on the Internet, now with English subtitles, making the language of Shakespeare and Chaucer into an instrument for recruitment propaganda

​​Many of the Al-Qaida recruitment techniques described in the report as new have in fact been typical practice for years. These include the mobilization of young people via radical Islamist rap songs. Recently the terrorists have discovered how to slip into Islamic internet forums and use them as recruitment sites instead of mosques, which are increasingly tightly observed by the authorities. This has made surveillance harder, as has the rapid increase in websites associated with the Jihadists which, as soon as they are closed down, resurface again at new addresses.

A noticeable new trend creating untold problems for the US authorities is the increasing use of the English language in Al-Qaida's self-promotion and recruitment propaganda; videos of Bin Laden with English subtitles have recently appeared on the internet.

Even more disturbing is the fact that his comrade, Ayman al-Zawahiri, recently appealed to all of what he calls the "oppressed", in other words to non-Muslims too, to join Al-Qaida in their war against the USA and its allies. The terror network is thus openly seeking to appropriate that left-wing strand of anti-Americanism which, in the name of Islamism, it has always borrowed from.

Joseph Croitoru

© Qantara 2008

Translated from the German by Steph Morris

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