Cen­sor­ship won’t de­feat ex­trem­ist ide­ol­ogy — com­mon sense will

The China Post - - COMMENTARY - BY ARY HER­MAWAN

The In­done­sia gov­ern­ment made the right de­ci­sion in un­block­ing Is­lamist web­sites, but not be­cause block­ing them was un­demo­cratic.

The greater is­sue at hand is that pulling the plug is a ter­ri­ble strat­egy. It is at best use­less and at worst detri­men­tal to col­lec­tive ef­forts aimed at stem­ming the tide of rad­i­cal Is­lam.

We should aban­don the false idea that you can de­feat an ide­ol­ogy by cen­sor­ship.

It is akin to closing your eyes and then hop­ing the prob­lem will go away. When it comes to rad­i­cal ide­ol­ogy, cen­sor­ship only makes it stronger.

By na­ture, peo­ple want to know what they can’t know, they want to see what they can’t see and surely they want to read what they can’t read.

We can­not af­ford to let the ex­trem­ists win the hearts and minds of young Mus­lims by turn­ing them into dig­i­tal mar­tyrs.

The gov­ern­ment should re­al­ize that the only nar­ra­tive re­sult­ing from abrupt and hap­haz­ard cen­sor­ship is ei­ther “the gov­ern­ment is anti-Is­lam” or “the gov­ern­ment is hid­ing the truth.”

In­stead of si­lenc­ing them, block­ing those web­sites will in­crease the vol­ume of their voices, mak­ing them even more ap­peal­ing in some ways.

Af­ter all, we are deal­ing with an ide­ol­ogy that over the years has found refuge in and thrived on the In­ter­net.

Mod­ern ji­hadism is deeply en­trenched in the dig­i­tal world, in­clud­ing the so-called Deep Web. Al-Qaida has long used the In­ter­net to con­sol­i­date its rank and file and co­or­di­nate ter­ror at­tacks.

Its ide­o­log­i­cal sib­ling, the lamic State (IS) or­ga­ni­za­tion tech­no­log­i­cally savvier.

Its mostly young re­cruits are dig­i­tal na­tives. They are wag­ing ji­had both in the lands of con­flict and on so­cial me­dia out­lets, mainly Twit­ter.

‘Like a hy­dra’

Is

is

As of to­day, “IS fan boys” still main­tain a strong pres­ence on the mi­cro blog­ging sites de­spite re­peated sus­pen­sions and hack­ing at­tacks by anti- IS groups such as Anony­mous with their #Oper­a­tionIceISIS cam­paign.

An anony­mous-af­fil­i­ated ac­tivist, who goes by the pseu­do­nym Xr­sone, re­cently re­leased the names of 26,000 Twit­ter ac­counts be­long­ing to IS sup­port­ers and asked Twit­ter to sus­pend them.

But like a hy­dra, more IS ac­counts are ex­pected to quickly emerge af­ter old ones are suspended.

Pi­eter van Os­taeyen, a Dutch ex­pert on ter­ror­ism who in­ten­sively fol­lows ji­hadist ac­tiv­i­ties on the Web, re­cently ex­pressed his frus­tra­tion at Twit­ter’s fail­ure to com­pre­hend an ob­vi­ous fact: that the ef­fort to purge IS on­line

pro­pa­gan­dists is fu­tile.

‘Ed­u­ca­tion and counter

pro­pa­ganda’

So how are we go­ing to deal with rad­i­cal Is­lam? There is no quick fix to this. The prob­lem lies be­yond the in­cen­di­ary writ­ings of some ex­trem­ists tap­ping away at their lap­tops.

Ex­trem­ism in Is­lam is not only rooted in the com­plex­i­ties of an­cient re­li­gious texts, the peren­nial ex­eget­i­cal battle be­tween Shia and Sunni, but also in decades, if not cen­turies, of injustice and hu­mil­i­a­tion suf­fered by the Mus­lim world un­der colo­nial­ism and West­ern hege­mony.

How­ever, we do know that the an­swer to pro­pa­ganda is not cen­sor­ship, but ed­u­ca­tion and counter-pro­pa­ganda.

I’m not sug­gest­ing we should de­bate with th­ese ex­trem­ists, or de­clare them de­viant. This would be coun­ter­pro­duc­tive.

We all should know by now that you can never have a de­cent, con­struc­tive de­bate with re­li­gious fa­nat­ics, es­pe­cially on the In­ter­net, where ev­ery­one, athe­ists in­cluded, is seem­ingly a fa­natic.

One sim­ple way to counter the nar­ra­tives of salafi ji­hadism — the ide­o­log­i­cal foun­da­tion of rad­i­cal groups like al- Qaida, IS and Boko Haram — is to show the peo­ple tar­geted by ex­trem­ist pro­pa­ganda the many ex­pres­sions of Is­lam.

The gov­ern­ment and the Mus- lim com­mu­nity need to chal­lenge the salafi ji­hadists’ claim to le­git­i­macy as the sole man­i­fes­ta­tion of the faith. It is worth not­ing that even the ex­trem­ists can’t agree with them­selves.

One of the blocked web­sites, ar­rahmah.com, for in­stance, is one of the first and harsh­est crit­ics of IS (iron­i­cally, shou­tus­salam. com, a ma­jor IS web­site in In­done­sian, was left un­touched).

Ar­rahmah. com is sup­port­ing al-Qaida’s Jab­hat al-Nusra, the nemesis of IS in Syria. Sup­port­ers of each group have de­clared each other as mur­tadin or apos­tates.

‘Their own worst enemies’

Most of the time, the ex­trem­ists are their own worst enemies when it comes to pro­pa­ganda.

IS is just too bru­tal for many Mus­lims, who can­not see their atroc­i­ties with­out feel­ing a strong cog­ni­tive dis­so­nance.

The fact that IS and al-Nusra mem­bers have killed each other on the bat­tle­field could also dis­suade many would be ji­hadists from go­ing to Syria.

Lib­eral Is­lam, of course, can­not rout ex­trem­ism, let alone the in­tel­lec­tual gym­nas­tics of­ten dis­played by its pro­po­nents.

The big­gest en­emy of ex­trem­ism is com­mon sense — the sim­ple idea that one can still be a Mus­lim and live nor­mally in the face of bloody con­flicts with­out hav­ing to pe­ruse thou­sands of clas­si­cal Is­lamic texts and mod­ern phi­los­o­phy to jus­tify his

or her po­si­tion.

‘They do care’

Main­stream Mus­lims who just want to get on with their lives, while of­ten seen as tar­gets of rad­i­cal­i­sa­tion, could present ef­fec­tive anti-ex­trem­ism pro­pa­ganda.

Like the three vic­tims of the Chapel Hill shoot­ing in North Carolina, they do care, a lot, about their faith and the suf­fer­ing of fel­low Mus­lims in other parts of the world.

But they also in­tu­itively ques­tion the logic be­hind all vi­o­lent ide­olo­gies and how they are far re­moved from the com­fort and nor­malcy of daily lives.

In the minds of or­di­nary, main­stream Mus­lims, there are other ways to ob­serve their faith and other ways to help other peo­ple.

This is by no means a sil­ver bul­let. There is al­ways a pos­si­bil­ity that some­where a young man with no com­mon sense, job or girl­friend finds his path to rad­i­cal­ism on­line.

But given the flex­i­bil­ity of the In­ter­net and the lit­tle con­trol we have over what peo­ple can do there, we have no choice but to con­front on­line rad­i­cal­ism.

It should be given the same chance to com­pete in the mar­ket­place of ideas. This is bet­ter than let­ting the rad­i­cals use clan­des­tine chan­nels to spread their mes­sages.

For we will not be able to keep an eye on them and, worse, we will not be able to un­der­stand them, which is the key to beat­ing any ide­ol­ogy.

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