Monday, October 26, 2015

Terrorists Communicate in the Virtual World. They Die in the Physical World

Networked jihadis die in the physical world like anyone else.

This author reminds us of what should be an obvious observation about the youth of terrorists or Arab Spring protesters (tip to Instapundit), but he also misses an obvious point:

Pollock’s main insight was that we shouldn’t be too surprised that a youth revolt used the preferred tools of the young: “The young make up the bulk of these movements, and inevitably they bring youth’s character to their fight for change … Organizing or attending protests gets fitted between flirting, studying, and holding down a job. Action for this generation is as likely to be mediated through screens … as face to face.”

So too, if less attractively, with ISIS. “In trying to understand why ISIS is so adept at [using social media to radicalize young Muslims], one comes back to a simple explanation,” writes Talbot. “The people doing it grew up using the tools.” Talbot quotes Humera Khan, executive director of Muflehun, a think tank that opposes extremism among Muslims: “When you say ‘terrorist use of social media,’ it sounds ominous, but when you look at it as ‘youth use of social media,’ it becomes easier to understand … Of course they are using social media! They are doing the same thing youth are doing everywhere.”

Yes. It would be odd if younger jihadis used postcards and 3 x 5 cards to organize, wouldn't it? Of course they use the means their generation uses. That's not revolutionary. It's kind of ordinary.

Not that it isn't useful to point out the obvious. Or what should be obvious. I never really thought of this in explicitly those terms, but I've long been suspicious of the tendency to call the ordinary extraordinary.

As I did with the whole 4th generation net war stuff:

Ah, "netwar." Recall the first celebrated practioners of netwar--the Mexican Zapatistas in 1994. You remember them, they netwarred their way into power, seizing Mexico City. No? Then they succeeded in creating an independent state. No? Then they convinced the Mexican government to spend more there. Wow. This example of so-called netwar was a guy with a colorful name, some college education, an internet connection, and a bunch of ill-armed indigenous peoples following him. Add an adoring press and presto! Netwar!

There was a lot of idiocy in that thinking.

But those "flat" netwar geniuses are just bloody bureacrats with Twitter accounts.

Jihadis may recruit and propagandize on the web, but they fight in the real world. Where we can kill them.

Just as protesters using those same organizational methods of their generation failed to destroy governments with the means and will to kill and imprison, we too must fight the enemy in the physical world.

And that's where the author misses the obvious:

The inescapable conclusion is that only widespread rejection of ISIS on social media by other young Muslims is likely to effectively counter ISIS’s own social-media campaign.

The notion that we must primarily engage the enemy on Twitter and social media neglects that the surest way to depress their recruiting drive that has sent thousands of jihadis to ISIL-run territory is to kill the recruits on the battlefield and inflict a defeat on ISIL.

Call it "asymmetric warfare" by our side if it makes you feel more leading edge.

You'd be amazed at how jihadi online recruiting suffers when the appeal isn't to join the new and growing caliphate (the strong horse) but to go off to sure death and an unmarked grave in a losing cause (the dead horse) in the physical world.

That's what we did in Iraq the first time we were there. Until we walked away in 2011 and let them rebuild.

We need to kill the jihadi foot soldiers. And we need to destroy their regime that seems so promising.

No hashtag can disguise that kind of defeat.

NOTE: I added the second quote from the initial article and a sentence introducing it. Sorry about that, chief.

UPDATE: Carafano has a related piece:

[It] is important to recognize that the online terrorist operations are not the crux of the problem. What makes terrorist social networks dangerous is when they connect with a physical community—people on the ground who are willing not just to tweet, “like,” or post terrorist material on Instagram, but to operationalize ideas, putting extremist calls into action.

The reverse is true, too. Connect a JDAM with the jihadis in the physical world and they won't Tweet again.

Good point. I actually spoke with him years ago when he worked for Joint Force Quarterly. Seems like a decent sort. With a good point, too.

UPDATE: If it wasn't so serious, it would be amusing that even if the fight against jihadis was primarily a social network fight, our own COEXIST Left won't let us fight that battle because they don't admit the basis of the fight exists:

Governments, be they Western or Moslem, are encountering some basic problems in countering Islamic terrorist groups using Internet social media (Facebook, twitter and so on) to publicize themselves, their message, and their goals as well as soliciting recruits and donations. The basic problem is that Western and Moslem governments cannot openly discuss the basic issues that make Islamic terrorists so popular with so many young Moslems. ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant), for example sees itself as the new leader of the Islamic world and employs extreme violence in pursuit of that goal. As a result one thing everyone (Saudi led Sunnis, Iran led Shia, the West and even al Qaeda) can agree on is that ISIL is evil and a threat to all that must be destroyed.

The basic problem is the Islamic scriptures condone and encourage the use of force to defend Islam from non-Moslems and especially from Moslems who are heretics. This has been going on for over a thousand years but now it is different because the Islamic radicals have access to more money.

For those who strangely ignore long history and wrongly insist we essentially created ISIL, let me repeat my history of jihadis in Iraq post.

Add to that the defeat of al Qaeda in Iraq during and after the 2007 surge offensive (and very related Awakening that flipped Sunni Arabs to our side) and our withdrawal from Iraq in 2011 that allowed the jihadis to rebuild in Iraq, take territory in civil war-wracked Syria, and then explode into Iraq to create the Islamic State (ISIL).

We are not the problem. We are the targets. Well, some of them.