One day after the attack on New York City by a truck terrorist, I was sitting at my computer reading slick online magazines produced by the Islamic State terror network and watching high quality jihadist recruitment videos.
The material came to me through a simple Internet search, prompted by a desire to understand how IS radicalizes the lone wolves who are bringing small-scale terrorism to this country — individuals like Sayfullo Saipov, who last week used a rented truck to kill eight people and injure 12 on a New York City bike path.
The answer to my question is that IS and other terror groups infiltrate this country by walking through the wide door opened by our largest internet companies.
Google brought me the latest editions of the IS magazines Dabiq and Ramiyah. These webzines are filled with a combination of Koranic justification for jihad and a recitation of IS’ battlefield scores. One issues featured a photograph of freshly executed “unruly Christians.”
The magazines outdo a chamber of commerce publication in terms of boosterism, and are aimed at creating the impression the Caliphate is rising and you’re missing out on the fun.
Sermons from radical clerics such as Shaikh Faisal are plentiful on YouTube. Saipov reportedly was following the exhortations of one such mullah, Abu Bakr al Baghadi, to respond to the killing of Muslims in Iraq.
To plan his truck attack, he did an internet search, much like you or I might to figure out how to replace a bathroom faucet, and meticulously followed the step-by-step guide posted by IS.
The terror group’s sophisticated marketing arm, Al Hayat Media Center, puts out high-quality recruitment products, including inspirational videos that rival “The Few, the Proud the Marines” in their call to service.
The terror group also worms its way onto Facebook and other social media sites.
The ingredients for making a radical are all there on the web and easy to access. But should they be? President Donald Trump has called for shutting off IS’ web access and purging the internet of its propaganda. Hillary Clinton urged a similar tactic as a candidate in 2015.
It’s not as easy as it sounds. The avenues to the web are endless. Censoring out IS messages would require massive worldwide monitoring and enforcement.
Our own values work against us. Censorship always bumps hard against the First Amendment. Not everyone who calls up an IS magazine or video has ill intent. Many are just doing what I did last week — looking for a greater understanding.
We could treat the material as we do child porn, and make it a crime to look at it, but that would create a criminal justice nightmare. And such tight censorship would drive IS messaging deep underground, making it harder to track.
Still, there is something jarring about seeing IS snuff tapes on the same internet video services that deliver Disney princess movies.
Wannabe IS warriors like Saipov don’t have to make a pilgrimage to a Pakistani terror training center to learn how to bring death to America. They can stay right here in the United States and drink the poison straight from the internet fire hose.
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