By Dr. John Andrew Morrow
From a strategic standpoint, the struggle against extremism and terrorism relies upon both soft power and hard power, the proverbial carrot or the stick. Soft power is non-coercive. It attempts to change and influence social and political opinion. It seeks diplomatic solutions. Its currency is culture, political values, and foreign policies. Hard power refers to modes of coercion, including economic sanctions and direct military confrontation. If hard power seeks to coerce, soft power seeks to co-opt.
With the exception of lawful combatants under the command of state actors who abide by the articles of war, most Muslims are not in a position to participate in direct military conflicts against Takfiri terrorists in West Africa, North Africa, the Middle East, Asia or elsewhere. Such Muslims can, however, engage in social, political, and economic activities that support the war against sub-human psychopaths who pretend to be Muslims.
If a handful of ugly ISIS losers and rejects can operate a propaganda campaign from some cesspool in Syria, producing videos and publications which are then shared to tens of thousands of other fools and failures, individual Muslims, along with Islamic organizations and associations can easily set up cyber centers that are far more efficient and professional. If a small-band of overly-hairy ISIS apes can ruin the image of Islam over the course of a few years, similar-sized brotherhoods and sisterhoods of beautiful bona fide Muslims can create a new narrative.
In terms of the information war or cyber jihad against ISIS and extremism, the Covenants Initiative proposes the following in terms of structure:
1) Rather than have a single, centralized, cyber center, various smaller centers should operate around the word.
2) Intelligence and computer experts estimate that ISIS employs as little as half a dozen full-time internet propagandists. With a dedicated staff of similar size, ISIS efforts could be countered. With a larger staff, an information center could flood the field, dilute, and drown out the discourse of the extremists.
4) The possibility of coordinating efforts with media giants such as Google merits serious consideration. Private sector partners could prove particularly useful. Some of our partners are working with Google to disrupt ISIS recruiting online. Such efforts should be supported and expanded.
5) At one point, possible collaborative efforts between the various anti-ISIS information centers and law enforcement/intelligence agencies can be envisioned. While some agencies have the technological tools to target ISIS and other extremists, they do not necessarily have sufficient content knowledge to fully comprehend the enemy and to determine the most effective strategies to implement. Unfortunately, many of the major powers in the world today have a history of simultaneously supporting and opposing extremist groups. Consequently, caution is the order of the day. In most cases, Muslims should take the initiative to act independently.
For Muslim contemplating the creation of counter-radicalization cyber centers, the Covenants Initiative proposes the following guidelines:
1) The soft war on terror must employ all available technology, including, but not limited to email, social media, and videos.
2) The content should be multilingual. Languages need to be prioritized on the basis of their frequency in propaganda and recruitment efforts. English and Arabic come first followed by French, German, Danish, Norwegian, Dutch, Swedish, Urdu, and Russian.
3) Bots, fake friends, or computer algorithms that act like real people, should be created by the tens of thousands to disseminate anti-extremist content.
4) Using “Artificial Intelligence-information systems,” just like a spyware or a spam or pop-up detector for online browsing, an application and/or plug-in could alert the end user if the information being read or discussed in live communication is leaning in an “ISIS-friendly” direction, say with 5 color-coded levels of alert. A smart app could then offer context-sensitive suggestions to help tackle misinformation to protect untrained minds. (This feature could be packaged along with the existing McAfee or Norton type products).
5) A plagiarism check system, such as turitin.com, could be used to identify “sources” of information shared by ISIS-friendly parties, since most of the content used by ISIS for recruitment over the internet could very well be coming from the same sources. For instance, ISIS recruiters might quote certain verses or hadiths more often; this would be an easy way to detect their presence.
6) A Checklist/Scorecard/Detection system to be developed that can be used by Muslims and Non-Muslims to quickly (with some higher level of accuracy) ascertain “ISIS-friendly” content, and clear action plan on how to deal with such people/situations.
7) Just as in the cold war era, hold exercises or drills in schools, colleges, work places, temples etc. about how to deal with “ISIS-friendly” situations. Offer training in how to conduct these drills through webinars/seminars just as courses on “responsible use of social media” are currently being offered through schools/colleges.
8) Short films could be shared on YouTube showing the public how ISIS and similar groups carry on recruiting.
9) Since 13 to 27 is likely the age group in the West most often targeted by ISIS recruiters, schools/colleges should consider offering courses like “ISIS versus Islam,” which could be a 0.5 credit hour mandatory class showing how to combat ISIS.
10) Distribute free or steeply discounted tablets with free internet access in war torn countries. Let this access be restricted so that only specific content may be viewed by young people there, making sure that ISIS and other extremist content is completely blocked. These tablets could be used to offer free degree programs to the youth, allowing them to pick up skills, advance knowledge, receive therapy etc. In other words, create other opportunities so youth have less time and inclination to connect with ISIS-friendly people or recruiters.
11) Entertainment should be one factor in any anti-extremist endeavors. Comedy, for example, is a useful tool against extremism. It has been used effectively throughout the Muslim world. Mockery and parody of extremists by comedians, artists, writers, and poets helps to ridicule them in the minds of the Muslim majority. The academic approach only tends to impact educated people but the use of entertainment reaches a much broader segment of the population. Whether it is comedy, theatre, music, videos, short films or full-length features, entertainment is a powerful tool that can be used to counter the extremist narrative.
12) While Muslim volunteers would be welcome, as seeing that ISIS does not pay its propagandists, they do it for free, cyber centers could also rely upon paid staff, even hiring non-Muslim hackers as mercenaries and allies at the service of Islam.
13) Since as little as 4% of the internet is visible to ordinary users, the rest occupying the unindexed deep web which contains mostly legitimate information, and the encrypted dark web, used by bankers, swindlers, phishers, scammers, the military, illegal pornographers, pedophiles, human traffickers, drug traffickers, hit-men, terrorists etc., computer experts should take the war to the cyber battlefield and systematically attack and expose Takfiri Satanists and their sponsors in these arenas.
There is no good without evil and no evil without good. As the Prophet Muhammad, blessings and peace be upon him, foretold, the Kharijites would resurface sporadically from the seventh century until the end of time when they will be finally vanquished by the Messiah Jesus and the Imam Mahdi. Extremists and terrorists are the catamites of the Anti-Christ. All Muslims must fight them in the name of Allah and His Messenger. And while there is a time and place for the sword, most Muslims must rely upon the word. As the Prophet Muhammad and Imam Ja‘far al-Sadiq confirmed: “The ink of a scholar is more precious than the blood of a martyr.” As important as military might may be, it does not have the power to destroy a pernicious and perverse ideology. In a war of ideas, it is the most convincing and compelling idea that will ultimately win. Only true Islam can defeat fake Islam: “With Allah is the perfect proof and argument” (6:149). So raise your pens, Soldiers of Allah, and spill your ink in His Path!
Dr. John Andrew Morrow is Native North American a proud member of the Métis Nation. After taking his Shahadah at the age of 16, he became both a qualified Western academic and a Muslim ‘Alim. He has authored over thirty peer-reviewed books and over one hundred scholarly articles. His most influential work to date is The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World. His websites include http://www.covenantsoftheprophet.com and http://www.johnandrewmorrow.com. His videos and lectures can be found on The Covenants of the Prophet Channel on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCqM3-puvWuKuCEJsDQDZFrA . His Facebook accounts include @johnandrewmorrow and @covenantsoftheprophet. He can be followed on Twitter @drjamorrow.