Naturally, each case is unique, but journeying deep into the Islamist state, which – for now – exists only in cyberspace, we find that people capable of such violence adopt a level of obedience that can only be instilled through incessant brainwashing and indoctrination.
"It is difficult to fight a war against the enemy who believes God is his commander," journalist Yaakov Lappin writes in "Virtual Caliphate" (Potomac Books, Inc.), a captivating, eye-opening and at times unnerving examination of radical Islam's merciless effort to "rule the law of Allah on people and lands."
The book tells us that by flooding Jihadi websites with conveniently cherry-picked interpretations of hadith (Islamic tradition based on the sayings and actions of Prophet Muhammad) and verses from the Koran, online preachers seek to drive out "western cultural ideas from Muslim minds," and in essence turn potential recruits into citizens of an online Islamist entity, regarded by fundamentalists as the first stage in establishing a physical, transnational Islamist state that will weed out the "murder, rape, pillaging and poverty that exist today…Because of the lack of implementation of Islam."
Citing the "bible of the global Jihadi movement," online preachers drive home the message that the bond established with other believers is far more important than nationality, family and friendships: "Until the (caliphate) state is established…Muslims must consider themselves homeless."
Numerous examples of such fiery sermons are sprinkled throughout the book, giving the reader a taste of the manipulation and violent rhetoric would-be recruits are subjected to. The preachers touch on every aspect of modern life among "kaffirs (infidels)", leaving believers with no religious pretext to sit on the sidelines as the jihadis terrorize the "enemies of Allah" and conspire to topple governments in order to establish the caliphate.
'Counterassault' by moderates underway
Throughout the alienation process, the book says, websites "sing the praises of reaching paradise by dying in an act of jihad." From there, the road to suicide bombings or other attacks on "infidels" becomes increasingly shorter. "Whosoever dies and does not fight jihad nor wished himself to fight, dies upon a branch of hypocrisy," reads an e-book written by a prominent sheikh and translated into English by British jihadi ringleader Abu Osama.
Such commands are supported by online videos showing the "martyrs" in a state of total ecstasy before launching an attack – convinced they will shortly enter heaven's gates. To cast away any fears of physical pain, new recruits are told that "the martyr will never feel at the time of his death except a pinch."
Thus, frighteningly enough, the "citizens" of this virtual state are part of an "alliance of holy warriors who are never further away then the click of the mouse."
At this stage, Lappin contends, the lack of physical borders is advantageous to the jihadi cause, as it is the "social dynamism of web forums combined with hard jihadi ideology that creates such a potent mix."
Would the establishment of an Islamist state in Iraq, Pakistan or anywhere else mean the end of global Jihad? The author's meticulous examination of the virtual caliphate's various ministries, which direct global Jihad's military, foreign and economic policies in the online environment, finds that the extremists' campaign has only just begun. "The mission of true Muslims is to carry the message of Islam to the whole of mankind," potential recruits are told by clerics representing a brand of Islam that is different from moderate streams.
In essence, global jihad is using technology that was developed in the West to try to destroy it. Based on interviews with several experts, Lappin asserts that the current counterterrorism efforts, including disabling main online forums used to distribute Osama bin Laden's messages, have had only limited success: "For now, what is certain is that no system is in place to track down and shut down the thousands of websites composing the virtual caliphate."
However, Lappin says that counterterrorism agencies are better utilizing the technological innovations emanating from the private sector, as computer scientists and programmers "are taking their first steps in developing applications that are specifically designed to trawl the Internet and mark out the centers of the virtual caliphate."
Should these applications – which the book discusses in great detail - prove successful, counter-terrorists will find themselves armed with new technologies.
Furthermore, as experts in the book note, the counter-terrorism efforts need not be solely confined to defensive measures, as the Internet can be used to "disseminate rhetoric that counters the jihadi message." One expert suggests a "counter-propaganda campaign" on the web in order to get users – particularly those who are at the early stages of radicalization – to "hear a different message."
In fact, the book states that this "counterassault" by moderate Muslim clerics against their extremist rivals is already underway.
Despite the extremists' unimaginable success in using cyberspace to further their goal (one counter-terrorism is quoted as saying that "without the net there would be no global jihad"), Lappin proposes that a combination of technology and international cooperation - coupled with the introduction of legal frameworks that would give security agencies added leeway - could seriously undermine the virtual caliphate, and with it "most of (global jihad's) ability to function at all."
But for now, new jihadi websites are popping up to replace the defunct ones, and fanatic religious leaders are continuing to relay the virtual caliphate's message online.
In the aftermath of the tumultuous post-9/11 era, it appears that some sections of moderate societies are under the impression that extremists will not be able to pull off another attack of the same magnitude. But the book tells us that as far as global jihadis are concerned, the worst is yet to come, as some websites provide justifications for the use of non-conventional terrorism.
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