A Look into Modern Terrorism and the Recruitment that Precedes It
Modern journalism has turned words like Mujahideen, al-Qaeda, Al-Shabaab, and Taliban into common names in the American household. This isn’t by coincidence, nor did it happen without the hard work of several parties. Terrorist organizations have been working constantly under the radar to make their names known to the public, spreading the word of their holy mission and power. The methods used to present themselves vary, from an internet presence to suicide bombing. Both tactics are surprisingly effective, with varying amounts of success gained by the groups who employ them.
Social media in the forms of Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and Reddit are quickly becoming sizable platforms for the online masses to discover major events across the globe. These new web platforms allow for the easy spread of information, including terrorism. Terrorist attacks are now often broadcast across social media platforms almost instantly. Intentions through the online community widely vary: from spreading awareness for fundraising, blood donations, and uniting to keep peace, to other extremes, such as terrorist propaganda, recruitment, and weaponization. Online social media is now used heavily by terrorist organizations to reach new members as well. These peer-to-peer networks allow for easy communication between people affiliated with terrorism and possible recruits. Even more so, encrypted websites allow for safe chat rooms and free communication before commitment to terrorist organizations (Ishengoma). This highlights the fact that modern terrorism is constantly evolving, moving forward at the speed of light, allowing for little delay in action. Terrorist recruitment must be reduced as one of the first steps to stop terrorism in the Middle East. Government administrations must lay aside political differences, and work together to stop a blossoming threat to world security. As these groups spread out across multiple countries, their line of defense becomes thinner. International cooperation is essential in finding their weakest link, and infiltrating it, and that link is their online presence.
Twitter has become an easy route of mass communication between terrorist groups and their fanatics. The twitter page for the terrorist group al-Qaeda has over 14,000 followers, communicating through video, text, and forum. (Ishengoma) Groups use Twitter to continuously churn out ideological campaigns, fund-raising forums, as well as video of action taken against opposing forces. These methods are free, easily accessible, and far reaching, perfect for touching a new generation of social media users, and exactly what any organization would look for in a broadcasting tool.
Well known groups al-Qaeda and Al-Shabaab both have twitter handles, which during my research period for this argument, have been suspended. This proves to me the power the accounts possessed. Any curious onlookers were able to follow the organizations’ movements, and get updates on accountability for terrorist attacks. The break-neck speed at which these groups move while asserting online presence is hard to keep track of, leading to these incidents becoming more and more common. Very few laws apply to the internet, making it an easy ground to evade law enforcement. The few laws that do apply to social media and the internet are easily avoided, through the aforementioned encryptions, as well as internet proxies, and deep web search engines, all of which bypass most government restrictions. (Ishengoma) This allows for twitter handles to go unnoticed for even longer, then be quietly hosted on other websites once they are taken down. These tactics combined lead to organizations being non-confrontational, while still taking an aggressive stance in the online community, showing themselves to the world.
Recruiting for a terrorist mission is, in essence, a campaign to spread the word of God. These campaigns are meant to show off, attract an audience, and strike fear into those who oppose the jihad. This results in the attention of the Muslim community, inviting recruits and volunteers for terrorist missions. Focusing on one well-known organization in particular helps give a look into the beehive of activity that is terrorist recruitment.
Al Qaeda no longer uses recruiters to spread its fingers over the Arab peninsula, instead using a loosely connected group of extremists who believe in jihad. This makes recruiting much less formal, and harder to track. However, al-Qaeda mostly relies on informal radicalization of recruits. Those who wish to volunteer for the jihad already appear radicalized before training (Jenkins). Terrorist organizations then use intense camps for team building, training, and military experience. These camps allow for a shared belief between recruits, as well as specific al-Qaeda planning.
However, there is a distinct difference between radicalization and recruitment. This must be understood to realize the depth of the training undergone by recruits new to these organizations. Radicalization is the installment of an ideology, providing an incentive to an individual to embrace the violent jihadist nature. Recruitment is specifically training a human to become a weapon for jihadist purposes. It goes as far as introducing organization members to each other and allowing them to bond over a shared mindset. This in turn, prepares a unit for terrorist operation.
Recruitment tactics vary from country to country; in some Middle Eastern and Asian countries, recruited members are already pushed toward an ideal terrorist mindset, or follow Islam as an extremist. However, in western countries, recruitment becomes even more varied. European recruits are less assimilated into society, more easily recruited into jihadists organizations than American recruits. The United States integrates most immigrants within society, making it more difficult to find potential recruits (Jenkins). Those who have the potential to join a jihadist organization tend to be defunct, excommunicated from religious groups, and detached from families and communities. Those who are most susceptible to jihadist organizations tend to be searching for a justification through religion, approval, and other means.
Once members are put through vigorous training, they then begin tasks for the organization as “terrorists”. This label describes a group of the most unstable and deadly people of the current generation. The threat of terrorism is growing exponentially, as terrorist ideologies spread like a wildfire through mass media, morphing into dramatic action (Anufrienko).
Mass media provides a crutch for terrorism recruitment to lean on; allowing for a large audience with minimal effort provided from terrorist organizations. Organizations use online mass media as free propaganda, promoting their accomplishments through open discussion, and intense scrutiny. The bond that mass media culture and terrorism have parallels that of oxygen and a fire. The thoughts and actions of those who react to violent displays of cruelty only serve to feed the flame.
Observations show that the mass media craze that follows terrorism may have more effect on the global scale than the event itself. Information spreads much faster, more emotionally, and anonymously, allowing for a faster feedback (Anufrienko). The Israeli hostage situation of the 1972 is incredibly well known. This was, in large part, due to mass television promotion of the event, broadcasting the situation across the globe in a matter of minutes, only adding to the intensity of the event, rendering it beyond anything terrorist propaganda was deemed capable of before.
Mass media culture only furthers the reach of terrorist organizations. The popularity of social media has far surpassed the popularity of television and newspaper, opening a new window of communication for tech-savvy terrorist groups. The internet provides the perfect outlet for terrorist recruitment and ideology. Easily accessible, as well as anonymous, online media grants the capability of terrorist communication for misinformation, as well as communication with public figures. This all allows for a stream of interest from curious audiences.
The capabilities that mass media provides has given rise to new forms of terrorism. Acts of cruelty are evolving to become more dramatic, symbolic in nature. This forces an emotional connection from audiences, allowing for different outcomes of the event varying on region (Anufrienko). These acts cumulate into civilian involvement, leading to causalities sending a strong message. The accumulation of these messages broadcasts a strong message of dangerous involvement, terrifying consequences, and a terrible misunderstanding of a religion turned into fruitless killing.
An extremist group that has recently emerged as a notoriously brutal organization is the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, also known as ISIS. After diverging from al-Qaeda under the leadership of Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, ISIS has become increasingly powerful in the two countries it gets its full title from. ISIS has the military might, and funds to do as it wishes across the Middle East and the internet, members of the organization are encouraged to take to social media to broadcast their views and send a message to the world. Recently, the main form of these messages has been the beheading of western journalists, captured on video and posted around the internet, linked to by Twitter. These unnatural acts of cruelty have garnered the attention and outrage of most western nations, causing many countries to surge into action. However, this may not benefit ISIS in the long run. After capturing the world’s attention, the organization has now solicited repercussions from many western powers. The United States, Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom are notable countries on the growing list of those who oppose al-Baghdadi’s rule of terror.
I believe that ISIS may be the catalyst that many countries in the west and east needed to work together under a common cause. If the nations affected by ISIS are able to band together, work towards a common goal without the need to protect interests, and show a global coalition that is unafraid of the Islamic State, a deep striking retaliation against may be possible. Only with an unbending coalition will terrorists begin to feel the same fear they struck into the hearts of innocent minorities.
Anufrienko, Svetlana V. “Mass Media as a Vital Element of Modern Terrorism.” Middle-East Journal of Scientific Research 18 2 (2013): 206-09. Print.
Ishengoma, Fredrick. “Online Social Networks and Terrorism 2.0 in Developing Countries” International Journal of Computer Science & Network Solutions 1.4 (2013) Print.
Jenkins, Brian. “Building an Army of Believers.” 5 April 2007. Testimony.
Schweitzer, Yoram, and Aviv Oreg. Al-Qaeda’s Odyssey to the Global Jihad.
Institution for National Security Studies. Web. 9 Oct. 2014.