Wikiterrorism

Did you know that we can fight terror with YouTube? Yes, we can, quite literally it would appear -- at least, according to Daniel Kimmage, who the International Herald Tribune identities as a "a senior analyst at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty". In today's op-ed section of the IHT, this senior analyst presents a most peculiar argument about Al Qaeda which, he says, is very much of a Web 1.0 type of organization. In spite of its "advanced" media skills, Kimmage explains, the terror group has a control-from-above type of structure:

"But the Qaeda media nexus, as advanced as it is, is old hat. If Web 1.0was about creating the snazziest official Web resources and Web 2.0 is about letting users run wild with self-created content and interactivity, Al Qaeda and its affiliates are stuck in 1.0."

Kimmage's argument is that Al Qaeda content doesn't do well on an uncensored network like YouTube, where the terror group's videos have apparently been satiricized by an Iraqi poet and where videos of Arab pop stars dramatically eclipse the puritanical Al Qaeda material in popularity. Open up the web to the people of the Moslem world, Kimmage says, and you get the wisdom of the Arab street. But the problem, according to Kimmage, is that Arab governments are themselves guilty of pursuing an authoritarian Web 1.0 strategy:

Unfortunately, the authoritarian governments of the Middle East are doing their best to hobble Web 2.0. By blocking the Internet, they are leaving the field open to Al Qaeda and its recruiters.

The American military's statistics and jihadists' own online postings show that among the most common countries of origin for foreign fighters in Iraq are Egypt, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Yemen. It's no coincidence that Reporters Without Borders lists Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Syria as "Internet enemies," and Libya and Yemen as countries where the Web is "under surveillance."

There is a simple lesson here: Unfettered access to a free Internet is not merely a goal to which we should aspire on principle, but also a very practical means of countering Al Qaeda. As users increasingly make themselves heard, the ensuing chaos will not be to everyone's liking, but it may shake the online edifice of Al Qaeda's totalitarian ideology.

But there's something absurdly spurious about Kimmage's logic. Is he really be arguing that Saudi Arabia is full of Al Qaeda sympathizers because the country doesn't allow people to express themselves on the Internet?  Isn't the reverse true? Isn't one reason that the Web is under surveillance in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Syria is to control Al Qaeda sympathizers? And isn't contemporary Iraq a bloody example of Web 2.0 anarchism in practice in the Arab world -- a so-called "democracy" which the vast majority of Saudis, Egyptians and Syrians could well do without?

Could Kimmage really implying that the principles of Web 1.0 media -- authority and expertise -- are somehow sympathetic to suicide bombers? After all, isn't his IHT op-ed a classic example of Web 1.0 opinion? Isn't he -- the "senior analyst" -- a classic Web 1.0 kind of guy? And isn't his organization -- Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty -- the epitome of a Web 1.0 media. But none of them -- the IHT, Radio Free Europe or Kimmage himself -- are, at least to my knowledge, terrorists.

Kimmage is so infatuated with fashionable Web 2.0 terms that misses the critical point entirely. So, okay, maybe the hierarchical and authoritarian Al Qaeda is terrorism 1.0. But media technology doesn't create terrorism -- terrorists create terrorism. So what happens when the terrorists get hold of decentratlzed Web 2.0 social networks where there are no authorities? What does wiki-terrorism look like? My guess is that terrorism 2.0 will be more destructive, more difficult to fight and more seductive to the Moslem street. And I suspect that in the not-too-distant future "senior analysts" like Kimmage will be looking back nostalgically at Al Qaeda which, at least, had grey bearded leaders, loyal followers and a coherent message derived from an authoritative text.