FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

PBS Peddles Context-Free Anti-Terrorism

by

Screen Shot 2016-09-08 at 1.10.08 PM

Abu Mansoor Al-Amriki from a Shabaab Video, July 2009

 

PBS ran a show last night about the spread of Islamic terrorism online and what challenges that poses. It describes that episode of NOVA, 15 Years of Terror, thusly:

On September 11, 2001, an unimaginable horror unfolded that devastated a nation and the world. Fifteen years later, we are still gripped by terror, but it has transformed. The attacks have been coming fast and furious—to Boston, Paris, Brussels, San Bernardino, Orlando, Nice—but they are no longer commanded by a central entity. This is terrorism in the age of the Internet: crowd-sourced violence.

In this special report, NOVA traces the evolution of terror strategies from the World Trade Center to today. How have radical organizations grown to make use of modern propaganda and social media tools in order to cultivate an army of self-radicalized killers? What is going on inside the minds of this new breed of terrorist? What new techniques and technologies can help law enforcement cope with this elusive threat? And how can psychology and technology be leveraged to end this dreadful cycle of terror?

Fair enough and good to know, as far as it goes.

Close to half of the film zooms in on the life and times of the American jihadi Abu Mansoor Al-Amriki (ne Omar Shafik Hammami), who was “radicalized” as a teenager during a trip to Syria. He moved dropped out of college in Alabama and moved to Toronto with a close friend. There he met and married a Somali woman and had a daughter with her. They divorced and he went to Somalia, where he again married and joined al-Shabaab. He fought in their ranks from 2006 until disputes over sharia law and military strategy wedged him away. Al-Shabaab hunted him down and eventually executed him in September 2013, following several unconfirmed reports of his death earlier that year and the year before.

NOVA claims that Abu Mansoor Al-Amriki was perhaps the first jihadi to take to social media to spread the gospel. He was particularly active on Twitter (as @abumamerican) and released number of recruiting videos, diatribes and audiotapes, some of which featured his raps. His notoriety caused the US Government to place him on a most wanted list of terrorists and place a $5M bounty on his head, which Wired noted would be as close to a record deal he would ever come.

But as counterterrorism scholar JM Berger—who appears on the show describing his on-and-off-again relationship with Abu on Twitter and email—notes in Foreign Policy (hence he must be an expert), that Hammami wasn’t much of a militant. He carried an AK-47 but it was mostly for show. His self-appointed role was to be an impresario on social media, a PR agent for jihad, even after he and al-Shabaab repeatedly argued about apostasy after he dissed them online.

Using Hammami as Exhibit A, NOVA proceeds to show us how social media became the next big thing for terrorism, and how—gravely and reluctantly—platforms like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube quickly knuckled under to DHS and FBI demands that they filter out jihadi posts. Monika Bickert, head of global policy management for Facebook appears, wringing her hands over the dilemma of granting terrorists media exposure without stifling free speech. I hate to tell you, kiddo, but that’s impossible to do. YouTube, Facebook and Twitter’s whack-a-terrorist algorithms can only filter so far. At the end of the day, an actual person must decide whether to permit, prohibit, or report a post after reviewing its content. Social media providers all have such people, but who are they and what are their biases? And who’s judging and nudging them from the wings of the security industrial complex? (“We have a lot of experts here; let us give you a hand.”)

Twitter says it has closed 350,000 accounts linked to terrorists in the past year. Either the company has a fix-this feed from the feds or certain censors there must be not getting much sleep these days. We don’t know who makes these judgments, what criteria they use, how consistent they are, or what speech and imagery they’ll deem terrorist going forward. Or whose.

At the end of my day last night after sitting through 53 minutes of 15 Years of Terror, I wanted to wash the producers’ mouths out with soap. Despite hearing from Muslims who had been there, done that, and come back to deprogram aspiring young jihadis, and from experts describing how our intel agencies are getting a grip on jihadist propaganda, and from a marketing guy who set up a campaign to incentivize college students to package their own anti-jihad narratives, there was no acknowledgement of who is ultimately responsible for al Qaeda, the Islamic State, and all those other bad actors. NOVA producer Miles O’Brien never strayed from the shallow waters of the official narrative.

You know, the one that says “This surge of terrorism just happened after we were attacked and defended ourselves. We didn’t mean to kill all those Afghans and Iraqis, really. The Taliban, that despot Saddam, and subsequent Arab extremists had to be neutralized, for the safety of all Americans.” It would have been refreshing if NOVA could have asked their talking heads “What if the US hadn’t turn Afghanistan upside-down, launched a premeditated attack on Iraq, defended Israel’s right to colonize, or leveled Libya? How many Muslim militants would the West now be facing?” Why America insists on making the world more dangerous is not a question that the media likes to ask.

Isn’t this a problem of our own making? It’s almost as if people up the chain of command wanted it this way, to make sure that Americans live in fear and paranoia. Just saying.

Geoff Dutton hails from Boston and writes about whatever strikes his fancy. Beneath his picture in his high school yearbook, the editors wrote ‘Never argue; he’s always right.’ He has spent the better part of his life proving them wrong.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

May 25, 2017
Jennifer Matsui
The Rise of the Alt-Center
Michael Hudson
Another Housing Bubble?
Robert Fisk
Trump Meets the New Leader of the Secular World, Pope Francis
John Laforge
Draft Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapons Unveiled
Benjamin Dangl
Trump’s Budget Expands War on the Backs of America’s Poor
Alice Donovan
US-Led Air Strikes Killed Record Number of Civilians in Syria
Andrew Moss
The Meaning of Trump’s Wall
Leslie Scott
Trump in the Middle East: New Ideas, Old Politics
George Wuerthner
Environmental Groups as Climate Deniers
Pauline Murphy
The Irish Dead: Fighting Fascism in Spain, 1937
Brian Trautman
Veterans on the March
Eric Sommer
Trumps Attack on Social Spending Escalates Long-term Massive Robbery of American Work
Binoy Kampmark
Twenty-Seven Hours: Donald Trump in Israel
Christian Hillegas
Trump’s Islamophobia: the Persistence of Orientalism in Western Rhetoric and Media
Michael J. Sainato
Russiagate: Clintonites Spread the Weiner Conspiracy
Walter Clemens
What the President Could Learn from Our Shih-Tzu Eddie
May 24, 2017
Paul Street
Beyond Neoliberal Identity Politics
Daniel Read
Powder Keg: Manchester Terror Attack Could Lead to Yet Another Resurgence in Nationalist Hate
Robert Fisk
When Peace is a Commodity: Trump in the Middle East
Kenneth Surin
The UK’s Epochal Election
Jeff Berg
Lessons From a Modern Greek Tragedy
Steve Cooper
A Concrete Agenda for Progressives
Michael McKinley
Australia-as-Concierge: the Need for a Change of Occupation
William Hawes
Where Are Your Minds? An Open Letter to Thomas de Maiziere and the CDU
Steve Early
“Corporate Free” Candidates Move Up
Fariborz Saremi
Presidential Elections in Iran and the Outcomes
Dan Bacher
The Dark Heart of California’s Water Politics
Alessandra Bajec
Never Ending Injustice for Pinar Selek
Rob Seimetz
Death By Demigod
Jesse Jackson
Venezuela Needs Helping Hand, Not a Hammer Blow 
Binoy Kampmark
Return to Realpolitik: Trump in Saudi Arabia
Vern Loomis
The NRA: the Dragon in Our Midst
May 23, 2017
John Wight
Manchester Attacks: What Price Hypocrisy?
Patrick Cockburn
A Gathering of Autocrats: Trump Puts US on Sunni Muslim Side of Bitter Sectarian War with Shias
Shamus Cooke
Can Trump Salvage His Presidency in Syria’s War?
Thomas S. Harrington
“Risk”: a Sad Comedown for Laura Poitras
Josh White
Towards the Corbyn Doctrine
Mike Whitney
Rosenstein and Mueller: the Regime Change Tag-Team
Jan Oberg
Trump in Riyadh: an Arab NATO Against Syria and Iran
Susan Babbitt
The Most Dangerous Spy You’ve Never Heard Of: Ana Belén Montes
Rannie Amiri
Al-Awamiya: City of Resistance
Dimitris Konstantakopoulos
The European Left and the Greek Tragedy
Laura Leigh
This Land is Your Land, Except If You’re a Wild Horse Advocate
Hervé Kempf
Macron, Old World President
Michael J. Sainato
Devos Takes Out Her Hatchet
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail