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.

More articles by:

Geoff Dutton is an ex-geek turned writer and editor. He hails from Boston and writes about whatever distortions of reality strike his fancy. Currently, he’s pedaling a novel chronicling the lives and times of members of a cell of terrorists in Europe, completing a collection of essays on high technology delusions, and can be found barking at progressivepilgrim.review.

Weekend Edition
February 23, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Richard D. Wolff
Capitalism as Obstacle to Equality and Democracy: the US Story
Paul Street
Where’s the Beef Stroganoff? Eight Sacrilegious Reflections on Russiagate
Jeffrey St. Clair
They Came, They Saw, They Tweeted
Andrew Levine
Their Meddlers and Ours
Charles Pierson
Nuclear Nonproliferation, American Style
Joseph Essertier
Why Japan’s Ultranationalists Hate the Olympic Truce
W. T. Whitney
US and Allies Look to Military Intervention in Venezuela
John Laforge
Maybe All Threats of Mass Destruction are “Mentally Deranged”
Matthew Stevenson
Why Vietnam Still Matters: an American Reckoning
David Rosen
For Some Reason, Being White Still Matters
Robert Fantina
Nikki Haley: the U.S. Embarrassment at the United Nations
Joyce Nelson
Why Mueller’s Indictments Are Hugely Important
Joshua Frank
Pearl Jam, Will You Help Stop Sen. Tester From Destroying Montana’s Public Lands?
Dana E. Abizaid
The Attack on Historical Perspective
Conn Hallinan
Immigration and the Italian Elections
George Ochenski
The Great Danger of Anthropocentricity
Pete Dolack
China Can’t Save Capitalism from Environmental Destruction
Joseph Natoli
Broken Lives
Manuel García, Jr.
Why Did Russia Vote For Trump?
Geoff Dutton
One Regime to Rule Them All
Torkil Lauesen – Gabriel Kuhn
Radical Theory and Academia: a Thorny Relationship
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: The Work of Persuasion
Thomas Klikauer
Umberto Eco and Germany’s New Fascism
George Burchett
La Folie Des Grandeurs
Howard Lisnoff
Minister of War
Eileen Appelbaum
Why Trump’s Plan Won’t Solve the Problems of America’s Crumbling Infrastructure
Ramzy Baroud
More Than a Fight over Couscous: Why the Palestinian Narrative Must Be Embraced
Jill Richardson
Mass Shootings Shouldn’t Be the Only Time We Talk About Mental Illness
Jessicah Pierre
Racism is Killing African American Mothers
Steve Horn
Wyoming Now Third State to Propose ALEC Bill Cracking Down on Pipeline Protests
David Griscom
When ‘Fake News’ is Good For Business
Barton Kunstler
Brainwashed Nation
Griffin Bird
I’m an Eagle Scout and I Don’t Want Pipelines in My Wilderness
Edward Curtin
The Coming Wars to End All Wars
Missy Comley Beattie
Message To New Activists
Jonah Raskin
Literary Hubbub in Sonoma: Novel about Mrs. Jack London Roils the Faithful
Binoy Kampmark
Frontiersman of the Internet: John Perry Barlow
Chelli Stanley
The Mirrors of Palestine
James McEnteer
How Brexit Won World War Two
Ralph Nader
Absorbing the Irresistible Consumer Reports Magazine
Cesar Chelala
A Word I Shouldn’t Use
Louis Proyect
Marx at the Movies
Osha Neumann
A White Guy Watches “The Black Panther”
Stephen Cooper
Rebel Talk with Nattali Rize: the Interview
David Yearsley
Market Music
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail