In a bold move to reclaim cyberspace from jihadi propagandists, global governments have recently committed to a comprehensive effort aimed at challenging on their own turf those who radicalize others, the New York Times reports.
This move comes as counter-terrorism officials worldwide struggle to quell a surge of homegrown terrorists, radicalized online, and seemingly impossible to spot prior to their murderous acts. And it's not just governments fearing this new threat; As-Sharq Al-Awsat reported in January that many of the old-guard jihadists were feeling uneasy about the uncontrollable nature of "the new generation who draw on jihadist ideology from the internet."
So what does this new push to curtail radicalization online entail?
The plan going forward is to work through various international organizations and a host of private or non-profit groups to wage "a counterattack to try to undermine the appeal of terrorists, expose their lack of legitimacy, and attack the credibility of their ideology and online messengers."
In the case of Saudi Arabia, much of the work is being done by "the independent, nongovernmental Sakinah campaign, supported by the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, [who] uses Islamic scholars who oppose terrorism to interact online with seekers of religious knowledge."
And in Pakistan, authorities are taking to the popular video-sharing site, YouTube, posting "gruesome videos of mosques bombed by Islamic extremists, to show that such attacks kill fellow Muslims."
Over the past year, YouTube was frequently criticized for its witting or unwitting complicity in helping spread the jihadists' message and arguably, aiding radicalization. Positive efforts by the Google-owned site to proactively take down offending material have proven to be largely ineffective.
According to the Times, anti-radicalization efforts are as much about the messenger as the message itself. Both must be convincing in order to sway potential recruits from the path of extremism. These messengers have ranged "from extremists who have renounced their pasts to Pakistani cricket stars who presumably have wide appeal among the youth solicited by both sides."
Regardless of who is delivering the message and what is said, counterterrorism officials acknowledge that their effort is an uphill battle. It is no easy task "coming up with an effective counter to Al Qaeda's simple but powerful narrative: that the United States and the West are at war with Islam; that Muslims are unjustly discriminated against and persecuted; and that only violent action can bring change."