In The Media

Internet plays major role in hate

by Geoffrey Johnston (feat. Kyle Matthews)

The Whig
June 17, 2016

The slaughter of scores of innocent people at an Orlando nightclub last weekend by a deranged gunman who had sworn allegiance to the Islamic State shook the civilized world. And the worst terror attack on U.S. soil since the jihadist strikes of Sept. 11, 2001, underscored the genocidal bigotry of Islamist ideology.

The gunman, a reportedly angry Muslim man who apparently couldn't reconcile his fluid sexuality with his hateful radical ideology, targeted Pulse, a nightclub that caters to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. He murdered 49 people and wounded another 53 in a deadly siege, which ended when police killed the terrorist.

Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, responded to the Orlando terror attack with self-congratulatory rhetoric and doubled down on his plan to ban all Muslims from entering the United States. While his plan, which might not even be legal, would keep some terrorists out of the country, it would do nothing to prevent the radicalization of American-born Muslims or Muslim converts.

Although Trump correctly identifies radical Islam as a threat to the national security of the United States, his plan simply does not offer a strategy to counter the religiously motivated ideology that drives some disaffected American Muslims to become terrorists.

Like President Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee, is reluctant to use the term radical Islam. However, unlike Trump, she acknowledges the need to counter Islamist ideology and the jihadist narrative.

In the aftermath of the Orlando massacre, Clinton described the attack as "an act of terror." And she stated that "we need to redouble our efforts to defend our country from threats at home and abroad."

Not only would Clinton supposedly work to defeat transnational terrorist organizations, she pledged to counter the jihadists "attempts to recruit people here and everywhere, and hardening our defences at home."

However, Clinton has yet to offer a coherent plan to discredit extremist ideologies and prevent vulnerable Muslims from being seduced by radical propaganda. Indeed, during her tenure as President Barack Obama's secretary of state, Clinton failed to stem the rising tide of religious radicalism around the globe.

The Islamic State -- also known as ISIS, ISIL or Daesh -- is driven by an ideology that seeks to impose rule by Islamic or sharia law across the globe. There is no place for democracy, human rights, religious freedom, equality of the sexes, or sexual diversity in a society governed by this ideology, which is commonly referred to as Islamism.

Homegrown terrorism

What is homegrown terrorism? "Homegrown terrorism means perpetrators of violent acts were born and bred in the country being discussed," said Kyle Matthews, a Montreal-based expert on mass atrocities prevention, religious extremism, social media and international issues.

What role do the Internet and social media play in the radicalization of Muslims in North America? "Social media and the Internet play a major role in connecting individuals to propaganda and hateful ideas," responded Matthews, who is the senior deputy director of the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies at Concordia University, and a Fellow at the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute. "Though very often, a network of people push that person to commit deadly violence," he added.

How does someone go from reading Islamist propaganda online to committing a mass atrocity? "[There's] not one single track of action," Matthews replied. "Key, though, is idea of martyrdom and reward in the afterlife for killing the 'other.'"

What role does ideology play in jihadi violence? "While many factors push individuals to commit jihadi violence, the embrace of Islamism as an ideology and world view is often a serious trigger," Matthews answered.

"It is also important to note not everyone who embraces Islamism commit violent acts," he said. "Some use non-violent methods to advance their goal of imposing religion on society in gradual steps."

Obama responds to attack

During prepared remarks to the media earlier this week, President Obama stated: "It appears that the shooter was inspired by various extremist information that was disseminated over the Internet."

Obama also stated that investigators have yet to find any "clear evidence" that the perpetrator of the Orlando attack was "directed externally." Although the gunman had pledged alliance to the Islamic State in telephone calls to a 911 operator and a local television station, Obama asserted that "there is no evidence so far that he was in fact directed by ISIL."

"As far as we can tell right now, this is certainly an example of the kind of homegrown extremism that all of us have been so concerned about for a very long time," Obama told reporters. And he acknowledged that "one of the biggest challenges we are going to have is this kind of propaganda and perversions of Islam that you see generated on the Internet, and the capacity for that to seep into the minds of troubled individuals or weak individuals, and seeing them motivated then to take actions against people here in the United States and elsewhere in the world that are tragic."

The president declared that "countering this extremist ideology is increasingly going to be just as important as making sure that we are disrupting more extensive plots engineered from the outside."

Islamists detest LGBT

In the question-and-answer session after his address to reporters, Obama was asked about the shooter's motivations. He replied that the killer's motivations were not yet known. But he went on to link the ideology of extremist groups with homophobia.

Obama stated that "organizations like ISIL or organizations like al-Qaida, or those who have perverted Islam and created these radical, nihilistic, vicious organizations, one of the groups that they target are gays and lesbians because they believe that they do not abide by their attitudes towards sexuality."

Obama further underscored the connection between the hatred of the LGBT community and extremism. "Regardless of the particular motivations of this killer," he said, "there are connections between this vicious, bankrupt ideology and general attitudes towards gays and lesbians."

Obama also stated that persecution is "something that the LGBT community is subject to not just by ISIL but by a lot of groups that purport to speak on behalf of God around the world."

However, the Islamic State has taken genocidal homophobia to a new low.

Last summer, Jessica Stern, executive director of OutRight Action International (formerly known as the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission), addressed the United Nations Security Council, making a powerful case for helping members of the "lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex" (or LGBTI) community targeted by ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

Stern presented the Security Council with a "gruesome" slideshow that depicted "a timeline of alleged killings by ISIS for sodomy." Because the primary source of information about the killing of LGBTI people came was ISIS, Stern urged caution in evaluating the information.

However, the human rights defender told the Security Council that certain facts are clear. For example, "the minimum number of executions for sodomy for which ISIS has claimed responsibility is 30," she said in her Aug. 24, 2015, presentation. The death toll is likely much higher today.

"ISIS-established courts have claimed to punish sodomy with stoning, firing squads, beheadings, and by pushing men from tall buildings," she said.

According to Stern, "ISIS advertises these killings to give the impression of as many executions as possible." It is clear that the execution of people who are gay is designed to instil fear in anyone who does not adhere to the Islamic State's ideology.

"We know that the fear of ISIS has fuelled violence against LGBTI persons by other militias and private actors," Stern told the Security Council.

"The heart of my message," Stern explained, is that "the international community must understand anti-LGBTI persecution as a component of how ISIS treats those it labels as "impure." We must recognize that these threats exist on a continuum of violence and discrimination before, during and after conflict."

Stern offered several recommendations to help the endangered LGBTI community in Iraq and Syria. For instance, she urged all UN agencies operating in those war-torn countries to implement "tailored LGBTI programming." In addition, she urged the United Nations Higher Commissioner for Refugees and the community of nations "to act with urgency for those most in need of relocation."

But what can be done to counter the dissemination of Islamist propaganda online that fuels hatred and terrorism? "Governments need to begin supporting organizations and civil society groups to take back the Internet, create counter-narratives and unmask those who incite others to commit violent acts," Matthews replied.



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