The Internet, Policy & Politics Conferences

Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford

Al-Lami: Virtual Spaces of Contestation

Paper presenter: 
Al-Lami, M., Department of Media and Communication, London School of Economics (LSE)

On 10 September 2008 the three top Jihadist sites sponsored by Al-Fajr Media Centre, an Al-Qaeda media wing, were closed simultaneously. It wasn’t long before the remaining major Jihadist sites were similarly mysteriously closed, forcing Jihadists to look for alternative platforms. The persistent closure of the three Al-Fajr sites, still down today, and “attack” on others prompted rigorous discussions and debates amongst Jihadist forum administrators and members on how to counter this “media attack”. While the closing of the Al-Fajr sites shortly disturbed Jihadists in terms of finding new trustworthy and credible platforms, it did nothing to obstruct the flow and accessibility of Jihadist media nor regrouping of Jihadists. If anything, the closing of the sites - seen as yet another “crusade” by the West - further radicalized Jihadists. It drove them to increase their “media Jihad” efforts and come up with innovative means to survive in a hostile virtual environment. This paper will argue that closing and/or curtailing of Jihadist sites as a means of countering online extremism in general and Al-Qaeda propaganda in particular is technically ineffective in the presence of web 2.0 and morally counterproductive. The paper suggests that allowing Jihadists a platform is more effective in exposing their violence and undermining their narratives. The case of the leading Arabic forum Al-Jazeeratalk, which does allow Jihadists a voice, is used to illustrate such a potentially successful counter-extremism measure.

Mina Al-Lami