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When Hamas Met YouTube By: Kathy Shaidle
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The hugely popular video file-sharing site YouTube has changed politics, the law and society in general, in ways people are just beginning to understand. The power of YouTube, and sites like it, hasn’t escaped the attention of Muslim terrorists and their supporters. For example, Hamas recently launched a YouTube inspired site called AqsaTube (complete with a ripped off version of the American site’s red logo). Instead of the cute cat clips and stealth campaign videos you’ll find on YouTube, however, AqsaTube is “devoted entirely to propaganda and incitement,” according to the Israeli Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center. (IITIC)

In true Web 2.0 fashion, Amir Mizroch, the News Editor at The Jerusalem Post, broke this story on October 13 at his personal blog rather than in the pages of his own newspaper. He wrote:

“[AqsaTube’s] contents, like those of other Hamas websites, are a reflection of its ideology and strategy. They include videos inciting against Israel, glorifying terrorism (the “resistance”) and preaching the doctrines of radical Islam. There is also a link to Hamas’s satellite channel, Al-Aqsa TV, which increases the number of its viewers and enables it to bypass restrictions on its broadcasts...”

According to the IITIC, AqsaTube was one of more than 20 websites, in eight languages, managed and directed by Hamas. AqsaTube’s videos are primarily produced the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s military-terrorist wing. They depict “masked operatives firing rockets and training with weapons. One of them is devoted to one of the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades special units, and is accompanied by a song encouraging suicide attacks: ‘Oh suicide bombers’ unit, oh heroes of the [terrorist] attacks…Our great hope is death for the sake of Allah.’”

As the IITIC report explained, “the new AqsaTube website is another example of how Hamas, like other terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah and Al-Qaeda, have learned to exploit the information revolution to wage the battle for hearts and minds.”

Amir Mizroch noticed the troubling fact that AqsaTube was generating revenue by selling ad space through Google’s ubiquitous AdSense program – including ads for Israeli companies. He confronted Google via email and a few days later, Google removed its ads from the Hamas site.

Then, after Mizroch’s story eventually appeared in the Jerusalem Post and was picked up by other news outlets on October 16, the AqsaTube website disappeared, then reappeared online looking very different indeed, its violent videos (and its stolen YouTube logo) nowhere to be seen.

Yet for every site that is pulled down by its service provider, many other Muslim terrorist websites remain online. In fact, those same websites and chatrooms were rife with speculation that the FBI had been behind the AqsaWeb takedown, when the real culprit was one curious Israeli blogger and his subsequent newspaper story.

Terrorists in Iraq and elsewhere “don't exist without the Web and the Net," explained Naval Postgraduate School professor John Arquilla in a recent interview with Technology Review. “A networked insurgency doesn't have anything like a traditional leadership. Most of the leadership they get is by going on websites, where they share information very quickly” – especially, it should be emphasized, among populations in which illiteracy is rampant.

The phenomenon isn’t limited to the Middle East. A white paper issued in June by the UK’s Center for Social Cohesion, called Virtual Caliphate, reported that while the British government responded to the growing use of the internet as a radicalizing and recruiting tool by “Islamic extremists around the world” by criminalizing “the glorification of terror” in 2006, “British extremists have now adapted to the government’s measures have found new ways to use the internet to spread hatred and promote violence.”

For example, audio lectures by jailed, exiled and deported Muslim are now readily available on the internet. The same websites circulate texts and videos by “extremist Islamic groups,” and help radical Muslims organize and publicize their events.

“Many of these activities are in clear breach of the 2006 Terrorism Act,” says the report, but “the government appears to be either unaware of the material being circulated on the internet or believes that it doesn’t not warrant prosecution. (...) The government’s failure to prosecute those who run and contribute to such websites puts the British public at risk of further terrorist attacks.”

Virtual Caliphate also maintains that “extremists are shifting their operations away from high-profile mosques” and placing “increasingly emphasis on attending private study circles” and holding meetings in private homes, restaurants and community centers. “This development,” says the report, “may make it increasingly difficult for [British] security services to monitor extremist networks and teachings.”

As well, sites like Islambase emphasize the need to “pass on extremist interpretations of Islam to” children, through “home schooling and after school classes, and training them to love martyrdom and to hate non-Muslims.”

So what, if anything, can be done to counteract online jihad?

Robert Spencer of JihadWatch.com told FrontPageMag.com that counterjihadists, including bloggers and mainstream journalists, need to keep “shedding light on what [the online jihad] is, so as to try to alert people to the reality and magnitude of what is going on.”

John Arquilla has a particularly interesting suggestion. He told Technology Today that since the United States is,

“...spending so much on military affairs, maybe some of that should be directed towards technologies that will break our opponents' communications. In World War II, there was an investment in creating the first high-performance computers, for that very purpose. Today, it may be an investment in creating the most effective quantum computing or figuring out how to structure the vast ocean of data that masks the movements of al-Qaeda on the Net and the Web. We need a new Bletchley Park [the country house where the German WWII codes were broken], if we're going to win this war.”

In the case of Hamas and AqsaTube, who'se ready and willing to take on the online jihad?

Kathy Shaidle blogs at FiveFeetOfFury.com. Her new book exposing abuses by Canada’s Human Rights Commissions, The Tyranny of Nice, includes an introduction by Mark Steyn.

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