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How the Nonprofit, Government and Private Sector Can Defeat ISIS

As recent terrorist attacks in Beirut and Paris have shown us, terrorist groups like ISIS have recognized that spreading their message across the world is, according to Megan Anne Healy in the Tulane Review, “an independent battle that they must launch side by side with the military battle.”

Some argue that online recruitment is successful due to the ideology promoted. Ideology is said to be the simplest technique used for terrorist recruitment and closely represents the professed motives of the terrorists themselves. For example, terrorists’ platforms often claim that their goal is the expulsion of the British from India or Israel from the West Bank. Then, appearing selfless, the terrorist may add that their pursuit of these goals is entirely unrelated to any personal economic grievance or motive.

Today, no nation is immune from terrorism. Most terrorist groups actually disappear quickly due to the lack of progress with their online platforms. Those that survive tend to have a flexible ideology that can attract a diverse array of recruits and funders through an online platform. Al-Qaeda is among the most disciplined and flexible terrorist organizations, but its goals and its list of targets are constantly shifting due to ever changing world events. This essentially means, terrorist organizations adopt progressive technology in order to stay relevant. Basically, if terrorist recruitment does not end, terrorist activities cannot be stopped. Combating online recruitment is the first and major step to prevent terrorist recruitment on a world scale.

What can the nonprofit, private, and government sectors do to counter terrorists or to at least nullify their outreach and recruitment efforts?

Propaganda is so successful in the first place because there are so many people who are uneducated about what Islam really is and represents. This issue should be addressed domestically and internationally and should have been after 9/11 so that the discrimination and stereotyping would not reach the levels that they have today. More positive information on what Islam is will prevent Western Jihadists and others from supporting the cause. Organizations such as the Council on American Islamic Relations, have already worked to establish awareness through media relations, lobbying, and education by presenting an Islamic perspective on issues of importance to the American public.

Abdelhamid Abaaoud is suspected of masterminding the Paris attacks this past weekend. (Social media)
Abdelhamid Abaaoud is suspected of masterminding the Paris attacks this past weekend. (Social media)

Websites that terrorist use are generally owned by for profit organizations. These organizations run servers that allow people, usually with a small fee, to start a website about anything and from anywhere. The Paris attackers actually used PlayStation 4s for their communication.

Therefore these companies that run these websites need to be the leaders in securing the web from such terrorist recruitment activity or they will face international consequences. This also applies to organizations that directly support terrorist groups. Those organizations should face an embargo from the U.S. and its allies.

Writer Gregory O’Neil states that with a cyber embargo in place, companies that support terrorists will be forced to choose to lose all commercial services from the United States if they continue to provide services to the terrorist organizations. This should include any banks that hold the accounts of known terrorists, websites that allow terrorist’s content to be published, as well as countless private industries that work with cyber jihadist groups. Such an embargo would utilize soft power to force companies to nullify terrorist ties or essentially they would be destroyed economically.

Author Benjamin Davis outlined that “the lack of effective U.S. or international cyber regulation or governance mechanisms permits terrorist activity to operate in a relatively lawless zone.” With that being said, the U.S. and International cyber regulators should put in place strict anti-terrorist networks for online communication. This would involve increasing funding for the Department of Defense and the UN cyber security departments so that they could employ top hackers and information technologists to combat terrorist group’s online platforms (no need for Anonymous to do the hard work). Instead of merely shutting websites down, these groups would track IP addresses or send intense viruses to the computers that upload content to these websites.

Using and empowering the potential that private, government, and nonprofit organizations have in combating cyber jihadists, is the only way to decrease recruitment, finance resources, and other important components of terrorist organizations. We cannot defeat cyber jihadist with bombs or conventional warfare, therefore a counter attack must be waged through all these sectors simultaneously.