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The growing web of violence

india Updated: Apr 10, 2008 01:00 IST
Rahul Sharma
Rahul Sharma
Hindustan Times
The growing web of violence

Three lower courts. 14 minutes. Five explosions. 16 dead. That's what the headline in a newspaper screamed on Saturday after bomb blasts in Uttar Pradesh brought back the spectre of terrorism to haunt us all over again. Minutes before the blasts some television news channels had received an email warning them of the attack. The mail had apparently gone out from one of those dozens of cyber cafés that dot the
national capital in another sign that terrorism and technology have long been wedded.

The West has been fighting a grinding battle to stop the radicalisation of the Web. We too have to quickly wake up to the reality of a flat world and find ways to counter a menace that has been tearing at the heart of a democratic nation for several years.

While violence on the Internet — whether in the form of videos of people being incapacitated or games that are built around killing the bad guy — abounds, letting radical religious propagandists rule the roost on websites is not in anybody's interest.Not long ago a Moroccan-born student and two of his accomplices — one of whom he had apparently never met — were jailed in Britain for inciting terrorism over the Internet. He had spread jihadi propaganda and even recruited suicide bombers. But such instances are few and far between, a problem that cannot be addressed unless there is a common platform to fight the menace.

Typically, the Internet saves the terrorist the trouble of physically negotiating, recruiting or influencing others to accept his way of thinking. It also allows him to distribute controversial content without being caught. Censoring websites or closing them down always raises questions among those fighting for equal rights to information — especially if the process of censoring is identified with only nasty governments.

There is also a view that jihadi and other radical websites present an alternative worldview at a time when scared governments are suppressing information and attempting to look in the personal lives of everybody in the hunt for that dreaded terrorist. Should they be, therefore, allowed to live?

The very nature of the Internet — easy access, little regulation or other form of government controls, huge audiences across the world, fast flow and anonymity of communication, as well as low cost of Internet presence — makes it an ideal tool for terrorists. More importantly, websites can be relocated from one country to another in no time due to the lack of an international agreement on the issue.

Sri Lanka's Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) were among the first to understand the use of the Internet, which they used for psychological warfare against the government, publicity for their cause, recruitment and mobilisation, fundraising and networking with like-minded organisations by using websites hosted in far away Western countries.

The battle of ideas has long shifted to the Internet. Terrorists and terrorist organisations across the world — may they be in Iraq, Afghanistan or Kashmir — understand that better than most government, which are still fighting to put the right laws in place, to take on this new threat.

Experts say there are more than 5,000 extremist websites. Many of them evolve into new ones once caught and crashed. To end the cat-and-mouse game between authorities and the terrorists we need clear laws. More importantly, we need law enforcers to understand technology. I doubt a havaldar in UP police would know what an email is, or whether or not it can bring bad news.