While the internet is the center of attention for the jihadists as well as the contemporary gaming industry, the article aims to provide the reader with a controversial comparison: both groups are heavily active on the Internet, using similar modes, such as forums, blogs, YouTube, websites and social networks (facebook) and both groups consist of a young generation, that came up with computers. The IT-fluency or the digital nativity of both groups has set a similar modus operandi on how both groups operate with and on the internet to promote their individual advertisement or propaganda. Similar to the gaming industry, the jihadists encourage and disseminate also ‘user generated contents’ that has led to an increase of jihadist propaganda and ideological challenges. Similar patterns can be found among fans and followers of the gaming industry.
The comparison of both groups has the intention to show the reader how smart, professional and technical able the internet is being exploited by contemporary terror groups such as al-Qa’ida, while its ideology has been subsequently extended and widely incorporated in various videos and pictures over the recent years.
This article does not analyze jihadist propaganda and ideology but rather intends to serve to show how jihadists have established themselves quite well on the internet in order to attract their hive of likeminded siblings. This allows, in the authors opinion, to draw a comparison to a group that dwells on the internet to promote products and attract potential users as well, the Gaming Industry. As jihadists favor the internet, favored products and possibilities set by the Gaming Industry have entered the jihadist online spheres as well.
A PDF version (with the endnotes) of the article is available for download here:
Information on the (German) book of Nico Prucha “The Voice of Jihad – Sawt al-Jihad – al-Qa’ida’s first online Magazine”:
Internet Ventures: Online Jihad and the Gaming Industry as Cultural Sub-Groups in Comparison on the World Wide Web
“Do not send a spy where a schoolboy can go” – Robert David Steele
“Raids on forums and blogs – today it’s your websites and tomorrow it’s your soil and territory, o servant of the cross! Call to every brother who has a blog and who has expertise of blogs to participate with us in this blessed raid” – ‘Umar ‘Abd al-Hakim
The intention of this article is simply to provide the reader with some observations of the internet by the author. The internet in its full spectrum is being used by many groups and organizations of all kind using various social networking platforms or other elements of the contemporary internet. However, two groups are henceforth in a practical stance compared. Both who are in great parts exclusively using the internet and who are not only both highly dependent on the World Wide Web, but are also in parts results of this specific fast changing and influential development: The Gaming Industry (GI) and al-Qaeda (AQ). What once was confined to a selected few, so-called computer freaks, a technical and intellectual avant-garde in the early to late nineties, who had as much as the technical capacities as well as personal abilities to use, shape and alter the internet, is in the meantime a common thing for the majority and part of everyday life.
Both AQ and GI are groups who deploy their advertisement, their propaganda, their promotional trailers and filmed suicide bombing clips online, within a genre-based specific cluster (Marin et al 2009) and within a characteristic framework. However, and this is the main observation and the underlying fundamental principle of this article, both groups, like many others on the so called “web 2.0”, are using same and similar means of promoting their specifically notions, ideas, products, videos and writings, with a similar effect on what users are contributing in terms of technical proficiency within a “cult” or “pop-cultural” content. This observation is certainly not surprising, but the article intends to shed some light on the value of the internet for terrorist groups, who systematically use it as a tool to disseminate propaganda, to influence, radicalize and recruit on this public medium. The dissemination and this borderless virtual indefinite free public space grants the individual followers, fans or adherents to have the exact same means and potentials of replying and becoming an interactive (counter-) part of a individual genre-based cluster. For the gaming industry, this may be by being an online “gamer” participating in and playing various electronic games. The GI can be seen as an avant-garde when it comes to promoting products (games) on the internet. The avant-gardism of the GI includes successfully promoting new and upcoming video games on all levels of the internet, reaching out to a huge crowd on a global scale.
While the crowd of jihadist followers, forum-members and participants is consuming mostly Arabic based videos, writings and other forms of propaganda, the majority can best be termed as “armchair jihadists”
who live and dwell within the online spheres of AQ and have the ultimate wish to join the real-life propagated role-model Mujahidin. The process of radicalization and its long-term aspired outcome of being recruited or at least inspired to undertake individual operations
(al-Suri 2005) is crafted in a professional and ideological comprising manner by the Senior and Junior Leadership circles of AQ. Many “armchair jihadists” adhere to the specifically determined interpretation of chosen religious concepts by the ideological authoritative circles of AQ and can see a practical and mostly military output of these definitions within AQ’s extensive library of videos (Hafez 2007).
The GI’s fans, on the other hand, the so called “gamers”, are the ones using the internet with all its options and possibilities to meet and mostly play multi-player games online. The GI could be termed as the present avant-garde of the “web 2.0”, an industry that has over the recent years subsequently designed games and gaming products that are in some parts exclusively played with others over the internet. The avant-gardism set by this particularly industry is bound to the core technical developments and foundations of the worlds hard- and in wide parts software manufacturers, that are being professionally and for pure commercial reasons exploited by the GI, with the dawn of blogs and online forums, facebook, YouTube
and Twitter, besides the “classical” websites.
Similarly, various political parties have picked up this online trend and discovered its resources. In most cases political parties are just as much active on facebook and YouTube besides having various blogs to further their cause.
US President Barack Obama’s YouTube Channel
is one of the main outlets to regularly address the nation – a cheap, quick and easy to use platform. This is also the understanding of AQ, who deploy its material as well since years according to their need to facilitate the internet by all means as strategic propaganda platform. AQ’s “Islamic State Iraq” YouTube Channel
shows in some parts its videos sniper attacks, IED or suicide operations “against the Crusader forces” in a quickly accessible format and nevertheless offers the high quality videos within its various forums to download.
“BentOsamaBenLaden’s Channel” – The YouTube Channel of the “daughter of Osama bin Laden” with the logos of the “Islamic State of Iraq” in the background
What does all of this have to do with AQ? Why compare the GI to AQ?
As stated, the same means and mechanisms offered to a global and local audience by the abilities of the internet and specifically the “web 2.0” have been penetrated and exploited by AQ systematically. Since the dawn of the internet and its discovery by AQ in general, the trend to make use of the internet was subsequently and systematically exploited under the auspices of the Saudi AQ branch in 2003 (Prucha 2010), by hosting radical magazines and videos on websites. Since the internet has gained a vital importance for AQ and related. With blogs established, forums created, facebook profiles and groups set up and YouTube as a free and easy to use platform to quickly spread jihadist videos, AQ has substantially infiltrated the internet and proudly calls this the “raids on websites, blogs and forums”
and has incorporated the internet as the vital backbone for radicalization, motivation and recruitment of potential online siblings. Another important aspect for AQ and its sympathizers are the various groups, such as the Global Media Front (GIMF), or the Ansar Mailing List Newsletter, that in most parts seem to be publishing exclusively online – and exclusively via jihadist forums. Furthermore, a number of “media” and “language departments” strive to supply a growing community of online jihadists with non-Arabic material, increasingly in German next to English, Urdu, Dari, Pashto or Russian translations of videos and ideological writings. Subsequently sub-torrents adhering to the global AQ ideology deploy local messages and threats in its local language.
Just as the GI has certainly discovered the multi-lingual setting of the internet, so has AQ and seeks to speak out for and to all Muslims who show interest in their radical creed and militancy. The internet does not only enable AQ to rapidly respond to claims made by either Western media or governments, but it allows AQ to issue its “truth” as in contrast to the “lies”. The up-to-date responsive character of AQ, particularly in terms of countering statements by governments in a highly professional ideological as well as technical manner may be one of its reasons of success as a global terror group which has led to various mergers with other radical-Islamist or jihadist groups in the past. However, the lack of addressing or rapidly responding to the uproar caused by the Danish Cartoon issue has also led to open criticism of AQ. In a similar fashion controversial issues such as the legitimacy of killing fellow Muslims as a result of bombing campaigns (in Algiers, 2007) was only addressed, after members of the al-Hesbah forum openly questioned AQ’s Algerian ideologue, who had to respond (Rashid 2007). But AQ remains in great (selected) parts highly active and responsive. When the Taliban kidnapped a group of South Korean Christian missionaries in Afghanistan, it was the leadership of AQ under Abu Yahya al-Libi who defended, justified and praised the action of “our fellow Mujahidin.” Also the notion was systematically reinforced and emphasized by al-Libi that AQ and Taliban are indeed fighting together for the same cause and the identical sake (al-Libi 2007).
AQ has what the German Red Army Faction could only dream of and what was frequently emphasized in their writings and statements in the 1970s, in planning “the next steps” (ID-Verlag 1997):
Comprising propaganda for the armed struggle; explaining the masses why it is necessary and unavoidable and how it can be prepared (conspiratorial leaflets and graffiti).
AQ on a technical stance like most online active groups, including the GI, have taken up the next steps that are perhaps a logical result of the contemporary technological development. Both groups are part of what can be termed a youthful “pop-cultural movement” that draw attention on the internet by specific messages and products and both groups have a specific language, graphical symbols in a highly individual iconography limited within its culture that is confined to the individual influence zones. While the same AQ related videos from YouTube can be found within facebook, there are also specific groups that use facebook to upload, host and propagate their personally made graphics, pictures and videos. Such “user generated content”, the individually programmed “modifications” for games, is also applicable for torrents of AQ and its skillful members who “modify” in their terms and in their worldview various pictures and subsequently re-publish them in ideologically adherent but independent groups on platforms like facebook. Similarly, groups like the Lebanese Hizbullah have even published games whereas the player assumes the role of a Mujahid fighting the Israeli forces in “The People of the Border” or “Special Force 2”.
“Jihad solves everything” – on facebook
With particular “products” openly broadcast on the internet, always easy to download and install, a specific “corporate guideline” has unfolded. The used icons, names, symbols and general layouts of documents and videos provide a coherent guideline that is used and respected within both online groups. However it must be noted that the graphical violence addressed by AQ as well as the purely virtual mode of violence hosted by the GI is of great difference even if some icons and pictures may suggest a greater relationship – exploited very well by AQ for its purposes. Contrary to the fact that both groups have intersecting elements, the sympathizing online jihadists are the ones exposed to extreme forms of real violence – with a real-life ideological jihadist agenda and actual battle zones portrayed in romantic pictures – it is the jihadists who, unlike the gamers of online or multiplayer games, are propagating the various forms of shown violence within a tight radical ideology (Prucha 2010; al-Batush 2009; Bonney 2004). Gamers are consumers of a legal content. This may naturally include so-called “first person shooters” (FPS), or “killer games” and are neither exposed to real forms of violence and bloodshed and do not advise to commit such acts in real life (Williams et al 2005). Nevertheless such games have a certain reputation, despite various studies and assertions. “A longitudinal study of an online violent video game with a control group tested for changes in an aggressive cognitions and behaviors. The findings did not support the assertion that a violent game will cause substantial increases in real-world aggression” (Williams et al 2005).The majority of the consumers of the GI simply enjoy various games and genres although some controversial games have been publicly branded as having inspired or enabled real forms of crimes, such as the worldwide school shootings.
Breaking the language barriers: “official” AQ propaganda with Indonesian subtitles
It may be true to best describe the situation as AQ having the best of all worlds online, as they may freely use, modify or simply propagate specific ideas and concepts within a framework the contemporary jihadist see fit to further their cause. Again, the main promotional tool and platform for the armchair jihadists as well as for real-life battle-hardened leaders are the online forums, and perhaps will remain so over the coming years. Facebook, YouTube and blogs are free, easy to use
and practical add-on to spread what the RAF termed “leaflets and graffiti” to reach out for the hearts and minds of a younger generation. While the GI is of course – like other cultural circles – influenced by the current political conditions of the world, the followers of AQ have the freedom to choose what products may seem useful for their jihadist endeavors and what deserves to be banned. Gaining practical experience in military training is a divine command (Prucha 2009) according to AQ’s ideology and so it may be natural that some armchair jihadists in their fantasy world play online games. Besides the constant consummation of mostly Arabic handbooks on mines, sniper-rifles, grenades, guerilla and urban warfare tactics, some element freely roam the GI’s product scale, using whatever games and mindsets suits them. It may be logical to find that with the GI and its fans developing so called “modifications” (mods), add-ons or enhancements for already published games, to keep certain games attractive and thus popular. A great deal of such mods is purely multi-player based and have a dominating “Western forces versus Oriental looking Insurgents attitude”. For the jihadist the graphical and role-playing elements published by mostly Western GI branches in the ‘Arabic-Muslim-Insurgent’ formats are nevertheless highly appealing. Any form of warfare, at best against American or Western soldiers, may serve as a parallel to actual conflicts around the world within the Islamic countries that AQ vows to defend and ultimately liberate from its direct as well as indirect occupation. Ones violence intense fantasy world of being or becoming a real-life Mujahid may be fueled by products of the GI and the resonance one may receive by publishing professionally made pro-jihadist pictures within the forums. Besides the publications of AQ’s warfare (militarily and ideologically) concepts, armchair jihadists may exploit online what was taken by the Lebanese Army as lessons learned in the conflict with the Fatah al-Islam in the Palestinian refugee camp Nahir al-Barid in 2007 (Dagher 2009): how to operate and move according to theoretical handbooks and practical videos in a urban- and guerilla warfare like condition; understanding the enemies aspired movement and setting up concealed positions for sniper attacks or IED’s that gives any guerilla troop an advantage over a state organized hierarchical military.
One example that made its way to the jihadist spheres from the GI fan-influenced commercial output is the “mod” for Valve’s “Counterstrike” entitled “Insurgency – Modern Infantry Combat”. Here the individual player as well as the armchair jihadist can indeed get a feeling as a sniper or a loosely organized cell fighting against a troop of US soldiers. This game consists of several multi-player maps that have an Iraq like setting whereas two teams play against one another: The US Army, with different soldiers attributes (engineers, snipers, heavy machine gunner et al) versus an insurgent group that look like a gang of prime time Hollywood Mujahidin. Such imagery from the game subsequently surfaced in jihadist forums, modified by sympathizers to suit the jihadists’ mindset.
“Insurgency – Modern Infantry Warfare” – from an jihadists perspective
Another example is how a modification for “Call of Duty 4 – Modern Warfare” another shooter gained popularity within jihadist forums, whereas the player has the possibility to assumes the role of the “insurgent” and thus fights Western soldiers.
In support of the “Islamic State of Iraq”, with the logo and a religious slogan embedded, this picture was addressed by the “Media Council of the People of Tawhed” in a jihadist forum. Particularly appealing may be the detail, besides combating US troops in a Middle Eastern environment, the Mujahid is also wearing the shmakh, the classical Arabic (Bedouin) headdress, as a scarf.
While extremist use of the internet certainly must be considered as a risk factor for involvement in terrorism, it is yet unclear to what extend this may actually lead to a real output of violence. The online foundation of AQ, however, provides individual sympathizers with a fundamental and comprising ideological alternative that is also highly attached to the idealizing videos, sermons and passionate calls from AQ leadership circles. Material are found on all levels of the contemporary internet may not be surprising, however, the specifically chosen elements from products such as the GI incorporated into the jihadists’ mindset and the subsequent usage for propaganda is a further element, that may attract followers and potential sympathizers who adhere to the core worldview of AQ and terror as a divine command as well as a legitimate ‘defensive’ tool, as implied.
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