Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Taliban's Control over the Internet

The article I chose to add to this blog comes from the BBC - my foreign news source for this class.  The article that drew my attention is titled "Taliban Harness Power of the Web."  Why did it interest me?  The connection of the Taliban to the war, and the connection the article had to our class discussions about press freedoms.  Like we've gone over in discussions of China, for example, when the government (or in this case the Taliban) steps in and limits what can be accessed via web searches etc -- questions as to what is actually 'truth' are raised.  Admittedly, I do not have much prior knowledge of the Afghanistan War... but the internet and its ability to inform freely, yet at the same time be severely limited, is something I can relate to and understand.  

Never before had I heard about this limitation placed on the internet by the Taliban from 1996 - 2001 (as they declared it "immoral" and "un-Islamic"), and so I certainly never heard about the current-day insurgent's utilization of the internet post-fall of the Taliban regime - although I can recognize how useful of a tool the internet could be for insurgents despite its prior separation from Islam.  It also excited me to find this article, because the first time I even learned what insurgents were was through reading Graveyard of the Empires for class.

The article credits the internet to be the "weapon of choice" for many in the Taliban.
"...the internet has become one of the main platforms for insurgents in the battle for the hearts and minds of the people of Afghanistan."

It's crazy to think that something as mundane as the internet - something literally used every day by billions of people - is a strategy and weapon.  But if you think about it - communication is key in plotting and carrying out plans when intended, as well as key in influencing public opinion.  The article made me question: Is it possible that we are too concerned with watching our airports (for example) when we should be directing attention back to where these plans and propaganda strategies are originating? And stopping them before they can even come to fruition?

The article is a bit of a cause for concern, in my opinion... as it doesn't address any of these questions I have!  It raises many points, which I can only hope - are taken seriously by someone.

The BBC  refers to this internet strategy - to "generate popular support and undermine local governments and their international partners" - as a second front of the war... "the battle for winning hearts and minds" - a battle which is intensifying every day.

The problem is that the Taliban is referred to as very sophisticated in regards to their internet use... and they not only have established 'virtual' sanctuaries, but they have multi-lingual websites, which they regularly update.  Updates are to be expected, when discussing internet... the issue lies within the fact that the Afghan government does not yet have the necessary equipment to censor these updates and emails containing interviews with Taliban leaders, propaganda videos, commentaries, and their official statements to the media that they offer to readers - once the equipment does arrive to the Afghan government, it is said that they will be blocking websites that "promote terrorism, glorify violence, contain pornography or encourage gambling."

"The Taliban also send their material to a number of other 'independent' websites in an effort to make their actions seem more acceptable to audiences...It seems that they are trying to become less dependent on other local and international media...and make their actions seem more acceptable to audiences."  It is also stated that the Taliban are generally even faster than the Afghan government and allies in circulating information regarding incidents in the country.

All in all, the Taliban is seeking to gain influence in the community via their internet activity - problematic as BBC states 50% of the Afghan population will have access to the internet within the next three years.  If the Taliban dominates this medium by then... who knows what will be viewed as "misinformation" and who/what the people will chose to believe.

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