Islamic State and its media units release more than 90,000 social media posts a day. That’s nearly 33 million posts a year. As the head of Britain’s MI5 has stated, social media is the command and control network of radical Islam.
To counter the impact of this social media assault on the West and its randomly violent consequences in Paris, Boston, London and Sydney, the Obama administration convened an international summit in February on countering violent extremism.
The summit sought to “prevent violent extremists … from radicalising, recruiting, or inspiring individuals or groups in the United States and abroad to commit acts of violence”.
The preferred Western response to jihadi recruitment is, it seems, a program of deradicalisation. But what does deradicalisation mean and does it really address Islamic State’s sophisticated ideological messaging?
Islamic State considers the branding aspect of its movement on social media so important that in August it formed the Anwar al-Awlaki Brigade, a special unit consisting of at least 10 Australians to promulgate the message and recruit online.
The brigade’s media awareness is attuned to Western sensibilities. Segueing off a L’Oreal ad, for instance, a recent recruitment message targeting young Western women runs, “Cover Girl, No, Covered Girl Yes. Because you’re worth it”.
The flow of young, second-generation Muslim men and women reared in secular multicultural societies to Islamic State demonstrates the success of this messaging. Western governments seem as shocked by the cultic appeal of Islamic State as they were surprised by the rapidity and lethality with which it achieved de facto authority over vast swathes of Syria and Iraq.
Like a possum trapped in the headlights of an oncoming ute, the Australian government’s response is to introduce yet another tranche of counter-terror legislation and throw even more money at the security agencies and counter-radicalisation strategies that singularly have failed to curb the enthusiasm for jihad.
The Abbott and Turnbull governments alone have allocated more than $40 million to countering violent extremism. In recent months, Justice Minister Michael Keenan made $700,000 available to an Australian intervention support hub for academics from the Australian National University, Deakin University and elsewhere “to research radicalisation and develop responses” for governments and community workers.
The government devotes $13.4m specifically to counter radicalisation through programs such as Living Safe Together.
After failed Melbourne rapper turned Islamic State recruiter Neil Prakash groomed 15-year-old Farhad Jabar online to carry out a lone actor attack resulting in the death of NSW police accountant Curtis Cheng last month, the Turnbull government announced it would devote more funding to programs aimed at “preventing youth radicalisation”.
Late last month, counter-terror co-ordinator Greg Moriarty hosted a meeting of state and federal officials, police intelligence agencies, and multicultural affairs and education bureaucrats to “develop a more co-ordinated approach for its deradicalisation push”.
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