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FRIEDMAN: Online jihad is spreading like a virus

Let's not fool ourselves. Whatever threat the real Afghanistan poses to U.S. national security, the "Virtual Afghanistan" poses just as big a threat. The Virtual Afghanistan is the network of hundreds of jihadist Web sites that inspire, train, educate and recruit young Muslims to engage in jihad against America and the West. Whatever surge we do in the real Afghanistan has no chance of being a self-sustaining success, unless there is a parallel surge — by Arab and Muslim political and religious leaders — against those who promote violent jihadism.

Last week, five men from northern Virginia were arrested in Pakistan, where they went, they told Pakistani police, to join the jihad against U.S. troops in Afghanistan. They first made contact with two extremist organizations in Pakistan by e-mail in August.

As The Washington Post reported on Sunday: " 'Online recruiting has exponentially increased, with Facebook, YouTube and the increasing sophistication of people online,' a high-ranking Department of Homeland Security official said. ... 'Increasingly, recruiters are taking less prominent roles in mosques and community centers because places like that are under scrutiny. So what these guys are doing is turning to the Internet,' said Evan Kohlmann, a senior analyst with the U.S.-based NEFA Foundation, a private group that monitors extremist Web sites."

The Obama team is fond of citing how many "allies" we have in the Afghan coalition. Sorry, but we don't need more NATO allies to kill more extremists. We need more Arab and Muslim allies to kill extremist ideas, which, thanks to the Virtual Afghanistan, are being spread farther than ever before.

We had a civil war in America in the mid-19th century because we had a lot of people who believed bad things — namely that you could enslave people because of the color of their skin. We defeated those ideas and the individuals, leaders and institutions that propagated them, and we did it with such ferocity that five generations later some of their offspring still have not forgiven the North.

Islam needs the same civil war. It has a violent minority that believes bad things: that it is OK to not only murder non-Muslims but to murder Muslims as well who will not accept the most rigid Muslim lifestyle and submit to rule by a Muslim caliphate.

What is really scary is that this violent, jihadist minority seems to enjoy the most "legitimacy" in the Muslim world today.

Few political and religious leaders dare to speak out against them in public. Secular Arab leaders wink at these groups, telling them: "We'll arrest if you do it to us, but if you leave us alone and do it elsewhere, no problem."

How many fatwas — religious edicts — have been issued by the leading bodies of Islam against Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida? Very few. Where was the outrage last week when, on the very day that Iraq's parliament agreed on a formula to hold free and fair multiparty elections, five explosions set off by suicide bombers killed at least 127 people and wounding more than 400, many of them kids? Not only was there no meaningful condemnation from the Muslim world, there was barely a peep coming out of Washington. President Barack Obama expressed no public outrage. It is time he did.

So how are we supposed to help build something decent and self-sustaining in Afghanistan and Pakistan when jihadists murder other Muslims by the dozens and no one really calls them out? A corrosive mind-set has taken hold since Sept. 11. It says that Arabs and Muslims are never responsible for anything in their world, and we are responsible for everything that happens in their world. We infantilize them.

Arab and Muslims aspire to, are able to and must be challenged to take responsibility for their world. If we want a peaceful, tolerant region more than they do, they will hold our coats while we fight, and they will hold their tongues against their worst extremists.

They will lose, and we will lose — in the real Afghanistan and in the Virtual Afghanistan.

THE NEW YORK TIMES

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