In a feeble attempt to live up to Jihadica’s new billing as the “most dangerous” website monitoring Jihadis online, I thought I’d post some thoughts on what role Jihadi forums play in recruitment and radicalization.
The usual characterization of online recruitment goes like this: some hapless Sunni Muslim starts poking around online, discovers Jihadi propaganda, and upon watching or reading it becomes radicalized and ready to fight.
It is certainly the case that some Sunni Muslims see or read online Jihadi propaganda about Muslim suffering at the hands of the West and decide they need to do something about it. Why some respond and not others is a complicated issue that I won’t deal with here. What I’m interested in is the mechanics of the propaganda’s delivery and how its effects are sustained.
Firstly, we don’t have a lot of examples of Muslims who were radicalized online and remained radicalized without meeting face-to-face with committed militants or like-minded acquaintances who could reinforce their new worldview. Moreover, the pattern seems to be face-to-face radicalization first, followed and compounded by online material. There are exceptions, but I think the general trend points in the direction I’ve indicated.
Secondly, online recruitment is not happening on the forums. I have seen no evidence of new members being persuaded that fighting is the right thing to do; that would be preaching to the choir. What I have seen is a lot of Jihadi missionary activity on more mainstream Muslim discussion forums.
Take for example a recent posting on the Shumukh (“Pride”) forum by member Abu Dharr al-Makki. Makki announces the formation of an “Incitement Brigade” whose members will join other forums and, cloaked in proxy-provided anonymity, post recruitment material. He provides a long list of such forums and suggests each member be responsible for five them. There are lots of other examples of this type of outreach, but Makki’s post is enough to make my point.
So here’s my basic model: Jihadi forums are good for creating and storing propaganda material. Mainstream forums are where online recruitment, if any, is happening. But even if the recruitment is effective, the recruits still need some face time with committed militants or other recruits to remain radicalized; ingesting more propaganda or joining Jihadi forums isn’t enough.
Document (Arabic): 7-21-08-shamikh-recruitment-brigade-and-list-of-forums-for-dawa