[DEBATE] : Should 'cyber-jihadists' have free speech, too?
grinker at mweb.co.za
Tue Jul 10 20:51:09 BST 2007
Tuesday 10 July 2007
Should 'cyber-jihadists' have free speech, too?
The jailing of three web geeks for publishing terrorism-cheering material
sets a dangerous precedent.
This is a tough one. Even for those of us who believe in unfettered free
Last week, before the guilty verdicts delivered against the real bombers of
the 21/7 sect, three cyber-jihadists were imprisoned for a total of 24
years. They were found guilty of incitement to commit acts of terrorism. At
Woolwich Crown Court in England, Younis Tsouli was given a 10-year jail
sentence; his accomplices Tariq Al-Daour and Waseem Mughal were banged up
for six-and-a-half years and seven-and-a-half years respectively. Their
crime? They ran websites that featured beheadings carried out by 'holy
warriors' in Iraq, and which cheered the killing of 'infidels' on 7/7 and
provided access to CIA manuals on how to make and detonate explosives.
The term 'toerags' doesn't do them justice. Tsouli published on his site a
post about 7/7, the London bombings in which 52 people were killed. It said:
'From the moment the infidels cry, I laugh.' The three cyber-jihadists also
published information on how to make a suicide vest and advice about sniper
training. They encouraged people to go to Iraq and join the Mujahideen.
More seriously, they seem to have been a major outlet in Europe for the
propaganda of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, the group run by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi until
his death by an American bomb last year. In May 2004, Tsouli posted a video
showing the beheading of American contract worker Nicholas Berg by a masked
jihadi thought to be Zarqawi. It was downloaded 500,000 times in the first
I don't much care what happens to these Islamist fantasists, who described
themselves as 'jihadist James Bonds' and posted vile anti-Semitic rants and
numerous gruesome videos and photos of people being blown up, beheaded or
mutilated - sometimes with an accompanying comment that mocked the 'weak'
infidels and Jews for whingeing while they were being killed. Let them rot
in jail. But I do care about the dangerous precedent set by their case.
The imprisonment of three computer cranks for disseminating disgusting
material has further blurred the distinction between words and actions - and
it has strengthened the idea that the authorities must protect the public
from shocking or disturbing words and images. The real issue here is not the
freedom of three losers to publish their war-wank fantasies, but the freedom
of the rest of us to see, read and listen to what we please, and to make up
our minds for ourselves.
The three men were the first in Britain to be successfully prosecuted for
inciting murder entirely on the basis of distributing material on the world
wide web. They were convicted under new anti-terror legislation that has
made a crime of 'inciting another person to commit an act of terrorism
wholly or partly outside the United Kingdom, which would, if committed in
England and Wales, constitute murder' (1). The prosecution claimed the men
were not punished for their political beliefs but rather for the fact that
they 'firmly believed and supported and set about inciting others to
[execute] holy war against so-called disbelievers' (2).
Yet if the cyber-jihadists were not imprisoned for their ideas, what were
they imprisoned for? The judge himself, Mr Justice Openshaw, pointed out
that at no time did they act out their terroristic fantasies. He said of
Tsouli, the ringleader, that 'he came no closer to a bomb or a firearm than
a computer keyboard'. As he passed sentence, the judge said the men had
engaged in 'cyber jihad', rather than real-word jihad, and declared: 'It
would seem that internet websites have become an effective means of
communicating such ideas.' (3)
Here we have it from the judge's mouth: the men were imprisoned for their
ideas, for what they believed, said and wrote rather than for anything they
did. They were jailed for writing about suicide vests, not for making and
using them. They got six, seven and 10 years in jail on the basis of the
words they wrote and the images they published. Such lengthy sentences are
usually handed down for serious assault, rape or manslaughter. Here they
were handed down for 'communicating ideas'.
The jihadist James Bonds did not commit acts of terrorism; they cheered on
acts of terrorism. And under Britain's new anti-terror legislation, such
'glorification of terrorism' has been made a crime. The punishment of
individuals for what they think or write is the hallmark of authoritarian
The cyber-jihadists were losers. One used the online tag 'irhabi007' - a
combination of the Arabic word for terrorist and James Bond's secret service
number: 007. They may have had connections with someone inside Al-Qaeda in
Iraq, and they may have written over-excitedly about fighting a war against
the West, but there was little to distinguish their perverted website from
numerous other sick sites out there (you can also find the video footage of
Berg being decapitated on American gore sites that are visited by thousands
of bored and gothy teens). But then, the real concern in this case, it
seems, was not with the writers themselves, but with their potential
The judge made references to the potential spread of the cyber-jihadists'
'ideas'; others have said the website needed to be shut down and its authors
imprisoned because it was communicating 'lethal ideas' to web surfers (4).
This judgement reflects badly on the rest of us. Three cyber-jihadists were
convicted in this case, but the public at large has also been indicted. The
implication is that the web-surfing public, especially young Muslims, could
be moved to mayhem by reading the obscure rants of some dark-side
007-wannabes. It is the flipside of the argument that far-right material
must also be censored lest it cajole the white hordes into beating up some
blacks and Asians. We are clearly looked upon as impressionable idiots, as
attack dogs who might strike out against infidels or Jews on the command of
a cyber-jihadist (if we're a Muslim), or against Muslims and other
minorities (if we're white and working class).
The implication of this case is that we are not grown up enough to make up
our minds about dodgy material. Apparently we need the authorities -
politicians, judges and lawyers - to stand in loco parentis and cover our
eyes whenever anything inflammatory pops up on the web, TV or in newspapers
and magazines. What ever happened to the idea that we are rational
individuals who should be held responsible for our actions?
This case sets a dangerous precedent indeed. It further blurs the
distinction between words and deeds. The 007-jihadists were imprisoned as if
their words were deeds - that is, their words were so potentially
destructive that they had to be punished with six to 10 years' imprisonment.
The slackening of the category of incitement under Britain's anti-terror
legislation - where you can now even be convicted of 'indirect incitement',
a situation where your allegedly inflammatory words inspire someone
somewhere to do something, even if it was not your intention - has seriously
denigrated universal legal principles. It has long been a principle of all
civilised systems of criminal justice that people should be held accountable
for their actions, not their ideas or opinions. Now, the notion that all
sorts of weird and wacky words might possibly lead to the incitement of
others has effectively brought this principle to an end in Britain. Today
you can be dragged before a court of law and tried for what you think and
say as well as for what you do to another person or his property.
I don't know about you, but the loss of the dividing line between words and
deeds - central to all democratic legal systems - is a terribly high price
to pay for the capture and imprisonment of three terror-geeks.
If the cyber-jihadists' words really were potentially dangerous, then a more
enlightened strategy would have been to challenge their words rather than
persecute them. This case has revealed that there are some poisonous
cyber-losers on the world wide web, but more importantly that our society is
apparently so fragile and unsure of itself that it cannot withstand the
horror of some cranks glorifying terrorism and playing out war fantasies on
21/7: A TERROR TANTRUM
by Brendan O'Neill
The defence of the failed 21/7 jihadists against the charge that they
plotted to bomb the London transport network on 21 July 2005 can be summed
up as follows: 'It wasn't me guv! It was Iraq/anti-Muslim prejudice that
made me do it!'
The bombers, found guilty yesterday, continually played the victim card
during their trial. They claimed the bombs were fakes and their actions had
been intended as a protest against Iraq. So moved were they by Iraq that
apparently they were driven, automaton-style, to do something crazy. Yassin
Omar said the only reason it was assumed he was a suicide bomber is 'because
I am Muslim, and straight away that meant I was a suicide bomber...wanting
to kill people.' Er, no. People thought you were a suicide bomber because
you were carrying a bomb and you tried to detonate it.
The four men are clearly well-versed in the get-out clauses of the therapy
culture, where you can shrug off bad and even criminal behaviour by claiming
to be a victim of prejudice or dark external forces. Their failed defence
also reveals something telling about contemporary terrorism. For all the
claims that these bombings are a political response to political issues -
usually Iraq - in fact they look more like a terroristic version of today's
politics of victimhood. The 7/7 bombers claimed to be the 'ethical'
representatives of the victimised Muslims of Iraq and Afghanistan; in the
words of the author Faisal Devji, for the 7/7 sect 'a good Muslim exists
only as a victim'.
Bin Laden himself has frequently justified his terrorism as an attempt to
'represent' the victims. In October 2001, he said: 'Millions of Muslims are
being killed. Where are the comments of the educated?' 'Fools cry about the
deaths of Americans [but] they don't cry about the deaths of our sons', he
moaned: Muslims around the world are suffering but 'we do not hear their
voices'. 9/11 was an attempt to give voice - to use a suitably therapeutic
phrase - to these voiceless victims. In the past 'the victim wasn't even
allowed to complain' and 9/11 was an attempt to 'rebalance that', said bin
In short? Contemporary terrorism is a 'complaint' more than a political
strike. In this sense it fits well with today's culture of complaint, where
individuals and groups represent themselves as victims whose suffering must
be recognised rather than as active agents who want to change or reshape
society. That is why the 21/7 bombers could so easily disavow responsibility
for what they did - because they are not committed political agents with
tangible goals; they are self-described victims who threw a terror tantrum
on the streets of London.
But they didn't reckon with the jury of their peers who pointed out the
obvious to them, and to those in the media who have fallen for the 21/7
sect's 'Now look what you made me do!' excuses: as grown-ups, you alone are
responsible for the fact that you got on to buses and trains with rucksacks
packed with explosives.
Brendan O'Neill is editor of spiked. Visit his website here.
(1) Men jailed for inciting terrorism on the internet, The Register, 9 July
(2) Three men 'urged holy war on web', BBC News, 23 April 2007
(3) 'Internet jihadist' jailed for 10 years, Guardian, 5 July 2007
(4) 'Internet jihadist' jailed for 10 years, Guardian, 5 July 2007
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