How the Internet Developed the Global Jihadi Movement

How the Internet Developed the Global Jihadi Movement
(Yigal Carmon, February 22, 2017)

Transcript available below

About the speaker

Yigal Carmon is President and founder of MEMRI, which bridges the language gap between the West and the Middle East and South Asia, providing timely translations of Arabic, Farsi, Urdu-Pashtu, Dari, and Turkish media, as well as original analysis of political, ideological, and intellectual trends.

He combines four different areas of expertise – intelligence, counter-terrorism, diplomacy, and research. Carmon is a colonel (ret) in the Israel Defense Force (IDF) intelligence corps. He was counter-terrorism advisor to two Israeli prime ministers heading governments from both Likud and Labor, overseeing the national deployment against terrorism. He participated in the 1991-1992 peace talks in Madrid and Washington as deputy head of the Israeli delegation negotiating with Syria.

Recently, MEMRI launched a new project to bridge the language gap between the West and Russia, by monitoring, translating, analyzing Russian media as well. Under Carmon’s leadership, MEMRI is serving the needs of media, academia, legislatures, and governments, and its research is particularly sought out by intelligence agencies in Europe and North America.

Carmon has briefed Congress, the State Department, the Pentagon, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Justice, in addition to the FBI, the National Security Council, and the Library of Congress. He has briefed the European Union, European Parliament, the UK Parliament, OSCE, NATO, and participated in conferences on counterterrorism and diplomacy.


Robert R. Reilly:

Our speaker tonight needs very little in the way of introduction because you have already seen his introduction. I simply repeat, of course, he is the President and founder of the Middle East Media Research Institute. May I ask how many of you are familiar with MEMRI? Ah. Well, I can even be briefer. So you know what MEMRI does and does so valuably for all the countries in the West and elsewhere.

Yigal’s background; he was a colonel in the Israeli Defense Force Intelligence Corps, counterterrorism advisor to two Israeli Prime Ministers, overseeing the national deployment against terrorism. As you know since you are familiar with MEMRI, it provides timely translations in Arabic, Farsi, Urdu, Pashto, Dari [and] Turkish media, as well as others and of course, also has a significant Russian translation service.

I should also point out that the MEMRI is active in promoting and in circulating their thoughts. I also want to make sure that I acknowledge the presence of Ambassador Alberto Fernandez, who is the Vice President of MEMRI. I am glad Alberto is here tonight.

Now, I am going to keep this short. I am just going to offer you a little analogy. This is the first complete unexpurgated edition of Mein Kampf in English. Now, it is very interesting to look at the date of this publication: New York, 1941. Now, when one thinks back, would not it have been nice for people in the United States who did not read German to be able to know what Adolph Hitler thought and said he would do back in 1925-27 or at least by 1933 when he became Chancellor, not in 1941 when it was getting a little late in the game.

I only offer that as an analogy to MEMRI because we have no excuse today thanks to the invaluable work that Yigal Carmon, Alberto Fernandez, and their colleagues do. There is no excuse for not knowing and we can not say well, it is because we do not know Arabic, we do not know Farsi, we do not know Pashto, Urdu because it is all translated. It is all up there. If we are being told one thing in English and yet they say something else when they are speaking Arabic, we now know because of the invaluable work that MEMRI does. So without further ado, please join me in welcoming Yigal Carmon, who is going to talk to us about, “How the Internet Created the Jihadi Movement.”

Yigal Carmon:

This is an opportunity to talk a little bit about our… about Bob; a friend, in fact, family. For those who do not know, Jews and Catholics are family. Bob is for me, for many years, a source of inspiration, someone who naturally, without hesitation, chooses to struggle with the deepest and most problematic aspects of inter-religious relations.

In natural courage, he says the truth without blurring, without smoothing the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, without unnecessary offense, but also without unjustified respect. He is a model of inspiration, of intellectual conduct, and that leads to unique insights and I want to thank you on this occasion, Bob, for your friendship and for your work.

Robert R. Reilly:

Thank you, Yigal. Stop now or I will change the title of your lecture talk.

Yigal Carmon:


I want to refer to Mein Kampf with the story by Bernard Lewis that a few months before the Iranian Revolution, he read the book of Ayatollah Khomeini and he gave it to the government. And the CIA at the time said, we do not know what. This is some nonsense, some nothing, just some old guy wrote a book in Paris. It is nothing to [worry about]. We do not even know about it, actually. It was a few months later that it became [the] most important document that is haunting us to this very day. Today, I will speak about the internet and the jihadi world, which has become our world.

I want to begin this presentation with paraphrasing the words of Winston Churchill about the RAF pilots in World War II, “Never have so many owed so much to so few.” And in fact, this could be reversed with regard to the internet companies and the social media. Never have so few caused so much damage to so many.

The internet, like other inventions of the modern time, like energy or particularly nuclear energy, like transportations, like medicine, food, include in it the good and the bad, the blessing and the curse, development and regression, building and destruction. I could go on and on. Without restraints, it can bring a catastrophe and this is what it is doing, actually, right now. In my coming words I will present to you what is in the internet in areas that relate to our work: jihad, anti-Semitism, Holocaust denial, incitement to genocide, not necessarily of a particular- of many minority groups.

But in fact, it is just the tip of the iceberg and so much exists in areas that I am not dealing with. Maybe you do not, but in almost every area of life this happens. We know the blessing of it, the blessing of free, accessible information, total human connection through this tool, but we are not aware enough of the destruction that it causes.

Before I present things, I want to tell you that the team in MEMRI that deals with the jihadi material day in, day out, all the time, watching this material online, needs and gets psychological help and the truth is I do not know how far we can go on with it. I brought one copy. It is all on the site. I guess you did not see. This has 257 pages, both sides, many pictures in every one of them, beheadings, crucifixions, stoning, burning, drowning, throwing from high places, amputating, everything.

This is what is today on Twitter, also Facebook, on Instagram, on every- all of them, just all of them. This is what inspires some. This is what opens the eyes of people to options in their lives if they feel the need, if they are bitter, if they are vengeful, they see that this can happen every single picture has inciting verses of words of those who put it, just one example we will talk about more.

All the world of jihad today is on the internet. One cannot imagine the development of the global jihadi movement without the internet and the social media, and it is growing. Before I show also on video what you can see, I would like to give some general characteristics. First of all, the amount. The amount is huge. We are talking here, all in all, if we take every post as an item, then we are talking about hundreds of millions. It is all around those who are involved and those who are close to this world. They live in it.

The spread is huge. It breaks all boundaries, all barriers. We think that there are places close to it. There are ways to reach to this material even where it is closed. There are tools. There are ways. This material bypasses every human order that has been established over the years, over centuries, over millennia, moral boundaries, legal boundaries. I will give examples. On the internet, you are allowed to hate. We talked about hate crimes in the past. There are no hate crimes on the internet. You hate. People are talking like this. I am quoting not from the Arab world, from Italy, a guy on the internet, it is all on the internet, radio. I have the freedom to hate. I should have the freedom to hate.

I heard that there already was in a paper, a respectable paper in Sweden, an Op-Ed saying it is allowed to hate a certain group, it does not matter. It is allowed to incite to murder. Just a few years ago, I mean a decade or more in Rwanda, those who incited to murder, the radio that incited, were indicted and went to jail. But the internet opens it all. You can do it. It is free. This is freedom of speech. You can incite to murder. That is legitimate. That is accepted. That is breaking every rule.

[There is a] funny thing, not from the world of jihad but it gives an example. There are people in France, for example. There is this ally of Iran, Dieudonné [M’bala M’bala], who is in jail. The government took actions against him, and he is in jail for what he published, but his material is out on the internet. And David Irving, for example, that Holocaust denier, gave an interview to The Guardian and said the internet is the greatest thing that happened to me. I get questions, requests. People want to know about the Holocaust, they want to learn, and I tell them.

And he was also in jail for a period, but his material is on the internet. The internet is not by the court orders that take measures against him. It is a free entity. They do what they want, [and] the courts, what courts? They have nothing to do with the courts. They do what they believe is freedom.

The internet creates a virtual reality that is actually disconnected from the real world but impacts the real world in a real way that it becomes a reality. That is specifically when we talk about the development of the global jihadi movement. They created a virtual world, and they implemented it with their thoughts, inspired by what they heard from the internet. And this is in my mind a prescription for a colossal disaster, causing elements of society [and] nations to clash with each other. It is a development that, if democracies do not find the way to draw the line between this unlimited freedom, which actually amounts to anarchy, like I would compare it to total freedom in other things in nuclear energy, in transportation, in production of medicine, then we are heading towards something very bad.

You would rightly say, okay, so there is regulation in this world, many fields of life are regulated. Maybe this is the solution. And our experience at MEMRI, because we did not only report about it, we also tried to fight this situation, as far as governments in the West [are concerned], they do not want to take any action in this respect. It is the result of many things. You understand it yourself. I will just give you some facts about it.

We began ten years ago with drawing the attention of governments and of legislatures to the fact that while the U.S. Army was fighting in Iraq, internet companies in America hosted Al Qaeda websites. It so happens that at the time [in 2007], we did a bipartisan event on Capitol Hill with a relatively not so known congressman on the Republican side, Mike Pence, and on the Democrat side, Gary Ackerman, from New York. And we showed a list of 52 hosting companies that host Al Qaeda websites.

And Gary Ackerman, a Democrat, a liberal from New York, but a gentleman with eyes and with a mind, came out and said to journalists, these are supporters of terrorism. They are internet companies. And of course, then Congressman Mike Pence did the same. Within two weeks, 38 of the 52 [hosts] were removed. At the time it was not social media, it was just websites. [As for] the others, either they did not hear about it or whatever. The government had nothing to do with it. The government never moved a finger to tell companies these are websites of Al Qaeda, [so] you should decide what to do with it. You are hosting them, [so] consider what you are doing.

I would like to talk about the internet companies and social media in a moment, but before that, we volunteered at some point (since the government is not doing [it and] Homeland Security is not doing [it]) to tell companies within seven days of business, for free, not for any money, to tell them who their customers are. We went after the law that exists in America that was initiated after [the 9/11 terrorist attacks], which relates to banks. It is called Know Your Customer.

Every bank has to by law report to FINCEN, to the financial center at the Treasury, which is the intelligence center there, who their major customers are. They can still do with the transaction whatever they want [to do], but they have to know who [the customer is], they have to consult the government. And so we said fine. We offer ourselves. We will tell you. Tell us what material you are hosting, [and] we will tell you who it is, who is behind it, [and] what is written there if [you do not] even know what is written there. We will tell you, and then you do what you want. And no one responded.

Then we created what we called, naively, the wiping committee. It was our own jargon. We created a body of like twenty-three high level people, some from the legislature, some known people, journalists, even Elie Wiesel, writers, authors, people of weight. We wrote letters, we sent them, but [we did it] in their names because we cannot do it as a research institute, a 501(c)(3). We could not do it ourselves. In their names, we did the work to approach internet companies and to tell them, gentlemen, you are hosting Al Qaeda, you are hosting this, you are hosting that. You may want to consider [this information]. The gentlemen wrote it to them. Nothing, no response. This is already not the part of the government, the part of the internet companies.

And then came the social media, and we will talk about them. There was a battle, [which] gradually developed between the social media [companies] and [a group of organizations], very few organizations. We were leading it, basically. [The battle was] about what they allow to appear on their platforms. We managed to find some legislators, congressmen, senators who were willing to write to them letters, which sounded like a threat, that maybe we will have to do some legislation. [The language was] very weak, very sensitive, not really scare because what are we going to have, censorship, God forbid. But in view of the horrible stuff that they are carrying, to hint that this option is also open.

We had several letters [written] by Congressmen. Every time we did that, they took measures. They developed lobbies in Washington to protect themselves, not to remove anything, lobbies to protect them with former legislators, with speakers, with this, with that. They did not think that they had to do something, or that they should do something. Clearly, it would impact their revenues. If they limited [their web hosting services] in some way, there would be an impact. If they wanted to develop tools by which they would identify specific materials that are inciteful, [they would have found that] this is a very heavy task. This is something that will cost them huge amounts of money. This tool has not been developed yet.

Today, they talk about the fact that they do something. I will tell you what they are doing, which is a tragic joke. They are investing something, but nothing that really has an answer to the problem. The internet is full of this material, and they claim that they are doing what they are doing. First of all, they developed a logic that is really funny. They say like if we take any cow producer, or food producer, or anything that might be dangerous to people, they develop a quality control department. If it is a yogurt company, they will have their many chemists, and Ph.D.’s, and others, and equipment, and they will show you how much effort they invest in making sure that their yogurt does not have any carcinogenic elements and so on. And they see it as their responsibility. When folks had a problem with parts of their cows, they spent 1.4 billion euros to dix it. This just happened a year ago or so, and they saw it as their responsibility to do it.

[It was] not so with the social media. They say, you know, gentlemen, you are the users, [so you] tell us. They throw it upon the people. We provide you with buttons to flag it. You tell us, and we will take care of it. [It is] not our responsibility, you tell us. If I compare it to the yogurt company, a yogurt company that will tell you, this is what they will tell you, our material is clean, it is healthy, it is fine. If you get cancer, flag it, we will take care of it.

Now, of course, they cannot take care of it because they do not have the tools for that. They talk about having committees, because once you flag it, it is not the end of the story. You flag it, okay, so what are they going to go by your [word]? Do they know who you are and what your [expertise is]? [If] a private citizen flags a video that he does not like, why should they remove it? They have committees.

Now, let me tell you about the biggest secret in America. Is it the location of ballistic missiles? No. The biggest secret in America is the identity and the qualifications of those presumed committees that check your flagging. Who are they? Do they know Arabic? Where did they study? What degrees do they have? If I am to compare them to the yogurt companies, they have Ph.D.’s in chemistry, [so] what do they have, the companies’ [committees which review user flagging of extremist material]? You do not know anything about those committees, just nothing. It is a secret unlike the quality control departments in all industries that are open for the government [and] for the people to see how good they are, how careful [they are], what material [they use].

I challenge you, ladies and gentlemen, to try and reach out to any of the internet companies, who talk in the name of freedom of speech and freedom of information. It is climbing on a glass wall with your nails. You cannot have an address, a name, no nothing. Sometimes you have public relations, but they lead nowhere. This is an incredible situation. You cannot reach out to them. They have no address. You are invited to try and reach out.

Once we had a donor who had a friend whose son was in charge of engineering in Google, electronic engineering, and he approached him with this complaint. And the father of this young guy was furious. He said you are causing my son to be fired. You know that he works in Google. What is your business to tell anybody about this? These are the people who talk in the name of freedom of speech. And for your next meeting, please report to Bob whoever managed to get to a department.

I will tell you a story. Those who know MEMRI [know that] we do translations of videos, of video clips, Arabic and Farsi, and the subtitles [are] in English. So one day we were invited by Google to Sunnyvale. I went there. They wanted our help since they wanted to develop their automatic translation machine, so they wanted to use the material that we had. I went there, and [there was a] nice guy heading that department of Chinese origin. And we discussed it, and then he says okay, so we want to take it. How much would you charge? We have huge archives, and it is basically word-for-word, so it can really help them.

I said no charge, you get it for free, all of the material. I just want one thing in return. I need some addresses, some names, some telephone [numbers] when we need [to talk to you] because sometimes we need [to talk to them] because they take us down. There are problems [that] we have. Uh-oh, that is a problem. He went for ten minutes and came back to that room to talk on the phone. He came back and he said no names, just set your price. What do you need? I said in that case, nothing, we do not authorize you to use it, and goodbye.

This is a crazy situation. This is incredible. This is happening in America today, and those companies are talking in the name of [free speech]. They were asked after everyone realized that in every case of terrorism in America and other places, the perpetrators were inspired by the internet, every single case. So pressure began to some extent, and they seemed to agree to do a few things.

In the UK, in England, there were questions in the parliament, not by the government but by the parliament. And they said, of course, we have committees, and we erase material. And indeed, they do erase [material], but it is just nothing to compare to what remains. The mechanism is such that it is just nothing what they do. The gentleman there was asked, if you erase [material], how much [did you erase], how many posts did you erase this year? This was before the pressure was bigger on them, and he could not give a number. And they really slammed him and insulted him. The meeting was stopped, and he had to leave.

In France, the French authorities invented something, which they stopped after one week, to do it through a judge. A judge, not the government, would decide what is inflammatory, what is dangerous, what is unacceptable material. It would be a judge. Even if you have several judges, we are talking about hundreds of millions of posts. What can a judge do? They stopped it. The only solution is to develop tools that will allow [bulk, automated interventions], and this is very costly.

In Facebook, they invented something called ‘Trusted User,’ and Trusted Users are organizations or elements whose judgement about any post is accepted because they are trusted for certain valid reasons. Okay, how much does this cover? Not much, not enough. The internet develops all the time, gives more and more options, [and it] widens the world of jihadi virtual reality and actual reality, so this is no answer at all.

The criminal side of it, yes, we at MEMRI tried with them when they said we are doing, we tested several times. We flagged a hundred sites of the worst material, and we wanted to see what they would remove. Nothing. You can find it in MEMRI’s publication, testing YouTube, testing Twitter, testing Facebook. Nothing.

They have guidelines. This is their answer, we have guidelines of the community. But they do not implement it. It is like any deceit in commercial life. They tell you we are fine, our material, our clothing, all is healthy, [all] is good, our food, everything is good. Guidelines, standouts, and terms of service, if they had implemented that, which they sell to people, that this is what we do, there would be no problem. But they do not implement it.

They cannot implement it. It is costly, hugely costly, to develop tools that will bring you like an arrow to that which is dangerous, which is inciteful, which is hateful, which is causing people to murder. According to those guidelines, none of these should be [allowed]. They say we do not allow pictures of violence on the internet. Pictures of violence on the internet? It is all pictures [of violence] as far as the jihadi material. It is all that. What is it that you do not allow? It is written in the guidelines, but it is not implemented.

I want to show you some videos that inspire people to commit acts of terrorism. To begin with, it may be a little long, but it is worth your while to see once in your life a speech by the head of ISIS, Baghdadi. And then there is a whole group of jihadis from the West, talking to the West, telling them what they deserve, how they deserve to be treated and what they will do. And all of this is to inspire and to have people do it. This is their call to people, do it, do it, do it, do it.

After we see this video, we will talk about what could be done. This is zero point nine zeros point one of what is there on the internet, and the question is, indeed, how to overcome it. I want to tell you about something that had nothing to do with Islam. Years ago, there was a case in San Diego. It is called – for those who can go to the internet and find it – it was a case of an animal rights extremist who published addresses of laboratories that do experiments on animals. It was called Coronado against the State of California. And he also published instructions [on] how to produce explosives. And [he] called [on people] to bomb these laboratories.

And for some strange reasons, maybe because San Diego is so far away from Washington they did not hear about the freedom of speech or the First Amendment (strange), anyway, he was arrested, indicted, and was sentenced to five years [in prison]. And he appealed to the district court on the basis [that] his First Amendment rights [were] violated, and the court sent him back to jail, and told him your case has nothing to do with [the] First Amendment and with [the] freedom of speech. He never appealed to the higher legal authority.

It seems like the way is there, that the inhibition is totally within the government to take action. [I say this] because I used to tell many people in the government, why not take this question to the Supreme Court? Somehow you do not want to decide about limiting freedom of speech. It is understandable. There is a Supreme Court in America. It has already issued [rulings on free speech] several times.

Many years ago, it was established that you cannot cry fire in a crowded theater [because] it is a criminal offense. Today is a new world. There is the world of the internet. They should decide if there are any limits to freedom of speech. These are the people who decide for all of us, right, so bring it to them. The government did not do that either. It was left floating like in a total indecision, and no one actually did anything. The companies went on with their revenues, pretending to do things while they do not implement their own guidelines, deceiving everybody about what they do [and] what they do not do, creating lobbies to protect themselves instead of investing in tools and algorithms to curb down this material.

And this is where we are heading. I have faced many people that I respect immensely with this message, and I heard the opinion that legally, things should remain as they are, whatever the price is. This is our culture, this is our democracy, and I would say at this point, okay, legally it should stay like that, but what prohibits a moral action? Yes, you are allowed to keep it like that, but there are also moral considerations.

By law you can do it. Okay, you do not have to. This is the law for now or whatever. [The] First Amendment prevails, but it is not imposed on you. You can apply moral considerations and decide, especially companies, private companies, that you do not allow it. You are free not to carry anything that you do not want to, as a private company. You can apply moral consideration, not a legal one, and not allow such material on the internet.