Digital Terrorism and Hate: A Contemporary Crisis

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EVENT TRANSCRIPT: Digital Terrorism and Hate: A Contemporary Crisis

DATE: 1:00 – 2:00 pm, 4 April 2019

VENUE: Henry Jackson Society, Millbank Tower, 21-24 Millbank, Westminster, SW1P 4RS

SPEAKER: Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre

EVENT CHAIR: Dr Rakib Ehsan, Research Fellow in the Centre on Radicalisation and Terrorism

 

Dr Rakib Ehsan: My name is Dr Rakib Ehsan I’m currently a research fellow at Henry Jackson Society, specifically the Centre on Radicalisation and Terrorism. I would like to thank you all for joining us for what should be a fascinating and insightful event on the contemporary crisis of digital terrorism, the cyber dissemination of hateful or extremist material. With incidences of extremism and terrorist activity increasing around the world from a variety of sources, whether that’s Islamist inspired, white supremacist far-right, or the militant far-left it is more important than ever to really understand emerging trends and explaining how purveyors of hate are succeeding in getting their message across to others.

To help us understand these trends and to explain the policies which can be developed to address these issues, we are delighted to welcome Rabbi Abraham Cooper. Rabbi Cooper, who is widely recognised as an internationally respected authority on these issues related to digital terrorism and the cyber dissemination of extremist narratives, is the Associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre a leading global human rights organisation which focuses its research on the Holocaust, but in a broader sense focuses its research on hate in the both the historical and more contemporary context.

Rabbi Cooper, who has testified before the United Nations, the US Senate, the French Parliament, Argentinian Congress, and the Organisation for the Security and Co-Operation of Europe, is a founding member of Israel’s global forum on anti-Semitism. So, without further ado, Rabbi Abraham Cooper.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper: Thank you Dr, thank you for the warm welcome, just comparing notes. My mum is 92 years old, so we were just comparing notes about our mothers – probably the only two people on the planet, at least speaking for my mum, who can still push the button of guilt on her 68-year-old son. I’m not sure that the Pakistani experience is that much different.

It’s really a special honour for me to be at the Henry Jackson Society. I wanted to take a moment out to explain why. I grew up in New York, on the streets of New York, involved with a group called the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry. That group was started by two people; a 17-year-old junior in high school, named Lenn Richter from New York City, and a person who I thought was absolutely ancient, a fellow from London who was all of 25 years old. They were two revolutionaries, in the midst of the Cold War, who felt that our generation after the Holocaust needed to speak out on behalf of 3 million Jews who, in the Soviet Union, were kind of trapped between a system that would not allow them to have contacts or study about being Jewish and wouldn’t allow them to leave either. That eventually led me to spend four weeks in the Soviet Union in 1972, so everything I needed to learn about life the KGB taught me in September and October of that year.

I think it’s important, first, that people now writing books on history and analysing just to state what was clearly and painfully clear – the people who were involved in these grassroots movements in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and I think most of the Soviet Jews who stepped forward and gave everything up on the outside chance that they could get out, none of us believed that we would succeed. My generation felt that after the Holocaust, we felt our parents’ generation didn’t do enough in real time and we were going to try using Martin Luther King ad Robert Kennedy and other American social and political activists, and to use that kind of approach. So the fact that at the end of the day, Soviet Jews were able to leave and the Soviet Union eventually imploded was due, in large measure, to a man named Scoop Jackson. Senator Scoop Jackson and Congressman Vanik, also from the Mid-West if I remember correctly, they came up with this Jackson-Vanik rule that was unassailable, and no matter what the Soviet’s tried to do, whether the President was a Democrat or a Republican, it created a lever, a Billy Club if you will, that eventually for example someone like George Schultz when he became Secretary of State used it like a laser. Meaning that, back then Democrats and Republicans in the US were together on human rights issues and also back then people who ran the State Department could walk and chew gum at the same time. It wasn’t, at the end of the day, whether or not you had the negotiations to try to pare back the arms race or do you choose to pursue human rights. I think what Scoop Jackson achieved, and he very rarely raised his voice he was a true gentleman, was that he created the most important weapon with a smile. Basically people like George Schultz were able to wield the weapon by saying ‘You want A. We’re happy to talk about A but we also want to talk about human rights and to develop a way to let people reunite with their families’. Eventually, and historically this was a human rights movement that succeeded through many, many other components, many people here in the UK took a leading role, many inter-faith leaders, but at the core the person who deserved the credit was a gentleman by the name of Henry Jackson. I think that he and many of his colleagues, not all of them, really tried to represent the United States when it came to global issues as well with a certain degree of dignity. Dignity in the public domain in the United State today is in rather short supply and maybe if that was a requirement that you had to prove that you had some before you get a Twitter account life would be different, but it’s not, and that would be a different presentation anyway.

I had the honour to arrive to Los Angeles with Rabbi Marvin Hier, I was with him for two years in Canada, we had the idea of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre. Back in 1977 Mr Wiesenthal was alive and of course Rabbi Hier went to Vienna and said “King Solomon said ‘My name is more precious than oil’ – we’re here to take your good name”. Mr Wiesenthal said ‘not so fast, if you’re going to build a museum where people will come and say Kaddish, the memorial prayer for the six million, I’ll write you a letter of recommendation. If you want my name, I’m an activist and we didn’t do such a good job predicting where Hitler would take things. So if you guys are also prepared to be activists, and not only about the old Nazis which I know you’ll help me on, but in looking at contemporary hate you can have my name’. For me, having been to the Soviet Union just a few years before, and active in social activism in the United States it was music to my ears and that’s essentially how all of this began. For the record, as I understand we’re broadcasting, it’s on Twitter and there’s gonna be a summary and a transcript, this Rabbi has to be especially honest. If you have any technological questions I will give you the email of some of my grandchildren in Jerusalem who know a heck of a lot more about it than I do. I know precious little about technology but, having been with the Wiesenthal Centre since the beginning, and I’ve been around Mr Wiesenthal for nearly three decades and have had the opportunity I think for about 31 years to work closely with my friend Dr Shimon Samuels who is right here in the first row, we know a little but about hate.

What we saw in the early years, even before the internet took shape was that extremists in Germany and the US, neo-Nazi types etc, were very much drawn to computers and eventually the kinds of systemic approaches that allowed them to have proper lists and then discussion groups and all kinds of things that we don’t even remember today. But the bottom line was that some of the bad actors, including a guy named David Duke and some of his followers, they understood very early the potential of the internet. Now speaking as an American, where there is no such thing as ‘anti-hate law’, American racists understood very early that there could be a possibility for them to mass-market their views into the mainstream of what was predominantly a youth-oriented culture and they wouldn’t have to deal with a librarian, avoiding fact-checking, and they wouldn’t have to deal with the Editor of the letters that the Editor of the New York Times would never publish them or get on the evening news because, generally speaking, at least back then the people from the so-called ‘lunatic fringe’ didn’t make it into the mainstream. The internet was a game-changer and of course with the bells and whistles that we have today it continues to challenge us on a daily basis.

So 26 years ago, before I had a computer, I started a project called ‘Digital Hate’ and on September 12, 2001 we expanded the title to ‘Digital Terrorism and Hate’. So for the purposes of how we approach hate online, people usually use the term ‘hate speech’ to include the terrorists. We don’t – we look at terrorism in an independent way. Obviously terrorists are haters and there’s plenty of hate in their ideology and in their food chain, so there is some overlap. But essentially for the market variety of neo-Nazis, KKK, Holocaust deniers etc these are very disturbing people who often have and continue to inspire hate incidents and hate crimes. Obviously someone from the Simon Wiesenthal Centre is not going to minimise hate groups or hate speech. But they don’t represent yet an existential threat to our societies. So that’s hate. The second domain is what we call terrorism, or the term I like to use is ‘the food chain of terrorism’. There, in the first arena, where we see hate speech or hate material whether it’s a website or media etc, we like to see that stuff removed immediately and when I get up and start with this presentation I’ll explain a little bit about how we approach it. Where we see information related to terrorism our first move is not to eliminate the information but to make sure that the appropriate authorities in the States, which would be; the FBI, local hate crime units, Homeland Security, and of course here Scotland Yard – yesterday Dr Samuels and I spent an hour together with three people over there – and occasionally we’ll even send it to an intelligence agency. Not because they ever say ‘thank you’ but just to make sure that the information we’ve seen, they’ve also seen. To put it in to context, our project until now uses very little of what we would call ‘industrial fishing’, e.g. you know, you put in the term and you get a million hits…we are old fashioned, we use human intelligence. The snapshot that we do on an annual basis is sort of like the reverse mirror image of the big boys and gals who have millions of postings to sift through and to try to understand it. It has generally been a positive relationship.

I think a good place for me to start – it’s extremely challenging, I appreciate that Jamila was able to get me a remote and there shouldn’t be a way for me to screw this up because you can either go forwards or backwards. So this is a very challenging moment for me.

We put out every year an annual report, which actually have some I know that most people these days don’t even have a place on their computer to put in the disc, but a lot of police agencies still have old computers. If you want to take a look at the 2019 report you just go to digitalhate.net and its right there. It’s about 700-1,000 examples of the materials that we come across on a regular basis. This is, I think, a very good place for us to start and I think about four years ago I came up with an idea about actually grading the social media giants. I have to admit I never got straight A’s starting from the first grade, I dropped out of kindergarten. So I kind of enjoy the exercise, maybe a bit too much, but what we found, amazingly, is that the companies actually care about what grade they get. So, for example, for the first two years Twitter got an ‘F’ and we were at a meeting with six of their lawyers in San Francisco and one of them said ‘Rabbi, you gave us an F last year, do you think you might give us a different grade?’. I said ‘Yes, if I can find a grade worse than an F!’ What happened to Twitter, that’s now at a B+, is very important for the overall game plan. They started in Silicon Valley as a laissez-faire, 140-character type thing. Anything goes, they had no interest to hear from special interest groups about anything. Until, at a Congressional hearing in 2016, they heard a Homeland Security representative say that ISIS on a daily basis averaged 200,000 tweets a day. Then of course when the CEO’s life was threatened by one of the terrorist groups they changed their modus operandi. We’re still having some problems with their racist handles, their hashtags, but they changed the way they do business. So you can see here on Twitter that they get a B+. If you’re taking away from this that you should be engaging with companies, the answer is absolutely yes. You need to pressure them – they know a lot more than they tell the public in general and as an American, since we can’t legislate against hate speech anyway, we have always focussed attention on the companies.

Facebook, who were actually the most co-operative at the time they started. I am old, and old enough to remember, when I visited them the first time they had one building, two floors. Now I think they own four zip codes. But I think from the beginning Facebook’s business model understood and accounted for the existence of bad players and bad actors who would want to leverage their product for maybe criminal activities and other negative activities that they didn’t want to have anything to do with. So they’re actually the company from the beginning that made a commitment to try to degrade and hopefully eliminate those kinds of activities on Facebook. For a lot of years, they got A, A- etc – take a look, they have a B-. Two recent things have happened – one happened immediately after release at New York City Hall, we’ll get to New Zealand in a moment. The reason we gave them a B- is they make huge money off of ads, it’s literally an ATM machine for Facebook, billions. But what we discovered is that despite the fact that they said ‘yes, of course, if any of the extremists were to try to use our ads to mass-market or to go after a segment of the population we’re interested in, of course we would stop them’, of course they didn’t stop them. Why? Because they bought some company for a couple of hundred billion dollars and they told the people in the company to go and make them money from the ads. Despite the core culture being sensitive to the issue, this past year they have a lot of different problems but this was specifically in our arena and the main reason we gave them a B-. Let me go immediately though to the New Zealand shooter, talk about that a bit more. The Monday morning after the massacre I got a phone call from the person I deal with at Facebook – there are some really, really good serious people in-house committed on these issues. He said ‘I just wanted you to know that Facebook removed 1.5 million postings of the live feed of the murdered who broadcast his massacre on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and God knows how many other platforms’. My reaction was what are you talking about? Why are you calling me to tell me what you took off? I thought you were calling me to tell us and the rest of the world that Facebook was going to suspend or change its whole response on live-feeds. Because if you don’t we know for sure the next time it will maybe be a group of domestic terrorists, at St Patrick’s New York on Easter, or god forbid in a Synagogue on Yom Kippur, where they’re going to have a group of people who are going to do a much better job than this lone wolf who did his homework and achieved it. There’s no way the status quo can remain. I said to him ‘You know us a long time, if you guys don’t do something I know the only thing at the end of the day you’re really worried about is the ‘R’ word – regulation’. That was on Monday and I will make it clear that the Simon Wiesenthal Centre is not taking credit for the fact that three days later Facebook announced that, I think, they’re going to stop live feeds. I don’t know about BBC, but I think Sky News and every broadcast network on the United States, you don’t see anything live it’s a three second delay. On top of that you need the technological tripwires to be able to intervene and say that we have a problem and someone needs to take a quick look. So what would be the worst case scenario on TV, it would be thirty seconds or a minute. Maybe some people’s presentation would be rejected for the wrong reasons but I would rather have a flawed model than just wait for the next blow to go.

This whole area of new bells and whistles and technology, one of the fundamental lessons that we have to be aware of, especially someone like myself, is you may not be technologically adept but extremists are. They see it as the most powerful potential weapon to demonise your enemy, to raise funds, and to recruit. Where did they learn it from? They actually learned it shortly after the US defeated Saddam Hussein the terrorist groups that were doing hit and run IEDs and sniping against the coalition forces including the British. Suddenly they started having this tactic that there was always someone with a video camera so if they shot down a coalition solider they captured it and then they posted it. They kept this up for a while until the Coalition wiped out those groups and then that stuff disappeared, but not the message that this was something that could take place online. You can see that Google, YouTube, Instagram never was a problem except the extremists, including terrorists, saw that there was less attention being paid to Instagram so they have used more and more Instagram, even though it is owned by Facebook they haven’t applied the lessons to make it a place that is unwelcoming to extremists. I’m not talking about fake news and all the other political issues – those are important questions but I’m sticking to hate groups and those who are involved with terrorism. We call the big five – how many of you have ever been on VK.com? OK, now would I be right in saying it’s the Russian Facebook? I think it’s number 18 in the world, it’s not a small platform and the reason we look at it is that when the bad guys are pushed off the mainstream platforms they find they can go to VK.com and its based in Russia and very rarely is material taken off. It does mean, for human rights activists, that we’re gonna have to find out eventually how to go to Moscow and find someone we can talk to and make it a less friendly and welcoming platform for extremists. Here we have ‘alt-tech’ – it’s a term we made up – these are alternative platforms created in some instances by free-speech advocates who don’t want any government intervention about anything, and some who actually are extremists. I would call them the extreme element of the alt-right movement. You’re talking about a new generation, basically they grew up with these technologies. They’re providing alternative places for the committed racists and bigots to park and to promote. I never heard of Gab until last year, I never heard of Vote until recently. But Robert Bowers, the shooter at the Synagogue in Pittsburgh, was live on Gab having back and forth with other committed extremists. What he finally signed off he said ‘I’m gonna do the act’, he left the conversation on Gab and went and massacred 11 American Jews at prayer. Vote, which is another platform as we will see later, was something that the shooter in New Zealand was using. In all of these cases we have also a huge challenge because most of them have the iceberg approach – you have the public aspect where they express their hatred, or they’re attacking a group or they’re venting. But you can also go encrypted so that means for law enforcement, intelligence, or researchers at the Henry Jackson Society trying to follow, it takes a lot of work, not always successful, to even follow what the domestic terrorists, the lone wolves, or the international terrorists utilising the encryption. It’s a major challenge which I don’t think anyone has an answer to. The messaging apps I think everyone understands – you’re posting something, within a short time of posting it it’s gone, at least from public view. You see that the grades are very close to failure. Basically people don’t want to be bothered with this stuff and you have to balance between the product you’ve created and the right to privacy, which is a whole another event and I urge the Society to have a debate here on whether everyone online should be identified or not. I’m totally schizophrenic about that issue – I think in a democracy, yes, but I think if you’re in Hong Kong, or Shanghai, or in Iran, if you had to openly identify who you are then you’re basically cut off from the rest of the world. The next sort of area that needs major attention – online gaming. We will see in the presentation – and since we won’t get to everything in the hour you will all be able to send me an email and get a link to the PowerPoint which you can view at your leisure. If you want you can send me an email and I’ll send you a link and you can take a look at it. Gaming is classic because the extremists out there – and they are very adept and they know how to adapt to changes – the gaming scene is absolutely phenomenal because it’s mostly young people, although not all, it allows you to communicate with individuals through playing a game, and you can modify the games. So of course we’re now seeing Auschwitz, swastikas, just the sort of the beginning of what we hope won’t be a trend but this gives you a sense of how profoundly the technologies are now driving the tactics and strategies of the extremists.

After every single terrorist act, usually within an hour, you’re going to see really brilliantly beautiful posters online. If these people ever got past their hatred they could probably make a fortune in marketing. Here is ‘You Only Die Once’, of course whenever there is an attack in the UK, or France, or the US or Canada, more often than not you will see the great icon of that society up there. Not only is it there to rub it in to the victims but it is also a symbol, a sign, to people who think in a similar way – those are the real prizes. In case you didn’t notice you’ve got the ISIS flag up here and down here – the more you look at this poster, the more you see. This is from Indonesia, from the area of South East Asia I just came from – this whole business is totally global. This is just unbelievable – I’m not going to say a word here, just soak it in. This is now the angel, the symbol, he wasn’t martyred – he didn’t have the guts to kill himself. You can see here the camera he was wearing and again, take a look to where it’s posted – VK.com, which may not mean a lot to us in the UK or in the States, but it is in its way very much a mainstream platform. This is Twitter – did you notice that he had different things written on his automatic weapon, talking about different times in history when Muslims were attacked and killed. As you know in many places in Europe was, and I think still is, illegal to use so the sun wheel has been utilised by many extremists as a sort of substitute and he wrote this whole 70-page manifesto, basically you have here a question like ‘why did you carry out this attack’ and it’s basically a white supremacist who hates Muslims. His answers to the world’s problems – he doesn’t like Saddiq Khan very much, he says you’ll need to kill Angela Merkel, Erdogan and Saddiq Khan made the top tier. This is Vote, if you haven’t seen it before you might want to take a look, and you see discussions – here someone says ‘Robert Bowers was a friend of mine on Gab’, so this is a subculture which we’re not paying attention to. You might say ‘Well if the evil doers can make their own platform, then why are we bothering?’ The answer is, if we at least succeed to get them isolated away from the billions of normal users on Facebook and Twitter and all the rest that would be a major step forward. Here you see discussions and some of these comments were made in real time, they were watching what he was doing. This is an audio on YouTube that is basically someone in a very rational voice, I think either Australian or New Zealand, explaining why it was inevitable and what he stood for, standing up for the white man. Yes, thank God, there are people who manage to blame the Jews for everything whether it’s an airliner that disappeared. I, myself, was not sure they’d get around to Brexit but I’m sure by tonight they’re going to explain it’s a Zionist plot in terms of discussions between that well-known Jew lover Jeremy Corbyn and the Prime Minister of the country. But, diversity macht frei, and didn’t he break the vote today 313 to 312, I think the gentleman who runs the Parliament he broke the tie, so it is a Jewish plot…George Soros, Nick Boles, a whole conspiratorial subculture and subset online so you know who you’re going to blame, it’s just a matter of colouring in and connecting the dots. So “Brexit should be a matter for the British people, not these parasitic invaders. If it is blocked, we will have no choice but to take matters into our own hands and make the yellow vest movement look tame. White people in every day should have to put an end to Jewish wealth, power and privilege.” This is happening in real time on Gab, this is the chatter going on primarily among people who look at the world in a similar way, so better that we have them on Gab and less on somewhere like Twitter. But when you take a look at their handles ”So we need to have execution/hanging/being shot brought back ASAP for traitors and treason, no alternative like prison, it should be an automatic death sentence.”

Dr Rakib Ehsan: Rabbi, would it be OK if we start a question and answer session in a couple of minutes?

Rabbi Abraham Cooper: Yes, I’m gonna quickly go on just to show you that Rothschild (inaudible) and the Zionist occupation government in the midst of their discussions about Brexit, so I thought the BBC and Sky News gave me a headache, but if you actually have to read this stuff it’s pretty depressing. It’s shocking and worrying because it doesn’t take many people to do it. So very quickly on Instagram, this is ISIS, this is a Muslim hacker group, ISIS – none of this stuff should be on Instagram. Here, just very quickly, this is an updated icon of the ISIS flag – in other words they’re now destroyed on the ground, on the internet more powerful than ever. Here we had them pulled off, they came back with a different name, and guess what they’re doing – they’re selling ISIS t-shirts, gotta make some money. You still have videos that teach you how to create things, this stuff is on Instagram too, and from individuals who the authorities are looking at because they’ve made very explicit threats against different communities. This is a gentleman who we believe is here in London, his threats are quite explicit so the authorities know about this guy. The two examples I gave, the Aryan stuff – that’s the white supremacy that was part of the fuel for mass shooter in New Zealand and the mass murderer in Pittsburgh. Robert Bowers was on there and this was his last posting before he went out on Saturday morning “Screw your optics, I’m going in”

Dr Rakib Ehsan: Rabbi, is it OK if we wrap up and start the Q&A session?

Rabbi Abraham Cooper: By all means, would you like to ask the first question?

Dr Rakib Ehsan: No, I think I would like to open it up.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper: Lovely, we’ll stop at this visual and again we invite everyone to download the full presentation. So just to ask if you identify yourself by name and if you have an affiliation to let us know it’ll help. First question?

Question: Focusing on cyber terrorism and the methods in which they’re (inaudible) encrypted. Just a question, if you’ve experienced any state sponsored hate campaigns, because I read a report where it was believed that there was perhaps some Russian interference into the yellow vest campaign in France and there have been instances in the US as well where there has been, perhaps, racial rallies organised and the origin of where particular social media posts and propaganda have originated from outside countries?

Rabbi Abraham Cooper: So the one country which doesn’t apologise and doesn’t hide its efforts, including online, is Iran. The Iranian regime’s holocaust denial, that includes everything from videos they make and interviews…there you have a state-sponsored commitment to hatred. I want to answer your second question because it has sucked the oxygen out of the United States now for two years, and the issue of fake news and all the rest. Those of us who are a bit older and remember the Soviet Union, they invented fake news. They were the masters, it’s just the delivery system didn’t exist yet where they didn’t have to send people in to put in false flag articles and create trends in the society. I think from the very first moment of the Soviet Union coming into being part of their strategy would be the war of words and trying to infiltrate and change the way people think. Obviously the Nazis their folks were interacting with the UK and the US in the 1930s. So it’s not new, but what is relatively new and devastating is that if you actually have a game plan and you have a budget and you train some folks you can create or help supercharge an environment. I don’t believe the Soviet Union, or call it Russia today, they didn’t invent hate groups. When they take a look, especially in societies that very much cherish freedom of expression – and maybe in the US to the nth degree – whatever they could do to make it look like those views actually are mainstream views in that society, that’s a victory for them. If you get bored, as I am often a channel surfer in hotel rooms, just go to RT television and you can see it in real time – you can look and say it looks like a terrible place and then you say oh, it’s America. It is part of the approach to destabilise democracies or whatever other enemy they have. But I also think that in some ways Putin is just having a blast because in some ways you can’t tell where their efforts ended and where the other efforts began. I will tell you that in terms of Charlottesville and the march that sort of started, if you think that the young people who came out carrying torches recalling both KKK and Nazi marches, were actually agents of the Russians – absolute nonsense. When they come out with the final analysis of how things made such an impact, it could be that they helped move things along somewhat and they could run up the numbers on Twitter, help things go viral, create false flag stuff, but even before the Soviets the internet is tailor made for conspiracy theories. Karl Sagan, brilliant man who educated tens of millions about the universe and physics etc, but on the internet if someone spends a little bit more money to make the Flat Earth Society more attractive to teenagers the traffic would not go to Karl Sagan it would go there. Those that have nefarious goals they’re watching, they’re absorbing and I think that what we’re seeing now in terms of the attacks like Pittsburgh and New Zealand is it has been a long time coming but we’re now seeing domestic extremists absorbing the lessons provided to them by ISIS. I’m not talking about ISIS on the ground, I’m talking about ISIS on the internet because they deployed a very sophisticated, a number of sophisticated marketing plans, including figuring out ways to get teenage girls from the UK to leave their middle class homes and to go any marry ISIS animals. It took us like three days to figure out how they make contact, they use five different things – the website, they use Twitter, then they use the messaging when you finally got an answer to your question you would get an answer. Our researcher was not a teenage girl and I’m not sure the person who was posing as a soldier was actually an ISIS soldier, but we saw and continue to see a level of sophistication on the part of these players that means no matter what we do to eliminate them in the real world their message, which is a horrible and shocking and worrisome message, continues to thrive online.

Question: I heard a lot about taking down extremist content – one of the things that has been quite successful in Indonesia in terms of counter-extremism is actually counter-messaging. Nahdlatul Ulama has a young adult movement has a unit which is engaged in quite actively and aggressively challenging extremist content. So I was wondering where we are in the English speaking…

Dr Rakib Ehsan: The development of counter-narratives in a sense…

Rabbi Abraham Cooper: It’s a really great question. I happen to be a great fan of the NU, I had the honour to know the late President Wahid and I hosted a group from the NU in Israel already nine years ago. These are individuals who pray five times a day, take their religion extremely seriously, and are of this world – they are modern people. I think in some ways Indonesia is quite unique but can be a kind of model because the NU has young people who were brought up in the values of their faith which is a serious but moderate world view. I think when they look at other Muslims who are exposed and maybe ‘drinking this Kool-aid’ they’re the only ones who are, in a sense, equipped to try to go up online and engage because you have to engage on their terms. Generally speaking, the internet is not a debating society, it’s a marketing tool, but nonetheless when they see a young person coming online that for them is a potential recruit. So the opening is there. What is unique about the NU is that they have a cadre of 60 million moderates who are upset about those who mis-identify the values of Islam. So it’s Muslim to Muslim, there’s very little political intervention or guidance. The goal here is to try to wean as many other Muslims away from that ideology – that means that Pastors and Rabbis need not apply and it also means, and I know the government here has tried and involved some really great people, creating pop up counter-narratives I’m not sure how effective it is. I hope that all these efforts are effective but just keep in mind that for the true believer it won’t make a difference and the vast majority of those who are drinking that Kool-aid or playing those games will never come across another Muslim who knows as much about theology than they do and is of the generation that can talk to them. So I commend the NU and I wish that their presence, especially here, in Germany, in France, Scandinavia, and the UK I wish that they would establish a presence here as there is a lot of work to be done and they’re exactly the kinds of folks who should do it.

HJS



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