Akil Awan will be speaking at the British Academy conference on:
How Terrorist Groups Learn: Innovation and Adaptation in Political Violence
Thursday 18 & Friday 19 June 2015, 9.30am – 5.00pm; The British Academy, London
His paper is titled: The Rise of Open Source Jihad: Autodidactic Lone Wolves or Bumbling Ideological Illiterates.
Over the last decade, the Internet has become the principal platform for the dissemination and mediation of jihadist culture and ideology, with Jihadist online spaces serving key functions including: news circulation, propaganda dissemination, communication, training provision, and cathartic expression (Awan, 2006). The advent of a newer generation of “web 2.0” spaces, including social networking sites and file-sharing portals, has not only helped to consolidate the ascendancy of jihadist media, but has simultaneously raised the spectre of virtually-mediated self-radicalisation of potential lone-wolf terrorists.
Individuals, with no previous or existing affiliations to terrorist organisations, have to some extent been able to autonomously appropriate both ideology and tradecraft of terrorist groups, through the use of online fora, new media and open source data.
However, this shift in terrorist learning has not been without consequences for the terrorist groups themselves. The lack of planning, discipline, field-experience, and basic competency displayed by these inept open-source Jihadists, means they often fumble their plans and fall afoul of security and intelligence services. A point made brilliantly by Chris Morris' satirical film Four Lions.
However, in addition to the impact on terrorist learning with respect to tradecraft, there have been even more significant changes on terrorist learning with respect to ideology.
Although Jihadism has spread unimpeded across new media platforms, it has been forced to do so in a somewhat attenuated form; the message itself has been forced to sacrifice some of its coherency and cogency along the way. Indeed, the new-media environment has fundamentally recast the jihadi ideology in the twenty-first century, producing a feeble caricature in its stead in order to retain its relevance to this newer tech-savvy yet ideologically less sophisticated generation of autodidact ‘digital natives’.