Terrorists are increasingly turning to social media and websites to recruit, making it harder than ever to track their growth according to a Wednesday hearing at the House Committee on Homeland Security.
The hearing focused on the recent phenomenon of American youth being recruited by various terror organizations through social media and online forums as well as the government’s ability to use soft power to counter the violent ideology that is currently seducing American millennials.
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Chairman Michael McCaul (R., Texas) said terrorist recruitment is harder to track as most of it occurs electronically, out of sight. He emphasized that the government must act immediately to intervene.
"These fanatics have warped a peaceful religion into deceitful propaganda, designed to convince vulnerable young people to embrace inhuman barbarism. Their success at recruiting from within our own communities cannot be ignored," he said. "We are living in a new age of peer-to-peer terrorism. Eighty percent of the ISIS-inspired Americans who have been arrested were recruited by the terrorist group over social media or engaged in online communications sympathetic to it. This is how extremism goes viral: online and out-of-sight, until it’s almost too late."
Witnesses said the way to counter violent extremism in America is to attack the source of what propels people to join the terror movement. Farah Pandith, adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said the 9/11 attack and its aftermath caused the millennial generation of Muslims to experience an identity crisis, leading them to seek answers to existential questions of faith and purpose. Some turn to terror organizations to answer those questions, and obtain a sense of community.
"At the core, extremist narratives are answering the key questions millennial Muslims are asking about themselves and their purpose," she said, "Muslim youth have experienced a profound identity crisis unlike any in modern history. They have craved answers, seeking purpose and belonging. Extremists prey on young Muslims and offer readymade answers designed specifically to appeal to this generation."
Pandith emphasized that this is an ideological battle just as much as it is a military battle, comparing it to the Cold War. She said the United States need credible and relatable voices to reach Muslim American youth, denounce the culture of ‘martyrdom’ and give them a new sense of purpose to counter the call to terror. America can disrupt terror temptations online by appealing to youths face to face.
"I’m not talking about engaging in a messaging war on Twitter. I’m talking about getting credible, local voices to inoculate their communities against extremist techniques and appeal," she said. "We must look at this like we would any other contagion, rooting out its hosts globally and destroying its defenses."