The White House strategy, though, betrays an obsession with physical space at the expense of virtual space. This fixation very much reflects a generational divide among the scholars and policy-makers who focus on terrorism. Younger scholars such as Will McCants (now at the Department of Defense) and Thomas Hegghammer--in addition to being much more likely to actually be able to speak and read the relevant languages (Arabic and Urdu)--are "digital natives" rather than "digital immigrants" (to use the labels preferred by the counter-insurgency scholar Thomas Rid): They do not need to have the explosive potential of the internet explained to them, and McCants and Hegghammer especially have individually spent hundreds of hours on the more popular jihadi chatrooms to gather data about the debates and spread of information that is taking place in the virtual world.
This is not to say that physical safe havens do not matter. They do--a lot. But they are not the "be all, end all" of an effective counter-terror strategy. The policy-makers who crafted the White House strategy largely belong to the generation that cut its teeth in the Clinton White House, when physical havens were in fact the only havens that mattered. But as Europe's experience has shown us, this thinking is outdated; we shouldn't wait until we are attacked by homegrown or internet-coordinated terrorists to adopt an appropriately far-reaching strategy. Share
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Thursday, April 2, 2009
Excellent article by the author of Abu Muqawama, Andrew Exum. In particular, his comments on safe havens proved to be enlightening. Here is an excerpt: