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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2009, Vol.1, No.1 .

Terror on the Internet: The New Arena, the New Challenges
Gabriel Weimann

(United States Institute of Peace Press: Washington, D.C, 2006) 309 pp, HB, $24.95, ISBN 978-1-929223-71-8

Focussing on the actual and potential role of the internet in terrorism, this book is a superficial overview of terrorist organisations? presence online. Relying mostly on policy and intelligence reports, as well as media coverage, the book does not represent a contribution to theory or original research. As such, it greatly suffers from following a popular rhetoric on both terrorism and the internet, ignoring the complex relation between terrorism, the public, power and technology. Although the book promises to cover a variety of terrorist dynamics, the problematic explored is primarily US-centric, with a heavy ? and somehow questionable ? emphasis on Islamic fundamentalism. An appendix reproduces the US State Department?s definition of terrorism and the list of the designated foreign terrorist organisations. However, an appropriate engagement with the issue of terrorism in the context of global capitalism, its relation to the state and to its various publics (from passive supporters to media and civic groups) is widely missing.

The book is structured into seven chapters, moving the reader from a brief overview of the history of the internet to a simplistic discussion of terrorism as psychological warfare. The subsequent chapters deal with terrorist organisations? use of the net to communicate with their constituencies and the world, as well as for other utilitarian purposes such as gathering information, networking, recruiting and mobilising, training, propaganda and fundraising. Unfortunately, this section ? which could potentially be a major contribution to the field ? is not methodologically sound, and mostly glosses over, in a superficial manner, a predetermined list of actual and potential uses of the internet for terrorism that seems to be derived from US policy and intelligence reports. There is no discussion of how the various publics actually relate to the presence of terrorist organisations on the internet; furthermore, by selectively using some examples to support a predetermined list of uses of the internet for terrorism, the book misses the context of these cases, and as such cannot speak to the complexity of terrorism in relation to modern relations of power ranging from state structures to class, ethnicity and race among others.

On the positive side, these chapters refer to a variety of policy and media sources, which may be useful for subsequent analysis. A special chapter attempts to construct a case for the potential of terrorism on the internet, widely relying on speculations and without truly engaging with any of the core debates around the social use of the internet, such as its privacy or surveillance aspects. The last two chapters attempt to map the range of state reactions to terrorism that are relevant to the internet, and to explore the thorny issue of the border between counter-terrorist measures and civil liberties. In my opinion, the book fails to engage with the problematic of terrorism and its relation to the internet in an academic manner, although it can be useful as a repository of raw examples in a field which is in great need of academic attention.

Delia Dumitrica, PhD Candidate and Sessional Instructor, University of Calgary

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