Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The jihad, public policy, public opinion nexus - effects theory

Jihadist use of the Internet is producing a reaction and that reaction is changing the Internet. Those changes are increasingly  public policy ones that are announced or discussed in public.

This is different to the ones that have been in private play through government security agencies for many years. In the US and the west, Wikileaks and Edward Snowden's release of National Security Authority (NSA) files indicated an advanced history of secrecy, typical of spy agencies for generations. The exception now is that the nature of spying on domestic populations in western democracies may be altogether at a different register thanks to the Internet.
Events that signify the way jihad is changing public policy settings are important indicators of change. Equally important are shifts in public opinion that make it possible for governments to change public policy. Combined, these two forces are maxims if you will, of public policy making: establish a public opinion shift and change policies accordingly. Every student of Institutional Economics understands this principle, as well as the principle of institution building and sustenance, as a central tenant of ideological considerations in society. (For more on Institutional Economics the initating document is John Commons, "Institutional Economics," 1936. Commons article link)

Two news items draw attention to the public opinion policy nexus and the Internet in the context of jihad.

1. "India Shaken by Case of Moslem Men Missing in Iraq" in the New York Times. India and Moslems
Here is part of the story:
Four young men from this city on the outskirts of Mumbai — well-educated children of a rising middle class — disappeared from their homes with no warning in late May, leaving behind a note about fighting to defend Islam. Investigators traced them to Mosul and have said they were recruited over the Internet by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria — a process that, while relatively well-known in the West, has not been documented in India.
Mumbai is the technology and call centre capital of India... The connection with the computer network adds to the discussion about unintended consequences of the Internet. Government's believe technology is a solution to development. Public policies reflect that perspective, and rightly so. But in the layers of Mumbai's technology activity is a layer of jihadist recruitment. 

That the young men appear to have joined ISIS, the foundation for the Islamic Caliphate is pretty dramatic. Three of the four are qualified engineers, according to the New York Times report - which is incredible because in this case, the Internet jihad nexus appeals to highly educated people. As engineers, they can make a significant contribution to ISIS and the organization of the Caliphate using new technology.  

The report cites Indian authorities expressing concern about this connection between the Internet and jihad.
“This came as a shock to all of us, this incident,” said Deven Bharti, a senior official in the Mumbai police department. “Trying to join the global war, it is quite a new thing.”
Responses to this move will include - if they do not already - closer scrutiny of jihadist recruitment through the Internet. At present it appears that the Indian police are monitoring the situation - but that is merely the public record of this event.

Below is a public example of a national policy response to the recruitment of jihadists.

2. Australia announced that it will be monitoring nationals who become jihadi fighters and then return home.

The Guardian headline and subhead summarized the approach by the Prime Minister: "Tony Abbott plans extension to terrorism laws amid jihadi fears. Abbott government wants more power to ban organisations, permit arrests without a warrant and cancel passports."

Here is the strong public policy response. The change to public policy is influenced by the ill-defined relationship between public opinion and media reports. This is the way culture changes. We need  concentrated research and critique on this nexus. And we need it not from the dominant American position of "rights" to free speech and rights generally, but from an appreciation of the increasingly granulated mix of media, Internet, government and public policy.

In media studies the relationship between media and behavior is known as effects theory. It is somewhat controversial as the influence of media is difficult to measure. However, jihadi activism due to the Internet is making effects theory clearer, as the nexus of cloudy relationships between media and behavior makes way for conclusions that point to clear cause and effect. Call it technological determinism if you will.