The Isis has turned the internet into the most effective propaganda tool ever. Propaganda war of Islamic extremists is being waged on Facebook and internet message boards, not mosques
Smoke rises from the Syrian town of Ain al-Arab, known as Kobane by the Kurds, after a strike from the US-led coalition.
EVER since the Pentagon started talking about Isis as apocalyptic, I've suspected that websites and blogs and YouTube are taking over from reality. I'm even wondering whether "Isis" - or Islamic State or Isil, here we go again - isn't more real on the internet than it is on the ground. Not, of course, for the Kurds of Kobani or the Yazidis or the beheaded victims of this weird caliphate. But isn't it time we woke up to the fact that internet addiction in politics and war is even more dangerous than hard drugs?
Over and over, we have the evidence that it is not Isis that "radicalises" Muslims before they head off to Syria - and how I wish David Cameron would stop using that word - but the internet. The belief, the absolute conviction that the screen contains truth - that the "message" really is the ultimate verity - has still not been fully recognised for what it is; an extraordinary lapse in our critical consciousness that exposes us to the rawest of emotions - both total love and total hatred - without the means to correct this imbalance. The "virtual" has dropped out of "virtual reality".
At its most basic, you have only to read the viciousness of internet chatrooms. Major newspapers - hopelessly late - have only now started to realise that chatrooms are not a new technical version of "Letters to the Editor" but a dangerous forum for people to let loose their most-disturbing characteristics. Thus a major political shift in the Middle East, transferred to the internet, takes on cataclysmic proportions. Our leaders not only can be transfixed themselves - the chairman of the US House Committee on Homeland Security, for example, last week brandishing a printed version of Dabiq, the Isis online magazine - but can use the same means to terrify us.
Laptop and jihad
Stripped of any critical faultline, we are cowed into silence by the "barbarity" of Isis, the "evil" of Isis which has - in the truly infantile words of the Australian Prime Minister - "declared war on the world". The television news strip across the bottom of the screen now supplies a ripple of these expressions, leaving out grammar and, all too often, verbs. We have grown so used to the narrative whereby a Muslim is "radicalised" by a preacher at a mosque, and then sets off on jihad, that we do not realise that the laptop is playing this role.
In Lebanon, for example, there is some evidence that pictures on YouTube have just as much influence upon Muslims who suddenly decide to travel to Syria and Iraq as do Sunni preachers. Photographs of Sunni Muslim victims - or of the "execution" of their supposedly apostate enemies - have a powerful impact out of all proportion to words on their own.