How to Take the Internet Back from ISIS

altM’s Editor-in-Chief, Asma Uddin, participated in the 1st Haqqathon in Abu Dhabi- and won! Read the media coverage by NPR’s Dina Temple-Raston below:


Last week, in the ballroom of the St. Regis Abu Dhabi, Chris Blauvelt climbed onstage with three other Americans to accept first prize in the world’s inaugural Haqqathon. The tech-centered event, whose name is a play on “haqq,” the Arabic word for “truth,” took place on the fringes of the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies, a conference of scholars from around the globe. For the past several years, the group has focussed primarily on quelling violent extremism, with limited success. Last year, it issued a fatwa against the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), which did very little to stop young Muslim men from taking up arms in Syria. The decision to include two dozen hackers in the 2015 conference was, in part, an acknowledgment of that failure. “We need to relate more to people on the ground,” Zeshan Zafar, the forum’s young executive director, told me. “The scholars aren’t resonating. We need to meet the youth where they are—online, in social media.”

From the stage, Blauvelt cued up an ISIS propaganda video. The audience, composed mostly of middle-aged men in crisp white dishdashas, craned their necks for a better view as the screen filled with slow-motion images of young men on the battlefield. “Imagine, if you are a sixteen-year-old boy, how cool this looks,” Blauvelt said. “It’s like a Hollywood movie and you’re the hero.” He paused and then said heavily, “I know this, because I was nearly one of them.” When Blauvelt was growing up, in a small farm town in western Massachusetts, indoctrination was analogue. At the time, the nearest mosque was more than an hour away. He and a friend converted to Islam when they were sixteen, then fell in with a local man, a follower of fundamentalist Wahhabism, who offered to be their teacher. Blauvelt told me that he learned about medieval Islamic notions of disbelief and war and loyalty before even learning how to pray properly. ISIS initiates its followers in the same way but on a far greater scale; now a confused Muslim teen-ager need only turn on his smartphone or a computer to find a kindred spirit.


Read the rest in the New Yorker.

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