Wiesenthal Center official: Internet co-opted by terrorist groups

Urges international agencies to work together to eliminate Web sites being used to promote terrorism.

arab computer 88 (photo credit: )
arab computer 88
(photo credit: )
The Internet has emerged as "the virtual university of terrorism," the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Rabbi Abraham Cooper told a high-level international conference in Brussels last week. Speaking in the elegant Egmont Palace at an Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe forum on curbing "hate messages" in the media and on the Internet, he urged the OSCE and other international agencies to work together to "diminish, if not eliminate" Web sites being used by terrorist organizations to promote their causes. Cooper, the associate dean of the Los Angeles-based center, said there were up to 600 "problematic sites," some of which carried anti-Semitic and racist messages while others even served as instruction manuals on how to make bombs and carry out terrorist attacks. "Without any doubt, the Internet today has been co-opted by terrorist groups who present to all of us existential threats," he said, "and I believe we are only at the very beginning in civil society of grasping the enormity of that challenge." The conference was hosted by Belgian Foreign Minister Karel de Gucht, who calmly called at the outset for dialogue and responsibility in the media in the wake of the Danish cartoon crisis. He and other speakers who followed him also urged Arab satellite networks to follow Europe's example, and not allow racist or terrorist messages to be broadcast in the media, such as anti-Semitic programs on Hizbullah's Al-Manar television. The keynote address was delivered by Saudi Information Minister Ayad Ben Amin Madani, who preceded his speech with a prayer in Arabic for tolerance, but proceeded quickly enough to denounce the "Islamophobia" of Western civilization. "It matters not that the Islamic civilization was one of the most inclusive, or that Islam in its history demonstrates that it is a most accommodating religion, or that Arabs are hardly in a position to dominate," he said. "What matters is the image drawn by mass media and by media events and hype." Arab media are always pictured in the West as tools of government and social control, he added, arguing that "some of its fringe voices are portrayed to be the mainstream." Representatives of the media, including Aidan White, general secretary of the International Federation of Journalists, strongly condemned any attempt by politicians or religious leaders to curb freedom of speech. White said most journalists had demonstrated responsibility during the recent riots over the Muhammad cartoons, and there was no need for any new set of rules regulating the media. Wadah Khanfar, director-general of Al-Jazeera, delivered an eloquent lecture in defense of freedom of speech and his network's right to broadcast tapes by al-Qaida leaders. Speaking to reporters after the conference, he rejected claims that the controversial Qatar-based network carried messages for terrorist organizations. If Al-Jazeera received a 45-minute tape from bin-Laden, he said, it would select only a few minutes that are newsworthy and package them in a news report. "That's called journalism," he said. Khanfar said his network would "soon" begin broadcasting in English. It had initially been scheduled to start its English news program around the world this summer, but he indicated that the project might be postponed to the fall. Some 60 senior editors from so-called southern Mediterranean countries were invited by the European Commission to sit on the sidelines of the forum on Monday. They were in Brussels to attend a three-day "Europe for Mediterranean Journalists" seminar in Brussels to prepare for an ambitious five-week training program over 18 months for journalists from Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Turkey, "Palestine" and Israel. The program promises to be "a down-to-earth practical approach to learning about the European Union and its work in Mediterranean countries." Its aim, according to the organizers, is "to raise awareness of European Union activity in the Mediterranean countries by empowering journalists to have a greater, more informed knowledge of the work of the EU in their countries."