by Florian Flade
Anwar al-Awlaki and Congressman Anthony Weiner (on the right)
“It´s about time that it ends!” – with these words Democratic Congressman Anthony David Weiner of New York, called for the online-video platform Youtube to delete and ban videos of the controversial US-Yemeni preacher Anwar al-Awlaki. In front of the media, out on the streets of Manhattan, the Democratic politician stood right next to a board showing a large screenshot of a Youtube page screening the al-Qaeda in Yemen´s video interview with Awlaki.
For the first time, a U.S. official demanded Youtube to ban tapes of and featuring a single, specific person – let alone a U.S. citizen.
Congressman Weiner sent a letter to Youtube´s CEO Chad Hurley on Sunday, asking him to delete all of the approximately 700 videos of Anwar al-Awlaki available on Youtube.
“A known terrorist named Anwar al-Awlaki, dubbed the ‘bin-Laden of the Internet,’ has been using YouTube to promote his extremist ideology and recruit a new generation of terrorists,” Weiner wrote according to CNN. “I am asking that you remove all videos featuring Anwar al-Awlaki from your website and set up safeguards to prevent future videos from being posted.”
Youtube responded by removing several Awlaki videos after Weiner´s complaint, saying some of the content violates the community guidelines. Still, a quick search of the term “awlaki” produces 5.070 results, “anwar al awlaki” to 4.570 results, including numerous versions of the Al-Malahim interview with and without English subtitles. Even the “Anwar Al-Awlaki Utube” channel is still accessible and operating.
On the streets of Manhattan, Anthony Weiner held a furious speech on Monday explaining his concerns regarding Awlaki´s Youtube presence. “This is someone who is clearly using the service to spread hate and doing it effectively”, Weiner said, “He has followers, 3.5 Million views, 700 videos and it´s about time that it ends.”
What Weiner did not mention is the clear fact that a large number of videos found on Youtube when searching for “awlaki”, is in fact news footage by various TV channels.
Hinting towards the Fort Hood Shooting carried out by Major Nidal Hassan, who was in contact with Awlaki via e-mail before committing the attack, Mr.Weiner said: “Every single day someone clicks on these videos, it is a potential terrorist learning to hate. We have to make sure that does not continue to happen.” He therefore urges Youtube to stop the spreading of Awlaki´s teaching.
The unsual attempt by an American politician to stop Islamist propaganda by openly addressing Youtube leads to the question: Why now? Why doing it at all?
Anwar al-Awlaki has indeed become an important figure in the Online-Jihad community, and his base of followers is growing, especially in Western countries. Although 90% of lectures found on the internet are rather old audio lectures Awlaki gave in and around 9/11, almost every day these tapes are re-uploaded onto Youtube. His fans create new versions, add subtitles, translate lectures in other languages besides English and Arabic, sometimes editing the tapes with Jihadi-style background pictures, waving flags, roaring lions and swords.
His own blog is dead for now and it does not seem Awlaki is promoting himself on Youtube and other upload services. The virus is spreading, and so is the ideology that attracts a certain number of Western, Non-Arabic speaking Muslim Youths.
Over the weekend, a new video tape was advertised in an Jihadi forum, with an excerpt released showing Awlaki speaking in Arabic. Possible the soon to be released video was the reason for Mr.Weiner to reach out to Youtube – although I doubt the video will first appear on Youtube.
So is fighting the never ending stream of Awlaki-Uploads, copies and re-uploads an efficient way of dealing with the danger of the hateful ideology delivered by a charismatic Jihadi scholar?
Closing websites, forums, blogs or chatrooms has not yet proven to be an effective – not even temporary – solution to the problem called Awlaki. The Online-Jihad community adapts to the closure of the virtual playground by creating new ones, by using other services available besides Youtube or just producing their own system of spreading propaganda media.
Pressuring Youtube to enforce an “Awlaki-Ban” is a cheap excuse and distraction from the real problem the U.S. is facing when it comes to national security and the danger of the next Awlaki-inspired (or “Inspire” inspired) Jihad attack on US soil.
Clearly the Awlaki presence on Youtube is not a matter of free-speech or anything related to hateful content. A search for “hitler” leads to 203.000 video results – and I´m sure not all of them are satire fake material. So where is the point in banning the lectures of the U.S.-Yemeni preacher while there are still videos of Bin Laden, Zawahiri, al-Libi, Zarqawi, Feiz Mohammad and hundreds of lesser known preachers with a brainwashing-potential available?
“It´s about time that is ends” – Rep.Anthony Weiner demands. Guess what Mr.Weiner, it would not even stop if Awlaki is ragged by a US hellfire missile tomorrow.
Maybe I just did not get the joke, after all Mr.Weiner once shared a flat with Daily Show´s Jon Stewart – so is it just a case of political-satire?