Saturday, June 2, 2007

Digital Democracy

Sometime during this past year I had an odd dream, in which I was supposed to interview Al Gore. The dream was pretty galvanizing, but since I'm not traveling these days, I didn't see any way to try and follow its promptings. Al Gore isn't coming to Blacksburg any time soon.

Then Arianna pre-empted me. She interviewed Gore this week and wrote about it on her blog, The Huffington Post. As everyone knows, Gore is a passionate advocate for the glories of the Internet, which he sees as a force for good in the world. Most recently Gore has been claiming that digital technology can wrench our democracy back from the grip of the political demagogues who have hijacked it, by establishing "an open communications environment in which the conversation of democracy can flourish" and power can be put back in the hands of ordinary citizens:

"We need to reengage the American people in the process of democracy," he told Arianna Huffington. "We have to convince them that their opinions do matter, that their wisdom is relevant, and that their political power can be used effectively. And the Internet is beginning to bring about some very positive changes in this area -- it's why it is so important that bloggers are now able to hold newspapers and politicians accountable in ways they couldn't even just a few years ago."

However, as the digital fire spreads and Web surfing becomes a way of life, it turns out that we are not the only ones downloading. The Internet has also become a creepy sort of utopia for Jihadis, who believe that the West is waging a universal war against Islam. Radical Islamic groups have come to value the Internet so much for its ability to spread their message, and to help them recruit and train suicide bombers, that it is now as crucial a tool for them as the Kalashnikov rifle. (This is the conclusion of a recent report delivered to the Senate Homeland Security Committee.)

Thus, increasingly sophisticated computer technology is not just helping to create grassroots networks for democracy, it is also creating a global community of apprentice Jihadis on all continents, who want to destroy us, and to dominate the
planet with their 7th-century Sharia ideology.

So, in my own imaginary interview with Gore, this is what I would have asked him about. Yes, the Internet certainly has many benign uses, but it is now also a terrorist's Valhalla. What do we do about that?

It's a bit like the invention of the atom bomb that was originally designed to protect the world from destruction. Instead it has become the most dangerous threat to human survival that is out there.

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