We are losing the war against ISIS

Any ground we are gaining in the physical war, we are ceding in the online war.

(This column originally appeared in the Toronto Sun)

By: Candice Malcolm

Wars are often fought on more than one front. During World War II, Allied forces fought and won the war on both the eastern and western fronts in Europe, along with winning the war in the Pacific.

The war of Canada and its allies against Daesh, more commonly called Islamic State or ISIS (I prefer Daesh mostly because they hate to be called it), is no different.

It has at least two fronts: The physical one in Syria and Iraq, and the digital one on the world wide web. We may be winning the war on the physical front. According to the Pentagon, coalition bombs have killed more than 6,000 ISIS fighters since the campaign began in late 2014.

But any ground we are gaining in the physical war, we are ceding on the other front.

We are losing the online war. Badly. Through their aggressive social media presence and so-called Cyber Caliphate, ISIS is recruiting more fighters than coalition bombs are killing. Every time a bomb drops and kills a handful of ISIS commanders, half a dozen more are recruited into the ISIS fold.

As Islamic State thugs retreat and hide for safety in real life, their brethren are bombarding the internet with horrendous images of ISIS’ murderous rampage and inviting others to join their jihad

They are waging a propaganda war, not only to instil fear and anger in their enemies, but also as a means of recruitment.

That’s why the second front of this war may be equally as important as the first.

Sure, dropping bombs on ISIS leaders will help stop the slaughter of innocent men, women and children in Iraq. But the Islamic State’s broad and wide-reaching army of online hackers and recruiters help pump new blood into the war.

ISIS is winning the numbers game.

According to the International Centre for the Study of Radicalization, over 20,000 people from around the world have joined ISIS to fight in Syria and Iraq.

This includes 100 from Canada.

130 from the U.S.

250 from Australia.

4,000 from Western Europe.

And nearly 14,000 fighters from other places in the Middle East and North Africa.

What are we doing to combat these web savvy psychopaths on their aggressive recruitment campaigns? Canada and its allies were quick to jump at the ISIS propaganda bait. The shocking and disturbing online material has led to broad support for yet another physical war in Iraq.

ISIS wants to bog us down in Iraq, but they’ve also jumped ahead on the digital front.

While coalition governments have been asleep at the wheel, vigilantes like the online hacker network Anonymous have taken matters into their own hands. Last week, Anonymous published a list of hundreds of Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and other social media accounts that belonged to Islamic State militants.

These users were all suspended immediately, cutting them off from their propaganda platform. Thanks to Anonymous, Twitter shut down more than 1,500 ISIS accounts. Dozens of militant recruiting websites have been knocked offline by Anonymous hackers. But why are we letting a cyber gang do our work?

If we want to win this war against ISIS, Canada needs to wake up to the second front of this war and engage the virtual battlefield.