By The Daily Star
October 11, 2008
Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya television seems to have been the target in a
Shiite riposte for damage recently inflicted by Sunni hackers on
hundreds of sites connected to the Iranian government and Iraq's most
senior Shiite cleric. Attacks and counter-attacks of this sort are not a
surprise anymore, but they remain a disappointment. Just as then-new
mediums like radio and satellite television prompted "wars" in which
supporters of one movement or another sought - by means both fair and
foul - to counter the arguments and limit the influence of their rivals,
so does the Internet now constitute a new venue for "ideological"
battles that fly in the face of what the open interchange of ideas is
supposed to be all about.
What is different this time is the relative ease with which able hackers
can and do conceal their identities, which makes it very difficult to
control the practice. Those who understand the technology and the
architecture of the Internet have little trouble avoiding detection -
and can even cause their work to look like someone else's with a few key
strokes. Participants in cyber-warfare are not hindered by borders,
either, so expect the contest to continue - and even to intensify.
To be sure, the phenomenon is troubling, especially if one happens to be
on the receiving end of a cyber-attack, as happened to this newspaper a
few years ago when Israeli hackers attempted to silence our Web site.
Around the same time a similar assault was launched against Hizbullah's
site, but the subsequent taking down of the Israeli Foreign Ministry's
seemed to deter further adventures.
This last example gives cause to believe that the phenomenon might not
be a wholly negative one. It is surely a waste of talent to have such
capable people spending their time and effort on destroying and
restricting things - especially ideas - instead of building and
distributing them. It is also a shame when a medium with so much
potential to let people from opposite sides of the world (or of a
political dispute) engage with one another is, instead, used for mutual
sabotage. As the current Sunni-Shiite contest reminds us, however, there
is no shortage of either ability or enthusiasm out there among the
(presumably youthful) hackers. As in so many other spheres of what
passes for the modern Middle East, what is missing is a way to channel
these talents into more productive endeavors.
The cyber-war, then, is little more than another facet of a malaise that
has gripped the region for decades. Absent competent and legitimate
governance, our youth are drawn to myriad activities that serve as
temporary placebos for the satisfaction they might derive from
educational and/or career pursuits available to their peers in more
fortunate parts of the world. From the point view of ruling political
elites, this is a good thing because it helps ensure that young people
develop neither an awareness of who their real enemies (both foreign and
domestic) are, nor a habit of organized and sustained action to better
their societies by demanding - or even providing - better leadership.
For everyone else, it is just the latest headache or the latest way to
relieve the boredom of unemployment.
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