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Next colloquia topic: Strategic communication and counterterrorism

Government counterterrorists have been more successful than terrorists in cyberwar, the disruption of computer network operations, said Ken Hacker, professor of communication studies at New Mexico State University. They have been able to ruin or shut down terrorist Web sites more than terrorists have been able to breach government networks, he said.

Dr. Ken Hacker, professor, communication studies. (NMSU photo by Darren Phillips)

But terrorists have successfully expanded their use of computer-mediated communication (CMC) and are using this tool more effectively than counterterrorists.

"By using better audience analysis and applying the new channels to reach their audiences, jihadist terrorists are able to cheaply communicate, persuade, organize and train," Hacker said. "They also use Internet sites that can be uploaded for free to cheaply and effectively distribute videos that proclaim their successes. These films are used to recruit even more terrorists."

Hacker will discuss "Strategic Communication and Counterterrorism" at 4 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 24, in Room 107 of the Science Hall. His talk is part of the College of Arts and Sciences Fall 2006 Colloquia, "Rethinking Terrorism."

The U.S. should improve its communication strategies in non-electronic ways, too, Hacker said. He cites the example of President Bush refusing to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.

"When world leaders refuse to meet face-to-face with their adversaries, history is ignored," he said. "Such refusals ignore communications research that shows avoidance of conflict actually makes conflict worse. Face-to-face communication does not necessarily constitute any type of rewarding behavior, but it does get valuable information about actions and why they are taken. "

Hacker said political discourse can be depolarized through the effective use of strategic communication, such as scrapping the status quo propaganda model used by the U.S. where communication serves ideology, no learning or adapting takes place, and national interests alone are served. This model should be replaced by one that includes some propaganda combined with effective, persuasive dialogue that serves national and international interests alike.

Also, rather than pegging terrorists as "psychopaths," research shows they are socially skilled people who commit horrific actions for political causes, Hacker said. He warned that "the flow of terrorist recruitment and the resultant carnage will never be stopped" unless the U.S. addresses the causes of terrorism and uses strategic communication to show that terrorist causes are not worthy and are best served by nonviolence.

"We need to show through strategic communication that the U.S. is not a threat to Islamic and Arab nations and that we will allow Muslims to run their own political systems," Hacker said. "We also must convince these nations to reject terrorism as an instrument of political communication. As negative attitudes toward the U.S. go hand-in-hand with sympathy or support for terrorism, we need to work with moderate Muslims to help the majority of Islamic people reject the terrorists who misrepresent their religion and mix it with violent politics."

Religion will be the theme of the last colloquium event this semester. Keith Akins, a professor in the Department of Criminal Justice, will discuss "Religious Justification for Violence in America." Akins' talk will begin at 4 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 31, in Room 107 of the Science Hall.