The Central Asian states also lag far behind worldwide standards for Internet usage and penetration rates. The reasons are several: a lack of economic and technological development generally; high levels of poverty among many populations; vast and sometimes inaccessible spaces; and regime censorship and control.
This lack of Internet access impacts people and economies in a number of ways, but perhaps most relevant for the readers of this blog are the implications for efforts at online radicalisation and mobilisation. Online radicalisation is an important subject for ICSR; but does the discussion have any relevance for Central Asia?
Let’s look at Central Asian Internet rates, courtesy of Internet World Stats. Keep in mind that the worldwide average for Internet penetration is 23.8 per cent, while the averages for North America and Europe are 74.4 and 48.9 respectively.
Now, statistics alone cannot convey a true sense of how the Internet is accessed and used in Central Asia, or whether extremist groups and individuals are making good use of it. After all, one Internet user can print out a bunch of radical literature and then distribute it in more traditional ways. Extremist leaders can read effective rhetoric and use it in their recruitment efforts; militants can access technical information to support their campaigns of violence. In short, a small amount of Internet exposure can have exponential effects.
Still, it is worth remembering the limits of Internet access in the region when evaluating the counterterrorism and counterinsurgency literature. Methods of radical recruitment that have no online component whatsoever still need to be confronted. (An example from another region: Yemen, which became one of the leading sources of foreign fighters in Iraq, has an Internet penetration rate of 1.4 per cent).
To the extent that the West is trying to globally discredit extremist ideologies, it is important to remember that this involves more than just coming up with effective ways to disrupt online radicalisation.