Pornography Could Be a National Security Issue, Scholar Warns

The frequency with which terrorists are being found with pornography raises important questions about its possible effects on America’s national security and it can no longer be seen with a dismissive “boys will be boys” attitude, scholar Jennifer S. Bryson said.

Writing for the Public Discourse online journal Friday, the director of the Witherspoon Institute’s Islam and Civil Society Project sought to draw American security establishment’s attention to 21-year-old Army soldier Naser Jason Abdo, who was indicted this week by a federal grand jury on charges related to a plot to attack soldiers near Fort Hood, Texas.

While much of the attention on Abdo’s case so far had focused on his religion, Islam, and his refusal to deploy to Afghanistan due to his religious motivation, the fact that he was earlier charged with possession of child pornography on his computer was apparently being ignored, noted Prof. Bryson, who serves on the Board of Directors of the Institute for Global Engagement.

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Pornography is not a necessary or sufficient cause for terrorism, Bryson clarified, “yet pornography now appears frequently in the possession of violent terrorists and their supporters, including Osama bin Laden.” She said she wondered whether today’s “ubiquitous and increasingly grotesque” kind of pornography was “one of the influences warping the mentality of those who aspire to or who actually go on to engage in ever more grotesque public violence.”

Referring to a 2009 report in an Algerian daily, Echorouk, about the al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb group’s use of pornographic websites to post its statements and audio messages, Bryson underlined the importance of knowing why an al-Qaida affiliate would select pornography to target new recruits.

In a July-August 2010 issue of The Atlantic magazine, terrorism researchers Daniel Bynum and Christine Fair wrote that modern terrorists “get intimate with cows and donkeys.” “Our terrorist enemies trade on the perception that they’re well trained and religiously devout, but in fact, many are fools and perverts who are far less organized and sophisticated than we imagine. Can being more realistic about who our foes actually are help us stop the truly dangerous ones?”

Bryson, who has worked in journalism and for the Department of Defense, also pointed out that in the former Yugoslavia, the existence of both pornography and violence was not a coincidence. The wide circulation of pornography functioned as instruction in “a way of being: dehumanization of women; bigotry and aggression harnessed to destroying the body of the enemy; invasion as a male right,” she quoted Andrea Dworkin as saying in an article in 1993.

“The pornography,” Dworkin argued, “was war propaganda that trained an army of rapists who waited for permission to advance. An atavistic nationalism provided the trigger and defined the targets.” Ideas, ideologies, and -isms do matter, but they do not exist in isolation, Bryson said.

“I believe our country needs to invest in research that questions whether it makes a difference when the minds that advocate for extremist ideologies are minds warped by pornography use,” added the scholar based in Princeton, N.J. “Perhaps the twisting of the mind that results from pornography has an impact – an exceptionally dark, dangerous impact – on how radicalized individuals act out the concepts of their ideology.”

Bryson said there was a need to study the impact of pornography on those who use it, particularly on those who also become obsessed with extremist ideologies.

“So, I wonder, is anyone in the U.S. government tracking and surveying the presence and types of pornography on these media? If we have access to the libraries of the personal pornography preferences of those who support and engage in terrorist violence, we may have a window into the dark corners of their minds. What lurks there? It may be to our own peril that we would ignore this information before us.”

Pornography, she said, could not be seen as a “freedom” issue. “What if we are actually making ourselves less free by allowing pornography itself to be more freely accessible?” she asked.

“Could it be that pornography drives some users to a desperate search for some sort of radical ‘purification’ from the pornographic decay in their soul? Could it be that the greater the wedge pornography use drives between an individual’s religious aspirations and the individual’s actions, the more the desperation escalates, culminating in increasingly horrific public violence, even terrorism?”

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