The Latest Counterterrorism Focus: Pornography

In a counterterroism first, a conservative think tank links porn to terror

This article is from the archive of our partner .

Today, the Whitherspoon Institute in Princeton, New Jersey published a 2,000-word paper on a new possible factor for terrorism:  pornography.  The paper's author, Jennifer Bryson, sees a pattern of deadly extremism that transcends religion and culture—a pattern the U.S. ignores at its peril!

In the case of the 9/11 hijackers who visited strip clubs, and in the case of [Army soldier Naser Jason] Abdo and among what seems like an increasing number of terrorists, actions include sexual perversions and pornography use that cannot be squared with what these ideological terrorists and their supporters espouse.

The piece certainly gets an A for creativity. From the get-go, national security thinkers had a field day. "That porn-causes-al-Qaeda thing... is still blowing my mind," tweeted Doug Saunders, European bureau chief of The Globe and MailForeign Policy's Blake Hounshell happily retweeting. "I feel like the world just got an an awful lot more full of terrorists all of a sudden. #porncausation," added Canadian blogger M. Collin Knight.

Now, the conservative Whitherspoon Institute is firmly in the anti-pornography camp, as they've published previous articles on the smut industry and its costs on society.  But linking pornography to terrorism? Novel! And the author is very aware she's roaming into un-treaded territory. She does well to list a number of caveats before getting to the heart of her piece:

Pornography is not a necessary cause of terrorism. The abolition of pornography would not lead to the cessation of terrorism in the world. Terrorism existed well before graphic pornography and its mass spread via the internet.

Likewise, pornography is not a sufficient cause for terrorism. There are pornography users, even addicts, who do not become terrorists.

As you can see, this is a very serious paper and therefore requires very serious stipulations. Bryson knows she hasn't convinced the world that pornography causes terrorism but she would really like the government to take this hypothesis and run with it:

We may need to invest in understanding 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.

So how exactly does pornography cause terrorism? In the final lines of her paper, Bryson gets to the heart of the theory:

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?

In the end, Bryson makes her best quip, saying that instead of of referring to the terabytes of pornography found on terrorists, perhaps we should call it "terrorbytes." At that point Stephanie Carvin, a lecturer in international relations at the University of London, completely re-evaluates how she's been thinking about terrorism and security (in a very tongue-in-cheek blog post):

It’s Friday night so I’m just going to be at home thinking really long and hard about a solution to this problem. I’m just going to lie back right here by my lonesome self, thinking about nothing but pornography... for the sake of National Security.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.