Counter-jihadist literature: A network of radical authors and their influence online
Team Members: Bozhan Chipev, Paola Gulian, Vicentiu Dinga, Richard Zimerman, Irina Enache
Recent years have seen a rise in nationalism and radical thought across Europe, driven by xenophobia promoted by the media frenzy, creating a gap between the Christian, Islamic and Jewish religions. (Bartlett, Birdwell, Littler, 2011) Acts of ethnic and religious violence are increasing and escalations, such as the Breivik case in Norway, lead to a necessity to study the resurgence and reorganization of extremist movements, such as the English Defense League (EDL) across Western Europe. (Walker, 2013)
The increasing pervasiveness of the internet offers unprecedented ways to create context, where it can otherwise not be studied. This study will focus mainly on the Amazon platform, but will also draw on data obtained from Twitter and KLOUT. With the exploration of extremism and radicalization in this paper, the aim is to highlight the literary networks originating from the controversial book Eurabia: The Euro-Arab Axis, which according to Hope Not Hate activist Nick Lowles, can be considered one of the core books behind the radicalization movements in Western Europe. (Lowles, 2012)
While mobilization through social media can be considered a key factor in leading towards violence in the streets and can serve as platforms for the expression of extreme thought, it is the thought leaders who will be explored in this research paper. It is their writings that guide the audience on a path towards extremism.
However, through the mapping of the literary networks based on correlated sales, it is the goal of this study to identify the existence of bridge books, which can then be seen as a portal between the critical and the radical. The directionality of this portal would have to be explored in a qualitative study of the content, and thus will not be the subject of study in this paper.
What also needs to be considered is that not all authors within the network established via Amazon.co.uk are necessarily radical authors, even if they show up at the center of the network. It merely shows the influence of certain books within a network that is predominantly anti-muslim. The degree of radicalism would also have to be studied in a separate qualitative study on the books themselves rather than the authors history.
The question at the core of this research is to find out who the leading authors are of anti-muslim literature and how their books are connected via buying patterns of customers. Furthermore it is of interest to find out how these authors are represented on Twitter and whether there is a correlation between their sales numbers and degree of connection and their KLOUT scores and follower numbers. Are their Twitter popularity and sales rank correlated?
Ultimately mapping the author and book networks should also lead to the identification of bridge books, which can then be used as a basis for further research into how radical literature is connected to non-radical literature.
To begin the online study of this type of publications, we built a network of books based on Amazons recommendation system. The center of this network is Eurabia: The Euro-Arab Axis (2005) by British-Egyptian Gisèle Littman, writing under the Jewish pseudonym Bat YeOr. The book has been described on Amazon as provocative and disturbing. The term Eurabia refers to the Islamification of Europe and stands as the backbone of extremist movements across Europe, according to HOPE not Hate activist Nick Lowles.
The book is being pointed out as a core piece of controversial theory that is being used by anti-islamists, and the author Bat YeOr is seen as playing a central role in the anti-muslim network. (Lowles, 2012)
By extracting all the Eurabia related books, and the ones related to them, we came up with a list of 49 books. This list was then turned into a network that displays the connections between every two books that have been bought together. The frequency of a given co-purchase is displayed by an increased edge weight. The size of the separate nodes is determined by the Amazon Sales Rank of the respective book, a metric that provides partial insight into its possible influence.
In order to strengthen this measure, we looked at the authors of the books, their online presence and Twitter following, KLOUT score, as well as the amount of times their names were being searched for in Google on a monthly basis. We then applied these new metrics to the book network in order to pinpoint the ideological leaders with the biggest impact.
For measuring online presence and following, we looked at Twitter. We then used the discovered Twitter profiles to retrieve the KLOUT scores. For the public interest on Google, we used Google AdWords
Using various metrics compiled a number of networks were created and visualized with Gephi. The findings can be divided into the 2nd degree network, the 3rd degree network, the author network and the Twitter metrics showing relations of KLOUT scores and followers. Using all of these approaches the attempt is made to map the network of books and authors related to the book Eurabia.
The Amazon study findings can be divided into five sub categories, listed here in order of discussion.
Amazon Network Analysis:
- 2nd Degree Network
- 3rd Degree Network
- Author Network
Twitter Presence Analysis:
- KLOUT scores (size) vs. Followers (colour)
- KLOUT (colour) vs. Google AdWords (size)
The five categories of findings will be discussed in the following section, first in separate and then in connection to each other. The synthesis of these findings will then be discussed in the discussion section.
2nd Degree Network (attachment 1)
The second degree network is a collection of 49 books in relation to each other. Some authors have multiple books, as will be explained in more detail in the Author Network section. This network was established on the basis of Amazons sales statistics in terms of which of the books were bought together. The links themselves show the amount of times the two books were purchased together and thus highlights a relationship between two books. There is no data however on whether three books were bought together, thus any conclusions for that matter can only be speculative. The link between two books however already shows strong relationships between various works. The colours stand for the degree of connectivity between nodes and the sizes of the nodes are determined by the Amazon sales rank.
The graph of the second degree network shows a strongly connected core of 11 books. Eurabia is part of those books, albeit not the center. Further to the outside of the graph and on the bottom in specific there are a number of books with higher sales numbers that are not as well connected to the core books, but that play a significant role in shaping opinions. One of those books is the New York Times Bestseller Infidel. These large selling books are accompanied by an array of less influential works, which also connect in the second degree with Eurabia: The Euro-Arab Axis.
3rd Degree Network (attachment 2)
In the 3rd degree network once again the thickness of connections as well as the colours stand for the degree of connectivity in terms of correlated sales, while the sizes of the nodes are determined by the Amazon sales rank.
At first sight, the third degree network can be split into five distinct clusters. The main cluster containing the core works mentioned in the second degree findings is heavily connected to Eurabia, however Eurabia: The Euro-Arab Axis is not at the core of this cluster, but rather to the side of it. Four isolated clusters are connected via bridge books. The two main bridge books between the big central cluster and the side clusters are Europe, Globalization and the Coming of the Universal Caliphate and From Time Immemorial: The Origins of the Arab-Jewish Conflict Over Palestine. The clusters can be viewed as topic clusters, since many of them deal with a specific topic, such as Iran and espionage or the Israel/Palestine conflict.
The core network of books in this case extends to 20 major works that are highly interconnected with each other. Curiously, Eurabia is not part of this network anymore. The core books in this network are the Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam and Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam and the West. Infidel also plays a bigger and more central role in this network.
The third degree network also shows links to the Koran itself and The Holy Bible, showing the role of the two books in this network. The Koran in this case is a bridge book leading to the Bible as well as the Torah. Its connection originates from the Complete Infidels Guide to the Koran. Directionality cannot be measured with the metrics provided, hence it is not possible to determine causality in this case. The connection can go both ways.
The Author Network (attachment 3)
The author network is based on the second degree map, as described above. The map has been altered to show authors instead of titles and has been colored according to authors. The size of the nodes is once again determined by the Amazon sales rank. This way clusters of a particular authors books become visible. Once again the strong connection between the central 11 books is visible, however this time it can be studied from an author perspective. What becomes apparent is that the center is dominated by six authors.
Robert Spencer is the most influential author in this network, in terms of books written. Out of the core 11 books, four are authored by Spencer. He has a very distinct buying correlation between five of his books, which are all centrally connected. Spencer is the author of the Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam as well as The Complete Infidels Guide to the Koran.
Further influential authors in this network are Bat YeOr, who is the author of Eurabia: The Euro-Arab Axis as well as Mark Steyn with America Alone: The End of the World as we Know It, and Melanie Phillips, who is the author of Londonistan: How Britain Has Created a Terror State Within, and Bruce Bawer, who authored the book While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam is Destroying the West From Within.
The outside of the network is dominated by authors Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who is the author of the bestseller Infidel and Peter Hitchens (Abolition of Liberty: The Decline of Order and Justice in England), as well as Nick Cohen with You Cant Read This Book: Censorship in an Age of Freedom. Christopher Caldwell, albeit having only one book in this network, can also be seen as influential, since his book, Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam and the West is heavily connected to the central circle and is a key node in the third degree network.
In the next section the findings from the Amazon networks will be applied and compared to Twitter results obtained in regard to the authors in this network.
Only 16 authors out of 49 have a personal or professional Twitter account. Interestingly, these authors are situated in the center of the network and represent strong nodes. See attachment 4 for KLOUT score (size) and number of followers (colours).
Robert Spencer, who figures with 5 books in the list, holds 4 of them to be the central nodes in the 2nd degree map: Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades), The Truth about Muhammad: Founder of the World's Most Intolerant Religion, Complete Infidels Guide to the Koran and Did Muhammad Exist?: An Inquiry into Islam's Obscure Origins. His Twitter presence has over 10,000 followers and a KLOUT of 66 - a high level of activity.
His books are strongly connected to two other top sellers: Londonistan: How Britain is Creating a Terror State within and World Turned Upside Down by Melanie Phillips (over 7,000 followers, KLOUT 58). Mark Steyn, with over 40,000 followers and a KLOUT 67, is also linking (After America and America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It) in the center with Melanie Phillips books . However, there are central books whose authors do not have a Twitter account, such as Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam and the West by C. Caldwell or From Time Immemorial: The Origins of the Arab-Jewish Conflict Over Palestine by Joan Peters and Europe, Globalization, and the Coming of the Universal Caliphate by Bat YeOr (the latters book Eurabia was the central node we chose).
The author with the best Twitter presence has over 70,000 followers and a KLOUT of 86. It is the case of Jonah Goldberg and his Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning - the 14th best ranked. His title however only links to another by Mark Steyn.
Nick Cohen, the next most successful author in sales ranks is also in the top Twitter presences. Interestingly, his two titles -What's Left?: How the Left Lost its Way: How Liberals Lost Their Way and You Can't Read This Book: Censorship in an Age of Freedom - are not linking to one another. Instead, they are both bordering the center nodes and act as bridges to more general political titles (see 3rd degree map).
Surprise finding: Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the author of the best sold book from our results (Infidel) has a little over 4000 followers, which is a far smaller number than other authors. The KLOUT score is unknown as the account has no tweets, which renders it close to nothing.
As shown in the attached Excel (FinalGephiTable_SalesRank and Twitter Presence), an ordering of books from the best ranked to lowest ranked in terms of sales reveals two things:
- The lower one looks into the ordering, the chances of finding an author with a Twitter account drops. There are top authors with no account, however less than those ranking last.
- The best selling authors have a higher number of followers and a higher KLOUT score; furthermore, their names re-appearing in the entire list at given times (some have as many as 5 titles, each selling differently).
One could easily argue that authors commonly active in social media, Twitter in this case, seem to be the most popular in terms of sales on Amazon as well. Furthermore, they are found in the centre of the network of books.
There are patterns of exception. Ed Hussain, author of The Islamist, is well know on Twitter yet his title is at the margin of the 2nd degree network. Analyzed in the 3rd degree one, it is easily observable how the book acts as a bridge to a new cluster of radical thought. Steve Hewitt (a modest social media presence) has his The British War on Terror: Terrorism and Counterterrorism on the Home Front Since 9-11 act as bridge to further British political writings. Therefore, potential bridge books can be looked at more clearly in the 3rd degree network. This offers clusters of titles more predominant on Jewish culture (bridged by Our Hands are Stained with Blood: The Tragic Story of the Church and the Jewish People by Michael Brown or Alan Dershowitzs The case of Israel), Christianity and God (bridged by Peter Hitchens The Rage Against God: Why Faith is the Foundation of Civilisation), Islam as a religion (bridged by The Koran), British Politics (bridged by Politically Incorrect Guide to the British Empire by H. W. Crocker) to name a few.
We further employed the analysis of Google search. The aim was to use Google AdWords
to see how many times the name of the author was queried in the search engine. We further checked the numbers with whether the first result on Google were the actual authors. In the 5th attachment you can see the KLOUT score (colour) and the number of searches (size). In most cases, the first result returned by Google was the author; the big exception in this case are Robert Anderson and Anthony Browne, better known as a military man and respectively a comics designer. The exceptions here is therefore due to name commonality, whereas in most cases, the authors names are quite unique. This gives insight into the much larger search query of Ayaan Hirsi (bestselling author in the book) despite her lack of Twitter activity. The majority of the other authors keep a steady number of of searches. However, we choose to provide the Google searches metrics with necessary caution, as name interpretations from the search engine perspective in some exceptions alters the patterns of popularity.
The findings from the 2nd and 3rd degree maps extracted from Amazons sales recommendation system based on correlated sales show a very distinct core network of key radical books. Moreover these books can be attributed to a handful of authors, who are maintaining influence in the sector not only through literature, but also through social media. The Twitter analysis of followers and KLOUT scores has shown that the majority of authors at the center of the network have higher KLOUT scores and higher amounts of followers than the books that are less well connected.
A number of authors is not represented on Twitter, despite high sales, such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The Google AdWords
analysis also shows some insight over the popularity of an author in terms of searches, however is is unclear with this metric in how far the name searched is correlated with the author. This may not be an issue with authors such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali (unique name), but may be an issue when dealing with more common names.
The most important finding of this study can be seen in the tightly knit network of radical literature at the core of the 2nd and 3rd degree analysis, as well as its strong correlation to high Twitter KLOUT scores and large numbers of followers. The research shows that the higher presence of radical authors on social networks also resonate in sales of books, but more importantly they can be seen as strengthening the network between these books through correlated sales.
At the center of the network the connections between books are very strong, meaning that many of them get bought in pairs. Thus people buying these books do not just read one of the books, but rather settle for two or more books, by either the same author or a different author from the central network.
The importance of social media in this case cannot be ignored. In the major cases, such as that of Robert Spencer and Melanie Phillips, a strong Twitter presence resonates in the number of sales and shows that the strong presence of authors on social media can lead to a stronger following on the literature market. It also allows the author to maintain the contact to the following crowd, thus maintaining relevance.
The concept of bridge books in this research is significant. There are a number of these books that can be identified on either the second degree analysis or the third degree analysis. The third degree analysis shows wider connections that show the links between various topics in connection to the counter-jihad movement. The analysis of the bridge books that have been identified in this study can lead to insight into whether they lead the reader towards radical literature or away from it. Analysing them would require a different approach than shown in this study and would involve more qualitative analysis.
In terms of further research, the bridge books identifiable on the 2nd degree and 3rd degree maps can be the focus of content research and analysis to find out how they relate to radical and non-radical literature. This may give insight into what their role is in this network and whether they draw upon radical literature or whether they offer a more lenient approach to the topics discussed in the radical books.
Further content research could also focus on the core radical books as they are seen in the graphs of this paper. Analysing them for content and classifying them into categories could be a possible path to be taken, resulting in a comprehensive map that not only shows connections, but also type of content and level of extremism portrayed.
The Twitter networks also offer a basis for further research. Mapping social media interaction of the key authors on Twitter could be another focus of research. In this case it may be of interest to analyse the followers and their role in promoting the authors as well as response patterns among the authors themselves. It would be interesting to find out whether the authors whose books are interlinked on the 2nd and 3rd degree graphs are maintaining a Twitter dialogue, not only with their followers, but also amongst each other.
The first and most obvious issue faced during this research was the definition of what constitutes radical literature and which books can be considered part of that literature. In this case the focus was on the book Eurabia: The Euro-Arab Axis, which was defined as a radical book, based on the organization Hope Not Hate. Most of the other books mentioned in the Findings section are judged by their authors (research has been carried out manually on eachs history of beliefs) and not by their content. The scope of this study included too many books to be analyzed for content, thus judgement about the radicality of the books is reserved to what is known about the author of the book in question.
The second issue arising from the visualizations is that the links between various books can only be analyzed in strength and not in directionality. This was based on the limitations of the programs at hand and also the API of the platform the information was extracted from. Thus it is merely possible to analyze the links between various books that have been bought together. The lack of directionality makes it difficult to determine whether books are bridges into radical literature or out of radical literature.
Finally the Google AdWords
analysis of the author names proved to be less reliable than expected in some cases. Depending on the popularity of a name, AdWords
could highlight and explain certain correlations, but also skewed some of the results and made it difficult to make a proper judgement using this analysis as a basis.
The findings of this study show the distinct network of radical literature relating to the topic of counter-jihadism and anti-islam, based on Amazons sales correlation. This network shows the links between the central books as well as the links towards non-radical literature. Furthermore it has shown a correlation between the use of Twitter and sales rank as well as network strength between a set of authors at the center of the network.
This points to two conclusions. First, radical literature is not an isolated phenomenon, but much rather linked to other types of literature, woven into a field, which is characterized through radical opinions. The bridge books thus offer a point of entry into the radical field of study. Similarly they can offer a way out and towards a more lenient view of the current conflict between cultures and religions.
Second, the Twitter networks show a distinct prevalence of Twitter using authors with higher sales ranks, thus leading to the conclusion that a strong presence on Twitter may be responsible for maintaining higher sales and creating a tighter knit network of literature.
In either case tackling extremism may very well depend on identifying the core entry points into the extreme literature and how the content of the books in question allow for an isolation of thought within a network of likeminded and closely interlinked books. The social media presence plays a significant role in maintaining contact with the audience and thus also giving the audience a channel of interaction with the author, further strengthening the bond between the producer and the consumer.
Extremism and polarization are increasing in Europe and they are driven by ideology that is rooted in literature. Tackling literature may thus very well be the most important tool in countering extremism. Motivating the audience to read works that critically deal with the problems faced by society is thus paramount in ensuring that the audience does not eventually get redirected towards an extreme view when searching for answers to global events.
Bartlett, Jamie, Jonathan Birdwell, MarThe New Face of Digital Populism. 7 November 2011. Demos UK
Lowles, Nick. Hope Not Hate Blog. 09 December 2012. Retrieved on 23 January 2013.
Hope Not Hate
Walker, Peter. The Guardian, Sunday 13 January 2013. Retrieved 23 January 2013.