Merchant of Death
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Press Releases

The Islamist Media Campaign Kicks Into High Gear
This past week has been interesting for the sudden re-emergence of the high-profile al Qaeda/salafist propaganda machine, showing a broad range of Islamist actions to demonstrate the movement is alive and well, and triumph is inevitable.

The different fronts in the propaganda war are interesting and seem to have some coordination, at least the timing if not the entire scope of all the messages.

We get the publishing a slick web zine, the "Voice of Jihad," after a two-year hiatus, including directions from Osama bin Laden to attack oil facilities; a Zawahiri interview blasting Bush for fairly current events; the release of videos by al Qaeda in Afghanistan, supposedly showing attacks on Coalition forces; and, as Evan Kohlmann finds new video releases by Al Qaeda in Iraq, including the biographies of foreign troops killed there.

This media onslaught is not a small accomplishment, especially given the relatively good quality of the products. They are far better than some of the recent _jihadi_ websites out of the _salafist_ forces in Somalia, for example.

Much of what is said in this recent spate is entirely propaganda, but it cannot be dismissed as irrelevant. It shows those who visit the _jihadi_ sites that the Islamist movement is alive and well, capable of delivering messages and combating the enemy on a sustained basis.

These are no longer the hurried communiques and grainy videos of the not-so-distant past. It shows the priority these groups place on communicating, not just with fellow _jihadis_ but with the world at large.

That may be one reason why bin Laden asks that all attacks be documented and filmed from beginning to end: "Sheikh Usama's directions are clear and frank in targeting the oil interests ... and the beauty of the target choice, and the collection of the documentary media materials of the operation, to be complete to all operation stages from the planning, the preparation and the execution," the article states.

The message on attacking oil facilities, as Daveed Gartenstein-Ross notes, is a significant shift from earlier positions on the desirability of keeping the oil wealth to establish the future Caliphate.

As has long been the case, the _Salafists_ have been keenly aware of value of protecting their image. This is shown by the resources dedicated to writing their own narrative. It does not have to be true or accurate, but it has to be close enough so it is credible and support the main theme of the narrative being woven.

In this case the narrative is that Islam is on the rise, the West is in retreat, and that Allah has already granted victory to the faithful. All that is lacking are more willing recruits.

Any insurgent group, fighting in an asymmetrical context for the long term, has to develop a narrative to justify itself, comfort its often-beleaguered members and attract new members.

What must be developed is the counter-narrative, one that resonates, explains the weaknesses and defeats, and can help drive away new recruits. It is hard, but not impossible. Multiple insurgencies have faced, and suffered from, effective counter-narratives that were culturally appropriate and accessible to the right population. It is not clear we have a counter-narrative, in part because we still do not agree 1) one who the enemy is and 2) that we really are in a war.
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