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Monday, July 5, 2010

AQAP Inspire Magazine Is Nothing New

All this has happened before, and it will happen again. Despite the fact that so many in the media and government are only just discovering that jihadists are trying to recruit Westerners, these programs have been going on -- successfully -- for decades. There is nothing new about what AQAP Inspire is trying to do.

Earlier examples, like the Al-Hussam newsletter shown below, were produced the legitimate successor to Abdullah Azzam's Services Office, which stage-managed the Arab jihad against the Soviets. I've spent a lot of time with Al-Hussam and its modern counterparts as research for my forthcoming book on American jihadists.

The difference between the 1980s, the 1990s and today is not so much a change in the jihadists. It's a change in media technology. Jihadists in the '80s and '90s distributed propaganda on videotape and paper newsletters.

Jihadists today have access to sophisticated publishing software that can be purchased off the shelf, relatively inexpensive, and they don't need to print their product on paper (despite what NPR would have you think).

More importantly, jihadists today have access to the Internet for distribution. This, more than anything, opens the door for products like Inspire. Al-Hussam, in contrast, was put out by professional jihadists.

Another difference, and an extremely important one, is that Al-Hussam had to be printed (which cost money), mailed (which cost money), or handed out at mosques, which cost money and also required approval from the mosque. Even 15 years ago, some mosques refused to allow this content and banned Al-Hussam from being distributed on their grounds. It would be an even tougher sell today.

The total bill for printing and mailing Al-Hussam was significantly north of $1,000 per issue, and its reach was limited by the number of copies that were printed. The total bill for an issue of Inspire was probably zero dollars, and if not for the drama around its release, it could have reached an unlimited number of people.

The Internet has served as a platform for jihadists for more than a decade, and while its use is ever-growing, it's not new. Inspire isn't new. None of this is new, and it's not really news.

Now don't get me wrong. I am all in favor of using incremental developments like the release of the magazine to discuss the overall issue of jihadist propaganda in English and otherwise. And I am happy to do so, whether here or in interviews.

But it should be an educated discussion, and not "Watch Out, Condé Nast: Al-Qaida Launches English-Language Lifestyle Mag." (Sorry, Danger Room.)

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INTELWIRE is a web site edited by J.M. Berger. a researcher, analyst and consultant covering extremism, with a special focus on extremist activities in the U.S. and extremist use of social media. He is a non-resident fellow with the Brookings Institution, Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World, and author of the critically acclaimed Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam, the only definitive history of the U.S. jihadist movement, and co-author of ISIS: The State of Terror with Jessica Stern.


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