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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Listening to Anwar Awlaki

I have a new piece in Foreign Policy on Anwar Awlaki:

On Tuesday, Aug. 9, Naser Abdo, an American soldier, was indicted for plotting a terrorist attack against soldiers stationed at Fort Hood -- just the latest in a series of U.S. citizens who have been inspired to violence by the words of Anwar al-Awlaki, the American imam who went rogue and today threatens the United States from his father's country of Yemen.

Awlaki is clearly a dangerous man. As a country, the United States spends a lot of time talking about, worrying about, and trying to kill him. Unfortunately, attention runs fast, but not deep.

On July 27, Salon's Glenn Greenwald argued that Awlaki represented "the face of moderate Islam" and "the opposite of [Osama] bin Laden" before Sept. 11, 2001. By Greenwald's account, Awlaki was subsequently radicalized by America's wars and foreign policies. This conclusion was based on exactly two sources -- an interview conducted with Awlaki in 2001 and another interview dated 2009.

On the same day, Navy SEAL Adm. Eric T. Olson, speaking at the Aspen Security Forum, discussed the threat posed by Awlaki. "He's a dual-passport holder who has lived in the United States," Olson said, "so he understands us much better than we understand him."

In reality, Awlaki has given us a shocking abundance of material with which we can judge and understand him. He has recorded more than 100 hours of audio lectures, more than bin Laden, almost all of them in colloquial English. He has also figured in a long trail of investigations, including FBI and 9/11 Commission documents that are available to the public. Taken together, these sources reveal a portrait of a conflicted man whose path to radicalization started in the 1990s and steadily progressed to his present-day status as a terrorist icon.
Click here for the full story

For more than 10,000 words of additional perspective on Awlaki, check out J.M. Berger's new book, Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam, on sale everywhere.

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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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