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Deconstructing al-Qaeda’s PR to America September 4, 2006

Posted by The PR Cassandra in Posts.
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A new video tape from al-Qaeda showcasing an American convert was released over the Labor Day weekend warning America and Western Civilization of its imminent doom. 

Titled “An Invitation to Islam”, the video was a 45-minute sermon and harrangue, and the 2nd time “Azzam the American” (or Adam Gadahn from California) has been given air time by al-Qaeda. Previously, he was used to accuse Americans of war crimes and to justify the unjustifiable London subway bombings.

As a PR pro, and trained in Islamic Studies, I listened with fascination at this latest PR salvo from an organization (and an ideology) with whom we are at war. 

It received the usual condemnation from westerners in the media and blogosphere, as well as US Muslims – but what is missing is a non-emotional analysis of this PR strategy from both an Islamic and PR perspective.

In analyzing this piece of propaganda, I am using similar techniques used to analyze PR from client competitors. What I am writng, of course, is speculation on my part, but speculation tempered by years of study of Islam as well as the practice of PR.

1.  What were some of the main themes?

a.  Islam is the last, best and only true religion. The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh=peace be upon him) was the last and greatest of the human prophets that God (Allah) sent from Abraham through Jesus. Your sacred books (Tanakh and The New Testament) have been corrupted, only the Qur’an is Allah’s true revelation. (Note: so far, this is mainstream belief.)

You (the West) have dared to insult Allah, and His last revelation to mankind, as found in the Qur’an and in the words and deeds (or sunna) of His prophet. Thus you are the enemies of Allah and will be destoyed in this world as well as punished in the next (through the ever-lasting hell fire).

b.  In Islam there is no separation of church and state, therefore we don’t want your democracy and immorality (aka personal freedom) – we are living under God’s law – called sharia (with the implication that those  of us living in, and fighting for, secular democracies are sinners deserving of death and the hell fire – Islam believes in both a Paradise and an ever-lasting punishment in the fires of hell for the wicked).

c.  Your leaders are only using you and don’t care about you (comment: a ploy used by kidnappers to break the captured’s will). 

d.  America is evil – look at its crimes – from the destruction of the Native Americans to the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We are on the moral high ground, we are victims of your actions. we are justified in this jihad (Holy War) against you.  We seek justice – you represent injustice.

e.  Join the winning side – so that you will not face destruction in this life and the next.  Even the worst of you will be hailed as “brothers.”

f.  Allah calls us to destroy pagans and infidels.  Do not believe in interpretations that say that “the people of the book” (ahl al-kitab), i.e., Jews and Christians (the “book” = the Bible), are immune from wrath.  No, they are the enemies of Allah.  Christians are not true monotheists – because Allah has no partner – thus a belief in the Trinity is polytheism.  (Note: placing Jews & Christian in the category of infidels is deviation from mainstream Islam.)

g.  You do not bother to understand us, but we spend much time understanding you (he quotes passages from the Jewish/Christian Bible and mentions US anti-terrorism specialists, as well as satellite evangelists).  You also don’t playfair – anti-Semitism is condemed, but we can’t question “historical” events (ie the Holocaust).  You don’t shed a tear over the deaths of Muslims – only over your people.  You support dictators who are oppressing us, while preaching democracy (OK – that was the only fair point I heard made).

h.  We give you a choice – convert to Islam and find Paradise or face destruction here and eternal torment in the life to come.

2.  Are there any clues here?

a.  They want to impact American public opinion and weaken our resolve.  That being the case, they are feeling the heat.

b.  They are justifying their horrendous acts of barbarity against ordinary people to the Muslim world by claiming they are only killing infidels and doing the will of Allah.  Which means they are losing support for their beheadings and bombings. 

c.  They are taking the moral high ground for their base, by seming to be “inviting” infidels  – and they get to decide who that is (BTW that’s all of us – Christian, Jew, Shi’ite Mulsim, non-salafi Sunni Muslims, Hindu, Buddhist, Wicca and so on) to join them in the true religion.  Thus, coming across as caring for us, when, in fact, their aim is to destoy us, our secular democracies and impose salafi sharia law worldwide.

3.  They are positioning America and the West as corrupt, sinful, infidels, enemies of Allah (God), unjust and criminal.  This is black & white: good vs. evil and we’ve been positioned as evil. Such ridiculous stark terms won’t be believed – they are sounding desperate.

3.  Who is the audience?

Their audience appears to be: (a) their salifi base; (b) Americans who are (sorry to say) naive enough to think that by changing what we do, they will moderate; (c) those in the media and academia who question America’s values and this struggle, and who throw doubt on the reliability of the Judeo-Christian scriptures through “text criticism” (try that with the Qur’an and you’ll be under a death decree); (d) people curious about Islam and who might even convert and (e) Americans fighting in this war on terror, whom they hope to frighten and discourage.

4.  What is their aim?

Pure speculation, but am guessing it is an attempt to weaken western resolve, give a “caring” American face to what is basically a call to convert or die/be punished forever, shore up its image as freedom fighters for Allah vs. barbaric terrorists who will stop at nothing to impose salafi sharia law worldwide, and position America and the western secular democracies as the bad guys so that anything done to Americans and all “infidels” (that is, whomever they torture & kill) is justifiable to their base (justice being a huge value for Muslims).

In future posts, I will explore America’s current response, and recommendations for more effective outreach.  We are dealing with a highy educated and sophisticated enemy – American PR can be no less.

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