Personal and academic blog. Explores the borderlands between rhetoric, politics and intelligence.


The stylistics of paranoid delusion

A video released in May from the Al Qaeda media-outlet As Sahab just came to my attention. It features Adam Yahiye Gadahn or Azzam the American, an Al Qaeda hangaround from California. On the video he threatens the US with the usual arsenal of Islamic fury, fire and brimstone. What is interesting about this video, however, is two things:

* The body language: Gadahn has a very stiff and odd use of his hands - giving the air of a very planned and deliberate actio. But at the same time it is the reflection of classical, Islamic rhetorical postures. Gadahn very often points upwards, a gesture common to a number of religious rhetoricians, but notably good ol' Osama bin Laden. It is my best guess that Gadahn is aiming to emulate his idols of religious diatribe, thereby providing a faint reflection of the very elaborate tradition of Islamic rhetoric.

* The wording: Gadahn mentions Virginia Tech and use it as a scare. But I was struck by the similarity between the words of Gadahn and Seung-Hui Cho, the Virginia Tech shooter. I haven't done a comparative analysis, but both the phrases and the intonation gave off the same air of internet-age paranoid delusion. This likeness raises the question of the effectiveness of Gadahn's message. Too wound-up for a western audience (that sees the same parallels as me) - but how about the so-called "Arab street"? Are they taken by the phrases on "baby killers" and cowards? More susceptible, no doubt, but convinced? I don't think or hope so. And if I'm right, it just underlines the weakness of Al Qaeda as I have pointed out before: Their real lack of broad appeal. They can always score points on pointing out the horrors of the US warfare, but their own message is standing on thin legs with most of the main stream population; just like Cho's rambling only strikes a genuine chord with a minority of college minorities.

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Adam Gadahn - American Al Qaeda Warns US



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