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


Al Qaeda's strategic populism

Slate hits a sore spot, when they ask the oft-asked question "Why do they hate us?" - but then actually try to look it up. By using the recent collections of Al Qaeda's communiques, they point to the fact that Al Qaeda runs after whichever anti-American greivance that will kick up a sentiment . But these grievances are not real concerns of Al Qaeda's, and it really becomes clear if you compile the issues and put them side by side:

Most Americans would agree with many of these complaints. And that's precisely the point. These are not real grievances for al-Qaida (it does not bear mentioning that Bin Laden is probably not very concerned with campaign finance reform). They are a means of weaving local and global resentments into a single anti-American narrative, the overarching aim of which is to form a collective identity across borders and nationalities, and to convince the world that it is locked in a cosmic contest between the forces of Truth and Falsehood, Belief and Unbelief, Good and Evil, Us and Them.

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Anonymous Mads Højlyng said...

Very interesting line of thought. The American rhetorical scholar Ernest Borrman has a theory of Phantasy Themes which explains. A phantasy theme is a story or dramatized bit of reality which serve to bind a group together in a mutual understanding of who the heroes and villains are, what the goal of the group is etc. Different groups share different themes, but on occasion several groups may subordinate their differences to what Borrman calls a 'saga'. A saga is a story which emphasizes the similarities between themes, enabling them to fuse for a required time. I.e. a large company has several different departments which all have different stories about the company's mission, value, work methods etc. - different phantasy themes. But on many occasions these department have to put aside their differences in order to give the appearance of a single united purposeful entity. This is what al Qaeda manages.
My own studies have shown the same mechanism at work among extreem leftist groups. These groups cover a vast spectrum of stories, characterisations, methods and goals, but at times they all fuse into a huge 'anti-globalisation' saga, enabling them to mobilize thousands of people. Thus we see anti-Israeli banners, skulls'n'bones hoodies, flowerdecorated trucks with speaker systems playing reggae music in the same demonstration as Italian shock troop anarchists, concerned enviromentalists, radical feminists and old school socialists.

20/9/07 11:10


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