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


Bin Laden Speech Archive discontinued

Two and a half year after the last update, it is hardly a surprise for anyone that I discontinue updating my complete list of Bin Laden speeches. I simply haven't been concentrating on the issue for a long time. Furthermore, others, like NEFA Foundation and MEMRI have been a bit better at systematising their coverage.

Initially, when I started the archive in 2004, I used it to be able to make a good comparative analysis of Bin Laden's evolution as a speaker. It has served that purpose on some occasions and has been used by others as well.

But besides being an indication of my shifting interests and my lack of attention to the blog, I also think that this is indicative of the decline of importance that Bin Laden is experiencing. I had the thought that should he actually start to appear with full interviews and talks-show apperances on Al Jazeera and CNN tomorrow, this wouldn't influence the direction of international Jihadism. His role is a historical one now, and without being a jihadism expert, I think his role as main inspiration for Islamists is largely over. That might be good, some would think, but actually I think that the war now has a thousand fathers and inspirators.

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Buzz on the blogs: How to poison the Danish water supply

According to Jamestown Foundation, a discussion thread on a jihadist forum has dealt with how to poison European, especially Danish, watersupplies.

This is a returning idea/fear with jihadist/publics that pops up with regular intervals. Two years ago, some Danish kids pryed open a water main and poured in some rat poison they had found in an abandoned house. This example shows two important aspects of this discussion:

* First off: It is a relative vulnerable piece of infrastructure, hard to fully protect.
* It takes enormous amounts of poison to do any kind of damage in a large, public water distribution system.

However, with issues like these, our perception of risk makes plots where there is an element of "unseen" danger a favorite with terrorists. With a relative low impact in terms of actual damage, plots that inflict a sort of low level influence to a large number of people can still cause great panic. These low impact-great probability risks are the stable of intelligent terrorist planning and a public relations nightmare.

UPDATE 15-09 08:02
The Danish media have picked up the story now as a short piece from Ritzau where someone have done some late night browsing. There isn't really a critica a critical qualifier, though. It might be added if it turns out to be a slow news-day.

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A mujahedeen greeting to Denmark

I really wonder where the Danish journalists have done their research, when they have covered the recent As Sahab video detailing the attack on the Danish embassy in Pakistan. It still seems to me than none have made the effort to obtain a copy of the movie, only regurgitating intelligence services and companies like SITE. (Politiken, Berlingske, Jyllandsposten, TV2)

If they had looked for it out where you can find it, they would probably have had a field day with a lot of the interesting details:

* The high-quality footage of the Danish PM's New Year speech praising the US
* The details on Kurt Westergaard
* and not least, the suicide bombers parting message to Danes:

Leaning on a white little compact car (that he later blew up), like an advertisement for a used-car dealership, he delivers this message:

"As for my final message to the worshippers of the cross in Denmark: I tell them: Allah permitting, this isn't the first nor the last retaliation and Allah permitting, Shaykh Usama Bin Laden won't abandon you nor will the Mujahideen abandon you. Allah permitting, we will wipe you from the face of the earth. And we warn everyone whose soul entices him to curse the Prophet (on whom be peace) that these car bombs will be their faith, Allah willing. Finally I dedicate this song to my precious mother, who will - Allah willing - be the first I interceed for on the Day of Resurrection, if Allah accepts me as a martyr.

With the blinkers going, he then proceeds to sing a nasheed to his mother.
I won't link to the video here, but with a bit of research you can find it two steps down the usual As Sahab distribution-link. It's really worth the effort if you want a deeper understanding and an explanation from these "sad-eyed", eloquent militants.

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Coercing to persuade

The ever-well-read Wired "Danger Room" blog writes a little post on how artillery has been used to pave the way for talks with local sheiks in the Diyala province of Iraq. This is an aspect of persuasion that has always interested me. At times you need to use violence (a definite no-no in all rhetorical thinking, ancient and modern) as a pretext for being able to persuade and having a constructive debate.

I'm not studied enough on Clausewitz but this aspect of warfare is either an affirmation or a qualification of his famous (and over-used) dictum: War is the continuation of politics.

In the modernist interpretation (where I think we should place C. himself), this meant that war took over when politics had exhausted it's role. In the post-modern interpretation, it means that war is just politics by other means. And this last interpretation is very much in tune with the thoughts about warfare in the fourth generation warfare, new wars, etc. As the classical concept of states warring each other for power crumbles to something much more messy and sub-statey, this mixture of warfare and persuasion will take on prominence. Not that it is a new genre. In a way you could see the proxy wars of the Cold War era as an aspect of same persuasion: "Look how much destruction we can rain down on you, when you attack me. Care to have a chat about our mutual future?"

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Bin Laden Speech Archive updated

A horrendous delay in putting up OBL's latest speeches is now corrected - and once again the archive will help you find the words and pictures of Osama Bin Laden:

The Bin Laden Speech Archive

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Perish the Global War on Terror

New US Joint Chief of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen wants to get rid of the phrase "War on Terror" and has issued an order for the US forces not to use it.

This is an important step in the symbolic struggle against, eh, what should we call it then...? The thing with all the Islamist radicals vs. liberal democracy, you know.

Removing the catch-phrase makes it harder to put to the wall in one sentence, but might also make room for much needed reconceptualisation in the thinking on how we navigate in an environment of intensified struggle and radicalisation. It might even open up for treating this as a criminal problem, not a military one.

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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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The media economy of hostages

After a bit upwound report of a Danish journalist's near-kidnap in Afghanistan, it is worth reading John Robb's thoughts on the subject of hostage taking in the new type of warfare in hollow states. Global Guerrillas: HOSTAGE GAMES. His view is pronounced systemic and he defines the new media-reality of hostage taking as:

In short, a hostage drama that involves a foreign national can now manufacture a global systempunkt (the node/connection in any network, regardless of whether it's a physical or social network, which will cause a cascade of failure if removed/attacked/damaged). In today's environment, it really doesn't matter who is grabbed, the effects will usually be the same: a disruption of globalization.
The Danish story only shows that not only criminals and insurgents know the system of kidnapping as disruption, the medias also activate a certain narrative whenever this stuff happens.

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Fictional Fighters of the Insurgency

It is a tough job being an insurgent leader. You live in damp caves or miserable safehouses in sprawling slums. You device destructive plots while having to nurture the righteous belief in Country, King or God that will lend a meaning to your existence as an outsider - or at least keep a lucrative criminal business running to make it worthwhile. You are bloodied by government forces and their well-funded international backers and betrayed by your own rats. All this while still having to inspire those around you to join or keep up the fight.

No wonder that insurgents sometimes would dream of a Superman. Living inconspicuously among men as Clark Kent, but springing into powerful action whenever needed, in a spotless spandex suit without creases or second-day shadows, leading the righteous by example. Hopeless... No, not if you enlist fictional characters!

New York Times writes on how the "U.S. Says Insurgent Leader It Couldn?t Find Never Was" . The mysterious leader for Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia (an affiliate but not necessarily a franchise of old Al Qaeda) Abu Omar al-Baghdadi who has sent out a number of statements, is allegedly a fiction created by the real leaders of the group to bolster the Iraqi's resistance against U.S. occupation.

And seen from a rhetorical viewpoint, this is of course highly suspicious (if revealed), but considering the situation, potentially very clever. Considering the high risks connected to being people like Zawahiri and Bin Laden, it is clever to have a fictional leader. He is able to send the right messages, but has no nasty side-effects of lived-life (such as political, sexual and financial scandals). He can be endowed with all the right features (such as being an Iraqi, Al-Baghdadi, and a good Moslem). The man is pure Persona and can be tailored to his specific ends.

I wonder if this is an example of the Rhetoric of Fiction or the Fiction of Rhetoric?



Narratives of war, victory and defeat

Every day you come across a story about a bomb killing people in Iraq. By now, you are probably getting numb by all the bloodshed and don't care to much about each news item (the syndrome is called compassion fatigue). But have you considered how this dis-association and numbness is actually shaped by the way the reports are written? The way each article is phrased and the larger narrative that it circularly draws upon and feeds very much shapes our stance towards the tragedy in Iraq.

The American Marine Corps general James Mattis recently gave an interview and commented on this very phenomenon (through the Small Wars Journal Blog):

"...the moral bye, the passive voice by our media, makes it appear like what the enemy is doing is just an act of God of some Godamned thing...getting our narrative out will be as important or more important than tactics."

He hits the problem right on the head. The way these things are described, make them seem impervious to human interaction, acts of a random and unsentimental nature, or even the hand of God, against which we have no power. But why is this so?

The American rhetorician Kenneth Burke tried to describe the framing of narratives in the interrelation between five instances. Burke tried to tease out the motive of social interactions - the motive being the reasons why people do the things they do. His model, the "pentad", illustrate the "ratios" between the set-pieces of social drama. And this can be used to illustrate how most news-pieces on the bombings in Iraq are moving the drama out of the realm of our control and into the realm of "unrulyness". By focusing on a neutral bomb (that "goes off", as if by itself) and the victim, the ratio between Agency (how the agents act) and Act (or perhaps Scene) are emphasised.

The obvious questions any mediocre screen wright would ask, would be "Who did it" and "why did they do it?" In the same line of thought, imagine a newspaper article from 1945 on the Holocaust, saying "Yesterday 45 jewish prisoners were killed by gas in a Polish town". If we don't ask those questions, we don't get a personal experience from the news articles - and we couldn't care less. This way of framing a narrative can be blamed on journalism's standards of non-partisan writing or on the compassion fatigue. However, if we don't realise that people are being killed and kills every day, it is obvious that we can't really get involved in a faraway war and politicians, such as the Danish, will be tempted to ease out of the war-zone with no end in sight. The interesting question now is, how will these withdrawals be depicted? What narrative will be chosen? Defeat, withdrawal or victory?



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