Marc Ambinder at The Atlantic is reporting on Al Qaeda’s first English-language magazine.  It’s based out of the Arabian Peninsula, called “Inspire,” and is aimed at the millions of Muslims who speak English as a first or second language.  A U.S. official has confirmed that it appears to be authentic.  And we all thought publishing was dead!

Writes Ambinder:

“Inspire” includes a “message to the people of Yemen” directly transcribed from Ayman Al-Zawahari, Al Qaeda’s second in command, a message from Osama Bin Laden on “how to save the earth,”  and the cover includes a quotation from Anwar Al-Awlaki, the American born cleric who is believed to be directly connected to the attempt to destroy an airplane over Detroit by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab on Christmas Day. (The director of the National Counterterrorism Center, Michael Leiter, made that disclosure at a security forum in Aspen, CO, Fox News reported.)

Whenever a sentence begins or ends with “Fox News reported,” my antennae get twitchy.  And yet, this does appear to be legitimate, although very little information can be found online save for the contents pages.  From the Telegraph:

Among the AQAP are several former inmates of the Guantánamo Bay internment camp who defected back to the organisation after going through a rehabilitation programme run by counter-terrorism officials in Saudi Arabia.

They later accused the programme of trying to brainwash them, and are now determined to use the same “soft propaganda” methods on potential recruits, issuing repeated videos explaining their ideology.

Awlaki, whose father is a former minister of agriculture in Yemen and who grew up in the United States when his father was studying there, has become the most important tool in al-Qaeda’s outreach to English-speaking Muslims.

His videos have been widely circulated on British campuses, and he was in touch with the American army major who went on a shooting rampage last November in Fort Hood, Texas. He is now believed to be operating under the shelter of members of his powerful Awlaki clan in eastern Yemen with ties to the militant group, and this magazine may be his brainchild, according to analysts.

The magazine was first discovered online by SITE, an internet-based monitoring service that highlights jihadist propaganda online. It said that apart from the contents pages, all the remainder of the 67 pages appeared to have failed to load properly.

Naturally, nearly every news organization that has picked up this story has gone with the “how to make a bomb in the kitchen of your mom” angle as a headline, because, well, it’s there, isn’t it!  The nearly tongue-in-cheek title of that article led Ambinder to speculate on the magazine’s origins:

It is possible, although not likely, that the magazine is a fabrication, a  production of a Western intelligence agency that wants to undermine Al Qaeda by eroding confidence in its production and distribution networks. The U.S. is engaged in direct net-based warfare with jihadis; this sort of operation would not be too difficult to pull off.

I immediately have all sorts of questions about this.  For one, won’t governments find a way to block this information in most countries (as Ambinder has suggested)?  The initial pdf of the magazine is already corrupted, possibly infected by hackers.  It only needs to be online briefly to be disseminated, but isn’t it most likely to be accessed, in that case, by individuals already sympathetic to the cause?  How does one get a subscription?  (I am imagining a print version of “Inspire” thunking onto the porch sandwiched in between the “Crate & Barrel” and “Victoria’s Secret” catalogs).

If I were, hypothetically, an English-speaker sympathetic to Al Qaeda and interested in learning more, I don’t see how I would get a lot out of this.  They can’t exactly publicize training camp locations.  I suppose they could teach me how to build a bomb and provide suggestions as to how and where one could set it off.  But that information is already available if one is looking for it, and it doesn’t link me up to the network of people who would actually assist and encourage my efforts.

So, how seriously to take this?  There is plenty of White Supremacist propaganda available on the net.  Sure, it gives some people a venue to participate in hate speech, and it’s absolutely a dangerous mode of thinking to encourage.  Communal participation normalizes, and doubtless leads to both more incidences of violence and the understanding of a racist mindset as “acceptable” (for the latter, see the Tea Party, cough).  Can this stuff be threatening?  Yes… but it’s fringe.  The very vast majority of Muslims are not interested.  And moreover, this is a “war” of information – there’s a pretty limited amount they can make public.

It’s not exactly a lifestyle mag, but there are some sponsorship opportunities here.  I expect they’ll need to rethink their marketing strategy if they want to attract Western readers and advertisers.  Here are some off-the-cuff ideas:

  • Ads from fertilizer companies
  • A spread of a summer training camp (beach volleyball and bazookas!)
  • “Learn Arabic in 14 Days” with Rosetta Stone
  • An essay contest for a meet-and-greet with Bin Laden
  • Airplane etiquette
  • Win a trip for two to beautiful Yemen
  • An editorial spread for the best parkas to conceal your suicide bomb
  • A guide to Western landmarks
  • A humorous advice column (“Ask the Imperialist Pig Great Satan”)
  • Build a bomb in the kitchen of your mom (see!?)

It’s the internet.  Hateful stuff exists for anyone seeking it out, and Al Qaeda’s reliance on loose organization and secrecy is what’s ultimately detrimental to their cause.  Might this spur a small handful of people to action?  Possibly, but those people are nutjobs looking for a reason to detonate, just like any homegrown terrorist who hates the federal government, is obsessed with the “race war,” or who uses his rampant misogyny as an excuse for destruction.

I mean, here’s some more scary shit I found on the internet:

It’s already a stew-pot of ugliness out there.  Let’s just keep calm and enjoy the fireworks and BBQ.