Earlier this week, al Qaeda purportedly published its first English-language online magazine, Inspire, which promises to include instructions on how to build bombs in your kitchen along with interviews with and articles written by leading jihadi figures. While only three pages of the glossy, 60-odd page e-zine were actually made available – apparently the PDF file suffered technical difficulties on launch day, the result of a potential hack job by Western cyber sleuths – that was enough to send English-speaking media into a tizzy.
The Toronto Star, for instance, suggests Inspire “is bad news for western security services” and will be “a powerful online tool of recruitment”. The New York Times adds that the magazine’s goal “is to recruit disaffected Muslims in the United States, Canada, Britain and other English-speaking countries.” Wired writes that Inspire is a “sophisticated effort to engage the English-language” and is meant to give westerners “the tools to murder people.” Britain’s Daily Mail posits that the magazine is an attempt by al Qaeda’s leadership “weakened by CIA drone airstrikes” to “broaden its reach inside the US.” And Foreign Policy, while describing the magazine as a “terrible” and “ridiculous … rag,” goes on to nonetheless suggest that “perhaps there are some idiots out there who will find it appealing.”
While all of this may be true, there isn’t much new in this latest propaganda stint. Al Qaeda and its ilk have been fighting for the hearts and minds of Muslims for years and terrorist magazines, do-it-yourself manuals, and video blogs are a dime a dozen.
For instance, Al Qaeda of the Arab Peninsula (AQAP), purportedly behind Inspire, has been publishing an Arabic-language magazine, Sada Al-Malahim, since 2008. English translations are available from NEFA and MEMRI.
Despite our best efforts, the Taliban also finds time to publish a monthly magazine, al-Somood, online and in print. It’s been doing so since 2006. In fact, freshly fired US General Stanley McChrystal graces the cover of a recent issue which includes articles ridiculing NATO’s recent offensive in Marjah, an operation Dalhousie Professor Frank Harvey rightly labels “a crucial test” of NATO’s strategy.
Or consider Somalia’s al Shabaab. An al Qaeda ally recently proscribed in Canada, it released a slick, English-language propaganda video last year that even includes a jihadi rap song. In the video, a young Caucasian, Abu Mansour al-Amriki (“the American”), extols the virtues of waging jihad in the Horn of Africa. The German Mujahideen Taliban has done the same with their own European and American recruits, releasing videos in a number of languages.
The reason Inspire has made such a splash with its inaugural release is based on the fact that it is likely to be the first al Qaeda publication many of us will have easy access to. For those not terribly inclined to visit terrorist websites, Inspire promises to be readily available. Indeed, for most of us, it’ll be the first time we flip through a jihadi journal that we can both read and understand.
Inspire is scary precisely because it’s accessible. It serves as a reminder that the war on terror marches on, that fanatical groups continue to seek ways to kill us, and that some of our compatriots find al Qaeda’s message attractive. But all of that was going on long before the magazine was patched together. You’re just reading it (again) for the first time.