Al Qaeda and the myriad groups that seek to emulate it are evil, without question. But they also happen to be modernizing their public face, at break-neck speed, translating their message to the Web and to magazines. What they're running into--in addition to annoyances with Photoshop and Pagemaker--are stereotypically Western middle-management questions of marketing and tone. And you can see that tension in the design of their materials.
Here, the cover of the "Manchester Manual," a how-to training guide seized by the FBI in 2005. The cover shows primitive graphics of the sort you'd expect from a low-tech, underground organization...
...but in five years, things have changed. Here, a propaganda poster for Asad al-Jihad2, who's a popular pundit
on Jihadist Web forums. "Asad" is Arabic for "lion"; the green, of course, is sacred in Islam--a symbol of the lush greenery of paradise. Photoshop has arrived in Jihadi hands.
Not every Jihadist image boils down to crude symbols, though. Samir Khan, an Al Qaeda sympathizer based in Charlotte, North Carolina, posted this image to his now-defunct Web site. Jihadist luminaries are shown laughing and smiling, some with children in tow. The message: Al Qaeda isn't just all doom and gloom. They're likable family guys as well! The rationale is frighteningly similar to that of American politicians who appear on Oprah or in People Magazine, looking to humanize their public images.
The cover of the 11th issue of Sada al-Malahim
("The Echo of Battle"), an Al Qaeda magazine. At first glance, it looks just like a terrifying Photoshop disaster (why, for example, is the person's hand blending into a weird background gradient reminiscent of a flayed anatomical model?). But the scientific cleanliness of the beaker and thermometer evokes a buttoned-up, professional organization with gobs of expertise. Curiously, grenades appear frequently in the place of jury-rigged IED's--presumably because the clip art is easier to get, and grenades make for better, simpler visual communication.
From the same magazine, a visual pun. Here, a grenade blends in with a pineapple--the fruit presumably a symbol of paradise.
This screen-grab from
the Web site
of Al Qaeda terrorist Abu Musaab Al-Suri shows a man at least as concerned about middle management and marketing as actual battle--the pen in this case, is the same size as the AK-47. And if you took the AK-47 out, you'd have something that basically looks like your PTA newsletter. The quill pen is a daft touch--evoking genteel, chin-stroking scholars, rather than enraged ranters.
A poster valorizing Abu Dujana al-Khorasani, an online propagandist who some think
to be the double-agent responsible for the suicide bombing that recently killed seven CIA agents. The image itself is basically engaging in its credit grabbing--literally placing Abu Dujana's bloody fingerprints all over the CIA logo.
Jihadi messages aren't always so polished, though. Sometimes they border on self-parody. Here, the recent cover of Hassad al-Mujahidin ("Harvester of Mujahadin"). Note the Vanilla Ice/Adidas track suit--a signal of worldly, as opposed to heavenly, success. But the weirdest feature is the outrageous, unmistakable phallic symbolism of the gun.
And sometimes, the images are just too weird to even understand. Here, the cover of a magazine
published by North Carolina's Samir Khan. Which happens to look more like a issue of Guns and Ammo
guest edited by Nicholas Sparks
. The articles are quaintly timid. ("Obama's questionable stimulus package"--not exactly a recipe for newsstand dynamite.)
Usually, Jihadist imagery is gritty and terrestrial. Here, we get Jihadis IN SPAAAAAAACE. The poster praises Imam Anwar Awlaki, the "Osama of the Internet," who reportedly had ties to Fort Hood mass murderer Army Major Nidal Hassan, "underwear bomber" Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. It also praises Photoshop Elements, which provides those snazzy lens flares.
You've got to assume that as Al Qaeda becomes increasingly tech savvy, they'll become more image savvy as well--Hassad al-Mujahidin, the phallic-covered magazine we noted before just ran an article, "The Camera: A Weapon without Bullets." Which in turn, will help spread their message further. We'll have to be equally creative in countering.