The voice of Al Qaeda

An analysis of its propaganda and media strategies

Essay, 2007

17 Pages, Grade: 1,7



A) Introduction: The difficult relationship between media and terrorism

B) The voice of Al Qaeda: An analysis of its propaganda and media strategies
1. Conditions for Al Qaeda’s engagement in propaganda
1.1. The metamorphosis of war
1.2. The importance of communication, in particular propaganda for Al Qaeda
2. The evolution of Al Qaeda propaganda
2.1. Propaganda before 9/11
2.2. The change in propaganda strategies after 9/11
3. Al Qaeda and Al Jazeera
3.1. Presentation of ‘Arab’s CNN’
3.2. Osama bin Laden on the screen
3.3. The Western reaction
3.4. Assessment of the Al Jazeera case study
4. Internet on TV: The terror threat in German channels

C) Conclusion: An approach to counter - propaganda strategies


A) Introduction: The difficult relationship between media and terrorism

Speaking about terrorism in a scientific way, it is inevitable to take into account the relationship between media and terrorism. As this essay wants to outline the main characteristics of how and why the transnational terror network Al Qaeda is designing its public appearance, a brief introduction into the general discussion on terrorism and the media is given in the following.

The relationship between these two actors is often described as symbiotic or even one of “considerable mutual benefit.”[1] On the one hand the mass media can profit from the coverage of terrorist attacks because they can increase their circulation or viewing figures.[2] On the other hand, terrorists achieve the wanted attention, convey the propaganda of the deed and inflict great fear on their target group(s). If successful, they can even mobilize wider support and influence political decisions of their enemies, in the way that they contribute to the desired escalation-spiral. This connection probably led former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to the famous words ‘oxygen of publicity’: A comparison, which illustrates the absolute need for terrorists to be covered in the media; for them it is as important as the air they breathe. Some theorists are sharing the opinion, that terrorism only becomes what it is through the media coverage: “Without the media aspect, terrorism remains one more cause of death, one of many, and not necessarily the most important or most dangerous one.”[3] But despite the recognition of the so-called amplification effect, censorship is neither desirable nor realizable in open western societies. So it is often said, that we are here caught in a dilemma and the only thing, media can do is to weigh carefully, which incidents to show and to what extent. Furthermore they should regard it as their self-evident duty to foster the awareness of civilians and to provide a forum for reasonable discussion.[4]

This essay shall portray one of the most prominent and surely most actual terrorist groups: Al Qaeda. It will give an overview about its media strategies, but as well will not forget the propaganda management, which tries to efficiently recruit new members and foster support for the group. At first, there will be given a brief oversight and explanation of the ‘metamorphosis of war’, a central condition for Al Qaeda’s engagement in propaganda, and how the terrorist group correlates with it.

B) The voice of Al Qaeda: An analysis of its propaganda and media strategies

1. Conditions for Al Qaeda’s engagement in propaganda

1.1. The metamorphosis of war

In his notable book ‘Al Qaeda and what it means to be modern’, John Gray shows how perfectly Al Qaeda adapted to the present times’ circumstances. In the 21st century, “where most conflicts are post-Clausewitzian wars”[5], it is not only the successful use of modern telecommunication media, but as well Al Qaeda’s organization form, which makes it modern. Rather than being bound to state borders or world regions, the terror group is stretching over the whole globe. “Instead of resisting globalization, its forces are being harnessed to (…) groups, constantly looking for new bases and new targets worldwide.”[6] John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt, who introduced the netwar paradigm in 1993 (actually six years after the foundation of Al Qaeda by ideologue Abdullah Azzam, but long before it became subject to world politics) – provided science with a theoretical groundwork explaining changes in the general determinants of war. According to them, the new term ‘netwar’ stands for an “emerging mode of conflict (…) at societal levels, (…) in which the protagonists use – indeed, depend on using – network forms of organization, doctrine, strategy, and communication.”[7] The threat would thus become more diffuse and multidimensional, with new groups emerging, which are constructed by dispersed cells. The scientists from the RAND institute also predicted that network actors will opt for an extraordinary duration and pace of conflict: “A network actor may engage in long cycles of quietly watching, and then swell and swarm rapidly into action.”[8] Applied to Al Qaeda, their assumptions can widely be confirmed today. But scrutinizing the inner structure of the terrorist network, it is astonishing to see that here ‘pre-modern’[9] values prevail. The relationship between cell members is based on absolute trust and total commitment to the cause. This is the great difference to liberal societies, not being capable of replicating this ‘suicidal solidarity’.[10] The peculiar mixture – modern organization and ‘pre-modern’ values within the group – guarantees for Al Qaeda the opportunity to mount fluid and goal-oriented actions, just as the netwar-paradigm necessitates.

1.2. The importance of communication, in particular propaganda for Al Qaeda

In order to adhere to netwar strategies, communication plays an essential role: In contrary to hierarchical structured organizations, which are quite easy to run, a network form (as Al Qaeda is) requires constant and dense information.[11] A profound communication system is indispensable, as it enables the decentralized group to coordinate the actions of its scattered cells.[12] In order to foster the cohesion among them, propaganda turns out to be an effective tool. But this is not the only dimension, propaganda has for Al Qaeda: It is also used to promote the model of ‘franchise terrorism’ – an expression, which hints at the ambition to expansion, always with regard to striking the global Jihad. Propaganda has thus been compared to be “consistent with the broader pattern of grassroot activism”[13], which is occurring in Western societies. Moreover Propaganda’s central aim is to define Islamic identity, of course in a way that fits Al Qaeda. In short: “Propaganda is essential because it precedes support, funding and recruitment.”[14] The importance of propaganda for achieving its goal – a restoration of the caliphate – is also emphasized in Al Qaeda circles. In a manual it is indoctrinated as follows:

“…Islamic governments have never and will never be established through peaceful solutions and cooperative councils. They are established as the [always] have been: by pen and gun; by word and bullet; and by tongue and teeth.”[15]

Pen, word, tongue: All these words give an impression how seriously Al Qaeda takes the challenge to influence the Islamic world with propaganda. These words are linked to ‘words of war’, illustrating the belief that pen and word can be used in a same way as bullet and gun – as a means to execute violence. Put in the first place, they even fortify this impression. Propaganda hence turns out to be more and more a – if not even the – central column of Al Qaeda.


[1] Paul Wilkinson (2000) Terrorism Versus Democracy – The Liberal State Response, London: Frank Cass, Chapter 9, ‘The Media and Terrorism’, p. 174.

[2] Just take into consideration the cynical but true credo „Bad news is good news.“

[3] Boaz Ganor (2005) The Counter-Terrorism Puzzle – A Guide for Decision Makers, New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, Chapter 8, ‘Dilemmas Concerning Media Coverage of Terrorist Attacks’, p. 236.

[4] For more tasks, the media have to solve see Wilkinson, p. 183.

[5] John Gray (2003) ‘ Al Qaeda and what it means to be modern ’, London: Faber and Faber, p. 73.

[6] Rohan Gunaratna (2002) ‘ Inside Al Qaeda: global network of terror ’, New York: Columbia Univ. Press, p. 11.

[7] John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt (1996) ‘ The Advent of Netwar ’, Santa Monica, Calif.: RAND, p. 5.

[8] Arquilla / Ronfeldt, 1996, p. 13.

[9] The term ‘pre-modern’ was employed in this context by John Gray, as to stress better the specific contrast showed here. In order to avoid misunderstandings, ‘pre-modern’ certainly is used here as a stark aggravation and simplification.

[10] For further thoughts see Gray, 2003, p. 83: Gray comes to the interesting and pensive conclusion that ‘the price of individualism is proving to be the loss of privacy.’

[11] See Arquilla / Ronfeldt, 1996, p. 21.

[12] It becomes obvious that new achievements in communication technology do not only serve the open society, but also play into the hands of ist enemies. As Arquilla and Ronfeldt have foreseen – the information revolution has significantly enhanced the opportunity of constructing the network form, which in case of Al Qaeda, has already been realized.

[13] Jarret M. Brachman (2006) ‘High-Tech Terror: Al Qaeda’s Use of New Technology’, The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs, Vol. 30,

No. 2, p. 152.

[14] Marc Lynch (2006) ‘Al Qaeda’s Media Strategies’, The National Interest, No. 83, p. 56.

[15] Walter Laqueur (ed.) (2004) ‘Voices of terror: Manifestos, writings and manuals of Al Qaeda, Hamas, and other terrorists from around the world and throughout the ages’, New York: Reed Press, p. 403.

Excerpt out of 17 pages


The voice of Al Qaeda
An analysis of its propaganda and media strategies
LMU Munich  (Geschwister Scholl Institut für politische Wissenschaft)
Seminar: Introduction into Terrorism Research
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
449 KB
Qaeda, Seminar, Introduction, Terrorism, Research
Quote paper
Philipp Hauner (Author), 2007, The voice of Al Qaeda, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: The voice of Al Qaeda

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free