Comparing Islamic Extremist Media: Understanding the Recruitment Tactics of The Islamic State and al-Qaeda Open Access

Habib, Peter Solomon (2015)

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For many Americans, the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) became a recognized name after the August 2014 beheading of US Journalist James Foley. Most view the organization as simply a more violent brand of al-Qaeda jihadism, whose primary purpose is to destroy America and the West. A deeper analysis of the two organization's media outlets, however, reveals their divergent ideology and sources of legitimacy. While ISIS was initially an offshoot of al-Qaeda, its character is fundamentally defined by its territoriality in Syria and Iraq, as it works to establish its Caliphate, or Islamic State. Al-Qaeda, by contrast, strives to radicalize individual jihadists to attack Western states and Arab regimes that have been historically supported by Western states. Yet for both groups recruitment is crucial, especially as they compete for the legitimacy and appeal associated with being the vanguard of transnational Islam and global jihadism. Through sophisticated media campaigns, both al-Qaeda and ISIS reach their potential members and equip them with the means to join their organizations. Both groups' media is multi-dimensional, and both groups have a digital English-speaking magazine whose primary purpose is recruitment. This paper analyzes and compares the specific recruitment tactics used by al-Qaeda and ISIS in their digital magazines, and explores the overall implications of the media campaign in light of growing competition between the two transnational jihadi organizations. Through this analysis, I find that ISIS written media is created in relation to al-Qaeda media, and serves as a tool to differentiate ISIS from al-Qaeda. This is representative of the larger global civil war of jihad, where Islamic extremist organizations are increasingly competing over resources, recruits, and ideology. By better studying the written media of ISIS and al-Qaeda, counterterrorism experts can create a strong and nuanced counter-narrative to challenge Islamic extremist media.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

Chapter 1: The Background of al-Qaeda and ISIS 8

Chapter 2: Analyzing Inspire: al-Qaeda's English Magazine 30

Chapter 3: Dabiq and the Evolving Image of the Islamic State 49

Chapter 4: Comparing Inspire and Dabiq 66

Conclusion 78

Bibliography 83

Appendix 89

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