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Anwar al-Awlaki and the face of Western Jihad

October 5, 2011

How Anwar al-Awlaki Became the Face of Western Jihad

by Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens


An interesting study of al-Qaeda propaganda efforts within Western nations. Some points:


  • Awlaki represents the most effective and refined version of his English speaking Salafi-jihadi predecessors, who has adapted more effectively to Western political and social culture. However, unlike his forebears, he was also long considered a leading moderate Muslim and critic of al-Qaeda, having cultivated this image in the years both before and immediately following 9/11. The ideological and intellectual journey that is evident within his public discourse makes him a useful and pertinent case study for the radicalisation of Western Muslims.
  • Despite some reports to the contrary, Awlaki was well known as a popular preacher long before the recent media interest in him. According to some sources, by 2000 he was one of the most well known English speaking Islamic preachers in the United States.
  • Although there is a clear shift towards violence in his later work, a close analysis of the corpus of Awlaki’s sermons and articles shows a surprising level of consistency throughout. Little has changed from his earlier years in both his discourse and ideological worldview. Rather, the only significant change has been in the prescriptions for solving the perceived problems faced by the ummah (global Muslim community).

On the issue of CIA ‘vaccinations’

July 13, 2011

According to news sources (and yet unconfirmed), CIA has used a fake vaccination program in order to obtain DNA samples from Bin Laden family members in the Abottabad area of Pakistan.

The reason why this idea is appallingly stupid (if true), is obvious not only for the merits of worldwide vaccination campaigns, but in the realm of counter-insurgency efforts. Vaccination and basic medical care are the bread and butter of any regional COIN efforts, and running covert CIA programs (however legitimate the target), undermines these basic efforts and creates incredible damage by giving credence to conspiracy-theorists and religious zealots who believe the worst about these programs.

This recent article from Wired confirmed my initial apprehension at the idea of CIA or other government agencies using vaccination programs as a cover for covert work in the hunt for Bin Laden.

There is no evidence the “vaccinations” produced DNA that helped identify bin Laden. The physician named in the article has been arrested by the Pakistani security forces. The CIA has understandably refused any comment. But the allegation that a vaccine program was not what it seemed — that it was not only suspect, but justifiably suspect — has been very widely reported.

This is awful. It plays, so precisely that it might have been scripted, into the most paranoid conspiracy theories about vaccines: that they are pointless, poisonous, covert shields for nefarious government agendas meant to do children harm.

That is not speculation. The polio campaign has already seen this happen, based on just those kind of suspicions — not in a single poor slum in New Delhi, but across much of sub-Saharan Africa.