That the media has become ever more central to al-Qaeda's political strategy has become something of a truism. Terrorists have always relied on the media to amplify their message, with their spectacular violence aimed not just at killing people but at spreading fear among the targeted population and at galvanizing potential supporters. Al-Qaeda has taken this to a new level, with the media occupying center stage stage in its overall political strategy. Its media arm al-Sahab has produced a great number of technically sophisticated, gripping videos, distributed first on the internet and then often getting excerpts broadcast on Arab and Western TV stations. Zarqawi's organization grew so proficient at parlaying its terrorism into graphic video that the terror itself often seemed to be made for television events. In short, these graphic, pulse-pounding videos of heroic mujahideen interspersed with carefully translated statements by Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri are central, not peripheral, to al-Qaeda's political strategy.
So what to make of the fact that the Republican National Committee has produced its own al-Qaeda video. This is not just a video which suggests that Republicans will be better at fighting terror. It actually very closely resembles real al-Qaeda videos. It has the same tempo, the same images, the same juxtaposition of translated statements by al-Qaeda's leaders with glorified portrayals of powerful fighters waging jihad. The images don't just resemble those used in al-Qaeda videos: many were actually taken from real al-Qaeda videos, and you can still see the al-Sahab label faintly in the background (do you suppose that the RNC paid royalties?). A political ad? This video would not look out of place on a jihadi forum, and it wouldn't surprise me if it actually gets posted on them and admired (although the production values are a bit low for an actual al-Sahab product).
from the GOP video... not from a jihadi forum
Anyone involved in analyzing or combating al-Qaeda's media strategies has to be astounded that the Republican National Committee has financed, produced, distributed on the internet, and aired on US television what is for all intents and purposes an al-Qaeda recruitment video. The video, if it works as intended, will frighten the American people and influence American politics... just like al-Qaeda's own videos. Bin Laden couldn't be prouder, or more grateful, especially since it didn't cost him a thing.
The Arab media has already noticed this bizarre turn of events. Al-Arabiya describes bin Laden and Zawahiri as "stars" of the Republican campaign. A Jordanian columnist marvels that the Republicans are copying al-Qaeda's use of videos to spread terror in pursuit of their political interests. I used to be
disgusted... but now I'm just amused. Mostly. But I'm sure that the army of conservative politicians and pundits who have denounced al-Jazeera and the Arab media and the "MSM" for giving air time to al-Qaeda videos will be able to muster more outrage.