Jihadist Letterhead

My eyes were opened a little wider this week, on the effect of media framing. Reporting on Al Qaeda frequently portrays training camp compounds in remote valleys and conjures images of no-man’s lands in mountainous areas of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen, where militant Islamists are thought to be hiding in cave-like lairs. These are the images we are familiar with, and while they are not inaccurate, they don’t present the whole picture concerning the extent of jihadist networks.

Garnering less attention from the press is the fact that a major part of operations for these militant Islamist groups is centered on production of video and text media. Perhaps the press do not want to lend further publicity for jihadist media, which is understandable, but this leaves us (the public) with a skewed perception and a poor understanding how sophisticated these networks can be.

In The Al Qaeda Media Nexus, Daniel Kimmage details the complex and surprisingly sophisticated virtual network behind the daily flow of jihadist media that appears on the Internet. It is quite centralized with three major virtual media production and distribution entities (MPDEs) responsible for creating virtual links between the various armed groups that fall into the general category of Al Qaeda and affiliated movements.

Most disconcerting is their effective use of systematic branding in order to boost credibility and facilitate message control. The use of graphic logos by different groups to accompany titled statements and releases of information can be likened to traditional marketing practices and PR campaigns. This seems very pragmatic and level-headed, which is far from the image of “crazy” or “evil irrational” terrorists that dominates public discourse. Nothing says take me seriously like monogrammed letterhead.

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