- By Joshua Keating
Joshua Keating is associate editor at Foreign Policy and the editor of the Passport blog. He has worked as a researcher, editorial assistant, and deputy Web editor since joining the FP staff in 2007. In addition to being featured in Foreign Policy, his writing has been published by the Washington Post, Newsweek International, Radio Prague, the Center for Defense Information, and Romania's Adevarul newspaper. He has appeared as a commentator on CNN International, C-Span, ABC News, Al Jazeera, NPR, BBC radio, and others. A native of Brooklyn, New York, he studied comparative politics at Oberlin College.
Today, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s media arm, al-Malahem Media, has recently released two new issues of the group’s English-language magazine, Inspire. The release is significant since the magazine was thought to be defunct since the September 2011 drone attacks that killed Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan in Yemen. The two U.S.-raised jihadists were Inspire‘s best-known contributor and editor, respectively. See terrorism analysts and FP contributors J.M. Berger and Evan Kohlman for the best takes put up so far on their contents.
After the deaths of Kahn and Awlaki last year, I looked back over the publication’s full run from an editor’s perspective. How do the new issues of the world’s most notorious magazine stack up?
Issue 8 is a little odd in terms of timing. Though it’s only coming to light today, it’s billed as the fall 2011 issue. However, Issue 7 was also supposed to be the fall 2011 issue. Berger speculates on Twitter that this issue “looks like it might have been the last work of Samir Khan, as it does not mention either man’s death.”
There are some new features, including a quiz in the table of contents. A help-wanted notice suggests the magazine is looking for web help, researchers, translators, and “sisters who can write on women-related issues.” There’s also a long feature on the Pakistani army and its “role in the crusades.” The regular humor feature, the Mad Magazine-esque “A Cold Diss,” mocks the late Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi and refers to the famous “Zenga Zenga” YouTube video. (They’re presumably unaware it was made by an Israeli.) The instructional “open-source jihad” feature gives some helpful hints on handgun training.
The most chilling feature is an article by Awlaki himself justifying the killing of civilians in jihadist attacks. “If combatants and non-combatants are mixed together and integrated, it is allowed for the Muslims to attack them even if women, children, the elderly, farmers, merchants and slaves get killed but this should only be done with the intention of fighting the combatants,” he writes.
Issue 9 discusses Khan and Awlaki’s deaths in detail, and the new editor, Yahya Ibrahim, begins with some words for all the doubters:
“To the disappointment of our enemies, issue 9 of inspire [sic] magazine is out against all odds al-Hamdolillah. The Zionists and the crusaders thought that the magazine was gone with the martyrdom of Shykh Anwar and brother Samir, may Allah have mercy upon their souls. Yet again, they have failed to come to terms with the fact that the Muslim ummah is the most fertile and most generous mother that gives birth to thousands and thousands of the likes of Shaykh Anwar and brother Samir. They will be displeased to know that we have been inundated with emails and requests by young inspired Muslims who are persistently offering their help, not just intellectually, but with whatever the mujahideen need in the West.
It has to be said that the quality of copyediting and translation has gone downhill since the deaths of the two American contributors. One article, teased on the cover, is bafflingly headlined, “It is of your freedom to ignite a firebomb.” The layout is still pretty slick, though, and one writer claims in a eulogy for Khan that the late editor “taught me everything he knew about presentation of certain material.”
With a stunning lack of self-awareness, the editors condemn the killing of Awlaki’s son. “The only thing why Abdur-Rahmaan Bin Anwar Al Awlaki was ‘guilty’ was the fact that he was a son of Shaykh Anwar al Awlaki,” they write. “But can we blame somebody because of being somebody’s son?” (Perhaps they should refer to Awlaki’s justification for the killing of innocent children in the previous issue.)
As usual, the issue is heavy on tactics and suggested operations, including attacks on “main political figures” in the West and “large strategic economic targets such as: The Stock Exchange, power and oil installations, airports, harbors, railroad systems,” etc.
It is not only “your freedom to ignite a firebomb,” as it turns out, but a great idea! Having seen the damage wrought by forest fires in the United States and Australia in recent years, Inspire suggests a number of ways an enterprising young jihadist could go about starting one.
The most intriguing piece may be an essay making the case for why Al Qaeda’s violence is more justifiable than attacks by Christian extremists like Anders Behring Breivik. According to Inspire, “The right wing extremists apparently can kill their own people for as a ridiculous reason [sic] as ‘waking them up’. This is extremism at its peak.” It really says something when al Qaeda thinks a group’s methods are a bit severe.
In what may be his last written statement, an article by Awlaki titled “Spilling Out The Beans” discusses his radicalization in the United States and persecution by U.S. authorities. It includes this strange anecdote:
“In 1996 while waiting at a traffic light in my minivan a middle aged woman knocked on the window of the passenger seat. By the time I rolled down the window and before even myself or the woman uttering a word I was surrounded by police officers who had me come out of my vehicle only to be handcuffed. I was accused of soliciting a prostitute and then released. They made it a point to make me know in no uncertain terms that the woman was an undercover cop.”
The story of Awlaki’s two busts on prostitution charges has been told before and he denied them. It’s a little odd that the current editors of Inspire would include a discussion of this incident in what may be Awlaki’s final posthumous statement. In general, the editorial standards seem to have gone downhill since his death.