The Narrative Landscape of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb

csc1401-tnby Valentina Bartolucci and Steven R. Corman

This report presents the results of an analysis of the narrative landscape produced in texts by and about al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) from 2007 to 2013. We analyzed invocation of cultural master narrative use by the group, and then performed a detailed thematic study of the texts using Critical Discourse Analysis. This report is timely, as there are indications that the threat of terrorism in North Africa is on the rise.

The analysis of Master Narrative use allows us to better understand how AQIM exploits cultural knowledge of its audience for strategic communication purposes while the qualitative analysis is useful to explore the use of the particular words and grammatical forms to establish meaning, identities, interests, and behaviors of political agents in the narratives.

The analysis shows that AQIM uses master narratives in a way that is distinct from Islamist extremist groups outside the Maghreb. Though they employ many of the same narratives, they appear in a higher percentage of their texts than is the case for extremist groups outside the region. In addition, they often use three master narratives relating to back-and-forth conflict between Muslims and Christians in Andalusia, which have particular resonance in the Maghreb. The analysis also shows that the use of the master narratives varies over the years studied, suggesting changes in AQIM strategic communication priorities. In particular there is a notable shift around 2010 when the group was under pressure from authorities.

The Critical Discourse Analysis reveals that AQIM invests a great deal of time in representing the enemy with the utmost negativity. Of particular interest is that AQIM’s members also depict themselves in highly negative ways. The analysis suggests that while the strategy of negative self-representation maybe effective in the short term to attract new supporters and recruit new, it is probably ineffective in the long run.

This report makes three recommendations for influence activities to counter the AQIM discourse: (1) Focus information efforts on the Maghreb, (2) avoid supporting their critique of neo-liberalism, and (3) emphasize the long-term implications of the AQIM’s negative self-image.

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