Center for Strategic Communication

by Steven R. Corman

CSC researchers Pauline Cheong and Jeff Halverson have just published a paper in the journal Studies in Conflict and Terrorism that will be of interest to readers of this blog.  The paper examines al Qaeda texts from 1996-2009 to determine strategies used by the group to construct a pro-radical identity for young Muslims.  The paper abstract is reproduced below.  The full article is available here (subscription required).

This article examines the discursive strategies employed by violent Islamist extremists to build a persuasive collective youth identity in their messages. Our analysis draws from strategic communication, social movement, and membership categorization theories to analyze youth references made in texts disseminated by al-Qaeda from 1996 – 2009. In these texts, “youth” is constructed via three main discursive strategies.

The first involves ascriptions of allegiance to a common belief system whereby militant actions are directed toward establishing a new sociopolitical order. Extremists envision revolutionary violence as the principle mechanism for change and an integral part of religious salvation. They see Muslim youth as the vanguard necessary to bring about the new social reality. The second utilizes descriptions of pious youth as “true believers” apart from “apostate” state regimes. Every conflict against hypocrites, unbelievers, or apostates in the Muslim world is a shared responsibility amongst the Muslim ummah (as a single nation) and not exclusive to individuals of a particular “nationality” or holders of a particular passport. The good youth fulfills his obligations as a member of this ummah. The third is through references to hagiographies of extremist martyrs which serve as moral exemplars and the formation of a distinctly jihadist tradition. The idealization of these men as warrior-saints or heroes serves the need for alternative militant paradigms among the violent extremist ranks, especially youths.

The article concludes with research directions to facilitate counter-narrative interventions, such as utilizing stories from Islamic history and the life of the Prophet Muhammad to disrupt extremist claims.