(Peter Van Buren is the author of "We Meant Well: How I Helped
Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People,"
The opinions expressed here are those of the author.)
By Peter Van Buren
Sept 4 "Inspire" is an English-language online
magazine published since 2010 by al Qaeda. I just read the
latest issue and found a lot of what I expected, and some things
Aimed primarily at radicalizing young audiences in the
United States and Britain, the English language magazine appears
semi-regularly (there have been 12 issues so far). Graphically
well-done, the editorial parts of the magazine are a mix of
religious and jihadi-inspirational pieces, reporting and
Yep, bomb-making instructions. That's the part that's most
controversial: the clear, step-by-step photo-illustrated
instructions for making your own explosives using common
materials, plus the encouragement to use them in crowded places.
The magazine was once thought to be the work of Anwar
al-Awlaki, an American citizen gone bad, who once preached at a
Northern Virginia mosque and lunched at the Pentagon. Though
al-Awlaki and his teenage son were assassinated by a U.S. drone
in Yemen in 2011, the magazine continues to be published.
Al-Awlaki's thoughts are reprinted posthumously and still carry
influence. That tells you pretty much all you need to know in
two sentences about the failure of the war on terror.
Because reading and or possessing "Inspire" may be illegal
in the UK and Australia, and viewing it in the U.S. is likely to
land you on some sort of watch list, I will give you a taste of
what you would find instead.
The current issue of "Inspire" begins with an atypical
"The American government was unable to protect its citizens
from pressure cooker bombs in backpacks, I wonder if they are
ready to stop car bombs! Therefore, as our responsibility to the
Muslim Ummah in general and Muslims living in America in
particular, ""Inspire" Magazine" humbly presents to you a simple
improvised home recipe of a car bomb. And the good news is you
can prepare it in the kitchen of your mom too."
To be fair, to pull this off the kitchen of your mom has to
be stocked with some pretty unusual stuff, like pressure gauges
and tire valve stems, but we'll get to that in a moment.
Further into the issue are quotes by celebrities and regular
people on news topics, most of them rants about American foreign
policy. One of them, claiming to be by a Muslim college student
in the United States, stands out:
"I remember I had one professor that said that if he was in
Iraq, he'd probably be on the other side. And I remember I was
just looking at him thinking I'll be in jail if I thought that."
So while there is plenty of bloody jihad stuff written in
poor English, it isn't all that way in "Inspire". One wonders if
this approach, accidentally humorous and purposefully serious,
is not actually an effective way to speak to disaffected youth.
Despite my promise, I did not actually read every word of
the articles that began "Twelve years have passed since the
blessed Battles of New York, Washington and Pennsylvania" And
when the writer asks, "Isn't it saddening that Bo, Obama's dog,
dines with the taxpayers' money on better food than that of 100
million Americans?" I know where they are going without reading
the entire piece. Things alternate like that for most of the
magazine. It's a mix of thoughtful musings, weird unintelligible
ramblings, Quranic quotes and a large dose of anti-Semitism
sprinkled liberally throughout. But things get deadly serious
when the topic turns to making car bombs.
The magazine says it publishes the "open-source" bomb-making
instructions to allow willing fighters to "prepare for jihad,"
all from the comfort of home. I am not a chemist, but the recipe
seems easy to follow, thanks to the fact that it is broken down
into simple steps with illustrating photos. Theory is tagged on
to the practical lessons, such as when the writers explain how
explosive combustion works, how pressure is measured and so
forth. Different ignition switches are discussed, depending on
whether you seek a timed explosion or intend a suicide attack
where you'll trip the bomb manually.
At the end of it all, one leaves with the impression that
the manual is simple enough to actually make a successful bomb.
It would be unfair to close the pages of "Inspire" and say I
felt anything but creeped-out. After all, what starts as a laugh
ends very seriously. So when you read other reports of what's in
"Inspire", most of which focus on exaggerated fear-mongering or
belittling the magazine, spare a thought for what the magazine
is achieving: it makes you genuinely afraid. That's what good
propaganda does, it gets inside your head. "Inspire" is good
(Peter Van Buren)