The Gadahn Factor

Posted: 14th June 2009 by Thomas Hegghammer in AQ Leadership, Palestinian Territories, propaganda

Adam Gadahn aka Azzam al-Amriki has appeared in a new videotape focusing on Palestine. This is the latest in a massive 6-month media offensive by al-Qaida central to lay claim to the Palestinian cause and to discredit US president Obama.

It is not clear when the 35-minute tape was made; it mentions Obama’s April speech to the Turkish parliament, but not his recent Middle East tour. The 35-minute tape was probably recorded some time in April, for it is dated Rabi al-Akhir, which ended on 25 April, and there are no references in the speech to events after that. Gadahn looks as serious as ever; his beard has grown and his spoken classical Arabic has improved (although he is clearly reading from a teleprompter).

It is worth noting that he is speaking on a general topic (Palestine) as opposed to a US-specific one, and that he is introduced as Adam Yahya Gadhan and not Azzam al-Amriki. This suggest al-Qaida is trying to promote him as an ideologue in his own right, and not just as “the American guy”. Both Jarret and Evan both seem to think this is a bad idea seen from AQ’s perspective. I am not so sure.

Many have highlighted Gadahn’s anecdote about his Jewish grandfather and relatives in Tel Aviv. What I find more interesting about the tape is the way in which Gadahn goes “back to the basics” – outlining the principles of global jihadi doctrine in very clear terms – while offering original arguments and examples.

First, he places the United States on the top of the enemy hierarchy. “Responsibility for the continuation of suffering of the Palestinian people begins in the White House and ends in the palaces of the [Muslim regime] leaders who collude with the Jews and Christians.” In an interesting new line of argument, Gadahn blames Obama for the Gaza campaign, pointing to the fact that the campaign occurred after his election and that president-elects have access to classified briefings during the transition period.  Another original point is that Obama’s conciliatory speeches expressing good intentions toward Islam mean nothing, because even Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu made a famously conciliatory speech in 1996.

Second, Gadahn explains the need for global operations and dismisses the nationalist approach to the Palestinian struggle. It is wrong, he argues, to distinguish between Zionist-Crusader interests within Palestine and Zionist-Crusader interests in the rest of the world. Why should Muslims limit their operations to Israel/Palestine when Israel attacks wherever she wants, such as in Sudan, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and elsewhere?

Third, he dismisses the distinction between Israel, the United States and Europe. “How can we differentiate between those who kill Muslims in Palestine and those who defend those who kill Muslims in Palestine? [..] And how can we differentiate between those who kill Muslims in Palestine and those who kill Muslims in other places on earth, like Iraq, Afghanistan and Chechnya?” Aiming at Palestinian nationalists, he blasts the strategy of “ingratiating ourselves with [the US and Europe] in the hope that they will back our national cause, as some like to call it.” As far as Europe is concerned, the involvement of NATO in Afghanistan and the choice of Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Danish prime minister at the time of the cartoon controversy, as NATO secretary general, show that Europeans are enemies of Muslims. By the way, Fogh Rasmussen is mentioned no less than three times, thus setting new Danish record for the number of times referenced in an AQ statement.

Gadhan’s speech is relatively succinct, clear and commonsensical. What we are seeing here is basically Anglo-Saxon rhetorical principles applied to jihadi propaganda. We are also seeing new examples and arguments brought in to refresh the somewhat repetitive global jihadi rhetoric. Gadahn, in other words, is doing more for al-Sahab than improving their English translations.

  1. Ibn Qawqaz says:

    What do you make of the date on the video? Do you think it’s reliable? Thanks for sharing your analysis, Dr. Hegghammer.

  2. Oh I completely missed that – I guess I didn’t see the forest for the trees.

    I see no reason to doubt the date on the video (Rabi al-Akhir). Rabi’ al-Akhir ended on 25 April and there are no references in the speech to events after that.

    This means the tape is almost two months old, which is unusual. Why the delay? That’s anyone’s guess.

  3. Ibn Qawqaz says:

    I wasn’t sure the date was accurate because of the long delay. The fact that the video already had English subtitles also seems significant. Correct me if I’m wrong, but for many videos produced by al-Sahab, doesn’t the “subtitled” version usually come several weeks (or more) later? This seems to be yet another sign, along with those you mention, of Gadahn’s use as a jihadi da’i, of sorts, to English speakers.

  4. alle says:

    A bit off-topic, perhaps, but why is al-Sahab Media called al-Sahab media?

  5. Ibn Qawqaz: I don’t keep track of the precise publication patterns of these statements (because I know there are others who do), so I can’t say for sure. My sense is that a few years back, subtitles were uncommon, and it could take a while before subtitled versions emerged. In recent years, though, a majority of Sahab productions have had subtitles upon the first release (I think). Please correct me if I am wrong.

    Alle: I think I know the answer to this. But since the question probably interests many people I will devote a post to it.