All the usual suspects have said smart things about the Zawahiri statement (pick through them here), so I won’t summarize his message. But I do disagree with two things I read. First is ZS Justus’s statement that too much is being made of Zawahiri’s “house negro” epithet against Obama at the expense of his more significant statements about Afghanistan. Second is Abu Muqawama’s claim that Zawahiri’s racial epithet won’t be effective.
Here’s my take: Zawahiri strongly believes that African-American Muslims are disaffected and thus receptive to al-Qaeda propaganda in ways that other American Muslims are not. (One suspects that Adam Gadahn convinced him of this.) That is why he spent the better part of an hour-long interview last year talking about Malcolm X and the oppression of blacks in the U.S. And that is why he is bringing it up again now and using such charged language. According to a Pew poll last year, this was not a bad communication strategy in 2007. But given Obama’s election and his overwhelming support among African-Americans, Zawahiri has grossly overreached this time. Thus, contra Justus, this is the most important part of Zawahiri’s message because, contra AM, it will have a very negative effect on the sole group he had any hope of influencing in the U.S. It is also bad PR at a time when Zawahiri’s reputation is taking a beating at the hands of his former ally, Sayyid Imam.
One final point: Not all Arab Jihadis like the racially-charged responses to Obama’s election.