Assessing The Impact Of Jihadi Revisionists

Rob at Media Shack has posted a summary of a discussion on al-`Arabiyya’s “Death Industry.”  Of interest to him (and me) is Montasir Zayat’s assessment of Sayyid Imam’s latest book (Zayat only read the first one and a half chapters).  Here’s Rob’s take:

In Zayat’s view, what’s being printed now in Al-Masri Al-Youm is a disgrace and jeopardizes the reputation of the entire Revisions process.   No Jihadists or even Muslims anywhere will treat them seriously.

Rob agrees with this sentiment (as does Nathan Field).  But that’s not exactly what Zayat says.  Zayat does say the book is a disgrace, but he’s also pessimistic that anything can move Jihadis, no matter how refined.  Here he is in the same interview responding to the host’s question of which man, Imam or Zawahiri, has more popularity:

Dr. Sayyid Imam has an abundance of Sharia knowledge and he certainly had these beliefs before he was imprisoned.  He used to say the same things before he was imprisoned and I believe him.  However, Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri has charisma and popularity, and he is readily accepted among the youth also.  Many of the youths’ hearts and heads are attached to him.  It is difficult for the words of Sayyid Imam to affect them.

Exactly.  There is nothing Sayyid Imam can say to sway hardcore fans of Zawahiri.  It doesn’t matter how mean or nice he is.  Thus, as I argued yesterday, we shouldn’t be assessing the impact of Imam’s book on Jihadis but rather on neutral pious, educated Arabs, particularly high school and college-age youth, whom Imam considers his primary audience.

But how do we measure this impact?  Rob says that it is by looking at the discussion of Sayyid Imam’s new book in the mainstream press.  By this measure, he says, it’s a failure because “there has been almost no coverage in the Arabic media.”  I don’t concede the latter assertion–the book was printed in full in Islam Online, al-Masry al-Youm, and al-Sharq al-Awsat and commented on in at least thirteen print news venues.  It is also all over the forums and the Arabic blogosphere.  Still, I agree that it is getting less coverage than Imam’s last book.  Rob says that’s because the tone of the book is bitter and personal.  A simpler explanation is that the subject–Imam turning on Zawahiri–is old news.

However, for the sake of argument, let’s say the story wasn’t covered by anyone in the mainstream media.  So what?  As I observed regarding a different matter (Jihadi forums), the fact that the Arab press ignores a phenomenon does not mean the phenomenon has little impact on Arabs.  The Arab press wrote nothing about Abu Bakr Naji until the Saudi arrests.  The Arab press has also missed the recent Maqdisi story.  Aside from this blog and an excellent article in Jamestown, only al-Hayat has caught it.

So how are we to assess the impact of Sayyid Imam’s new book on its target audience?  Here are a few places to look:

  • Mainstream Muslim discussion forums
  • News discussion forums (al-Jazeera, etc)
  • Personal blogs

Much of the circulation, of course, will be person-to-person, which we can’t possibly track.  Still, I’m willing to partially concede that it’s a dud if the mainstream forums and blogs are largely negative.  But let’s wait a little bit before rendering judgment.  As Sayyid Imam said in his last installment, it’s simply unfair to judge a book before it’s even been released.

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3 Responses

  1. Will,
    I agree with your analysis. Analysts place too much weight on the success of new content based on whether the new development makes the top five stories on CNN every hour within four days of its release. This is very American-centric analysis to think this won’t be a factor because Anderson Cooper or al-Jazeera hasn’t done a three part series on it. Why would the mainstream press pick this up? While many read blogs like jihadica, the Imam vs. Zawahiri battle is a niche issue and not well suited for the mainstream. Imam’s ideas will travel through niche media outlets like this blog and informed conversation groups, not television soundbites and newspapers that need to sell advertising. This ideological battle requires too much explanation and backstory in a time when AQ terrorism is taking a backseat to the economy in the mainstream media. The success or failure of Imam’s pronouncements will take months and years to assess, not hours and days. We should wait a while to see if we hear an echo. Plus, it’s always easier to criticize something than to thoroughly analyze and identify its strengths, weaknesses and effects. Thanks for putting this out, I can’t wait for more dirt to come out on the Sudanese Agent Zawahiri.

  2. I agree it’s the ‘mainstream’ Muslim forums is the place where we need to look at first. Although it’s not developped into as big an issue one might have thought at first, there’s some interesting talk on the Denudation on one of the most known French mainstream (muslim) forums. ( see : http://mejliss.com/showthread.php?t=410952 ) These topics are being viewed by quite a lot of people and the fact that there are some who jump to the defense of Sayyid Imam might definitly have an influence.

  3. The back-and-forth discussions over this will go on for a long time amongst jihadis. I’m betting that Imam’s advice might make for more precise targeting but in the end he doesn’t advocate the total abandonment of jihad. Just a more practical approach with a view to creating less collateral damage to fellow believers.

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