Thursday, September 29, 2005

Beacon No. 68: Not Necessarily the News


The front page of yesterday's Wall Street Journal had a throwaway item about "Voice of the Caliphate," a weekly news roundup that al-Qa'ida has started broadcasting on the Internet. A quick Google search leads to, which has the first "Caliphate" broadcast archived and roughly translated.

A muscular, ski-masked anchorman sits at a desk before a rifle and what I take to be a Qur'an. He discusses last week's top news stories: the 'liberation' of Gaza, Zarqawi's 'defense' of Sunni interests in Iraq, and Hurricane Katrina's devastation, which is revealed as God's punishment of New Orleans homosexuals. (Hurricane Rita is mentioned briefly as having occurred in North Carolina.)

The anchor's appearances are interspersed with footage from the various places under discussion to create a sense of immediacy, and each segment is punctuated by computer graphics and a melodramatic voice proclaiming the "Voice of the Caliphate" (صوت ألخلافة), complete with Space Age studio reverb. The anchor's voice is calm and businesslike, mimicking the delivery of legitimate newscasters everywhere.

Is "Voice" actually from al-Qa'ida? It's impossible to tell; nearly anyone could have produced this video using found footage, a digital camera, some cheap software and an assault rifle.

But if it's from an al-Qa'ida-related group, it marks a further move away from the use of mainstream media to broadcast propaganda. Why risk sending a bin Laden video from his Karachi apartment all the way to al-Jazeera's offices in Doha? Al-Qa'ida leadership might have concluded that it's safer, cheaper and more efficient to create entire news broadcasts and disseminate them for free on the Internet; let download-happy Muslim kids do the rest.

If I wanted to counter the propaganda impact of "Voice of the Caliphate," I'd start producing parodies of it as soon as I knew its format, regular features, announcer, et cetera—certainly before it became wildly popular. Mocking "Voice's" over-serious style and message might be an effective antidote to The Al-Qa'ida Channel.

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