by Anna Borshchevskaya

The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI)-one of the most trustworthy sources on media translation the Middle East and South Asia—reported on December 26 that Al-Qaeda’s Al-Sahab media arm published an updated version of their propaganda movie La Tukalifu Ila Nafsak (“Commit No One But You”), encouraging individual terror attacks in the West:

The new version incorporates two additions: The first is a segment on the attack by the brothers Tsarnaev at the Boston Marathon, who are portrayed as heroes thanks to their successfully carrying out a terrorist attack in the U.S. The narrator explains that the attack was performed in retaliation for the war that the US is waging in Afghanistan and Iraq, and boasted that using explosive charges costing $400 the brothers Tsarnaev managed to paralyze a major US city. The narrator praises Tamerlan Tsarnaev in particular and says “Allah will accept his martyr’s death and his jihad”. The narrator claims that the attacks carried the war to the U.S., and despite the tremendous amounts – totaling billions of dollars – that the US expends on the wars and intelligence apparatuses it did not succeed in preventing the attack that punctured the myth of an impenetrable US since 9/11.

This disturbing movie is yet another example of how extremists use modern technology to spread their ideology, all while attacking the very values that made creation of this technology possible.

I observed the same phenomenon working in Afghanistan, where the Taliban regularly used cell phone texting to spread their messages, and maintained a remarkably well put together web-site—in five languages, no less. Indeed, when Ambassador Richard Holbrooke passed away in 2010, Taliban spokesman Qari Yousuf Ahmadi used his death to promote the narrative of Afghanistan as the graveyard of empires. He went on to list Russian presidents who died after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, cloaking his death in an air of mysticism in connection with the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan.

Whether AlQaeda or the Taliban, extremists groups are too often successful in reaching their audience.  If we are to win in the battle of ideas, we need to recognize how well they use the media to spread their message. And we need to do the same.

Anna Borshchevskaya is Communications Director at the American Islamic Congress.