7 Radical Islam, Globalisation and Social Media: Martyrdom Videos on the Internet (3/5) – Social Media and Religious Change

This section will present and enunciate the several stages and acts into which
these videos can generally be divided. The subsequent section is devoted to
the identification and analysis of the grand narratives in which the makers
seek to embed the martyrs sacrifice and how it is put to use.
The videos always open with the announcement of the contents, the name of
the martyrs and a flashy animation featuring the logo of the production compa-
ny, which often means the name of the production house written in complex Ara-
bic calligraphy. Al Sahabs logo is quite similar to Al Jazeeras, although there is
no connection whatsoever between the two (Al Jazeera used to broadcast Al
Qaeda video clips featuring Osama bin Laden and Ayman Al Zawahiri but has
not done so since 2005). These announcements usually take 10 to 20 seconds,
and one often hears Quranic recitations.
In the second part of the video, the introduction to the testament of the mar-
tyr, a narrator takes about two-and-a-half minutes to justify martyrdom by plac-
ing it into a larger context of the struggle between the so-called Zio-Crusader
forces and the treacherous rulers of the Arab world on the one side and the
Muslim Ummah and its Mujahid vanguard on the other. This is an unequal
fight, according to the narrator, because the discrepancy in material strength be-
tween us and our enemy is so huge and leads many to despair over the useful-
ness of the confrontation. With video footage of air raids, falling bombs, de-
stroyed buildings and injured people, they illustrate the discrepancy in
strength. The Zio-Crusader forces merely have to press a button to create
havoc and destruction, killing innocent civilians and destroying houses, hospi-
tals and mosques in the name of the war on terror, while their troops remain
safe and sound.
It is the job of the Mujahideen to demolish these imagined fortresses,ac-
cording to the narrator, in order for the enemy to become vulnerable to physical
attack in the field, in order to balance the scale on which this conflict is fought
and to repel the assault. The means of carrying out martyrdom operations/sui-
cide attacks (accompanied by video footage of the planes crashing into the
World Trade Center on 9/11) is given, and the narrator subsequently implies
that the martyrs dedication to death in the Path of Allah empowers the
Ummah (the imagined global community of all Muslims) and its militant van-
guard to secure victory and restore the Ummahs dignity:
The Mujahid Muslim vanguard must lead its Ummah in the two most critical fronts threat-
ening its destiny: the front of the Jewish-Crusader assault and the front of the treasonous
rulers. The Mujahid Muslim vanguard must spread the call for the defeat of the Crusaders
and Jews and their expulsion from our countries and for the removal of the treasonous rul-
ers and setting up of the Mujahid Muslim government until this call becomes an all-perva-
sive spirit flowing through the Ummah. But it will only accomplish that by providing the
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role model and paying the price in terms of the noblest and dearest of blood until it breaks
the barrier of fear which stands between the Ummah and victory and establishment.
Thus the suicide bomber who through his sacrifice is called a martyr is por-
trayed as a soldier serving in the vanguard of the Islamic community, who strives
to restore lost dignity, defiled and tarnished by the Z io-Crusader forces (who
should be expelled from Muslim lands) and the treacherous Arab rulers.
This elaboration on the broader context of the martyrdom operation (or sui-
cide attack) is followed by a third part, which comprises a biography of the mar-
tyr of a lengthy 30 minutes, as described by the narrator, Abu al Hassan, and
several other Al Qaeda leaders. Pieter Nanninga lucidly shows how this part
of the video is used to convey the message of Al Qaeda; the life of the martyr
and the movement Al Qaeda take a remarkably parallel course in the video,
thus providing many opportunities to dwell on the organisations activities, mo-
tivations and ideologies. The editors, Nanninga (Forthcoming) reveals, have fully
grasped these opportunities; Al Qaedas history is sophisticatedly integrated
through the biography of the martyr.
The video ends with the animation of the attack and Abu al Hassans last
words, in which he smiles shyly, asks for forgiveness and prays to God to accept
him as a martyr. This last minute powerfully rounds off the narrative and seeks
to show the viewers that the martyr is just an ordinary Muslim, like most of
them. The difference from most Muslims, which the producers seek to empha-
sise, is that the martyr does not belong to the passive majority but to the
small vanguard willing to struggle for the cause of Islam. This theme whether
implicitly or explicitly recurs in every video, as exemplified by the next para-
digmatic production, called The word is the word of the sword.
This video was released by Al Sahab in 2008. The 50-minute documentary
features Abu Ghareeb al Makki, a muezzin (one who calls for prayer) who
blew himself up in his car in front of the Danish embassy in Islamabad in
2008. The reason for this attack was the publication of cartoons ridiculi ng the
prophet Mohammed in the Danish newspaper Jyllandsposten. The first 30 mi-
nutes of this documentary are dedicated to an extensive argument justifying
the use of violence against Denmark and others who defile Islam. The crisis is
thereby placed in a conflict of a much larger scale, in which the paradigmatic
narrative of global jihad is the underlying message. The then Danish PM Anders
Fogh Rasmussen, former British PM Tony Blair and King Abdullah of Saudi Ara-
bia all feature in this sophisticated and extensive presentation of arguments. The
video does not attempt to ridicule them but seeks to show the hypocrisy of West-
ern involvement and interference in Arab countries aided by the Zionists of
Israel and the Arab dictators who are financially backed by Western countries:
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As for the second aspect of these double standards, it is apparent in their accusing the Mu-
jahideen of targeting the innocents, although they are the ones who for decades havent
stopped targeting weak and defenceless women, children and elderly men. The latest of
their crimes was the recent campaign targeting defenceless civilians in Afghanistan, in
which they killed more than 50 women and children attending a wedding reception in
the province of Nangahar, in addition to dozens of others they killed in other provinces.
[] Despite the ugliness of these atrocious crimes, they dont hesitate to justify it, at
times claiming that the smart bombs missed their target and at other times claiming that
the target was valuable and hence whats the problem if dozens of [the] defenceless and
weak are killed in order to get at this target.
These allegations are accompanied by video footage and pictures of bombings
and other atrocities claimed to have been committed by Western powers. The
makers subsequently feature a US Air Force colonel, who states that innocent
casualties are sometimes allowed in order to get to an important target, and
Mark Galasco, former chief of high-value targeting at the Pentagon. According
to Galasco, at the beginning of the Second Gulf War he was allowed to kill 30
civilians around each high-value target. If more lives were to be risked, either
the Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld, or President Bush had to be consult-
ed.
Subsequently, several Al Qaeda-related persons such as Abdul Rahman
Saleem (in the movie as Sheikh Abu Yahya) severely criticize not only Western
misdeeds but also many fellow Ar abs, who they consider as infidels because they
have neglected the obligation of their religious duty of jihad. It is then stated that
it is not only the apostate rulers but also the passive majority that prefer sub -
mission, cowardice and sitting behind in the name of the medial [moderate] na-
ture of Islam. The martyr, however, Saleem asserts, belongs to the small van-
guard minority, after which they turn to Abu Ghareeb himself.
In the following scenes, the martyr reads his testament, alternating with rec-
itations of passages from the Quran and short messages from the narrator, who
places the individual martyrdom story into a global context. The last recording of
Abu Ghareeb is made while he stands behind the door of a white Toyota Corolla,
which he claims is filled with bombs. He chants a militant song, affirms his long-
ing for par adise by renouncing the value of life in this world and enters the car.
Then we see an animation of the suicide attack: a car approaches a building car-
rying the Danish flag and explodes just in front of the entrance. This part is re-
peated twice, accompanied by a jihadist song, after which Sheikh Mustafa Abu
Al Yazeed announces that more attacks against infidels will follow in the name
of the defence of the dignity of Islam. The film is concluded with the azan (call to
prayer) given by the martyr, with the Kabah in Mecca featuring in the back-
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ground and the narrator praising the suicide bomber turned martyr and ex-
pressing his wish that he will receive Allahs grace.
Iraqi martyrdom movies generally show the same pattern and recurring
themes, as Hafez (2007) expounds in his informative work Suicide Bombers in
Iraq. These movies often start with footage from the Iraqi invasion in 2003,
with horrifying pictures of dead and injured women and children, American sol-
diers desecrating a mosque and shooting people inside and soldiers storming
and vandalizing houses. Images from the notorious Abu Ghraib prison in Bagh-
dad also regularly feature. These pictures are then combined with footage from
other regions, such as Palestine. The tanks and other high-tech weapons are pre-
sented in sharp contrast with stone-throwing Palestinian kids or other seemingly
innocent and harmless civilians.World and regional leaders also feature in these
movies the most commonly used image, however, is a handshake between
President Bush and former Israeli PM Ariel Sharon in the White House during
the Al Aqsa Intifada, suggesting US support for the harsh crackdown against Pal-
estinian insurgents. Then the remedy for national salvation is presented: martyr-
dom operations. Subsequently, the use of martyrdom is defended and legiti-
mised, and the suicide bomber testifies to the sincerity and conviction of his
faith. He reads his final will and seems eager to perform his religious duty.
The Iraqi martyrdom videos thus seem not particularly different from others, ex-
cept that their outlook seems to be more explicitly focused on the situation in
Iraq and less on the intrinsic global jihad, as portrayed in most Al Sahab produc-
tions.
Based on this investigation of different martyrdom movies, we can identify
certain patterns and themes recurring in the majority of martyrdom videos: (1)
Videos begin with an introduction in which a narrator describes how Muslims
are repressed and embattled everywhere. He postulates a narrative in which
the global Muslim Ummah is under attack by inimical forces searching to destroy
it accompanied by gruesome pictures or video material. A nother theme is (2) a
justification of martyrdom operations as the sole means to battle the forces of the
enemy, thereby presenting the suicide bomber as a soldier in the vanguard
comprising the jihadist movement of the Ummah. Sometimes the narrator pres-
ents this, but videos often feature radical sheiks who legitimate the use of mar-
tyrdom in the struggle and attest to the sincere religious motivations of the mar-
tyr. Then (3) the martyr reads his testament, interspersed with Quranic
recitations. The movie concludes with (4) an animated video of the execution
of the martyrdom operation and (5) some final remarks regarding the results
of the attack and a laudation of the martyr, concluded with a prayer.
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5 Analysing the narrative
These martyrdom videos are professionally structured and their messages so-
phisticatedly disguised in the choice of pictures and the narr ative presented.
The increasing professionalisation of the production of these videos as stated
above is manifest in recent releases. After having described and analysed the
content of martyrdom videos, this section will now focus more specifically on the
implicit content and seek to interpret the aims of the videos.
According to Robert A. Pape (2005: 3 4), as a kind of warfare, suicide at-
tacks have been used to repel enemies from the soil that the suicide attackers
consider theirs. An excellent example of a successful operation is Al Qaedas Ma-
drid attack in 2004. The attacks influenced the parliamentary elections three
days later, which eventually resulted in a leftist coalition led by José Zapatero
(Chari 2008), who almost instantly decided to withdraw Spanish troops from
Iraq and Afghanistan.
¹
Moreover, the organisation is composed of national lib-
eration movements (see Roy 2004).
¹
The meaning of these attacks is not only
militarily strategic but also serves several other instrumental and expressive
functions, within and outside the jihadist movement (see also Bloom 2004;
Atwan 2008).
The introductions to these videos explicitly pose a global dichotomy be-
tween the Muslim Ummah and the West. The West in these videos supports Is-
rael and the Arab dictators and at tacks Muslim countries (such as Afghanistan
and Iraq). The Muslim Ummah is presented as an explicitly global community,
transcending ethnicity and national borders a huge conceptual entity pre-
served by its members. Western or Israeli attacks on Arab soil are presented as
attacks on all Muslims in the world.
¹
Thus formulated, the makers of the
movie pull local conflicts out of their specific context to reinstate them into a
global narr ative, seeking to affect and engage those Muslims who are susceptible
to it whether living in Saudi Arabia, Malaysia or the UK (see Hoffman and Mc-
Cormick 2004).
²
Moreover, Al Qaeda itself has no permanently fixed base any-
 One week before the election, on March 8, 2004, Rajoys ruling Peoples Party still enjoyed a
five-point lead over Zapateros SSWP (Spanish Socialist Workers Party). On March 14, the SSWP
defeated the PP with almost a 5-point lead (Chari 2008).
 Roy (2004: 298 303). These include franchise movements such as Al Qaeda in the Islamic
Maghreb (AQIM) and the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), although the latter recently
merged with Al Qaeda. Other organisations are loosely affiliated with Al Qaeda, such as the
Southeast Asian Jemaah Islamiyyah.
 For an analysis of this narrative, see Kippenberg (2010: 666 670) and Wright (2009: 17 26).
 They function as a signalling game in which organisations convey their ideology, activities
and convictions to particular audiences (Hoffman and McCormick 2004: 245).
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