Learning from the Taliban’s Media Playbook

by Joshua Foust on 12/30/2007 · 1 comment

A friend in Kabul sent along translated sections of Al-Somood Magazine, the same one Samir Khan hypes all over his bombastically evil inshallahshaheed blog. It is, in short, the same sort of propaganda the American military lays out, in that it is meant to “rally the troops” by providing metrics of success, ideological essays encouraging further jihad, and so on. The most interesting section in the December 2007 edition, aside from the psychology behind their metrics, was their media activities. A discussion of that section is after the jump.

There isn’t anything especially surprising about the movement having a concerted media push—bad PR was a big reason behind the exclusive lavishing of negative attention on the Taliban while the mujahideen forces demolished Kabul in the early 90s (yet were scarcely ever mentioned in Western media). Ahmed Shah Massoud had a very sophisticated media presence, garnishing himself an almost Che Guevara-like persona (which may be appropriate, given the brutality of both figures); Mullah Omar, however, could never move past his background as an illiterate fundamentalist. Omar was easier to demonize, in other words.

Furthermore, other radical Sunni insurgencies have adopted sophisticated media presences, most notably in Iraq. RFE/RL produced a fantastic report on just how the insurgents incorporate a keen eye for media into their operations and outreach, and how that has altered global opinion about the conflict. That the Taliban have done the same is not surprising. What is surprising, however, is just how effective they actually were:

This [media] unit led the movement’s journalistic struggle against the crusader occupation, and contributed toward directing the media battle against all the various, rancorous Western media [outlets]; as the world crusader alliance led by America had launched an ideological attack against Afghanistan, besides its military onslaught. And in this attack they spared no effort, but did whatever they could…

Taliban continues to conduct significant and notable media activities besides those we have already mentioned, such as the creation of news websites in Pashtu and Arabic, as well as the issue of newspapers and magazines, all of which has given the movement a broad media presence.

Most interesting to me is that Al-Somood is published in Arabic, not Pashto or Dari. Most Afghans—most rural and/or refugee Afghans, the ones most likely to join the movement—cannot read Arabic (or even, in far too many cases, at all). So what is its intended audience, then? Every URL I’ve been able to dig up that might point to this magazine has been banned by its ISP (may the NSA never track my IP). What good does a glossy print in Arabic do in the badlands of eastern Afghanistan?

My guess is, it’s meant to drum up both support and funding from the rest of the Arab world. The Iraqi insurgent media machine has proven itself capable of tapping into a demand for jihad literature and media; it seems natural the Taliban would follow suit. By relating their cause to the broad cause of anti-Western jihad, as they tried in the 90’s, they are most likely to drum up sheikh money to further the cause.


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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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{ 1 comment }

mullah cimoc December 30, 2007 at 11:04 pm

mullah cimoc say aemriki not having him free press. for save ameriki nation usa people must to make new federal communication law:

1. each tv station and each the radio station must be own 100% by person live within physical area serve by tv station. this call the local ownership.

2. no single person to owning more than 1% of any one tv station stock certificate. this make the diverse ownership.

3. abolish him networks, abccbsnbcfox. then to letting local own station form own networks with power from bottom up (flow from shareholder to board of director to ceo), not him top down like now in usa.

4. this keep the free press and stop the rupert murdoch type man keep all ameriki so stupid if buy him corporation which to own so many station and newspaper and radio and keep ameriki the stupid people.

after follow mullah cimoc method benjamin frankling to be the proud.

for true info: stop1984now@yahoo.com

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