One extreme or the other

Adam Gadahn 20060922This weekend, while many Americans were wrapping up their last summer vacations, another American was seen on an Al Qaeda propaganda video. The video, featuring ex-Californian Adam Gadahn, warned Americans to convert to Islam before it's too late. I have not read a full translation of the 48-minute video, but apparently it's a long encouragement -- aided by the threat of force, sure -- for Americans to renounce Christianity and convert to Islam. It's almost as if al-Qaeda is trying to tell Americans something. It's almost like they think this a religious war. It's almost like the pattern of forced conversions or threats of violence add up to something.

Let's see what the mainstream media do in the wake of this latest religious missive. Hmm, that's a curious headline from the Associated Press' Salah Nasrawi -- "Latest al-Qaida message seen as PR bid":

The new al-Qaida video featuring an American calling for his countrymen to convert to Islam raised fears it signaled an imminent attack, but experts in the region said Sunday it is more likely a bid to soften the terror group's image.

A public relations bid to soften the terror group's image? That doesn't seem to match with the rhetoric from the video, does it? I watched a bit of CNN this weekend where one of the talking heads wondered if the video weren't an appeal to be better understood. Nasrawi didn't quote from the video.

The way much of the media treat these Islamic terrorist threats is imperialistic. They apply Western values and constructs to Muslims who view the public square rather differently. These Muslims could not be more clear about their religious aims. But when the media try to analyze them for American audiences, we get insights such as these:

There have been widespread reports that some Muslim religious figures strongly criticized al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden over the Sept. 11 attacks, saying he failed to follow directives in the Quran that require potential victims be warned that conversion to Islam could save them.

The criticism led to speculation after Gadahn's appearance that the Saturday video meant a warning was being issued and a new attack was imminent.

But experts discounted those fears.

If the reports are so widespread, how come they are not identifiable here? If this unverified criticism led to speculation, could the reporter share with us who was doing the speculating? Or are we just supposed to believe it without any evidence? And finally, who are these experts?:

"This is not a warning for an attack. It is rather a speech aimed at winning the Americans' sympathy and understanding," said Gamal Sultan, editor of the Islamic magazine Al Manar.

Columnist Mishari al-Thaydi of the London-based newspaper Asharq Al Awsat agreed, saying al-Qaida is trying to portray itself as a group with a religious mission, not a terrorist movement.

Who are these people? What is Al Manar? What is Asharq Al Awsat? Is it too much to ask for a few more details here? And as much as I hope that this latest violent threat is not carried out, did Salah Nasrawi try to get perspective from folks who are more concerned about it than the ones quoted?

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