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Dr. Omar Al-Hammoud - Professors of Linguistics and Discourse Analysis, Research Center for Discourse and Society, Barcelona, Spain


Discourse Analysis (DA) reveals that extremist rhetoric in general and terrorist rhetoric in particular is a manifestation of verbal violence, targeted at the recipient for influence purposes, jockeying such people into carrying arms and fighting the other. Driven by such ideology, impassioned and rousing rhetoric has become a springboard and magic wand for each and every terrorist group aimed at luring the public into carrying out terrorist acts. At the forefront of the terrorist groups notoriously using extremist rhetoric comes Al-Qaeda. Drawing on DA, this article seeks to turn the spotlight on the salient traits of extremist rhetoric, based on two aspects: rhetoric coupled with eloquence on the one hand and knowledge along with associated influence methods on the other hand. Simply put, piecing extremist rhetoric together contributes to understanding how it operates in decoying the target people into its labyrinthine traps.

    Joseph Toman, Professor of Communications at San Francisco University, emphasizes that a terrorist may aim to terrorize people, causing panic and chaos, and may draw attention to an issue that has had little hype through the media, or may pressurize the government or an organization to yield to the demands of the terrorists. Regardless of where and when a terrorist act is, one key factor that drives terrorist groups into action in messaging is the process of brainwashing and swaying the public into espousing the legitimacy of any terrorist act, dubbed by them the Jihad Project in the case of Al-Qaeda rhetoric, using linguistic connotations, contextualizing historical events and repurposing social issues.

    Hence, terrorism is clocked and shrouded with influential rhetorical tasks – an idea foregrounded by Ralph Dowling. Simply put, terrorism per se seeks to influence and coax the recipients into carrying out terrorist acts for three objectives:
1. Avoiding a position against their ideologies.
2. Conveying a given position regarding terrorist acts against their enemies.
3. Arousing reaction conducive and favorable for their rhetoric.

Therefore, terrorist speech is a rhetorical production aimed at swaying, haranguing and provoking people against the authorities. For instance, Al-Qaeda terrorists developed rhetorical methods under the slogans of "Defending Nation" and "Protecting Religion". Shrewdly enough, they use the idea "We Are Good", making their terrorist acts palatable and appealing. Driven by this tendency and strategic plan, they are champing at the bit to use a powerfully emotive language, which seeks to inform people of their loaded messages.

In search of supportive partners and to recruit more ardent followers, the content of terrorist rhetoric is based on two factors. The first one is “difference”, which makes it different from the enemy defined in a humiliating manner; while, the second one is “identification”, which means to find common ground with the recipient. As such, terrorists in their speeches draw on symbolism, dramatization, as well as a set of rules of public speaking.

Seemingly level-headed with savoir-faire, a terrorist leader who is a spokesperson for a given group always shy away from providing abstract statements and vague motives shrouded in mystery. Such a spokesperson relies on well-organized and outwardly compelling assumptions and a strongly constructed dialectical discourse in terms of argument and cogency, while creating overlapping points across the different components stated in terrorist messaging, be it historical, ideological or otherwise expressed. Simply put, their speeches are couched with the lure of power, which can be considered strategic messaging, and terrorism per se is an instrument which a person or group of limited authority seeks to draw attention to their ideologies. Back to the lure of power, Professor Patricia Palmerton explains that “the power of terrorists and their terrorist acts lies in the fact that they demonstrate the inability of governments to respond forcefully, and that they are wrong to use the current force to deter people.”

Another useful and well-thought-out idea is the one presented by Brown, in which he indicates that terrorism has a symbolic function that seeks to redefine reality, when it defines or identifies its reality in language. Terrorism seeks to share meanings driven and enthused by communication. Terrorism also seeks to redefine the government power relations with the new regime. To this end, terrorists disseminate their ideologies in their messages, displaying how they understand the social reality, and the changes they intend to make. Therefore, what the terrorists offer is a version of adapted reality that best dances to the tune of how they view the world and the expectations unmet yet for change. Against this backdrop, a new definition of the entire political and social situation will ensue.

In the same vein, Heath and O'Hare believe that terrorist speech makes up an essential component of terrorism, and not something that is perfunctory, desultory or cosmetic; "terrorism per se is strategic and does not balloon into randomness, always seeking to influence the meaning and enhance the strategic support of the opposition." In this regard, we can say that the goals that terrorists set in their speeches include creating points of common ground with the public; while, highlighting points of disagreement with politicians, relying on arguments that justify their acts and distorting the facts and motives of others.

Notoriously enough, terrorism in general and Al-Qaeda terrorism in particular have become an efficient and necessary tool for struggle and control, not only at the political and economic levels, but also how the narrative is woven and retold. Heath and O'Hare remark that "The rhetorical nature of terrorism is a narrative account of its nature." It seems that terrorists understand that if war breaks out, it must be fought first on the level of discourse, narrative and rhetoric. They realize that despite their lack of media, space restrictions and limitations they are vulnerable, the most important thing is to establish a logical rhetorical structure, based on fighting an alleged enemy, known as Force of Evil that we should fight relentlessly to eliminate and eradicate it altogether.

Therefore, Al-Qaeda dreams up a newly schemed frightening terrorism clocked in the digital era, dubbed cyberspace, propelled by its detrimental speech, simply because it has great ability to produce a coherent, seemingly compelling, cogent and socially acceptable narrative, as remarked by Jordan and Calvo. In the same vein, Toman explains that "the characteristics of terrorist discourse are a contributory factor that undoubtedly influences how the media addresses terrorism." The author highlights that terrorism is couched in terrorist rhetorical messaging that channels and tailors how terrorism is constructed. 

As revealed by research, Al-Qaeda rhetoric is not targeted at a specific group of certain ideologies or orientation; rather, it is a general speech targeted at all Muslims of the world, using the language of true religion, making it attractive to a community that is disappointed and frustrated.

In general, it can be argued that the jihadist speech of Al-Qaeda features a series of speeches fueled by two basic ideas: on the one hand, Al-Qaeda employs historical, religious, cultural, political and social insights. On the other hand, Al-Qaeda presents itself as an indispensable and necessary condition for achieving freedom, and then for a peaceful return to the sound practices of Islam. Hence, we are confronted with a speech that provides specificity, which should be researched carefully and meticulously, with investigation and detail, on two levels: the level of jihadist speech and the level of putting jihad into action.

Here we should draw a line between two issues characterized by the jihadist speech of Al-Qaeda; namely, jihadist speech on the one hand, and the speech on jihad on the other hand. In the first case, it is a speech produced from the battlefields to win support and help in battle. In the other case, the speech has explicit jihadist strategic content, as it reveals the methods and tools that should be followed to actually put jihad into action.

It is evidently clear that one of the characteristics of the terrorist rhetoric and speech is the argument, cogency and evidence available in almost every sermon. This means that we face an explicit and clear explanatory speech, which provides a series of evidence, cogency and argument, which aim to develop a thoughtful planning and justification for the jihad mission to a specific intended audience. Based on this, it can be emphasized that it is a series-based rhetoric and speech, as all the elements incorporated are critically important, and it may lose its cohesion if one of these elements is lacking.

Terrorist rhetoric is a type of broad allegation, which attempts to substantiate its arguments, to discuss supposed and potential supporters and to attract undecideds and hesitant people, as it seeks to reunite a group of recipients and unite them to confront an ongoing threat. 

It can be concluded that terrorist rhetoric of Al-Qaeda is one that holds itself responsible for defending the entire nation, without being entrusted and mandated to do so by anyone! It implicates and involves the other (the recipient or the public), and it places a burden and responsibility on such target that is not within its competence. Likewise, it is a closed circular speech and a vicious circle that begins and ends with religion, seeking to sanctify the history of the Islamic Nation in an attempt to lure its audience and tamper with its ideas to serve its own interests.