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January 17, 2006

If Looks Could Kill

Zawahiri

Conventional wisdom says that al Qaeda is slipping because Ayman Zawahiri is becoming the face of the organization, and he simply doesn’t have the presence of an Osama bin Ladin.

Marc Lynch, the Middle Eastern media expert and publisher of the superb blog, Abu Aardvark, cites a number of Arab commentators on the subject.  (Apparently, this has been a hot topic since the January 6th release of the latest al Qaeda tape.)  One source, speculating on Zawahiri as al Qaeda heir apparent, says that he lacks the charisma, credibility and conviction of OBL, and would end up crippling the organization.  Lynch cites other observers who assert that Zawahiri tapes are now showing up more frequently because al Qaeda perceives itself in a popularity contest with the Muslim Brotherhood as well as with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Certainly, appearance and attractiveness play a role in rallying the
troops.  (Perhaps AZ might consider new eye wear, though I assume a
cultural or religious explanation exists for the mark on his
forehead.)  Of course, Zawahiri’s personality must certainly be a
liability.  As the strategist, of course, he’s more of a heavy — cast
in the Dick Cheney kind of mold.

What if the perceived unattractiveness speaks to a development
transcending personality politics, however?  As trends go, could it be
that the days of the outlaw hero, along with the undisclosed locations,
the anonymous backdrops, the need to prominently display scary weapons
(as if "top management" really carried these things around at every
minute), and the sanctimonious pointing and lecturing are winding
down?  I can’t speak for Zarqawi, but perhaps radical groups like Hamas
and Islamic Brotherhood understand that you have a lot more to gain
these days by promoting populism and a common face rather than an
outlaw aesthetic and any single face.

(image: AFP/Al Jazeera/File.  January 6, 3006.  Undisclosed location.  Via YahooNews)

  • itwasnt me

    Looks like he’s got a bandaid on his forehead. Gun and finger pointing towards heaven. This deserves a funny caption such as “if those goths upstairs don’t turn down the music, I’m gonna shoot ‘em”. I find it impossible to take this image seriously, for some reason. Maybe terrorist fatigue.

  • Hodge

    That mark is a “prayer bump” and a sign of piety among faithful muslims. They’re caused by prostrating yourself towards Mecca multiple times daily over a period years and decades.
    It’s a definite bonus to have one when preaching to a radical audience.

  • Greg

    The pictures and videos of OBL managed to convey menace. I have never personally found Zawahiri the slightest bit menacing, and this picture further supports that. The gun is an obvious prop. He looks like he could be teaching multiplication tables. And, if you the watch the actual video, he’s quite boring. I can’t help thinking that others supporting his ideas don’t find him very inspiring. However, the more I see this guy, the more I think OBL truly is no longer around.

  • antpoppa

    Of course we need an image of a hero to identify with. We’ve been raised to only accept the stereo typical. That’s why Bush spends so much time on his bicycle.
    But Zawahiri does wear a white hat!

  • weisseharre

    This is ‘Our Guy’, right? not to oversimplify…like…@ the base of the pinky…a small callous…reflexive artifact of our seriously brachiating past. Between MLK and Werner Heisenberg,
    intimates of the resolution to come, all icons keep the faith.

  • mugatea

    The digital watch is amusing. These guys position themselves as Amish-like so the watch looks out of place. It shows a deep interest in maintaining a precise connection to civalization.
    Has he always had that watch? It’s big. Dick Tracy like.

  • DonM

    The same folly as the current Admin. of Bush & Co. – applying American style thinking to a group of people who are able to use our own system of things to their advantage.
    Appearences are not #1 on their list of what’s important. Don’t read in too much as it might be just a projection.
    Semiotic-like conjecture and other critical applications can produce a misleading analysis of al Qaeda and other similar groups. Besides, they are just the radical side of something elsewhere.

  • jt from BC

    I see interesting similarities between the Peruvian Shining Path Leader, Abimael Guzman captured in a steel cage and Zawahiri being marginalized in a cave.
    Both brainy guys now discredited, marginalized or temporarily sidelined.
    OBL fought had a military record and was an ideal stereotypical icon, for me a Jesus copy from my Sunday school days.
    I haven’t buried him yet, medieval characters do perform medieval surprises…
    Zawahiri despite appearances I believe is a savvy student of the contemporary scene and might yet find a second resurrection in Afghanistan as the resistance adapts and adopts tactics from Iraq.(As a medical doctor I would expect him to have the most modern equipment including a digital watch) For 2000 years few foreigners have prevailed long in that land.
    Of course its always the youngsters that are indestructible chasing war and looking for ‘action’.

  • ummabdulla

    I assume that the mark on his forehead is from praying (during prostration, the forehead is on the ground), but it’s not that common. I know elderly people who’ve been praying for 70 years, not only the five required daily prayers but extra ones in the middle of the night, etc., and they don’t have these marks. I’ve been told that some people have skin that more readily does this. I guess it could also be that he often prays on hard, rocky ground instead of the smooth rugs that most of us use.
    Even the most fundamentalist Muslims don’t reject modern technology; they just choose what they think is beneficial and reject the rest.
    I think the idea of charisma is overestimated in this case. If you look at the sheikhs who are respected among Muslims, they aren’t necessarily showmen or performers; they have big beards and wear traditional clothes and aren’t worried about being stylish or attractive. (Amr Khaled is one exception.) For the most part, they’re known by their writings and lectures – often distributed on tape – and most people wouldn’t even know what they looked like; for one thing, the strictest ones don’t believe that photographs are allowed except when necessary (like for required IDs).

  • ummabdulla

    Well, it seems like bin Laden isn’t dead…

  • Cactus

    At this point, I’m so cynical about all the ‘terror alerts’ that I tend to see a trick behind all of them. Do we know, for instance, that their side or our side didn’t fake the footage from OSB? Will we believe ‘our’ side if they eventually say it is really is OSB?

  • jt from BC

    CACTUS, I share your cynical thoughts on this topic…medieval surprises can occur from any quarter of the globe…very interesting.
    If OBL is alive I would advise him to send a bigger box of crayons special delivery to Homeland Security next time.

  • gleex

    I am not so sure that makes such a big difference. Bush looks like a monkey and sounds like a clown and he is getting plenty of people killed.
    What if this guy tucks in his ears he is going to get 5 more people to blow themselves up?
    Their product has a market share, and they don’t even need to get it all for themselves, the minimum they need to do is try to grow the market share for independent franchises (to replace their dead). Since a number of these people have no jobs, or they are at an age when they want to play the hero or maryter, or I imagine increasingly they know a combatant or non-combatant who has been killed, all this guy has to do is have people hear or read his words.
    He has is headgear, he has his gun, he has his message, and some soon to be dead dope is going to fall for it.

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