Religious terrorism is like anything else that needs a fairly large base of support to maintain itself: you’ve gotta sell it. A terror organization like al qaeda isn’t any different than Coke, Nike, or Apple – it needs money and personnel, and to get those things, it needs to sell itself in such a way that its “target audience” continues to provide it with both. From time to time, such an organization needs to redefine itself to its public. Freshen up its image. “Get with it.”
Let’s take a look at British Petroleum as an example. In the mid-90’s, there was a lot of noise in the international community regarding the behavior of Royal Dutch Shell in the African country of Nigeria (Shell was basically using it as a corporate toilet). Shell’s atrocious practices in that country were prompting nations to take a closer look at the goings-on at oil conglomerates worldwide. All this scrutiny induced BP to decide to pre-emptively straighten up and fly right (in its ads, at least). Hot on the heels of the infamous Komi oil spill in 1995, BP removed itself from the flat-earth group Global Climate Coalition, a bought-and-paid-for “science” group whose job was to refute the role of human activity as a contributing factor to global climate change. New CEO John Browne started making suspiciously intelligent-sounding statements regarding the role of carbon emissions (from his own company) as an exacerbating, if not causitive, factor of global warming and announced that BP would be adopting internal carbon emission targets and limits. In July of 2000, BP launched a big ol’ $200 million PR campaign, RE-BRANDING itself as an environmentally responsible “energy company” (not “oil company”) with a focus on cleaner burning fuel and increased investment in renewables, mostly solar (with the $45 million purchase of Solarex). The company also hooked up with environmental organizations like the National Wildlife Federation in an attempt to show the public that it was determined to shed its avaricious, baby-seal-covered-in-oil image. It capped off the re-branding effort with a new slogan – “BP: Beyond Petroleum.” All this money ended up improving BP’s corporate image, so much so that major news organizations were attaching the much coveted “eco-correct” prefix to its name in their stories. They blew it with that 2005 Alaskan oil spill, but the concept remains sound – the company anticipated a need to change their image and re-brand in order to take advantage of a growing weakness in its industry – namely, consumers were starting to actively hate them, rather than passively hate them like they always have (and will).
Which brings us to al qaeda. Everyone’s favorite nihilists released a new video today, in which osama bin laden’s no. 2, ayman al-zawahri, goes on and on for a frigging hour and a half (what is this, PBS?), claiming that the al qaeda franchise in Iraq, the Islamic State of Iraq, is growing in strength and popularity, and explicitly states that the Iraq war is the central front of the present global jihad. Why the new commercial? “The base” needs it, that’s why.
The 2001 heyday of osama and company is long since over. Since the September 11 attacks, most of al qaeda‘s senior leadership has been captured or killed. When they are captured, either the CIA or a country with some available torture chambers beats them to shit. Current troubles in that country notwithstanding, the group’s sponsor government, the Taliban, has been unseated in Afghanistan. In Iraq, they have gone from murderously successful insurgents only a year or so ago to that dude at the house party who is drunkenly playing grab-ass with everybody’s girlfriend, pissing all over the only nice piece of furniture, and keeps trying to get people to do coke when all they want to do is drink some beer – everybody keeps shooting them dirty looks and wishing they would go, resulting in a highly unlikely alliance between U.S. troops and Sunni militants in Baquba province. And to top it off, several of its latest attempts at big product launches have New Coke tanked. The transatlantic liquid bomb plot, which would have been big box office, was broken up fairly early on. The plot to blow up JFK Airport was also disrupted. And of course we have some would-be terrorists going ofer in London and Glasgow a few days ago.
What’s a flagging bunch of Islamofascists to do? RE-BRAND, that’s what. Based on ayman‘s latest video, osama and company have lately been forgoing the Koran for The Tipping Point. All the elements are there – like Kentucky Fried Chicken suddenly referring to themselves as the far-less artery-clogging “KFC,” al qaeda has opted to push its new name, the aforementioned “Islamic State of Iraq.” Because they’re having problems pulling something off elsewhere, they’re really emphasizing Iraq (taking advantage of the big assist that the U.S. has given them in the form of the rank incompetence of Cheney, Rumsfeld, Feith, Wolfowitz and the gang). And just like BP did when it started to color itself green, it’s admitting mistakes in order to shore up its credibility on the Arab street.
Will it work? Well, BP at least managed to go 10 years before it had a major screw-up (the Alaska thing) that pretty much shattered all the work it had done to paint itself as a kindler, gentler “energy company.” The terrorists, on the other hand, had a car bomb go off near a Shiite photographer’s shop where a bride and groom were getting their wedding pictures taken – 17 dead, 28 wounded on the same day this new video came out. They’ve got re-branding down. Publicity stunts, they could use some help with.