Recently I was interviewed by a reporter who asked me to agree that the jihadists were at war with the modern world -- with modernity itself. This is a common view: that somehow we are facing a revolt of the Amish, an uprising by people who want to restore some pre-technological world.
I surprised her by disagreeing, and trying to explain to her that as far as they're concerned, the Sharia is perfectly modern; since it comes in their view from the eternal God, it can never be outdated. And the jihadists themselves have never hesitated to use the most sophisticated modern technologies to further their aims -- including using the Internet for PR and recruitment. Here is more evidence, from the Christian Science Monitor, with thanks to JJP Mackie:
WASHINGTON - The gist of their messages hasn't changed much. But the frequency of them has. Since Sept. 11, 2001, members of Al Qaeda have released an audio- or videotape about once every six weeks.
Most notably, Osama bin Laden, invisible to the world for more than two years, sent a videotape to Al Jazeera just three weeks ago. Before that, a young man claiming to be an American recorded a 75-minute screed on a videotape that was delivered to ABC News along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
But the communication is hardly limited to the airwaves. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi alone has posted messages on the Internet to his followers in Iraq several times in the past week, urging them to resist the US campaign in Fallujah.
The routine appearance of these tapes and Internet postings, despite tighter security, highlights Al Qaeda's growing sophistication in producing and airing messages for internal communication as well as for shaping global opinion....
Military officials have thought it would be difficult for Al Qaeda leaders to coordinate operations because they couldn't use telephones, which are traceable. But marines in Fallujah this past week found computers that appear to indicate that Mr. aZarqawi and Al Qaeda leaders outside Iraq at least tried to talk with one another in cyberspace....
The tape that was delivered to ABC News nearly a month ago, by a man calling himself Azzam the American, still baffles intelligence community officials here.
The FBI posted a four-minute segment of the tape and a partial transcript, along with an "urgent" request for help in identifying the individual, on its website on Oct. 30, the day after ABC aired a similar segment.
According to an FBI spokesman, the bureau has received several tips but still hasn't identified the man definitively. Yet some intelligence officials believe he is Adam Gadahn, a young man who converted to Islam and left California for Pakistan six years ago.
That tape is a 75-minute diatribe echoing bin Laden's claims that Islam is under attack by the West - occupying lands and exporting corrupt values. It says that continuous jihad is the only solution....
"It's a recruiting pitch," says Jenkins, who has spent much of the past year trying to look at the world from Al Qaeda's viewpoint and who evaluated a transcript of this 75-minute interview obtained by the Monitor.
"For them, recruiting is much closer to missionary work.... Above all, the purpose of this screed is to enlist people in the greater cause of jihad."...
But the overarching message from the tape is that Al Qaeda's communications systems are evolving to outwit security measures imposed by governments and are succeeding as a recruiting tool.
"Their communications systems are light-years more sophisticated than they were on 9/11," says Michael Scheuer, a former senior intelligence official who studied Al Qaeda for more than a decade. "Not only is it sophisticated, but prompt and the quality is high. They pretty much dominate the Internet in terms of Islamic literature. - it's of very high quality, controversial, interesting to read, and appeals to Muslims."