Lights, Camera, Jihad: Al-Shabaab’s Western Media Strategy

You are here

This netnographic study examines al-Shabaab’s Western media strategy. The authors focus their study on the group’s recruitment of Western Muslims through the analysis of primary sources, interviews in East Africa and a quantitative analysis of the group’s Twitter outputs. The study found that al-Shabaab does not solely communicate its operations and goals in exclusively Islamist terms, but also through anti-Ethiopian and anti-Western sentiments. The core theme of al-Shabaab’s narrative is that faith necessitates action and that Muslims must place the liberation of Muslim lands above esoteric matters of faith. In doing so, al-Shabaab attempts to develop an ‘Ummah consciousness’. To help in their dissemination process, al-Shabbab has created its own alternative to mainstream media, relying on digital video and Twitter, and allowing the group to present its interpretation of specific events and its conflict. This has also allowed the organization to present itself as an effective fighting force.

This article will be useful to researchers and practitioners studying both al-Shabaab and the use of digital mediums by extremist groups in general. The article demonstrates how al-Shabaab has two concurrent narratives, curated for different audiences. It provides culturally relevant material that resonates with members of Somalian diasporas, while also employing rhetoric from the global jihadist narrative, placing Somalia as one front in a greater struggle between Islam and the West. It highlights how extremist groups may frame their struggles in terms of global jihadism or other such shifting ideological and/or political belief systems, recruit foreigners with tailored narratives, and react to events in real time to present counter arguments that frame themselves as noble vanguards in a global struggle.

Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens, Shiraz Maher and James Sheehan