The Internet Jihad

Zach Chesser's how-to guide.

American suburban kid-turned-jihadi-propagandist Zachary Chesser is just one of many al Qaeda converts to embrace the Internet as a battlefield -- but he might be one of the only ones who grew up loving the early seasons of South Park in his middle-school years, well before he indirectly threatened to kill its creators a decade later. Coupling his inside knowledge of American culture with an extreme sense of his own new-media brilliance, Chesser declared himself an expert on the U.S. counterterrorism system and began laboring over long lists of dos and don'ts for his fellow would-be jihadi proselytizers. Here, summarized and paraphrased, are Chesser's top 10 most effective ways to wage the Internet jihad:

1) Anytime the United States does anything that can be perceived as a success in its war against al Qaeda, bury it. Whenever al Qaeda operatives are killed or captured, for example, flood the airwaves with discussions about their replacements.

2) When it comes to online articles and videos, each one needs to have a clear bias. Use derogatory phrases like "5 Western pigs sent to Hellfire in sha'a Allah" to make it clear whose side God is on. But always publish the truth because lies can backfire.

3) Spread videos of dying Americans because images of death dehumanize them in the minds of jihadists.

4) Publish statistics of how many Muslim civilians have been killed by the Americans, using the highest credible estimates.

5) Calibrate your messaging strategy according to the level of sympathy for al Qaeda that a target audience already has. Do not show a video of al Qaeda mowing down Americans, for instance, to a Muslim with a Barack Obama sticker on his or her backpack.

6) Anytime an American does something wrong, emphasize it, whether it's a silly statement that makes the person sound dumb or an intentional attack on civilians. Whenever you can use an embarrassing photo of an American, do so, just as the Americans only use the beardless and disheveled image of 9/11 planner Khalid Sheikh Mohammed when he was arrested.

7) Emphasize noncontroversial jihadi actions. Show images of them handing out zakat (charity). Mention that al Qaeda is not really against girls' schools and that the organization actively works to build them. Use positive images.

8) Exacerbate diplomatic rifts between the enemies of al Qaeda. When Israel does something against U.S. interests, publish it. Likewise, encourage the disunity of Western political parties.

9) Publish and comment on U.S. counterterrorism research reports. The best propaganda, outside the Quran and the sayings of the Prophet Mohammed, can come in the form of revealing what Americans say about how al Qaeda is waking up the sleeping Muslims.

10) Embrace online tools. Twitter is an incredibly easy way to approach young people who aren't active users of al Qaeda websites. Although Facebook bans jihadists from time to time, it is a good way of reaching large numbers of people -- even if the senior jihadi clerics haven't been convinced yet.

Illustration by Sean McCabe for FP


Books Behind Bars

Countries worldwide have often sought to ban books they find politically inconvenient, religiously awkward, or just plain embarrassing. But for writers like Russia’s Vasily Grossman, who pleaded with the Soviet censors in 1961, "I am physically free, but the book to which I have dedicated my life is in jail," a book's ban means far more than just a dip in sales. Here are some books behind bars today.

Nine Hours to Rama, by Stanley Wolpert

Historian Stanley Wolpert's books just seem to annoy governments. Nine Hours to Rama, a 1962 biography of Mahatma Gandhi, was censored in India because the government objected to Wolpert's insinuation that it failed to properly investigate threats to Gandhi's life. The book is still forbidden, though it remains in samizdat-style circulation.

The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown

All the bestseller lists, movie tie-ins, and turbocharged marketing in the world weren't enough to keep The Da Vinci Code from getting banned in Lebanon in 2004 and Egypt in 2006 after Christians in both countries complained about the depiction of Christ's sexual relationship with Mary Magdalene. "It's based on Zionist myths, and it contains insults towards Christ, and it insults the Christian religion and Islam," said a member of the Egyptian parliament.

Prisoner of the State, by Zhao Ziyang

Based on audiotapes surreptitiously recorded by the former head of the Chinese Communist party during his 16-year house arrest, Prisoner of the State accuses leader Deng Xiaoping of playing a central role in the brutal 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown. Unsurprisingly, the book is not officially available in China.

The Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank

One country's ultimate summer-reading-list classic is another country's seditious text. In 2009, excerpts from Anne Frank's iconic diary were cut from a Lebanese schoolbook after Hezbollah argued that it promotes Zionism.

The complete works of L. Ron Hubbard

Since the end of the Soviet era, Russia's zeal for censorship has died down -- except when it comes to Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. A recent law bans literature -- including the works of Hubbard -- that, according to the prosecutor general's office,  undermines "the traditional spiritual values of the citizens of the Russian Federation."