Understanding the content and framing of Al-Qa'ida leadership communiqués
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This dissertation explores the composition, construction and framing of Al-Qa’ida leadership communiqués – understood as the statements, messages, interviews, written work and other output from the movement’s predominant leaders: Usama bin Ladin and Ayman al-Zawahiri. The thesis argues existing research into this corpus is insufficiently rigorous, systematic and comprehensive in scope, thus failing to elucidate nuances and dynamics in the narrative of the Al-Qa’ida leadership since the movement’s inception. The current study presents results from the coding of 240 communiqués produced by the two leaders from 1991 to August 2011. The analysis was informed by the literature on Collective Action Frames, which understands this material as the communicative effort of movement leaders towards identified audiences and constituents. This approach divides each message according to diagnostic, prognostic and motivational appeals contained within the narrative and assesses the impact of this collective according to its narrative fidelity (as regards the wider socio-cultural milieu), empirical credibility (in terms of consistency and continuity) and experiential commensurability (in light of experiences and realities of designated constituents). The dissemination of communiqués highlighting the values, aspirations, frustrations and grievances of Al-Qa’ida is a central objective of its leadership. This material provides the metrics to understand the way in which the movement has evolved since its formation. The leaders themselves recognise the importance of communicating with diverse audiences in this way. The longitudinal analysis of the leadership communiqués, however, found that bin Ladin and Zawahiri failed to present coherent justifications for the solutions presented or how they should be focused. Moreover, it found that the leadership failed to reflect the interests of the vast majority of Muslims, particularly in the West, and gradually denounced those it claims to represent – the Muslim ummah. This dissertation thus illustrates how Al-Qa’ida has failed as a revolutionary vanguard based on evidence garnered from a systematic and long-term analysis of the leadership’s communiqués.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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