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Jihadi Thinker Emphasizes the Media's Importance


If you want to know the al-Qaida strategy against the West, you may not have to look farther than your computer. That's where a teacher at West Point located a book with the chilling title, The Management of Savagery. The author writes under the pseudonym Abu Bakr Naji.

WILLIAM MCCANTS: He seems to be highly placed in the al-Qaida organization. He has a good bird's-eye view of the movement, and he's a terrific student of where past jihadi movements have gone wrong in the Middle East.

INSKEEP: That's William McCants, a fellow at West Point's Combating Terrorism Center. He translated The Management of Savagery from its original Arabic, and he has the first of our conversations on the strategy of terror. The book says al-Qaida is targeting countries from Nigeria to Yemen to Pakistan. Those countries are chosen because they have weak governments, receptive people, and lots of weapons.

MCCANTS: And the jihadis will then move into these security vacuums and provide basic services to the people, so hence, the title of his book, The Management of Savagery. And he says the people will welcome it because they're providing basic services.

INSKEEP: As you describe the strategy, I'm thinking of Somalia where there was chaos for years, and an Islamist group is now in control of the capital and providing...

MCCANTS: Exactly.

INSKEEP: ...services, justice.

MCCANTS: Exactly. It's exactly right. That's straight out of Naji's book.

INSKEEP: Let's talk a little bit about some of the tactics that are discussed in this book. There's almost a list of do's and don'ts when it comes to public relations. What are you supposed to do and not do if you're trying to be a successful jihadi, according to this book?

MCCANTS: And I think Naji probably, looking at the current situation, is perhaps dismayed, because he saw the U.S. incursion into the region as a big boon for the jihadi movement, that it would be a huge PR victory. But I think Zarqawi has really squandered that PR victory for them, and I think Naji would look on something like that with dismay.

INSKEEP: What did Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the late terrorist leader in Iraq, do to squander his PR advantage?

MCCANTS: The two bastions of support for al-Qaida have been Pakistan and Jordan, and once Zarqawi hit the hotels in Amman, that really drove down support for al- Qaida in Jordan.

INSKEEP: Hmm. You know, it's amazing, I'm reading here this text that you translated from Arabic, and there's a section here called Mastery of the Art of Management, and there are suggestions about places you can go for management advice. It's like leadership secrets of Osama bin Laden. What's going on here?

MCCANTS: And most interesting, he also asks them to read Western books on anthropology, particularly as it deals with tribes in the Middle East. Because he feels that from this literature, the jihadis can better learn how to buy off tribal leaders, which has been a big problem for them, both in Afghanistan and prior to that in Syria.

INSKEEP: And what does it mean to you that this management book ended up on a Web site where anybody could go read it?

MCCANTS: But this book was certainly sanctioned by al-Qaida because much of it was published in al-Qaida's main journal, The Voice of Jihad, which was published out of Saudi Arabia.

INSKEEP: Hmm. You've been translating this and thinking about it at West Point, where the next generation of American strategic thinkers is being groomed, even as we speak. Do you think that this amounts to a smart strategy?

MCCANTS: And the cadets at West Point have been studying this book and similar books, and we're hoping to raise up a new generation of military thinkers who are intimately familiar with jihadi strategy, just as their thinkers are familiar with U.S. military strategy.

INSKEEP: We've been talking with William McCants. He's a fellow at West Point's Combating Terror Center, and he recently translated a book called The Management of Savagery. Thanks very much.

MCCANTS: Thank you.

INSKEEP: And our conversations continue tomorrow when we'll talk about the TV production group that produces al-Qaida's videos. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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