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The Awlaqi Phenomenon - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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British MP Stephen Timms does not understand why after only a few hours on the internet a young woman took the decision to make an attempt on his life.

Timms, and indeed many of us, are unable to understand how “Roshonara Choudhry” the young Briton of Asian descent who had a bright future ahead of her withdrawn from her friends, spending long hours alone in her room listening to the sermons American Sheikh of Yemeni descent Anwar Awlaqi on the internet. Choudhry later went out and bought two knives, and attending one of MP Stephen Timms’ constituency surgeries, attempted to kill him in retaliation for voting in support of the Iraq war.

The radical transformation of Roshonara Choudhry, from a good student to a “jihadist” took no more than a few months, and she did not hide the influence that Awlaqi’s sermons had on her radicalization. In fact, Choudhry said that she accepted that she would be destroying her life – and even risking death – in responding to Awlaqi’s call for Muslims to fight against America and the West.

This phenomenon is not an easy one to understand, particularly with regards to Anwar Awlaqi….

For the [terrorist] operations being carried out by young men (and lately young woman) who have come to be known as the third generation of jihadists demonstrates the influence that Awlaqi and his sermons are having.

There has been [Ford Hood gunman] Nidal Hassan, [failed Christmas Day bomber] Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, and [failed Times Square bomber] Faisal Shahzad, and now Roshonara Choudhry. The above figures have little personal or geographic features in common, however they all have links to the US-born preacher who speaks English fluently and who apparently has been very capable of influencing a generation of Muslims who do not speak Arabic and live in the West, causing dangerous confusion in their understanding of their own identity. I am of course talking about Anwar Awlaqi.

Following Chowder’s attempt on the life of MP Stephen Timms, YouTube bowed to the demands that it remove sermons of Anwar Awlaqi from its website. YouTube has indeed complied with this, however many other [radical] sermons remain on the website.

This is the new battlefield in the emerging conflict between the freedom of expressions and the future threats that may be incited via the internet.

The phenomenon of jihadists such as the ones mentioned above is one that may be further complicated with the involvement of personal influences. For example US Army Major Nidal Hassan confessed that he was influenced by Awlaqi, whilst today Choudhry has also confessed to being influenced by him. When investigators asked Choudhry why she had chosen to listen to Awlaqi, rather than any other preacher, she answered “because he is famous.”

There can be no doubt that Awlaqi is aware of the influence that he has on the youth, especially when he speaks in a manner that incites this generation…

The influence of fame or indeed infamy is a phenomenon that has preoccupied many researchers, and this is something that has taken a dangerous turn today when the infamous figures in question are people like Osama Bin Laden and Anwar Awlaqi. Did somebody not say that terrorism is in fashion and that suicide attacks are a means of raising awareness [of one’s cause] particularly in this digital age?

Awlaqi is a figure capable of radicalizing a generation who are confused about their own identity, inciting social and cultural uprooting, as well as weakening this generation’s ties to their original identity.

Yes, Awlaqi is a problem for the Muslims, but he is also a problem for the West whose culture he is attacking.

Diana Moukalled

Diana Moukalled

Diana Moukalled is a prominent and well-respected TV journalist in the Arab world thanks to her phenomenal show Bil Ayn Al-Mojarada (By The Naked Eye), a series of documentaries on controversial areas and topics which airs on Lebanon's leading local and satelite channel, Future Television. Diana also is a veteran war correspondent, having covered both the wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan, as well as the Israeli "Grapes of Wrath" massacre in southern Lebanon. Ms. Moukalled has gained worldwide recognition and was named one of the most influential women in a special feature that ran in Time Magazine in 2004.

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