Anwar al-Awlaki is the world’s most dangerous man, according to a May 10, 2010 editorial in the Investor’s Business Daily.
“The U.S.-born Muslim cleric, who’s believed to be al-Qaida’s top recruiter in the West, also radicalized the Fort Hood shooter and the Christmas crotch-bomber. Awlaki privately ministered to some of the 9/11 hijackers as well…. [The] confessed New York car bomber Faisal Shahzad is a fan and follower of Awlaki. He joins a growing list of homegrown terrorists who fell under the al-Qaida operative’s spell…. Awlaki is now linked to [multiple] terrorist plots designed to kill Americans at home…: Times Square. Fort Hood. Fort Dix. Northern Virginia. Minneapolis. Detroit.”
Awlaki was born in New Mexico on April 22, 1971. That makes him a US citizen. According to press reports, the Obama Administration authorized the CIA — “with no judicial process and based on secret intelligence”— to execute Awlaki.
One can write a lot about Awlaki, his influence, and the decision to kill him.
But this post is about Awlaki’s voice.
Last week I was introduced — along with a few dozen other people — to one of Awlaki’s freely available Youtube videos, shown at the end of this post. (The video is in two parts, both about 6 minutes each.)
More than a few people in the room were somewhat stunned by how rational Awlaki sounded. This is not a ranting mystic spewing blind hatred to ignorant masses.
This is an educated, articulate American talking calmly — most of the time — about the inevitable destruction of the United States.
It is not that his logic made sense to the people in the room. But while listening to his voice, many of us understood viscerally how Awlaki’s words could seduce a searching, isolated, alienated man or woman with a predisposition toward a particular bent of mind.
Times Square. Fort Hood. Fort Dix. Northern Virginia. Minneapolis. Detroit, New York City, Arlington, Shanksville,
Yes. Anwar al-Awlaki is dangerous.
After the video and the discussion about it was finished, a few public safety officials asked how they could get access to that video and to others that Awlaki and people like him produced.
“Well,” someone said, “a lot of them are on Youtube. Watch them online.”
Another person noted a potential problem: If you work for the government and have a security clearance (or even if you don’t) and those who might monitor internet access notice you are looking at these kinds of videos — or sites that host videos like this — what happens?
At a minimum, I was told, you’d get a visit from someone who had a few questions to ask you.
Sun Tzu is quoted as saying, “If you know the enemy and know yourself you need not fear the results of a hundred battles.”
In the 21st Century, knowing one’s enemy ought to include being able to watch his Youtube videos.
But what if you were looking over Nidal Malik Hasan’s shoulders as he watched one of Awlaki’s videos? Would you have told someone about it? Or would you simply have been looking at an American citizen exercising his rights to listen to whatever he wanted?
This remains a queer and different kind of war.