Since the early 20th century, English has been considered the main language of the globalizing economy, thanks to the power and influence of the British and, later, the Americans. These days, it turns out English is also fast becoming one of the main languages to promote Islamic extremism. At the moment, there are some 200 Internet sites disseminating al-Qaeda’s views in the language, and recent years have seen the rapid proliferation of such sites. (Back in 2002, there were only about 30.)
It’s no secret that al-Qaeda has been tech-savvy enough to maintain a continuous online presence in the Internet Age. It sometimes even seems that without the occasional video or audiotape posted online, Osama bin Laden might just as well be stuck in a Pakistani mountain valley, his microphone unplugged.
But al-Qaeda knows well the strategic importance of the web, and that’s why it has been busy translating its message for the English-speaking online world. Religious sermons, op-eds, speeches—if they preach the al-Qaeda message, you can bet there are a number of folks writing up or recording English-language versions. Al-Qaeda’s increasing reach online has allowed it to build its brand in the West, where it hopes to pull disillusioned Muslim youth into its ranks.
And it’s savvy move. Worldwide, nearly half a billion people speak Arabic as their first or second tongue. The total number of English speakers—considering that many people learn the language even as a third language—is several times higher. So while the al-Qaeda ideology may remain morally bankrupt, its message is arguably being spread more widely than ever before. Whether the trend drives away or attracts potential recruits in the West is the big question.