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An Analysis of Inspire and Dabiq: Lessons from AQAP and Islamic State’s Propaganda War

Studies in Conflict and TerrorismJournal abstract

This study analyzes how Inspire and Dabiq seek to appeal to and radicalize English-speaking Muslims. It examines how each magazine strategically designs ingroup, Other, crisis, and solution constructs and interplays these via value-, dichotomy-, and crisis-reinforcing narratives. This analysis also explores how narrative, imagery, and counternarrative messaging are used to shape readers’ perceptions and polarize their support. While both magazines are dominated by narratives designed to empower readers toward action, Inspire relies heavily on identity-choice appeals while Dabiq tends to balance identity- and rational-choice messaging. This study concludes by identifying key lessons for counterterrorism strategic communications campaign and message design.

The purpose of this study is to analyze Inspire and Dabiq’s top-down strategic logic by examining and contrasting how each seeks to appeal to and radicalize its readership. This is achieved by applying an interpretive framework for radical narrative analysis to the contents of fourteen issues of Inspire and thirteen issues of Dabiq. It explores how each strategically designs ingroup identity, outgroup identity (Other), crisis and solution constructs and interplays these via value-, dichotomy-, and crisis-reinforcing narratives. It also considers how Inspire and Dabiq’s narratives variously leverage rational-choice (i.e., decisions made on a cost–benefit consideration of alternatives) and identity-choice (i.e., decisions made in accordance with one’s identity) appeals to shape their audience’s decision-making processes. Furthermore, this study examines how Inspire and Dabiq use narrative, imagery, “ordering” (i.e., sequencing ideas to maximize appeal) and counternarrative strategies to boost the appeal of their messaging. By applying a unique analytical framework and then drawing out lessons for counterterrorism strategic communications, this study contributes to a growing body of scholarship devoted to analyzing Dabiq’s contents.