2022 journal article

Extreme arguments: Anwar al-Awlaki's radicalizing discourse

Journal of Pragmatics.

author keywords: Rhetorical argumentation; Argument from analogy; Argument ad populum; Argument from expert opinion; Radicalization; Anwar al-Awlaki
UN Sustainable Development Goal Categories
16. Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions (Web of Science; OpenAlex)
Source: ORCID
Added: September 4, 2022

Terrorist violence remains one of the most significant threats in the contemporary world. Yet while substantial attention has been paid to the Western discourse that frames these events, the discourse of the violent extremists themselves remains understudied. This case study of an influential talk by Yemeni-American al-Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki aims to address that gap. We find that Awlaki's narrative-heavy discourse was at the same time intensely reasoned, integrating arguments from analogy, from moral justification ad populum, and from expert opinion. In the context of the ongoing controversies over cartoons depicting Muhammad, these arguments served both to justify extreme violence against the artists and to make such violence an obligation for every believer. At the same time, Awlaki's appeals delegitimized other voices, encouraging audiences to resist counter-persuasion. While further research is vital, this study demonstrates the power of argument analysis for investigating radicalization appeals.