The Washington Post

This is how jihadists celebrated the Sept. 11 anniversary

Twelve years after Sept. 11, 2001, the way we remember the terrorist attacks has fallen into predictable patterns. In the United States, we mourn. On certain jihadist message boards, blogs and social media pages, people celebrate.

This year was no different. The Middle East Media Research Institute, a think tank that monitors extremist social media, rounded up dozens of pro-9/11 tweets, Facebook posts and forum threads from across Africa and the Middle East. The posts can be both grim and upsetting, but they’re also important -- as MEMRI notes, the anniversary of attacks on the United States can play into propaganda  for al-Qaeda and its ilk. You’ll recall that Inspire, al-Qaeda’s English-language magazine, dedicated an entire issue to the Boston bombings in May.

For the most part, those messages are just what you’d expect: eulogies for the Sept. 11 bombers, photos of the attacks and calls for the “glory” to continue. al-Shabab, an al-Qaeda affiliated group active in Somalia, posted several messages in English:

But one photo, posted to the popular Facebook page of a Tunisian Salafi group, stands out: It’s a Sept. 11 cake, complete with an outline of Osama bin Laden’s face, a model plane, and “Happy 911” candles. The superimposed text, according to MEMRI, reads: “Woe to America and its people / I could almost see Al-Qaeda getting prepared / For a day similar to that Tuesday when / We spilled the disbelievers’ blood.” This is not, apparently, the only cake in this genre -- a photo circulating on Twitter, hashtagged with the names of several Middle Eastern countries, shows a similar creation.

Extremists did not actually bake these cakes themselves this week -- the photos have been online for several years, and it's not clear that English-language letter candles would be widely available in Tunisia. But the popularity of the images, and the glee with which they’ve been spread, seems to speak to a level of directionless hatred that terrorism analyst J.M. Berger addressed in a fascinating "open letter to jihadis" on Wednesday.

Most extremists, Berger argues, are well-meaning (if horrifically misguided) people who want to better the lot of Muslims around the world. But to achieve that goal, they turn to al-Qaeda -- which preaches senseless killing that undermines their own mission. To quote Berger:

Al Qaeda’s ideas guide your movement, and the philosophy of Al Qaeda (unlike that of Islam) is based entirely on destruction … Win, lose, help people, hurt people, it’s all the same to Al Qaeda.

‘As long as there is slaughtering, we're with them. If there's no slaughtering, there's none, that's it. Buzz off,’ as one member of your movement put it, in an unguarded moment. The only real constant is death.

That argument is not only unreligious, it’s insane. It causes you to pursue killing instead of building a stable foundation for your beliefs and your community.

Fortunately, Berger says, he’s noticed that online extremists are increasingly “uncomfortable with terrorism,” particularly when it targets civilians. They have begun to discuss more “moral” -- presumably, less violent and less hateful -- ways to reach their goals.

Does that mean we’ll see fewer Sept. 11 cakes next year? Probably not. But we can hope that, eventually, the tone turns a little less gleeful.

Caitlin Dewey is The Post’s digital culture critic. Follow her on Twitter @caitlindewey or subscribe to her daily newsletter on all things Internet. (



Success! Check your inbox for details. You might also like:

Please enter a valid email address

See all newsletters

Show Comments

Sign up for email updates from the "Confronting the Caliphate" series.

You have signed up for the "Confronting the Caliphate" series.

Thank you for signing up
You'll receive e-mail when new stories are published in this series.
Most Read



Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Your Three. Videos curated for you.
Play Videos
How to make Sean Brock's 'Heritage' cornbread
New limbs for Pakistani soldiers
The signature dish of Charleston, S.C.
Play Videos
Why seasonal allergies make you miserable
John Lewis, 'Marv the Barb' and the politics of barber shops
What you need to know about filming the police
Play Videos
The Post taste tests Pizza Hut's new hot dog pizza
5 tips for using your thermostat
Michael Bolton's cinematic serenade to Detroit
Play Videos
Full disclosure: 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, 1 ghoul
Pandas, from birth to milk to mom
The signature drink of New Orleans
Next Story
Max Fisher · September 12, 2013

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.