Awlaki is not a firebrand, his sermonising is not especially original and slightly stuffy – not ‘silver-tongued’, or seductive. Yet he inspires passionate responses from a band of devout, very ready-to-be-deployed young men (they are men) from all over the world. Many of them say they can’t speak Arabic. Many others are still having trouble with English grammar. But it seems they’re ready to pick up sticks, to move to Yemen, to join Awlaki ‘on any front’, and to plunge into the study of the early medieval Arabic in which the Quran was written.
To understand the origins of the fans’ enthusiasm, one has to begin with the hero’s life: it’s the life – not the writing – that resonates.