Martyrdom has an undeniable rhetorical dimension, and part of a martyr’s voice is the manner of his or her death. However, martyrdom does not stand alone. It is contextualized and constructed by the voice of ideologues. This project looks at the spoken and written rhetoric of Ayman Al-Zawahiri, leader of al-Qaeda, and seeks to understand his descriptions, attributions, and stories about martyrs and martyrdom. An analysis of 93 statements by Zawahiri was performed to identify his overarching martyr narrative and archetype. Major findings include a taxonomy of martyr attributes and a narrative trajectory of martyrdom. While pro-USA rhetoric constructs al-Qaeda’s martyrs as radical terrorists, Zawahiri tells a tale of stalwart, pious, and simple men.


martyr, martyrdom, narrative, al-Qaeda, Zawahiri

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