King's Al Shabaab Hearings

Representative Peter King's hearings on al Shabaab's Minnesota recruitment efforts was largely uneventful. Despite King hyping the supposed lack of cooperation with law enforcement from Minnesota's Somali American community, when asked whether he faced any opposition the St. Paul* chief of police, Tom Smith, said that he hadn't.

One issue I would take with the hearing, though, is that the conversation about extremist ideology has taken on a kind of Reefer Madness quality, where lawmakers talk as though all it takes is the right jihadist sweet talk to instantly turn a misguided young man into a terrorist. I think that approach avoids some key issues. What we know is that an unusually large (but still miniscule relative to the size of the community itself) number of young Somali Americans have gone abroad to fight with al Shabaab. Otherwise, with some notable and tragic exceptions, extremists have been relatively unsuccessful at radicalizing Muslim Americans.

There are some key differences between say, AQAP's lone-wolf pitch and al Shabaab's successful recruitment. One is that al Shabaab has not yet targeted Americans here. The other is that its successes have been localized within a single immigrant community and premised on fighting an insurgency in that community's country of origin against a government supported by foreign, largely Christian troops. I'm not sure why we're so focused on the seductiveness (or lack thereof, really) of extremist ideology, when it seems like the war in Somalia itself is a much more decisive factor in al Shabaab's ability to recruit. That, and the fact that there's really no substitute for a real-life peer community, even a tiny one, when it comes to encouraging people to do bad things. I suppose that might involve admitting that sometimes military interventions cause more problems than they're intended to solve, and that might spoil whatever shiny new war comes next. 


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