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I recently read a review on Al-Shebab. It begins with a well written synopsis of who this terrorist organization is, where they function and what they do. However, the conclusion reached by the analyst seeks to achieve a politically correct conclusion, obviously trying to provide analytical wiggle room for analysis and ultimately, Islamic extremists. My response follows the edited initial writing.
The assignment I presented my students was: Pick an organization that poses a threat to U.S. interests. What are its structure, function, and process? Finally, how are the selected organization’s cultural differences more or less likely to make analyzing them difficult?
Structure: Al-Shebab is a militant Islamist group that controls much of northern Somalia. They pose a threat to US (and the international community) interests via the spread of terrorism. Ties to Al-Qaeda, and Al-Shebab’s ability to recruit jihadists world-wide as well as spread into other countries (they are already in Kenya and Yemen); they pose an immediate threat to US interests (Ibrahim 2010).
Function: Clark broadly defines rational decision-making as, “a logical and normally quantitative procedure for thinking about difficult problems” (Clark 2010, 248). Often, when an adversary acts in an unpredictable way, it is viewed as irrational, ridiculous, stupid or illogical. While an analyst may not be able to predict an outcome or decision, nor agree with either, it does not make them irrational or illogical. A majority of the world sees the terrorist acts of Al-Shebab as irrational, but from their perspective and that of supporters (Tablighi Jamaat is one), jihadists’ role is to “facilitate the ideological motivation of the population on behalf of al-Qaeda” (Ibrahim 2010, 285); killing infidels is perfectly rational.
Process: Al-Shebab utilized many processes to accomplish their goals. Originally they were the “Islamic Courts Union’s militia arm, led by radical Muslim militants and hard-line clerics” (Ibrahim 2010, 284), but later broke away to seek foreign support. They began to call themselves crusaders in the hopes of more popular support and reached out to al-Qaeda for training and financial support. “In May 2008 pirates delivered a shipment of explosives and missiles” to Al-Shebab, and there are claims that as much as 20-50% of the ransom money collected by pirates is handed over as well. This is attributed to the fact that the pirates require the use of the ports controlled by Al-Shebab.
Al-Shebab’s members are Muslim, and therefore have significant cultural differences from the majority of US analysts, making the analysis of the group much more difficult. One of the most critical problems in analyzing Fundamentalist Islamist Groups is the tendency of analysts to mirror image (project culture, morals, standards of behavior, actions and reactions onto the target individual/group) in their analysis. This is particularly a problem when a Christian or western-raised analyst is focused on an Islamic, Arabic, Persian, African or Far East group. Because these cultures are so vastly different from western cultures, it is difficult to predict their decisions with any accuracy, which is ultimately the goal in threat analysis.
Clark, Robert. 2010. Intelligence analysis: A target centric approach. Washington D.C.: CQ Press.
Ibrahim, Mohamed. 2010. Somalia and global terrorism: A growing connection? Journal of Contemporary African Studies. 28 no. 3: 283-295.
Very interesting post on Al-Shebab. Your final paragraph seeks a politically correct position which is not necessary. PC behavior often prevents a definitive statement from being presented and therefore, can reduce the clarity of analysis.
You state, “Al-Shebab’s members are Muslim (true), and therefore have significant cultural differences from the majority of US analysts (Also true. These differences are the point. We do not share the same ideology), making the analysis of the group much more difficult (these differences should make analysis easier. One may state with a high degree of certainty, these differences set up the opportunity to do a “comparison and contrast analysis” clearly showing where divergence occurs). One of the most critical problems in analyzing Fundamentalist Islamist Groups is the tendency of analysts to mirror image (project culture, morals, standards of behavior, actions and reactions onto the target individual/group) in their analysis (mirror imaging can be used successfully if personal biases are recognized). This is particularly a problem when a Christian or western-raised analyst is focused on an Islamic, Arabic, Persian, African or Far East group (I would suggest you deepen your research by viewing the agenda of Political Islam). Because these cultures are so vastly different from western cultures, it is difficult to predict their decisions with any accuracy, which is ultimately the goal in threat analysis.
Because these cultures are so vastly different from Western culture, the predictability of their decisions becomes easier in my opinion. Take a look at the expansion of Islam and how Islam became the predominant religion of the region–war.
I would encourage you to be less worried about political correctness. Facts are facts even if they indicate indictment. Here is a great link for you to check out: http://www.politicalislam.com/.
Conclusion: If our Intelligence Community cannot properly conduct analysis due to the need of being politically correct, I don’t think we will ever win a battle or war against extremists, jihadist unless we state clearly the differences and go on the offensive.