Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

August 17, 2009

A domestic non-integrating gap

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on August 17, 2009

Last week Kamal Hassan admitted to a Minneapolis federal court that he was trained in para-military operations by al-Shabab, a Somali movement listed as a terrorist organization by the Department of State.

According to Patrick Condon, reporting for the Associated Press, “As many as 20 young men have traveled to Somalia to join in fighting there. Family members in Minnesota, where the nation’s largest population of Somali immigrants is concentrated in Minneapolis, say at least three have died.”

“Two others also have pleaded guilty to terror-related charges. Salah Osman Ahmed, 26, of New Brighton, pleaded guilty in July to providing material support to terrorists. Ahmed acknowledged that he worked with al-Shabab in Somalia. Ahmed said he did menial labor at a training camp but acknowledged he also was trained to use guns.”

“Abdifatah Yusuf Isse, 25, of Seattle, pleaded guilty in April to one count of providing material support to terrorists. Isse also spent time in an al-Shabab camp in the lawless Horn of Africa country.”

There has been no indication so far of the al-Shabab recruits being used for terrorist purposes inside the United States.   According to Dina Temple-Raston of NPR,  “As many as four young men (including Hassan) have returned from Somalia. Officials close to the case said none of them came back to the U.S. with plans to attack, and most were trying to put their experiences in Somalia and the brutality of a civil war behind them.”

But as reported on August 5 by HLSwatch, Australian authorities have arrested several alleged terrorists who claim they were trained by al-Shabab in Somalia.   According to intelligence and law enforcement officials the terrorist team was close to launching a suicide attack on military installations near Sydney.

On the same day that Kamal Hassan was pleading guilty in Minneapolis, the Southern Poverty Law Center released a new report entitled, The Second Wave: Return of the Militias.  According to the widely-respected SPLC analysis:

Almost a decade after largely disappearing from public view, right-wing militias, ideologically driven tax defiers and sovereign citizens are appearing in large numbers around the country. “Paper terrorism” — the use of property liens and citizens’ “courts” to harass enemies — is on the rise. And once-popular militia conspiracy theories are making the rounds again, this time accompanied by nativist theories about secret Mexican plans to “reconquer” the American Southwest. One law enforcement agency has found 50 new militia training groups — one of them made up of present and former police officers and soldiers. Authorities around the country are reporting a worrying uptick in Patriot activities and propaganda. “This is the most significant growth we’ve seen in 10 to 12 years,” says one. “All it’s lacking is a spark. I think it’s only a matter of time before you see threats and violence.”

There is some evidence that social factors spurring members to join right-wing militias are  similar to those motivating a few Somali-Americans to join the al-Shabab militias.

In the main, Muslim-Americans are well-integrated into American life.  The vast majority are citizens.  Their average income and level of education is above the national average.  (See more details from the Pew Research Center.)  But the Somali-American process of integration — so far — has been slow and less successful. For details please see a University of Minnesota, Humphrey Institute report (large doc.).

With apologies and appreciation to Thomas P. M. Barnett, I perceive the Somali-American situation and any nativist resurgence as expressions of another kind of “non-integrating gap.” Speaking in terms of the broadest geo-strategy, Barnett has written:

Show me where globalization is thick with network connectivity, financial transactions, liberal media flows, and collective security, and I will show you regions featuring stable governments, rising standards of living, and more deaths by suicide than murder.  These parts of the world I call the Functioning Core, or Core.  But show me where globalization is thinning or just plain absent, and I will show you regions plagued by politically repressive regimes, widespread poverty and disease, routine mass murder, and—most important—the chronic conflicts that incubate the next generation of global terrorists.  These parts of the world I call the Non-Integrating Gap, or Gap. 

A rigorous 2005 study by David Freilich and William Pridemore, A reassessment of state-levil covariates of militia groups, called into question several hypotheses for the emergence of such groups (and critiqued SPLC data methods). But the scholars also cite evidence that domestic militia members tend to emerge from displaced farmers and other rural workers whose fundamental sense of social identity has been undermined.  This is especially the case in combination with social disorganization such as family disintegration and physical displacement.  Militia membership is more likely to emerge from situations where long-term sources of social integration have been lost and not replaced. 

On the surface, there are significant differences between those recruited by a far-right white supremist group and those recruited by al-Shabab.  But the deeper one looks several similarities seem to emerge.

In the Humphrey Institute report linked above, several findings and recommendations are identified for closing-the-gap between Somali-Americans and the broader community.  These include,

We found that maintaining cultural identification, higher parental educational attainment, English proficiency, participation in structured programming, strength of peer and family relationships, and involvement with religious organizations all had a positive effect on being civically engaged, achieving higher levels of education, and obtaining employment.

Might the same hold true for those joining the militias?  Somali or not, these are seldom the characteristics of someone who seeks out a fight. At the very least, we can listen to one another.  Nothing marginalizes, alienates, and generates anger so effectively as being ignored or dismissed.

While the President was focusing on another issue, some comments in his Saturday radio address apply to how we might begin to close-the-gap.  Mr. Obama said, “I know there’s plenty of real concern and skepticism out there. I know that in a time of economic upheaval, the idea of change can be unsettling, and I know that there are folks who believe that government should have no role at all in solving our problems. These are legitimate differences worthy of the real discussion that America deserves – one where we lower our voices, listen to one another, and talk about differences that really exist.”


Much more on Terrorist Group Formation and Recruitment (both foreign and domestic) is available from the National Consortium on the Study of Terrorism and Response to Terrorism.

America Abroad, producers of radio documentaries, has brought together a great piece on Integrating Islam: Muslim immigrants in Europe and the US.

In his 2005 CFR essay and in his more recent book, Robert S. Leiken considers “Europe’s Angry Muslims” and implications for the United States.

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