Terrorism Trap: Boko Haram’s Role in the Deteriorating Condition of Sub-Saharan Africa, and Why We Should Care

Parents of Chibok kidnapping victims

As the victims of last month’s Boko Haram kidnapping remain at large, families continue to grieve for the missing girls. April 28, 2014 (VOA/Wikimedia Commons)

In April, the infamous Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram broke international headlines after kidnapping over 200 Muslim schoolgirls from their dormitories during the night. Now two moths later, only a handful of the girls have managed to escape to safety, and the Nigerian government efforts to recover the remaining hundreds of victims seem to be little more than rhetoric. Nigeria has been in a state of emergency for nearly a year now under President Goodluck Jonathan in response to the group’s campaign of terror. The enduring presence of Boko Haram and this latest outrage is beginning to undermine citizens’ confidence in their government.

Logo of Boko Haram

The logo of Boko Haram, whose name translates to “Western education is a sin.” May 14, 2014 (ArnoldPlaton/Wikimedia Commons)

Sub-Saharan Africa regularly makes headlines as home to the most extreme poverty, underdevelopment and political strife in the world. It is important to note, however, the substantial role played by extremist terrorist groups in stymieing the region’s stability and development. Consider Boko Haram’s role in the region’s development. The name ‘Boko Haram’, which translates to “Western education is a sin,” reveals precisely how the group hinders progress in Nigeria. An affiliate of al-Qaeda, the group holds an ultimate goal of establishing an Islamist state in Nigeria, and works to achieve it precisely as the group’s name suggests—by targeting Western education as it did a month ago.

This is not the first time Boko Haram has targeted schools. In February, a college killing spreeleft at least 29 students dead. And in June and July of last year, Boko Haram was responsible for storming two local schools and killing several students and teachers. The violent war on education in Nigeria has cloaked the country in fear, discouraging many students from continuing to attend schools and even prompting the closure of schoolsin desperate attempts to prevent more bloodshed. A country without education is a country without prospect of prosperity. And, as long as Boko Haram is active, Nigeria will not see stability and development.

Chibok kidnapping destruction VOA

As the victims of last month’s Boko Haram kidnapping remain at large, families continue to grieve for the missing girls. April 2014 (Yaroh Dauda/Wikimedia Commons)

While it is of no doubt that a major contributing factor of Sub-Saharan Africa’s unproductivity is indeed corrupt governmental practices, the overwhelming influence of terrorist groups like Boko Haram cannot be neglected. It is an undisputed fact that the few countries in the region that are entirely free of such widespread terrorism, although not perfect, are absolutely developing countries rather than deteriorating or stagnant. Consider Tanzania, for example – while the country is by no means invulnerable to terrorist attacks, it is not at all handicapped by fear. In fact, Tanzania is one of the most politically stable countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. Data collected by the European Commission reveals that annual GDP growth levels have been on the rise since 1995. And although poverty levels remain problematic, Tanzania has successfully worked to achieve certain Millennium Development Goal targets, including notable improvements in primary education, infant health and access to clean water. There is no perfect case of a developing country free of flaws; the point to take away from this is that, although slow and steady, Tanzania certainly is continuing to progress towards attaining the status of a developed country, and it is able to do so without the obstacles of political strife and regular terrorist activity.

Students raise their hands enthusiastically to answer a question in a primary school in Moshi, Tanzania. (Author’s own photo)

So how exactly is Nigeria to rid itself of Boko Haram’s terrorist dominance and progress similar to that of Tanzania? Like most terrorist groups, Boko Haram emerged from a weak economy and social marginalization of the Muslim-majority North. While the seemingly obvious solution to the issue may be simply to improve these problems, the remedy is not this simple. Without an educated populous, which will remain impossible as long as Boko Haram roams freely, it is extremely difficult to stabilize a crippling economy. Of course, solving these problems require political reforms—an initiative hopefully undertaken by the new leadership in 2015.

However, political reforms alone will prove to only minimally alleviate terror if Boko Haram remains free to attack. Although the Nigerian militaryhas been pursuing Boko Haram, efforts have proven to be ineffective. The country’s forces could benefit from foreign aid, and this is where the United States comes into the picture. Boko Haram’s terror campaign has much farther-reaching implications than merely hindering development in the country. If the organization continues to enjoy a strong foothold in Nigeria, there will be more opportunity for recruitment and training of Islamist militants. If Boko Haram’s base grows, its power will grow as well. If its power grows, its influence in the country grows, and it will inevitably cross over into the bordering countries of Niger and Cameroon. With ever-expanding power, Boko Haram will also make itself readily available to cooperating with other Islamist terrorist groups in the region to attain pan-Islamist pursuits. And with a stronger base, Boko Haram will begin targeting not only Westerners in the region, but may very well also extend its influence overseas to the United States, as al-Qaeda did on 9/11.

The infinitesimal amount of attention paid by the United States to Sub-Saharan Africa is not only pathetic, but also potentially dangerous. America must provide humanitarian and military aid to struggling countries like Nigeria for, among other reasons, national security. The development of Sub-Saharan Africa is no longer an interest restricted to Africa alone. Boko Haram and the like must be eradicated, progress must be promoted and stability must be maintained throughout the region. Although this will certainly prove to be quite a challenging feat, the West must recognize the international threats posed by Boko Haram in Nigeria and other similar Islamist terror groups in the region, and understand that aid is a promising long-term investment in its own safety.

The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect those of the Glimpse from the Globe staff and editorial board.

No SpaghettiO’s for you, Kim Jong Un

Why the most recent temper tantrum of the explosive young dictator of North Korea is not a big deal, and why he still won’t be getting what he wants

Kim Jong Un

By Tedumas (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons

You can keep screaming and kicking. Hell, cry your heart out and shout at the top of your lungs until an avalanche erupts on Mount Everest. You still won’t get what you want.

For the past month now, Kim Jong Un has been floundering in his own seething anger as he continues to drag out his usual outlandish temper tantrum akin to one thrown by a child over a can of SpaghettiO’s in the canned foods section of the supermarket. Desperate for attention, the dictatorial tyrant has spewed yet another nuclear threat at the annual Foal Eagle military exercises between the United States and South Korea that he disapproves of so immensely. Consequently, two DPRK mid-range ballistic missiles originating from Pyongyang soared overseas for about a few hundred kilometers before plummeting into the ocean. This outburst takes place as the leaders of the U.S. and South Korea met with the president of Japan at the Hague,

Well, Mr. Kim, you’ve certainly grabbed the attention you were seeking. With unusual haste, the United Nations Security Council met behind closed doors on Thursday emerging with a unanimous condemnation of the missile launches. The Security Council’s North Korea sanctions committee is also investigating the possibility of expanding the U.N. blacklist to encompass more North Korean nuclear entities in addition to those already listed, although it will most likely take several weeks for an agreement on the action to be reached.

While South Korea, the United States, and the UN are interpreting his most recent antics as an international threat, this seems little more than another one of Kim’s outlandish outbursts of inconsequential aggression that will quickly blow over as Foal Eagle operations approach their close in April. One may recall last year’s Foal Eagle operations when Kim publicized threats of hurling nuclear missiles at the United States in retaliation to its warm relations with the South. To this threat, Washington responded by hurriedly deploying a series of missile interceptors to Guam, complementing those already stationed at Fort Greely, Alaska. But this action was intended only to warn North Korea that the United States is certainly capable of matching its bombastic rhetoric. Needless to say, no defensive action was necessary as Foal Eagle activities came and went without any intervention from the ballistic dictator. This year’s scenario is a carbon copy; we can safely assume that Kim’s most recent threats are as hollow as ever.

Unless Kim’s threatening actions transcend mere intimidation, we know well enough that there is no real threat at hand here. Each year, North Korea becomes enraged by these annual military drills ensuing in the South, and each year reacts with threats of nuclear action that dwindle to oblivion with the culmination of the exercises. Although it is estimated that the missiles launched Wednesday are capable of being launched to Japan, Pyongyang will stop short of sending the missiles over the Japanese islands. Moreover, everyone knows that even Psy’s “Gangnam Style” has more hits than North Korea’s faulty missiles ever will. So no need to take cover from the illusory war threat – Kim will surely simmer down as the coming weeks pass.

Is it worth considering that perhaps the troublesome leader has some new antics up his sleeve? Every year, there is the possibility that if Kim does not elicit the immediate reaction he wants from his enemies, he may attempt to launch a small-scale ground attack against the South. Knowing very well from previous tantrums that the playpen fence barring him from South Korea is far too strong to tackle, Kim may try throwing the ball over this time. What that ball would be – a missile, propaganda balloon, etc. – is anybody’s’ guess.

Even still, it is highly unlikely that Kim will match his rhetoric with reality. The plan is an ugly backfire waiting to happen. Chances that North Korea’s actions would be met with a response of equal nuclear force from the international community are slim to none. So the way that I look at it, as Kim’s outlandish pouting and grumpy attitude drags on, there are really only two options that the U.S., South Korea, and Japan, and the U.N. can take; these states can either look past his tantrums and troubling rhetoric or, in the case that North Korea does end up pursuing a ballistic strike, take military action forcing Kim into a timeout.

Nevertheless, North Korea’s nuclear capacity remains limited. The world will most likely yet again witness the disappearance of North Korea’s meandering threats with the culmination of Foal Eagle in early April. The annual military exercises will continue, despite Kim’s belligerent disapproval. The most to take away from this entire situation is that the only “explosive” thing at play here is Kim’s infantile temperament. We’ve seen this childish temper tantrum erupt and wane one too many times already. So stop banging your fists and causing a scene, Kim – you’re still not getting your SpaghettiO’s.

The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect those of the Glimpse from the Globe staff and editorial board.

Checklist: Has President Rouhani Lived Up to his Promises?

Hassan Rouhani

Elected in June, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani formally assumed office in August. He has since made remarkable advances, including a push to ease nuclear tensions with the West in order to rid the economy of encumbering sanctions. (photo via Wikimedia Commons)

In early June, newly-elected Iranian president Hassan Rouhani, a moderate in comparison to his hard-line predecessor Mouhmad Ahmadinejad,emerged as a symbol of hope for a citizenry burdened by a catastrophic financial crisis brought on by Western sanctions. Prior to beginning his term, Rouhani vowed to direct governmental efforts towards mending Iran’s shattered relations with the West, reviving the Iranian economy, and articulating a desire to restore basic human rights within the country.

While the new leader was warmly met by the eager masses ready to move past the repressive Ahmadinejad era, there was no telling whether his words would bear fruit. Rouhani’s potential to affect such change was eclipsed by a shadow of doubt stemming from the supposition that he would serve as merely yet another slave to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and his Islamic regime. So has Iran’s “angel” Rouhani upheld his rhetoric presented during his campaign since entering office? Now, more than 6 months into his presidency, the gulf between his words and actions can be qualitatively tracked.

Appeasing the Hardliners

How has Rouhani performed thus far in winning the favor of governmental hardliners while working towards his progressive reform plans? At the start of his presidency, Rouhani took initiative to begin thawing strained US-Iran relations with a visit to the United Nations. You may recall his fifteen-minute phone call with President Obama during the trip, a call that garnered both support and criticism. Regardless of the critics, this phone call was a huge first step in the right direction towards reconciling US-Iran relations considering that the two states have not shared this level of contact since the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Furthermore, Khamenei approved of Rouhani’s October trip to the United States. Although unable to appease hard-liners on the issue as they derided his approach, as long as the President is able to maintain the Supreme Leader’s support, he will be able to ward off hard-liner criticisms in his advances towards a relaxed relationship with the West.

Catering to Reformists

During his reign thus far, Rouhani has been performing a careful balancing act; he has struck a careful balance between the hardline and reformist camps while avoiding alienating Khamenei and other key government players. The new President has successfully garnered and maintained support from notable predecessors, including popular former reformist President Mohammad Khatami and former President Akbar Rafsanjani, one of the pillars of the 1979 Iranian Revolution, who remarked that “Rouhani’s success in New York is the mark of the divine victory.” Although not to the degree which former president Khatami was able to mobilize the “Iranian street,” Rouhani seems to have been met with considerable success in galvanizing the reformist camp, namely the youth who have warmly accepted his overtures to reduce Internet censorship.

Ending Sanctions

Perhaps his most significant achievement thus far has been unveiled at the negotiation table with Western powers. Back in November, Rouhani was able to successfully reach a temporary deal with the United States while entering into a year-long negotiation period to construct a permanent deal to ease sanctions. The $7-billion USD received by Iran in sanctions relief created room for a rise in the Iranian Rial and a minor stabilization of the national economy. Both the initial agreement and the overtures by both parties have been called nothing short of “historic” in the media.

Economic Viability

As mentioned, some of the easing of sanctions has seen a rise in the purchasing power of the Rial thereby providing Iranian citizens with some relief. Analyst groups claim that “last year, with economic pressure at its peak, Iran suffered from severe hyperinflation, and the Rial became the least valued currency in the world. This is no longer the case, as the Rial has gained significant value in 2013’. However, further economic steps must be made; the nuclear deal with the West has yet to come into full form, and whether Obama will be able to convince Congress to further repeal sanctions will prove to be a major determinant of whether Rouhani’s reform efforts retain momentum.

Relations With Israel

Thanks to his reputation as the new face of Iran, Rouhani has garnered a considerable amount of positive press and, for the most part, positive attention from the West – which has acted as a negative force against Israel. Within a month of Rouhani’s holding office, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dubbed him a “wolf in sheep’s clothing,” immediately dismissing him as nothing more than another mere slave to the Islamic regime. However, it seems that Israel emerged as the real loser in this love triangle between the United States, Iran and itself, failing to turn the West against its enemy as it had hoped. Within weeks after the Prime Minister’s fiery comment, Iran successfully brokered the temporary deal with the United States. Since then, public Israeli threats and comments against the country have subsided as the country now seems more preoccupied with the Palestinian question than the Iranian-nuclear issue at the moment.­­­

Human Rights

The human rights issue is arguably the weakest front of Rouhani’s presidency thus far. The leader’s promises on this subject seem to be little more than empty rhetoric, as notable action has yet to be taken to restore basic human rights and create equality among members of the citizenry. Premature optimism for Rouhani to improve civil rights issues has all but withered as the only observable change has been a steep rise in executions since he took office.

Another warning sign in his term stems from the detainment of prisoners within the country. The government’s minor gesture of releasing a few political prisoners in December did little to placate the mounting concerns of relatives and families of those still imprisoned, including activists of the “Iranian Street.” Additionally, despite early promises to address the house arrests of Green Revolution leaders Kharibi and Mousavi’s house arrests, not even a mention of the issue has been made. The president has remained silent even amidst mounting claims from close family and friends that their health is deteriorating significantly as a result of being confined within their households for several years now.

Whether Rouhani’s strategy to maintain popular support follows that of his predecessor Khatami’s path remains to be seen. In the middle of Khatami’s second term, his base fell apart due to youth and women disenfranchisement. Rouhani’s track record on human rights and freedoms may very well be what determines his support from his base.

Implications for U.S.-Iran Relations

Despite his shortcomings on the human rights dilemma, Rouhani’s successes have provided the Iranian regime with some degree of legitimacy it had been lacking for years, both in the eyes of the international community and the Iranian electorate. The real question for the Obama administration, however, is whether the Rouhani government’s newfound political capital and prestige is enough to placate conservative Hawks in Congress on both sides of the aisle who have been itching to introduce further sanctions. Any new congressional sanctions against Iran would not only spell the end of the current deal but would most likely set back nuclear negotiations by a number of years. Yet Rouhani, a veteran statesman and diplomat, is keenly aware that the halls of Congress are just as significant an arena for statecraft and diplomacy as the negotiating table. Rouhani’s foreign minister Javad Zarif has recently made a concerted effort to promote lobbying of their position to Congress via the small-but-growing Iranian-American lobby already present in the country.We will know soon enough how far Rouhani is willing to go to make good on his campaign promises in seeking to uplift the Iranian state.

The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect those of the Glimpse from the Globe staff and editorial board.

The Handshake Heard Round The World

The Obama-Castro handshake at Nelson Mandela’s Johannesburg memorial signified no shift in relations between the U.S. and Cuba. It was merely a handshake.

On December 5th, a chilling announcement made by South African President Jacob Zuma was quickly heard worldwide: Nelson Mandela (95 years old) had died.

The former revolutionary in the movement against South Africa’s National Party’s apartheid regime, and later President of South Africa left behind a legacy that will likely remain unparalleled by other world leaders for some time to come. While some mourned the loss of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning global icon who committed his life to peace, compassion and forgiveness, others snubbed the passing of a coldblooded ‘communist’ murderer who was imprisoned for 28 years and was considered a ‘terrorist’ by the United States until only five years because of his anti-apartheid involvement.

Regardless of whether you’re on the cheering side or on the jeering side, the fact stands that Mandela’s leadership had a global impact making him one of the most influential world leaders to date. But it seems that even in light of his recent death, our own leaders cannot look beyond partisan divides and quarreling. Consider the Obama-Castro handshake at the memorial; a civil and brief greeting between the two leaders led right-wing conservatives to label the gesture as despicable, traitorous conductwhile liberals dubbed it a thawing of tensions.

Despite the geographic proximity, the United States maintains a distant relationship with Cuba having severed diplomatic relations over fifty years ago when Raul’s brother Fidel assumed power. Contrary to the imagination of those lambasting the handshake, there was no political game at play – the handshake was merely a handshake. Period. What else was Obama supposed to do? Completely ignore Castro’s presence and rebuke him? It was appropriate for Obama to shake hands with another world leader while attending the memorial of the world’s greatest symbol for peace.

In spite of being raised by their parents to always shake hands when meeting or greeting someone, Republicans felt the urge to immediately slap a partisan sticker on the situation. Senator John McCain even likened the handshake to that between British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and German Third Reich leader Adolf Hitler in the lead up to WWII – a completely inappropriate and exaggerated analogy. McCain even dared to note that the leader of the freest country in the world has no business shaking the bloodstained hand of a ruthless oppressor who is “keeping Americans in prison.” Well, Senator, there are just two minor faults in your statements. First, have you ever heard of the Gitmo? Second, may we remind you that you not only shook hands with, but also spent a ‘late evening’ with, the late dictator Muammar Gaddafi at his ranch in Libya. You then tweetedabout it. Apparently Obama’s courteous handshake with Castro was more deserving of condemnation than McCain’s play-date with Gaddafi.

Bundesarchiv Bild 146-1976-063-32, Bad Godesberg, Münchener Abkommen, Vorbereitung

British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain shakes hands with Adolf Hitler. This image, coupled with Chamberlain’s words, would become the gold standard for appeasement. Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1976-063-32 / CC-BY-SA [CC-BY-SA-3.0-de (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons

But the liberal left has also mistreated this handshake. The first U.S.-Cuba handshake in over a decade is now being perceived as a signal of improving relations between the two states. It seems that this event – a brief, non-orchestrated six-second greeting – constitutes an instantaneous 180º shift in foreign policy and diplomatic relations.

Let’s consider three more historic presidential handshakes with other less tans savory leaders. The handshake between British Prime Minster Winston Churchill, U.S. President Harry Truman and Soviet Communist Party General Secretary Joseph Stalin at the 1945 Potsdam Conference was designed to symbolize that communist and non-communist interests could be set aside in the wake of Nazi Germany’s collapse. The image was supposed to capture an alliance determined to move forward.

Triple handshake, with, from left to right, Winston Churchill, President Harry S. Truman, and Generalissimo Josef Stalin at the Potsdam Conference. (via Wikimedia Commons/Truman Library)

And then there’s the Reagan-Gorbachev handshake. In 1998 at St. Catherine’s Hall at the Kremlin, President Ronald Reagan shook hands with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev before their final summit meeting. The planned handshake symbolized the first meeting between the U.S. and USSR in six years and marked the start of a thawing in bilateral relations.

Gorbachev and Reagan 1985-9

Reagan and Gorbachev at Geneva Summit. By Fed Govt [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Most importantly, let’s not forget the orchestrated 1959 Washington press reception that hosted then-Vice President Richard Nixon’s and Cuba’s new revolutionary leader Fidel Castro. The two men shook hands and that was that.

All three of these handshakes between American Presidents and foreign strongmen were carefully constructed to convey a specific message in a specific context. On the contrary, Obama’s handshake with Castro was unplanned; it was simply a display of courtesy and nothing more. There was no predetermined plan for the two to encounter each other and shake hands in front of the camera and we are unlikely to witness any change in bilateral relations with Cuba. In fact, it would have been extremely inappropriate had Obama not greeted Castro at Mandela’s memorial; Obama shook hands with each leader he encountered which was the appropriate, civil thing for a world leader to do while honoring a man who stood for peace and compassion. It is inappropriate for certain individuals in the media and Congress to be spinning the memorial of the South African leader into a groundless and ludicrous controversy over a non-event between two men with hands. Those shouting at the gesture need to get a handle on the broader message before us all, that being Mandela’s legacy.

Neo-Colonial Capacity Building at its Finest: The U.S. in Libya

How the Department of State entered Libya and exacerbated yet another post-revolutionary crisis

Although you probably did a double take when news broke that the politician who lost to George W. Bush in the 2004 presidential election is now handling our volatile international affairs, Secretary of State John Kerry has already proved to be a defter politician than expected.

John Kerry (Wikimedia Commons)

Secretary of State John Kerry speaks at a presidential rally at the St. Louis Community College during the 2004 presidential race. Kerry, then a Democratic Massachusetts senator, lost to incumbent Republican President George W. Bush in the election. (Wikimedia Commons)

While the post-Gadhafi state of Libya remains in shambles, Kerry’s actions as Secretary of State have already contributed to an upsurge in Islamic militia groups contending for power amidst the State Department’s “capacity building” project within the region. In what was supposed to be a top-secret discussion between the U.S. and Libyan governments, interim Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan agreed to a U.S. commando raid in Tripoli to capture al-Qaeda figurehead Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai (Abu Anas al-Libi) who was accused of orchestrating the attacks on American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. The mission was designed to call no attention to al-Libi’s disappearance.

US Embassy Bombing 1998 (Wikimedia Commons)

The 1998 Al-Qaeda bombing of the U.S. embassy in Kenya claimed more than 200 lives. Abu Anas al-Libi, who was recently captured, is believed to be the chief orchestrator of the Nairobi bombing as well as the nearly simultaneous bombing in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. (Wikimedia Commons)

But the impatient State Department took it upon itself to improve the relationship; Kerry jeopardized the security of Libya’s nominal leader when his administration leaked that the Libyan government was aware and supportive of the al-Libi pursuit. After Zeidan expressed concerns regarding the operation to al-Libi’s family, Zeidan was “escorted” out of his luxury Tripoli hotel by a group known as the Operations Room of Libya’s Revolutionaries. Within hours, he was returned unharmed. While this bizarre six-hour kidnapping prompted by Kerry’s words may have seemed more like a coerced play-date than anything else, it is indicative of far graver problems.

Secretary Kerry Shakes Hands With Libyan Prime Minister Zeidan (Wikimedia Commons)

United States Secretary of State John Kerry shakes hands with interim Libyan Prime Minster Ali Zeidan following a press conference at the Department of State in Washington, D.C. The Department plans to work closely with the Libyan government in an effort to build regional state capacity. (Wikimedia Commons)

Coming out of this imbroglio, an initial concern is that al-Libi’s capture will only serve to further fuel al-Qaeda’s incalculable scorn for the West. This will drastically heighten security risks facing U.S. embassies and other American assets in the region.

Moving beyond the obvious missteps, most groups within Libya view the Prime Minister’s abnormal and unexpected kidnapping as a sign of an acute weakness within the government. Because the interim leader of the country could not even avert being kidnapped – regardless of the fact that it was only for a few hours – there is consensus among Libyans that he is not capable of leading the country forward. Zeidan is now considered to be something of a cancerous cyst to the already debased government; and with that now being the primary sentiment, we are likely to see the strongest push yet by Islamic militia groups quarreling for political power to orchestrate a coup. As unfathomable as it may seem, Libya will inevitably fall into a further state of degeneration and chaos because of this fiasco.

via Wikimedia Commons

Armed rebels and civilian onlookers gathered at a main gateway into the eastern city of Ajdabiya to cheer on fighters heading onward to the fighting. At one point, rebels drove a tank back from the front, received loud cheers, left, and returned again with more people riding on top, 1 March 2011. (Wikimedia Commons). Since Gadhafi’s ousting, Libya has struggled to establish and maintain a stable government.

Now that Zeidan’s capture (along with plans of another capture of another al-Qaeda operative) are public knowledge courtesy of White House releases, it will be infinitely more difficult for the State Department to carry out additional commando operations in pursuit of key al-Qaeda members. Had Zeidan’s detention remained under wraps, there would have likely been little suspicion of his whereabouts as brief disappearances are common fare in Libya. But because the operation became public, al-Qaeda is now aware of the fact that the U.S. is on the hunt. Subsequently, al-Qaeda is now likely to take care in covering its tracks and severing any communications that may provide intelligence agencies with a hot trail in their chase.

Ali Zeidan at US State Department 2013 (Wikimedia Commons)

Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan speaking at a press conference at the U.S. Department of State on March 13th, 2013. Zeidan was kidnapped briefly by a militia group early last Thursday on the grounds that he had cooperated with the U.S. government and its invasion of Tripoli in its al-Qaeda hunt. (Wikimedia Commons)

So in his supposed focus on “building capacity” within Libya, John Kerry has managed to heighten the security risks posed by al-Qaeda and make the pursuit for key terrorist leaders abysmally more challenging all while plunging Libya deeper into a state of pandemonium. Bravo, Mr. Kerry – it seems as though you are the right man for the job after all!In sum, the brilliant leak from the White House, which seemed to have been something of a trial balloon released out of ignorance, greatly undermined the neo-colonial regime established in Libya by Washington and its NATO allies following the overthrow Gadhafi in 2011. The flop highlighted the incompetence of the U.S. in artificially establishing regimes within unstable regions such as Libya. However, this is not the only instance in which Washington’s intervention has proven itself to be futile and damaging. Consider other neo-colonial endeavors such as operations in Afghanistan and Iraq – both ended in seemingly endless states of war and state capacity remains frighteningly low.
Soldiers push against al-Qaeda remnants (Wikimedia Commons)

United States forces in Iraq counter remaining al-Qaeda forces in 2008. Now that future al-Qaeda-targeting plans have been leaked, Washington will face heightened difficulty in pursuing terrorist targets within Libya and the greater region. (Wikimedia Commons)

Although it is only Zeidan’s kidnapping that is at the center of national discussions at the moment, the repercussions will no doubt begin to unfold in the near future. Perhaps Libya’s impending situation will strike a chord within Washington and officials will finally come to realize that such neo-colonial interventionist efforts have, and always will, lead to heightened disdain for the West and more rapid and severe degeneration of the country being occupied. Given the White House’s track record, it seems more likely than not that nothing will be learned from the mistake. Going forward, American national security interests will face greater challenges in the region and, if the winds continue to blow in the same troubling direction, the State Department will continue to make diplomatic fumbles as it harms both itself and its “allies.”

The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect those of the Glimpse from the Globe staff and editorial board.

Islamic Radicalization in Our Own Backyard

The Westgate Mall Attack and What it Means for al-Shabaab Influence Within the United States

Photo by Anne Knight [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Last Monday, a dense plume of smoke could be seen following a loud explosion that erupted in the heart of the Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi, Kenya. Al-Shabab militants had held hundreds hostage that day, with at least sixty-two confirmed killed, after storming the mall with guns. Though the grisly attack may seem akin to another terrorism attack in a volatile region, the strike uncovers a few critical considerations regarding the terrorist group responsible and its plans for international expansion.

Al-Shabaab, a Somali militant group (the Arabic name translates to “The Youth”) came into existence in 2006 as the radical youth wing of Somalia’s Union of Islamic Courts. The coalition began as a faction fighting Ethiopian forces who entered Somalia to back the country’s interim government. During this period, foreign jihadists flocked to Somalia to help al-Shabaab in its fight gradually establishing a link between the group and al-Qaeda. Al-Shabaab has seen its influence dwindle in recent years, beginning with its forced-removal from Mogadishu in 2011 and then again its loss of control of the region after leaving the port Kismayo a year later. These losses deprived them of the ability to levy taxes and acquire supplies in areas under their control.

Given its diminishing hold on regional power, it comes as little surprise that al-Shabaab decisively chose to strike beyond its borders and launch a fatal assault on the popular Nairobi mall; Westgate shopping center is a major tourist hub attracting western foreigners and affluent Kenyans. The attack sends a clear message to radicals and other extremist al-Qaeda-linked organizations stating, “We’re still here, and we’re still in serious business.”

But al-Shabaab’s propagandistic attack was not meant to radicalize Islamists exclusively in the region. The group of fighters that day was comprised not only of Somali nationals, but also of international recruits – most significantly at least two fighters have been confirmed to have come from Minnesota and Missouri. In other words, a number of these recruits who were involved in this gruesome Jihadist strike were United States citizens loyal to al-Shabaab.

Why is this significant? Consider the following factors in conjunction with one another: (1) the choice to attack a site of this sort rather than one with government or military affiliation was largely a publicity-driven move, (2) both the targets and the al-Shabab recruits were an amalgamation of foreigners originating from an array of western countries. The attack was more than just another anti-west assault launched by Islamists; it was meant to serve as an initiative in capturing the attention of Somalis and Muslims – specifically within the United States – for recruitment to the group’s militant forces.

The American-Somali population saw a spike in numbers following immigrants escaping the country’s 1991 civil war . An estimated 50,000 to over 150,000 Somali naturalized citizens reside within the United States today, living in concentrated groups, the largest of which is situated in Minnesota. And although the majority of Somalis have assimilated to American culture, the adjustment of the population has been met with interruptions by the Islamic radicalization of its youth that has been occurring since at least 2004. In 2007, al-Shabaab began openly calling for foreign fighters around the world to come join their extremist forces – and a number of American-Somalis began taking heed to their calls, leaving for Somalia to train in the name of jihad.

While there is nothing new about Americans being recruited and trained to fight for Jihadist terrorist organizations, al-Shabaab and its Nairobi propaganda attack not only increased the probable numbers of radicalized Americans migrating to the region but also highlighted an acute new domestic security concern within the United States. Through recruiting, radicalizing and training, al-Shabaab is able to extend its extremist goals directly into the United States through Somali citizens who leave for Somalia as Islamists and return to the States as new Jihadists. U.S. intelligence forces need to begin focusing on al-Shabaab’s recruitment among the swelling American-Somali population, as it will soon prove itself to be among the next major threats to the borders of this nation. If the government is to minimize the effects of al-Shabaab’s recruitment campaign, it must take initiative to locate both the locals responsible for radicalizing these Somali-Americans, as well as those who have left the country to receive training, to ensure that they do not reenter the country equipped with ambitions of Jihadist destruction.

Not only must it track and locate recruiters and militants who are nationals, but the United States must also keep a close watch as to where in Somalia its dollars are being wired. In addition to the number of recruits the group receives from this country, al-Shabaab’s supporters have maintained direct contact with its leaders; recorded transactions indicate that the group has received at least tens of thousands of American dollars through money transfer businesses over the years to the organization. Since al-Shabaab was added to the State Department’s list of designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations in 2008, the providing of money, communications, weapons, human capital, etc., to the group has been deemed illegal, which has appeared to have had somewhat of a preventative effect with twelve individuals convicted in 2011. Regardless of this initiative and the seemingly negligible reported amount of funds channeled to the organization, there still exists the prominent threat of “under-wraps” al-Shabaab recruitment and funding that occurs entirely undetected within the United States.

Perhaps in spite of all these considerations, al-Shabaab’s horrific, newsworthy assault on the Westgate Mall was a mere cry for attention – an act of desperation to reclaim what little is left of its legitimacy as a serious terrorist organization. After all, the group’s primary aim has always been to maintain ironclad control over Somalia, and with that gone, al-Shabaab has little to its name within the region. Some argue that the attack will fail to create a substantial wave of radicalization and influence potential recruits in such a dramatic manner. However, the truth still indicates that the threat is grave. The attack shows that al-Shabaab is still serious about its exploits, and the Americans involved prove that the group’s recruitment is still effective and in full swing within the States. Moreover, the White House must marshal its intelligence services in cracking down on domestic recruitment, and perhaps most importantly monitoring the reentry of American-Somalis returning from Somalia, in order to ensure that domestic grounds are kept secure from the new security threat posed by al-Shabaab and its terrorist outlets on U.S. soil.

Obama’s Delay on Syria and Why the Response is a Little Too Late

Last summer, President Barack Obama vowed to employ a military intervention in civil war-stricken Syria if either side resorted to use of chemical weapons.

This summer, there has been confirmation that the conflict has crossed that “red line.” It’s your move now, Mr. President, but remember – whatever you decide to do, it’s a little too late to avoid checkmate.

Instead of drawing a line and waiting around playing the “sitting duck” game, the United States should have provided the Syrian rebels fighting in the civil war with military aid from the start. By passively watching the progression of what started as a peaceful protest of President Bashar al-Assad met by harsh government crackdowns, the international realm has allowed the situation to escalate into a full-scale civil war. The incumbent Assad regime – backed by Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Iran and Russia – is fighting a rebel opposition backed by al-Qaida. By remaining inactive in the civil war, the West has played a clear role in allowing the death toll in Syria to continue to skyrocket. So the way I see it, the White House will tolerate the appearance of radical Muslim organizations in the conflict, and will tolerate the countless numbers of civilians killed daily, but the moral compass for some reason only prevails when the use of chemical weapons is introduced into the situation.

So what exactly will the Obama Administration do? Well, the answer is simple: do what has always been done. The White House has decided to supply military support through arming the rebels with “light” weapons. The United States is going to arm al-Qaeda-backed rebel forces who have already faced an astronomical death toll and most probably view the US with little credibility, thanks to our delay. Does anyone else see the obvious problem here? President Obama needs to take a note from history and consider the repercussions of what he is planning to do. Remember when the United States decided to arm Bin Laden and his supporters in the 1970s to push the Soviets out of Afghanistan? Those forces were then used to build up al-Qaeda as we know it today, which turned swiftly against its creator and spawned a massive terrorism campaign met by President George W. Bush’s infamous and seemingly endless “War on Terror“.

Is it too far-fetched to suppose that the Syrian rebel fighters will undoubtedly turn on the United States with animosity for its delay in assistance? Perhaps. But I don’t think it’s throwing the ball too far out of the park to say that with nearly 100,000 civilians already dead, from a humanitarian standpoint it may have behooved the White House to act more promptly. But then again, there is that consideration that the United States doesn’t really feel any sort of humanitarian obligation to the international realm, and particularly to the Middle East. Not only that, but our intervention within the region has been sporadic and confusingly contradictory. For instance, while the Obama administration saw no problem in thrusting its military forces into Libya in 2011, and liberally continues to dowse Yemen and obliterate countless innocent citizens with drones, it holds reservations in assisting the Syrian people from what appears to be escalating into a new-age genocide. Likewise, the administration has worked effortlessly to combat al-Qaeda by locating and killing Osama bin Laden, yet it continues to bolster al-Qaeda bases by arming al-Qaeda-backed rebel fighters in Syria.

Had the United States decided to act two years ago, in 2011, when the civil unrest began, it may have actually had a legitimate shot at quelling the war against Bashar al-Assad and his regime while at the same time preventing the rise of extremist groups such as al-Qaeda. That time has passed, so all we can hope for is that the Obama administration decides to intervene strongly enough. So let’s hope the White House is going to arm the Syrian rebels with more than just light weapons; without supplementing mere ammunition with antitank rockets and antiaircraft systems, there is little hope that the Syrian rebels will be able to finally put an end to this bloodshed and emerge victorious. With vital United States national security interests – namely containing al-Qaeda and preserving the security of Israel – being threatened by the civil war, it is now more urgent than ever for the Obama administration to take action to protect not only national interests but also human dignity and put a stop to the coldblooded carnage plaguing Syria.

President-Elect Rouhani Brings Hope to the Citizens of Iran

Will Iran’s new moderate “Superman” Rouhani be able to withstand the forces of Ayatollah Khamenei and his theocratic kryptonite?

Last month, some salvation was finally delivered to the tense and oppressed citizens of Iran with the victory of newly elected president Hassan Rouhani. Under former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iranians were subjected to his abusive policies, most notably demonstrated by the harsh crackdown of the 2009 Green Movement.

Although Rouhani, who will officially replace the current hotheaded president in August, has been termed a relative moderate in comparison to Gung-ho fundamentalist Ahmadinejad, the Iranian people have already received him as an angel on earth. The so perceived “savior” has verbalized his intentions to improve the country’s international reputation. And this may even be the first time since the onset of the Islamic Revolution of 1979 that we may see a resurrection of limited aspects of western society within the country, as Rouhani has expressed his desire to restore basic human rights beginning with the improvement of women’s rights and the gradual deregulation of the strict national dress code.

 

But don’t tear your headscarves yet, ladies –– while I am sure that you are more than eager to sport your fashionable new hairdos, there is still something dodgy going on here. Despite Rouhani expressing his personal wishes for reform, he remains at best merely another puppet of Supreme Leader and master puppeteer Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Although the voting process within Iran may bear a democratic façade, it is simply a hollow disguise masking a deviously controlled and complex method of strategically inducting figureheads who will ultimately serve to carry out the wishes of the Ayatollah. Here’s a quick breakdown of how candidates are selected for participation in the presidential race:

The Guardian Council is fully responsible for filtering potential candidates and selecting those who they feel fit to run. The Council is composed of six clergymen, who are selected by the Ayatollah himself, and six jurists, selected by the head of the judiciary (also appointed by the Ayatollah). The entire Council is thus essentially appointed by the Supreme Leader and reflects the same fundamental ideals as him: all candidates bear complete loyalty to the Islamic Republic and all of its fundamental assets. Following a three-week campaign period after candidates are announced, voting takes place. If a single candidate does not take a simple majority, then the top two candidates will face off in a runoff election.

Doesn’t seem so egalitarian anymore, does it? With the Supreme Leader virtually controlling all aspects of the elections, up to the voter’s free choice of casting a ballot, the citizens of Iran are no more than spectators trapped in the “Ayatollah Khamenei Show,” starring Khamenei and Khamenei, and featuring Khamenei.

The understanding of the Supreme Leader being the central power holder and final arbiter of Iranian governmental policies is essential to understanding Iranian politics. There has been some jubilance over the fact that Rouhani has promised to give transparency to Iran’s hotly-disputed nuclear program, which will hopefully serve to ease tensions between the country and the rest of the world as well as break Iran free of its international isolation. In February, incumbent Ahmadinejad suggested the national nuclear program may see changes as evidenced by his statement that he would be willing to discuss the program in detail with the United States so as long as the West stopped pressuring the regime. However, the acidic rain of truth pierces umbrella shields of optimism once the realization is made that these statements of hope are emptier than outer space itself. As long as Khamenei remains the final authority on major state decisions, he remains the supreme ringleader of the chaotic circus that is Iranian politics; no vital information regarding the country’s nuclear program will be spilled to the West, and that is final. In terms of Rouhani’s plans to restore basic liberties to the country, being that the current Supreme Leader was the one responsible for the 1979 Islamic Revolution, replacing an autocratic monarchy with largely western ideals with a stringent Islamic theocracy, it seems highly doubtful that the new president elect will be met with success in his quest for social and political reform.

To the Iranian citizenry, I say celebrate now, for it is still too early to tell whether the Angel Rouhani and his plans for reform will fall prisoner to the devilish iron fist of Khamenei. Only time will tell how the new Rouhani-Khamenei dynamic will play out. While the Iranian citizenry initially will almost certainly be met with a minimal degree of improved autonomy and treatment under the new president, as long as Khamenei remains, the streets will continue to be lined with revolutionary guards executing the will of their Supreme Leader. So sit tight, Iran, because things aren’t going to change while Khamenei is still around, and await instead the day the tyrannical leader is succeeded, for only this holds the dawn of a new beginning for the country plagued by an era of dark and oppressive theocratic rule.