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Why Join al-Shabaab?

My reflections on Emily Mellgard’s article on al-Shabaab from April 2015. Like many extremist organizations, the appeal of al-Shabaab lies in its ability to provide opportunity, purpose, and agency to people who are politically and economically marginalized by a variety of factors. Fear of foreign invasion from Ethiopia or Western powers, fear of being exploited by a corrupt government, fear of being profiled and persecuted by security forces for ethnic/religious reasons all drive Somali Muslim youth in Somalia and neighboring countries to ascribe to the Salafi-Wahhabi brand of Islam adhered to by al-Shabaab. These driving factors, combined with the lack of legitimate political process, civil discourse, or media venues to address these issues, causes the people to realize their agency through al-Shabaab. If there were more effective government institutions that allowed for the population to have their voice heard and actually have impact on resolving these issues, it would dramatically reduce the pool of recruits. Gaining basic dignity is a fundamental human drive, and if there are no official government institutional avenues to support it, then the people will seek whatever institution provides that opportunity. In the face of perceived and real humiliation by foreign powers, corrupt governments, and brutal security forces, al-Shabaab appears to many as the most viable route for people, primarily youth, to realize their dignity.

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