Day: October 2, 2013

What Terrorist Attacks Don’t Tell Us

This past week, terrorists struck Westgate Mall in Nairobi. Al Shabaab, a Somali Islamist organization, claimed responsibility. Frustratingly, we still know very little about the attackers, their origins, or the Kenyan security forces’ response. And the news about the last just keeps getting worse.

But there has been some analysis of the attacks – by both journalists and academics. In one of the most widely-circulated pieces, Somalia specialist Ken Menkhaus suggested that the attacks were a sign of desperation, the last gasp of an organization that had run out of an intra-Somalia game (also, here and here). Another strand of argument suggests that the growing ascendancy of a single Al Shabaab leader, Abdul Abdi Godane, has pushed the organization toward Al Qaeda, toward international jihad, toward further attacks on soft targets abroad (here and here and here). The presumption is, again, that we’re at a critical juncture for Al Shabaab, a moment of inflection at which the organization changes its character and its aims. See my AU colleague Joe Young’s piece at Political Violence @ a Glance for a roundup of some of this.

In this post, I’m going to make some empirical quibbley points about Somalia, and then I’m going to make a couple of substantive points about terrorism / COIN analysis in general. So if you’re not terribly interested in Somalia, you still might want to skip to the end.

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Flying While Academic

duck aviationChanging apartments last weekend really brought home the fact that I have been flying way too much lately.  I counted 18 long haul toothbrushes and countless little mini toothpaste tubes.  If you need earplugs and sleep masks, I am your man.  The odd thing about flying as an academic is that I just was not doing it right till recently.  We spend lots of time diving deep into our chosen research topics, but very little time exploring the things that might improve the quality of our lives.

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