Terrorism in Somalia overlooked: US needs to rethink anti-terrorism efforts

You are not alone if you missed the latest news from Kenya.

Members of Somalian Islamic terrorist group al-Shabaab laid siege to the Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi for four days.

67 are reported dead; 175 injured and 71 are still missing. The attack began on Sept. 21, the International Day of Peace.

The group proudly claimed responsibility for the attack on Twitter, citing the Kenyan military’s involvement in Somalia as their primary motivation for doing so.

Most of the dead were found with horrific wounds and evidence of torture. Noses, eyes, ears and genitals had been removed with pliers, and sometimes the knives were even left in the bodies. Other hostages had been raped and subsequently beheaded.

Everybody agrees that such incidents should never happen. Everybody agrees that terrorism is bad, that terrorists should be stopped.

That is all well and good, but terrorism is a hard issue to solve. There is no catch-all root cause; poverty, religious extremism, government instability and numerous other issues are all reasons why someone might join a terrorist group.

The issue is particularly complicated in a country like Somalia, which had little to no form of government for two decades. They now have a government backed by most of the international community.

But it is an uphill battle, for most of the land is still under warlord rule. Government or no government, Somalia has been a failed state for a while.

Things are not going well in Somalia, that much is clear. My point here, however, is not to urge the United States to send in military forces with reckless abandon. It’s to demonstrate how incredibly complicated the situation is, and show how much delicacy and care is needed in dealing with Somalia.

One of al-Shabaab’s main goals is to eradicate the Western influence in Somalia. Their attack on a shopping mall represents a hatred for one of the most glaring examples of Western influence: materialism. This hatred is not new for them: in 2008 they attacked an upscale Western-style hotel in Mumbai.

“A shopping mall is for elites and Westernized people,” Politics and Government professor Kelly Erickson said. “Al-Shabaab wants to kill Westernized Africans.”

Somalia (and al-Shabaab, for that matter) has had enough of the United States’ arrogant imperialism. Our country has had a bad history of offering help where our help is not wanted.

The United States needs an attitude adjustment. Cutting off every kind of aid would send the wrong message to our enemies and our allies; however, we need to stop thinking that military intervention is the magic solution.

That kind of might-makes-right position has gotten us in a lot of trouble before. There are more effective anti-terrorism strategies.

“There’s something called a strategy of denial in which we curtail their [al-Shabaab’s] funding and keep them on the run,” Erickson said.

Essentially, it would be difficult for a terrorist group to plan massive attacks like the one in Nairobi (or even 9/11) when they are constantly forced to hide out or keep on the move.

“We can work to improve local conditions, keep pressure on insurgent groups, and do slow, sure intelligence work. Tactics like these help to degrade groups to a state where they can’t pull it [major attacks] off,” Erickson said.

It is time for United States foreign policy to stop responding to international terrorist attacks by sending in our military. No matter who is in the White House, the federal government has always been too ready to pull out the big guns.

Terrorism can and should be fought, but we should do it by cutting off resources, not responding with violence. It is time to be hard on terrorism—with a strategy that cuts out the possibility of harming innocent civilians.