Why are we here? Who am I?
By popular request from folks trying to understand why the strategies being implemented by the Trump administration will backfire and allow for more recruitment by terrorist organizations, I’m writing a short series of (hopefully) easy to understand posts that address this issue. Those of you who know me in-person are aware of my subject of expertise. For everyone else who doesn’t know me, I study the rhetoric of terrorism (and new media), specifically the recruitment practices of al-Qaeda and ISIS, along with the rhetorical strategies implemented by other Middle-Eastern/North-African organizations. I have my PhD in Rhetoric, Composition, and Linguistics from ASU, so be prepared for some technical discussions.
Latest research project
Last summer I worked on a joint project with the Center for the Study of Religion at and Conflict at ASU and the company, Chemonics, that focused on the promotion of peace in Libya (which is also on Trump’s forbidden nations list) so I’ll talk a bit about that eventually.
If you have a chance to read more about the LookingGlass project, you should– it’s really cool. It’s essentially a computer program that tracks activities for targeted groups in social media outlets and puts together a real-time visualization of the discussions being had through the network of social media sites with particular affiliations. In Libya’s case, we were working with seven major factions (governmental, NGO, terrorist-oriented, youth movements, etc.) that we tracked using a schematic of social dimensions that would tell us what particular topics were of concern to these groups at any given moment.
The actual computer programming was way beyond me, but since I was the only rhetoric person/area expert working on the project with a bunch of engineers, I built all the databases and coded a ton of keywords for them to track and classify.
Since then, I’ve been teaching argumentative writing and introductory rhetorical theory at Arizona State University.
Current and future analysis of Islamist terrorist groups and the effect of federal public policy
There have been a couple of analyses of this already that address this issue, but these articles (and others like it) assume a few things about the “assimilation” of refugees into American culture in a way that doesn’t allow for the differences in the ideologies and affiliations existing in their countries of origin. The existing support structures available in the United States for incoming refugees also vary widely in their own ideologies and methodologies for integrating refugees into the U.S. and have their own claims on the times/allegiances of the individuals or families that they sponsor. These texts also grossly simplify the radicalization process, but that’s a subject for another day.
What I’d like to do here, though, is give you all some of the details of the counterterrorism policies of the Intelligence Community and the Senate/House of Representatives subcommittees that form the public policy relating to the prevention of radicalization of new recruits by existing Islamist terrorists.
I’ll also be looking at the primary sources (magazines, videos, etc.) from ISIS and al-Qaeda that really articulate their modes of persuasion (hey, rhetoric!) for international audiences, since these are key to our understanding of how and why terrorist groups are able to recruit from diverse audiences. Their use of online media to recruit English-speaking audiences, in fact, makes the current ban of refugees and incoming travelers from the primarily Muslim countries on their list of forbidden nations (Sudan, Iran, Libya, Iraq, Somalia, Syria, Yemen) completely ineffectual. As others have also noted, this move just works to galvanize terrorist groups by giving them additional fuel to stoke the fires of hatred for Western nations.
These are the kinds of elements that will make our discussion here particularly important in the coming weeks of the new Trump administration.
Hopefully this will be helpful!
**Quick note: I’m only examining Islamist terrorism (the Middle-Eastern and North-African variety) and not other varieties of terrorism. Their recruitment tactics use most of the same basic principles as AQ and ISIS, but their ideologies have very different underpinnings.