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Why Do Some Somali-American Muslim

Youths Become Susceptible to Violent


Extremism Whereas Others Do Not?
Research Proposal

Katherine Leggiero
School of Conflict Analysis & Resolution
MS Candidate 2016
21 July 2015
GOV 500.B01, Summer 2015, Dr. Eric McGlinchey

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Contents
Introduction................................................................................................................ 3
Specification of Problem.......................................................................................... 3
Brief Summary of Empirics...................................................................................... 4
Research Context in Larger Discourse.....................................................................4
Literature Review....................................................................................................... 5
Table 1: Select Dossiers of Somali-American Violent Extremists..........................6
Research Design......................................................................................................... 7
Justification of Research.......................................................................................... 7
Variable Conceptualization & Data Collection.........................................................8
Table 2: Dependent Variables...............................................................................8
Table 3: Key Variables under Investigation...........................................................9
Theoretical Framework.......................................................................................... 10
Push-Pull Theory................................................................................................. 10
Social Isolation Theory....................................................................................... 10
Moral Disengagement Theory............................................................................11
Implications.............................................................................................................. 11
Works Cited.............................................................................................................. 13

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Introduction
Since 2014 the Islamic State leveraged recruitment networks of its affiliates, like alShabaab, to recruit foreign fighter in St. Paul, Minnesota (Southers 2015). Violent
extremist recruiters purportedly exploit disenfranchised and marginalized SomaliAmerican youth (Southers 2015). With assimilation challenges, racism and fear of
law enforcement many Somali-Americans have created their own insular cultural
networks in areas, like Cedar Riverside1 in St. Paul where they have sought asylum
and citizenship (Southers 2015). Those Somali-American youth living within these
cultural networks with limited family, latent grievance from a youths familys
experience of the Somali Civil War, difficulty assimilating to a new culture, 2 lack of
social,3 education and economic opportunities and perceptions of being a victim of
discrimination (by DHS, FBI and local law enforcement) informs these SomaliAmerican youths worldview (Southers 2015, Weine 2012).

Specification of Problem
There a variety of causal hypotheses that attempt to explain Muslim youths
susceptibility to violent extremism. Competing causal hypotheses of Muslim Somali1 Cedar River in St. Paul, Minnesota is the area most preferred by Somali immigrant because
there has been a Somali cultural and clan confederation or qabil (e.g. Darod, Dir, Hawiye and
Isaaq) structures in-place since the 1990s (Southers 2015).

2 Refers to the Somali-American youths need for religious, personal, and collective
identity that provides the bridging capital of being a Muslim in America (Southers
2015).
3 Refers to Somali-American youths need for belong within a family, community,
and among friends (Southers 2015).
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American youth between the ages of 15-35 susceptibility to violent extremists


recruitment include: religious, personal, and collective identity, experiencing
discrimination and violence, lack of education, unemployment, latent grievance
from the Somali Civil War, distrust of federal and state officials and law
enforcement, need for belonging, limited parent-child relationship (Botha 2014,
Southers 2015, Weine 2012). In some instances, the homogenous cultural network
and perceptions of religious (e.g. Muslim) and racial (e.g. Black) discrimination have
created an extended period of marginalization among some Somali-American
Muslim youth (Eckel 2013). For this reason, the author will focus on the potential
impacts and implications of social isolation resulting from extended periods of
discrimination and how it may contribute to some Somali-American Muslim youths
susceptibility to violent extremism.

Brief Summary of Empirics


Presently, 35% of Somali-Americans living in St. Paul, Minnesota are single-parents
with approximately 3 children (Southers 2015). Of the 56% of the Somali-Americans
under the age of 24, 39% of them do not have a high school diploma (Southers
2015). Of the Somali-American above the age of 16 32% are unemployed and 55%
are living in poverty (Southers 2015). In a study conducted among 112 Somalis
living in the U.S. between the ages of 16-25, only 14% identified themselves as
Somali-Americans (Aw-Osman 2011).

Research Context in Larger Discourse


The prevailing theory regarding youths participation in violent extremism is the
Push-Pull-Theory. There are a variety of studies that do offer causal explanations of
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potential push factors (including discrimination) that may make Somali-American


Muslim youth more susceptible to violent extremists recruitment. This research will
look at Social Isolation Theory to reassess how frequently discrimination is
experienced by Somali-American Muslim youth, how that may impact these youths
behavior, decisions and actions. More importantly the comparative analysis will
function as a tool to provide revisions to current CVE program designs, community
engagement and support by stakeholders at the local, state, and notional levels.

Literature Review
To date two-dozen Somali-Americans between the ages of 17 and 35 were recruited
by violent extremists to engage in jihad 4 abroad (Glionna 2014). (See Table 1: Select
Dossiers of Somali-American Violent Extremists). Competing causal theories include:
forced migration, weak family structure, youths latent grievance of the Somali Civil
War, difficulty assimilating to new culture youths inability to reconcile dualidentities, lack of education, poverty, racism, and religious discrimination as
contributing factors to a youths susceptibility to violent extremist recruitment
(Southers 2015, Weine 2012). Push-Pull Theory in this instance is applied to explain
why some Somali-American Muslim youth are more susceptible to the pull of
violent extremism (Southers 2015, Weine 2012). While other researchers utilize

4 Jihad in this instance refers to engaging in a holy war (Southers 2015).


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Youth Radicalization Theory5 or Moral Disengagement Theory6 or Strain Theory7 to


explicity attribute blame to a specific behavioral process (Aly 2015, Aw-Osman
2011, Borum 2011).
One of the competing causal explanations is discrimination. When discrimination
occurs for an extended period it institutionalizes how marginalized individuals and
society normalize segregation and social isolation (Eckel 2013, Zavaleta 2014).
Sustained social isolation inhibits an individual from empathizing, while increasing
ones perceptions of threats from others, distrust and inability to cope with stress 8
(Cacioppo 2013, Weine 2012, Zavaleta 2014). Socially isolated individuals may seek
other marginalized loners within a similar income bracket in order to develop a
sense of belonging (Zavaleta 2014). The behaviors and decisions an individual
elects to cope with their social isolation may directly or indirectly assert harm to
others (Borum 2011). There is psychological literature that suggests that the
individual experiences subjective social isolation when the quality and quantity of
relationships does not match their expectation, which causes vulnerability,
adversely impacts self-regulation of emotions and negatively distorts ones
perceptions of others (Zavaleta 2014). When an individual is inundated by
5

Michael Kings Youth Radicalization Theory focuses on how 2nd generation youth
restructure their old and new collective identity during adolescence, which will
psychologically impact a youths behavior (Aw-Osman 2011).

6 Albert Banduras Moral Disengagement Theory refers to an individuals ability to


morally justify dehumanizing others (Borum 2011).
7 Strain Theory refers to victims of trauma that can no longer endure their trauma
see violent extremism as the only alternative (Borum 2011).
8 Children exposed to stress hormones in utero are more sensitive to mental
stressors as teenagers than those whose parents were not exposed to trauma
(Siegel 2013).
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discrimination it functions as a catalytic event, which can expedite the radicalization


process (Dawson 2014) .

Table 1: Select Dossiers of Somali-American Violent Extremists


Name

Age

Gend
er
Male

Attributes

Action

A student; senior
in high school

2011 joined
Al-Shabaab

Unknown

(Weine
2012)

Detonated a
VBIED in
Northern
Somalia
Wrote jihad
recruitment
rap songs in
2009
One of the
first
Americans
to die inaction in
Syria

(AwOsman
2011)

One of the
first
Americans
to die inaction in
Syria; had
$800 and
US passport
in his
pocket

(Madha
ni
2015,
Masi
2014)

Burham
Hassan

17

Shirwa
Ahmed

unkno
wn

Male

Unknown

2008 joined
Al-Shabaab

Omar
Hammami

unkno
wn

Male

Unknown

Joined AlShabaab

Abdirahm
aan
Muhumed

29

Male

2014 joined
ISIS as a
fighter and
informal
Facebook
recruiter;
informed
MPR News
via
Facebook
that was an
ISIS fighter

Douglas
McCain

33

Male

Father of nine
children from
three wives; A
Muslim must
stand up for
[what] is rightI
gave up my
worldly
possessions for
Allah; interested
inn Somali
politics; trying to
make it in his own
life; posted on
Facebook All
loves those who
fight for his
cause
Islamic convert;
looking for a
purpose; college
educated; wrote
ISIS sympathetic
posts on
Facebook;
Tweeted pray for
ISIS

2014 joined
ISIS as a
fighter

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Outcome

Source

(AwOsman
2011)
(Bloom
2014,
Madha
ni
2015)

Abdi Nur

20

Male

Yusra
Ismail

19

femal
e

Abdullah
Yusuf

18

Male

Decided with
Yusra Ismail to
become violent
extremists
Stole passports;
Decided with Abdi
Nur to become
violent extremists
High school
student;
concealed his plan
from his parents

Travelled
with stolen
passport to
join ISIS
Travelled
with stolen
passport to
join ISIS
Prevented
from
travelling
to Turkey at
Minneapoli
s Airport

Unknown

(Madha
ni
2015)

Unknown

(Madha
ni
2015)

Unknown

(Madha
ni
2015)

Research Design
Justification of Research
The U.S. fear increased recruitment of Western youth may encourage lone-wolf
attacks within the states (Eckel 2013). The fear of lone wolf-attacks has increased
the vigilance of local law enforcement and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in areas deemed most susceptible to
terrorist recruitment (Eckel 2013). St. Paul, Minnesota (containing approximately
50,000 Somali Muslim immigrants) is one of the areas that is monitored because of
the active recruitment of Somali Muslim youth by groups like al-Shabaab (between
2007 to 2013) and the ISIS (in 2014) (Southers 2015). The research will discuss
potential impacts and implications of social isolation of Somali-American Muslim
youth and how these factors may potentially make them more susceptible to violent
extremism. Providing a discourse that outlines and narrows the scope of grievance
factors may better inform how state and federal officials conduct and participate in
community engagements and support capacity-building programs.
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Variable Conceptualization & Data Collection


A mixed methodology with an interpretative approach will be used for this study to
conduct a comparative analysis of dependent variables (See Table 2: Dependent
Variables).

Table 2: Dependent Variables


Sample
Number
24
Representative
Sample

Representative
Sample

Dependent Variables
Known Somali-American Muslim Violent Extremists
Somali-American Muslim Youth Living outside of St. Paul,
Minnesota
-attributes matching to Somali-American Muslim Youth from
Cedar Riverside
- males and females between the ages 15 and 35
Somali-American Muslim Youth Living in Cedar Riverside in St.
Paul, Minnesota
- males and females between the ages 15 and 35

The 24 known Somali-American Muslim violent extremists trending attributes (e.g.


behavioral, lifestyle, education, etc.) would provide measures to compare the
representative samples within the homogenous Somali community residing in Cedar
Riverside and outside of it. Representative samples would be based on current
Somali-American population census data in Minnesota. Participants would be offered
a gift card incentive ($20 value) for their participation in the research. Those that
choose to participate must provide informed consent through the parental consent
form (applicable for 15-17 year olds) and participation waiver (all participants).
A survey of quantitative demographics, such as income, level of education, age,
number of people living in the household, time spent volunteering or assisting
others, number of social interactions, type of grievance (e.g. religious or ethnic),
perceived perpetrators (e.g. local community, federal/state officials, law
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enforcement, or peers), and frequency the grievance occurs (e.g. periodic,


inundated or extended periods) can provide objective information to be compared
to the 24 known extremists attributes. The individuals within both representative
samples that are assessed to have similar attributes to 24 known extremists will
receive in-depth interviews.
The in-depth, face-to-face individual interviews will be given to Somali-American
Muslim youth selected from both representative samples. The interviews will be
used to qualify survey responses with anecdotal explanations of the youths
behaviors, decisions, and factors that they perceive contribute to their grievances.
Following the individual interviews, the selectees will be assigned into two-focus
groups so that there is a mix of Cedar Riverside residents in both groups. Qualitative
data will be collected on the key variables under investigation (See Table 3: Key
Variables under Investigation).

Table 3: Key Variables under Investigation


Do individuals within the sample groups possess the same trending preconditions 9
as the known Somali-American violent extremists?
What are the contributing factors to grievances outlined by the selectees from the
sample groups?
What actions10 did the selectee take to resolve the grievance?
What do the selectees believe that the state and federal officials can do to
support and engage the Somali-American community to address grievances and
their contributing factors?

9 The preconditions pertaining to the behavior, lifestyle, education exhibited by the


24 known Somali-American violent extremists.
10 The researcher wants to ascertain if the selectee went through formal channels
for help or sought alternative coping mechanisms (e.g. visiting IS website, talking
with radical Salafist Imams, distancing themselves from family, increased
interaction with first generation or resident Muslim loners).
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Surveys, interviews, and focus group data will be aggregated into a spreadsheet
and thematically coded according to the known attributes of violent extremist and
the new key independent variables. Trends, correlates, and outliers will be analyzed
using Push-Pull Theory, Social Isolation Theory and Moral Disengagement Theory
(See the section on Theoretical Framework) to process trace the potential causal
role of social isolation in relation to Somali-American Muslim youths potential
susceptibility to violent extremist recruitment. Recommendations will also be
extracted from the qualitative data to provide second and third order effects to
inform decision-makers on capacity building programs and strategies for improving
community engagement with Somali-American Muslims and state and federal
officials.

Theoretical Framework
Push-Pull Theory
In order for Somali-American Muslim youth to be receptive to violent extremism
there needs to be a cognitive opening that incentivizes the pull of the Islamic
State in Iraq and Syria (Dawson 2014). In this instance, cognitive opening is a stateof-mind where the Somali-American Muslim youth becomes receptive toward
learning about violent extremists ideology when processes in place fail, are
inaccessible or inadequate in alleviating the youths grievance (Dawson 2014).
Outlining what Somali-American Muslim youths push factors are can improve the
focus and spending of programs designed to better address these grievances.

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Social Isolation Theory


Extended periods of discrimination or an intense inundation of discrimination, in
conjunction with assimilation challenges, racism and fear of law enforcement have
led to social isolation among some of the Somali-American immigrants (Southers
2015). Assimilation challenges have made it difficult for subsequent generations
with Somali heritage to reconcile Somali traditions with American ones (Cacioppo
2013, Southers 2015). As a result, many Somali-American Muslim youth do not
consign themselves to American social norms, which precipitate further
marginalization from the larger society (Cacioppo 2013). Considering the mental
and social repercussions of social isolation may provide more insightful assessment
of where Somali-American Muslim youth are lacking integration into American
society, economy and education.

Moral Disengagement Theory


According to Albert Banduras Moral Disengagement Theory, an individual will
rationalize violent extremism to avoid feelings of guilt and/or accountability (Aly
2015). When an individual shifts the blame and dehumanizes others in order to take
violent political action toward non-combatants the cultural and psychological
barriers once in place are no longer acknowledged (Borum 2011). A renewed sense
of purpose (e.g. new life with ISIS) in conjunction immoral behavior increases the
pull toward violence (Borum 2011). The cognitive opening to adopt violent
extremism is only a matter of time, willingness, and ISIS recruitment ability (Borum
2011). However, reassessing the push factors and knowing what is contributing to
Somali-American Muslim youths adoption of violent extremism will enable all levels
of society (e.g. local, state, national, and international) to improve community
engagement in order to mitigate violent extremists recruitment.
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Implications
There are a variety of implications from researching how social isolation may impact
Somali-American Muslim youth. Where youth are experiencing discrimination this
research will provide a discourse that will assist in redefining the type of
discrimination (e.g. ethnic or religious), who it is perpetrated by (e.g. local
community, federal/state officials, law enforcement, or peers) and its frequency
(e.g. periodic, inundated or extended periods) in order to correctly identify factors
contributing to this sub-cultures grievances. Monitoring, tracking and evaluating
reports or participation observations can assist stakeholders in designing prevention
programs, conducting engagements, and providing appropriate support where
needed. At the national level, evaluating how factors might influence an individuals
decision to adopt violent extremism can inform policymakers in actions that can be
taken to combat it. Conducting research that assists in reassessing current
approaches to countering violent extremism can result in recommendations that
may provide policymakers with a more integrated approach to U.S. national security
strategy.

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Works Cited
Aly, Anne. 2015. Teaching Terror: What Role for Schools in Countering Violent
Extremism? July 02. Accessed July 15, 2015.
http://theconversation.com/teaching-terror-what-role-for-schools-incountering-violent-extremism-44080.
Aw-Osman, Farah. 2011. Youth Radicalization: Somali Identity & Support for AlShabaab in the U.K., the U.S., and Canada. Ottawa: International
Development Research Center.
Bloom, Mia. 2014. Armed and Innocent? September 11. Accessed July 19, 2015.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/monkey-cage/wp/2014/09/11/armedand-innocent/.
Borum, Randy. 2011. "Radicalization to Violent Extremism I: A Review of Social
Science Research Theories." Journal of Strategic Studies 1-32.
Botha, Anneli and Mahdi Abdile. 2014. Radicalization and Al-Shabaab Recuritment
in Somali. Paper 266, Pretoria: Institute for Security Studies.
Cacioppo, John. 2013. The Leathality of Loneliness. TEDX. September 9. Accessed
June 24, 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_0hxl03JoA0.
Dawson, Laura, Charlie Edwards and Calum Jeffray. 2014. Learning and Adapting:
The Use of Monitoring and Evaluation in Countering Violent Extremism.
Handbook for Practitioners, Whitehall: Royal United Services Institute.
Eckel, Mike and Harun Maruf. 2013. Why He Chose To Leave This Good Land?:
Islamic State Beckons and Somali Americans Again Struggle With
Radicalization. Accessed June 29, 2015. http://projects.voanews.com/isisrecruit-somali-americans/.
Glionna, John. 2014. Somali American Fights Militant Islamist Recruiters in U.S.
Heartland. October 3. Accessed July 2, 2015.
HTTP://WWW.LATIMES.COM/NATION/LA-NA-MINNESOTA-TERRORIST-RECRUITS20141004-STORY.HTML#PAGE=1.
Southers, Erroll and Justin Hienz. 2015. Foreign Fighters: Terrorist Recruitment and
CVE Programs in Minneapolis--St. Paul. Field Study, U.S. Department of
Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate.
Weine, Stevan and Osman Ahmed. 2012. Building Resilience to Violent Extremism
Among Somali-Americans in Minnesota--St. Paul. START, College Park:
Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Center of
Excellence.
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Zavaleta, Diego, Kim Samuel and China Mills. 2014. Social Isolation: A Conceptual
and Measurement Proposal. Working Paper No. 67, Oxford: University of
Oxford: Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative.

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