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The Joe Camel technique, al Qaeda style

July 18, 2011

Will McCants at Jihadica pointed out that Al Qaeda may be creating a cartoon to recruit youth. McCants questions the authenticity of the cartoon, but if it’s real it certainly shows the terrorist organization is trying to innovate.

The tactic might be necessary for Al Qaeda. After suffering the loss of its figurehead and leader, Osama bin Laden, the terrorist organization’s power definitely took a hit in the international conscience. It is no longer considered an untraceable, indefatigable network — even the very top is vulnerable, as bin Laden’s death proved. Bin Laden’s death was just as much a symbolic contribution to Al Qaeda’s hopeful demise as it was strategic.

Bin Laden’s death will damage Al Qaeda’s fundraising ability, and it already has turned to kidnapping people for ransom to fund operations. Bin Laden was the son of a Saudi billionaire and well connected with very important friends. With that link now severed, less money will flow into the organization’s coffers. Additionally, bin Laden’s death likely spooked well-to-do “investors” from renewing their commitment to al Qaeda, as the US now has troves of information regarding al Qaeda’s operations and likely some leads as to who has donated.

With the al Qaeda becoming a less attractive destination for the world’s most misguided philanthropists, it will now have to turn to grassroots recruiting based on a message rather than providing luxuries.

For children, terrorist organizations are seen as providers, not unlike down-on-their-luck urban American youth who get swallowed into drug trafficking because they see it as an option that pays. Terrorist organizations, being well funded by various benefactors, can often lure youth by giving the

m things the traditional system or government cannot, such as food. Terrorism itself exists because of dissatisfaction with the status quo, and in many of the countries where terrorism flourishes the status quo means hunger, lack of education, poverty, high unemployment, corruption, religious animosity, ethnic divisions and severe income inequality.

Governments will get a boost in fighting al Qaeda as its ability to provide for young people depreciates. But governments must still step up and fill the void. The Arab protesters demanding reform should first call for a developed welfare system that redistributes wealth throughout society. The income inequality in many Arab countries differs from the United States in that Arab countries simply lack the institutions and accountability to force governments to spend that money on the people rather than keep it for themselves. Privatizing industries — especially oil — would be a good first step, as that would reduce government control over valued resources in economies that tend to lack diversity.

Until governments can provide basic necessities, terrorist networks will be a draw — and it won’t take an al Qaeda Joe Camel to attract new recruits.

Is this al Qaeda's Joe Camel?

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