…or at least one of the reasons. They produce lovely bits of good news like this:
Some months ago, al-Shabaab in Somalia ejected the UN World Food Program, claiming that it was engaged in espionage. Revolution Muslim commented on this fact in March and again, this time in video form, in April. Al-Shabaab was concerned that the WFP was engaged in espionage on behalf of the United Nations.
My first reaction upon hearing this story was unbridled amusement. The United Nations is well-known for being so tied in knots that it can’t even agree that intelligence activities–let alone espionage as such–should be conducted even for the most humanitarian of purposes. The notion that it would be using the World Food Program for espionage purposes was really funny.
Upon reflection, I decided it was rather less funny. It depends in part on your definition of espionage. If espionage is the acquisition of any information whatsoever–and the Revolution Muslim essay puts it rather into that context–then I suppose they may have a point. Furthermore, the jihadists believe that the United Nations is un-Islamic and implacably hostile to Islam. Now, these two assumptions are both wrong, but they are not unreasonable given the basic Salafi jihadist worldview. The result is, however, that the jihadists have to explain to hungry people why it is better for them to starve than to have food from the infidels. Given that Maslow’s hierarchy of needs has survival at the very bottom level, this is probably a hard sell, even if hungry non-jihadist Somalis don’t actually talk back to al-Shabaab about it.
Revolution Muslim goes on to argue that not only is the WFP engaged in espionage, but that the provision of aid keeps Somalia unable to develop its own agriculture and economy and thus keep it powerless and subservient to the outside infidel world. Now, I don’t know anything about development economics, so I don’t know if this is a sound argument or not, though I have heard the general claim (not specifically with respect to Somalia) it from people who aren’t crazy. Whatever the underlying truth, however, again imagine how this doctrinal point would go over with Somali parents desperately trying to keep their starving children alive.
The United States and its partners certainly have serious problems getting their own message across, particularly when words and deeds don’t seem to line up. That said, we are blessed with an enemy who’s pretty good at alienating people, as well.