Al Shabab 101: What is the Somali terrorist group?

Al Shabab, which was behind the attack on Nairobi's Westgate mall, has long fomented violence and promoted radical Islam in Somalia.

3. What does Al Shabab want?

In Somalia, Al Shabab has called for a government that follows sharia, or Islamic law, and have conducted amputations for theft and stoning for adultery in what they claim is accordance with sharia. Yet the more hardline Sunni Islam prevalent in Saudi Arabia and favored by Al Shabab ideologues is alien to most Somalis, who favor a more tolerant Sufi-influenced culture, regional experts say. The invasions by Ethiopia, in 2006, and most recently, in 2011 by Kenyan forces, combined with repeated attacks by forces of the UN-backed transitional government, have helped weaken the group. But the group helped mastermind the July 2010 suicide bombings in Kampala, Uganda that killed 74. And repeated cross-border raids, plus the September 2013 attack on Kenya's Westgate mall, have left some wondering how weak the organization really is.

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Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

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