Strauss Center News

Updates from the Strauss Center and our affiliated distinguished scholars and fellows


Annika Rettstadt Maps Islamic State Activity

Nov 17, 2016 |

Annika Rettstadt (dual MA in Middle Eastern Studies and Global Policy Studies) explains her work tracking Islamic State activity in Europe as part of our ongoing Brumley NextGen Program check-in:

Strauss Center: Tell us about the research project you’re doing for the Brumley NextGen Fellows Program.
Annika: With the Schengen Agreement and general border control issues, it’s interesting to see how Islamic State is able to continuously penetrate and attack. Right now I’m collecting daily open source research of all ISIS-linked arrests and attacks in Europe and mapping those on Google Earth, adding every reference point. From there, on a monthly basis, I’m organizing each of the arrests by neighborhood to see if there are any similarities between where the arrests took place and how they change over time, if they do. I’m collecting data for a period of 7 months; at the end I’ll compile a research paper with my findings and what they mean for the future of Europe.

I think this work in general on Islamic State is important because of the general misconceptions surrounding Arabs and Muslims, especially in this day and age. There’s a huge divide that also comes with cultural misunderstandings from both sides; not just from ours but from the Arab world as well. I think doing this helps raise the veil a little bit and helps us understand, for example, that not all Syrian refugees are Islamic State operatives, that not all Arabs are terrorists.

As part of Michigan States Arabic Overseas Flagship Program, Annika lived for a year total in Morocco, a semester in Muscat, Oman, and two weeks in Egypt in 2013, when she had to be evacuated to Morocco after the overthrow of the Morsi government.

What were your biggest takeaways from living in these countries?
A: We’re not so different; there are a lot of cultural similarities. In every country I’ve been to in the Middle East, all of the people I’ve met are so heartwarming and invite you into their homes, even if they don’t know you, and offer you everything they have. It’s a very warm community.

SC: What was the most difficult part for you?
A: Time moves much slower and no one has a problem with it. The hardest thing was being a white woman, because there are stereotypes there about white women, and it’s a male-dominated culture in general (not everywhere though), so it’s hard to adjust to.

Dr. Paul D. Miller, Associate Director of the Clements Center for National Security and Lecturer at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, serves as Annika’s faculty mentor in the Brumley program. 

SC: How has Dr. Miller guided you in your research?
A: He has given me advice on how to organize my data, the countries I should be studying, and helping me brainstorm where this goes and what this all means. In the beginning, I brought my map and data set to him. He said, ‘This looks great, but I think there’s a better way you could organize your data. Here are a couple options, and I think you should look at Russia, and a few other countries, because they could be considered part of Europe and there’s a lot of activity going on there, especially in Russia.’ 

SC: What are your plans after completing your Master’s?
A: I’m keeping my options open. I now speak fluent Arabic and I’m learning Persian. So I know that I want to use my language for something, whether it’s in the government, in an NGO, working as a diplomat, etc., just as long as it’s related to public service, because I think that’s where I belong.

SC: We agree Annika, and know you’ll find your calling in public service. Thank you again for speaking with us!