For many people, the word ‘franchise’ conjures connotations of fast food. Shifting the franchise concept from Big Macs to Bin Laden, Barak Mendelsohn’s The AlQaeda Franchise: The Expansion of al-Qaeda and its Consequences highlights the value of a theoretical approach to the question of how and why terrorist organisations decide to expand.
Whatever the organisation, decisions about whether or not to open a new franchise can have both operational and declaratory meaning. Assessing which of these is the primary motive requires an understanding of the context and a framework for analysing the role played by competing or overlapping objectives. Sometimes expansionary decisions are made from a position of strength. Other times they are a sign of weakness, a means of keeping an organisation in the news when its operational capability or sub-par performance no longer merits the headlines it needs to uphold its brand value and further burnish its reputation.
This might seem counter-intuitive, a risky reason for an organisation to decide to expand, but Mendelsohn argues that it is an accurate explanation of why al-Qaeda chose, after the 9/11 attacks, to branch out by creating franchises in several different arenas.