National Expert on Yemen
It’s a fairly common occurrence for Gregory Johnsen ’01 to receive threats from members of Al-Qaeda, the terrorist group responsible for civilian and military attacks around the world.
“It’s something you can look at in different ways,” Johnsen said about the threats. “It lets you know that some of what you are doing has validity.”
The Hastings College graduate is a current national expert on Yemen and the presence of Al-Qaeda there. In October of last year, he spoke on the deradicalization of Yemen at the New America Foundation’s counterterrorism conference, “Al-Qaeda and Its Allies: The Endgame,” in Washington, D.C. In December, he was a featured panelist at the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations held on Capitol Hill.
“I think there’s a lot of misunderstanding about Yemen,” Johnsen said. “In the media, there’s been a lot of catch up. There’s a little bit of knowledge, but the details and nuances of the country and culture escape most.”
Johnsen, who is fluent in Arabic, has spent several years living in Yemen and traveling within the Middle East. He credits his intimate knowledge of the country’s people and culture to his fairly extensive network of friends in Yemen. He’s had the opportunity to live among Yemen’s local tribes, and he has met and talked with members of Al-Qaeda and those with close ties to Osama bin Laden.
The Kearney, Neb., native grew up in Guilford, N.Y. and returned to Nebraska to attend college. He graduated from Hastings College in 2001 with distinction in History and then served as a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer in Jordan for 18 months. In 2003, Johnsen received the Fulbright Fellowship to Yemen, where he spent a year completing his research on the 1962-68 Yemen Civil War. He received his Master of Arts degree in Near Eastern Studies from the University of Arizona, and he is a Ph.D. candidate in Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University.
Johnsen has written for a variety of national publications on Yemen, including Foreign Policy, The American Interest, The Independent, The Boston Globe and more. He has appeared on CNN, the Charlie Rose Show, BBC, NPR, al-Jazeera English, al-Hurra and others, and he has been quoted in Time magazine, The New York Times, The Washington Post and other national publications. He’s writing a book on the presence of Al-Qaeda in Yemen over the past 20 years.
Johnsen says his Hastings College mentors, Professor of History and Chair of the Department Dr. Robert Babcock, Professor Emeritus of Political Science Dr. Dennis Storer and others were instrumental in guiding him toward what he wanted to do.
“I know it was my Greek and Roman World History course with Dr. Babcock that started me on my journey to Yemen,” Johnsen said. “If I can point to one thing that gave me that initial push to where I am today, it would be the HC faculty and the close, personal attention they gave me. They were extremely giving of their time at Hastings College, and in the time since then.”