Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Real Terrorist Motives

Wired's Bruce Schneier has an excellent summary and cogent commentary on an academic paper by Max Abrahms on The Seven Habits of Highly Ineffective Terrorists. Abrahms idea, seconded by Schneier, is that terrorist groups are far less political than they advertise. The religious and political claims are smoke-and-mirrors, just distracting rationalizations for disaffected (and somewhat unstable) young men.

Abrahms marshalls quite a bit of evidence for his points. Fascinating read, from International Security.
Abrahms has an alternative model to explain all this: People turn to terrorism for social solidarity. He theorizes that people join terrorist organizations worldwide in order to be part of a community, much like the reason inner-city youths join gangs in the United States.

The evidence supports this. Individual terrorists often have no prior involvement with a group's political agenda, and often join multiple terrorist groups with incompatible platforms. Individuals who join terrorist groups are frequently not oppressed in any way, and often can't describe the political goals of their organizations. People who join terrorist groups most often have friends or relatives who are members of the group, and the great majority of terrorist are socially isolated: unmarried young men or widowed women who weren't working prior to joining. These things are true for members of terrorist groups as diverse as the IRA and al-Qaida.

For example, several of the 9/11 hijackers planned to fight in Chechnya, but they didn't have the right paperwork so they attacked America instead
HT: Carl at No Oil For Pacifists.


Anonymous said...

That was my impression from reading the book, Infidel by Aya Al Hirsi.

Young men (in particular) wish to be summoned to a heroic undertaking. This is a traditional initiation function in every society. In a functioning society, we provide a heroic undertaking that is constructive or at the very least is a safe outlet. But in the Muslim world the only people offering a heroic vision of life are the violent fundamentalists. And they do a good job of that. They offer a real program of a heroes’ journey of sacrifice and meaning. The heroic challenges that characterize modern life, building civic society or making money are stagnant in the Muslim world. (And I wish that our own religious culture offered a clearer hero’s journey to young people. It is actually a real strength of Muslim culture that they do so. )

I am very optimistic that we can use this understanding to begin to craft an appeal to young Muslim men to undertake a hero’s journey to join modernity. We will see Barack Obama begin to offer this message in the next two years.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I hope you are correct in that prediction, copithorne. The potential is certainly there. The attacks in Mumbai were discouraging on that score.

Anonymous said...

copithorne :

Good comment.

Anonymous said...

The connection between IRA and Islamic terrorism is interesting, but it seems to me that the resemblance is only skin deep. As Copithorne points out, Islam has a strong tradition--dating back to the time of Mohammed--of jihad and violence against non-Moslems, especially Jews (who are singled out for extra "attention" in the Koran and the hadiths).

The social networking explanation appears to be a new Non-Islam Theory of Islamic Extremism.