Thursday, January 17, 2008

A reality check on terrorism

Scott Atran talk at Beyond Belief conference- common sense on terrorism, the best lecture I'd heard this year. Must listen for presidential campaign advisers.

“There’re millions of people who support the jihad. The greatest predictor from going from support to violence, has nothing to do with religion – it has to do whether you belong to a soccer club or not or something like that- so boy scouts or football team are going to be more important and things like that than studying the Koran

Another interview with Scott Atran

Where Boys Grow Up to Be Jihadis

Perhaps no theory could have predicted Jamal Ahmidan, a mastermind of the Madrid bombings. He was a feisty drug dealer with a passion for motorcycles and a weakness for Spanish women. His fellow plotters from the old neighborhood in Morocco included petty criminals and a candy vendor. If they seemed a poor fit for militant Islam, so were the young men from Jamaa Mezuak who eventually left for Iraq. One styled his hair after John Travolta. Another was a frustrated comedian. They had yearned for a life in Europe, it seemed, not death in the Middle East.

What, then, caused them to embrace violent jihad? In a city flooded with televised images of civilians dying in Iraq, the forces of politics and religion surely weighed on these men’s lives. For some of them, public outrage merged with personal grievance. One man lost his job and left for Iraq six months later. Another was forbidden to marry the girl he loved. The drug dealer had languished in a Moroccan jail, separated from his young son.

Yet individual experiences and ideological convictions can only explain so much. Increasingly, terrorism analysts have focused on the importance of social milieu. Some stress that terrorists are not simply loners, overcome by a militant cause. They are more likely to radicalize together with others who share the same passions and afflictions and daily routines. As the story of Jamaa Mezuak suggests, the turn to violence is seldom made alone. Terrorists don’t simply die for a cause, Scott Atran, an anthropologist who studies terrorism, told me. “They die for each other.”

What Motivates a Terrorist?

Half of the 74 groups currently deemed ''terrorist'' by the State Department are religious. Of 137 major terrorist incidents in 2002, nearly three-fourths are likely to have involved Islamic groups. At least 188 of 223 suicide attacks since 2001 were undertaken in God's name.

In 1994, only one-fourth of 56 major incidents involved religious groups. In 1997, just 14 of 36 terrorist groups were religious.

More ominously, Islamic jihadi groups are networked in ways that permit ''swarming'' by many groups homing in on multiple targets, then dispersing to form new swarms.

The Moral Logic and Growth of Suicide Terrorism

Stern Lessons For Terrorism Expert

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