Reader Sammy on The London Doctors and the Myth of the Suicide Bomber (Part II)

Sammy sends a folow-up to his post from yesterday


The London Doctors and the Myth of the Suicide Bomber (Part II)

Michael Ledeen in National Review (please don’t stop reading) discusses terrorism as a manifestation of man’s evil nature

The evil can’t be explained by economic misery, or social alienation, or even by the doctrines adopted by the terrorists. The problem lies within us. “

They are not misfits or sociopaths. They are people who find it fulfilling to kill us and destroy our society. As time passes, we will meet more and more of them. And, in the fullness of time, we will remember that Machiavelli warned us half a millennium ago that “man is more inclined to do evil than to do good,” and that the primary role of statesmen and other leaders is to contain the dark forces of human nature. Evil cannot be “fixed” by some social program or suitably energetic public-affairs strategy, or by “reaching out” to our misguided comrades. It must be dominated.

How do we contain the dark forces of human nature?

James Q Wilson in What Makes a Terrorist goes through the many recent terror-type movements from World War II Nazism to Communism, to abortion clinic bombings in an effort to understand and find an effective response to Islamic terror threat today. Given that the al-Queda threat is comprised of many small groups that cross state boundaries, but united in their desire to bring Islamic rule to the West, supported by a milieu of supportive Islam society and resources. Does it make sense to look at this as a small group problem?:

While some suicide bombers have been the victims of blackmail, and some have been led to believe, wrongly, that the bombs in their trucks would go off after they had left them, my sense is that most recruitment today relies on small-group pressure and authoritative leaders. Anyone who took social-science courses in college will surely remember the famous experiments by Stanley Milgram. In the 1960s, Milgram, then a professor at Yale, recruited ordinary people through a newspaper ad offering them money to help in a project purporting to improve human memory. The improvement was to come from punishing a man who seemed unable to remember words read aloud to him. The man, a confederate of Milgram’s, was strapped in a chair with an electrode attached to his wrist. The punishment took the form of electric shocks administered by the experimental subjects from a control panel, showing a scale of shocks, from 15 to 450 volts. At the high end of the scale, clearly marked labels warned: “Danger—Severe Shock.” As the subject increased the imaginary voltage, the man who was supposed to have his memory improved screamed in pretended pain.

About two-thirds of the subjects Milgram had recruited went all the way to 450 volts. Only two things made a difference: the absence of a clear authority figure and the presence of rebellious peers. Without these modifications, almost everybody decided to “follow orders.” This study suggests to me that, rightly managed, a cohesive group with an authoritative leader can find people who will do almost anything.

Terrorist cells, whether they have heard of Stanley Milgram’s Obedience to Authority or not, understand these rules. They expose members to unchallenged authority figures and quickly weed out anyone who might be rebellious. They get rid of doubts by getting rid of the doubters.

This is not very different from how the military maintains morale under desperate conditions. Soldiers fight because their buddies fight. Heroism usually derives not from some deep heroic “urge” or from thoughts of Mom, apple pie, and national ideology, but from the example of others who are fighting.

Milgram did not train terrorists; he showed that one instinct Cynthia Ozick neglected—the instinct to be part of a team—can be as powerful as the one that tells us to be decent to other people. But suppose Milgram had been the leader of a terrorist sect and had recruited his obedient followers into his group; suppose teachings in the schools and mass propaganda supported his group. There is almost no limit to what he could have accomplished using such people. They might not have been clinically ill, but they would have been incorporated into a psychopathological movement.

The central fact about terrorists is not that they are deranged, but that they are not alone. Among Palestinians, they are recruited by Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, among others. In Singapore, their recruitment begins with attendance at religious schools. If ardent and compliant, they are drawn into Jemaah Islamiyah, where they associate with others like themselves. Being in the group gives each member a sense of special esteem and exclusivity, reinforced by the use of secrecy, code names, and specialized training. Then they are offered the chance to be martyrs if they die in a jihad. Everywhere, leaders strengthen the bombers’ commitment by isolating them in safe houses and by asking them to draft last testaments and make videotapes for their families, in which they say farewell.

Is there a micro solution, rather than George Bush’s macro solution?