Reader Sammy on Terrorism

In the wake of the recent attempted car bombings on London and Glasgow, reader Sammy sends along a link to this article:

[W]e are confronted with the uneasy reality that our cosy assumptions about who becomes a terrorist and why have once again been shattered.

For most of us, the profile of the suicide bomber is not particularly complex: young, male (mostly), religiously devout, alienated, angry, disenfranchised, living on the edges of normal society, poorly integrated, and as a result, socially and psychologically outcast – what we assume is the perfect recipe for vulnerability to violent radicalisation.

But once again, and with more cases being uncovered across the country, these simplistic attributes we can only dismiss as naive and misleading. Evidence from research at the University of St Andrews tells us that not only has no terrorist profile been found, but that it is unlikely one ever will be.

We can easily identify what I have termed predisposing risk factors for involvement in terrorism. These include:

• Personal experiences of victimisation (which can be real or imagined);

• Expectations about involvement (for instance the lures – such as excitement, mission, sense of purpose – associated with being involved in any “insider” group and its various roles);

• Identification with a cause, frequently associated with some victimised community;

• Socialisation through friends or family, or being raised in a particular environment;

• Opportunity for expression of interest and steps towards involvement;

• Access to the relevant group.

It must be stated that individually none of these will ever help explain why people become terrorists but, taken in combination, they do provide a powerful framework for understanding why one person might become involved in terrorism and the other does not.

Sammy goes on to note…

On the contrary, based on every spectacular terror attack on Western soil, and according to a former CIA operative who collected the life histories of almost 400 members of the deadly movement :

The stereotype that these terrorists are poor, desperate, single young men from Third World countries, vulnerable to brainwashing, is wrong, Dr. Marc Sageman told an international terrorism conference in Washington this week.

Most Arab terrorists he studied were well-educated, married men from middle- or upper-class families, in their mid-20s and psychologically stable, said Sageman, a psychiatrist at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia . Many of them knew several languages and traveled widely.

But when they settled in foreign countries, they became lonely, homesick and embittered, he said. They felt humiliated by the weakness and backwardness of their homelands. They formed tight cliques with fellow Arabs and drifted into mosques more for companionship than for religion. Radical preachers convinced them it was their duty to drive Americans from Muslim holy lands, killing as many as possible. “
“Sageman served as a CIA case officer in Afghanistan from 1987 to 1989, running agents against the Soviet occupation. In a book, “Understanding Terror Networks,” published in May, he traced the roots of the movement to a centuries-old Islamic tradition dedicated to purifying Muslim lands of “infidels” and restoring the past glories of Islam.

He described al-Qaida and its global allies as “a violent Islamist social movement held together by an idea: the use of violence against foreign and non-Muslim governments or populations to establish an Islamist state in the core Arab region.”
For its members, terrorism is “an answer to Islamic decadence – a feeling that Islam has lost its way,” he said.

This is backed up by a very authoritative source:

I was a fanatic..I know their thinking, says former radical Islamist.

I remember when we used to laugh in celebration whenever people on TV proclaimed that the sole cause for Islamic acts of terror like 9/11, the Madrid bombings and 7/7 was Western foreign policy. They also helped to draw away any critical examination from the real engine of our violence: Islamic theology. The foundation of extremist reasoning rest upon a model of the world in which your are either a believer or an infidel

George Bush’s idealistic goal in Iraq is that freedom and democracy were the antidote to this. There is some logic here:

[T]he only variable that was consistently associated with the number of terrorist was the Freedom House index of political rights and civil liberties. Countries with more freedom were less likely to be the birthplace of international terrorists. Poverty and literacy were unrelated to the number of terrorists from a country. Think of a country like Saudi Arabia : It is wealthy but has few political and civil freedoms. Perhaps it is no coincidence that so many of the September 11 terrorist and Osama bin Laden himself came from there.

However, this seems like a longshot at this point.

If not stopped, the terrorists will get more and more powerful weapons, culminating with nuclear. Countries will be subjugated. How do we fight them?


My answer to this goes into the comments section.