When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. - Hunter S. Thompson

01 July 2006

Understanding jihadi networks

Pyschiatrist and sociologist Marc Sageman has made a careful study of over 400 terrorists who sought to, and in many cases did, bring actual harm to the United States. He wrote a fascinating book about it (Understanding Terror Networks: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004) and also published a very interesting article in Strategic Insights:
The terrorist threat to the United States of America comes from a violent Islamist revivalist social movement, united by a utopian vision of justice and fairness. Our efforts to deal with this threat are hampered by the wide variety of commonly held beliefs about terrorism. Conventional wisdom offers up several explanations: terrorists are a product of poverty and broken families; ignorance; the lack of skills and opportunities; thelack of occupational or family responsibilities; weak-mindedness and vulnerability to brainwashing; mental illness, psychopathy or sociopathy; plain criminality; religious fanaticism; or simply evil.


[My] findings refute the conventional wisdom about terrorists. The global Salafi terrorists were generally middle-class, educated young men from caring and religious families, who grew up with strong positive values of religion, spirituality, and concern for their communities. They were truly global citizens, conversant in three or four languages, and skilled in computer technology. One of the striking findings of this sample is that three-fourths of the terrorists joined the jihad as expatriates, mostly as upwardly mobile young men studying abroad. At the time, they were separated from their original environment. An additional ten percent were second generation in the West, who felt a strong pull for the country of their parents. So a remarkable 84% were literally cut off from their culture and social origins. They were homesick, lonely, and alienated. Although they were intellectually gifted, they were marginalized, underemployed and generally excluded from the highest status in the new society.

Although they were not religious, they drifted to mosques for companionship. There, they met friends or relatives, with whom they moved in together often for dietary reasons. As their friendship intensified, they became a “bunch of guys,” resenting society at large, which excluded them, developing a common religious collective identity, and egging themselves on to greater extremism. By the time they joined the jihad, there was a dramatic shift in devotion to their faith...
Understanding Jihadi Networks - Strategic Insights, Volume IV, Issue 4 (April 2005)

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