Tina K. Russell

October 4, 2008

And here I thought they just hated our freedoms

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Tina Russell @ 8:27 pm

Here’s security guru Bruce Schneier on the motivations for terrorism. I added emphasis to the key sentences, but you really oughta read the full article. (Schneier is discussing a paper published this year in International Security.)

Security Matters: The Seven Habits of Highly Ineffective Terrorists
Conventional wisdom holds that terrorism is inherently political, and that people become terrorists for political reasons. … It’s assumed, for example, that people join Hamas to achieve a Palestinian state; that people join the PKK to attain a Kurdish national homeland; and that people join al-Qaida to, among other things, get the United States out of the Persian Gulf.

Max Abrahms, a predoctoral fellow at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation, has studied dozens of terrorist groups from all over the world. He argues that the model is wrong. … [S]even tendencies are seen in terrorist organizations all over the world, and they directly contradict the theory that terrorists are political maximizers:

Terrorists, he writes, (1) attack civilians, a policy that has a lousy track record of convincing those civilians to give the terrorists what they want; (2) treat terrorism as a first resort, not a last resort, failing to embrace nonviolent alternatives like elections; (3) don’t compromise with their target country, even when those compromises are in their best interest politically; (4) have protean political platforms, which regularly, and sometimes radically, change; (5) often engage in anonymous attacks, which precludes the target countries making political concessions to them; (6) regularly attack other terrorist groups with the same political platform; and (7) resist disbanding, even when they consistently fail to achieve their political objectives or when their stated political objectives have been achieved.

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.

I always suspected this was true, and I’m happy to be vindicated by a fancy-pants social scientist. There must be a deceptive allure to being able to see the world in black and white. It’s like when you’re a kid, and you grow up watching the Autobots fight the Decepticons, and then you grow up and things are not so simple. There must be something comforting in being able to say “we’re good, they’re bad, kill them all.”

…Then again, Abrahms seems to be arguing that the motivations for joining a terrorist group are even shallower than that: there’s a motivation, often, to join a group simply for the sake of joining a group. Abrahms (and, in turn, Schneier) argues, rightly, that any effective counterterrorism strategy must include ensuring that other, better groups are available for young people to fall into. (That’s part of why I’m proud to belong both to a church and to the open-source community, both institutions that give people a place to use their skills and hobbies for the betterment of all while at the same time having fun.) (Abrahms and Shneier also mention more direct counterterrorism strategies that should prove to be effective, such as using the social dynamics of a terrorist group to get them to turn on one another, and to crack down on hate crime to avoid creating dangerous situations.)

I hope we use the principle of “creating better groups” to fight gang violence in our inner cities, too. It means a lot to have a place where you feel you belong and can form friendships, and it’s important that such a place is not in the business of killing people. Anyway, I hope all those of you who belong to a church or a club or something can make this a goal.

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1 Comment »

  1. Social Solidarity, being part of a team.

    Improving socioeconomic conditions was considered a way to fight the allure of joining a terrorist group, but this concept goes directly to the motivation for the behavior pattern.

    I will always miss being part of the team that my military career gave me. The social solidarity was great even when the pay was bad.

    Excellent Post Tina, thanks.

    Comment by John — October 4, 2008 @ 9:24 pm


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