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How Terrorism Is Like The Girl Scouts
Andrea Elliott chronicles the path of a bunch of Moroccan-born jihadists in The New York Times in "Where Boys Grow Up to Be Jihadis":

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.”

...Marc Sageman, a psychiatrist and former C.I.A. case officer, holds that people prone to terrorism share a sequence of experiences, which he outlines in his forthcoming book, “Leaderless Jihad.” They feel a sense of moral outrage that is interpreted in a specific way (the war in Iraq, for example, is interpreted as a war on Islam); that outrage resonates with the person’s own experiences (Muslims in Germany or Britain who feel marginalized might identify with the suffering of Iraqis); and finally, that outrage is channeled into action.

This process, Sageman told me, is rarely a solitary one. He and a growing number of law-enforcement officials and analysts argue that group dynamics play a key role in radicalization. While ideology may inspire terrorists, they say, it takes intimate social forces to push people to action. Friends embolden one another to act in ways they might not on their own. This might be called the peer-pressure theory of terrorism. Experts in the field refer to it as the BOG, for bunch of guys (or GOG, for group of guys). “Terrorism is really a collective decision, not an individual one,” said Sageman, who coined the theory. “It’s about kinship and friendship.”

Kinship can also work to opposite effect. It is certainly part of the reason why Dayday has not left Tetouan. Most of the men with whom he prays and works admire Bilal’s courage in going to Iraq but prefer a different kind of jihad, or struggle, for themselves. They want to improve their lives. “I’m working to support my family,” one of Dayday’s closest friends, a merchant in his 30s, told me. “If I go, who will support my family?”

Jihadi groups, like most social circles, tend to rely on frequent, sustained interaction, Sageman told me. People are drawn together by a common activity, like soccer, or by a common set of circumstances, like prison. Often they meet in the temporary spaces born of immigration. Tetouan, in its own way, is a diaspora setting, with families in constant migatory flux. In groups predisposed to violence, there is often a shared grievance around which members first rally. In the case of urban American gangs, the grievance could be police brutality. For the Hamburg cell behind 9/11, it was the war in Chechnya.

Law-enforcement agencies have begun changing their approach to counterterrorism in tandem with their heightened awareness of the role that groups play. Investigators in Europe, Canada and the United States are now conducting surveillance of suspects for longer periods of time, in part to observe the full breadth of their social networks.

Yet in Jamaa Mezuak, the notion that groups play an important role in radicalizing young Muslims is nothing novel. “It’s the problem of friends,” said Ahmed Asrih, the father of the candy seller who was linked to the Madrid bombings. “If you’re friends with a good person, you’re good. If your friend is a pickpocket, you become a pickpocket.”

I still believe in Satoshi Kanazawa's analysis on why most suicide bombers are Muslim. According to Satoshi, it's because they're a polygamist society, and a few men monopolize the women...leaving a lot of young, horny guys at loose ends. (Read the bit in the NYT about Leila, the girl the guy's pining after at the end of the article, but that he'd have to build a house for atop his parents house -- a financially hopeless endeavor.)

Posted by aalkon at November 25, 2007 9:19 AM

Comments

Great post.

> If you’re friends with a
> good person, you’re good

I don't know much about religion, but I've heard that Judaism's signal contribution to civilization's foundation is the idea that each of us independently has a relationship with God by which we'll be judged, and that you don't go to Heaven just because you were standing next to some really neat people.

And then there's the sex. I used to say we needed to send Pamela Anderson and Britney to the Middle East to jump start their sluttiness, but it's probably time to bane some new celebrities... Unless the ubiquity of porn makes the effort less dependent on individual personalities. I sympathize with parents of teenage girls who are trying to keep the lid on the Dark Side of the Force in these times of erotic saturation, but there may be good effects from having all that ass hanging out.

Anyway the more I know about Middle Eastern cultures (and that's still very little indeed), the more it seems that they're tormented by the presumptive stupidities of an eight-year-old boy... Stupidities which --with appropriate social constriction-- can be beaten out of a young man as he grows. I've (ahem) seen it happen.

Posted by: Crid at November 25, 2007 9:36 AM

Name some new celebrities, not bane them. Y'know.

Posted by: Crid at November 25, 2007 9:37 AM

Posted by: Crid at November 25, 2007 1:02 PM

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