Alibris Secondhand Books Standard

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

understanding what motivates terrorists

Security expert Bruce Schneier has an interesting article in Wired Magazine, titled The Seven Habits of Highly Ineffective Terrorists.

The seven habits, first detailed in a paper by Max Abrahms, are:

  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.

Schneier argues that Abrahms' research throws into question the conventional wisdom that people become terrorists for political or ideological reasons.

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.

Schneier then cites evidence that many individual terrorists do not know the political agenda of the group they are fighting for; some even join multiple groups with incompatible agendas. Many of the 9/11 highjackers, for instance, had planned to fight in Chechnya, but couldn't get the paperwork to enter the country. Instead, they came to America and took flying lessons.

Schneier continues:

All of this explains the seven habits. It's not that they're ineffective; it's that they have a different goal. They might not be effective politically, but they are effective socially: They all help preserve the group's existence and cohesion.

People join terrorist groups for the same reason people join gangs or cults: The group provides a family-like environment. If this is true, then counter-terrorism measures need to be reevaluated. Schneier concludes:

We also need to pay more attention to the socially marginalized than to the politically downtrodden, like unassimilated communities in Western countries. We need to support vibrant, benign communities and organizations as alternative ways for potential terrorists to get the social cohesion they need. And finally, we need to minimize collateral damage in our counterterrorism operations, as well as clamping down on bigotry and hate crimes, which just creates more dislocation and social isolation, and the inevitable calls for revenge.

Labels: , ,


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home