Wednesday, August 6, 2008

more on what motivates terrorists

I've already written an essay based on Robert Pape's book.

Here's a useful essay from James Payne in The Independent Review as well as an article from Mark Sageman in the Washington Post (hat tip: C-J).

Payne's essay is entitled "What do the Terrorists Want?". Sageman's piece was entitled "The New Face of Terrorism: The old Al-Qaida has faded-- meet the next generation" in the C-J.

Payne notes the prevalence of the neo-con argument that "the Muslims hate us" and are "out to conquer the world". But then he asks about the evidence. Ahhh...that pesky evidence!

Payne opens by noting that Frum and Perle, in their key book, An End to Evil, fail to present a single quotation from a terrorist leader announcing such aims. Perhaps the evidence is out there. Can a fan of our current Iraq policy please add a link to my comment section.)

In contrast, from Bruce Lawrence's edited volume of Osama bin Laden's writings, Messages to the World, we learn that 72% of his writing criticizes U.S./Western/Jewish aggression and oppression of Muslim lands and peoples and 21% criticizes Saudi leadership for knucking under to the U.S. Of the rest, 5% is an exhortation to martyrdom, 1% is his personal life, 1% criticizes American society/culture, and .2% talks about spreading Islam to the West.

On bin Laden's critique of Saudi leadership, Payne notes that bin Laden was a respected member of the Saudi elite in 1990 until the U.S. deployed troops there.

Payne also points to what's not said in bin Laden's writing: nothing on Muslims in Western countries, no interest in Turkey ("would expect him to be extremely hostile toward Turkish leaders [who] perhaps more than any other rulers in the world, 'polluted' the traditional, fundamentalist creed"), nothing on Iran, very little discussion of particular religious doctrine and religious practices, and nothing on the variation between Islamic republics and their adherence to various strains of Islam.

From there, Payne surveys the relevant literature: from Lawrence Wright's excellent book, The Looming Tower (I enjoyed Wright's book; if I have time, I hope to blog on it), Michael Scheuer (a CIA'er who is arguably the key player in Wright's book), John Jandora, Peter Bergen, Jessica Stern, and of course, Pape's definitive work.

Payne concludes by likening our current approach to "trying to put out a fire by spraying it with gasoline". To Sageman's point below, a better analogy would be reducing one fire while others get rolling-- or moving away from fire, perhaps something about stepping on a lump in a carpet which is too big for the room in which it sits. In any case, surely Payne is correct in calling for a dynamic analysis of foreign policy and terrorism: "Policy toward terrorism must continue to grapple with the hatred felt by existing terrorists [while] avoid increasing the ranks of America-hating killers."

Sageman's thesis is that Al-Qaida has been largely contained-- but new threats, bolstered by our continuing efforts in the Middle East, are on the horizon...

We are fighting the wrong foe. Over the past six years, the nature of the international Islamist terrorist threat to the West has changed dramatically, but Western governments are still fighting the last war -- set up to fight an old al-Qaida that is now largely contained.

Unless we understand this sea change, we will be unable to ward off the new menace.

The version of al-Qaida that Osama bin Laden founded is a fading force....Over the past six years, most of the professional terrorists who fit this profile have been eliminated during the U.S.-led manhunt for "high-value targets." The few that remain are huddled in the Afghan-Pakistani border area, struggling to extend their reach beyond Pakistan.

That old guard is still dangerous and still plotting spectacular attacks. But it is the new wave that more urgently requires our attention. It is composed of homegrown youths who dream of glory and adventure, who yearn to belong to a heroic vanguard and to root their lives in a greater sense of meaning. Inspired by tales of past heroism, they hope to emulate their predecessors, even though, for the most part, they can no longer link up with al-Qaida Central in the Pakistani badlands. Their potential numbers are so great that they must now be seen as the main terrorist threat to the West....

What makes next-gen terrorists tick? The process of radicalization consists of four prongs: having a sense of moral outrage, seeing this anger as part of a "war on Islam," believing that this view is consistent with one's everyday grievances, and mobilizing through networks.

Many Muslims feel a powerful sense of moral outrage at the treatment of their co-religionists, be it the sight of U.S. troops killing Muslims in Iraq or the aftermath of police harassment of local mosques. To lead to political violence, a next-generation jihadist must come to believe one simple sound bite: that there is a "war against Islam."

Unlike their fanatical predecessors, the new terrorists are not particularly religious....The problem has been worse in Europe than in the United States. In the land of the American dream and the melting pot, a broader, more inclusive view of American-ness undermines the jihadist insistence that the U.S. government is at war with its Muslim citizens. Overall, ordinary Muslim Americans simply do not feel some "war on Islam" in their daily experiences....


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home