What makes a terrorist? | Bleader

Monday, July 17, 2006

What makes a terrorist?

Posted By on 07.17.06 at 11:32 AM

In the new issue of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Scott Atran and Marc Sageman, author of Understanding Terror Networks, describe what they're learning from their database of more than 500 participants in what they call Global Network Terrorism. They focus on "the complexities of people, rather than incidents" and offer little comfort to either kill-em-all conservatives or get-out-of-Israel liberals:

"We find no evidence of specific traits that indicate a personal predisposition toward involvement in GNT; terrorists are as diverse as the general population," they write. "Likewise, no broad 'root cause' generates terrorists; millions of people are subjected to the same political and socioeconomic conditions, but very few resort to violent activities. Further, we learned that terrorists are very rarely recruited by strangers.

"Although most individuals enlist in terrorist groups outside their country of origin (about 80 percent), most do so through friendship (about 70 percent) and/or kinship (about 20 percent). The preferred terrorist cell size is eight members, often consisting of friends made during the critical period when a person is between the ages of 15 and 30. This suggests that studying the dynamics of small groups--a sort of 'band of brothers'--might best reveal the processes that lead people to kill and to die for causes and comrades."

I don't suppose we'll ever see anything analogous to the phenomenon just reported on in Nature--that certain smokers "stopped smoking immediately after having a stroke that damaged their insular cortex. This seems to be not because they were concerned about their health, but because they had lost all interest in cigarettes." 

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