Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Profiles In Terrorism

I picked up an interesting article in the Washington Times, from Hannah K. Strange of UPI. She interviews Marc Sageman, who wrote "Understanding Terror Networks," and teaches at the University of Pennsylvania. He's also a counterterrorism adviser to the U.S. government.

In the interview, Sageman tells us that it's a myth to believe that terrorists are poor, fanatically religious and would carry a huge chip on their shoulders. He bases his findings on research which involved studying 400 members of terrorist networks from North Africa, the Middle East, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Of this sample, he said, 75 percent come from upper- or middle-class backgrounds, and most also from "caring, intact" families. Sixty percent were college educated and 75 percent could be considered professional or semi-professional. Seventy percent were married, and most had children.
Only half came from a religious background, and a large group raised in North Africa or France grew up in entirely secular communities, which, Dr. Sageman said, "refutes the notion of culture," often cited as a factor encouraging terrorism.
He rejected the idea of terrorists as "inherently evil."
"None of these guys, really, are evil -- though their acts definitely were." Neither are they mentally ill, he said. Of those studied, he said, only 1 percent had hints of psychological disorders -- the same as the world base rate.
"Most of [them] were the elite of the country," he said.
Many were sent abroad to study, became lonely and isolated from their communities and cultures, and sought friends among people like themselves. They often found them in groups based around mosques, even if they had little previous interest in religion, Dr. Sageman added.
Seventy percent joined a jihad -- "holy war" -- group while away from their country of origin, he said, and a further 20 percent were second-generation immigrants. Sixty-eight percent had friends in the jihad, or joined as groups. An additional 20 percent had close relatives who were already members.
His remarks on Salafism are interesting, Northern Africa is home to many followers. Overlooked by many is the notion that Salafists are in fact followers of Wahhabism, since Wahhabists detest to be called as such. Explains Khaled Abou El Fadl, Distinguished Fellow in Islamic Law at the UCLA School of Law: (quoted from a different article)
But Wahhabism did not spread in the modern Muslim world under its own banner. Even the term "Wahhabism" is considered derogatory by its adherents, since Wahhabis prefer to see themselves as the representatives of Islamic orthodoxy. To them, Wahhabism is not a school of thought within Islam, but is Islam. The fact that Wahhabism rejected a label gave it a diffuse quality, making many of its doctrines and methodologies eminently transferable. Wahhabi thought exercised its greatest influence not under its own label, but under the rubric of Salafism. In their literature, Wahhabi clerics have consistently described themselves as Salafis, and not Wahhabis.
Sagem seems to disagree, from reading his interpretation of Salafism:
Salafi, "the re-creation of the practices of the devout ancestors," as Dr. Sageman last year told the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, is inherently a peaceful social movement, with about 30 million followers worldwide.
Dr. Sageman pointed out that more than half of the terrorists in his sample worshipped at only 10 mosques worldwide.
Salafis generally advocate the formation of a model Islamic society "based on fairness and justice" by nonviolent means. But there is a violent strand, he said.
This violent group develops what he called "in-group love and out-group hate." It sees those standing in the way of the true Islamic community as "infidels," who, according to distorted interpretations of the Koran, can justifiably be killed.
Targets include Arab leaders viewed as oppressive or corrupt, such as the Saudi royal family, and, particularly in the case of networks such as al Qaeda, the "far enemy," Dr. Sageman said, meaning those Western countries seen to be aiding such leaders, chiefly the United States.
The considerably mild tone in Sagem's description of Salafism can be related to his final verdict on the War on Terror. According to him, we will never to win with weapons and intelligence, but we more or less brought it on ourselves, so we need to engage in a war of ideas.
Therefore, Dr. Sageman said, it is "almost trivial to arrest terrorists acting right now, against preventing the next generation." Though we must, he said, "eliminate the immediate and present threat to the U.S. and the West, much of our focus needs to be on the war of ideas. "Our military options have run out," he said.
"We have to stop shooting ourselves in the foot," Dr. Sageman said.
"Much of the [present] anger is because of the run-up to Iraq, the occupation of Iraq. ... The way we've handled the Israel-Palestine issue has not played well in the Muslim world. We need to appear much fairer and just in our dealings with both sides than we have been in the last few years."
So, in the end, it's the 'Root Causes' caravan again. Rather than to seek blame with us, it is Islam that needs to reform itself, and weed out the sects that preach a return to 11th century beliefs, and seek the spread of their religion by killing its opponents. We can and will help in this process where possible, but in the end it's up to muslims everywhere to challenge these clerics, and to ensure that others don't fall prey to them by looking at the early warning signals Sagem writes about.