Friday, August 22, 2008
Infidels Shiver in the Stench of Belief
....[The British terrorirsts] are mostly British nationals, not illegal immigrants and, far from being Islamist fundamentalists, most are religious novices. Nor, the analysis says, are they "mad and bad". [...]
The security service also plays down the importance of radical extremist clerics, saying their influence in radicalising British terrorists has moved into the background in recent years.
....Far from being religious zealots, a large number of those involved in terrorism do not practise their faith regularly. Many lack religious literacy and could actually be regarded as religious novices. Very few have been brought up in strongly religious households, and there is a higher than average proportion of converts. Some are involved in drug-taking, drinking alcohol and visiting prostitutes. MI5 says there is evidence that a well-established religious identity actually protects against violent radicalisation.
These findings are entirely consistent with the scholarship of Marc Sageman, especially as expressed in his most recent work, Leaderless Jihad [highly, highly recommended]. According to Sageman's more comprehensive analysis of available case studies (he does not limit his review to Britain for example), the ignorance of Islam, and lack of formal religious training, are prevalent traits found in many who populate the latest wave of terrorists.
While it's popular mythology to imagine radical Imams presiding over maddrassas where they indoctrinate pupils with violent messages, as students nod along in a trance-like brainwashed stupor. Reality, however, does not comport with the sensational script. As Sageman points out, only about 10% of the sample attended radical maddrassas (and much of that 10% attended one particular maddrassa in Indonesia whose unique characteristics made it every bit the outlier). On the contrary, receiving formal, religious training tends to innoculate students from pursuing terrorism or other radical-tinged violence (a conclusion reached by the MI5 study as well).
Further, many of the latest wave of terrorists don't read or speak Arabic, and fewer still (even those with the requisite language skills) actually read the Koran. In fact, one of the methods that jailers use to rehabilitate captured terrorists is to provide them with copies of the Koran itself - which often leads to realizations of past wrongdoing as informed by Islamic scripture.
While Kevin Drum laments the lack of an actionable profile with which to use in order to better focus intelligence/law enforcement assets, the conclusions reached by MI5 and Sageman are not exactly useless. At the very least, these findings suggest that, as much as possible, we should seek to remove the religious component from the discussion ("Islamofascism"), and de-escalate the perceived clash of civilizations (um, stop invading Muslim countries if at all possible). Sageman provides more detailed recommendations in his books, but David Ignatius provides a decent summary:
That, or, you know, put our foot down for another 100 Years. And then move on to Iran. Or Syria. Or both! They hate us for our freedom!
The heart of Sageman's message is that we have been scaring ourselves into exaggerating the terrorism threat -- and then by our unwise actions in Iraq making the problem worse. He attacks head-on the central thesis of the Bush administration, echoed increasingly by Republican presidential candidate John McCain, that, as McCain's Web site puts it, the United States is facing "a dangerous, relentless enemy in the War against Islamic Extremists" spawned by al-Qaeda. [...]
Sageman's harshest judgment is that the United States is making the terrorism problem worse by its actions in Iraq. "Since 2003, the war in Iraq has without question fueled the process of radicalization worldwide, including the U.S. The data are crystal clear," he writes. We have taken a fire that would otherwise burn itself out and poured gasoline on it.
The third wave of terrorism is inherently self-limiting, Sageman continues. As soon as the amorphous groups gather and train, they make themselves vulnerable to arrest. "As the threat from al-Qaeda is self-limiting, so is its appeal, and global Islamist terrorism will probably disappear for internal reasons -- if the United States has the sense to allow it to continue on its course and fade away."
Sageman's policy advice is to "take the glory and thrill out of terrorism." Jettison the rhetoric about Muslim extremism -- these leaderless jihadists are barely Muslims. Stop holding news conferences to announce the latest triumphs in the "global war on terror," which only glamorize the struggle. And reduce the U.S. military footprint in Iraq, which fuels the Muslim world's sense of moral outrage.