2008 October 05 Sunday
People Become Terrorists For Social Solidarity

Terrorists are ineffective and become terrorists in order to feel membership in a community.

Max Abrahms, a predoctoral fellow at Stanford University's Center for International Security and Cooperation, has studied dozens of terrorist groups from all over the world. He argues that the model is wrong. In a paper (.pdf) published this year in International Security that -- sadly -- doesn't have the title "Seven Habits of Highly Ineffective Terrorists," he discusses, well, seven habits of highly ineffective terrorists. These seven tendencies are seen in terrorist organizations all over the world, and they directly contradict the theory that terrorists are political maximizers:

Terrorists, he writes, (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.

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.

So terrorists are motivated by the need for status? Mohammad Atta was a low status person in Germany. His drafting work put him lower on the totem pole than other people he worked with. Osama Bin Laden had higher status as a leader of fighters and terrorists in Afghanistan than he did as a member of a very large wealthy Saudi family. The Saudi family was wealthy. But he wasn't a huge political figure or major captain of industry. Whereas in Afghanistan he became a global figure.

Status seeking behavior sometimes yields constructive results and other times destructive results.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2008 October 05 11:01 AM  Terrorists Activities


Comments
JSBolton said at October 6, 2008 12:05 AM:

Power-seeking behavior could explain terrorists like Ayers, Dohrn and the others of that faction who are very well-positioned if Obama avoids being treated as an applicant for our highest security clearance, but more like an accused criminal.

daveg said at October 7, 2008 8:04 AM:

Honestly, whenever I see someone with a Jewish last name talk about the terror I assume it is propaganda, and about 99% of the time I am correct.

If you want to see a genuine attempt to find the root causses of suicide bombing start with this interview with Robert Pape.


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