John Arquilla: What the Vikings Can Teach Us About TerrorismRoundup: Media's Take
John Arquilla is professor and chair of the defense analysis department at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School and author, most recently, of Insurgents, Raiders and Bandits.
What if all the reasons commonly given for the onset of the current age of terror are wrong? If violence against the innocent is not the product of religious fanaticism, reaction to corrupt governance, or a manifestation of the sheer hopelessness and rage that come with perpetual poverty, then what are the real causes? If the received wisdom about terrorism can be challenged, then there is an obligation to look more deeply into its origins.
In the matter of faith-based zealotry, psychiatrist and former CIA case officer Marc Sageman has profiled hundreds of jihadis affiliated with the al Qaeda movement, finding that religion is a lesser included factor in their recruitment. Indeed, a significant percentage of these militants undertook graduate studies -- such study itself a seeming contradiction of fundamentalism -- many outside the Muslim world. For example, 9/11 attack team leader Mohammed Atta studied architecture in Germany. Al Qaeda's deepest strategic thinker, Abu Mus'ab al-Suri is an engineer. Osama bin Laden had a business education and came from a very wealthy family of industrialists -- again giving the lie to the notion of terrorists as unthinking religious fanatics. As Sageman notes in his Understanding Terror Networks, these sorts of secular backgrounds are commonly found. We have misjudged the jihad.
As to terror arising in reaction to government oppression, the Arab Spring provides much evidence -- as do the many "color revolutions" that have come before -- that social uprisings can take the form of, and succeed with, peaceful demonstrations. And on those occasions when armed revolts have erupted, as in Libya and Syria, they have aimed largely at the tyrants and their militaries, not the innocent. If anything, insurrections in the Muslim world seem less prone to the kind of anti-government terrorism that has surfaced from time to time in Europe with such groups as the Red Brigades in Italy and the Baader-Meinhof Gang in Germany, and in the United States in the form of far-right extremists like Timothy McVeigh.
With regard to the belief that poverty and hopelessness spark terrorism, one can only say that many, many countries see endless years of travail of this sort without ever a terrorist group rising up. Why is it that the vast majority of those who suffer in such settings fail to take up arms and commit terrorist acts?..
comments powered by Disqus
- 159 scholars at Harvard sign petition reprimanding the school for rejections of Chelsea Manning and Michelle Jones
- Fact Check: Steve Bannon’s Bad History
- The Story Behind the Truman Quote in President Trump's U.N. Speech
- As Trump Declares Missing in Action Recognition Day, How Many Service Members Are Missing?
- The ‘nation’s report card’ says it assesses critical thinking in history
- Eric Foner discusses the manipulation of history
- Male historian tapped to lead Department of Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies at the University of Kansas
- Decline in History Majors Continues, Departments Respond
- He’s 75 now. When he started teaching at the University of New Orleans students walked out on his class.
- ‘Fake news’ from 1738 offers lessons for modern historians, says Missouri scholar