S/SW blog philosophy -

I credit favorite writers and public opinion makers.

A lifelong Democrat, my comments on Congress, the judiciary and the presidency are regular features.

My observations and commentary are on people and events in politics that affect the USA or the rest of the world, and stand for the interests of peace, security and justice.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Sageman on Leaderless Jihad -- 2

Jihad and 21st Century Terrorism,
A Discussion with Marc Sageman on Leaderless Jihad, was a program held at the New America Foundation on Feb. 20, 2008. {This link can provide full video or audio of the event. Here is the link to Sageman's 32 page power-point presentation; it includes his main lecture ideas.} To quote the synopsis:

In the post-September 11 world, Al Qaeda is no longer the central organizing force that aids or authorizes terrorist attacks or recruits terrorists. Rather, it serves as an inspiration for individuals and other groups who have branded themselves with the Al Qaeda name.

Marc Sageman, a former CIA case officer in Afghanistan in the 1980s, builds upon his bestselling book, Understanding Terror Networks, to explain how Islamic terrorism emerges and operates in the twenty-first century. In the recently published Leaderless Jihad, Sageman rejects the idea that certain individuals are predisposed to terrorism. He argues that the individual, outside influence, and group dynamics come together in a four-step process of radicalization that begins with traumatic events that spark moral outrage.

Today's post is the second in a series laying out the most important new ideas and ways of thinking I learned from Marc Sageman -- (see "32 page power-point," pdf link above):

Section 2: "The process became radicalization, mobilization and evolution of the threat over time." -- (pp. 16-22 pdf)

Dr. Sageman explored the dynamics of radicalization, of how people eventually get on the path to political violence. He maintains that these are young men chasing thrills, fantasies of glory and the sense of belonging to an important group and cause. It is a bottom-up process involving four major factors: 1) There is a sense of moral outrage. 2) There is a specific interpretation of the meaning of the precipitating event or events. 3) It resonates with their own personal experience. 4) The mobilization takes place through networks.

Further elaboration of 1) "moral outrage" -- This is anger about a major moral violation; it is not humiliation. It became global after the invasion of Iraq, when before it was confined to the local, involving local police activity. The invasion of Iraq began the activation of Muslim identity, and the local and global reinforce each other.

2) What is the interpretation? It is "war against Islam." It becomes anti-Americanism and anti-semitism. This does not come from the intellectuals or Islamic scholars; it involves the "sound bite" Islam. The radicals did not get into theological debates. There is a consistency with imbedded cultural beliefs that differ between the U.S. and old Europe. Europe projects various national "essences," French-ness, Italianate, etc., and Muslims feel left out. On the other hand, the U.S. myth is of a "melting pot." The American dream is of equal opportunity, and most Muslims believe this is true (Pew research cited by Sageman). Europe has practiced more economic exclusion of Muslim minorities. In addition there are religious differences within Islam. Moderates are more tolerant of religious fundamentalism; the radicals were dominated by Saudis' Salafi fundamentalism.

3) Dr. Sageman discussed a resonance with personal experiences among the radicalized men. Their own personal grievances were "root causes." There has also been a historical legacy with which they are familiar. Muslims in Europe are now in a third generation of unskilled laborers, re-builders of Europe. American Muslims are dominated by middle class professionals. The current average income for a family here is $70,000 annually. Muslims generally are employed in the U.S. opposite to the very high unemployment rate for Muslims in foreign nations. Political contributions include the more generous welfare policies in other developed countries, contributing to idleness and boredom, according to Sageman. There has been a failure of governments' repressive top-down polities, and a resultant Xenophobic backlash. Dr. Sageman reported that most European terrorist plots "were funded with welfare checks." And he cautioned against underestimating the power of high levels of boredom, contributing to the irresistability of violence. Closing with contrasting data about arrest rates in the U.S. vs Europe, Sageman was able to find 60 arrest records for terrorism related charges in the U.S., "mostly through entrapment through the Bureau," Sagemen said. In contrast there were 2,400 arrests in Europe, "with no entrapment." That is six times the arrest rate.

4) Joining jihad, forming networks of trust -- Two-thirds of the men linking into the terrorist networks were expatriates. And Dr. Sageman found that over 90% had some association with the phenomena of the diaspora -- 80% were 2nd and 3rd generation and young expatriates. There was a pre-existing friendship for 70% of the men joining; 20% involved kinship. Sageman characterized the groups as "spontaneous, sel-organized bunches of guys (networks of trust) from the bottom up. It was self-selection and mutual self-recruitment.

To be continued -- "The trajectories of the mobilization of expatriate and home-grown terrorists into networks."

I close with some interesting links taken from a current pertinent section of my Congressional Quarterly Newsletter. (To sign up for CQ's free newsletters, click here:, "CQ Homeland Security:"

Over there: A U.S. chopper-fired missile killed a Saudi al-Qaeda-in-Iraq leader last week, the Post has officials confirming — as the Times sees the Pentagon planning to dispatch 100 trainers to assist Pakistani vanguard anti-jihadi forces. The U.N. is now seen as an “enemy” and a legitimate target for attacks because of its perceived lack of impartiality, The Melbourne Herald Sun quotes a retired U.N. troubleshooter. The story of an escaped convict’s surprise appearance in — and equally abrupt disappearance from — a Yemeni court illuminates “the distinctive counterterrorism efforts of Yemen, long considered a haven for jihadists,” the Times, again, spotlights — while AP hasInterpol issuing a worldwide security alert for the Islamist terror leader who escaped from a Singapore jail. A Moroccan anti-terror judge has jailed 35 alleged members of an Islamist cell, AFP finds — as The Seattle Times has Algerian security forces reportedly killing 25 suspected al Qaeda affiliates in a weekend operation.

More on the Sageman story:

  1. *Washington Monthly's Political Animal, Kevin Drum recently posted about Leaderless Jihad (2/28/08).
  2. Here is the Washington Times article (2/19/08).
  3. The Economist wrote an excellent review on 1/31/08, "Al-Qaeda/ how jihad went freelance," HT to PennPressLog.
  4. David Isenberg wrote a most useful lengthy review, "A fresh look at terrorism's roots" for Asia Times online on January 19. HT to War in Context for the link.
  5. Leaderless Jihad is an link that contains a full book description and several good reviews.
  6. Book TV on C-SPAN2 showed Sageman's presentation twice last night.
  7. Dr. Marc Sageman -- Speaker's Bio from the University of Pennsylvania. To quote:

    Marc Sageman is a Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of Pennsylvania. After graduating from Harvard, he obtained an MD and a PhD in Sociology from New York University. After a tour as a flightsurgeon in the U.S. Navy, he joined the Central Intelligence Agency in 1984. He spent a year on the Afghan Task Force then went to Islamabad from 1987 to 1989, where he ran the U.S. unilateral programs with the Afghan Mujahedin. In 1991, he resigned from the agency to return to medicine. He completed a residency in psychiatry at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. Since 1994, he has been in the private practice of forensic and clinical psychiatry, and had the opportunity to evaluate about 500 murderers. After 9/11/01, he started collecting biographical material on about 400 al Qaeda terrorists to test the validity of the conventional wisdom on terrorism. This research has been published as Understanding Terror Network earlier this year. He has testified before the 9/11 Commission and has become a consultant to various government agencies on terrorism.

View my current slide show about the Bush years, "Millennium," at the bottom of this column.

(Cross-posted at The Reaction.)

My “creativity and dreaming” post today is at Making Good Mondays.

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