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.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Sageman on Leaderless Jihad -- 3

FISA Fights -- Given that U.S. Senators and House members are still in disagreement over how to refine the law on conducting foreign surveillance of "terrorist threats," I need to return to my series on global jihad. After a brief time-out for the Texas party primaries, I am continuing the process of analyzing the true nature of the threat. To do this I have turned to a new "guru" whose work seems believable and very significant to me:

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:

Jihad and 21st Century Terrorism,

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 third 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). In previous posts I gave an overview of Dr. Sageman's exploration of 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.

Section 3 -- (pp. 23-30 pdf). "The Expatriate vs. Homegrown Trajectories and Mobilization Through Networks of People with Pre-existing Social Bonds or Operational Links." Further elaboration of Sageman's research on 4) above.

The mobilization takes place through networks: The First Wave, the original group, consisted of Osama bin Laden and Dr. al Zawahiri -- the "African Arabs" in Afghanistan and the border area of Pakistan. They were followed by the "Second Wave" of jihadis who took two very different paths into subsequent terror networks. The trajectories are described by Sageman as "Expatriates" and "Homegrown."

The Expatriate Trajectory: The network that eventually culminated in the attacks of 9/11/01 in the U.S. began the 1990's. They were mostly from the Middle East, upwardly and geographically mobile, the "best and brightest." They were raised in religious, caring and middle class families. "Global citizens," they spoke 3 or 4 languages and were skilled in IT. They were sent to the universities of the West, thus separated from their own cultures, leading to being lonely and homesick. Marginalized and excluded from the society of the West, though they adopted the Western lifestyle, they were without relief. So they sought friends, drifting to the mosques for companions, not religion. Eventually they moved in together, ate the same foods, and formed cliques.

The Homegrown Trajectory: In contrast the "homegrown" jihadis were 2nd or 3rd generation men raised and radicalized in Western host countries, but retaining their foreign ideology. They were secular and upwardly mobile, but experienced discrimination and exclusion from the societies in which they were raised. Dropping out of school, they turned to petty crime and drugs, forming gangs. Their collective identity was reactive and resentful. They eventually drifted into religion to escape that situation, according to Dr. Sageman's research findings.

Mobilization through Networks: (See pdf slides 25 through 30 for Sageman's fascinating pictorial representations of the global networks as they have evolved over time). The first of the Second Wave networks were face to face and included homegrown neighborhood gangs, both expatriate and homegrown student activities, and 12 radical study groups -- about half the sample. Then a gradual shift to online networks occurred, with no space or time limits. This has transformed the participation into an egalitarian threat that includes teenagers and women. Chat-rooms became important virtual "invisible hand" networks.

The group dynamics were increased commitment via interactivity: The groups acted as "echo chambers" encouraging mutual escalation. It was about "cause" and "comrades." They gradually slid into a violence dynamic of in-group love and out-group hate. Some of them later went to Iraq and blew themselves up. Dr. Sageman discussed the example of the Madrid group. Five of the 7 went to Madrid to be drug dealers who eventually were radicalized. They were secular at the time of the bombing. One felt John Travolta was his hero.

To be continued -- "The Evolution of Global Islamist Terror"

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:"

High profile: “Federal law-enforcement agencies have secretly established profiling techniques to screen immigrants based on their nationalities, protocols that critics charge encourage the unjustified targeting of Muslims,” McClatchy Newspapers leads. “How can terrorists be identified if we are not told what they look like? The terrorists that we know about are bearded dark-skinned men between the ages of 25-40,” a Conservative Voice contributor contends. Among the new counterterror strategies approved for British police are the profiling of Muslim communities and individuals “vulnerable” to extremism, and intervention in prisons to prevent convicted extremists from spreading their beliefs there, Agence France-Presse reports.

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. Marc Sageman "Understanding Terror Networks" the book, from Google.
  7. Book TV on C-SPAN2 showed Sageman's presentation.
  8. 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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