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.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Sageman on Leaderless Jihad -- 4

"The Evolution of Global Islamist Terror"

Today's post is the fourth 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 *below). 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.

Three waves of radicalism, according to Sageman, marked the evolution of the violent jihadi movements. ( See pp 31-32 of Sageman's PowerPoint* below). The first, 1980-1988, was begun in Pakistan and Afghanistan by Osama bin Laden and his companions, the "African Arabs." They were well educated, predominately Egyptian, around age 30 at the time. That group is now " al Qaeda Central." Dr. Sageman reports that there are dozens left in this group.

The second wave, the fairly well educated expatriates, were trained terrorists who were radicalized in the West during the 1990's. It culminated in the attacks in the U.S. on 9/11/01. These men went to al Qaeda in Afghanistan to be accepted, as have many others exerting bottom-up pressure on the leaders. Only about 15% get accepted as they did, Dr. Sageman found in his research. This group, average age 25, now numbers about 100.

Leaderless Jihad -- the current third wave is a transition phase. Sageman names this post-Iraq invasion group "Terrorist Wannabees," noting that jihad has undergone a complete transformation and has somewhat degraded . This is the poorly educated "homegrown" group not al Qaeda trained. Most were turned away by al Qaeda Central A few were quickly trained and sent home. For example, the British Pakistani terrorists had links to radicals in Kashmir, so had an "in" through fellow-travelers in the tribal areas of Pakistan.

This third wave evolved from the bottom up, is scattered and connected through "virtual" means. The average age is 20; they potentially number in the thousands.

"The undisciplined followers are the leaders. The threat," says Sageman, "is self-limiting and fed by fantasies of wanting to be recognized as heroes."

They have no long term goals or strategy. Sageman believes that the end state is the more unattractive "Taliban" form than those more religious jihadis originally advocating the Salafist state. He noted that such a Salafist State (ousting the West) was the intent of the uprisings in Algeria, the fight against the Russians in Afghanistan, as well as the migration of al Qaeda to fight in the al Anbar province of Iraq.

The evolution of the process of radicalization in a hostile environment into survival mode, enabled by the Internet with its redundancy and anonymity, makes Europe more vulnerable than the U.S. This is due to the culture, social conditions and ability to network offline. Undisciplined, vulnerable targets, they have no ability to progress into a political party. Self-limiting, Sageman believes they have no incentive to compromise. There is the constant push of each new "hothead," with an escalation of atrocities and eventual loss of appeal. Dr. Sageman believes the threat may have already "crested" in France.

To be continued -- Q & A following the PowerPoint.

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.

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.

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

(Cross-posted at The Reaction.)

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