Tuesday, September 02, 2014

The Well Heeled Terrorist


The conventional wisdom holds that violence and terrorism are the inevitable consequences of poverty and ignorance. Cass Sunstein, who teaches law at Harvard, writes that the evidence suggests something entirely different:

Most extremists, including those who commit violence, are not poor and do not lack education.

Suicide bombers are likely to have more income and more education than most people in their home nation, research shows. A few years after the attacks of Sept. 11, people in Jordan, Morocco, Pakistan and Turkey with higher than average incomes were no less likely to say that suicide attacks against Westerners were justified. People with more education were actually more likely to reach that conclusion.

What matters is the way they think and what they think:

Princeton economist Alan Krueger says: “To under­stand who joins terrorist organizations, instead of asking who has a low salary and few opportunities, we should ask: Who holds strong political views and is confident enough to try to impose an extrem­ist vision by violent means?” That’s the right question. And at least part of the answer comes from social dynamics, as illuminated by some old, and seemingly far afield, experiments in group psychology.

Birds of an intellectual feather tend to flock together -- and the more extreme the feather, the stronger the bond:

Writing in 1998, Russell Hardin, a political scientist at New York University, drew attention to the “crippled epistemology of extremism,” by which he meant to emphasize how little extremists know. Focused on Islamic fundamentalists, Hardin was concerned about what happens “when the fanatic is in a group of like-minded people, and especially when the group isolates itself from others.”

The same could be said of governments with extreme agendas. Enough said.


Edstock said...

IMHO, it's education, even more than wealth, that is the drive behind terrorists and activists, like OWS and Anonymous and others.

Almost 80 years ago there was a Hunger March from the UK Midlands down to London. On the way, it passed through Cambridge and was beheld by Donald Maclean, Guy Burgess and Kim Philby, who along with Anthony Blunt and Joh Cairncross, became the NKVD's most important espionage ring. All because of their outrage at the social injustice.

IMHO, the beat goes on, just as it always has and the power elite will not enjoy the future. Somewhere out there, there are those who are today's Cambridge Five, and like Snowden they may have their surprises. My 2¢.

Owen Gray said...

Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote long ago, Ed, that it was possible to "learn much amiss." Philby et. al. bear vivid testament to that observation.

Much has changed since Hawthorne's time. But that particular insight hasn't.

ron wilton said...

It is often claimed that if you want to kill a snake, you must chop off it's head, and I suppose that works if you get the right end of the snake.

The trouble with so called 'terrorist organizations' is identifying which end is the head is not easy. Kill Bin Laden and the snake multiplies under different identities but with the same purported agenda.

I get your oblique reference to the harpercons and other such 'agenda driven' hard right governments, but is harper really the head?

In BC we have a premier who wiggles and squawks, but she is hardly the leader, apparently likewise in Alberta, Quebec, Newfoundland, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario.

The 'heads' are the unseen and unseemly entities that 'arranged' the placement of these pliable and obedient 'leaders'.

We cannot cut off the serpents head until we identify where and who the real head is and if we even have the ways or the means to do the job.

Owen Gray said...

Truly committed terrorists want you to see their work, Ron. But they also work in the shadows.

That said, their front men and women serve as excellent recruiters.

Pamela Mac Neil said...

the "crippled epistemology of extremism" Almost says it all. A very insightful article. I learned something today. Thx.

Owen Gray said...

Sunstein always has something interesting to say, Pam.

The Mound of Sound said...

I agree with Ed. Violent extremists are the product of conditioning, indoctrination. They have to be radicalized.

Fundmentalism, of any stripe, is the first step in conditioning.

Owen Gray said...

It's easy to fall for doctrine, Mound. Any doctrine.

And some of us have perfected our brain washing techniques.

greg said...

I read an article in the Globe (written by the CSIS head) 100 hundred Canadians had been recruited and then they will come back and bomb targets. First of all, 100 people didn't sound like that many but maybe I'm just ignorant. Then they will all come back and bomb things. Is there any evidence they will do that?

Owen Gray said...

I'm not sure there's much evidence to support that assumption, greg.

But, since the beheading of the two American journalists, there's lots of fear in the air.

greg said...

Regarding the ISIS operation and US drone and bombing campaign.
Any idea of the number of civilian casualties? When the rhetoric heats up, is this even a consideration?

Owen Gray said...

I haven't heard any reports of "collateral damage" from U.S. bombing raids, Greg.

The news seems to have been dominated by the beheading of the American journalists.