Monday, December 01, 2008


UPDATE: below

Bruce Schneier in the October issue of Wired:
Conventional wisdom holds that terrorism is inherently political, and that people become terrorists for political reasons. This is the "strategic" model of terrorism, and it's basically an economic model. . .

If you believe this model, the way to fight terrorism is to change that equation, and that's what most experts advocate. Governments tend to minimize the political gains of terrorism through a no-concessions policy; the international community tends to recommend reducing the political grievances of terrorists via appeasement, in hopes of getting them to renounce violence. Both advocate policies to provide effective nonviolent alternatives, like free elections.

Historically, none of these solutions has worked with any regularity. Max Abrahms, a predoctoral fellow at Stanford University's Center for International Security and Cooperation, has studied dozens of terrorist groups from all over the world. He argues that the model is wrong. In a paper (.pdf) published this year in International Security that -- sadly -- doesn't have the title "Seven Habits of Highly Ineffective Terrorists," he discusses, well, seven habits of highly ineffective terrorists. These seven tendencies are seen in terrorist organizations all over the world, and they directly contradict the theory that terrorists are political maximizers:

Terrorists, he writes, (1) attack civilians, a policy that has a lousy track record of convincing those civilians to give the terrorists what they want; (2) treat terrorism as a first resort, not a last resort, failing to embrace nonviolent alternatives like elections; (3) don't compromise with their target country, even when those compromises are in their best interest politically; (4) have protean political platforms, which regularly, and sometimes radically, change; (5) often engage in anonymous attacks, which precludes the target countries making political concessions to them; (6) regularly attack other terrorist groups with the same political platform; and (7) resist disbanding, even when they consistently fail to achieve their political objectives or when their stated political objectives have been achieved.

Abrahms has an alternative model to explain all this: People turn to terrorism for social solidarity. He theorizes that people join terrorist organizations worldwide in order to be part of a community, much like the reason inner-city youths join gangs in the United States.
Still, as New Wineskins' ultraguy observes, missing from both the traditional and alternative analysis is the concept of "evil." Perhaps terrorism isn't rational; could terrorists lack a cognizable motivation because they embody underlying and uncomprehending evil?


Assistant Village supports Abrahms/Schneier.


Assistant Village Idiot said...

Fascinating paper

Carl said...

Agreed. Great to find support (at 84) for the notion that "the number of terrorist organizations operating in a country is positively associated with freedom of expression, assembly, and association." (A related concept is a long-standing postulate of mine.)

Outside of the "evil" hypothesis, the only theory that ever made sense to me is that terrorists are wanna-be rock stars, which is consistent with Abrahms's essay.

OBloodyHell said...

> Outside of the "evil" hypothesis, the only theory that ever made sense to me is that terrorists are wanna-be rock stars, which is consistent with Abrahms's essay.

Now THERE's mockumentary video that would be fun to make.

Would not want to advertize my association with it, though. I might get Theoed.

Anonymous said...

Terrorists are people who have given up their own minds and beliefs to genuflect before dead people who systematically imposed their beliefs and rituals upon them using FEAR to manipulate their behavior. Let's turn the world's power over to people whose actions are motivated by truth and joy rather then giving power to fearmotivated and brainwashed people who sacrifice their opportunity to live their own lives to repeating the mistakes of their parents and ancestors.

newine said...

Schneier is an interesting cat... very well versed in his domain of primary expertise (computer security) and waaaaay off the mark when it comes to other kinds of security. See, for example, this.

Anonymous said...

Here's another interesting discussion of how Schneier has failed to come to terms with the rampant ambitions of the islamists to increase their body count by orders of magnitude.