Terrorists don't kill and die just for a cause.
They kill and die for each other.
In this rigorous and challenging work that combines the penetrating insight of The Looming Tower and the historical sweep and scope of Guns, Germs, and Steel, renowned social scientist Scott Atran traces terrorism's root causes in human evolution and history, touching on the nature of faith, the origins of society, the limits of reason, and the power of moral values.
Atran interviews and investigates Al Qaeda associates and acolytes, including Jemaah Islamiyah, Lashkar-e-Tayibah, and the Madrid train bombers, as well as other non-Qaeda groups, such as Hamas and the Taliban, and their sponsoring communities, from the jungles of Southeast Asia and the political wastelands of the Middle East to New York, London, and Madrid. His conclusions are startling, important, and sure to be controversial.
Terrorists, he reminds us, are social beings, influenced by social connections and values familiar to us all, as members of school clubs, sports teams, or community organizations. When notions of the homeland, a family of friends, and a band of brothers are combined with the zeal of belief, amazing things—both good and bad—are possible: the passage of civil rights legislation, the U.S. Olympic hockey team's victory in 1980, the destruction of 9/11 and the attacks on the London Underground in July 2005.
Atran corrects misconceptions about suicide bombers and radical Islam, explaining how our tolerance for faith enables extremists to flourish, and shows why atheism and science education have little effect. Going beyond analysis, he offers practical solutions that can help us identify terrorists today, prevent the creation of future terrorists, and ultimately make the world a safer place for everyone.
Atran (In Gods We Trust) examines the motivations of terrorists in this sprawling and timely study. Drawing upon years of travel among Muslim communities from Indonesia to Morocco, extensive interviews with “would-be martyrs and holy warriors,” and detailed surveys, the author concludes that young jihadists aren’t merely motivated by political or religious fervor--they are powerfully bound to each other, they were “campmates, school buddies, soccer pals, and the like, who become die-hard bands of brothers.” Besides the importance of group dynamics in spawning terrorists, the author highlights the role of “sacred values”--core cultural values--that ”often trump other values, particularly economic ones.” Within this context, Atran argues that the best measures against today’s terrorist threat--which is more opportunistic, “more scattered and disjointed,” than it was before 9/11--are soft-power initiatives “to provide alternative heroes and hopes” within Muslim communities and to reframe sacred values. Atran’s intellectual reach is prodigious; his analysis of the underpinnings of terrorism is instructive, if often unconventional; and his provocative prescriptions merit debate and consideration. (Nov.)