How People Become Terrorists

Yesterday I attended a fascinating lecture by Marc Sageman on his latest book: Misunderstanding Terrorism. You can watch it here: How-people-become-terrorists

Though greatly oversimplified, the essence of his findings, which included direct interviews of over 30 captured terrorists, is that members attracted to a close net group with a shared concern and thus shared identity and common cause can for various reasons rise to terrorism when they think their issue is not receiving a fair hearing. He does not consider the ultra conservative interpretation of Islam espoused by ISIS to be a very important factor in attracting its “soldiers.” Perhaps this is why National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster urged Trump not to use the label “radical Islamic terrorism” in his speech to congress saying that it was not helpful. McMaster-trump-terrorism-speech

America’s best defense against ISIS and other terrorist producing groups is to adhere to the values that have made American so respected and admired around the world. These include the evenhanded application of the rule of law.

While listening to Dr. Sageman’s presentation I was reminded of the University of California’s handling of the Free Speech Movement in 1964-5. The FSM was formed in the fall of 1964 after the University banned the traditional sidewalk tables on the edge of the Berkeley campus from which student organizations recruited members and/or passed out their literature. I was a member of the FSM council, as were the presidents of virtually all recognized campus organizations, in my capacity as President of the University Conservatives. The council’s purpose was to get the Berkeley administration to lift its ban and restore free speech on campus (a different time indeed).

As the daily meetings of the FSM council droned on, the group began to informally split between those pushing for more and more forceful demonstrations (which led eventually to the student take over and sit in of Sproul Hall, the administration building) and those of us favoring discussions with the Administration. As the FSM council became increasingly more radical, more moderate groups began to drop out and five of us (the Presidents of Young Republics, Young Democrats, University Conservatives, Young Peoples Socialist League, and Democratic Socialists) began meeting separately in the middle of the night to agree on a strategy for approaching the Administration. We met in the office of Professor Seymour Martin Lipset because the YPSL President was his research assistant and had the key. In this we succeeded but not until Bettina Aptheker and the Marxist group led students into Sproul Hall where they “sat in” for the next few days until they were carted off by the police. Sadly, Joan Baez, who had performed on the steps of Sproul Hall (from which Mario Savio and I and others addressed the daily crowds) every Friday, and whose music I love, led the students into the building singing “We shall overcome” (though she stopped outside the door herself). It was an unforgettable experience with protest movements and crowd dynamics.

President Trump has taken the opposite approach to our terrorist threat. Rather than honestly debating whether Muslims or any other identifiable group are unfairly treated in America (of course some are occasionally, but not as the result of an official discriminatory policy), and/or our purpose and conduct in occupying Iraq, Trump has pretended that the threat comes from abroad and has tried to make it even harder for foreigners to visit. In the process he has given an ugly tone to our discussions of real issues and concerns. Trumps-foreign-policy-and-Mexico

Trump’s poorly conceived, poorly drafted, and poorly executed Executive Order temporarily banning entry of people from seven Muslim majority countries fits Dr. Sageman’s description of how to promote terrorism. Tears-and-detention-for-us-visitors-as-trump-travel-ban-hits. In the past few weeks, our charming and welcoming airport immigration officials have detained some unusual travelers.

American born citizen Sidd Bikkannavar, a scientist at the Jet Propulsion Lab with Global Entry, was detained in Houston on his return from Chile and pressured to give over the pin access number to his phone, which had been issued by his employer and contained sensitive material. Indian-origin-nasa-scientist-detained-at-us-border-phone-confiscated

French historian Henry Rousso, a pre-eminent scholar on the Holocaust, was also held at the Houston airport. “When the immigration officer discovered he would be receiving a fee for his keynote address at Texas A&M University, he ordered him to be deported, claiming he should have a working visa rather than a tourist visa.” French-historian-Henry-Rousso-detained 10-hours.

The celebrated Australian children’s writer, Mem Fox, was detained at LAX and wrote that “In that moment I loathed America.” In-that-moment-I-loathed-America-I-loathed-the-entire-country.

The detention for several hours of Mohammad Ali’s son on his way home from a speech in Jamaica because he is a Muslim is one of the more outrageous examples of what is happening. Muhammad-Ali-son-detained-Fort-Lauderdale-airport

These short sighted and ugly measures are not making us safer, quite the opposite:

Former-CIA-chief-says trumps-travel-ban-hurts-American security

In response to stricter requirements for European travel to the U.S., the European Commission is considering whether to suspend visa free travel to Europe for Americans. Did we really think we could do it to them without them wanting to do it to us? Where are the adults?

About wcoats

Dr. Warren L. Coats specializes in advising central banks on monetary policy, and in the development of their capacity to formulate and implement monetary policy. He is retired from the International Monetary Fund, where, as Assistant Director of the Monetary and Financial Systems Department, he led missions to over twenty countries. Before then, he served as Visiting Economist to the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, and to the World Bank, and was Assistant Prof of Economics at the Univ. of Virginia from 1970-75. Most recently he was Senior Monetary Policy Advisor to the Central Bank of Iraq; an IMF consultant to the central banks of Afghanistan, Kenya and Zimbabwe; and a Deloitte/USAID advisor to the Government of South Sudan. He is currently a member of the Editorial Board of the Cayman Financial Review and until the end of 2013 was a member of the IMF program team for Afghanistan. His most recent book is entitled "One Currency for Bosnia: Creating the Central Bank of Bosnia and Herzegovina."
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One Response to How People Become Terrorists

  1. Ron says:

    Thank you, Warren.

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