Saturday, March 22, 2008

Typical British Islamist terrorist: "terror as a 'playground dare'"

London Bombers
July 7, 2005
(Image from Wikipedia)

In an interesting article written for The Spectator (Tuesday, 18th March 2008), "Al-Qa'eda's secret UK gangs: terror as a 'playground dare'," Fraser Nelson reveals this about the typical British Islamist terrorist:
After 12 thwarted plots and three failed ones, the picture of the enemy has never been clearer. The typical British terrorist is not angry about poverty (as Cabinet Office guidance suggested four years ago) but is usually an apparently well-integrated Muslim who is likely to have a degree, often in engineering. Frequently, however, he will be in a relatively low-prestige job and may find a macabre attraction in the profile of a suicide bomber. What is common to all is a psychological trait it is all but impossible to screen for: the need for a substitute family, a willingness to be brainwashed by al-Qa'eda.
Nelson tells us that the "typical British terrorist is not angry about poverty," and that point shouldn't surprise us because we've been hearing experts repeatedly come to this conclusion over the past several years.

Nelson's remark about the typical terrorist having "a relatively low-prestige job" fits my perception that much of what drives Islamist radicals psychologically is their sense of frustrated entitlement. These are individuals with a heightened view of their own superiority confronted daily by their actual insignificance, which resonates with the Islamist insistence on the obvious superiority of Islam contradicted by Islam's actual inferiority. Islamist ideology 'explains' to them why they are so 'humiliated'. Nelson doesn't develop this specific point, but only an analysis of Islamist ideology and its influence can clarify why terrorism is an overwhelmingly Muslim enterprise in our times even though young Muslim men are not the only young men whose sense of exaggerated self-worth is contradicted by hard reality.

How do these young Britist Muslim men fit into al-Qa'eda, which is the Islamist organization that they usually identify with? Nelson explains:
The Foreign Office . . . believes the group has essentially a tripartite structure. At the top is what it calls 'core AQ': people like Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, his reputed deputy, who make proclamations and distribute videos. The second tier is affiliated groups, which take instructions from the core al-Qa'eda but are not directly linked.

But the third and largest part comprises the self-starting groups which have, as one official puts it, 'bought into the al-Qa'eda franchise'. They are groupings of like-minded aspirant terrorists who will act in bin Laden's name, but on their own initiative.
How does this 'initiative' develop?
The more common British pattern is for a group of like-minded young men to group together, start talking, raise the stakes progressively until one of them broaches the subject of a terrorist attack. They discover that they have particular talents or resources (money, materials, cars). Their behaviour then resembles that of a playground gang and their bond becomes something close to the psychology of a group dare. None wants to be the first to abandon the project -- and thus it develops its own murderous momentum.
Nelson's analogy to a playground gang connects with his previous remark about these young men's "need for a substitute family," but beyond noting that this "is all but impossible to screen for," he doesn't tell us much about why they need a substitute family in the first place. Are Muslim families in Britain weak?

And why should a playground dare develop "murderous momentum"?

Psychological dysfunction surely plays a role in the decisions that these young men make, but perhaps not more so than in many other young men who don't turn to terrorism, especially suicide terrorism.

On this point, only Islamist emphasis upon particular Muslim doctrines can provide an explanation, as Nelson suggests:
In this conflict, the [Islamist] enemy believes he is destined for Paradise if he completes his deadly mission. Worldly incentives do not compete so easily with transcendental promises.
Quite so. The alluring feminine scent from that garden of unearthly delights promised in the sacred texts. But these young toughs aren't PW'ed by the promised houris; they're also 'promiscuous' holy warriors of the internet setting off on a mission from God:
The government is up against an enemy promiscuous and cunning in its techniques: al-Qa'eda propagates its mediaeval message using 21st-century techniques. It has mastered the web and was quick to cotton on to the power of viral ads -- giving its movement more credibility and an underground edge. With just a few clicks of the mouse you can find videos persuading Muslims to enlist in a holy war. 'I hate to say it, but their videos are incredibly powerful,' says one minister. 'How do we respond to that?'
Good question. We may be able to identify the young men who are drawn to radical Islamist terrorism and stop them before they strike, but how do we weaken Islamism's drawing power when the Islamists can use the internet better than 'we' can?

To that point . . . what the hell is this 'powerful' thing called a viral ad?

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At 8:06 AM, Blogger Hathor said...

Maybe the UK should export them to the US, where that personality fits the geek perfectly and is rewarded with handsome sums of money.

At 8:15 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Good point. We are the land of opportunity.

Islamists are rather geeky, now that you mention this. They're like those guys who used to wear an HP calculator on their belts back when I was an undergrad.

Jeffery Hodges

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