Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Are terrorists more of a cult than a movement?

David Ignatius has an interesting column in today’s Washington Post regarding President Bush’s argument we are in for a long war against a global enemy of Muslim fanatics. He cites Marc Sageman, a former CIA case officer in Pakistan who later became a psychiatrist. Sageman has done a lot of research on individuals associated with terrorist activities and argues we are facing more of a cult that will burn itself out over time than a political movement that can carry on for generations. He writes,
Sageman argues in his book, "Understanding Terror Networks," that we are facing something closer to a cult network than an organized global adversary. Like many cults through history, the Muslim terrorists thrive by channeling and perverting the idealism of young people…

… the Sunni jihadism of al-Qaeda and its spinoff groups is a generational phenomenon. Unless new grievances spawn new recruits, it will gradually ebb over time. In other words, this is a fire that will gradually burn itself out unless we keep pumping in more oxygen. Nothing in Sageman's analysis implies that America should be any less aggressive in defending itself against terrorism. But he does argue that we should choose our offensive battles wisely and avoid glamorizing the jihadist network further through our rhetoric or actions.

Sageman's focus on the generational arc of violence got me thinking
about my recent trip to Iran. The revolutionary intensity hasn't disappeared
there, but it is certainly further down the curve than is the Sunni world. When
I attended Friday prayers at Tehran University, I was struck by how old the
people shouting "death to America" were. I would guess the average age was well
over 40. The generation of the Iranian revolution is getting long in the tooth.
The only sure way to ignite revolutionary zealotry in the younger generation
would be for America to go to war with Iran -- something I dearly hope we can

1 comment:

Bill Garnett said...

And I also innocently ask, is the far right Bible inerrantly read, narrow minded, prejudiced, gay hating, ultra conservative, American "so called” Christians more of a cult than a movement?

I ask this having been brought up in such a Southern Baptist extremist family -- I have an uncle and a cousin who are Baptist preachers and another uncle who was a past president of the men’s division of the Baptist World Alliance (his son, by the way, was gay, and I saw the way my family failed to show their Christian love to my cousin). I have some experience with these people.

I also lived in Saudi Arabia, in a middle class Saudi neighborhood, for six years. And saw my neighbors often as narrow minded and religiously blinded to common sense and concepts of tolerance and equal rights.

Perhaps if people would live lives of more tolerance, caring, and empathy, both the Christian and the Muslim world would be better off. And let God make the final judgments.