Profile of a Terrorist

by Anonymous on 8/17/2004 · 11 comments

According to this interview in the French Libération with Mark Sageman,* an expert on terrorism, Al-Qaeda is not a organisation with hierarchic structures and defined internal power divisions. It is rather a social movement.

Among other interesting ideas Mr Sageman, the author of Understanding Terror Networks, suggests is the generalised profile of a modern-day terrorist:

An immigrant in a Western country, usually coming from the elites of his country of origin. He is well-educated and holds a university degree. After arriving in the West, he feels isolated and alienated. He cannot integrate in the Western society. He comes together with others like him in informal isolated groups. One of the members of the group is attracted by radical Islamic ideas. That person leads all the group to radicalism, eventhough none of them are originally very religious.

The main conclusion I have drawn from this article has confirmed my belief that the origins of terrorism have nothing to do with Islamic religion, but they are created by social and economic conditions. The groups like HT manipulate and channel this frustration into more radical ideas and acts.

Waging war against terrorism might appear to be a good way of solving the problem during 5-year presidential term, but in the long-term only helping the countries in the underdeveloped world out of misery and backwardness can be the only effective method

NH: If you, like myself, do not read French, Southern Watch and Global Security have stuff from or about Sageman. You can find his book here.


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– author of 49 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Education 2003–2004 Master Degree in Developmental Studies (DESS “Gestion et dynamisation du développement”), The University of Pierre Mendès France of Grenoble, France 1998-2003 Bachelor Degree in International Economics, The University of World Economy and Diplomacy of Tashkent, Uzbekistan Work Experience 05/2004-08/2004 Researcher, The Economic Mission of France in Istanbul, Turkey 04/2003-09/2003 Research assistant and Translator in the UNDP project UZB 01/04 on institutional reinforcement of the Higher School of Business under the President of Uzbekistan 01/2003-04/2003 Interpreter, International Department, The Higher School of Business, Tashkent, Uzbekistan 09/2002-01/2003 English Language Junior Editor at the Journal “International Relations, Law and Economy” of the University of World Economy and Diplomacy, Tashkent, Uzbekistan 06/2002-09/2002 Intern, CIS countries Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Uzbekistan

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{ 11 comments }

Alisher August 17, 2004 at 12:35 pm

Hmm…and besides creating a couple of billion or more consumers can be only positive for the World economy and…of course American companies.

Tatyana August 17, 2004 at 2:45 pm

in the long-term only helping the countries in the underdeveloped world out of misery and backwardness can be the only effective method

Really? With your resources, Nathan, can you find statistics how much US handles out every year to the “underdeveloped countries” and for how many years? Doesn’t seem to help in pulling them out of their “backwardness”, the only development is they ‘developed’ assurance they have G-d-given right to parasite, just like welfare mothers. See (most recent example I can remember) African countries demanding from the West to handle them cheap AIDS medicines, way below cost of said medicines in producing countries and how enraged they were at the suggestion of use of profilactic contraceptives (I recall cries of “new sterilisation”! limitation of sexual freedom! and such)

Nathan August 17, 2004 at 3:14 pm

Well, that’s a tricky question to answer.

I’m not in the mood right now to dig up numbers, but if I recall, the United States gives more money per capita than any other.

However, note that I only said “gives.” Europeans will tell you they give more. And, if you look at only government giving, they give much more per capita than the US. * A lot of the money that the US “gives” is from immigrants sending money back to their families and doesn’t really address any structural problems in the development arena.

in the long-term only helping the countries in the underdeveloped world out of misery and backwardness can be the only effective method

That’s probably correct, but it’s loaded. I’m not familiar enough with how Alisher uses English (all non-native speakers have interesting and somewhat unique quirks, I’ve noticed) to know if he intended it to be, accidentally made it so, or if it is my cultural contact with similar statements that make it appear so.

It is often assumed on the left and in Europe and that “helping” is the same thing as “giving.” The US government, and many Americans themselves, have a fundamental problem with this approach. While I’m not going to say that the Left or Europeans don’t recognize structural problems in the developing world, I will say that they’ve not done anything serious to fix them. Food aid is fitting for a famine, but it does nothing to solve political issues or infrastructure problems that lead to famine.

That being said, I feel a lot of the criticism of the US over “not doing its part” is an indictment of our approach. But then again, the “teach a man to fish” approach is the one that makes most sense for political and economic reforms and that is what the developing world needs. A lot of the most successful applications of US aid have been the slow, plodding, foundation-laying political change that Europe (while helping out with) rarely midwifes.

I should mention that the Peace Corps approach was pretty explicit in giving skills before resources. There was always a material commitment that had to be made on the part of Host Country Nationals. We were also encouraged to never just do something for an HCN, but advise them while they did it. This approach worked wonders in Uzbekistan.

Tatyana August 17, 2004 at 4:09 pm

Confusing “helping” with “giving” is not only European and/or left phenomenon. I remember the popular Russian expression “Nozhki Busha” (“Bush’s thights”, but it’s funnier in Russian) in regards to loads of frozen chicken given away by US “helping” Russia about 10 yrs ago during very difficult “privatization” shock. Were they grateful? Hell no. I’ve read written opinions that those imperialists are damping their infected meat surplus on poor Russians who a)will die of unknown infections and b) will be required to “sell their Motherland” in return.

I have drawn from this article has confirmed my belief that the origins of terrorism have nothing to do with Islamic religion, but they are created by social and economic conditions.

Not very plausible, in my opinion. Without much theoretizing, just based on the facts of everyday life around me.
There are hundreds of US immigrants of different religious confessions but similar social and economic background with those described in the model profile you site. Tell me why replanted to US well-educated Chinese, Koreans, Indians, etc don’t feel alienated in Western culture to the point of joining terrorist groups with the goal of destroying it?
After living in US for 12 yrs I still haven’t heard of one Indian terrorist here. What’s more, when some dork killed a turbanned Sikh in the days after 9/11, there was no “rebellion”, “resistance movement” or some such by unfortunate victim co-religionists.

Makes me think there is something inherently wrong with moral principles of “religion of piece”.

Tatyana August 17, 2004 at 4:20 pm

Preview is your friend. Repeat 100 times.
I mean,
“dumping”.
And “hundreds of thousands”.
And “religion of peace”

Oh-oh-oh…

Nathan August 17, 2004 at 4:46 pm

And “thighs” too?

I remember hearing about that from a friend.

I too, entirely disagree with the economic causes argument as it’s commonly put forth. While I think it could be a motivator for terrorists, it oddly only seems to be for those unaffected by poverty. Perhaps they’re reacting to it too, but because we don’t see a similar response in other poor societies, there’s a social and cultural element that has to be the gatekeeper that allows economics to play a role.

On the other hand, there are tons of people sympathetic to terror, but not about to engage in it, who probably wouldn’t be if they were fat and happy.

Tatyana August 17, 2004 at 5:03 pm

Yeah…
[covers her face in shame]

Alisher August 18, 2004 at 5:14 am

As for helping underdeveloped countries, you are right that for most of the time the technical assistance and economic aid didn’t yield any considerable results, but a lot depends on how and in which form this aid is given. By the way, substantial part of aid is in the form of loans. So, it is not “given”, it is “lent”, of course the interest charged is less than when a receiving country borrows directly from the capital markets, that is why it is called “aid”. Even when the aid is without interest to pay, it is usually with other conditions attached. For example, if France gives 5 million euros for an agricultural project in Burkina Faso, France usually demands that the consultants who design and carry out this project are French, the tractors to be bought should be produced by French companies, as well as all other equipment, plus the corruption aspect and after a short time all the money ends up back in France…These sorts of conditions maybe attached on interest loans as well, so at the end, say, Burkina Faso will buy French equipment for uncompetitive prices because it has to, plus it will pay the borrowed money with interest rates..And this scheme is more or less true for other countries as well. Only Scandinavian countries, and sometimes Switzerland (and maybe some others I don’t know), give without conditions attached. So, what I am trying to say from the point of “giving”, most of the aid has never been a charity. And by the way, even those welfare programs you are talking about have never been designed as charity; their main purpose is not idealistic help to the poor, but the creation of more consumer base able to buy goods and services…

For me helping doesn’t mean humanitarian programs like distribution of food. At the present, arguably, the biggest help the USA and Europe could render to the poor countries consists in removing agricultural subsidies. You don’t have to “teach a man to fish”, just “let” him fish. It is difficult to understand when a country advocates liberalisation abroad, and persists with such ant-liberal practices at home.

You are right that Islam is not a very peaceful religion, but basically it doesn’t have much difference with Judaism or Christianity. Besides, I wonder if this terroristic Islam is something to do with religious principles, or with national cultures and traditions of the people who practice Islam. It is not religion that makes terrorists, but I still think some other factors like economic, social and political.

Nathan August 18, 2004 at 9:16 am

You don’t have to “teach a man to fish”, just “let” him fish. It is difficult to understand when a country advocates liberalisation abroad, and persists with such ant-liberal practices at home.

You make a good point. The West is pretty bad on giving access to its markets. At the same time, teaching a man to fish is still important. There are many people in power in the developing world that would have no idea how to govern without corruption. I know there are material reasons for corruption, but I have also encountered a lack of imagination in corrupt, but well-meaning people.

The best example of this that comes to my mind is a small exchange program that brings police officers to the United States to learn how our police do their jobs. The best line ever was from an Azeri who said something to the effect that he didn’t know that there were easy ways to investigate crimes that didn’t involve intimidating or abusing prisoners.

Chris Durnell August 20, 2004 at 8:13 pm

I believe Alisher is wrong: “The main conclusion I have drawn from this article has confirmed my belief that the origins of terrorism have nothing to do with Islamic religion, but they are created by social and economic conditions. The groups like HT manipulate and channel this frustration into more radical ideas and acts.”

I do not think his logic carries, i.e. the typical Muslim terrorist comes from the elite of his society and comes to a foreign land with the benefit of education. Therefore, this elite, highly educated man terrorizes because he is underdeveloped (not elite) and backwards (not highly educated.)

What is more accurate is that Islam alone is not sufficient to create terrorists. Instead, it is primarily inculcated by Muslims living in foreign lands as a reaction of their failure to integrate.

Social and economic conditions are not the cause because other immigrant groups do not become terrorists when faced with the same situation. That is because their cultures and values are not based on jihadist ideology.

Likewise one must act why these Muslims fail to integrate. Is there something in their indigenous culture that causes this failure that is not experienced by other immigrants? Do Muslims have a higher rate of not integrating into the countries they immigrate to? Anecdotal evidence from Europe shows that the answer is probably yes, although statistical evidence would be nice to see.

Nathan August 20, 2004 at 9:25 pm

Instead, it is primarily inculcated by Muslims living in foreign lands as a reaction of their failure to integrate.

Except for when they don’t. Most of the ones who are behind attacks in the West fit that description, but far more terrorist attacks take place within the Muslim world. I feel it’s more fitting to say that people behind them have no opportunity for social mobility or political outlet. That seems to be the case in Alisher’s home country.

Also, to use Uzbekistan again, Alisher is correct to say that Hizb ut-Tahrir simply puts an Islamic lens on what are primarily social and economic problems.

Really, I think that Muslims who have a violent Islamist reaction against the West are pretty much a deadly version of our own violent anarchists. In the wrong hands, Islam can provide a very compelling case for violence against those who oppose you–just as it can provide a strong case for compassion and mercy in other hands.

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