Whooooo are you?


With so much talk about terrorists since 9/11, and with so many people making so many big decisions based on who terrorists are and what they want, Marc Sageman asked a strange question: what are we talking about? That is, who are terrorists? Does anybody know?

The answer to the last question was, “Frankly, no.” Everybody’s talking about terrorists as if they know what they’re talking about, but nobody actually does. So Sageman, a forensic psychiatrist and former CIA officer, decided to do a scientific study of known terrorists. I’m not in a position to critique his methodology, so consider that a large disclaimer. However, his last book seems to be highly regarded, and he seems to be generally considered a serious scholar on terrorism.

Taking his study as sound, then, since I have no reason to think it is not, what he found is pretty surprising. For instance:

  • Most current terrorists are not very religious.
  • Most current terrorists did not attend madrassas.
  • Most current terrorists do not know Arabic.
  • Most current terrorists are not poor or from backgrounds of poverty.
  • Most current terrorists have college degrees, mostly in scientific and technical disciplines.

The current generation of terrorists form what Sageman calls “Third Wave” terrorism. The first wave arose in the 1980s and includes people like Osama bin Laden. The number of First Wave terrorists still alive and on the loose is measured in dozens. The second wave arose in the early 90s, were extremely religious, and were trained directly by First Wave terrorists. There are roughly 100 Second Wave terrorists still active. Sageman says these 2 generations of terrorists are extremely dangerous, and should be pursued and locked away. (Most of them can be found, conveniently, in one place: the Waziristan province of Pakistan.)

Third Wave terrorists are, in Sageman’s words, “basically punks.” They act out of boredom, rebellion, and resentment, not religiosity or hatred of Western freedoms or a desire for a society governed by Sharia law.

Here’s a [long] presentation he did, which I saw on C-SPAN, and here’s the [short] book in which he presents his data. It’s fascinating stuff, and I’d be interested in hearing others’ thoughts.


2 Responses to “Whooooo are you?”

  1. Michael Lasley Says:

    looks interesting. i just ordered the first book you linked to.

    i only made it part way through the talk. i’ll try to finish that up tomorrow. i have a short attention span.

  2. alsturgeon Says:

    Haven’t had a chance to digest anything but your summary, but I found it extremely interesting.

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