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Talking to the Enemy: Violent Extremism, Sacred Values, and What it Means to Be Human Kindle Edition
Scott Atran is one of the very few persons who understand religion and have figured out that religion is not about belief and cannot be naively replaced without severe side effects (Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of The Black Swan)
A riveting account of the motivational basis of terrorism and field material of rare quality. Dismantling the myths that guide the so called war on terror, he provides the tools to address a global problem rationally and effectively (Carlo Strenger, Graduate Chair of Clinical Psychology, Tel Aviv University, and columnist for Ha'aretz)
The political implications of [Atran's] well-grounded analysis are profound but conveyed in an accessible style which left me excited and hopeful (John, Lord Alderdice, Chairman of the Liberal Democrat Party in the House of Lords, former Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly and President of Liberal International)
Atran's intellectual reach is prodigious; his analysis of the underpinnings of terrorism is instructive, if often unconventional; and his provocative prescriptions merit debate and consideration (Publishers Weekly)
Atran explores the way terrorists think about themselves and teaches us, at last, intelligent ways to think about terrorists. He puts the threat in perspective and provides keys to winning the fight against violent zealotry (Christopher Dickey, Newsweek Middle East Editor)
The stories Atran brings back from talking to jihadists and their supporters are gripping, and the result of his experiments that probe their sacred values are compelling. The insights he gains tell us more than we knew before about what it means to be human (Robert Axelrod, Walgreen Professor for the Study of Human Understanding at the University of Michigan)
Atran is one of the world's most important thinkers on the local and global dynamics of violent Islamist extremism ... required reading for those trying to understand the problems of terrorism in the 21st century (Juan Zarate, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for Combating Terrorism 2005 - 2009)
Atran deploys his formidable knowledge ... to dissect the various dynamics that have helped form human individuals into groups, warbands, hunting parties or armies over the millennia ...Even more impressive is Atran's field research... research that underpins his vision of radical Islamic militancy as an adaptive social movement... A very useful addition to other, more mainstream understandings of what "al-Qaida" might be. (Jason Burke Observer)
Talking to the Enemy is about far more than violent extremism. One of the most penetrating works of social investigation to appear in many years, it offers a fresh and compelling perspective on human conflict. (John Gray Literary Review)
In his highly readable round-the-world examination of the jihad and its adherents, Atran pieces together the lives and the backgrounds of extremists, offering insightful perspectives by placing contemporary Islamist dissent into a deeper context of human evolutionary history. (Richard Phelps Financial Times)
Talking to the Enemy is an important book, by turns fascinating, dense, scientific, debatable, illuminating. (David Aaronovitch The Times)
In this baggy, passionate and occasionally, but justifiably overwrought book... Atran breaks from the conventions to tell us that we have all got it wrong, especially when it comes to suicide terrorism. (Bryan Appleyard The Sunday Times and New Statesman)
Talking to the Enemy is recommendable not just for its vivid insights into the motivation of terrorists, but also for its study of Islamic radicalisation and the anthropology of religion in general. (Michael Bond New Scientist)
What can be done to undo future jihadist networks? Renowned anthropologist Scott Atran has carried out a very thorough study with surprising findings on what motivates those who kill and die. (Luis Miguel Ariza El Pais)
Atran has given us a remarkably honest book, demonstrating that down-to-earth field work can give us a far superior understanding of what makes terrorists 'tick' than whole armies of armchair counter-terrorist 'experts'. (Alex Schmid Perspectives on Terrorism)
Talking to the Enemy is Atran's impassioned call for evidence-based policy, but it's also an ambitious survey of culture and violence... Research is the trump card here, played often and well. (David Shariatmadari Guardian)
Talking to the Enemy sets us - and our governments - straight about a long list of dubious assumptions.... He is sure that we should 'talk before we shoot', that the torture chamber is the wrong place to have this conversation, and that we must learn to distinguish real threats from imagined ones. (Jeremy Harding London Review of Books)
Overall, Talking to the Enemy is a captivating read that carries you from the most personal aspects of terrorists' lives to the socio-historical determinants... despite the study's unparalleled empirical evidence, it reads more like an adventure or mystery novel, than an academic book. But, then again, it might just be that this more captivating presentation of the subject makes us think deeper about it, breaking our stereotypical understanding of violent extremism. (Clara Volintiru LSE) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
About the Author
- ASIN : B004FGN9NK
- Publisher : Penguin (4 November 2010)
- Language : English
- File size : 6284 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Screen Reader : Supported
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Not Enabled
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print length : 576 pages
- Best Sellers Rank: 437,982 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
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And what has he found? What make terrorists and suicide bombers tick?
First of all, violent jihadists have not been brainwashed by their leaders into blowing people up. The sorts of things we know motivate young men to fight and kill throughout history also apply to them: the `band of brothers' syndrome, idealism, righteous indignation, a desire to make a difference, a discounting of the future, a need to feel one's life matters in this world. Young jihadists are radicalized from the bottom up: networks of young men, linked by kin and friendship, drive each other to do evil things: `terrorist networks are generally no different than the ordinary kinds of networks that guide people's career paths. It's the terrorist career that is remarkable, not the mostly normal individuals who become terrorists (pp 138-139).'
What we recognize as very ordinary motivations, rooted in peer pressure, can be applied to terrorists' motivations. Atran takes the example that of obesity: your chances of becoming obese increase by 57 per cent if a friend of yours becomes obese. Terrorists are band of brothers - `the key difference between terrorists and most people in the world lies not in individual pathologies, personality, education, income or in any other demographic factor but in small group dynamics where the relevant trait happens to be jihad rather than obesity (p. 233).'
He also goes on to overturn the myth of a centralized Al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda is more a `franchise' and an idea rather than a centralized, James Bond villain style organization. This observation is well documented in books like Jason Burke's Al-Qaeda: The True Story of Radical Islam and Fawaz Gerez the The Rise and Fall of Al-Qaeda the jihad is leaderless and largely carried out on the internet. However well these facts have been documented, many politicians, as the recent remarks by David Cameron on Mali have shown, still do not get it. It is important that they do for not getting it is to make bad policy.
Looking at intractable conflicts like Israel/Palestine, he argues that rational choice models of human interaction do not capture the issues involved. It is not just a tussle over land but the symbols attached to that land. That slither of real estate called Israel/Palestine is only a tiny area of the Middle East but it contains Jerusalem - that's the problem. In order for the conflict to be resolved, concrete acknowledgement of these facts of the power of symbolism and the values attached to these symbols have to made.
He reminds us that the reaction to terrorism can be worse that the threat itself. Between October 1999 and September 2009 there were 100 million commercial carrying over 7 billion passengers. Six of these flights fell victim to terrorist attacks and 647 passengers died (p. 278). But in response we have launched two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that, according to Jason Burke in his The 9/11 Wars , have cost 200,000 lives.
There is no doubt that the deeds of the 9/11 hijackers and the Bali, Madrid and London bombers are abhorrent. But their motivations can be described in terms familiar to Americans like `band of brothers'. To say this is not to excuse. To understand is not to justify. But if we are to take a scientific attitude to religiously motivated suicide bombing as a phenomenon, then it is best we stand back and observe, in order to understand and combat it. Successful counter-terrorism efforts in places like Indonesia and Saudi Arabia understand are predicated on just this premise.
Like Atran, I have no religion. And like him, I accept that that science is the best way ever devised to find out what the truth about the natural world is, truths that exist independently of human observation. But like him, I have become impatient with some of the excesses of New Atheists who make claims going beyond the evidence. Richard Dawkins does this when he claims in the God Delusion that madrasahs churn out suicide bombers like `demented parrots.' In fact, none of the 9/11 hijackers or the Madrid bombers attended a madrasahs and only one of the London bombers did, but only briefly. Most Wahabi madrasahs preach against violence, and loyalty to the state (pp. 417-418).
To recognise the very human motivations of radical jihadists is not to deny that there is a crisis in Islam, with its ongoing failure to come to the terms with globalisation and modernity. And much of the chaos and disorder in places like Pakistan, for instance, are home grown dysfunctions, such as the recent bombings against Shia communities attest. But there are things we can do to make a bad situation worse. One way we can do this is to misunderstand the nature and motivation of the enemy. We have fought him long and hard but are we any close to winning? If not, then we need to try something new.
Scott Atran walks a mile in the shoes of those who grew up in the same neighbourhoods of those who produced the Madrid and Bali bombers and reports that 'terrorist networks are generally no different than the ordinary kinds of social networks that guide people's career paths. Its the terrorist career itself that is most remarkable, not the mostly normal individuals who become terrorists..... The key difference between terrorists and most other people in the world lies not in personality, education, income or any other demographic factor, but in small group dynamics where the relevant trait just happens to be Jihad.... Small group dynamics can trump individual personality to produce horrific behaviour in ordinary people.'
Atran embeds this insight in a wealth of research concerning the evolutionary origins of religion in humans as an answer to the puzzle of how large-scale co-operative societies emerged in the first place when we have 'selfish genes.' Atran is thus critical of the likes of Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennet, Sam Harris and others who posit religion itself as the source of terrorism. Atran notes that 'we are a cultural species, evolved to have faith in culture. Unlike other animals, humans rely heavily on acquiring behaviour, beliefs, motivations and strategies from others in their group..... Religious beliefs and obligations mitigate self-interest and reinforce trust in cultural norms....thus, in the course of human history, moral religions requiring costly commitments made large-scale co-operation possible between genetic strangers, people who werent kith and kin.'
Atran's main argument is that the 'war on terror' will only be won when we turn our enemies into friends and to do that we must first understand them. Anyone who reads this book has a head start. I fear that his wise words will be ignored.