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Leaderless Jihad: Terror Networks in the Twenty-First Centuryby Marc Sageman
Synopses & Reviews
In the post-September 11 world, Al Qaeda is no longer the central organizing force that aids or authorizes terrorist attacks or recruits terrorists. It is now more a source of inspiration for terrorist acts carried out by independent local groups that have branded themselves with the Al Qaeda name. Building on his previous groundbreaking work on the Al Qaeda network, forensic psychiatrist Marc Sageman has greatly expanded his research to explain how Islamic terrorism emerges and operates in the twenty-first century.
In Leaderless Jihad, Sageman rejects the views that place responsibility for terrorism on society or a flawed, predisposed individual. Instead, he argues, the individual, outside influence, and group dynamics come together in a four-step process through which Muslim youth become radicalized. First, traumatic events either experienced personally or learned about indirectly spark moral outrage. Individuals interpret this outrage through a specific ideology, more felt and understood than based on doctrine. Usually in a chat room or other Internet-based venues, adherents share this moral outrage, which resonates with the personal experiences of others. The outrage is acted on by a group, either online or offline.
Leaderless Jihad offers a ray of hope. Drawing on historical analogies, Sageman argues that the zeal of jihadism is self-terminating; eventually its followers will turn away from violence as a means of expressing their discontent. The book concludes with Sageman's recommendations for the application of his research to counterterrorism law enforcement efforts.
Al-Qaeda is synonymous with Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri. The war in Iraq inflicted a strategic defeat on al-Qaeda, as President Bush stated on the fifth anniversary of the invasion. Bin Laden and Zawahiri are in command of a new generation of radicals born after the Iraq invasion. Al-Qaeda possesses sleeper cells in the United States and remains a major threat... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) to the American homeland. Believe all that? These statements are a few of the myths that Marc Sageman attempts to debunk in his latest book, "Leaderless Jihad." A former CIA case officer who worked with the mujaheddin in Afghanistan in the 1980s, Sageman is now a government consultant on counterterrorism and a forensic psychiatrist, an expert on what makes terrorists tick. Based on biographical profiles he has compiled of 500 jihadists who used violence against the United States and its allies, "Leaderless Jihad" sets out to explain how people become terrorists: What drives some individuals to ideological violence? What is the tipping point? How do terrorist networks radicalize, mobilize and militarize their recruits? In Sageman's view, terrorists are not born, they are made, and terrorism has less to do with culture or religion than with politics. He makes a convincing case that these assertions are neither partisan nor speculative but based on hard evidence, carefully weighed. According to Sageman's database, the majority of young men who joined terrorist groups knew very little about Islam, grew up in secular homes and didn't find religion until their mid-20s. Their use of religion as a justification for violence should not blind us to the primacy of politics, identity and foreign policy in their actions. Sageman's profiles also suggest that the nature of the terrorist threat to the United States is quickly changing. The Internet has replaced face-to-face interactions as the primary way to recruit young men who are outraged by images and reports of American brutality against their fellow Muslims. Cut off physically in the tribal frontier of Pakistan and Afghanistan, bin Laden and Zawahiri do not exercise meaningful command over their far-flung followers. Al-Qaeda, an organization that was highly centralized and hierarchical in the 1990s, has evolved into a scattered multitude of informal, local groups that are hard to root out. But Sageman contends that this new wave of militancy — the leaderless jihad — is "self-limiting" because of its fear of establishing physical links and its lack of central leadership. In his estimation, the new radicals are more amateurish, undisciplined and ineffective than bin Laden's earlier foot soldiers; they resemble vicious urban gangs more than a secret army. Seven years after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, there is no evidence of "sleepers" in the United States, and there have been far fewer home-grown terrorists here than in Europe because the American Muslim community is unreceptive to al-Qaeda's ideology. Sageman's bottom line is that the threat from al-Qaeda is winding down and that "global Islamist terrorism will probably disappear for internal reasons — if the United States has the sense to allow it to continue on its course and fade away." Unfortunately, he thinks, that good sense may be lacking. "Thus far, in the fight against global Islamist terrorism," he writes, "the United States has committed grave strategic mistakes" by over-relying on military might and rallying young Muslims around the world against the occupation of Iraq. He urges Americans to view the war against terrorism as a battle for the hearts and minds of Muslims. And he warns that "too vigorous an eradication campaign might be counterproductive." The leaderless jihad, he concludes, "should be allowed to expire on its own." In contrast, Walid Phares, a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and a Fox News analyst, calls on the United States to spearhead all-out war not only against al-Qaeda but also against the Iranian and Syrian regimes, Sudan, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon's Hezbollah, the Palestinian group Hamas and Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, not to mention Cuba and North Korea. In "The Confrontation," Phares asserts that the survival of the free world is at stake because the "global Jihadi forces" are on the march. "The terror networks," he writes, "have at their disposal oil power, financial empires, regular armies, militias, underground connections, radical clerics, influential media, madrassas, regimes, circles within governments, biochemical arms, a totalitarian ideology, wide webs of collaborators and sympathizers within the Free World, and, potentially, nuclear weapons." While Sageman thinks that al-Qaeda's threat is self-limiting, Phares calls jihadism "a world movement ... pursuing the goal of world domination." He urges the West, particularly the United States, to move forward in "liberating the East," overthrowing oppressive governments in the Middle East and beyond. And to endure hardships and win this long war, Phares says, the West must undergo a revolution in thinking; he rails against the "dominant elites" who have "performed a lethal brainwashing" on the public by failing to make clear that we are in an all-out war against an implacable foe. Indeed, "The Confrontation" is filled with conspiracies and conspirators whose goal is to subvert the "Free World" from within. "State-financed Jihad," he claims, has "successfully lodged itself within Western elites and ethnic communities, from which it has already launched successful and bloody attacks." That sounds as though terrorists have dug in at Yale or Hilton Head or maybe even the Council on Foreign Relations, but it's impossible to know exactly what Phares means, because he supplies no examples or supporting evidence. Like the far left, he distrusts "traditional media" and urges the public to look to "bloggers, direct news from the field, YouTube, chat rooms (and) free media" for information, at least until the traditional media "readjust to the reality of the Jihadist menace." In identifying the enemy, he lumps secular Syria with Shia Iran, and al-Qaeda (a Sunni fundamentalist organization) with communist Cuba and North Korea. In short, "The Confrontation" is revealing. Not as revealing, certainly, as "Leaderless Jihad." But it is an especially full-throated exposition of the ideological mind-set that gained the upper hand within the Bush foreign policy team after 9/11, and that is still struggling to hold on. Phares is right that his worldview truly is a match for jihadism. His book is a prescription for a Western policy that would be as self-defeating as jihadism is self-limiting. Reviewed by Fawaz A. Gerges, a professor of international affairs and Middle Eastern studies at Sarah Lawrence College and the author of 'Journey of the Jihadist', Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"[An] important, face-the-facts book...Sageman is deservedly one of the best-known academics working on terrorism." The Spectator
"Leaderless Jihad discredits conventional wisdom about terrorists by eschewing anecdotes and conjecture in favor of hard data and statistics." Aryn Baker, Time
"Leaderless Jihad provides new analysis and important insights....Sageman's data-driven approach is all too rare in a field dominated by informed (when we're fortunate) opinion." The American Interest
"This book belongs at the top of the list for anyone seeking to understand the nature of radical Islamic terrorism, its future, and the effective ways that Western countries can counter its destructive appeal." Lawrence Wright, author of The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11
Building on his previous groundbreaking studies on the al Qaeda network, forensic psychiatrist Sageman has greatly expanded his research to explain how Islamic terrorism emerges and operates in the 21st century.
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