Modern terrorism: it’s about friends, schoolmates, and hanging out. True. But there’s more: emergent sacred values, the ubiquity of the internet, the new globalism of everything are forming a uniquely modern soil for terrorist growth.
The social agglomerations that build small-group action oriented entities like bowling leagues, drug gangs, and neighborhood watch groups are no longer localized. The internet can tie people together who have never met face-to-face. Hackers, environmental activists, civil society workers, and a game faddists are not the only groups using the web to build relationships. Terrorists are also within this space, and use it in the same way. The new internet enabled, globalized religions generate polarities we haven’t seen before. Cut loose from traditional moorings to Koran and Bible, Vedas and all similar trappings of the past, the emergent ‘faiths’ are based on sacred values that rely less on historical underpinnings and more on just-born and born-again visions.
One the one hand we have the unifying discourses of environment, religion, and politics that see the world as one large mass and on the other we see the fragmentation of extremist political, religious, and secular ideas into action oriented splinters that operationally are independent, even when adhering to larger shared ideologies. Within this lies the foundation of modern extremism, terrorism, and the apocalyptic vision they carry. The ‘Cooperatists’ see the alternative to working together as an apocalyptic end time that can only be avoided by taking action now to avert certain disaster later. The ‘dissolutionists’ see the apocalypse as the goal and work to disintegrate and destroy existing structures in order to hasten the end.
The tools of social science are beginning to open understanding of participants of modern terrorism and the paths they take to become part of the new apocalyptic movements. In depth interviews of terrorists, their families and friends, and the people in their local and global network March 12, 2014 s have revealed mechanisms that act outside of the clichéd notions of al-Qaeda recruitment. This may avail us of tools to help mitigate the danger they present. Boredom and lack of self-purpose seem to play a big role. With further analysis alternative paths may make themselves known to us so that we can intelligently support policies and programs that work toward more peaceful tomorrows.
An important first step would be to admit that current policies are not effective, and in fact are backfiring in that they cause more terrorism than they prevent. A second step will be made when we actually base our understanding of terrorists on scientifically based information about them, and not on the misinformation that currently guides policy makers.
The recent work of social scientists and their valuable field work should be incorporated at the highest levels of government to ensure a realistic approach to the problem.
How can policy makers be moved to embrace the need for more field-based social research?
March 12, 2014 by Bruce Wallace, 121Contact