For Americans after September 11, 2001, trying to understand who was and who was not a terrorist became a really big deal. Were all terrorists poor Muslims, intent on destroying us? Or were they a group of very different people, with only a slight connection and different ideals and morals? Unfortunately for the American people, it was much easier to just group all terrorists into a group; to sort ‘Them’ from ‘Us’ based on specific, constant commonalities.
Thankfully, men like Marc Sageman argue a different route. Sageman is an independent researcher on terrorism and the founder of Sageman Consulting, LLC. After 9/11 he studied a group of about 400 al-Qaeda members to “test the validity of the conventional wisdom on terrorism.”
According to Sageman, the typical view of a terrorist is as follows:
1) They are poor
2) They are Brainwashed
3) They are religiously well-educated
4) They lack responsibility
5) They are crazy
On the contrary, while some people may possess one or more of those qualities, it can be said with confidence that those five things do not define every man or woman who has decided to commit a terrorist act. Those who pose and have posed a real threat were not classified in any of those categories. It should also be known that not all terrorists belong to groups that cause a substantial threat. For example, Al-Qaeda does not take volunteers. They are not just going to accept every person who says they are willing to blow themselves up. In fact, Sageman refers to getting into Al-Qaeda like getting into an Ivy League school.
However, what can be said concerning terrorists is that most of them are living in countries they did not grow up in and that many were connected to the group by friends or family members.
So what has caused the uproar in terrorists, and why are they perceived as they are?
Based on the following chapters in Sageman’s book, Understanding Terrorist Networks, I would argue that the internet is the cause.
Today we are experiencing the phenomenon known as ‘Homegrown Terrorism.’
Basically, groups of “super empowered angry men,” as Thomas L. Friedman would like to call them, are connecting through forums and chat rooms on the internet. The internet offers them this false sense of power that they may have not held in face to face contact. The thing is, these people are not well educated in terrorism. Their bombs fail to detonate or they do not cover their tracks well enough and are caught by police. These men are the uneducated and poor ‘terrorists’ that we see on the news.
In conclusion, terrorists and wannabe terrorists do not fit a mold. They all come from different backgrounds and social statuses, but out of fear we have created a mold in order to separate ‘Them’ from ‘Us,’ which has caused the increase of arrests due to assumption.