Friday, April 04, 2008

Human Capital Saving in a Terrorist Cell

King's College London's terribly smart and not at all sinister Insurgency Research Group have some relevant facts about a controversy between Daniel Davies and I. Recap: Dan apparently believes that it's better to let jihadis advertise on the Internet, on the principle that they will attract lots of idiots, self-dramatising teens, and committee fetishists, who will destroy their effectiveness as a revolutionary movement.

I disagree; this form of terrorism has a special feature, in that it not only has the ability to make use of these people, but in fact it actually wants them. All they need is one self-defeating burst of dramatic childish rage. Stupidity and ego histrionics are actually qualifications, if the job you're recruiting for is "meat guidance package for our expensive explosives". Given that the person concerned doesn't need to live independently or make any decisions - in fact, you want to prevent them doing either, as this has a negative impact on mission success - the people you need are precisely the ones who wouldn't make acceptable infantrymen in an army of any kind. (Middle-class wankers tend to believe this includes them; history suggests they can hack it.)

No, what you want are the ones the sergeant would break his heart over. From the point of view of a harassed, super-minority movement with a small supply of capable people and resources of every kind - this is actually how Osama sees the world jihad, according to his statement With a Band of Knights - what would you do? You need to preserve bombmakers, recruiters, and competent conspirators; the answer is a cadre system, where they recruit, supply, fit out, and target a steady flow of rubes. In Iraq, recruiting angry young Saudis through this system has the further benefit that, like third-rate Formula One racers, they pay the team for the drive.

The IRG post is about one of India's many longrunning small-scale insurgencies; they reacted to a government strategy of targeting their leaders by recruiting the poor, or rather the marginal half-bright younger sons of the poor, to do the dirty work. The lads who got the shit job tended to be young, illiterate, and involved at the fringes of criminal gangs. Poverty of every kind is still the motivator. The answer is clear - tack to the left. Counterinsurgency is just the respectable form of Marx.


Sir S said...

doesn't your theory (maybe dsquared's as well) conflict with the research findings that most suicide bombers are actually well-educated and functional middle-class achievers? There was a research paper(?) doing the rounds a few years ago on the topic which suggested that the image you present isn't very correct. Is that idea old hat?

Anonymous said...

But I don't think that British al-Qaeda is recruiting for meat guidance packages. I'm pretty sure that they can fill that vacancy as quickly as they can create it (also I am less convinced about the benefits of stupidity and ego cf Butt, Hassan). The thing that seems very apparent from the trials of wannabe terrorists at the moment is a) that they're having to make their own explosives in bedrooms and kitchens and b) they're not very good at it. It's not a matter of preserving bombmakers and conspirators; the British jihadis need to find some from somewhere first, in which task I suspect that internet bulletin board recruiting will be roughly as negatively useful as it has been for me, ever.

cian said...

"the people you need are precisely the ones who wouldn't make acceptable infantrymen in an army of any kind"

Well up to a point. There's a small group of people who are highly intelligent, but highly anti-authority and stubborn/difficult. They're pretty unbreakable (well they can be broken, but the result won't be much use for anything), but are unlikely to become meat guidance packages either. I imagine middle class wankers make excellent cannon fodder, mind - no disagreement there.

Alex said...

There's a small group of people who are highly intelligent, but highly anti-authority and stubborn/difficult.

They're the ones you want to organise the terrorist cell. Clausewitz's clever and lazy man who is ideally suited to a high staff appointment.

Alex said...

Sir S: Those findings, I think, are out of date. They don't agree with more recent studies in Iraq, or the Indian one I linked, and highly educated killers are rare in Afghanistan for obvious reasons. Neither do they agree with recent cases of Western jihadism.

I suspect the problem is that until 2003, the great majority of suicide bombing incidents took place in Israel and Palestine, and I think that's where that paper's data came from. Palestine has very few things but it does have two universities. Also, taking what you might call "mainline Al-Qa'ida" or "high Al-Qa'ida", the internationally mobile core group responsible for Bojinka, 11th September, embassies, USS Cole etc, as representative of terrorism now is misleading; they were indeed a very bourgeois lot, but their importance has gone way down compared to the regional franchisees.

Bryan O'Sullivan said...

I like your comment that "stupidity and ego histrionics are actually qualifications", which sheds a bit of light on recent and controversial findings that certain classes of engineer seem to be overrepresented among the self-detonating classes.

hardindr said...


I posted this over at the "Alternative Seat of TYR," but few people seem to be reading that yet. So I thought I would also post it here.

What do people here think of this presentation by Scott Atran about what motivates suicide bombers?

JS.Ray said...

I would've thought the main reason to allow groups to maintain public recruitment is that it's relatively easy for the security services to maintain close surveillance. Unlike say picking people up at provincial mosques, religious study groups, community and family gatherings etc. It's pretty obvious for instance that Finsbury Park mosque must have held such a function for the security services for quite some time.

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