Friday, July 15, 2005

BBC NEWS | UK | Suicide bombers' 'ordinary' lives

It's not really surprising if you think about it. When was the last time you had neighbours thinking that the serial killer next door really acted like a serial killer. If he had been dragging in bodies in the middle of the night and borrowing hatchets which come back bloody and there's news of some poor victim who has been hacked up, you would think that SOMEONE would have called the police.

Similarly, given finite resources and an instinctual human habit of hammering the nail that actually sticks out, it's more than probable and likely that domestic intelligence and police forces would concentrate their efforts on vocal radical extremist groups. This thereby allowing others who are not so vocal (but as zealous and willing to commit atrocities and act on their 'faith') to slip under the net.

So what do we know about the suspects. Education wise, you've got a teaching assistant, someone who dropped out and a sport science graduate. Religiousity zealousness wise, again you've got a scale on their vocalness and apparent religiousness. Background wise, none were terribly poor, probably comfortable though not from particularly middle class neighbourhoods. With regards to criminal backgrounds, you've got an examplary citizen, a juvenile delinquant who converted (often converts are the most fervent) and someone cautioned for disorderly behavior (but was deeply religious...protests perhaps?).

So where's the common thread that ties them all in? Well, The Economist argues that there are subtle hints as to the likely make-up of these 'sleeper cells'.
1. Decendants of immigrants in 'internal colonies' i.e. ghettos. They are effectively 'cut off' from mainstream society and thereby are more prone to viewing the world in an us vs. them fashion. Hints of this come from a recent Asian Wall Street Journal article which focused on France giving annedoctal evidence of preaching (by laypeople and not necessary by the Ulamas) calling for a disassociation with the 'outside' society on the basis that it was UnIslamic.

2. Under 30. Guess it has always been the young who will provide the necessary impetus (violence) in a revolution. Remember Iran and its student led revolt against the Shah?

3. Though middle class, their community may not be. I think this ties in with the notion of disenfranchisment and isolation. Does poverty breed zealotry? Maybe. If your current life sucks, then the afterlife might be worth 'achieving' before your time is up.

4. Drifting back from crime. As mentioned earlier, converts tend to be the most fervent and fundamentalist. And the link between extremism and the propensity for such atrocities is really beyond doubt. It's a number game. A high proportion of fundamentalist tend to be extremist. A high proportion of extremists are the type who would willingly use such means to achieve their ends. You don't get moderate suicide bombers. The mindset of a suicide bombing or anyone willing to plan a terrorist act must necessarily be one of closed extremism for tolerance of others necessitates you staying your hand despite your disagreement with them.

So where do we go from here? Conventional policing does work. The Metropolitan Police stopped 3 other plots which would have seen a larger toll. But terrorist being terrorist, they only have to be lucky once. Planning is important. Kudos to the British forces for successfully carrying out a highly effective containment and rescue mission. It was very impressive to watch in real time.

Breeding moderation and tolerance ultimately is key. As long as people are willing to let live and handle disagreements in a democratic fashion you won't have atrocities. The EU coming on the back of hundreds of years of mutual antagonism, wars, and genocides even is living proof of that. Unfortunately, since we can't rid ourselves of the inherent divisiveness of human nature (we'll always find something to differentiate ourselves from our neighbours) and can't quite impose a mindset in its totality (totalitarianism tends to be doomed to failure), it looks like we're going to be muddling along until aliens come by earth.

But before that event, Peace.


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