Bookquick/“Understanding Terror Networks”

For decades, a new type of terrorism has been gathering strength. The Islamist fanatics in the global Salafi jihad (the violent, revivalist social movement of which al Qaeda is a part) target the West, but their operations slaughter people of all races and religions throughout the world. The key to defending against future attacks, says Marc Sageman, challenging the conventional wisdom about terrorism, is to understand the networks that allow these terrorists to proliferate.

“ Understanding Terror Networks” gives us the first social explanation of the global wave of activity. Sageman traces it from its roots in Egypt to its gestation in Afghanistan during the Soviet-Afghan war, its exile in the Sudan and the growth of branches worldwide. He includes detailed accounts of life within the Hamburg and Montreal cells that planned attacks on the U.S.

U.S. government strategies to combat the jihad are based on the traditional reasons an individual was thought to turn to terrorism: poverty, trauma, madness and ignorance. Sageman refutes all these notions, showing that, for the vast majority of the mujahedin, social bonds predated ideological commitment, and it was these social networks that inspired alienated young Muslims to join the jihad.

Marc Sageman, M.D., Ph.D., is a former foreign service officer who was based in Islamabad from 1987 to 1989, where he worked closely with Afghanistan’s mujahedin. He has advised various branches of the U.S. government in the war on terror. Dr. Sageman has a private practice in clinical and forensic psychiatry, and teaches at the University of Pennsylvania in the Departments of Psychiatry and Psychology as well as at the Solomon Asch Center for the Study of Ethno-political Conflict.

You can hear Sageman on May 26 on WHYY’s “Fresh Air” (90.9 FM).

—University of Pennsylvania Press

“Understanding Terror Networks”