Making a Terrorist
March 19, 2008
There are many myths about terrorists and their origins, motivators, goals and methods. There are many pundits who express their various opinions and conjectures. But there are relatively few works that present more studied information.
Here are two books that I own, which provide a wealth of information. Each of these tomes completes the other:
- What Makes a Terrorist: Economics and the Roots of Terrorism by Alan Krueger
- The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 by Lawrence Wright
The first of these, with a rather odacious title, is based on a lecture series given by its author, a respected economist. It is a fairly slim paperback overflowing with data. There are tables filled with meaningful figures nearly every other page. This work is an attempt to understand the circumstances and demographics of terrorism. As one review of the book stated, it really does not answer the question posed by its title. Rather, it describes what terrorism isn’t. Poor economic prospects, poor eduction, poor healthcare, all those are factors commonly presented as motivators for terrorism. Krueger’s meticulous analysis shows that this is rarely the case.
His investigation shows that no single religion has the lion’s share of terrorists. Nevertheless, most terrorism is perpetrated by members of a religious group other than that targeted. Other factors that Krueger finds do characterize terrorists are limited political freedoms and civil liberties.
Wright’s Pulitzer-prize winning masterpiece follows quite a different side of terrorism. Rather than concentrating on data, it provides a non-fiction narrative following radical Islamism from its roots with Sayyid Qutb to the important-to-America Osama Bin Laden. Captivating in its detail, Wright creates an intimate profile of the men who shape much of terrorist-spawning radical Islam.
The two books together construct a visceral image of one of the greatest dangers facing our world. They are illuminating, educational, and very very important.