Tuesday, July 19, 2005

The Economist: what makes a murderous zealot?

Muslim extremism in Europe | The enemy within | Economist.com

This is an exceptional article, it must have been in development for some time. The Economist has summarized the most recent thinking on what makes some people fodder for extremist organizations.

I found a few themes to be of particular interest. One is that the recruits are often drawn first to the cause, and secondly they seek out a murderous mentor. In other words, they are not recruited by an individual, they are recruited by a meme. Personal failures, and in particular fear of dominance by females, are often precipitating factors. Poverty is not so important as personal alienation from family and society.

The role of electronic media in distributing these memes, and in facilitating discovery and communication, is critical. The Internet, of course, has an important facilitating role. It is the communication with an experienced mentor, often mediated by the Internet, which transforms ineffectual but motivated zealots into effective killers.

One of my college hobbies was accepting invitations to attend cult gatherings (Eckankar, Moonies, etc -- Scientology was too creepy for me). I liked meeting these rather different people, and seeing what made them join the cult. Most of what I saw in those cults 25 years ago is reiterated in this article.

Recommended. I would also like to point out that a picture I drew almost four years ago is fairly compatible with this article (note the "female" circle and cultural dislocation).

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