“Whatever it is, I’m against it”

I’ve been reading Bobbitt’s new book “Terror and Consent” which has a lot to say about the adversarial setting, obviously with an emphasis on its role at a state level. I thoroughly recommend this book.

One of the points he makes suggests a new line of attack. He argues that, over the past five centuries, terrorism has taken the form of the state it opposes. Today, that means that this century’s terrorist groups, for which al Qaeda is a prototype, will tend to be globalized, multinational, and inclined to privatise and outsource.

But this means that, over a long period of time, there have always been those who oppose the existing state in an active, terror-based way, regardless of what that state was like, how honorable or moral it was, or what opportunites there were to change the situation from within. It is this group of people I mean to suggest in the title (which is a quotation from Groucho Marx).

Work has been done on understanding radicalization, but from the perspective of “understanding” — grievances, social issues or whatever. But Bobbitt’s framework suggests that there’s a more general form of, for want of a better word, radicalization whose drivers we don’t understand but are seemingly independent of the social context.

Of course, it’s not obvious that it would have been the same people acting as terrorists in all of these periods. But the fact that we don’t know shows that there’s something to be learned. If some people join terrorist groups for reasons that are deeply unconnected to the reasons why such groups exist, there is a whole new class of opportunities to detach or subvert them.

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