Fight terrorism with science: Scott Atran

"We are fixated on technology and technological success, and we have no sustained or systematic approach to field-based social understanding of our adversaries' motivation, intent, will, and the dreams that drive their strategic vision, however strange those dreams and vision may seem to us."—Anthropologist Scott Atran, who believes the quest to end violent political extremism needs more science. (


    1. Not if the scientists disagree with current procedure. In that case, they are the enemy.

      Solution: torture and kill the extremest scientists.

      Nobel prizewinners first!

  1. It’s worthwhile to use anthropologists to understand extremists for the educational value, but a more effective path to neutralizing extremism and promoting peace is business and trade. It’s not perfect, but prosperity has a way of separating the extremist from those whose lives he could once influence but who, by living the improved, more fulfilled life that money provides, are less vulnerable to extremist tendencies. Of course, this doesn’t explain George Soros.

    1. …except when business and trade might be seen as a cultural incursion or where the by-product, either intentionally or unintentionally, results in a community or country being destabilized and fractured.

  2. Basically, person in field X says we need to spend a lot more money in field X. It’s absolutely necessary to fight terrorism/save the environment/[or whatever]!

    1. Well, funding “field X” to stop terrorism sounds a lot more desirable than utterly crushing the minds and spirits of the country you are occupying. There is a reason tyrants rule with absolute power, when you try give people power and freedom where it didn’t exist before, there is going to be violence. When you line the city streets every 20 feet with a bloody-flaming corpse impaled of a 12 foot pike, people get the message; when you try to tell them to be nice to each other, they tend to ignore you and do what they think is best for themselves.

  3. Political scientists and intelligence agencies, when they have time and focus, already look into social and anthropological issues. The CIA employes social scientists, cultural anthropologists, etc. Intelligence officers who work in the field are taught both local customs and anthropological / social science skills.

    It’s not like the whole military and intelligence and political science communities worldwide are idiots and have never thought that they might need these skills or techniques. They’re not always appropriately valued, or applied in a given situation, but they’ve been part of the toolkit for 40+ years…

  4. “Solution: torture and kill the violent extremists.”???

    Doing this would make us no better than the terrorists.

  5. #2&3: I understand the pitfalls, but if either of you think a global anthropological approach to solving extremism will have better results than business and trade, say so.

  6. I always thought that somebody should study the adversarial relationships between fans of rival sports teams and video game factions. In the former you have the geography difference. But in a video game, like World of Warcraft, the degree of hate speech and prejudice you see from players of one faction towards the other is boggling, considering that there is no real difference in the group other than that one clicked a button to choose a Horde faction and the other the Alliance faction.

  7. Almost anything that involves actual thought would be an improvement over the current method of dealing with the issue.

  8. #5&8 – If he referred to himself as a “market researcher”, would the lightbulb go on then?

    #2 – “George Soros” gets a non sequitur shout out? Sometimes when you can’t hear something, it means there’s nothing really there to hear.

    1. Regretful. Gratuitous Soros head-butt sits like a cell tower on the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres.

  9. That is definitely worth a read. He makes a lot of good points, and appears well informed.
    “you see that what inspires the most lethal terrorists in the world today is not so much the Koran or religious teachings as a thrilling cause and call to action that promises glory and esteem in the eyes of friends…”
    This is a very important point. Young men want to see action and prove themselves. Here in the US, it’s either gangs, the military (or both) or xtreme sports (for the rich kids)

  10. he actually makes some very good points.
    even on the micro aspect of training soldiers about their new Rs.
    When I was a soldier, i was only trained at soldiery, and artillery gunnery. a month later i was stationed near Hebron, spending 8-12 hours each day at a roadblock with heavy traffic.
    No one trained me in how to handle dealing with the civilian population.

  11. Terrorism is religion based mainly Islam. It is for the Islamists who have to wake up and tell the potential recruits to terrorism that it is wrong to kill innocents.

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