Friday, September 7, 2007
In a monograph for the Army War College titled "Deprogramming an Ideology", Lt. Col. Johnathon French draws a parallel between jihadist terrorist organizations and religious cults. This seems about right to me, and underscores a major drawback of our approach to counter-terrorism. Namely that in reducing the options to military vs. police tactics (which is in and of itself silly, since both are necessary), we've excluded any consideration of the psychological component of the struggle. (By some odd coincidence, I just deleted a whole folder of articles on this subject while cleaning up my Bookmarks last night.)
Admittedly, there is no accepted psychological profile for identifying the potential terrorist, although my review of the literature suggested some convergences. But it's always struck me that terrorist organizations operate along the same lines (and depend upon the same qualities in their recruits) as religious cults. Indoctrination in moral absolutism, isolation from the pre-existing social context, and substitution of the group's ideology for the individual's moral compass are all time-tested ways to "convert" vulnerable subjects. (They also resemble the psychological principles behind the "enhanced interrogation techniques" designed to break detainees.)
Lt. Col. French calls it Thought Control, and he advocates a global effort to "deprogram" the terrorists and their pool of recruits, similar to interventions designed to emancipate cult members from the influence of the brainwashing they've experienced. Here's a chart of some concrete proposals (click on it for a larger readable version):
Some seem more practical and potentially effective than others. (For instance, I'm not sure how exactly Lt. Col. French intends to "De-nuclearize Israel", which you'll find under "Decisive Points" in the footnote box.) But at least it's a step towards the kind of creative thinking we'll need if we're actually going to defuse terrorism as a global threat.