Groups Recruiting Well-Educated Terrorists
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
More details are emerging about Humam al-Balawi, the man who blew up seven intelligence agents in Afghanistan. By education and professional status, the Jordanian doctor is typical of recent suicidal attackers. The man accused of trying to blow up a plane on Christmas Day is a Nigerian graduate of the University of London. In the Fort Hood shootings, a Palestinian-American psychiatrist in the U.S. Army has been charged.
Humam al-Balawi was said to be carrying information about Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden's number two, himself a surgeon who was born to a prominent Egyptian family.
Well, Reza Aslan, an Iranian-American writer, is the author of "How to Win a Cosmic War: God, Globalization and the End of the War on Terror." He joins us now from California.
And, Reza Aslan, why is the enemy, even a suicidal one, so often someone with education, economic opportunity and exposure to Western society?
Dr. REZA ASLAN (Author, "How to Win a Cosmic War: God, Globalization and the End of War on Terror"): Well, it actually makes a lot of sense if you think about it. When it comes to this global jihadist movement - the movement that's so clearly represented by groups like al-Qaida - they have a far more globalized view of the world. They want to reshape the global order. And it takes a certain amount of education, a certain amount of awareness, and frankly, a certain economic status to even think of such things.
Whereas for the traditional Islamist groups, groups like Hamas or Hezbollah, or the Taliban, for that matter, it is more often the poor or the dispossessed who are fighting for much more local causes.
But it's really not unusual to see these intelligent, well-adjusted, well-educated people joining this kind of global movement represented by jihadism.
SIEGEL: But these jihadists - and I could add Mohamed Atta of 9/11, who was an Egyptian urban planner who had been working in Germany - these are not the wretched of the earth. What essentially is the grievance that draws them to al-Qaida?
Dr. ASLAN: Well, jihadism is a social movement. It functions very much in the same way that other global social movements, say, for instance, the anti-globalization movement or the radical environmental movement works. It provides an alternative identity to its followers. And the followers tend to be young. They tend to be socially active. They tend to be politically conscious. They tend to be aware of such things as the grievances of the global Muslim community. And they feel as though they are put in such a position in which they have to defend their Muslim brothers and sisters from what they see as a cultural, religious, political attack by Western forces.
SIEGEL: Is there an intellectual battle going on out there? That is, are there imams with real followings among university-educated Muslims who are arguing vigorously against the jihadist position?
Dr. ASLAN: Oh, yes, indeed. In fact, in many ways, you have to understand jihadism as an anticlerical or anti-institutional movement. In fact, the jihadists define themselves in direct opposition to the traditional religious authorities: the imams of Islam. They find the traditional imams to be painfully out of touch. They believe the religious and political leaders of Islam have been adulterated or co-opted in some way. And so, they don't really try to create an intellectual argument against these religious authorities, not interested in a debate.
SIEGEL: Well, people in America and elsewhere have been talking about these things ever since 9/11. You've been part of that discussion. Has there been any effective global counteroffensive, intellectual counteroffensive, to jihadism?
Dr. ASLAN: Well, yes, there has been. There has been for quite some time. But the most interesting thing over the last few years is the counterargument is now coming from within jihadist circles itself. Part of this have to do with the fact that jihadism, particularly in '05, '06 in Iraq and now in Afghanistan, has created such destruction, has slaughtered so many Muslims -innocent Muslims, women, children - that jihadist ideologues, the sort of grandfathers of this movement, have begun to criticize the younger generation of jihadists.
So the movement itself is beginning to fracture. And you have some of the grand ideologues, the people who really gave birth to the jihadist movement itself, starting to speak out against it.
SIEGEL: Reza Aslan, thank you very much for talking with us.
Dr. ASLAN: My pleasure.
SIEGEL: Reza Aslan is the author of "How to Win a Cosmic War." He teaches creative writing at the University of California, Riverside.