The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Discussing Terrorist Relations

July 26, 2005

Dan Darling and I have been discussing the structure of al-Qaeda. The basic question: how centralized is al-Qaeda? There’s been a lot of discussion of this lately. Mark Sageman, for example, is currently plugging his own book on the subject; Sageman argues that the al-Qaeda movement is decentralized and fragmented. As Stygius notes,

Marc Sageman was on Sunday’s All Things Considered, discussing how al-Qaeda’s fragmentation since the invasion of Afghanistan has left it metastasizing into local operations seeking legitimacy under the its banner. Highly recommended. Sageman does the kind of social science that contributes to our unlocking the patterns of jihadist terrorism….

In general, these kinds of arguments fit within the parameters of “relational” approaches to terrorism I discussed earlier. I hope the conversation gets louder and broader.

(Speaking of relational approaches, Chuck Tilly has a piece in the latest International Journal of Comparative Sociology called “International Terrorism as Strategy and Relational Process.”)

Sageman’s book is one of a number reviewed by Max Rodenbeck in the most recent New York Review of Books. Rodenbeck, to his credit, makes it clear where he stands from the outset of the article:

The so-called Global War on Terror, or GWOT, as the Bush administration initially labeled America’s offensive against vaguely defined dark forces, certainly has achieved some successes — notably in Afghanistan where, for all the current unrest, life is perhaps less bleak than under Taliban rule. But American action has also proven hideously costly and inefficient… To an extent, America has fallen into precisely the trap that the September 11 attackers believed they were setting. It has created new enemies. It has alienated old friends. Arguably, it has not made the world a safer place, as the recent London bombings showed.

The article, regardless of where one comes down on this policy question, is a fascinating read. Together, the books suggest a variety of causes of “global jihad,” some of which, I suspect, will make ideologues of various stripes very uncomfortable.

Filed as:

website | + posts

Daniel H. Nexon is a Professor at Georgetown University, with a joint appointment in the Department of Government and the School of Foreign Service. His academic work focuses on international-relations theory, power politics, empires and hegemony, and international order. He has also written on the relationship between popular culture and world politics.