Jan 31st 2008: From The Economist print edition
Al-Qaeda has evolved from a single group to an amorphous movement. Does that make it less dangerous or more so?
TERRORISTS are a bit like you and me, or so Marc Sageman suggests. It might be comforting to think that angry young Islamists are crazed psychopaths or sex-starved adolescents who have been brainwashed in malign madrassas. But Mr Sageman, a senior fellow at the Philadelphia-based Foreign Policy Research Institute, explodes each of these myths, and others besides, in an unsettling account of how al-Qaeda has evolved from the organisation headed by Osama bin Laden into an amorphous movement—a “leaderless jihad”.
Mr Sageman is a leading advocate of what is called the “buddy” theory of terrorism. He has spent much time asking why well-educated young men, from middle-class backgrounds, often with a secular education and wives and children, become suicide bombers. He suggests that radicalisation is a collective r…