Talking to the Enemy: Religion, Brotherhood, and the (Un)Making of Terrorists

Talking to the Enemy: Religion, Brotherhood, and the (Un)Making of Terrorists

by Scott Atran
     
 

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An illuminating work of religious and cultural anthropology, Talking to the Enemy traces terrorism’s root causes in human evolution and history, touching on the nature of faith, the origins of society, the limits of reason, and the power of moral values.

Through rigorous fieldwork and nuanced investigation, Scott Atran reminds us that terrorists are

Overview

An illuminating work of religious and cultural anthropology, Talking to the Enemy traces terrorism’s root causes in human evolution and history, touching on the nature of faith, the origins of society, the limits of reason, and the power of moral values.

Through rigorous fieldwork and nuanced investigation, Scott Atran reminds us that terrorists are social beings influenced by the interpersonal bonds, connections, and values familiar to us all. When individuals combine notions of the homeland, a family of friends, and a band of brothers with the zeal of belief, they are capable of amazing things, both good and bad: the ancient Jewish resistance to Rome; the revolutionary founding of America; the formation of Al-Qaeda and the resulting “fear by so many of so few.”

A brilliant study of the social and psychological mechanisms that lead to terrorism, Talking to the Enemy rejects popular misconceptions about suicide bombers, radical Islam, and the relationship between religion and war. Atran’s surprising and insightful conclusions show how our tolerance of faith enables extremists to flourish and why atheism and science education have little effect, while providing a path for deradicalization. A timely and provocative work, Talking to the Enemy offers solutions to help us to identify terrorists today, prevent the creation of future terrorists, and ultimately make the world a safer place for everyone.

Editorial Reviews

David Shariatmadari
“Talking to the Enemy is Atran’s impassioned call for evidence-based policy, but it’s also an ambitious survey of culture and violence. Research is the trump card here, played often and well.”
John Gray
“Talking to the Enemy is about far more than violent extremism. One of the most penetrating works of social investigation to appear in many years, it offers a fresh and compelling perspective on human conflict. ”
Michael Bond
“Talking to the Enemy is recommendable not just for its vivid insights into the motivation of terrorists, butalso for its study of Islamic radicalisation and the anthropology of religion in general.”
David Aaronovitch
“Talking to the Enemy is an important book, by turns fascinating, dense, scientific, debatable, illuminating.”
Juan Zarate
“Atran is one of the world’s most important thinkers on the local and global dynamics of violent Islamist extremism. His research on what motivates young men to fall prey to violent ideologies is required reading for those trying to understand the problems of terrorism in the 21st century.”
Luis Miguel Ariza
“What can be done to undo future jihadist networks? renowned anthropologist Scott Atran has carried out a very thorough study with surprising findings on what motivates those who kill and die.”
Noam Chomsky
“This deeply researched, wide ranging, and very timely study provides a compelling and often surprising account of what lies behind the jihadi phenomenon . . . . It should be read carefully, and pondered.”
Christopher Dickey
“Atran explores the way terrorists think about themselves and teaches us, at last, intelligent ways to think about terrorists. He puts the threat in perspective and provides keys to winning the fight against violent zealotry.”
Robert Axelrod
“The stories Atran brings back from talking to jihadists and their supporters are gripping, and the result of his experiments that probe their sacred values are compelling. The insights he gains tell us more than we knew before about what it means to be human.”
Lord Alderdice - John
"[Atran’s] rigorous research not only debunks the claims of pundits who sit lightly to academic discipline but also challenges unscientific attacks on religion by senior scientists. The political implications of his well-grounded analysis are profound but conveyed in an accessible style which left me excited and hopeful."
Carlo Strenger
“A riveting account of the motivational basis of terrorism and field material of rare quality. Dismantling the myths that guide the so called war on terror, he provides the tools to address a global problem rationally and effectively.”
Nassim Nicholas Taleb
“Scott Atran is one of the very few persons who understand religion and have figured out that religion is not about belief and cannot be naively replaced without severe side effects.”
Richard Phelps
“A highly readable round-the-world examination of the jihad and its adherents. . . . Atran pieces together the lives and the backgrounds of extremists, offering insightful perspectives by placing contemporary Islamist dissent into a deeper context of human evolutionary history.”
Alex Schmid
“Atran has given us a remarkablly honest book, demonstrating that down-to-earth field work can give us a far superior understanding of what makes terrorists ‘tick’ than whole armies of armchair counterterroris ‘experts.’”
Jeremy Harding
“Sets us and our governments straight about a long list of dubious assumptions. He is sure that we must talk before we shoot, and that we must learn to distinguish real threats from imagined ones.”
Lord Alderdice John
“[Atran’s] rigorous research not only debunks the claims of pundits who sit lightly to academic discipline but also challenges unscientific attacks on religion by senior scientists. The political implications of his well-grounded analysis are profound but conveyed in an accessible style which left me excited and hopeful.”
New Scientist
“Recommendable not just for its vivid insights into the motivation of terrorists, but also for its study of Islamic radicalization and the anthropology of religion in general..”
Perspectives on Terrorism
“Atran has given us a remarkably honest book, demonstrating that down-to-earth field work can give us a far superior understanding of what makes terrorists‘tick’ than whole armies of armchair counter-terrorist ‘experts.’”
Publishers Weekly
Atran (In Gods We Trust) examines the motivations of terrorists in this sprawling and timely study. Drawing upon years of travel among Muslim communities from Indonesia to Morocco, extensive interviews with “would-be martyrs and holy warriors,” and detailed surveys, the author concludes that young jihadists aren’t merely motivated by political or religious fervor--they are powerfully bound to each other, they were “campmates, school buddies, soccer pals, and the like, who become die-hard bands of brothers.” Besides the importance of group dynamics in spawning terrorists, the author highlights the role of “sacred values”--core cultural values--that ”often trump other values, particularly economic ones.” Within this context, Atran argues that the best measures against today’s terrorist threat--which is more opportunistic, “more scattered and disjointed,” than it was before 9/11--are soft-power initiatives “to provide alternative heroes and hopes” within Muslim communities and to reframe sacred values. Atran’s intellectual reach is prodigious; his analysis of the underpinnings of terrorism is instructive, if often unconventional; and his provocative prescriptions merit debate and consideration. (Nov.)
Kirkus Reviews

French-American anthropologist Atran (In God We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion, 2002, etc.) travels widely interviewing terrorists and jihadists to uncover the driving force motivating religious violence.

Wildly ambitious and meandering, the book is at once frustratingly ill-focused, historically keen and astutely humanistic. The author has conducted tremendous fieldwork over the years, studying "tribal" groupings from Muslim fighters in Sulawesi, Indonesia, to suicide bombers in Palestine, and delving into the root of sacred beliefs. Jihad is not necessarily "nihilistic and immoral," as Americans tend to believe, with their "constant diet of individualism" and dislike of looking to group action for justification of behavior. Atran's studies show rather that "imagined kinship—the rhetoric and ritual of brotherhood, motherland, family, or friends and the like"—has sharpened the religious instinct with its expression in irrational and illogical belief. Curiously, the author discovered that five of the seven suicide bombers of the 2004 Madrid train attack—as well as various "Iraq-bound martyrs"—spent formative years growing up in an ancient Moroccan barrio of Tetuán called Jamaa Mezuak, where the vanquished Moors had retreated after the defeat of Grenada in 1492. Atran wonders if these Mezuak soccer buddies were still playing out after all these centuries a "triumphant resistance to Christian conquest." The author examines in vivid detail the kinship among the Madrid bombers, and, earlier, the October 2002 Bali bombings masterminded by Indonesian militants. He attempts to establish how a terrorist network is formed—by attending the same madrassah, living in the same village family, and so on. Atran also traveled to Pakistan to inquire about clan loyalties and the Taliban, and looks at how the availability of resources and the intense competition for them dictate social structures. Though often scattered, the author's deep penetration into anthropological explanations of evolution, teamwork, blood sport and war attempt to define what it means to be human—and he does an admirable job in the face of far-flung research.

Messy but revealing and passionate—enlightening for patient readers.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780061344916
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
11/29/2011
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
576
Product dimensions:
5.60(w) x 8.70(h) x 1.20(d)

What People are saying about this

Alex Schmid
“Atran has given us a remarkablly honest book, demonstrating that down-to-earth field work can give us a far superior understanding of what makes terrorists ‘tick’ than whole armies of armchair counterterroris ‘experts.’”
Michael Bond
“Talking to the Enemy is recommendable not just for its vivid insights into the motivation of terrorists, butalso for its study of Islamic radicalisation and the anthropology of religion in general.”
Juan Zarate
“Atran is one of the world’s most important thinkers on the local and global dynamics of violent Islamist extremism. His research on what motivates young men to fall prey to violent ideologies is required reading for those trying to understand the problems of terrorism in the 21st century.”
David Shariatmadari
“Talking to the Enemy is Atran’s impassioned call for evidence-based policy, but it’s also an ambitious survey of culture and violence. Research is the trump card here, played often and well.”
Robert Axelrod
“The stories Atran brings back from talking to jihadists and their supporters are gripping, and the result of his experiments that probe their sacred values are compelling. The insights he gains tell us more than we knew before about what it means to be human.”
Nassim Nicholas Taleb
“Scott Atran is one of the very few persons who understand religion and have figured out that religion is not about belief and cannot be naively replaced without severe side effects.”
Noam Chomsky
“This deeply researched, wide ranging, and very timely study provides a compelling and often surprising account of what lies behind the jihadi phenomenon . . . . It should be read carefully, and pondered.”
Jeremy Harding
“Sets us and our governments straight about a long list of dubious assumptions. He is sure that we must talk before we shoot, and that we must learn to distinguish real threats from imagined ones.”
Carlo Strenger
“A riveting account of the motivational basis of terrorism and field material of rare quality. Dismantling the myths that guide the so called war on terror, he provides the tools to address a global problem rationally and effectively.”
Richard Phelps
“A highly readable round-the-world examination of the jihad and its adherents. . . . Atran pieces together the lives and the backgrounds of extremists, offering insightful perspectives by placing contemporary Islamist dissent into a deeper context of human evolutionary history.”
John Gray
“Talking to the Enemy is about far more than violent extremism. One of the most penetrating works of social investigation to appear in many years, it offers a fresh and compelling perspective on human conflict. ”
Luis Miguel Ariza
“What can be done to undo future jihadist networks? renowned anthropologist Scott Atran has carried out a very thorough study with surprising findings on what motivates those who kill and die.”
David Aaronovitch
“Talking to the Enemy is an important book, by turns fascinating, dense, scientific, debatable, illuminating.”
Lord John Alderdice
“[Atran’s] rigorous research not only debunks the claims of pundits who sit lightly to academic discipline but also challenges unscientific attacks on religion by senior scientists. The political implications of his well-grounded analysis are profound but conveyed in an accessible style which left me excited and hopeful.”
Christopher Dickey
“Atran explores the way terrorists think about themselves and teaches us, at last, intelligent ways to think about terrorists. He puts the threat in perspective and provides keys to winning the fight against violent zealotry.”

Meet the Author

Scott Atran is a director of research in anthropology at the National Center for Scientific Research in Paris, France. He is also a research associate and visiting professor in psychology and public policy at the University of Michigan, a Presidential Scholar in sociology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and cofounder of ARTIS Research and Risk Modeling. His books include In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion.

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