Scott Atran – What Makes a Terrorist?

April 22, 2013

Back in the summer of 2011—just before the 10 year anniversary of 9/11—this show welcomed on Scott Atran, an anthropologist who is a leading expert on terrorism and violent extremism.

Now, in the wake of the Boston bombings and the dramatic capture of suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, we called Atran back to discuss the first large scale U.S. terrorist bombing since 9/11.

As Atran’s research shows, the Tsarnaev brothers share many parallels with other young, disaffected men who opt for extremist violence around the world.

But Atran’s broader conclusion from the past week may be an unsettling one: When we devote such massive societal attention to a few homegrown terrorists, we may not ultimately be doing ourselves any favors.

Scott Atran
is an anthropologist and an expert on terrorism with appointments at John Jay College, the University of Michigan, and Oxford. He is author of the book Talking to the Enemy: Faith, Brotherhood, and the (un)Making of Terrorists, and in his research has personally interviewed mujahidin, Hamas, and the plotters behind the Bali bombing.