Scott AtranKrista first heard terrorism expert Scott Atran on the BBC and knew she wanted to book him as a guest. He interviews jihadis to understand what makes them want to live or die for a cause. Through the lens of psychology and culture, he also does extensive field work in both the Arab and Israeli Middle East. In fact, minutes before his interview with Krista, he had an extensive phone conversation with a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, and shared his thoughts with us about uncertainty and hope surrounding the uprising in Egypt.

Scott Atran is presidential scholar in sociology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York, a visiting professor of Psychology and Public Policy at the University of Michigan, and research director in Anthropology at the National Center for Scientific Research in France. He has briefed Congress and national and homeland security staff at the White House on his research into terrorist groups. His latest book is called Talking to the Enemy: Faith, Brotherhood, and the (Un)Making of Terrorists.

We live-tweeted highlights of this 90-minute conversation, which we’re aggregating and reposting for those who weren’t able to follow along. Check out our Twitter stream next time at @BeingTweets.

  1. Krista is about to start conversing with Scott Atran - an expert on communicating with, and understanding, terrorists. 1:00 PM Feb 1st
  2. “I’m always interested in those people who are as different from me as possible.” - Scott Atran on his interest in Jihadis 1:17 PM Feb 1st
  3. “If I can understand what moves these people, I can better understand what it means to be human.” - Atran on his interest in terrorists 1:18 PM Feb 1st
  4. “The greatest predictor is if they belong to a soccer club or some other active group of friends.” - Atran on who is a terrorist 1:19 PM Feb 1st
  5. “You too can cut off the head of Goliath with a papercutter.” -Atran on the powerful message which attracts some to the Jihadi movement 1:25 PM Feb 1st
  6. “The young people…are trying to build a way forward that’s… idealistic, that talks to their hopes and dreams and is realizable.” -Atran 1:36 PM Feb 1st
  7. “You really want to know who’s involved in a plot? Find one of the guys…Look at what he eats…and you’ll find the others.” -Atran 1:49 PM Feb 1st
  8. “War…it is a violent attitude toward someone else because their thinking of the world is different than your own.” -Scott Atran 2:03 PM Feb 1st
  9. “The principle of enmity: human beings are most mobilized when we have enemies. Can we lessen conflict without having enemies?” -S. Atran 2:20 PM Feb 1st
  10. “Wars are only won in two ways — you destroy your enemy or you make them your friends.” -Scott Atran 2:22 PM Feb 1st
  11. “I recall Maximilien Robespierre, ‘No one loves armed missionaries.’” -Scott Atran 2:30 PM Feb 1st

About the image: Scott Atran stands in front of Palestine Polytechnic University in Hebron (photo courtesy of Scott Atran).

Share Your Reflection



The insight that globalization had a globally disruptive effect on the regional cultures, that effectively lost the world economic competition, is truly profound. That we need to deeply care about how kids from those cultures respond to that is *such* an important conclusion to draw.

Americans are very proud of the great advance of "technology" we’ve focused much of our life energy on… but it has gone along with sweeping away the foundations of "how to live" for a *very* large part of humanity too. When we respond to the disarray caused with handouts, it really has little or no meaning is the problem.

What can we do? We do need to honor the ancient ways of being we are erasing. Our national purpose is now effectively to do so at the fastest growth rate we are capable of sustaining. That hidden objective of the world's dominant economic culture needs attention, our way of taking over the resources of other cultures isn’t helping them at all. The combined creative energy of our great global productivity machine, led by the money centers of NYC, London, Paris, Hong Kong, Sidney, and elsewhere, are “oddly driven”, following a mechanistic computerized business model. It’s a business model for maximizing "the bottom line", used as means of concentrating wealth ever faster in the hands of the wealthy, working putting money into things to take more out, to multiply forever. That system and its end products are "impractical", just as much as the lives of people left behind without their native regional cultures have become impractical. For either interest we also clearly don't have much time, time we need to breathe a little breath of fresh air into the dominant culture’s core purposes.

We need to follow Scott’s lead, of paying close attention to HOW things emerge from the grassroots. Nature is chock full of great examples, like the businesses that join into ecosystems of community cultures or the separate cultures that all contribute to a complex society, with higher purposes than just “taking over”. But people tend not to realize, that economic growth really *must* have a true purpose or the society will die. That’s the deeper question, why we don’t notice.

I found a wonderful new opening into that seemingly impossible quandary, in the physics of continuity, why nature works by flows of events rather than by leaps, displaying a true need to have a process for achieving any change. Unlike the rules for numbers we are mistakenly trying to rule our world by, nature’s ways of building things needs to be responsive, and finds its purposes that way. You might look around my journal for other possible starting points for a discussion.