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Taliban, Taliban?
In my terrorism class, I often found myself flashing back to ninth grade English, when we discussed the Romantic philosophical movement. It generally consisted of young men, going off into the woods, becoming ascetic, writing poetry about blue roses (it's possible I'm making that bit up) and generally seeking all the answers from a wacky guru in the great Somewhere Else. Romantics would generally die out at 35, either from some disease in the woods or marriage and responsibility.

The Netherlands (and the rest of Europe) seem to have been plagued with this “radicalization” phenomenon. Young men (and some women) convert to radical Islam and then decide it would be super cool to hate the West. So they would go off to the great Somewhere Else of Syria, find some Taliban, and try to join up with their friends. Usually, it turns into the worst frat experience ever. Those seeking enlightenment are either distrusted and ignored or given the chance to prove themselves to the kinds of people who blow themselves up to make a point. If you think hazing in Greek culture is bad, try it Mujaheddin style. The guys who actually get to meet members of Taliban (and survive) come back to Europe and tell all their friends how terrible it was. Some try to go off into the great wide Somewhere Else by taking a few city blocks with them. Generally, they don't live past 35, thanks to Taliban accessorizing, or the responsibilities of marriage (except for a few notables who really don't have anything but talking young lads into suicide bombing going for themselves).

The Romantic movement didn't last very long, because it couldn't grow old with one generation long enough to really become a fad with the next. It seems that the Arab Spring is helping that to be true of our modern day Romantics. Something else that's helping out a bit is this picture of Osama Bin Laden. He's a sad old man, clinging to a remote, watching videos of himself from when he was awesome. Who is going to rally behind a guru like that? One of our speakers hypothesized that this was why there haven't been any calls to avenge his death. I'm not so foolish as to think that terrorism will become a thing of the past any time soon, but I'm hoping that it will go the way of our 1960's romantic movement: a little trend that only suits a few on the fringes of society.

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They die because of the responsibilities of marriage? Explain?

the romantic movement would die because of marital responsibilities, not the people themselves. The whole "get a job, support your family" thing not really being compatible with being an ascetic eccentric in the woods.

Percy Bysshe Shelley was a happily married romantic poet.

But I meant this one - "Generally, they don't live past 35, thanks to Taliban accessorizing, or the responsibilities of marriage"

They leave the Taliban movement to settle down and raise their families? They are allowed to leave the Taliban to marry and raise families?

Percy Bysshe: One man does not a movement make, it is my understanding that he was more the exception than the rule.

Taliban Membership goes a few different ways:
1) you join because it's cool and suits your ideals so you have no problem with strapping a bomb to yourself
2) Your family is starving and the bomb comes with a really excellent health care package for your family
3) You want your son to have a better life than you, and that means education, which, unfortunately, also means madrassas.

It isn't really a cult so much as the only option a lot of folks there have. It's the only meaningful form of government, but they don't really require everyone to join. If everyone could join, they wouldn't be the chosen ones anymore. So, yes, people can leave, and several do. That's not to say that renouncing the Taliban won't get you killed by the allies and called Taliban, though.

However, there are several reasons people don't leave the Taliban, and a few of them do involve strapping explosives to one's self. One is that there is no civil society in these places. The government gave up and there are no services. If your wife is sick and dying, the only medical plan in town is the rather impressive compensation package the Taliban offers your widow. If you want even some of your children to have an education, well, the nearest overcrowded school run by a government that doesn't care about you is 500miles away. The Taliban Maddrassa is only a few blocks away and when choosing between the ideals of education and disagreeing with what your children are taught, a lot of parents send their sons and hope for the best. This option does not generally involve strapping a bomb to yourself, but it might for your kids. Beyond that, as people get older and see what is happening to their communities and their families, many will choose to give up the health care, pension and education package, moving their families away from where they were known as part of the Taliban, and try to start over. Being a good man trying to look out for his family in these places is far more complicated than it should be.

The point our speaker was making is that, as far as terrorist bombing idealists go, you don't see many over 35 because they either died or quit to be responsible husbands and fathers. The Percy Byssge Shelley exceptions are the recruiters, who often have a lot of wives, money and power, and will never give it up. But as I said before, one man does not a movement make.

Also, the Taliban is not in Syria, it is in Afghanistan and northern Pakistan. Do you mean terrorist groups in general? If so, then I'll add that almost all of the 9/11 hijackers were over 35 and married with kids.

I'm finding it hard to understand how a terrorist can quit to become a responsible husband and father without dying. Or do you mean leaving for a suicide mission to bestow wealth on the family?

I wish the Taliban were merely limited to Afghanistan and Pakistan. According to our Terrorism experts, Syria has some of the largest growing franchises now. It's not like they can only operate where they are zoned, that's just where we are fighting them.

I think that your difficulty is not realizing that there is a difference between the Taliban and terrorism. THe IRA, for example, has engaged in terrorism, but are most assuredly not the Taliban. They are also more than just a terrorist organization, and engage in real politics now as well.

A lot of what the Taliban does is terrorist activity, but they do other stuff as well. It might be best to think of them as a company that produces terrorism. Not everyone wears the bomb, just as not everyone in a company drives the fork lift. You need planners and thinkers and transporters and drivers and tech savvy people. If they all became suicide bombers, there wouldn't be any left, and the company would fail.

The bombers we see in the news are merely the product of a very large network of activity, ideology, and systems. It's also not a hierarchy, as we like to think, with Osama at the top. He was an influential leader, to be sure, but not the only one. It's a franchise operation. You can open your own little chapter of the Taliban (If you want your assets frozen from now until eternity), but there is no head office to get credentials from. That's why getting into a war on terror turns into Whack-a-Mole, with a new franchises popping up wherever government has failed a large enough population.

I think I should clarify that this post wasn't an attempt to equate a rather beautiful and influential art movement with terrorism, but rather an attempt to express my belief as to why terrorism as we know it today is probably dying out, or at least diminishing to background noise. It is a kind of philosophical movement, and my hope is that their way of conducting "philosophy" means that the "terrorism era" will be much shorter than others have been.

I think you mean Al Qaeda when you refer to the Taliban. Al Qaeda has franchises all over the Middle East, but the Taliban is a distinctly Afghan movement.

Were you originally comparing young European men who went off to join Al Qaeda with young (upper class) European men joining the Romantic movement?

Yeah, I realized halfway through that I was getting the two confused. Thanks American indoctrination. I probably failed that bit on my final, too, equating Taliban and Al-Qaueda.

And yes, I was discussing the European phenomenon of "radicalization," though a lot of it doesn't necessarily depend on Geography.

It's OK. I had a horrible geography and history teacher in 9th grade who spend the whole year on Africa and the US, and just stopped there. The rest of the time we spent watching Austin Powers and Monty Python in his classes, and while it was fun at the time, I'm pretty pissed at him now. Most of my info on the Middle East I now get from Noah, but I should do my own research.

It is an interesting phenomenon of radicalization, and I didn't even realize that young European men were going off to join Al Qaeda until I read your article. My guess is that drive to go off and join a radical movement is to get away from ennui.

I encountered a similar phenomenon when I was in both India and Taiwan. I'd meet American men (usually) who had come seeking some guru. The guru in Taiwan always seemed baffled by them coming and would answer their questions with common sense, which they would then treat like holy writ:

Petitioner: Master, my leg has been hurting for two weeks, what should I do to cure it?
Master: Go to the doctor.
(PS, I actually really loved that guy, but decided the best way to appreciate him was to get away from his petitioners)

In India, it was a slightly different story. India is positively crawling with naked, dirty gurus seeking whatever wisdom can be dispensed for a few rupees and some food. The Ashrams are (often) money pits designed to take the faithful from wherever they are. This is especially the case in Rishikesh, where the Beatles went and found enlightenment, pot, and the sound that defined the '60's. Every time I would encounter another American there, I wound up disgusted, since they seemed to attach credibility to their gurus based on how hard they were to get to. This is the quality that I was reminded of when they were telling us about Young European men going with their friends to seek out Al Quaeda in the desert so that they could join the cause.

Huh. That's so interesting. It's nice that the guru in Taiwan didn't put on a show, but just gave his honest advice, even though it disappointed the travelers who were seeking magic. It really makes you think, you don't need to go half way around the world to find what you're looking for.

One summer I worked at a sleepover camp near home in NH. That summer, I was close with this one Israeli counselor. He explored Brookline NH as if it was some foreign treasure trove, and I found myself appreciating it with new eyes. I felt like a tourist in my own backyard.

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