Ce que la sociologie propose dans la lutte contre la violence extrémiste”, Huffington Post, 28 juin 2015
Les anthropologues, tels que moi, étudient la diversité des cultures dans le but de dégager leurs points communs et leurs différences. Ils utilisent ensuite ces connaissances afin de surmonter ces différences. Mes recherches visent à réduire la violence entre les peuples, tout d’abord en essayant de comprendre des pensées et des comportements très différents des miens, comme ces kamikazes qui tuent des dizaines de personnes n’ayant rien à voir avec les revendications. Il y a un moment déjà, lorsque j’étais son assistant au Musée d’Histoire naturelle de New York, Margaret Mead m’a appris qu’il était essentiel de les comprendre sans pour autant les soutenir, mais de partager leur existence tant qu’il était moralement possible de le faire. Puis d’écrire un rapport. J’ai passé beaucoup de temps à observer, interroger et mener des études auprès de peuples de tous les continents, engagés dans des actions violentes pour soutenir un groupe et ses revendications. Le mois dernier, des collègues et moi sommes allés à Kirkouk, en Irak, rencontrer de jeunes hommes qui avaient tué pour Daesh, puis dans les banlieues de Paris et Barcelone, avec d’autres jeunes qui voulaient les rejoindre….
“La máquina y la creatividad”, EL MUNDO (España), 17 junio 2015
Las máquinas pueden imitar perfectamente algunas de las maneras de pensar humanas todo el tiempo, y pueden realizar con consistencia algunas tareas mentales todo el tiempo, pero las máquinas computadoras, como se suelen concebir, no realizarán correctamente el pensamiento humano todo el tiempo porque en realidad procesan la información de manera contraria a los humanos en dominios asociados comúnmente a la creatividad humana….
“Role of Youth: Countering Violent Extremism, Promoting Peace Addressing the UN Security Council,” Psychology today, May 5, 2015 
…. the popular notion of a “clash of civilizations” between Islam and the West is woefully misleading. Violent extremism represents not the resurgence of traditional cultures, but their collapse, as young people unmoored from millennial traditions flail about in search of a social identity that gives personal significance and glory. This is the dark side of globalization. They radicalize to find a firm identity in a flattened world: where vertical lines of communication between the generations are replaced by horizontal peer-to-peer attachments that can span the globe. Young people whose grandparents were Stone Age animists in Sulawesi, far removed from the Arab world, told me they dream of fighting in Iraq or Palestine in defense of Islam….
“Here’s What the Social Science Says About Countering Violent Extremism,” HuffingtonPost, 25 April 2015 
At just 16, Gulalai Ismail, and her sister Saba, set up the Seeds of Peace network with a group of school friends to change the lives of young women in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, NW Pakistan. They began by focusing on women’s place in society, and as their membership has grown, they are now training young activists to become local peace builders, challenging violence and extremism. They trained 25 young people in each of the last two years to join together to promote tolerance, non-violence and peace. The initiative is proving so popular that last year they had over 150 applicants. The 50 trained young volunteers are now, in turn, reaching out to people in their communities who are vulnerable to radicalization. They hold study circles and one-to-one meetings with these people to develop and promote ideas for a peaceful future. Still in its early stages, the program will reach almost 1,500 young people in the next three years, growing a movement of activists against religious and political extremism. The results are a lot more remarkable, but Gulalai Ismail will not claim them publicly. Imagine a global archipelago of such peace builders: If you can find concrete ways to help and empower them without trying too hard to control, they could well win the future. In sum, what is most important is quality time and sustained follow-up of young people with young people, who understand that motivational factors can vary greatly with context despite commonalities — be it for a young father from Kirkuk, a teenage girl from Paris, neighborhood friends from Tetuan, Morocco, or high school soccer buddies from Fredrikstad, Norway. It takes a dynamic movement that is at once intimately personal and global — involving not just entrepreneurial ideas, but also physical activity, music and entertainment — to counter the growing global counterculture of violent extremism.
“Events have passed by Gen. Petraeus’s view of the Middle East,” Washington Post, March 25, 2015
Retired Army Gen. David Petraeus suggested that Iranian-dominated Shiite groups represent the greatest threat to Iraq and the Middle East. His analysis fits traditional nation-state power politics; however, the Arab Sunni revivalist movement, of which al-Qaeda and the Islamic State are but two notorious examples, stretches from Morocco to Indonesia and cannot be controlled, or even understood, by such a geostrategic framework. In 1979, the world changed with the Iranian revolution and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, marking the beginning of the end of Western hegemony in the region and beyond and giving birth to great rival movements of militant Islam: the Iranian-led Shiite revolution and Arab Sunni revivalist revolution. The former has (largely) played out in traditional wars and nation-state politics; the latter is much more fluid, dynamic, harder to capture and control or even to understand because this global archipelago so greatly escapes the traditional conceptual molds of nation-state politics and Clausewitzian warfare.
“The Kurds’ Heroic Stand Against ISIS,” S. Atran, D. Stone, NEW YORK TIMES, March 16, 2015
Research from the Field: The Kurds, a stateless people, have held the front against ISIS in Iraq. Is America helping them?
“Psychology, Anthropology, and a Science of Human Beings,” SOCIAL EVOLUTION FORUM, 22 Jan 2015 
The following reflection on the problems of psychology, anthropology, and a science of human beings has been stimulated by recent responses to a couple of recent articles in Nature (Looking for the Roots of Terrorism and Psychologists Seek Roots of Terror), by my very able co-worker (Lydia Wilson) reacting to problems of doing fieldwork in Lebanon that produces something to “show” for the scientific community, and by exchanges with my colleagues at ARTIS research, Baruch Fischhoff and Doug Medin.
“The Jihad’s Fatal Attraction,” The Guardian, 4 September 2014
Western volunteers for Isis are mostly youth in transitional stages in their lives – immigrants, students, between jobs or girlfriends, having left their home and looking for a new family…. The challenge for democracies is to provide an alternative means of satisfying the quest for glory that motivates those who join in Isis’s barbarism
“Incentives for War, Beyond Material Gain,” NEW YORK TIMES, Aug. 20, 2014
In “Why We Fight” (column, Aug. 18), Paul Krugman argues that although recent civil wars, and history’s imperial and national wars, have been for material gain, the costs of modern international wars are too great. So there must be other reasons: ignorance of real costs, turning public attention from economic frustrations at home, or other political gains for leaders who can rally people around the flag. But in studies carried out with support from the National Science Foundation and the Defense Department, my co-researchers and I found that most societies have “sacred values” for which their people would fight, risk serious loss and even die rather than compromise. In 1776, the American colonists had the highest standard of living in the world. Frustrated not over loot, but “sacred rights” (Thomas Jefferson’s original words for the Declaration of Independence), they were willing to sacrifice “our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor” against the world’s mightiest empire. Since World War II, revolutionary and insurgent groups have beaten armies with up to 10 times more firepower and manpower because of devotion to a cause rather than typical reward structures like pay and promotion (consider recent advances of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria). President Vladimir V. Putin’s appeal to Crimea’s sacredness (but not Ukraine’s) surely involved some political posturing, but once national honor is at stake, material incentives or disincentives (sanctions) have little sway.
“U.S. Must Help Deal Directly With Hamas,” NEW YORK TIMES, Aug 5-6, 2014
After pain and spleen are vented over years, grudging accommodation can emerge to stop the killing even if dreams of triumph endure….
“Scott Atran: Media played right in to terrorists’ hands,” 27 April 2013, DALLAS MORNING NEWS
Especially for young men, mortal combat with a band of brothers in the service of a great cause is both the ultimate adventure and a road to esteem in the hearts of their peers. For many disaffected souls today, jihad is a heroic cause — a promise that anyone from anywhere can make a mark against the most powerful country in the history of the world. Because would-be jihadists best thrive and act in small groups and among networks of family and friends, their threat can only match their ambitions if fueled way beyond actual strength. Publicity is the oxygen that fires modern terrorism.
Who Wants to Be a Terrorist? And How Not to Help Them, PSYCHOLOGY TODAY, April 23, 2013
Findings from research on “copycat suicide” (where the strongest indicator of the copycat effect is how much media coverage a suicide receives) clearly suggest that media restraint can reduce terrorist contagion. Indeed, as Columbia University epidemiologist Madelyn Gould noted: “We wouldn’t have a billion-dollar advertising market in this country (the US) if people didn’t think you could influence someone else’s behavior.” The real rub stems from the broader problem collective action: it is our common good to deny terrorists media exposure, but each media outlet in a competitive and unregulated market is tempted to break the compact by trumpeting the news. The late Nobel Prize-winning political scientist Elinor Ostrom spent the better part of her life trying to tackle the issue of how to better regulate “the commons” (“public goods” weather water and forests, or information and media space). Pouring over thousands of cases worldwide, she found local self-regulation to be the most efficient and enduring way to prevent overuse and abuse the commons, and central government control to be the most problematic. There are successful examples media self-restraint from the past. In 1982, killings from cyanide-laced Tylenol in Chicago area stores were followed by myriad tamperings that were breathlessly covered by the media until public authorities and the media realized that this coverage was spawning more tamperings. The Department of Justice, worked with the news media to tamp down the coverage and, mirabile dictu, the tamperings tapered. Of course, the news media back then was remarkably homogeneous compared to today, and it is undoubtedly easier to keep tamperings quiet compared to bombings in public places. But the principle remains the same.
“The Folly of Defunding Social Science,” HUFFINGTON POST, March 15, 2013
In a major speech last month, Eric Cantor, the U.S. House majority leader, proposed outright to defund political and social science: “Funds currently spent by the government on social science — including on politics of all things — would be better spent on curing diseases.” Cantor’s call to gut the federal research budget for social science echoes Florida governor Rick Scott’s push to eliminate state funding for disciplines like anthropology and psychology in favor of “degrees where people can get jobs,” especially in technology and medicine. Targeting the social sciences with little understanding of their content is an old story for legislature looking to score cheap political points. The late Sen. William Proxmire (D-Ark.) used to scour the titles of NSF-funded projects in psychology and anthropology, looking for recipients of his Golden Fleece Awards without bothering to examine the results of the research he myopically pilloried. Such shenanigans ignore the fact that social science research provides precise knowledge that is relevant to people’s practical needs and the nation’s economic and security priorities. Most government laws, programs, and outlays directly concern social issues, including the establishment and means of government itself, and the need for law enforcement, military capabilities, education, and commerce. Gutting social science also undermines national security. For, despite hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars poured into the global war on terrorism, radicalization against our country’s core interests continues to spread — and social science offers better ways than war to turn the tide. Moreover, social science is in fact moving the “hard” sciences forward. For example, recent research based on social science modeling of cancer cells as cooperative agents in competition with communities of healthy cells holds the promise of more effective cancer treatment. Those who would defund social science seriously misconstrue the relationship between the wide-ranging freedom of scientific research and its ability to unlock the deeper organizing principles linking seemingly unrelated phenomena.
“Probing the Mentality Behind a Massacre,” New York Times Letter, 19 Dec. 2012
Field interviews and controlled psychological experiments indicate that members of violent extremist groups are motivated by a cause (but so are millions of others who fail to act), and kill and die for and with their friends and fellow travelers. They show no reliable history of psychopathy, suicidal tendencies, personal humiliation, sociopathy or any of the other psychosocial problems frequently associated with lone-wolf killers. We must make every effort to understand what motivates mass murder in order to stop it, but simple and superficial comparisons will not assist.
“God and the Ivory Tower,” Foreign Policy, August 2012
Time and again, countries go to war without understanding the transcendent drives and dreams of adversaries who see a very different world. Yet we needn’t fly blindly into the storm. Science can help us understand religion and the sacred just as it can help us understand the genome or the structure of the universe. This, in turn, can make policy better informed. Fortunately, the last few years show progress in scientific studies of religion and the sacred, though headwinds remain strong.
“How can a better understanding of sacred values help us solve intergroup conflicts?” SCIENCE AND RELIGION TODAY, 22 May 2012 
Humans define the groups to which they belong in abstract terms. Often they strive for lasting intellectual and emotional bonding with anonymous others, and make their greatest exertions in killing and dying not to preserve their own lives or to defend their families and friends, but for the sake of an idea—the transcendent moral conception they form of themselves, of “who we are.” This is the “the privilege of absurdity; to which no living creature is subject, but man only’” of which Hobbes wrote in Leviathan. In The Descent of Man, Darwin cast it as the virtue of “morality … the spirit of patriotism, fidelity, obedience, courage, and sympathy” with which winning groups are better endowed in history’s spiraling competition for survival and dominance. Across cultures, primary group identity is bounded by sacred values, often in the form of religious beliefs or transcendental ideologies, which lead some groups to triumph over others because of non-rational commitment from at least some of its members to actions that drive success independent, or all out of proportion, from expected rational outcomes….
“Religion Is a Potent Force for Ingroup Cooperation and Intergroup Conflict, Science Article Maintains,” Huffington Post, 17 May 2012 
As evidence for our claim that religion increases trust within groups but may increase conflict with other groups, Jeremy Ginges and I cite a number of studies among different populations. These include cross-cultural surveys and experiments in dozens of societies showing that people who participate most in collective religious rituals are more likely to cooperate with others, and that groups most intensely involved in conflict have the costliest and most physically demanding rituals to galvanize groups solidarity in common defense and blind group members to exit strategies. Secular social contracts are more prone to defection, we argue. The research also indicates that participation in collective religious ritual increases parochial altruism and, in relevant contexts, support for suicide attacks. In what may be called the “backfire effect,” which dooms many efforts to broker peace, we carried out studies with colleagues in Palestine, Israel, Iran, India, Indonesia and Afghanistan demonstrating that offers of money or other material incentives to compromise sacred values increases anger and violence toward a deal, the authors note. For example, in a 2010 study, Iranians who regarded Iran’s right to a nuclear program as a sacred value more violently opposed sacrificing Iran’s nuclear program for conflict-resolution deals involving substantial economic aid, or relaxation of sanctions, than the same deals without aid or sanctions. In a 2008 experiment with Indonesian students in four madrassas (Muslim religious schools), those who regarded rule by Sharia (Muslim religious law) as a sacred value were more violently opposed to compromising Sharia rule in return for Western recognition of the Muslim Brotherhood plus significant economic aid than without aid. In a 2008 experiment with Indian Hindus, those for whom rebuilding a Hindu temple over the destroyed Babri Mosque was a sacred value more angrily opposed including a monument to the Mosque on the site when offered economic incentives to do so. In a 2005 study in the West Bank and Gaza, Palestinian refugees who held their ‘right of return’ to former homes in Israel as a sacred value more violently opposed abandoning this right for a Palestinian state plus substantial economic aid than the same peace deal without aid. And in a 2005 study among Jewish settlers in the West Bank and Gaza, those who regarded Eretz Israel (God-given “Land of Israel”) as a sacred value more violently opposed withdrawing from settlements for peace plus significant economic aid than for peace without aid. This dynamic is behind the paradoxical reality that the world finds itself in today: Modern multiculturalism and global exposure to multifarious values is increasingly challenged by fundamentalist movements to revive primary group loyalties through greater ritual commitments to ideological purity.
“What’s really the Matter with Kansas and Cairo?” Huffington Post, 6 May 2005
Political effervescence and division within many nations is approaching levels not experienced around the globe since the 1920s. Structural failures in economic management bring on such crises when they fail to maintain expectations for improvement in the standard of living among the middle class, the mainstay of democracies and principal source of political stability in the modern world. Such conditions open the way for revolutionary rethinking in politics, when the old moral order teeters and competing ideologies vie to replace it, as with the rise of Fascism and Communism in the 1930s.
“Good Guys Kill Better, or How to Outwit the Bad Beasts of Our Nature,” Huffington Post, March 17, 2012
Imagine an Afghan who came to the USA and murdered 16 people, mostly women and children, and burned their bodies. Then the Afghan government whisked the guy away and said, “Trust us, we’ll take care of the matter,” and the Afghan press was full of reports saying that neighbors in Afghanistan liked the guy. An American president who allowed this to happen would likely be impeached. And would Americans really care if some foreign terrorist who had just shot or blown up a bunch of kids sitting at a family diner had done it because he had snapped, or was drinking, or was under stress, or for any of a dozen possible motives our press has proffered for Bales’ actions? I’m not against factoring in such motivations in passing final judgment, but only if consistently applied. The problem is that Americans, just like most other nations and cultural groups, believe that most of what they do is motivated by a morality based on Golden Rule principles of fairness and do no harm (unless first done to you), and that heinous acts committed by one’s own kind occur because the actor has a screw loose or was suffering unbearable social or economic pressure. In fact, recent work in evolutionary psychology indicates the Golden Rule principles operate fairly in all cultures, most of the time, but not between cultures. People in other cultures are generally thought to commit terrible acts for calculated reasons, underscored by some perverse morality that can be readily discounted, so that only the consequences of their actions should be judged, whereas for one’s own group motivation is, and what ought to, mostly count.
“How Killing Awlaki Affects America, Al Qaeda, and the Arab Spring,” Huffington Post, OCtober 1, 2011
Eliminating Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan… creates a brief opportunity for restoring America’s shattering moral standing in the Arab and Muslim world. President Obama can now claim that the biggest short-term threat to national security from abroad has been nearly neutralized. As a result, the US is now less bound by immediate counter-terrorism priorities to protect its citizens from imminent harm originating in Yemen, and so freer to pursue forward-looking policies that encourage the “democratic dynamics” of the Arab Spring in that country. This is liable to be a less costly but more promising framework for combating violent extremism in the long run, truly enhancing US security and influence while greatly reducing military and foreign aid expenditure….
“Why War is Never Really Rational,” Huffington Post, 29 March 2011 
The inconsistency between war as a moral imperative versus political policy runs way wider and deeper than the Libya conflict. It goes to the heart of human nature and the character of society. For despite the popular delusion that war is, or ought to be, primarily a matter of political strategy and pragmatic execution, it almost never is. Squaring the circle of war and politics, morality and material interests, is not just Obama’s or America’s quandary, it is a species-wide dilemma that results from wanting to believe with Aristotle that we humans are fundamentally rational beings, when in fact recent advances in psychology and neuroscience strongly indicate that Enlightenment philosopher David Hume was right to say that “Reason is, and ought only to be, the slave of the passions.”…
“The Taliban’s expat jihadists,” THE GUARDIAN, 29 Nov 2010
The recent revelations from Guardian reporter Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, that some Afghan émigrés in the UK and other western countries regularly return to fight with the Taliban against perceived western occupation of their homeland, signals that Afghan insurgency has become a partisan movement of the global age. “I work as a minicab driver,” one London-based Taliban part-timer said, “I make good money. But these people are my friends and my family and it’s my duty to come to fight jihad with them.” The name “partisan”, which probably stems from the resistance of the Parthian people to Roman occupation 2,100 years ago, was first systematically applied to Jewish zealots and other “terrorists” just after the time of Jesus. Jewish partisans carried out suicide attacks to incite Roman retaliation against the civilian population and so increase popular support for the rebels’ cause. Beginning with the Spanish guerilla war against Napoleon and on through the second world war, partisan came to mean a member of any irregular force formed from a population to fight foreign control of their territory. The hallmark of any successful partisan movement is wide-ranging local involvement, most tellingly from “part-timers” – the bakers and candlestick-makers who work for the occupiers by day and the insurgency by night. Partisan strength lies in the social network within which the insurgency is embedded: in the dense fabric of families and friends that now extends, courtesy of globalisation’s easy movement and communication, to fellow travellers among immigrant and internet communities….
“NATO’s Mission Impossible: ITs Effects on the Afghan Partisan Movement and on US,” Huffington Post, 28 Nov 2010 
“The most extravagant idea that can be born in the head of a political thinker is to believe that it suffices for people to enter, weapons in hand, among a foreign people and expect to have its laws and constitution embraced. No one loves armed missionaries; the first lesson of nature and prudence is to repulse them as enemies.” Thus spoke French Revolutionary leader Maximilien Robespierre in warning against foreign entanglements, though he soon succumbed to the pressure of his peers and the public: To ostensibly secure France’s borders, he moved to belligerently impose the ideas of the Revolution in foreign lands, and shortly after lost his head on the guillotine to cheers of the crowd he had coddled. “In counterinsurgency,” noted Acting Director of U.S. National Intelligence David Gompert, “the population is not just the field of battle but the prize.” The problem with our mission in Afghanistan is that each passing day not only makes that prize more unattainable abroad but brings new risks at home. The NATO-led mission in Afghanistan is now near parity with the Red Army’s top troop strength, and has already lasted as long as the doomed occupation during the 1980s that facilitated the collapse of the Soviet Empire. NATO’s recent decision to fight for four more years in a war that cannot be won, on behalf of an untrustworthy and unpopular government, in order to solve a problem that no longer really exists, is a stunning waste of lives, treasure and the goodwill of the world’s peoples on whom our own national security ultimately depends. Still, the United States and its allies persist in pursuing what one soldier in the field described to me as “a crazy dream.” As a result, NATO’s already diminishing credibility and, more portentously, America’s already declining influence in the world, likely will degrade faster and further despite newer, more positive plans for NATO’s future program elsewhere….
“Keystone Al-Kaeda, In the Battle Against Al Qaeda the Only Thing We Have to Fear is Fear Itself,” FOREIGN POLICY, 5 Nov. 2010 
The printer-cartridge bombs sent from Yemen to a Chicago synagogue were probably never meant to reach their destination — they were addressed to a 12 century Crusader who was beheaded by Osama Bin Laden’s hero, Saladin, and to a 15 century inquisitor notable for his torture of Muslims and Jews — but the important thing is that they detonated at all. As with almost every al Qaeda-directed plot against the West since 9/11 — from the underpants dud on a flight to Detroit last Christmas to the recent firecracker fizzle in Times Square — the attempt flopped. Nonetheless, Americans have once again panicked about their vulnerability to terrorist attacks. Once again, their president has proclaimed that the country will not rest until it tracks down everyone involved and assured that the sum of U.S. national power would be brought against them. Once again, conservative politicos and pundits have pounded the president for ignoring a much broader-based “Islamic threat” to Western civilization. And again, congressional leaders have joined the anxious chorus. COMMENTS (0) SHARE: Twitter Reddit Buzz More… In truth, terrorists just aren’t worthy of this level of hysteria. Rarely in the history of human conflict have so few people with so few actual means and capabilities frightened so many. Islamist terror groups are undoubtedly the enemy of all humanity, but it is our own exaggerated fear that may be the greater threat….
“Turning the Taliban Against Al Qaeda,” NEW YORK TIMES, October 27, 2010
With no real hopes for a breakthrough in negotiations, the Pentagon’s current thinking seems to be to keep troop levels up for at least a few months after President Obama’s declared June 2011 drawdown date, to show the Taliban that the force and the will to beat them will remain if they don’t come to the table. But this isn’t likely to impress any Taliban, who can simply wait us out. The smarter move would be to turn the current shadow-play about talks into serious negotiations right now. The older Taliban leaders might well drop their support for Osama bin Laden if Western troops were no longer there to unite them. The Haqqanis, too, are exclusively interested in their homeland, not global jihad, and will discard anyone who interferes in their lives. No Haqqanis joined Al Qaeda before 9/11, because they couldn’t stand Arabs telling them how to pray and fight. The problem now, for the Taliban leaders, the Afghan government, its Western backers and Pakistan, is that the main “success” of the recent surge — killing thousands of Taliban foot soldiers and midlevel commanders — may create a whirlwind that no one will be able to control.
“Why We talk To Terrorists,” Scott Atran, Robet Axelrod, New York Times, June 30, 2010, Int’l Herald Tribune, July 1, 2010
NOT all groups that the United States government classifies as terrorist organizations are equally bad or dangerous, and not all information conveyed to them that is based on political, academic or scientific expertise risks harming our national security. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court, which last week upheld a law banning the provision of “material support” to foreign terrorist groups, doesn’t seem to consider those facts relevant…. The two of us are social scientists who study and interact with violent groups in order to find ways out of intractable conflicts. In the course of this work and in our discussions with decision makers in the Middle East and elsewhere we have seen how informal meetings and exchanges of knowledge have borne fruit. It’s not that religious, academic or scientific credentials automatically convey trust, but when combined with a personal commitment to peace, they often carry weight beyond mere opinion or desire…. In our own work on groups categorized as terrorist organizations, we have detected significant differences in their attitudes and actions. For example, in our recent interactions with the leader of the Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad Ramadan Shallah (which we immediately reported to the State Department, as he is on the F.B.I.’s “most wanted” list), we were faced with an adamant refusal to ever recognize Israel or move toward a two-state solution. Yet when we talked to Khaled Meshal, the leader of Hamas (considered a terrorist group by the State Department), he said that his movement could imagine a two-state “peace” (he used the term “salaam,” not just the usual “hudna,” which signifies only an armistice). In our time with Mr. Meshal’s group, we were also able to confirm something that Saudi and Israeli intelligence officers had told us: Hamas has fought to keep Al Qaeda out of its field of influence, and has no demonstrated interest in global jihad. Whether or not the differences among Al Qaeda, Islamic Jihad, Hamas and other violent groups are fundamental, rather than temporary or tactical, is something only further exploration will reveal. But to assume that it is invariably wrong to engage any of these groups is a grave mistake….
“Understanding How the Privileged Become Violent Fanatics,” Huffington Post, May 7, 2010
The great British biologist J.B.S Haldane counted monotheism’s creation of fanaticism as one of the most important inventions of the last 5,000 years. Call it love of God or love of group, it matters little in the end. Modern civilizations spin the potter’s wheel of monotheism to manufacture the greatest cause of all, humanity. Before missionary monotheism, people did not consider that all others could be pigeonholed into one kind. The salvation of humanity is a cause as stimulating as it is impossible to achieve. Nevertheless, all modern missionary “-isms,” whether religious or in their secular post-Enlightenment guise, preach devotion unto death for the sake of humanity, including allowance for mass killing for the mass good. “The imagination and the spiritual strength of Shakespeare’s evildoers stopped short at a dozen corpses. Because they had no ideology,” wrote Alexander Solzhenitsyn in The Gulag Archipelago. Especially for young men, mortal combat in a great cause provides the ultimate adventure and glory to gain maximum esteem in the eyes of many and, most dearly, in the hearts of their peers. By identifying their devotion with the greater defense and salvation of humanity, they commit themselves to a path that allows massive killing for what they think is a massive good….
“Times Square bomber: another of the dangerous disillusionedAs with the 7/7 attacks, the real motives behind the attempted New York bombing were personal rather than ideological,” The Guardian, May 7, 2010 
Sixty years ago, Eric Hoffer wrote in The True Believer that the higher one aims, and the harder one falls, the greater the likelihood one will join a violent mass movement. Faisal Shahzad, the would-be Times Square bomber, fits the mould in a modern way. Research shows that terrorists generally don’t do it because they are vengeful or uncaring, poor or uneducated, schooled as children in radical religion or brainwashed, criminally minded or suicidal, or sex-starved for virgins in heaven….
“To Beat Al Qaeda, Look to the East,” New York Times, Sunday, December 13, 2009
Now we need to bring this perspective to Afghanistan and Pakistan — one that is smart about cultures, customs and connections. The present policy of focusing on troop strength and drones, and trying to win over people by improving their lives with Western-style aid programs, only continues a long history of foreign involvement and failure. Reading a thousand years of Arab and Muslim history would show little in the way of patterns that would have helped to predict 9/11, but our predicament in Afghanistan rhymes with the past like a limerick…. There’s a good chance that enough factions in the loose Taliban coalition would opt to disinvite their troublesome guest if we forget about trying to subdue them or hold their territory. This would unwind the Taliban coalition into a lot of straggling, loosely networked groups that could be eliminated or contained. This means tracking down family and tribal networks, gaining a better understanding of family ties and intervening only when we see actions by Taliban and other groups to aid Al Qaeda or act outside their region…. To defeat violent extremism in Afghanistan, less may be more — just as it has been elsewhere in Asia.
“The Terror Scare,” Huffington Post, December 30, 2009 
On Christmas Day 2009, 23-year-old Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, an angel-faced British-educated engineering student and son of a prominent Nigerian banker, attempted to blow up Northwest flight 253 out of Amsterdam as it was about to land in Detroit…. Yet, as with Richard Reid eight years before, who had tried to bring down American Airlines Flight 63 from Paris to Miami with a shoe bomb containing the same plastic explosive that Umar had packed in his underwear, execution of the plot was clumsy and amateurish, and it failed. But across the political spectrum, people panicked about how unsafe from terrorism America and the world remained, despite the fact that there has not been a single successful attack against America since 9/11. President Obama proclaimed that the country “will not rest” until it tracked down everyone who might be involved and that “every element of our national power” would be brought against others who might dare to try…. The path to radicalization tells us that it is not by arraying “every element of US power” against would-be jiahdis and those who inspire them that violent extremism will be stopped, as President Obama proclaimed. It is by paying attention to what makes these young men want to die to kill, through listening to their families and friends, and by trying to bind with them on the internet. “On the internet, no one knows I’m really a dog,” said the cunning canine in an early web advertisement. And what goes for dogs can certainly work for police…. In fact, the physical threat to our population is extremely low, if fairly constant, and by no means poses any serious threat to our nation’s existence or infrastructure. But each near success breeds a monstrously outsized reaction, given the actual damage that could be done to society. (There was a report written back in the early days of automobile touring, on the “jerk effect”: when you hit an unexpected pot hole, your emotions rapidly rachet up and you jump at the expectation of potholes at every turn for some time after.) A good risk analyst, like Carnegie Mellon’s Baruch Fischhoff, would say that we exaggerate the numerator of risk, by extending it to near-misses (knowing someone who knew someone who has flown on a similar route), and we underestimate the denominator (the total number of flights).
“A Memory of Claude Lévi-Strauss” 
International Culture and Cognition, 4 Nov 2009 (also Psychology Today, ; and Huffington Post)
“Barck’s Nobel: A Symbolic Gesture of Hope to the World’s Youth,” Huffington Post, October 10, 2009
The award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Barack Obama is a symbolic gesture to youth all over the developing world who have a new hero, our symbol. Here is an example. In 2007, with support from the National Science Foundation and Department of Defense, I researched attitudes related to political violence among youth in the tumbledown neighborhood of Jemaa Mezuak in Tetuan, Morocco. The Mezuak had provided 5 of the 7 young men who blew themselves up when cornered by Spanish police for their role in the 2004 Madrid train bombing, as well as several others who had volunteered for suicide missions in Iraq. One of the questions I asked was, “Who’s your hero? Who do you want to grow up to be like?” Number one was a soccer star, number two the fictional film character “The Terminator” (with no awareness of any relation to the present governor of California) and number three, Osama bin Laden. But in mid-November 2008, when I repeated the survey, Obama had surpassed Osama as the youths’ top political role model. Ali, the deeply religious owner of Mezuak’s “Cyprus Barbershop,” who was following the progress of the survey, and had known and tended the Madrid plotters and Iraqi volunteers since their boyhood, commented: Hope isn’t always reality. The Middle East is a rose, a flower so sweet that no bees can resist it for their honey. Bees, you know, have to work together, and Obama must as well. That’s the way of the world (tariq al-‘alam). “But people can change things,” I protested. And a dictum dawned on me whose originator I have forgotten: “The only true law of history is the law of surprises,” I blurted. The barber of boys who would kill for a cause ─ or be Barack Obamas ─ lifted his eyebrows and then his whole face to sky, stroked his beard and smiled: “Maybe someday,
“The (Im)moral Logic of the Show Trial,” Huffington Post, August 8, 2009
In this revolutionary logic, anything that runs counter to the wishes of the Supreme Leader, no matter how sincere or honest or supportive of other aspects of the revolution, are “objective crimes” against a regime whose first duty is to survive, no matter the cost in human lives or suffering, in order to ultimately save “humanity.” Likewise, the coerced confessions of Bahari and others are, in the logic of the revolution, objectively “true,” however far from their actual actions and motives. The irony is that Bahari’s well-meaning attempts to explain Iranian nuclear ambitions and other confrontational policies from the regime’s standpoint, like Khatami’s and Moussavi’s attempts to “save the Revolution,” are (correctly) taken by the Supreme Leader and his devotees to be even greater signs of counter-revolutionary perfidy than outright hostility. A lesson here is that our own cultural conception of political morality, which is centered on liberty and justice for the individual and the belief that ends do not justify means, is not universal; but it may not even be as common as we think in our society or as uncommon in others we don’t like. Another lesson is that basic notions of what is moral or immoral do not neatly separate along the secular-religious divide.
“The Moral Measure of a Civilization is in its Treatment of Enemies,” Huffington Post, April 18, 2009
In the heat of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln made a speech in which he referred sympathetically to the Southern rebels. A member of the audience lambasted him for wanting to treat his enemies kindly when he ought to be thinking of destroying them. Lincoln’s answer: “Why, madam, do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?” Harshness and cruelty were to be banished from the moral imagination of the nation he was trying to save. The late Jack Maple, a famously flamboyant but phenomenally effective former deputy commissioner of the NYPD, wrote that “the more information a detective has, the more creative, authoritative and effective he or she can be.” Under attack in 2001, and then at war in Iraq in 2003, American law enforcement, intelligence and military really didn’t have much information at first. They rounded up the usual suspects, but didn’t know what usual meant. So they smacked people around, and that was always a bad idea, as Maple said: “Forget that smacking somebody around is illegal and just plain wrong, it’s also the quickest way to ruin the chances of getting a statement of any kind.” Professional interrogators talk about building empathy and dependence. Maple would get down on his knees and pray with a suspect if he thought that would work. But the best technique? “If you can get them to laugh, you’ll get a statement. That’s always true.” Internal CIA documents reveal that empathy is also likely what got Abu Zubaydah to reveal how Al Qaeda planned 9/11 and its other operations. His torture brought nothing of real value, only the moral demeaning of his tormentors….
“How Words Could End a War,” Scott Atran and Jeremy Ginges, New York Times, Sunday January 25, 2009 and International Herald Tribune, January 27, 2009
AS diplomats stitch together a cease-fire between Hamas and Israel, the most depressing feature of the conflict is the sense that future fighting is inevitable. Rational calculation suggests that neither side can win these wars. The thousands of lives and billions of dollars sacrificed in fighting demonstrate the advantages of peace and coexistence; yet still both sides opt to fight. This small territory is the world’s great symbolic knot. “Palestine is the mother of all problems” is a common refrain among people we have interviewed across the Muslim world: from Middle Eastern leaders to fighters in the remote island jungles of Indonesia; from Islamist senators in Pakistan to volunteers for martyrdom on the move from Morocco to Iraq. Some analysts see this as a testament to the essentially religious nature of the conflict. But research we recently undertook suggests a way to go beyond that. For there is a moral logic to seemingly intractable religious and cultural disputes. These conflicts cannot be reduced to secular calculations of interest but must be dealt with on their own terms, a logic very different from the marketplace or realpolitik. (IHT weblink)
“Resilient Faith,” The Guardian, 28 October 2008
Scientists and secular-minded predict the demise of faith but around the globe it is thriving.
“Religion in America: Why Many Democrats and Europeans Don’t Get It,” The Huffington Post, 13 September 2008 
If people vote rationally for their economic interests, one would expect Democrats to be perennial favorites among working poor and middle class, and especially so in this year of economic downturn. Why then does polling show the election a tossup? A culture’s moral compass is not an innate or logical determination, but an underdetermined product of historical contingency and willful choice. Belief in moral “rightness” or “truth” is always a matter of faith rather than reason. Only some professional philosophers, jurists, scientists and academics believe that the principal point of political argument (or most any argument) is, or ought to be, truth rather than persuasion, and that an argument’s principal appeal should be reason rather than passion. The fundamental social constituent of economic and political culture in the United States was neither the individual nor the state, but the sectarian community. The religious community in the USA was a civic as well as moral community, a combination which infused American economic and political culture with particular dynamism. As Darwin noted, in competition between groups with similar levels of technology and population size, those groups will tend to win out that favor and transmit willingness to sacrifice some self interest for group interests (that also promote individual interests in the long run). Religions with morally concerned deities arguably made the rise of civilization and large-scale cooperation between genetic strangers possible (historical and cross-cultural analyses of 186 societies finds that the larger the population, the more likely it has deities who are concerned with management of morality and the mitigation of selfishness).
“Fear versus hope in the Fight Against Terror,” by Scott Atran, Huffington post, 25 June 2008
Fear may be the oldest and strongest emotion in our species. In forbidding forests, fear kept our forebears safe from predators, firing our hearts and brains with every uncertain shadow or noise, even if only leaves were rustling in the wind. “Better safe than sorry” is a good survival strategy. Afraid for nothing, you still live; wrongly unafraid, you die. But “in politics, what begins in fear usually ends in folly,” said the English philosopher poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Still, the politics of fear is a classically effective sales con, like the vacuum cleaner vendor who throws up dirt and convinces you how much you need his product to clean up the dirt. Think about it. More terrorist attacks and heightened fear of terrorism should logically imply failure of the War on Terrorism to cope with terrorism and lead to rejection of that failed policy. Yet here fear has failure triumph. The politics of hope plays to a less primitive emotion. “Hope is a waking dream,” said Aristotle, of things that never were but could be. “Men look at the world and see it as it is and ask, why?” mused Robert Kennedy, “I dream about what the world can look like and I ask, why not?” Around the world you can hear hope knocking on history’s door.
“The Torture Veto and America’s Image,” Letter to NEW YORK TIMES, 11 march 2008
“Waterboarding Our Sacred Rights,” Huffington Post, 11 March 2008 
President Bush on Saturday vetoed a bill that would have explicitly prohibited the CIA from “harsh interrogation” methods like waterboarding, which makes bound prisoners feel they are drowning. CIA Director, General Michael Haydn, publicly conceded for the first time in February 2008 that the agency began using waterboarding in 2002 on Al-Qaeda suspects with legal approval from the U.S. Department of Justice. Also last month, US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, in a BBC radio interview, said it is “extraordinary” to assume that the ban on cruel and unusual punishment in the Bill of Rights — the Constitution’s Eighth Amendment — also applied to “so-called” torture. But the history behind the Bill of Rights shows that rejecting cruel torments of the body in whatever form is the most natural assumption to be made. The political and social movement for recognition of human rights began in earnest in the second half of the 18th century, particularly with the Jean Calas Affair in France (1760s): he was broken on the wheel and waterboarded.
“Give the Palestinian Unity Government a Chance,” by Scott Atran, Robert Axelrod, Richard Davis, in the Huffington Post, March 7, 2007
Damascus, Ramallah, and Jerusalem, March 4, 2007 Whatever the final makeup of the unity government now being formed between Palestinian president Abbas’s Fateh and rival Hamas, it is certain to fall short of demands by the United States that it renounce violence, recognize Israel and accept past peace agreements. Although the U.S. and Israel threaten to undermine the unity government through isolation and sanctions, Abbas insists that this power-sharing arrangement is the best chance to end the political and economic crisis resulting from the international embargo of the current Hamas-led government, and to move towards peace with Israel.
“U.S. Off target in Terror War” 
OpEd, Detroit Free Press, 7 March 2003
“Who Wants to Be a Martyr?”
OpEd, The New York Times, 5 May 2003.
“What Motivates a Terrorist?” 
New York Times, Letter, 28 Sept. 2003
“Al Qaeda: No smoking gun” 
New York Times, Letter, 15 February 2004
“A Leaner, Meaner Jihad” 
OpEd, New York Times, 16 March 2004.
“Al Qaeda’s Web” 
OpEd, International Herald Tribune, 17 March 2004.
“Let Liberty Transform Palestinians, Too” 
OpEd, Christian Science Monitor, 27 October 2004.
“Hamas May Give Peace a Chance” 
OpEd, New York Times and International Herald Tribune, 18 December 2004.
“Lethal Lapses in Intelligence”
New York Times Letter, 2 April 2005 (commenting on US presidential Report on failure to find WMDs in Iraq)
“Small Groups Find Fatal Content on the Web” 
Nature, v. 437, no. 7059,p. 620,co-authored with Jessica Stern
“In Indonesia, Democracy Isn’t Enough” 
New York Times Op-Ed, Oct. 5, 2005; International Herald Tribune, Oct. 6, 2005
Connecting the Dots, Scott Atran & Marc Sageman 
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, July-August 2006, “Turn Back the Clock”
“Is Hamas Ready to Make a Deal?”
Oped, New York Times, 17 Aug 2006, Int’l Herald Tribune 18 Aug 2006, based on interviews with Hamas leaders and supporters around the globe
“Middle East Peace, Islam and Tolerance” 
IHT Responses to “Is Hamas Ready to Deal?,” 22 Aug 2006
“Plaudì la rivoluzione cognitiva”
Il Sole 24 Ore (Italy), 7 ov 2009
“The Romance of Terror,” S. Atran, The Guardian, July 19, 2010
The question: Can you do counterterrorism without theology? People don’t become terrorists because they are poor or uneducated, schooled in radical religion or brainwashed….