A terrorist in the houseA terrorist in the house
Those likely to fall prey to extremism must be identified early, writes Abdel- Moneim Said*
It is not too long ago that the problem of drug abuse emerged in Egypt. The initial reaction was predictable -- there was a conspiracy at work and its goal was to corrupt young Egyptians, to undermine their potential. The conspiracy theory did not last for long and soon society had to face the facts head on. Through greater vigilance on the part of the security services, international cooperation and a concerted effort to raise awareness of the problem, both in the public sphere and within the family unit, we managed to limit the potential damage.
Writers played a major role in the fight against drugs. Al- Ahram 's Editor-in-Chief Ibrahim Nafie wrote a series of articles on the topic later collected in two books, The Disaster of Addiction (1989) and An Addict in Our House (1991). Nafie later became honorary president of the Anti-Addiction Society.
In the battle against drug abuse early diagnosis is essential. Addiction does not develop overnight -- it takes time, and there are symptoms, a whole host of them, that family and friends can identify.
The behaviour patterns of addicts are surprisingly predictable. They become less outgoing, more introverted. They tend to associate with a small group of like-minded friends, become estranged from their families, lose their appetite and are prone to outbursts of anger. Many begin to steal. Heroin addicts have needle marks on their arms while those who take cocaine often scratch their noses. As public awareness grew, the symptoms could be more easily identified and action taken.
Terror has rather more security, political and social implications than drug abuse though the two are similar in that a terrorist, like a drug addict, is not born overnight. A terrorist undergoes a transition, from wanting to live to wanting to die, and this takes time.
This mental leap must have symptoms, and we should learn to identify them. We already know that terrorists reach a number of conclusions that make the transition easy. They believe that the individual -- or political group -- should replace the state in making decisions. They believe that the confrontation with Israel and the US should expand from Palestine, Iraq, and Afghanistan to cover the entire Islamic world, with various groups doing what they can where they can.
Losses to economy do not matter to them, and nor does the killing of Egyptian bystanders. These are just incidental costs and may even be divine punishment for a nation reluctant to "resist". And terrorists believe that the bombers are martyrs who will receive their rewards in paradise. Their actions are part of a historic march that will end up in victory and eternal salvation. It is not difficult to justify unbridled violence. Foreign intervention, economic inequity, religious laxity -- even the absence of democracy -- are good enough excuses once one has reached a certain state of mind.
It should be possible to identify the mindset of potential terrorists. Such people will often nourish a grudge against society which they perceive as collaborating with a state which in turn collaborates with the enemy. Potential terrorists often avoid public life and the media. They associate with only a handful of individuals and spend most of their time in endless rituals of self-purification. Terrorists are often young and idealistic. They are likely to act morally superior and will try to look different from family and neighbours. They talk differently, dress differently and interact differently with people, particularly women.
Can we identify such characters before they take the final leap? Can we do something to bring them back from the fringe before it's too late?
* The writer is director of Al- Ahram Centre for Political & Strategic Studies.