Jessica gives a presentation at the 2011 TEDx Amsterdam Women Conference. She reveals a revolutionary idea with the potential to transform counterterrorism. The project is aimed at amplifying the voices of former terrorists who have left their terrorist organizations.
A few times, I have felt myself in the presence of true evil. At those times, I learned what it means to have the hair on the back of your neck stand up. It’s not just an expression. It happened to me when I met with a leader who recruited cannon fodder for his “jihad,” and on a few other occasions in the last couple decades that I’ve spent interviewing terrorists to learn why they do what they do. But, more often, the evil I’ve witnessed has been banal. I have found myself able to understand the mistaken moral logic that can turn a boy into a terrorist.
Here’s a surprising thing. Almost everywhere — in Pakistan, in Indonesia, in Texas — terrorists offer you tea. Sometimes a full meal.
Otherwise, they are quite different from one another. Their motivations vary — from irredentism, to pleasing the God they claim to worship, to cleansing the Earth of the mud-people that contaminate the world of purity in their minds. Some live in war zones with grievances that are easy for outsiders to grasp; for others, living in the cushy West, the war that is taking place is principally in their own minds, often over identity. Some are paid, some are blackmailed. Some are recruited, and some recruit themselves to their own holy war, whether at home or far away.
Read Jessica’s article on talking with terrorists in Foreign Policy.
The costs of the terrorism inspired by the war include much more than the number, however horrifying, of lives lost. The terrorists who have been drawn to Iraq since 2003 and survived have been battle-hardened after fighting the most sophisticated military in history, often working together with former officials from Saddam Hussein’s Baathist regime. They have developed expertise in counterintelligence, gunrunning, forgery and smuggling. Smuggling routes and alliances that moved terrorists and supplies into Iraq during the height of the war, in 2006-7, have been reversed, allowing fighters and supplies to flow into neighboring countries, particularly Syria, now in its third year of civil war.
Read Jessica’s article in The New York Times.