Atran, who has academic positions at a number of institutions, including Oxford University, the University of Michigan and France’s National Center for Scientific Research, published an essay last week in the journal Science advocating for a more scientific and research-based approach to preventing terrorism across the globe.
Atran has argued that the intelligence community and the national security apparatus are not designed to carry out long-term policies that would prevent violent extremism. He stresses that without field research in conflict zones geared toward understanding how and why people become radicalized, we’ll never have a coherent strategy to prevent attacks.
Below is a transcript of an interview with Atran, edited for clarity and brevity.
In Theory: Many people in the U.S. are attracted to campaign-style promises to, as Sen. Ted Cruz said, “carpet bomb” the Islamic State until we find out whether “sand can glow.” How do we convince people that a measured, evidence-based approach is the right way to address violent extremism?
Scott Atran: It’s very had to do with just evidence. Never in history have so few people with so few means caused so much fear. I mean, the Belgian army could defeat the Islamic State if it was simply a matter of material firepower and manpower. There’s no attempt to really take what is involved seriously: Who are these people? Why do they do what they do? Why now?...