Osama bin Laden’s death is a moral victory, but it may turn out to be nothing more than that.
Over the past decade, he has been isolated and the capabilities of al Qaeda degraded, but it’s evolved into a social movement that continues to attract new groups and new recruits.
Studies of social networks of al Qaeda and its Southeast Asian arm, Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), show they continue to spread violent jihadi ideology like a virus.
How does it spread?
Aside from the crucible of the Afghan training camps in the late 1980s, the constant propaganda pumped out by al Qaeda’s media arm and the real and perceived injustice against Muslims used by radicals to recruit moderates, there are other, more imperceptible influences.
Social network theory offers the Three Degrees of Influence Rule defined in numerous academic studies. Everything we say or do ripples through our social network, creating an impact on our friends (one degree), our friends’ friends (two degrees), and even our friends’ friends’ friends (three degrees).
For example, if you’re feeling lonely, there’s a 54% chance your friend will feel lonely; a 25% chance your friend’s friend will feel lonely; and a 15% chance your friend’s friend’s friend will feel lonely. Emotions like happiness and hope, as well as smoking and even obesity can be traced and spread through social networks.
If these can spread through social networks, why not the volatile mix that leads to terrorism — anger, fear, hatred, religious fervor? Mapping the social networks of al Qaeda and JI show it does