If you study jihadis on the Internet for any length of time, you come to realize that there are many more people who self-identify with the global jihad than there are people participating in terrorist activity. In other words, if the jihadi web - the system of interlinked static sites, libraries of documents, forums, blogs, YouTube sites, virtual worlds, etc. - are a sort of factory, into one end of which march aspiring terrorists, and out the other end come active terrorists, then clearly the production process is a highly inefficient one, at least outside of conflict zones such as Afghanistan or Somalia.
I have previously examined this issue using concepts borrowed from criminology, proposing that to achieve his ambition the would-be mujahid requires three things: motivation, association, and opportunity. On the Internet these things are present to varying degrees, and in the real world they are not necessarily more readily available. The business of terrorism being killing, there is another way to look at this issue. If the motivation is sufficient, the methods by which one person can kill another person - for whatever reason - are virtually limitless. So when we study killing, we're really studying the factors that either inhibit or encourage the behavior, and that brings us to On Killing, by LTC Dave Grossman.
Grossman identifies four elements that interact with each other in various ways in order to encourage or discourage killing behavior, and his work is based on the premise that the human being has a deeply-rooted disinclination to kill members of his own species. These four elements are:
My intent is to discus these four elements as they present themselves in jihadi cyberspace, and with an emphasis on those areas where we might focus our efforts in order to discourage our prototypical jihadi "Ahmed" from killing.
For the purpose of this discussion we will personify Authority in the form of Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaida's second in command, who has over the last few years put a great deal of effort into issuing regular communiqués to his followers. Grossman defines the role of authority in killing in terms of the demands the authority makes upon the killer, in this case Ahmed, and the relationship that exists between the authority and the killer.
Intensity of demands
This is one area where the Internet does not work against Zawahiri, and in many ways may help him. His demands that his followers kill can be as intense as he is capable of making them, and since they must be recorded and then delivered after-the-fact, he can carefully rehearse each message and embellish it in ways that might maximize the impact that it has on Ahmed and others like him. And once his message is released, Zawahiri can count on even his most dedicated adversaries to go to great lengths to ensure the message is distributed far and wide, both in its digital form and in transcription.
Legitimacy of authority
Dave Grossman is a Lt. Colonel (US Army, Retired). There is no debating that, and when he was on active duty, that rank conferred on him legitimacy. Ayman al-Zawahiri, on the other hand, can call himself a Sheikh, but no one is obliged to accept that title. Legitimacy is something Zawahiri has to fight for with every breath he takes, and any error on his part - real or perceived - has the potential to undermine his legitimacy. Thus, unlike a legitimate military commander, Zawahiri's authority is in some measure a product of his relationship with his followers. They can accept him as their Sheikh, or not.
Respect for Authority
There are many things that can effect how much respect Ahmed has for Zawahiri's authority, and much of this is beyond Zawahiri's control. As with legitimacy, Ahmed can respect Zawahiri to whatever extent he wishes, and any misstep on the latter's part can have a long-lasting negative impact on his already limited ability to command forces in battle.
Proximity of Authority
The challenges Zawahiri faces in getting Ahmed to kill, regarding intensity of demands, legitimacy of authority, and respect for authority, are all compounded by his lack of proximity. The President of the United States, as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, can travel far and wide to spend time with the troops he has deployed to combat al-Qaida. Zawahiri cannot do anything similar. No matter how intensely he expresses his demand for Ahmed to kill, that demand will be weak in comparison to a similar demand made by a commander standing beside his troops. Zawahiri can present himself in a video dressed in the garb of a Sheikh, surrounded by copies of the Quran and Hadith, not to mention AK-47s, but the image will never be as effective at conferring legitimacy as actually seeing Zawahiri in the flesh, where the deferential behavior of other followers might reinforce Ahmed's own impression of the man. That last point brings us to the next factor, the group.
 Grossman uses the phrase "Why Johnny Can't Kill" in his book, and this use of the common Arabic name Ahmed is used in the same sense, to personify an otherwise generic character.
 For example, I recently examined the front pages of each of the ten discussion forums currently in use by supporters of al-Qaida and the global jihad. Each such page displays the number of members each community has – the current total is about 45,000.
 Grossman's modeling of the affect of authority and group on killing are based largely upon Milgram's (1963) Behavioral Study of Obedience.
 See the collection here, for example: http://www.nefafoundation.org/documents-aqstatements.htmlPosted on 23 February 2009 @ 21:39