Saturday, May 25, 2013

Mark S. Hamm's "The Spectacular Few"

Mark S. Hamm is a former prison warden from Arizona and currently Professor of Criminology at Indiana State University and a Senior Research Fellow at the Terrorism Center, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, The City University of New York. His books include Terrorism as Crime: From Oklahoma City to Al-Qaeda and Beyond, and In Bad Company: America's Terrorist Underground. He is the recipient of the Frederick Milton Thrasher Award for Outstanding Gang Scholarship, and the Critical Criminologist of the Year Award from the American Society of Criminology.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Spectacular Few: Prisoner Radicalization and the Evolving Terrorist Threat, and reported the following:
Some very smart people in the intelligence community argue that the greatest incubator for terrorism is the failed state. I contend that another incubator for recruiting terrorists is the failed prison. By their very nature, prisons are intended to induce transformative experiences among inmates. Today’s prisons are hotbeds for personal transformation due to the increasingly chaotic nature of prison life caused by mass incarceration. Mass incarceration has increased the social marginalization of inmates and their desire for bonding, group identity, and spiritual guidance. These changes make prisons a better place to foment terrorism than almost any other social setting.

When applied to the book, the Page 99 Test renders a split decision. On one hand, the page does not refer to the mountain of evidence used in the book. These sources include historical case studies of prisoner radicalization reaching from Gandhi, to Malcolm X, to Bobby Sands and the detainees of Guantanamo Bay; contemporary archival research including a database of terrorism cases; and interviews with intelligence officers and prisoners who were radicalized through a recruitment process of one-on-one proselyting by charismatic leaders.

On the other hand, page 99 does refer to major themes of the work.

Excerpt from page 99 of The Spectacular Few:
There is for Americans, however, an even more compelling case to be made about the global reach of prisoner radicalization. Osama bin Laden’s chosen biographer has described Ayman al-Zawahiri—radicalized not in a U.S. prison but in an Egyptian prison—as the “real brains” behind al-Qaeda, an analysis that appeared in numerous post-9/11 accounts. Some twenty years elapsed between Zawahiri’s torture in Egyptian custody and his terrorist campaign against America. This significant time lag is not a cause to dismiss Zawahiri’s three years in Egypt’s notorious prisons. To the contrary, it only confirms Sampson and Laub’s argument that the criminogenic effect of confinement is a “cumulative process” that reproduces itself over time. For ex-convicts, the prison experience lingers for the rest of their lives.


But that was al-Qaeda of old and today the West faces another kind of enemy—the lone-wolf terrorist, an unaffiliated individual who nevertheless often draws on beliefs and ideologies of validation generated and transmitted by extremist groups. “The biggest concern we have right now,” said President Obama in an interview shortly after the tenth anniversary of 9/11, “is the lone wolf terrorist.”
The excerpt alludes to the book’s subtitle—an Evolving Terrorist Threat and indeed the threats have continued to evolve as witnessed in the Boston Marathon bombing. Even though the alleged perpetrators of that crime had never been to prison, it is becoming increasingly apparent that one of them may have been radicalized by al-Qaeda sympathizers in the failed state of Kazakhstan. The evolving terrorist threat is global in its reach.

The overwhelming majority of prisoners do not pose a terrorist threat of any kind. Yet a tiny, infinitesimal fraction of prisoners—some of them freshly converted to Islamic extremism behind bars and others, like Zawahiri, the victims of torture—turn radical beliefs into terrorist action. They are the spectacular few.
Learn more about The Spectacular Few at the New York University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue