tribal drum
The psychology of jihadism has much in common with that of street gangs.

Essentially the same neo-tribalistic dynamics that prevail in American street gangs can be found in the contemporary rise of Islamic jihadism.

Not coincidentally, this movement tends to be most prevalent in the places where Third World people feel the most diminished by their contacts with the modern West.

The growth of jihadism cannot adequately be explained by Muslim religious fervor alone.  To begin with, jihadism is a relatively recent and in many ways non-representative variant of Islam.  Moreover, as a component of the overall environment, Islamic religious observance tends to be weaker, rather than stronger, in the Western-interfacing areas where jihadism breeds the most prolifically.

Economic privations also cannot satisfactorily explain the contemporary jihadist phenomenon, since these problems are typically less severe in areas that come into contact with Western money.

Feelings of comparative smallness are a different matter, though.  Put a Muslim to work as, say, a cab driver or common laborer serving Westerners, and while he may make more money than he ever could have in his home town, if he feels insignificant or invisible, then although he may never before have shown much passion for Islam, he becomes an excellent candidate for jihadist recruitment.

Consider the life of Mohammed Atta, now the best known of the suicide pilots in the 9/11 attacks.  Hardly just a menial laborer, he was studying at a major European university in preparation for a professional career in city planning.  But did that make him any less invisible to all the Germans bustling by him on the sidewalks of Hamburg?  Perhaps having gotten as far as he had and still feeling like a nobody served only to intensify his frustration and rage.

Much has been made of the promises given to jihadist “martyrs” that they will be rewarded in heaven with 72 virgins.  More attention needs to be paid to the fact that within their communities, completion of their missions elevates them to the contemporary world's quasi-mythical status of celebrities.