Al Qaeda and its affiliates are operating much like a global tribe waging segmental warfare. This paper describes the dynamics of classic tribes: what drives them, how they organize, how they fight. Al Qaeda fits the tribal paradigm quite well. Thus, continuing to view Al Qaeda mainly as a cutting-edge, post-modern phenomenon of the information age misses a crucial point: Al Qaeda and affiliates are using the information age to reiterate ancient patterns of tribalism on a global scale. The war they are waging is more about virulent tribalism than religion. The tribal paradigm should be added to the network and other prevailing paradigms to help figure out the best policies and strategies for countering these violent actors.
Reprinted with the permission of Taylor and Francis. Originally published in John Arquilla and Douglas Borer, eds., Information Strategy and Warfare: A Guide to Theory and Practice, chap. 2, pp. 34-55. Copyright © 2007 Routledge, member of the Taylor & Francis Group. An earlier version is posted at http://www.firstmonday.org/.