In today’s New York Times there is an interesting article discussing two different theories regarding terrorism. Without wishing to over simplify the two schools of thought, one camp — lead by Bruce Coffman — argues that Al Qaeda is alive and well and is very much a top-down organization. The other camp, lead by Marc Sageman, argues that the new, emerging face of terrorism is leaderless.
What I found disturbing was Mr. Hoffman’s outright dismissal of Sageman’s idea. Specifically, at one point, he argued that "leaderless things don’t produce big outcomes."
I’d strongly encourage Hoffman to read Nassim Taleb’s excellent book, The Black Swan: The Impact of Highly Improbable. To wit, just because a leaderless terrorism group has not yet produced a big outcome that doesn’t mean that a leaderless terrorism will never produce a big outcome. (Remember, it takes only one event to disprove a general theory.)
Luckily, a number of prudent individuals are open to the idea that there may exist an element of truth to both schools of thought. Nevertheless, to those who cling tenaciously to one school or the other, I’d suggest unlearning the idea that your current view is the only true path to the truth.