Terrorism 3:
Psychological Roots of Terrorism By Abdel Razak M Ali

د. عبد الرزاق علي Ýí 2014-01-22

Psychological Roots of Terrorism


Abdel Razak M Ali

            Terrorism is a hostile activity that is primarily aimed at civilians, with the purpose of advancing a specific agenda, political or other. Sadly, terrorist attacks more than wars, are now claiming visibility in the news headlines in most regions of the world.(1)There is still no agreed upon definition of terrorism. By the late 1980s, there were more than 100 definitions of terrorism that had appeared in the professional literature.

المزيد مثل هذا المقال :

The objective of this article is not primarily to provide a detailed critique of social science research in the field of terrorism studies. Rather, our goal is to explore what questions pertaining to terrorist groups and behavior had been asked by social science researchers, to identify the main findings from that research, and attempt to distill and summarize them within a framework of operationally relevant questions.Why do people become terrorists? Are terrorists crazy? Are simply evil?  Why normal people are driven to extremes? What social factors and tensions are most likely to provoke terrorist behaviors? And how can we use our rapidly growing understanding of the psychology of terrorism to anticipate coming attacks to protect the international community?

Ideological commitments have protected communities which were highly exposed to terrorist attacks causing loss of dear ones, physical injuries and property damage. On the other hand, it is not redundant to notice that "Ideology and religious commitment also have a darker side. The most centered you become in your group, the less you are open to other ideologies or religious ideas. Thus ideology and religion may be used as a healing power, but also as a weapon. This is especially true in Middle East region.

It’s a mistake to simply label terrorists as “evil” or psychologically deranged.  in fact, psychologists who have studied terrorist groups have found that terrorists tend to be stable individuals, not paranoid or delusional. What seems to make terrorists essentially different from others is their ability to “switch off” their sense of empathy in service to their beliefs and goals.Terrorism is better understood as emerging from a process of interaction between different parties, than as a mechanical cause-and-effect relationship.  Profitable criminal activities to finance their political and terrorist campaigns may eventually give terrorist groups vested interests in continuing their actions long after they realize that their political cause is lost

Psychology of Terrorism. Despite its obvious relevance, until recently psychology has had a relatively small footprint in the study of terrorism. We try as possible to provide the reader with deep knowledge and unique insights into the ideas, feelings, and social influences of modern terrorist groups.

General readers who wish to understand this deadly phenomenon, students and scholars of human psychology or political science, and decision makers facing the challenge of designing effective counterterrorism policies will enjoy and profit from these essential readings. The sense of identity and of meaning can be so intoxicated that it may make a person subconsciously prepared to disengage their empathy which overtly encouraged by their leaders.

By ignoring the psychology of terrorism, Western nations have been making grave errors in the so-called war on terrorism. Understanding the deep roots of terrorist behaviors gives us tools that are absolutely vital to any effort in reducing this escalating threat.(4)


Psychological data are even sparser than socioeconomic data, although several projects reported "typical" psychosocial characteristics of terrorists in the 1970s and 1980s. On the basis of unstructured interviews, it is very significant that most terrorists are young men, usually adolescent. Adolescencecan be considered a psychologically difficult period, during which a person becomes aware of themselves as a separate individual, with a sense of vulnerability and fragility. As a result, there is a strong need for identity and belonging. This is why adolescents often join gangs, and become followers of fashion or of pop groups. Belonging to a group helps to alleviate their sense of separateness and strengthens their identity.

Certain demographic, life historical, or psychological factors were reported with high frequency. And claimed to have identified two patterns of personality traits common to terrorists: an extroverted, stimulus-seeking, dependent pattern and a hostile, suspicious, defensive pattern. Since the tragic events of September 11, 2001, attention has shifted to the psychology of Islamic fundamental terrorism. The incarcerated Middle Eastern extremists, including twenty-one Islamic religious terrorists from Hamas and its armed wing, Izz e-Din al-Qassam, Islamic Jihad, and Hezbollah, as well as fourteen secular terrorists from Fatah. Most had a high school education; some had additional schooling. However, the subgroup of suicide bombers among the Palestinians was described as ages seventeen to twenty-two, "uneducated, unemployed, and unmarried.(2) Psychiatrist Marc Sageman (2004) compiled data from public sources on 172 individuals he identified as members of a "global Salafi mujahedin," meaning Muslims engaged in terrorist acts against the "far enemy" in the service of a new Islamic world order. He included expatriate leaders of the Egyptian Islamic Group (EIG), members of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ), Jemaah Islamiyah, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the Algerian Group Salafists, and al Qaeda. Sageman claims that he found "no evidence of pathological narcissism" and "no pattern of paranoid personality disorder"(3)

However, perhaps the attraction of Islamic extremism to some young men points to a deeper problem.  Below the shiny surface of the modern world, there is a crisis of meaning and purpose. Our social and economic systems encourage us to think of well-being in terms of shallow materialism. From the moment we enter the education system, we’re taught that the purpose of life is to be successful and wealthy. We’re encouraged to achieve and consume. If life has any meaning, it means “doing well for ourselves.” We’re expected to spend most of our waking hours performing repetitive and monotonous tasks (otherwise known as “work”) to this end. Deeper aspects of life – such as self-development, creativityspirituality, service, connection with nature, aesthetic appreciation – have progressively been denigrated as materialism has thrived. And religious fundamentalism - and the extremism it gives rise to - can partly be seen as a reaction against this shallow materialism; a perverted and misguided attempt to attain some degree of purpose and meaning.

Roots of  Terrorism.

1-   Poor people are more likely to take part in simpler forms of political violence than terrorism, such as riots. The level of terrorism is not particularly high in the poorest countries of the world. Terrorism is more commonly associated with countries with a medium level of economic development, often emerging in societies characterized by rapid modernization and transition. Although not a root cause of terrorism, poverty is a social evil that should be fought for its own reasons.

2-   State sponsorship is clearly an enabling factor of terrorism, giving terrorist groups a far greater capacity and lethality than they would have had on their own. States have exercised varying degrees of control over the groups they have sponsored, ranging from using terrorists as “guns for hire” to having virtually no influence at all over their operations. Also Western democratic governments have occasionally supported terrorist organizations as a foreign policy means. Some states have capitalized on pre-existing terrorist groups rather than creating them.

3-    Suicide terrorism is not caused by religion (or more specifically Islam) as such. Many suicide terrorists around the world are secular, or belong to other religions than Islam. Suicide terrorists are motivated mainly by political goals usually to end foreign occupation or domestic domination by a different ethnic group. Their “martyrdom” is, however, frequently legitimized and glorified with reference to religious ideas and values. There is no common personality profile that characterizes most terrorists, who appear to be relatively normal individuals. Terrorists may follow their own rationalities based on extremist ideologies or particular terrorist logics, but they are not irrational. The notion of terrorism is applied to a great diversity of groups with different origins and goals.

4-   There are, however, a number of preconditions and precipitants for the emergence of various forms of terrorism. Preconditions set the stage for terrorism in the long run. They are of a relatively general and structural nature, producing a wide range of social outcomes of which terrorism is only one. Preconditions alone are not sufficient to cause the outbreak of terrorism. Precipitants are much more directly affecting the emergence of terrorism. These are the specific events or situations that immediately precede, motivate or trigger the outbreak of terrorism. The first set of causes listed below have more character of being preconditions, whereas the latter causes are closer to precipitants. Lack of democracy, civil liberties and the rule of law is a precondition for many forms of domestic terrorism, the most democratic and the most totalitarian societies have the lowest levels of oppositional violence. Moderate levels of coercive violence from the government tend to fuel the fire of dissent. This leaves a power vacuum that terrorist organizations may exploit to maintain safe havens. On the other hand, terrorists may also find safe havens and carry out support functions in strong and stable democracies, due to the greater liberties that residents enjoy there.

5-    Rapid modernization in the form of high economic growth has also been found to correlate strongly with the emergence of ideological terrorism, but not with ethno-nationalist terrorism. This may be particularly important in countries where sudden wealth (e.g. from oil) has precipitated a change from tribal to high-tech societies in one generation or less. When traditional norms and social patterns crumble or are made to seem irrelevant, new radical ideologies (sometimes based on religion and/or nostalgia for a glorious past) may become attractive to certain segments of society. Modern society also facilitates terrorism by providing access to rapid transportation and communication, news media, weapons, etc. - Extremist ideologies of a secular or religious nature are at least an intermediate cause of terrorism, although people usually adopt such extremist ideologies as a consequence of more fundamental political or personal reasons. When these worldviews are adopted and applied in order to interpret situations and guide action, they tend to take on a dynamics of their own, and may serve to dehumanize the enemy and justify atrocities. When young children are socialized into cultural value systems that celebrate martyrdom, revenge and hatred of other ethnic or national groups, this is likely to increase their readiness to support or commit violent atrocities when they grow up.

6-   Asymmetrical warfare can represent a tempting option. Terrorism offers the possibility of achieving high political impact with limited means. Illegitimate or corrupt governments frequently give rise to opposition that may turn to terrorist means if other avenues are not seen as realistic options. Powerful external actors upholding illegitimate governments may be seen as an insurmountable obstacle to needed regime change. Such external support to illegitimate governments is frequently seen as foreign domination through puppet regimes serving the political and economic interests of foreign sponsors. Repression by foreign occupation or by colonial powers has given rise to a great many national liberation movements that have sought recourse in terrorist tactics, guerrilla warfare, and other political means. The experience of discrimination on the basis of ethnic or religious origin is the chief root cause of ethno-nationalist terrorism. When sizeable minorities are systematically deprived of their rights to equal social and economic opportunities, obstructed from expressing their cultural identities (e.g. forbidden to use their language or practice their religion), or excluded from political influence, this can give rise to secessionist movements that may turn to terrorism or other forms of violent struggle. Ethnic nationalisms are more likely to give rise to (and justify) terrorism than are moderate and inclusive civic nationalisms. Large groups of highly educated young people with few prospects of meaningful careers within a blocked system will tend to feel alienated and frustrated. Excluded groups are likely to search for alternative channels through which to express and promote political influence and change. To some, terrorism can seem the most effective and tempting option. - The experience of social injustice is a main motivating cause behind social revolutionary terrorism. The presence of charismatic ideological leaders able to transform widespread grievances and frustrations into a political agenda for violent struggle. Triggering events are the direct precipitators of terrorist acts. Such a trigger can be an outrageous act committed by the enemy, lost wars, massacres, contested elections, police brutality, or other provocative events that call for revenge or action. Even peace talks may trigger terrorist action by spoilers on both sides. Individuals join extremist groups for different reasons. Some are true believers who are motivated by ideology and political goals, whereas others get involved for selfish interests, or sought for their identity.

7-   Factors sustaining terrorism. Terrorism is often sustained for reasons other than those which gave birth to it in the first place. Terrorist groups may change purpose, goals and motivation over time reprisals are generally popular with broad segments of the public. Policies of military reprisal to terrorist actions may become an incentive to more terrorism, as uncompromising militants seek to undermine moderation and political compromise. As children, they suffered chronic physical abuse, and profound emotional humiliation. They grew up mistrusting others, loathing passivity, and dreading reoccurrence of a violation of their psychophysical boundaries. -To eliminate this fear, such individuals feel the need to "kill off" their view of themselves as victims. -A terrorism-prone individual is pushed over the edge by a trigger from the environment. The vulnerable individual's self-esteem, mobilizes his "narcissistic rage to terroristic acts.

Conclusion, 1- The nature and extent of partnerships between researchers and government counterterrorism agencies is a matter of some debate for the purpose of development.

2-What is needed is an investigation of the effects of different policies on a range of groups with different motivations, organizational structures, and social relationships. An additional research concern is the public reaction to terrorism. Last, the study of psychological motivations for terrorism, as well as for ending terrorism, should continue to be based on a model that integrates the individual, the group, and society.

3-Support the In-depth studies of the specific terrorist groups, describing ideology, motivations, structure, decision-making processes, demographic and personality characteristics.

4-Upholding the intellect centers financially and socially to back up their efforts and activities against terrorism (such as International Quranic Center).  

5-Problem oriented studies cutting across time and places. These are basically comparative studies looking into issues such as conditions leading to escalation in the level of terrorist violence, anti-terrorism legislation, factors influencing the success of amnesty programs for terrorists, political negotiations with terrorist groups, or hostage negotiations.



1- Itzhak  Levav.Terrorism and its effects on mental health.World Psychiatry; 2006 Feb; 5(1): 35–36. PMCID: PMC1472253

2-The Mind of the Terrorist: A Review and Critique of Psychological Approaches Author(s): Jeff Victor off Reviewed work(s): Source: The Journal of Conflict Resolution, Vol. 49, No. 1 (Feb., 2005), pp. 3-42

3- Marc Sageman. Understanding Terror Networks;232 pages | 6 x 9 
Cloth 2004 | ISBN 978-0-8122-3808-2 |. E book 2011 | ISBN 978-0-8122-0679-1 |

4- Borum, R. (2004). Psychology of terrorism. Tampa: University of South Florid

اجمالي القراءات 6993

للمزيد يمكنك قراءة : اساسيات اهل القران
أضف تعليق
لا بد من تسجيل الدخول اولا قبل التعليق
تاريخ الانضمام : 2016-01-10
مقالات منشورة : 31
اجمالي القراءات : 174,951
تعليقات له : 71
تعليقات عليه : 78
بلد الميلاد : Egypt
بلد الاقامة : Egypt