While nothing is easier than to denounce the evildoer, nothing is harder than to understand him.
(Fyodor Mihailovich Dostoevsky, The Possesse)

Nowadays, people talk and raise concern about terrorism and people scare of terrorism(list of terrorist organisations); however, many people do not understand terrorism’s motivation, and why people become terrorists and how victims cope with their life after experiencing the events. For this reason, I would like to create a blog to give the public general ideas of terrorism. The series will cover topics such as:


Psychology of Terrorism

This is the last post of this series about terrorism. I am going to use this post to explain and review what the series have written in five weeks.

I have stated in my introduction of this series that it will introduce and give people general knowledge about terrorism. In order to know “terrorism” it is necessary to understand terms “terrorism, and terrorist”. This is a very basic knowledge which anyone wants to understand terrorism need to know. Once the one understands this term, he may be able to go further to study more about terrorism. Therefore, the series spent the first post writing “What is terrorism, and who is terrorists?”. Besides, while the scope of this tasking required a focus on psychological factors, form a comprehensive explanation for terrorism. I realized that:

There are many factors at the macro and micro level that affect political violence generally, and terrorism specifically. Indeed, “there is substantial agreement that the psychology of terrorism cannot be considered apart from political, historical, familial, group dynamic, organic, and even purely accidental, coincidental factors” (Freid, 1982). For this reason, I had chosen to write something relevant to the above topics (How and why do people enter, stay in terrorist organizations; Pathway to terrorism…)

Inn addition, while there are other researches which seem to focus almost exclusively in some way on “why” individuals become terrorists or engage in terrorism, the research questions in this realm, informed by a degree of experience, became more focused and more functional. However, social and operational observations of numerous terrorist and extremist groups, suggest that recruitment and involvement typically do not occur in that way. According to Horgan and Taylor (2001) “What we know of actual terrorists suggests that there is rarely a conscious decision made to become a terrorist. Most involvement in terrorism results from gradual exposure and socialisation towards extreme behavior.” Therefore, instead of seeking an answer for the question of “why an individual becomes a terrorist”, the series wants to know the reasons for “why terrorists persist despite the risks involved and the uncertainty of reward” (Crenshaw, 1986). And in the second post “how and why do people enter, stay in terrorist organization”, the study have recognized three factors - injustice, identity, and belonging – which have been found often to co-occur in terrorists and to strongly influence decisions to enter terrorist organizations and to engage in terrorist activity. Moreover, it is an important to know concepts such as “the need to belong, the need to have a stable identity”, which helps explain the similarity in behavior of terrorists in groups of with widely different espoused motivations and composition.

Consequently, as I mentioned above by getting an idea from Freid (1982) “there is substantial agreement that the psychology of terrorism cannot be considered apart from political, historical, familial, group dynamic, organic, and even purely accidental, coincidental factors.” I used my third post to present the process of becoming a terrorist. It supplied models which provided by Hacker and Shaw may suit to explain the path to terrorism of many terrorists.

After third post, I used to plan to spend following post discussing terrorists’ personality. However, after doing some researches, I learnt that there is no terrorists’ personality (Crenshaw, 2001; Borum, 1999; Taylor & Quayle, 1994). Thus, instead of discussing terrorist’s personality, I provided some experts’ ideas about terrorist’s personality. Besides, by looking at an individual’s life experiences, the study found out that certain life experiences tend to be commonly found among terrorists. Histories of childhood abuse and trauma appear to be widespread. And themes of perceived injustice and humiliation often are prominent in terrorist biographies and personal histories. Those factors may be important to understand terrorists, that why study decided to write about.

When researching and writing about terrorism, I realized that terrorism is a very broad subject which this series for many reasons can not cover, for example: ability, time, word limit etc. Therefore, the series chose to write an aspect of subject which has just discussed above. However, my ambitious in this series is also giving public a few ideas about victims of terrorism, especially psychology aspect. Therefore, in week five I have explored some of the psychological affect of terrorism on their victims, especially Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). And it also supported information from past incidents, for instance 9/11 US terrorist attack. The research has shown that deliberate violence creates longer lasting mental health effects than natural disasters or accidents. The consequences for both individuals and the community are prolonged, and survivors often feel that injustice has been done to them. This can lead to anger, frustration, helplessness, fear, and a desire for revenge. The post also gave some advices which may help and prevent victims form bad affects of terrorism.

In conclusion, I hope that this series help people more aware of terrorism. And it had given useful information which readers may need to understand more about terrorism.


Horgan, J. and Taylor, M. (2001),The making of a terrorist . Jane's Intelligence Review. 13(12), (pp 16-18)

Crenshaw, M. (1986). The psychology of political terrorism. In M.G. Hermann (Ed.) Political psychology: contemporary problems and issues (pp.379-413). London: Josey-Bass

Fried, R.(1982). The psychology of the terrorist. Jenkins, B. M., Ed. Terrorism and beyond: An international conference on terrorism and low-level conflict (pp. 119-124). Santa Monica, CA: Rand.

Borum, R., Fein, R., Vossekuil, B., & Berglund, J. (1999). Threat assessment: Defining an approach for evaluating risk of targeted violence. Behavioral Sciences & the Law, 17(3), (pp 323-337).

the psychology affects of terrorism on Victims

Psychology of TerrorismPsychology of TerrorismPsychology of Terrorism

In previous posts, the study had given the public general ideas about terrorism. However, I also acknowledge that terrorism is very broad topic which this study can not cover all aspects for many reasons such as because of time as well as word limit. I hope that by other sources such as news, TV, and other researches, you may have a better understanding about terrorism. My ambitious in this series is also giving public a few ideas about victims of terrorism, especially psychology aspect.

By watching news people may know about terrorist group’s acts as well as the terroristic feel which they brought to people. To our anguish, terrorism has become one of the most destructive threats to the human condition. The acts of terrorist’s group not only physically harm to human body, but they also affect people’s psychology in short and long term (this study do not discuss the lost of economic, finance and infrastructure which was brought by terrorism). In this post, I am going to explore the psychological affect of terrorism on their victims, especially Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). And it would like to support information from past incidents, for instance 9/11 US terrorist attacks.

Terrorism erodes the sense of security and safety people usually feel. This erosion of security is at both the individual level and the community level. Terrorism challenges the natural need of human beings to see the world as predictable, orderly, and controllable.

Waugh (2001) outlines several key components of terrorism such as the use of threat or extraordinary violence, goal- directed, intentional behaviour harm, the intention to psychologically disorganize and horrify not only the immediate victims, but those around them, the choice of victims for their symbolic value (even their innocence).

Given these elements, it is difficult to imagine a terroristic act that would not be considered as traumatic event (Silke, 2003).

Furthermore, there are researches which have shown that deliberate violence creates longer lasting mental health effects than natural disasters or accidents. The consequences for both individuals and the community are prolonged, and survivors often feel that injustice has been done to them. This can lead to anger, frustration, helplessness, fear, and a desire for revenge. Studies have shown that acting on this anger and desire for revenge can increase rather than decrease feelings of anger, guilt, and distress.

Since the 9/11 attacks, there has been an increasing amount of research about how people are affected by terrorism. A consistent finding is that while most individuals exhibit resilience over time, people most directly exposed to terrorist attacks are at higher risk for developing PTSD. PTSD is Posttraumatic Stress Disorder which may see from people who have experienced the greatest magnitude of exposure to the traumatic event, such as victims and their families. Problems with anxiety, depression, and substance use are also commonly reported among those with PTSD. Not only affect on members and family, predictors of PTSD include people being closer to the attacks, being injured, or knowing someone who was killed or injured and those who watch more media coverage are also at higher risk for PTSD and associated problems.

This study would like to give some information from 11/9 incident:

  • On September 11, 2001, the United States was forever changed. Following the single largest terrorist attack ever experienced by this country, thousands died or went missing, tens of thousands knew someone who was killed or injured, and many more witnessed or heard about the attack through media sources and by word of mouth. People at all levels of involvement were affected: victims, bereaved family members, friends, rescue workers, emergency medical and mental-health care providers, witnesses to the event, volunteers, members of the media, and people around the world.

  • Research on national samples in the U.S. revealed that 3-5 days afterward the attack 44% of Americans reported at least one symptom of PTSD (Schuster, Stein, et al., 2002). One to two months post-attack, 4% showed probable PTSD nationwide, and prevalence of PTSD in NYC residents was 11% (Schlenger, Caddell, et al., 2002). One study found that in American adults, amount of time watching TV coverage was related to PTSD symptoms ((Schuster, Stein, et al., 2002).

  • Within two months of incident, in the cities attacked prevalence of PTSD was 8% and prevalence of depression was 10% 3. Higher prevalences of PTSD were reported for those closer to the disaster (14-20%) (Galea and Ahern, et al., 2002; Grieger and Fullerton, et al., 2003), and for those actually in the building or injured (30%).

  • Prevalence of PTSD decreased during the 6 months following the disaster (Galea & Vlahov, et al., 2003), however alcohol and substance use remained high (Vlahov & Galea, et al., 2002). Depression was related to alcohol use increase, and along with PTSD was related to increased cigarette and marijuana use. Manhattan residents overall showed significant increase in the use of all three substances (Vlahov & Galea, et al., 2002).

As indicated above, rates of distress and posttraumatic symptoms have been found to be high in individuals studied following terroristic events. Ultimately, reducing the risk of traumatic stress reactions is best accomplished by abolishing trauma in the first place by preventing war, terrorism, and other traumatic stressors. The next approach is to foster resilience and bolster support so that individuals have a better coping capacity prior to and during traumatic stress. If two above options can not be done, third option is the early detection and treatment of traumatized individuals to prevent a prolonged stress response.

Next week is the final post for this series, so I am going to use that post to summarize what this series have done and explain why I wrote about those issues.


Galea, S., Ahern, J., Resnick, H., Kilpatrick, D., Bucuvalas, M., Gold, J., & Vlahov, D. (2002). Psychological sequelae of the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York City. New England Journal of Medicine, Special Report 346, 982-987.

Galea, S., Vlahov, D., Resnick, H., Ahern, J., Susser, E.,Gold, J., Bucuvalas, M. & Kilpatrick, D. (2003). Trends of probable post-traumatic stress disorder in New York City after the September 11 terrorist attacks. American Journal of Epidemiology, 158(6), 514-524.

Grieger, T., Fullerton, C., & Ursano, R. J., (2003). Posttraumatic stress disorder, alcohol use, and perceived safety after the terrorist attack on the Pentagon. Psychiatric Services, 54(10), 1380-1382.

Schlenger, W.,Caddell, J., Ebert, L., Jordan, B.K., Rourke, K., Wilson, D., Thalji, L., Dennis, J.M., Fairbank, J., & Kulka, R. (2002). Psychological reactions to terrorist attacks: findings from the National Study of Americans' Reactions to September 11. Journal of the American Medical Association, 288(5), 581-588.

Schuster, MA, Stein BD, Jaycox, LH, Collins, RL, Marshall, GN, Elliot, MN, Shou, AJ, Kanouse DE, Morrison, JL and Berry SH (2002). A national survey of stress reactions after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. New England Journal of Medicine, 345(20), 1507-1512.

Silke, A. (2003). Terrorists, Victims and Society: Psychologycal perspectives on terrorism and its consequences.UK: Wiley.

Vlahov, D., Galea, S., Resnick, H., Ahern, J., Boscarino, J., Bucuvalas, M., Gold, J., & Kilpatrick, D. (2002). Increased use of cigarettes, alcohol, and marijuana among Manhattan, New York, residents after the September 11th terrorist attacks. American Journal of Epidemiology, 155(11), 988-996.

Waugh, W.L., Jr. (2001). Managing terrorism as an environmental hazard. In A. Farazamand (Ed.), Handbook of Crisis energy Managerment, 659-676. Newyork: M. Dekker, Inc.

Terrorist personality and life experience

Psychology of Terrorism

I stated on last post that I will discuss terrorist’s personality in this post. However, after doing research, I found that many researchers such as Crenshaw (2001), Borum (1999), Taylor & Quayle (1994) explored that there is no terrorist personality, nor is there any accurate profile – psychologically or otherwise – of the terrorist. Moreover, personality traits alone tend not to be very good predictors of behavior. The quest to understand terrorism by studying terrorist personality traits is likely to be an unproductive area for further investigation and inquiry. Therefore, instead of discussing terrorist’s personality in this post, I will supply some experts’ ideas about terrorist’s personality. Besides, last week my post had mentioned that “most involvement in terrorism results from gradual exposure and socialisation towards extreme behavior” (Horgan & Taylor, 2001), thus I will continue to discuss more about this by looking at an individual’s life experiences relevant for understanding terrorism.

First of all, what experts tell about using personality trait to explain terrorist behaviors?

Crenshaw (200), for example, has argued that “shared ideological commitment and group solidarity are much more important determinants of terrorist behavior than individual characteristics.” Bandura seems to agree, as reflected in his more general conclusion that “It requires conducive social conditions rather than monstrous people to produce heinous deeds."

Although the possible existence of a “terrorist personality” holds some intuitive appeal, it lacks of evidential support. Psychologist John Horgan (2003) examined the cumulative research evidence on the search for a terrorist personality, and concluded that “in the context of a scientific study of behavior such attempts to assert the presences of a terrorist personality, or profile, are pitiful.” This appears to be a conclusion of consensus among most researchers who study terrorist behavior. “With a number of exceptions (e.g., Feuer 1969), most observers agree that although latent personality traits can certainly contribute to the decision to turn to violence, there is no single set of psychic attributes that explains terrorist behavior” (McCormick, 2003).

Furthermore, there is the fact that terrorists can assume many different roles – only a few will actually fire the weapon or detonate the bomb. The “personality” of a financier, may be different from that of an administrator or strategist or an assassin. Taylor and Quayle’s research (1994) explored whether some systematic differences might be discerned between those who engage in terrorism and those who do not; yet their search led them to the conclusion that “the active terrorist is not discernibly different in psychological terms from the non-terrorist; in psychological terms, there are no special qualities that characterize the terrorist.”

Just as there is no single terrorist personality or profile, a specific constellation of life experiences is neither necessary nor sufficient to cause terrorism. In previous weeks, I have mentioned many reasons and pathway which lead people to terrorism. And the role of life experience can also be understood as another pathway to terrorism. In the contemporary literature there are three robust experiential themes: Injustice, Abuse, and Humiliation on life experience which may cause to terrorism. They often are so closely connected that it is difficult to separate the effects and contributions of each. By definition, most abuse is unjust. Humiliation often results from extreme forms of abuse.

Field (1979) on her studying about terrorism and the “troubles” in Northern Ireland, where she found “the children there have suffered severe disruption in the development of moral judgment-a cognitive function-and are obsessed with death and destruction about which the feel helpless, and against which they feel isolated and hopeless.” She apparently was not surprised by the findings: “common sense and experience can tell us that people who are badly treated, and/or unjustly punished, will seek revenge. It should be not be surprising, then, that young adolescents, who have themselves been terrorized, become terrorists, and that in a situation where they are afforded social supports by their compatriots reacting against the actions of an unjust government, the resort to terrorist tactics becomes a way of life” (Field, 1979). Moreover, Akhtar (1999) concludes that “evidence does exist that most major players in a terrorist organization are themselves, deeply traumatized individuals. 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.”

Inn addition, many researchers and terrorist case histories have noted that periods of imprisonment and incarceration often facilitated experiences of injustice, abuse and humiliation (Ferracuti & Bruno, 1981, della Porta, 1992). Post and colleagues (2003) offer a rich account of the impact of such experiences among the 35 incarcerated middle-eastern terrorists whom they interviewed. They found that “the prison experience was intense, especially for the Islamist terrorists. Thus, the injustice of prison experience also reinforced negative perceptions of terrorist groups.

Taken together, there is no terrorist personality; however certain life experiences tend to be commonly found among terrorists. Histories of childhood abuse and trauma appear to be widespread. And themes of perceived injustice and humiliation often are prominent in terrorist biographies and personal histories.


Akhtar, S. (1999). The Psychodynamic Dimension of Terrorism. Psychiatric Annals, 29(6), 350-355.

Borum, R., Fein, R., Vossekuil, B., & Berglund, J. (1999). Threat assessment: Defining an approach for evaluating risk of targeted violence. Behavioral Sciences & the Law, 17(3), 323-337.

Crenshaw, M. (2001). The psychology of terrorism: an agenda for the 21st century. Political Psychology, 21, 2, 405-420.

Della Porta, D. (1992). Political Socialization in Left-Wing Underground Organizations: Biographies of Italian and German Militants. D. Della Porta (Ed), Social movements and violence: participation in underground organizations. Greenwich, Connecticut: JAI press.

Ferracuti, F., & Bruno, F. (1981). Psychiatric aspects of terrorism in Italy. I. L. Barak-Glantz, & C. R. Huffs (Eds), The mad, the bad, and the different: essays in honor of Simon Dinitz (pp. 199-213). Lexington, MA: Heath.

Field, R. A. (1979). Child terror victims and adult terrorists. Journal of Psychohistory, 7(1), 71-75. Ibid

Horgan, J. (2003). The search for the terrorist personality. Silke, A., Ed. Terrorist, victims, and society: Psychological perspectives on terrorism and its consequence (pp. 3-27). London: John Wiley.

Post, J., Sprinzak, E., & Denny, L. (2003). The terrorists in their own words: Interviews with 35 incarcerated middle eastern terrorists. Terrorism and Political Violence, 15(1), 171-184.

Taylor, M. and Quayle, E. (1994). Terrorist lives. London: Brassey's.

Pathway To Terrorism.

Psychology of Terrorism

Last week, we explored the reasons for people join and stay in terrorist organization. This week, we will continue with the process of joining a terrorist group. As important as motivational factors may be, as Bruce (1997) observes, to understand fully the process of becoming a terrorist, “motive cannot be taken in isolation from opportunity.” The pathway to become member of terrorist group may be different for different people and can be affected by a wide range of factors. Bandura (1990) observed that “the path to terrorism can be shaped by fortuitous factors as well as by the conjoint influence of personal predilections and social inducements” (p. 186).

The transition into becoming a terrorist is rarely sudden and abrupt. “What we know of actual terrorists suggests that there is rarely a conscious decision made to become a terrorist. Most involvement in terrorism results from gradual exposure and socialisation towards extreme behavior” (Horgan & Taylor, 2001). Luckabaugh and colleagues (1997) view this as one of the few general points of agreement in the field of terrorism studies, stating “it is generally accepted terrorists do not become terrorists over night. They follow a general progression from social alienation to boredom, then occasional dissidence and protest before eventually turning to terrorism.” Individuals who become terrorists often are unemployed, socially alienated individuals who have dropped out of society. Those with little education, such as youths in Algerian ghettos or the Gaza Strip, may try to join a terrorist group out of boredom and a desire to have an action-packed adventure in pursuit of a cause they regard as just. Some individuals may be motivated mainly by a desire to use their special skills, such as bomb-making. The more educated youths may be motivated more by genuine political or religious convictions. The person who becomes a terrorist in Western countries is generally both intellectual and idealistic. Usually, these disenchanted youths, both educated or uneducated, engage in occasional protest and dissidence. Potential terrorist group members often start out as sympathizers of the group. Recruits often come from support organizations, such as prisoner support groups or student activist groups. From sympathizer, one moves to passive supporter. Often, violent encounters with police or other security forces motivate an already socially alienated individual to join a terrorist group.

Although the circumstances vary, the end result of this gradual process is that the individual, often with the help of a family member or friend with terrorist contacts, turns to terrorism. Membership in a terrorist group, however, is highly selective. Over a period as long as a year or more, a recruit generally moves in a slow, gradual fashion toward full membership in a terrorist group. An individual who drops out of society can just as well become a monk or a hermit instead of a terrorist. For an individual to choose to become a terrorist, he or she would have to be motivated to do so. Having the proper motivation, however, is still not enough. The would-be terrorist would need to have the opportunity to join a terrorist group. And like most job seekers, he or she would have to be acceptable to the terrorist group, which is a highly exclusive group. Thus, recruits would not only need to have a personality that would allow them to fit into the group, but ideally a certain skill needed by the group, such as weapons or communications skills.

However, what is the exact nature and progression of that pathway? There may be no single pathway or general answer to that would apply to all types of groups or to all individuals. One early model developed by Frederick Hacker (1983) framed the progression in three stages. The first stage involved an awareness of oppression. The second stage marked recognition that the oppression was “social” and therefore not unavoidable. The third stage was an impetus or realization that it was possible to act against the oppression. Ultimately, at the end point of that phase, some conclude that working through advocates/ intermediaries (e.g., elected officials) or within the system to “reform” or improve it is not going to work and that self help by violence is the only effective means for change. Psychologist Eric D. Shaw (1986:365) provides a strong case for what he calls “The Personal Pathway Model,” by which terrorists enter their new profession. The components of this pathway include early socialization processes; narcissistic injuries; escalatory events, particularly confrontation with police; and personal connections to terrorist group members, as follows:

The personal pathway model suggests that terrorists came from a selected, at risk population, who has suffered from early damage to their self-esteem. Their subsequent political activities may be consistent with the liberal social philosophies of their families, but go beyond their perception of the contradiction in their family’s beliefs and lack of social action. Family political philosophies may also serve to sensitize these persons to the economic and political tensions inherent throughout modern society. As a group, they appear to have been unsuccessful in obtaining a desired traditional place in society, which has contributed to their frustration. The underlying need to belong to a terrorist group is symptomatic of an incomplete or fragmented psychosocial identity. (In Kohut’s terms—a defective or fragmented “group self”). Interestingly, the acts of security forces or police are cited as provoking more violent political activity by these individuals and it is often a personal connection to other terrorists which leads to membership in a violent group (shared external targets?) (Shaw, 1986).

Increasingly, terrorist organizations in the developing world are recruiting younger members. The only role models for these young people to identify with are often terrorists and guerrillas. Abu Nidal, for example, was able to recruit alienated, poor, and uneducated youths thrilled to be able to identify themselves with a group led by a well-known but mysterious figure. Furthermore, members of terrorist group also include female. Deborah M. Galvin (1983) notes that a common route of entry into terrorism for female terrorists is through political involvement and belief in a political cause. Some women are recruited into terrorist organizations by boyfriends. A significant feature that Galvin feels may characterize the involvement of the female terrorist is the “male or female lover/female accomplice... scenario.” The lover, a member of the terrorist group, recruits the female into the group.

There is no easy answer or single motivation to explain why people become terrorists. Similarly, the processes and pathways of how that happens are quite varied and diverse. The paper has just figured out general process which the one may become terrorists. Decision to become a terrorist can not be made overnight, it is a result of a long progression and opportunities. There are models which provided by Hacker and Shaw may suit to explain the path to terrorism of many terrorists. Finally, the paper also recognized that there is existence of young members, both male and female in terrorists groups. And their procession to terrorists may differ from each others.

Next week, the series will continue with terrorists’ personality.


Bandura, Albert. (1990), "Mechanisms of Moral Disengagement." Pages 161-91 in Walter Reich, ed., Origins of Terrorism: Psychologies, Ideologies, Theologies, States of Mind. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Galvin, Deborah M. (1983), “The Female Terrorist: A Socio-Psychological Perspective,” Behavioral Science and the Law, 1, 19–32.

Hacker, Frederick J (1983), "Dialectical Interrelationships of Personal and Political Factors in Terrorism." Pages 19-32 in Lawrence Zelic Freedman and Yonah Alexander, eds., Perspectives on Terrorism. Wilmington, Delaware: Scholarly Resources.

Horgan, J. and Taylor, M. (2001),The making of a terrorist . Jane's Intelligence Review . 13(12):16-18.

Luckabaugh, R.; Fuqua, H. E.; Cangemi, J. P., and Kowalski, C. J. (1997), Terrorist Behavior and United States Foreign Policy: Who Is the Enemy? Some Psychological and Political Perspectives. Psychology. 34(2):1-15.

Shaw, Eric D. (1986), “Political Terrorists: Dangers of Diagnosis and an Alternative to the Psychopathology Model,” International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, 8, 359–68.

How and why people enter and stay in terrorist organization?

Psychology of Terrorism

Why individuals become a terrorist and engage in terrorism? Implicit in the “Why” question was an assumption that becoming a terrorist involved a discrete choice to change status. However, after observing numerous terrorist and extremist groups, there is suggestion that recruitment and involvement typically do not occur in that way. It means that becoming terrorists may not be a choice of individuals. Horgan and Taylor (2001) have noted: “What we know of actual terrorists suggests that there is rarely a conscious decision made to become a terrorist. Most involvement in terrorism results from gradual exposure and socialization towards extreme behavior.” In order to understand whether, how and which individuals in a given environment will enter the process of becoming a terrorist, this paper is going to explore three factors justice, identities and belonging which have been found often to co-occur in terrorists and to strongly influence decisions to enter terrorist organizations and to engage in terrorist activity.

Injustice is recognized as a central factor in understanding violence generally and terrorism specifically. Hacker (1976) concluded that “remediable injustice is the basic motivation for terrorism”. A desire for revenge or vengeance is a common response to redress or remediate a wrong of injustice inflicted on another. These grievances may be economic, ethnic, racial, legal, political, religious, and/or social, and that they may be targeted to individuals, groups, institutions or categories of people who thought to be responsible for injustices (Crenshaw, 1992). For example, terrorists chose USA as their target because USA may be a symbol for modernization which produces disharmony in society in term of unbalanced economic growth, communication structure, and lack of political opportunity etc. Therefore, it is not difficult to imagine that “one of the strongest motivations behind terrorism is vengeance, particularly the desire to avenge not oneself but others (Crenshaw, 1992).

Identity is the answer to the question “who am I really?”. One’s psychological identity is a developed, stable sense of self and resolved security in one’s basic values, attitudes, and beliefs. Some individuals are unable or unwilling to identify with any body or anything intensively or for long period of time. This unsatisfied identity needs may be manifested in many ways; one is that individuals adopt someone’s identity without personal and critical examination. And according to Crenshaw (1986) the absolutist, “black and white” nature of most extremist ideologies is often attractive to those who feel overwhelmed by the complexity and stress of navigating a complicated world. As a result of that, individual may draw him/ her to extremist and terrorist organizations on the way to search for his identity. Under desperate quest for personal meaning, individual may easier to adopt a role. They identify them as “terrorist” or “freedom fighter’ to answer the question “who am I?”. Taylor and Louis (2004,p178) describe a classic set of circumstances for recruitment into a terrorist organization: “These young people find themselves at a time in their life when they are looking to the future with the hope of engaging in meaningful behavior that will be satisfying and get them ahead. Their objective circumstances including opportunities for advancement are virtually nonexistent; they find some direction for their religious collective identity but the desperately disadvantaged state of their community leaves them feeling marginalized and lost without a clearly defined collective identity”. There are some individuals on the way to find an answer for “who am I?” they may define their identity through group membership. Essentially, one’s personal identity is merged with a group identity, with no sense of (or need for) individuality or uniqueness. As Johnson and Feldman (1992) suggest, "membership in a terrorist group provides a sense of identity or belonging for those personalities whose underlying sense of identity is flawed.” For these individuals, “belonging to the terrorist group becomes … the most important component of their psychosocial identity” (Post, 1987).

In radical extremist group, many prospective terrorists find not only the sense of meaning but also the sense of belonging, connectedness. Luckabaugh and colleagues (1997) argue that among potential terrorists “the real cause or psychological motivation for joining is the great need for belonging.” You belong; therefore, you exist (Hacker, 1976). Those individuals have experienced lifetime of rejection; for instance family rejection, social rejection, peer rejection etc, joining terrorist organization give them a new sense of belonging. Terrorist group may become new family for those people (Post, 1984). After observation many extremist groups, Crenshaw (1988) found out that “for the individuals who become active terrorists, the initial attraction is often to the group or community of believers, rather than to an abstract ideology or to violence”. Thus, the image of such strong cohesiveness and solidarity among extremist groups makes them more attractive than some prosocial collectives as a way to find belonging (Johnson & Feldman, 1982).

From what this paper explore above, now it can conclude that injustice, identity and belonging can be seen as strong influence, real causes and psychological motivation for individual joining and staying with terrorist groups.

This paper has just tried to find an answer for question “how and why people enter and stay in terrorist organization?”. Next post, we are going to discuss the pathway to terrorism which is mostly about which opportunities people become terrorists.


Crenshaw, M. (1986). The psychology of political terrorism. In M.G. Hermann (Ed.) Political psychology: contemporary problems and issues (pp.379-413). London: Josey-Bass

Crenshaw, M. (1988). The subjective reality of the terrorist: Ideological and psychological factors in terrorism. In Current Perspectives in international terrorism, edited by R. O. Slater and M. Stohl. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Macmillan.

Crenshaw, M. (1992). How terrorists think: Psychological contributions to understanding terrorism. Howard, L., Ed. Terrorism: Roots, impact, responses (pp. 71-80). London: Praeger.

Hacker, F.J. (1976). Crusaders, criminals, crazies: terror and terrorism in our time. New York: W.W. Norton.

Horgan, J. and Taylor, M. (2001). The making of a terrorist . Jane's Intelligence Review. 13(12):16-18

Johnson, P. W. and Feldman, T. B. (1992). Personality types and terrorism: Self-psychology perspectives . Forensic Reports . 5(4):293-303.

Johnson, P. W. and Feldman, T. B.(1992) Personality types and terrorism: Self-psychology perspectives . Forensic Reports . 5(4):293-303.

Luckabaugh, Robert, Edward Fuqua, Joseph Cangemi and Casimir Kowalski. (1997). Terrorist behavior and US foreign policy: Who is the enemy? Some psychological and political perspectives. Psychology 34 (2): 1-15.

Post, J.M. (1984). Notes on a psychodynamic theory of terrorist behaviour. Terrorism, 7, 241-256.

Post, J.M. (1987). “It’s us against them”: the group dynamics of political terrorism. Terrorism, 10, 23-35.

Taylor, D. M. and Louis, W. (2004). Terrorism and the quest for identity. Moghaddam, F. M. and Marsella, An. J., ed. Understanding terrorism: Psychosocial roots, consequences, and interventions (pp. 169-185). Washington , DC: American Psychological Association.

What is terrorism? And who are terrorists?

In order to understand terrorism, it is necessary to know “what is terrorism? And who are terrorists?” For this reason, I am going to use this first post of series about terrorism to give the public ideas of what terrorism is and who terrorists are by defining terrorism and terrorists. First of all, the paper will explore the difficulties of defining the term “terrorism”, and give some definitions of terrorism, then who are considered as terrorists. Finally, it will discuss types of terrorists.

One person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter. Some Palestinians suffering under Israeli oppression view Osama bin Laden or members of such groups as Hizballah, Hamas, and al-Qaeda to be freedom fighters, martyrs, revolutionaries, and guerillas; however, Israel and the United States regard them as terrorists (Marsella,2004). According to Taylor (1988, p 3) we all righteously condemn it—except where we ourselves or friends of ours are engaging in it. Then we ignore it, or gloss over it, or attach to it tags like “liberation” or “defense of the free world” or national honor to make it seem like something other than what it is.” It may be hard for someone to judge other people, if there are engagements or relationship between them. Furthermore, an act of violence that is generally regarded in the United States as an act of terrorism may not be viewed so in another country. Thus, there are many problems involving to define the term “terrorism”. Miller and File noted four problems associated with efforts to define terrorism today: (a) There have been historical changes in the definition, (b) media and states have been inconsistent in their use of the term, (c) there are multiple definitions across agencies even within a single country such as the United States, and (d) there is international disagreement on the definition of the term (2001, p. 13). They observed that all contemporary “terrorist” organizations “liken themselves to armies or instruments of liberation or defense” (Miller & File, 2001, p. 13). It is difficult to have exactly definition of terrorism; however, it generally can describe terrorism as:

Unable to achieve their unrealistic goals by conventional means, international terrorists attempt to send an ideological or religious message by terrorizing the general public. Through the choice of their targets, which are often symbolic or representative of the targeted nation, terrorists attempt to create a high-profile impact on the public of their targeted enemy or enemies with their act of violence. In doing so, they hope to demonstrate various points, such as that the targeted governments cannot protect their own citizens, or that by assassinating a specific victim they can teach the general public a lesson about espousing viewpoints or policies antithetical to their own. Carr (2002, p 6) defined terrorism as “the contemporary name given to, and the modern permutation of, warfare deliberately waged against civilizations with the purpose of destroying their will to support either their leaders or policies that the agents of such violence find objectionable” The U.S. Department of State defines terrorism as it is defined in Title 22 of the United States Code, Section 2656f (d): It is “premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience”. In order to find an answer for the question what terrorism is is a difficult task, so then who are considered as terrorists? Is everyone in terrorist organizations are called terrorists? “Terrorists” do not necessarily refer to everyone in terrorist organization. For example, estimates suggest that Al-Qaeda consists of approximately several thousand members. Among those members, they must have someone in charge of accountants, cooks, fund-raisers, logistics specialists, medical doctors. Those people may not be considered as terrorists, they just play a passive support role. The term “terrorist” may better suit with the leader(s) of terrorist groups and the activists or operators who personally carry out a group’s terrorism strategy.

Above, the paper has just given general ideas about terrorism. Now, it will continue with types of terrorism. Hacker (1976) divided terrorists into three types according to motivation: the crazy, the criminal and the crusading. These terrorists are called crazy because the emotionally disturbed are driven by reasons of their own that often do not make sense to anybody else. Criminal terrorists want nothing different from most other people want, but they are willing to resort to socially disapproved methods in order to achieve their goals. Crusading terrorists are idealistically inspired. They seek, not personal gain, but prestige and power for a collective goal; they believe that they act in the service of higher cause (Hacker, 1976).

Above, the paper tried to give the public a general knowledge about what terrorism is, and who terrorists are. Besides, it also discussed types of terrorists. Those ideas are the basic knowledge for one to understand terrorism. Next post, it will be express the reason why people enter and stay in terrorism.


Carr, Caleb. (2002). The Lessons of Terror: A History of Warfare Against Civilians, Why It Has Always Failed and Why It Will Fail Again. New York: Random House.

Fathali,M. Moghaddam and Anthony, J. Marsella.(2004) Understanding terrorism: psychosocial roots, consequences, and interventions. American Psychological Association. Washington, DC.

Hacker, Frederick J.(1976). Crusaders, Criminals, Crazies: Terror and Terrorism in Our Time. New York: W.W. Norton.

Miller, Marc, and Jason File. (2001). Terrorism Factbook: Our Nation At War. Bollix Books.

Taylor, M. (1988). The Terrorist. London: Brasseyy’s

United States. Department of State. Patterns of Global Terrorism, 1998. Washington, D.C.: 1999