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.

No comments:

Post a Comment