ISIS and The Psychology of Terrorism

terror

Terrorism is broadly defined as “the unofficial or unauthorized use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.” Today and in the past decade, the most familiar form of terrorism is Islamic terrorism that we have known as “Al Qaeda” and most recently, “ISIS”. This isn’t to say that Islamic terrorism is the only form of terrorism that has existed. The past has seen Jewish, Christian, and even Buddhist terrorism. It should be noted, however, that the current form of Islamist terrorism is most worrying for many people due to (but not limited) the following reasons:

1) Ambition: As opposed to the old terrorism that predated Islamic terrorism, the current forms seek not only to topple governments and regimes, and seek purely political resolve, but have plans far greater and ambitious. The ultimate goal between these terrorists is to takeover the world, and Convert “Non-Muslims” or “infidels” into their religion, or alternatively, have them killed.

2) Method: The other worrying aspect about these new terrorists is the way they try to achieve their goals. They employ horrific, inhumane, and despicable acts of violence against their enemies and innocent civilians alike. There is no limit or guidelines to what they can, or cannot do. Their objective is to employ whatever means necessary to terrorize as efficiently as possible.

3) Background: It is not only people with mental disorders or poor, impoverished backgrounds who join terrorist organizations, some people who are well educated and intelligent may also do so. The man in charge of the World Trade Center bombings was one of those people.

Important Distinctions to Keep in Mind:

– It is important to make a distinction between groups of terrorists within the same belief system. For example, some terrorist groups receive popular support from their people and are very much integrated in their respective societies such as “Hamas” and “Hizballah”. In contrast, other organizations are very much isolated from society, and do not have such integration in society such as “ISIS”.

– Suicide bombings are not an exclusively Islamist conception. Two examples are a secular, nationalist group in Sri Lanka, called the LTTE, has practiced human bombings for over 20 years, and their bombs have caused killed a large number of civilians. Another example is the Japanese Kamikaze in World War II.

– Islamic teachings, or the Quran do not advocate suicide. “The Arabic term used is istishad, a religious term meaning to give one’s life in the name of Allah, as opposed to intihar, which refers to suicide resulting from personal distress. The latter form of suicide is not condoned in Islamic teachings.” (Library of Congress, 1999)

Motivation: 

There are many theories that seek to explain the motivations of these individual both from a personal, psychological level, and from a broader, sociological level. What seems to be prevalent very often is that these terrorists believe that they are saviors of society, and genuinely believe that they are fighting evil. They also gain feelings of value and self-worth from committing these acts against evil. Their lives seem to have a meaning, or purpose.

Other theories also suggest, that terrorism emerge from political repression, and injustice. That these individuals feel as though they are being alienated, and discriminated against because of their belief system. Even within the Middle East, the struggle between Shia and Sunni Islamic groups is more intense than those between the West and Muslims. Many have explained this hatred through repressive Shia governments present in both Iraq and Syria, and it is precisely when these political tensions escalate that these Islamist fundamentalists gain in strength, momentum, and numbers.

There are a number of factors, both identifiable, and unidentifiable that explain why otherwise mentally sane people choose to become terrorists. Some choose to fight for religious organizations that are engaged in a nationalistic, political struggle with less emphasis on religious fundamentalism, while others are on the opposite end of the spectrum.

The danger of ISIS and similar groups today is that they are thriving in the midst of the chaos that the region of the Middle East is seeing. The longer the destruction, war, poverty, discrimination, and displacement go on, the more fertile the breeding ground for disillusionment, violence, and hate in future generations.

There is simply no simple solution to stop this from happening. There are very few people who are against the total destruction of ISIS, and for good reason, this is a group of violent, monstrous sociopaths who are on a mission to kill and torture. They are estimated to have 10 to 20 thousand armed forces, and if military efforts are concentrated against them, it is unlikely that they will survive.

There is only the hope that future generations will be dissuaded to join terrorist militias through education, popular condemnation of violence, and knowledge that the world isn’t against them, and consequently be able to shape a future that is dominated by moderates and reformers rather than extremists and terrorists.

References:

http://www.loc.gov/rr/frd/pdf-files/Soc_Psych_of_Terrorism.pdf

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/0162-895X.00195/pdf

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