Terrorists, Victims, and Society: Psychological Perspectives on Terrorism and Its Consequences

Article excerpt

Terrorists, Victims, and Society: Psychological Perspectives on Terrorism and Its Consequences Andrew Silke (Ed.). Chichester, UK: Wiley & Sons (www.wiley.com). 2003, 300 pp., $100.00 (hardcover), $55.00 (softcover).

The book entitled Terrorists, Victims, and Society: Psychological Perspectives on Terrorism and Its Consequences is part of the Wiley Series in the Psychology of Crime, Policing and Law. The purpose of this series is to present research findings in a clear and readable form as well as to highlight their implications for both practice and policy. In light of the events in the United States on September 11,2001, it is not surprising that this book was published as part of this series. However, this volume is not meant to be either a definitive or comprehensive explanation of the individuals, circumstances, explanations, or causes of these types of events, a prophylactic for future acts of terrorism, or a panacea for recovering and healing during the aftermath. It is intended to provide a "comprehensive appraisal from a psychological perspective of the motivations and origins of terrorists, the impact of their acts on victims, and ways of combating terrorism" (p. xiii). The book does just that.

This volume of 13 chapters is divided into three major sections: the terrorists, victims of terrorism, and responding to terrorism. Ten well-known clinicians and researchers contributed to the book. Collectively, they offer a diverse sample of experiences and hypotheses as to the causes and cures of terrorism and the limits of our forecasting and preventing future acts of terrorist violence.

One of the more provocative aspects of the book is that it underscores the notion that terrorism is in the eye of the beholder. In the first part of the book the contributing authors present current research findings on what characteristics define the "terrorist personality." The authors review the social, biological, developmental, and cultural factors that contribute to someone becoming a terrorist and explore the psychological issues and sequelae of hostage taking, cyberterrorism, suicidal terrorism, and ultimately deciding to leave a terrorist organization.

As I read this section of the book, I wondered, for instance, whether the early Americans who planned and executed the Boston Tea Party in 1773, a sentinal event leading to the American Revolution, might not be considered terrorists by individuals outside our culture, who may have a very different perspective on this event. As John Horgan and Andrew Silke both point out in their respective chapters, there is no such thing as a terrorist personality or a set of psychological or psychopathological factors that defines a terrorist, nor is there a specific formula for becoming a terrorist. In the mind of the majority of Americans today the colonists who dumped the tea into Boston Harbor are "heroes" and "freedom fighters," but I suspect that the owners of the ships and tea, not to mention the British government, would have described them quite differently. Perhaps they would have made assumptions about their moral character and soundness of mind, as we are doing. …