The Faces of Terrorism: Social and Psychological Dimensions

By Neil J. Smelser | Go to book overview
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Motivation, Social Origins, Recruitment, Groups, Audiences, and the Media in the Terrorism Process

THE FOREGOING CHAPTER on ideology focused on a key variable essential for understanding the motive forces for terrorism. A core feature emerged: ideology is simultaneously cultural and psychological in significance. It is above all a cultural construction that both invites and shapes individual motivations as it becomes accepted or appreciated by members of terrorist groups and their surrounding body of sympathizers and supporters.

Ideology, however, must be regarded as only one factor in the motivating process. In this chapter I identify a number of others that contribute to actors' becoming committed to ideologies and acting in the name of those ideologies. Among these factors are (1) psychological motives, including personality traits and types of inner conflicts that actors bring with them and that press toward extreme or violent behavior; (2) the social backgrounds of terrorists, or locations in the society's social structure that predispose individuals toward extremist movements that may turn in a violent direction; (3) avenues and mechanisms by which leaders and other members persuade or coerce recruits into accepting the ideological cause and joining a group that pursues it; (4) group processes that foster commitment, conformity, and loyalty (this factor includes the vulnerabilities of such groups); and (5) audiences for terrorists and terrorist groups, a topic that includes the role of the media.

In turning to this line of analysis, it is necessary to stress from the outset that, important as these factors are, information about them


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