Becoming a Terrorist
University of Leicester, UK
Many myths surround terrorists and terrorism, but surely one of the most widely held is that terrorists are crazed fanatics: psychopaths who are completely immune to the suffering of their victims and who always remain ruthlessly committed to their cause. Like many myths, this one is easy to believe yet is almost always completely untrue. Terrorism is a very emotive subject and terrorist groups have carried out atrocities of appalling scale and horror. The actors themselves can display a formidable commitment to their cause and are often willing to make enormous personal sacrifices as well as to inflict suffering on others. Extreme behaviour, of any sort, invites extreme speculation as to the individuals who carry it out. As a result, it has become dangerously easy for society to dismiss terrorists as deranged fanatics. James Gilligan (2000) in a thought-provoking book on the psychology of violence noted that:
Labels like bad or mad, 'guilty' or 'insane,' may or may not serve a useful
function for legal purposes. But if our purpose is to learn about the causes
and prevention of violence, then the labels simply enable us to close the door
on someone, lock him away and never have to listen to him, understand
him, or think further about him. In fact, these labels serve as substitutes for
psychological understanding (p. 258).
Why do people become terrorists? Too often labels have replaced serious efforts to provide an accurate answer to this question. A common belief
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Publication information: Book title: Terrorists, Victims, and Society: Psychological Perspectives on Terrorism and Its Consequences. Contributors: Andrew Silke - Editor. Publisher: Wiley. Place of publication: Hoboken, NJ. Publication year: 2003. Page number: 29.
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