Countering Terrorism; Analyses of the Purveyors

Article excerpt


Jerrold Post's "The Mind of the Terrorist: The Psychology of Terrorism from the IRA to Al-Qaeda" provides a framework for understanding modern-day terrorism's psychological mindset. Such an approach is crucial, Dr. Post argues, because in order to deter terrorists in a way that is effective and durable one must understand their psychology and motivations. Dr. Post's framework is applied to more than 15 terrorist groups, some of whom began their operations in the late 1960s.

Dr. Post, a psychiatrist and veteran terrorism analyst, is currently professor of psychiatry and political psychology at George Washington University. Earlier, he had a 21-year career at the CIA, serving as director of the Center for Analysis of Personality and Political Behavior.

Readers will find Dr. Post's book especially valuable for its capsulated histories and profiles of the world's terrorist groups and their leaders. Some leaders, such as the Peruvian Shining Path's Abimael Guzman and the Sri Lankan LTTE's Vellupillai Prabhakaran are charismatic "consummate narcissists" who consider their groups to be extensions of themselves.

The PLO's Yasser Arafat, Dr. Post argues, may have been driven by his troubled relationship with his father to become the "father" of the Palestinian nation.

While the Arafat scenario is plausible, one may disagree with Dr. Post's characterization of Osama bin Laden as a leader of a dispersed organization who delegates responsibilities to subordinates. To the contrary, published reports show bin Laden - at least through Sept. 11, 2001, to be a micro-manager who forbade his subordinates from changing direction. He may not be able to do that today because U.S. pressure has forced al Qaeda to decentralize its operations, but it is doubtful that his "personality" has changed.

It's disappointing that Dr. Post's profiles of Hezbollah's Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah and Hamas' Ismail Haniya receive little psychological treatment, except for brief accounts of their careers.

Some of Dr. Post's assumptions about today's terrorists are out of date. The most glaring is his reliance on a typology of terrorism (developed by Alex Schmid in 1983, but which even he doesn't use anymore), which has little contemporary relevance. Its categorization of the "new religious terrorism," for example, may have represented a new development in 1983, but today is commonplace.

Similarly, Dr. …