The Terrorist Identity: Explaining the Terrorist Threat

The Terrorist Identity: Explaining the Terrorist Threat

The Terrorist Identity: Explaining the Terrorist Threat

The Terrorist Identity: Explaining the Terrorist Threat

Synopsis

Who would strap a bomb to his chest, walk into a crowded subway station and blow himself up? Only by examining how a terrorist understands his own identity and actions can this question be answered. The authors of The Terrorist Identity explore how the notion of self-concept combined with membership in terrorist and extremist groups, can shape and sustain the identity of a terrorist as well as their subsequent justification for violence and the legitimacy of their actions.

The book provides an understanding of identity that draws on concepts from psychology, criminology, and sociology. Notably, the book examines several case studies of various terrorist groups, including: the Provisional Irish Republican Army, Hamas, the Shining Path, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, and racist Skinheads. By making the construct of identity central to this analysis The Terrorist Identity explains how violent and extremist collective behavior emerges culturally, how it informs the identity of group members socially, and how participants assume their place in these groups completely even at the expense of life-threatening harm to others or to themselves.

Excerpt

The tragic events of September 11, 2001, once again thrust terrorism into the international spotlight. Moreover, subsequent attacks in Indonesia, Spain, and England have led to renewed discussions about the nature of violence and the spread of militant extremism around the world. Fundamentally, political and policy pundits, social and behavioral scientists, and security researchers and analysts question what motivates a person or group to commit such heinous acts. Admittedly, over the past several decades, numerous attempts have been undertaken to explain terrorism from a variety of perspectives. Regrettably, however, many of these efforts have been of marginal utility, especially for a profoundly frightened and deeply perplexed public. Thus, we are led to ponder the limits of the existing accounts regarding the phenomenon of terrorism.

While political, sociological, and criminological accounts exist, the majority of the extant literature examines the causes of terrorism from within a psychological framework. Many of these studies regard extremist militant conduct as a function of the individual's psyche and attempt to identify specific personality traits that would compel a person to act so violently. In addition, in his extensive review of the search for the terrorist personality, Horgan noted that, statistically, psychodynamic theory has been the most popular of psychologically animated approaches accounting for terrorism. Based chiefly on Freud's psychoanalytic theory, this perspective focuses on various unconscious forces and their deterministic influence on human behavior and social interaction. For example, utilizing such concepts as “repressed desire” and “unresolved childhood conflicts,” psychodynamic theorists explain extremist militant conduct as an internal struggle waged within an individual's psyche on the basis of unsettled and traumatic life events. Interestingly, despite this discipline's waning influence on modern psychology, the process of identification is one psychodynamic construct that . . .

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