Islamic Terror: Conscious and Unconscious Motives

By Avner Falk | Go to book overview

Terrorism and Anxiety

In a panel on terrorism organized by psychoanalysts in 2004, Ronald Ruskin, the moderator, noted that terror is a normative element of anxiety, often present in children’s literature. In exploring terrorism in our time, Ruskin called for a dialogue between psychoanalysts, members of other disciplines, and the whole community. The first panelist, Marcelo Viñar, emphasized the importance of studying terrorism at the intersection of individual pathology and collective culture “to deepen the understanding of the dynamics between the individual and collective mind, of the functioning of the mind in solitude and in a crowd.” His paper, “An allegation for the enemy’s humanity,” postulated that when people’s identities are threatened by external forces such as globalization, they can develop a terrorist mind, because of the fear of “otherness”—that is, “the temptation to transform somebody different into an enemy, and to deal with this enemy through destruction and extermination” (Elmendorf and Ruskin 2004).

The psychoanalysts Salman Akhtar, Stuart Twemlow, and Frank Sacco have argued that psychoanalysis had much to offer to an understanding of terrorism in two primary domains: the collective social context and group dynamics of terrorism, and the understanding of the individual psychopathology of the terrorist. Twemlow argued that the terrorist label is always assigned to the other person; it is never a selfassigned role. The term is applicable to individuals. For example, the FBI has classified the school shooters as domestic or anarchic terrorists. Terrorists usually consider themselves the victims of humiliation by the enemy with incompatible political, religious, or personal ideologies. The definition of terrorism is influenced by the political and social mores of the time (Akhtar 1999; Twemlow and Sacco 2002; Twemlow 2005). In any event, as we have seen, early feelings of anxiety, panic, and terror are very often found in violent terrorists.

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