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Sunday, August 7, 2016

What are terrorists made of?



According to a recent feature in Scientific America, the US Homeland Department has dished out $12 million to a research facility which investigates the origins, dynamics and psychological impact of terrorism.

The facility, staffed by more than 30 experienced scientists, is called Study of Terrorism & Response to Terrorism (START).

According to Scientific America: “Whereas earlier researchers focused on the political roots of terrorism, many of today’s investigators are probing the psychological factors that drive adherents to commit deadly deeds …”

START is now concentrating on trying to figure out the minds of persons who are willing to cause indiscriminate carnage and maximum deaths (including their own) for what they believe is a cause close to their faith. Such a person does not see it as an act of terror, but, rather, an expression of their theological conviction.

In the past, a majority of studies in this context have been more inclined to treat such men and women as consequences of systematic brainwashing and even mental illness.

Recent studies suggest that terrorist outfits usually tend to screen out mentally unstable recruits and volunteers because their instability is likely to compromise the mission and expose their handlers.
Even though these two factors are still being investigated, the most recent studies on the issue emanating from research facilities such as START suggest that most of the terrorists might actually be mentally stable; even rational.

Summarising the results of the recent studies, Scientific America informs that “the vast majority of terrorists are not mentally ill but are essentially rational people who weigh the costs and benefits of terrorist acts, concluding that terrorism is profitable.”

By profitable they mean an act of terror which, in addition to being financially favourable to the perpetrator (or to his or her family which gets looked after if the person is killed); is also an act which is perceived by the person to be beneficial to his or her sense and perception of their spiritual disposition.

What’s more, recent studies suggest that terrorist outfits usually tend to screen out mentally unstable recruits and volunteers because their instability is likely to compromise the mission and expose their handlers.

The studies also propose that even though economic disadvantages do play a role in pushing a person to join a terror outfit out of anger or desperation, this is not always the case.

Forensic psychiatrist Marc Sageman of the University of Pennsylvania, carried out an extensive survey of media reports and court records on 400 ‘extremists.’ He determined that “these individuals were far from being brainwashed, socially isolated, hopeless fighters; 90 per cent of them actually came from caring, intact families; and 63 per cent of these had gone to college.”

There is another interesting query that the researchers are trying to investigate: why were terrorists during the Cold War more constrained in their acts than the ones which emerged after the end of that conflict?

Studies suggest that a majority of significant terror groups during the Cold War were driven by nationalistic or communist impulses. Modern religious terrorism largely emerged from the 1990s onward.

Interestingly, despite the fact that Cold War terrorists did not hesitate to kill perceived enemies, they were, however, overtly conscious of how their acts would be perceived by popular opinion and the media.

For example, militant left-wing outfits in Europe, and even some factions of Palestinian guerrilla organisations (in the late 1960s and 1970s), would often abort attacks in which they feared casualties of innocent bystanders could mount.

This is not the case anymore. It seems, today, the old concern of being perceived as an indiscriminately brutal outfit has actually become the purpose. Terrorists now actually want to be perceived in this manner.

 What are terrorists made of?
by Nadeem F. Paracha, dawn.com

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Jihad, Extremism