It is indeed a grave undertaking to understand the roots of terrorism. The path in which a person’s mind must travel to condone and participate in the vile acts terrorism demands is certainly a dark road. Such a road is certainly not tread all at once. Instead, each step takes one further away from the normal human condition.
It is easy to count terrorists as mad or insane. This would grossly simplify the subject if not be a complete distortion of it. Rather, this author proposes that it is the transfixion of the embodiment of an ideal – an ideology – that gives such persons the strength and willingness to sacrifice oneself for the good of the cause. To better represent this, the writer will refer briefly to an earlier discussion from this week’s assignments where the following definition was proposed: Terrorism is random violent acts, usually directed towards innocent civilians, promoted by an ideology and are meant to terrify a society or culture into reform or change.
In the modern world, extremist religious factions have risen and are from where most of these violent actions come from. This has not always been the case. But whether the actions are attributed to religious sects, Marxist-Leninist movements or civil uprisings, the over arching goal of the majority of terrorism has been motivated over cultural differences.
Once understanding that the motivation is cultural, one can quickly begin to realize the ability for persons to commit acts of terrorism. Simply put, the need for change transcends the person willing to give his life to the cause. The desire becomes, not a single person’s needs or wants, but rather the greater goal. Further, the ideology of the terrorist becomes an all consuming power that transcends humanity’s natural fear of death.
This is certainly easier to convince followers of certain societies, faiths and experiences than others. Societies that see the scourge of war, the dire needs of economic reform, or deeply religious persons who already see themselves as submissive to a higher being all can produce the psychology needed to begin indoctrination. In fact, after studying captured terrorists, German psychologist Wilfried Rasch stated that “nothing was found which could justify their classification as psychotics, neurotics, fanatics or psychopaths” (page 31). Once it is understood that it is ideology that drives such persons and not madness, it becomes easier to recommend a course of action that could mitigate terrorism.
The modern concept of war is intertwined with peace. Extracting an evil from a nation or region of the world can end up saving thousands of lives. A small amount of bloodshed can be reasoned away for an ultimate goal. The lines of terrorism diverge from this point of thinking when peace is not their ultimate goal; their cause is. There is no price too high for their goals, no amount of blood too much for victory. The goal is the chief end. Lives are not. Herein lies the point of mitigation: the goal to preserve life. Not only is it ethical and moral, it drives at the heart of humanity. It has been the defining point of American society. All men are created equal. Life does not exist to exterminate for the cause of an ideology. The terrorist not only believes in the need to sacrifice himself or herself for the cause, but also believes the cause is worth killing. The cause becomes greater than individual lives.
To most groups of people this is known as sanctity of life; religious groups are usually most firm on this. Unfortunately, the greatest cause of terrorism today is caused by extreme religious groups. They have counted the cost of life and found it expendable to the needs of their cause. This must begin to be turned. Ideology and causes never outweigh the burden of morals and ethics when it comes to a human life. If life was valued by such people, terrorism quickly becomes a moot point.
Though it is easy to see terrorism does not respect life, the caveat to raising the value of life comes from understanding that terrorists are depending on that from their victims. Killing innocents is meant to create the most amount of havoc and terror. The greater the value of life, the greater a target people become. In this way the terrorist is a part of a counter-culture, not satisfied with peace or with life itself. They are focused on a goal that they are content will elude them but have high hopes of being a part of the larger goal.
Jihad is roughly translated “holy war” into English. Islamic fundamentalist groups believe in “striving” or fighting for conversion (Spindlove & Simonsen, 2013, page 39). Conversion to the ideology of Islam is the ultimate goal. Killing to terrorize a culture to become a part of it and its laws and customs is the chief end.
Islamic terrorism has done little to curb the cultural differences between the Middle East and the West. It highlights the clash between these two cultures. In the West, where moral autonomy is the base for worldviews and lifestyles, the gap continues to widen from that of the Middle East. These are the differences that continue to fuel the terrorists.
The terror attacks on 9/11 changed America. Security and greater emergency preparedness has drastically evolved. Thirteen years deep into the War on Terror, America has fought its longest war with never having to draft soldiers. The desire to protect the homeland has never been stronger. But these are not the changes that the Islamic radicals are demanding to be changed. In fact, even more now than ever, questions of moral decay are being raised within this nation. American and Middle East cultures have drifted apart even further than when the Jihad was first called.
The War on Terror has crippled terrorist networks around the globe. As necessary as the war is, it does little to curb the ideology that motivates terrorism. There is no ideology or cause that is worth thousands of innocents’ lives. Until this is understood by those conspiring to commit terror, the clash of cultures will continue.
Silke, A. (2003). Becoming a terrorist. In Terrorists, victims, and society: Psychological perspectives on terrorism and its consequences. Retrieved from http://online.vitalsource.com/#/books/9781119941248/pages/38288332
Spindlove, J. R. & Simonsen, C. E. (2013). Terrorism today: The past, the players, the future (5th ed.). New Jersey: Pearson Education.