People in Terrorism and the Essence of the Movement Today


Many psychologists and psychoanalysts in particular have made attempts to understand what terrorism is, the cause or motivation, and the general concept of terrorism. It seems that the need to understand terrorism and why people decide to join a given terrorist organization is very pertinent. This is because it focuses on the environmental and social factors that rule a person’s decision to be part of a terrorist organization. Throughout history, the mention of the word terrorism brings in the idea of a Muslim or Islamic activity. There is one major and common form of terrorism in the Muslim world, assassination, which started soon after the death of the prophet Muhammad (Volkan, 2004). This arose due to succession conflicts. It is however not true to regard terrorism as an entirely Muslim affair. However, it has been realized that over the last decade, terrorism has been perpetrated by Islamic fundamentalists. It is expected that the same group will continue to execute acts of violence in future due to their systematic networking across continents. This situation has triggered extensive research in the sociological field in order to understand these organizations and identify the environmental and psychosocial processes and situations that breed terrorism.

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There are as many definitions of terrorism as there are researches conducted into the subject. Definitions of terrorism in recorded history are very varied. It has been viewed as a tactic as well as a strategy; a reaction to oppression that can be justified and an abomination that is unpardonable (Chaliand & Blin, 2007). These variations have been necessitated by the different perspectives of viewing terrorism. The historical, criminological circumstances and political order of the day affect the way terrorism is defined. Considered a tactic, terrorism has been an effective approach used by the side perceived to be weaker in any given conflict. The skills used by the weaker side are in most instances secretive in nature and usually perpetrated by a small group of people. They normally offer no clear organization to the opponents to prevent themselves from attack. It usually comes as a surprise. The act of terrorism has been used to execute a conflict without the opponent’s knowledge of the impending threat, confusing terrorism for a criminal undertaking. Because of this underground undertaking, terrorism has taken a global scale especially by those pursuing extreme goals of revenge or avenge.

The American FBI defines domestic terrorism as the as those activities that threatens human life and violate the criminal laws of America or any given state. It appears to intimidate or coerce innocent population; to influence a government’s policy by resorting to mass destruction, assassination, kidnapping, and normally happen within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States (Rapoport, 2001). Concerning the international terrorism, the FBI defines it as the violent acts which are dangerous to human life that surmounts to the violation of criminal laws of the United States or any other nation and that would be a crime if violated within the boundaries of the US or any other country (Rapoport, 2001). The working definition of terrorism for this particular research would be to consider terrorism as the unlawful use or threat of using violence against people or property to enhance personal or group’s political or social objectives. Terrorism is usually deliberately aimed at intimidating or coercing a given government, groups or individuals, or carried out with the intention of modifying behavior. This research paper seeks to understand and offer an explanation of why people join terrorist groups, the objectives, motivations and types of terrorism groups, the susceptibility to recruitment, evolution, and the future of terrorism.

Literature Review

Several researches have been conducted into the question of terrorism and why people join the various terrorist organizations. Chaliand and Blin (2006) in their edited book discusses the origins of some of the common terrorist groups like the Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and the Palestinian Hamas. Concerning the function of these groups, White (2006) offers a vivid description of the terrorists’ operations. He says that they are very secretive and are always on the hide out. Weimann (2007) on the other hand conducted research into the role of internet as far as terrorism is concerned. He points out that the terrorists are exploiting the new technologies to organize and perpetrate violence. Also, there is great need to understand the peculiarity of terrorism in relation to other forms of solving conflicts (O’Neil, 2006). He differentiates between insurgency and terrorism. Numerous researches have been conducted and some have not been captured in this review section but played a great role in completing this research paper.

Major Reasons for People Joining Terrorist Groups

A number of reasons as to why people join terrorist groups have been identified. This paper will focus on the major reasons which include; social and political grievances, and humiliation, vengeance and revenge.

Humiliation, Vengeance, and Revenge

In deed, the most pressing rationale that has been realized by most researchers in this field is the magnitude of the seriousness of feeling humiliated. This experience has motivated thousands of individuals to join the various terrorist groups or organizations. Mankind is obsessed with a deep feeling for justice. In many cases, virtually all conflicts involve the rectification of the perceived injustice by the concerned parties (Sageman, 2004). Investigations into the personal lives of many terrorists have been characterized by injustice and continued humiliation by the opposing or fighting group. Once these terrorists are sought after, they ran for their lives only for their families, mainly spouses, children and friends to be battered and even executed. These experiences have pushed many to join these retaliatory groups.

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The power of humiliation can also dominate a whole nation like the nation of Pakistan. Not all Palestinians have joined the Intifada group, an organization of terrorists but they fully support its operations since they share the same experience of humiliation. According to White (2006), the countrywide approval of suicide bombings is highly and positively correlated with the frequent checkpoints erected by the Israeli forces and which the Palestinians have to pass through day in day out. Some instances of humiliation include strip-searching and being held hostage for several hours that turn into days. The Middle East region has notable number of terrorist groups. In Palestine, for instance, joining a terrorist organization is a family tradition and most of them find themselves already operating in terrorist groups (Linden, 2003). Since humiliation takes away an individual’s pride and honor, most of the people who join the terrorist groups believe that they are waging a holy war in order to regain their lost glory. Hence they do not consider their operations as being evil at all. In fact, the belief is much stronger since they believe that every Palestinian is called to defend himself and his people by all means possible, even if it means loosing one’s life (Linden, 2003). This is the most serious and strongest aspect in terrorism. We can learn from this perspective that terrorism is a form of revenge and vengeance against an actual or perceived injustice and hence an attempt to regain one’s dignity, self-esteem, and liberty.

From the Muslim teachings, a huge premium is placed on shame and honor and any form of humiliation is just like death and a total destruction of oneself. This is why a slight gesture of humiliation can elicit the most deadly reactions ranging from wanting to kill the other to being suicidal instead of living a shameful life that would have been created. It is a common believe in the Arab world that suicide bombing is a way of ‘dehumiliating’ (Friedman, 2003). Besides the Intifada in Palestine, there is the Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan whose resentments are those of humiliation and feelings of unjust treatment by the United States of America in the Middle-East and Saudi Arabia. This experiences act as catalyst to moving more and more people into joining or associating with terrorist organizations. In view of the escalating rates of terrorism originating from the Middle-East, the relative deprivation theory has been implored to explain that these particular terrorism represents an outcry against a so great an economic deprivation brought on by the developed Western countries. However, Friedman (2003) correctly notes, deprivation alone does not result in large scale conflicts; instead it is deprivation bearing the brand of deliberate humiliation and intentional degradation that ultimately leads to these conflicts. From the above discussion, we can rightfully conclude that any degree of humiliation as a psychological experience has an irrefutable link to terrorism tendencies and must be addressed if terrorism is to be handled in a sober manner rather than confronting it head on.

Social and Political Grievances

Many scholars have perceived terrorism as an outward expression of magnificent, deeply rooted social grumbles within the Islamic populace. Indeed, in this view, terrorism is not regarded as an expression of psychopathological experiences but rather as a strategy to eliminate the origins of complaints and re-direction of the world politics (Volkan, 1997). Findings from investigations into young people in relation to terrorism have indicated that the youth who may feel sidelined in their society are more prone to being recruited into terrorist groups. Their shared bitter feelings concerning the economic and social position bonds them together and this can only result in pronounced alienation from their respective societies and total commitment to terrorist organizations. Once they attain this status, it would be utterly impossible to convince them otherwise. The mentioned Palestinian groups like the Intifada and Hamas are typical examples of such groups and many are being recruited since these terrorist groups are widely approved by the society (Volkan, 1997).

An interview with the terrorists in Palestine revealed that the bitter feelings of being wrongly victimized and being chased from their homes and the accompanying frustrations are among the solid reasons why they opted to join the terrorist organizations (White, 2006). The conviction that most of these groups have is that the acts of terrorism is a justifiable holy war or otherwise known as Jihad that enables them to fight for their people’s cause. Through the use of violent means and the creation of dread of the same violence, the terrorists seek to attract attention for their grievances and subsequently demand their deserved rights (O’Neil, 2005). The infamous Black September attacks at the Olympics in Munich in the year 1972 by the Palestinian terrorists is a typical example of the extent to which terrorism can go to attract world’s attention to the marginalized groups in the society and their frustrations (White, 2006). Intensive study into cults like the CSA (Covenant, the Sword and the Arm of the Lord), revealed that their leaders tap into the feelings of humiliation and alienation to take captive of its members and to indoctrinate them into the organization’s ideology.

In general, people join these terrorist groups due to their despair in life where they feel totally alienated and they come together to find a meaning to life by their own means. Although there is no ultimate link between cults and terrorist groups, it is possible to conclude that the prolonged social grumbles can violate and corrupt individuals in a seriously destructive way, the redress of which can be through the elimination of the responsible culprits.

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Objectives, Motivations, and Types of Terrorist Groups

The motivations and ideologies of a given terrorist group will influence the objectives of its operations, especially as far as the casualty rate is concerned. Terrorists groups with secular ideologies and goals which are not religious in nature will always be selective in executing their acts of violence to achieve specific political objectives (Linden, 2003). They do this to avoid anything that may damage the public image of the group in its attempt to present legitimate complaints. They also secure external political and economic reinforcement. These groups, however, experience internal conflicts when it comes to deciding which activity is worth undertaking.

On the other hand, groups with religious orientation normally aim at causing as many casualties as they can. Their teachings place no meaning on the loss of life. In fact, the loss of life by fellow group members is regarded with little seriousness but with the belief that those who die will be rewarded in the afterlife (Volkan, 2004). The terrorists also consider the death of both the target as well as those who die as a result of collateral damage as deserved. To them, killing is a moral duty. A typical example is the Kenyan bombing targeting the U.S. Embassy in the year 1998. 95% of those who were injured were non-American. Also, for every one American killed during the blast, twenty locals died (Chaliand & Blin, 2007).

Susceptibility to Recruitment

As discussed in the section dealing with the reasons why people join terrorist groups, there are people who are more prone to joining these organizations as compared with others. These include such places as; where there is continued suppression of civil freedoms and political rights, including issues of freedom of press, the freedom to gather, and democratic rights in different sectors of the society (Sageman, 2004). Research has revealed that countries with limited civil rights are most likely to be the originators and perpetrators of terrorist activities. Most terrorists are motivated by local issues and may target the locals or shift to international dimensions. Citizens from poor countries are less likely to join terrorist groups compared to those from countries with a higher GDP per capita (Sageman, 2004). Indeed, terrorists are people who have a cause to fight for even to the point of death and not that they are too poor that they have nothing to do. They wish to reshape the society to their perceived order.

Evolution of Terrorist Organizations

Terrorism has always been undergoing continual transformation through its history. As we have noted that terrorism is a calculated use of violence or threats of unlawful retaliation with an aim of inculcating a feeling of fear on the general public or the political leadership, it has, in recent times become a strategic way maximized by enemies. In the 21st century, terrorism is transforming itself in accordance with the current setting in socio-political arrangement (Linden, 2003). Modern terrorists have devised ways of procuring money in order to enhance their operational capabilities. Furthermore, the development of nations into separate distinct political centers of power has made it easy for terrorists to identify specific targets in order to impact the political change they need (White, 2006). This was not the case during the years prior to 1648. In the modern era, nations can go to war but private involvement is not accepted unlike in the past where separate groups within a region could participate in warfare. These included religious leaders, mercenaries or mercantile companies. Their operations as far as war was concerned were regarded as legitimate.

There are some theories which can be considered as having contributed directly to the development of terrorism. Marxism, which later evolved into communism and anarchism advocated the use of violence to bring social change (Linden, 2003). The communist wing fought for economic dominance while anarchism pushed for the elimination of all forms of rule and governance. Though the list seems endless, there are countries which have been associated with terrorism and they include; Afghanistan, Palestine, Pakistan, Armenia, Algeria and Libya in Africa, Russia, Philippines, Iraq, Lebanon, and Iran. We can therefore conclude that terrorism will continue to undergo transformation as long as the society is constantly changing especially with the technological advancement of the 21st century (Weimann, 2007).

The Future of Terrorism

Terrorism has evolved in accordance with the new emerging and conflict-producing issues. They are constantly developing new ways of facing counter-terrorism measures put in place by the society. The terrorists are exploiting the modern advancements in information and technology. The future of terrorism depends on their quick and innovative adaptation of the new technologies for managing information, conducting secure global exchange of information and hence defeating their intelligence counterparts, the counter-terror agencies (Weimann, 2007). Most parts of the Middle East, Afghanistan, and Pakistan remain to be the central source of terrorists for future generations due to the current trend where religiously motivated terrorism is on the rise.


This research paper has elaborately focused on the reasons why people decide to join terrorist groups. To answer the question fully, the paper has discussed the goals and motivations that terrorists have by being part of the organizations, and the susceptibility of the people to recruitment by existing groups of terrorists. It has also touched on two types of the terrorist groups as well as the evolution and the future of terrorism in the modern society.

Reference List

Chaliand, G. & Blin, A. (eds) (2007). The history of terrorism: From antiquity to Al Qaeda. University of California Press.

Friedman, T. L. (2003). The consequences of the humiliation factor. In New York Times, 2003.

Linden, E. V. (2003). A Focus on Terrorism (6th ed.). Nova Plc.

O’Neil, B. E. (2005). Understanding Terrorism: From Revolution to Apocalypse (2nd ed.). Potomac Books, Inc.

Rapoport, D. C. (ed) (2001). Inside Terrorist Organizations (2nd ed.). Routledge.

Sageman, M. (2004). Understanding Terror Networks. University of Pennsylvania Press.

Volkan, V. D. (2004). Blind trust: large groups and their leaders in times of crisis and terror. Charlottesville, VA: Pitchstone Publishing.

Volkan, V. D. (1997). Bloodiness: From ethnic pride to the ethnic terrorism. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Weimann, G. (2007). Terror on the Internet: The new Arena, the New Challenges. McGraw-Hill Plcs.

White, J. R. (2006). Terrorism and Homeland Security: An Introduction (6th ed.). Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

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