Why do people become terrorists?

I’m sure you have wondered numerous times why a person becomes a terrorist…I know I have and I’ve always blamed the reason on religion (at least Islamic & Hindu terrorism)…Apparently, I’m wrong…It seems that religion or a common goal is not the main reason a person becomes an Islamic terrorist…According to Max Abrahms, a pre-doctoral fellow at Stanford’s Center for International Security and Cooperation, terrorist groups are typically incapable of maintaining a consistent set of strategic goals, much less achieving them…If this is true, then why do people become terrorists? Simple…It is fraternal bonds they want, not territory, not influence, not even (in most cases) to affirm religious beliefs…Apparently, the reason for joining a terrorist organization is the same as the reason for joining a neighbourhood gang…Terrorist groups usually don’t have long term strategic goals or plans – usually attacks are one off and demands are improvised…

Marc Sageman, a forensic psychiatrist and former Central Intelligence Agency case officer in Afghanistan, collected biographical data of 400 terrorists who had targeted the United States…He found that 88 percent became terrorists not because they wanted to change the world but because they had friendship/family bonds to the jihad… This is what he has to say:

Most people think that terrorism comes from poverty, broken families, ignorance, immaturity, lack of family or occupational responsibilities, weak minds susceptible to brainwashing – the sociopath, the criminals, the religious fanatic, or, in this country, some believe they’re just plain evil.

Taking these perceived root causes in turn, three quarters of my sample came from the upper or middle class. The vast majority—90 percent—came from caring, intact families. Sixty-three percent had gone to college, as compared with the 5-6 percent that’s usual for the third world. These are the best and brightest of their societies in many ways.

Al Qaeda’s members are not the Palestinian fourteen-year- olds we see on the news, but join the jihad at the average age of 26. Three-quarters were professionals or semi- professionals. They are engineers, architects, and civil engineers, mostly scientists. Very few humanities are represented, and quite surprisingly very few had any background in religion. The natural sciences predominate. Bin Laden himself is a civil engineer, Zawahiri is a physician, Mohammed Atta was, of course, an architect; and a few members are military, such as Mohammed Ibrahim Makawi, who is supposedly the head of the military committee.

…only four of the 400 men had any hint of a disorder. This is below the worldwide base rate for thought disorders. So they are as healthy as the general population.I didn’t find many personality disorders, which makes sense in that people who are antisocial usually don’t cooperate well enough with others to join groups. This is a well-organized type of terrorism: these men are not like Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, loners off planning in the woods. Loners are weeded out early on. Of the nineteen 9-11 terrorists, none had a criminal record. You could almost say that those least likely to cause harm individually are most likely to do so collectively.

At the time they joined jihad, the terrorists were not very religious. They only became religious once they joined the jihad.

Marc Sageman and Max Abrahms argue that Islamic terrorists think about strategy either very poorly or not at all…They believe that Al-Qaeda attacked the United States because it was there, it was not a part of an overall strategically thought out plan…If it really wanted an Islamic Caliphate as it claims it does, it would have started building it a long time ago…Therefore, Islamist jihad is not about religion but about gang wars…

With Pakistan having given legitimacy to Islamic fundamentalism in Swat, one has to wait and see if the Taliban have a long-term strategic plan to create a Caliphate…If they do, the world is in trouble because Pakistan has nuclear weapons which would be disastrous for all of us…
Although the above mentioned observations pertain mainly to the Al Qaeda, they do give us something to think about…

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