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The Psychology of Terrorism: An Agenda for the 21st Century Author(s): Martha Crenshaw Reviewed work(s):

The Psychology of Terrorism: An Agenda for the 21st Century Author(s): Martha Crenshaw Reviewed work(s):

Source: Political Psychology, Vol. 21, No. 2 (Jun., 2000), pp. 405-420 Published by: International Society of Political Psychology

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Political Psychology, Vol.21,No. 2, 2000

The Psychology ofTerrorism:

An Agenda forthe21st Century

MarthaCrenshaw Departmentof Government WesleyanUniversity

Researchon politicalterrorism, which began in the early1970s,faces some persistent

problems. Theseinvolve defining the concept,collectingempirical data, buildingintegrative

theory, and avoiding theattribution of terrorismto personality disordersor "irrationality.

Furthermore, analysis risks being driven by eventsor theconcerns ofpolicymakers.

Nevertheless, itis generallyaccepted that psychologicalexplanationsof terrorismmusttake

multiple levels ofanalysis intoaccount, linking theindividualtothe group and to


Futureresearchshould critically examinethe assumption thata "newterrorism"has appeared at theend of the20th century.Analysts shouldalso take advantageof 30 yearsof history to developcomparisons and developmental studiesthatlooknot only at thecauses of terrorismbutat changes in terrorist strategy, thetermination of terrorist campaigns,

governmentdecision-making, and policyeffectiveness.

KEY WORDS: terrorism,research, publicpolicy.


The recordofresearchon political terrorismis mixed. Despiteprogress in

developing an explanatory modelthatlinks individual,group, andsocietallevels

of analysis, someissuesare persistently troublesome. Enduringquestions involve

thedefinitionof terrorism, theuse of researchfor publicpolicypurposes, the


"irrational" thinking, theneed for integrative and cumulative theory, and the

event-drivencharacterofmuchresearch. Althoughprogress is apparent inall of these areas, moreworkneedstobedone.In addition, researchonterrorismhasnot yetfully consideredthe implications ofrecentclaimsthata "new"terrorismhas

developed in recent years and will prevail in thenearfuture. However, it is encouraging tonotethatmorethan30 years ofhistorical experience withterrorism


velopmental studiescan analyze how patterns ofterrorismhave changed over time,



personality disordersor

openedinterestingpossibilities forresearch programs.Comparisons andde-


0162-895X? 2000 International

Society ofPolitical Psychology

Published by Blackwell Publishers, 350 MainStreet,MaIden, MA 02148,USA, and 108 CowleyRoad,Oxford,OX4 1JF, UK.

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how campaigns ofterrorismcometo an end,governmentdecision-makingpro-


andtheeffectivenessofdifferentcounterterrorist policyoptions.


In 1990, a volumeonthe psychology ofterrorismconcludedwithtwo essays

onthe opportunities forandlimitationsonfutureresearch (Crenshaw,1990;Reich,

1990).Many oftheissuesnotedthenremainon today's research agenda,although therehavebeensubstantial changes inthe political environmentforthe study of

terrorismandinthe depth of knowledgeacquired.

The problem of defining terrorismhashindered analysis sincethe inception ofstudiesofterrorisminthe early 1970s.Onesetof problems isduetothefactthat the concept ofterrorismis deeply contested.Theuseofthetermisoften polemical andrhetorical.Itcanbe a pejorativelabel, meanttocondemnan opponent's cause as illegitimate ratherthandescribebehavior. Moreover, evenifthetermis used objectively as an analyticaltool, it is stilldifficultto arriveat a satisfactory definitionthat distinguishes terrorismfromotherviolent phenomena. In principle, terrorismis deliberateand systematic violence performedby smallnumbersof people, whereascommunalviolenceis spontaneous,sporadic, and requires mass participation. The purpose ofterrorismistointimidatea watchingpopular audience byharmingonly a few, whereas genocide istheeliminationofentirecommunities.

Terrorismis meantto hurt, notto destroy. Terrorismis

symbolic, whereas guerrilla warfareisa

aboveis theactionofthosein power, whereasterrorismisa clandestineresistance

to authority. Yetin practice, eventscannot always be

preeminentlypolitical and

militaryactivity.Repressive "terror"from


Furthermore, evenwithinthetermsofthis definition, the practice ofterrorism

is highly diverse.The conceptualcategory of "terrorism" encompasses a wide variety of phenomena,ranging from kidnappings of individuals (in orderto

pressuregovernments to accedeto specificpoliticaldemands) to indiscriminate mass-casualtybombings of high-profilesymbolictargets. Terrorismoccursin widely differentcultural settings.Non-governmentsmaypractice coercionand

repression inareasundertheircontrol.States maysponsorsurreptitious violence

against thecivilian populations oftheirenemies. Moreover, even though the scope

of thetermis alreadybroad, observersare tempted to

further.Oneoftenseesreferencesto crime,"narcoterrorism," and "cyberterrorism,"

for example, notto mention"ecoterrorism"or cultural,olfactory, ornutritional terrorism.In addition, terrorismis a deeply contested concept. Itsusetendstobe

politicized and subjective. It is a pejorative labelas muchas an analyticaltool, especially in popular discourse.

stretchthe concept even

years of research, but

the ideological contentiousnessofthetermhasdiminishedwiththeendoftheCold

War.The disappearance ofthe left-wingrevolutionary and anti-imperialist move-

mentsthat inspiredmuchofthe ideologicalandnationalistterrorismofthe1970s

These conceptual confusionsremainaftermorethan25

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Psychology ofTerrorism


and early 1980shasledtoa

debateoverPresidentClinton'sofferof clemency to PuertoRicannationalists servingprison sentencesforactionsassociatedwitha pro-independence terrorist

campaign demonstratesthatthetermstillcarriesemotional weight.Perceptions of the rightness ofthemeansarealtered byjudgments aboutthe legitimacy ofthe


change oftone. Nevertheless, in 1999, theheated public

A secondissuefromthe past concernsthe

possible uses of psychological

major concernof govern-

researchon terrorism. Obviously counterterrorismis a

ments,especially the contemporary

American government,


differentbureaucracies dealing withthe issue,including not onlyintelligence and

lawenforcement agencies butthe Departments ofHealthandHumanServicesand Defense.Inthe1990sterrorismcametobe seenas a major national security threat and thusa subject of intenseinterest.In 1998, for example, PresidentClinton appointed a NationalCoordinatorfor Security,Infrastructure,Protection, and Counterterrorism.Alexander George(1993) hascalledfor "bridging the gap" to bring aboutclosercollaborationbetweenacademicsand policymakers inthefield of foreignaffairs, buthealsocautionedthatthetaskoftheacademicisto diagnose

problems ratherthan prescribe solutions.The

knowledge" ratherthan specificpolicy recommendations.Beforetheendofthe Cold War,academicswere likely to be extremely sensitiveto potential ethical dilemmascaused bygovernment useoftheir research, eveniftheircontributions werelimitedto diagnosis ratherthan prescription.However, withthe development ofa post-Cold WarAmerican foreignpolicy aimedat spreadingdemocracy rather than containingcommunism, andwiththe emergence ofterrorismfromtheradical

right intheUnited States,scholars appear less apprehensive abouttheusesoftheir

longer seenas fundamentally

illiberalor reactionary(but seeZulaika&

knowledge ofterrorism.Concernwithterrorismisno

scholarshould produce"generic


One sourceof tension,however, is some

policymakers' insistenceon the

particularly totheidea

possibility ofa fixedand unambiguous "terrorist profile," a listofcharacteristics

that permit identificationof actualor potential terrorists.Thisdebateis closely

relatedtotheissueof personality theoriesofterrorismand

thatthereis a specificpsychopathology of terrorism.Silke (1998) deplored a

"diagnosis at a distance" tendency to see terroristsas motivated bypersonality

disorderssuchas narcissismor

servers reject thethesisof"blatant" abnormality, thereremainsa

tionthatterroristsareabnormalinmoresubtle ways. SilkecitedPost (1990) and

Pearlstein (1991) as

cally fromthe generalpopulation.Pearlstein, for example, concludedthat"the


psychologically molded by certainnarcissistic personality disturbances" (1991,


ithasdonelittlebut"taintterrorismwitha pathology aura" (1998,p. 67).

paranoia. He suggested that although mostob-


examples ofsuch attempts to distinguish terrorists psychologi-

political terrorist generallyappears tobe

ix). Silke argued thatthis misleading trendis a resultofattributionbiasandthat

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A relatedissueisthe question ofa distinctive psychology or psychopathology

ofwomen participants interrorism.Pearlstein(1991) includedfemaleterroristsas

prominent cases in his analysis. For example, he argued thatUlrike Meinhof, a founding memberoftheGermanRed ArmyFaction, sufferednumeroustraumatic eventsin herlifethat damaged herself-esteemand led to an obsessionwith

belonging and approval. Profoundnarcissistic disappointment-her failuretolive

up to thestandardsofbehavior requiredby her ego ideal-led hertoa terrorist identity. Pearlstein (1991) also analyzed twowomenactivistsinthe Weathermen, Susan Stern and Diana Oughton. In both cases, he identifiedchildhoodand adolescent psychicinjuries thatled to low self-esteem.Radical political action

providedpowerfulpsychologicalrewards, suchas the acquisition ofa new positive identity. However, inan analysis ofwomenin Japanese terrorist organizations, Stein-

hoff (1996) notedthatthe public and psychiatrists aliketendtoattributemental

illnesstofemale terrorists,

arenot supposed tobe" UnitedRed Army and

organization's ranksinthe spring of1972.Whereasthemaleleaderofthe purging

factionwasdescribed by the press and psychiatrists as


"the negativeimage of everything women

(p. 319). She citedthe example ofHiroka Nagata ofthe

the notoriouslybloodypurge thatoccurredwithinthe

an instrumentally motivated

person whohad merelymiscalculated, thefemaleleader (Nagata) was saidtobe purelyemotional-spiteful,jealous,menacing, and mentally unbalanced.Stein- hoff quoted the judge's trial opinion:"[Nagata] has a flourishing desirefor self-exposure and along withan emotional,aggressivepersonality, sheis suspi- ciousand jealous, andtotheseareaddedthefemalecharacteristicsof obstinacy, spitefulness, andcruel sadism; sheharborsa variety of problems inher tempera- ment" (1996,p. 311). De Cataldo Neuberger andValentini (1996) suggested thatfemaleterrorism islinkedtochildhood maladjustmentresulting froman unfeeling,tyrannical father anda weakmother.Their findings, basedon interviewswithfemaleterroristsin

Italy, indicatethat greaterpassivity in womenresultsin a longer adolescent

identification period thanthat experiencedbyboys;girls needtobondwiththeir

mothersforanextended period oftimeinorderto

stage,developmentalproblemsmay occurthatlaterlead to entry intoterrorist groups. Such maladjustedgirls, who identify withtheirweak mothers, aremore inclinedto engage in splitting,and, intheirbifurcatedviewofthe world,compas-

sionandtoleranceofothersarelost. Young womenthenshifttheiridentifications outsidethe family and searchfora "weak person" to love and save. Theyare,

consequently,susceptible tothe appeals ofa terrorist organization that pursues the

destructionofthe strong who oppress theweak.Thefemaleterroristthusdemon-

stratesherfather's strength as wellas thesacrificialattitudeofthemother.

develop and adapt.During this

These authorsalso

suggested thata "maternal-sacrificial code" is highly

developed in womenbecause of theirchildhood development, the patriarchal pressures of society, andtheir geneticdisposition to protect andsacrificefortheir

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Psychology ofTerrorism


children (de Cataldo Neuberger & Valentini,1996,pp. 78-81). This"feminine

'way of living'" predisposes womento develop their experience inaccordancewith

sacrificeand caring forothers.Thismaternalcode is

extra"thatmakesfemaleterroristsmore willing tosacrificetheirlivesinthename ofthe group. Nevertheless, most analysts ofterrorismdo notthinkthat personality factors

accountforterrorist behavior, nordo they see significantgender differences.One

ofthebasic research findings of thefieldis thatterrorismis primarily a

activity. It is typically nottheresultof psychopathology ora

type. Shared ideological commitmentand groupsolidarity aremuchmore impor- tantdeterminantsof terroristbehaviorthanindividualcharacteristics.Afteran extensivereviewof the literature, Ross (1994) concludedthat psychological

explanations ofterrorismwerestill immature, buthe suggested an


inwhichindividualswhoare predisposed to engage interrorismdueto develop-

mentalfactorsfindcertainneedssatisfied byjoiningundergroundgroups. For

example,Braungart and Braungart(1992) concludedthatthe developmentalpro- cesses of youthexplained theWeathermenbetterthanindividual psychological attributes.Onceinthe group, socializationand learningexperiences further shape


apparently the "something



They alsointeractwith constituents,

rival groups, andthe

governmenttheyoppose.(See also Sprinzak,1990, whofocusedon

fication processes.)Thus, terrorismmustbe seenas an interactiveand dynamic process, as Rabbie (1991)effectivelyargued in proposing a preliminarydescriptive modelthatlinks individual,group, andsocietallevelsof analysis.

Della Porta (1992, 1995a,1995b) also proposed a more complex framework thatlinksindividuallifehistoriesto political andsocialenvironments.Shefocused

onindividual perceptions ofexternal opportunitiespresentedby theenvironment. Inthis approach, thecritical step is thechoiceof clandestinity. Shealso notedthe

persistence of individualcommitmentto undergroundorganizations, a

intenseidentificationwiththe group. Commitment

is also motivated byego-involvement. Individualsseektomaintain self-respect,

the support ofthe peergroup, andthesenseof belonging thatis heightenedby senseofsharedrisk.Della Porta'sresearchshowsnot only thatindividualmotiva- tionsandstructuralconditionsmustbe analyzedtogether, butalso thattheindi-

viduals in questionpossessed well-established political identitiesand had experiencedprior socializationintotheuse of violence.Theircommitmentto terrorismwastheresultofa gradualprocess, nota suddenconversion.In particular,

they sharedthe image of a violentstateand

movements. (On Italian movements, see also Passerini,1992.)

mentthatis best explainedby

group identi-



participation in semi-legalprotest

Bandura (1990) tooka different approach tothe analysis ofindividualbehav-

ior.He argued thatterrorismwas theresultofa "principled resorttodestructive-

ness" (p. 191) ratherthanunrestrained impulse, a

of violencehad ignored.Consequently, he examinedthe psychologicalprocesses bywhichindividualscan disengagetheinternal regulatorymechanismsthat usually

factorthat psychologicalanalyses

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servetorestrainviolence.He identifiedthree majorpoints of development inthe self-regulatoryprocess: when reprehensible conductcanbe reconstruedas justifi- able, itsdetrimentaleffectsminimizedor distorted, and thevictimblamedor devalued.In termsofcausal agency, healso noteda tendency to displacerespon- sibility ontothe enemy ordiffuseitwithinthe group. As RossandRabbieboth noted, a matureresearch programrequiresempirical testing of integrativepsychological theories.It is not enoughsimply to propose hypotheses. The study ofterrorismstilllacksthefoundationofextensive primary databasedoninterviewsandlifehistoriesofindividuals engaged interrorism.Far too often,psychologicalhypotheses arebasedon speculation orarederivedfrom sucha smallnumberof cases thatthe findings cannotbe consideredreliable (Pearlstein,1991, for example, used mostlysecondary sourcesto analyze nine individuals).However, theworksof sociologistsJuergensmeyer(2000) anddella Porta (1992, 1995a,1995b) are noteworthyexceptions thatdemonstratethatitis

not impossible to

violence.Della Porta'sstudiesof

example, arebasedon an extensivecollectionoflife histories,biographies, and

autobiographies. Studiesof the psychology of terrorismoftenfocuson the ways in which

particular beliefsand misperceptions limitorbound rationality(e.g.,Crenshaw, 1992). Yetitis important torememberthatterrorismhasanautonomous logic that is comprehensible, howeverunconventional.Thesebelief systems are typically derivativeratherthan original.Misperceptionmay beacute.However, itisessential tounderstandthe ideologies orworldviewsof practitioners ofterrorismon their own terms, andnottoexcludethemfrom analysis because theyappear"irrational" ina conventionalsense (see Reich,1990). For example,Sprinzak's(1990, 1991,

1995)theory of splitdelegitimization focuses directly onthe images ofthe enemy

held by terrorists.He argued thatcertain groups are organized aroundthebelief

thatthe enemy is illegitimate andthusnothuman.Violenceandterrorismresult whenthe group feelsthreatened. Sprinzak(1990) also stressedthattheconditionsthat promoteideological

terrorism,especially terrorismfromtheleftin democracies, arenotidenticaltothe

causesof protest orunconventional political behaviorin general.Extraparliamen-

tarypolitical actionis an acceptedpart of thedemocratic repertoire. Terrorism requires the perception ofan unjustly harsh government,profound disillusionment withthe existingorder, andthe availability of appropriate externalrolemodels. Mostradicalsdo notbecometerrorists.

acquiremeaningful informationaboutthesourcesofclandestine

left-wing Italianand German terrorists, for

Sprinzak'sanalytical modelwasthecriticalfocusofa collectionof compara-

tivecasestudiesof right-wing terrorism (BjOrgo,1995), whichclaimstobethefirst

ofitskind.This relatively recentinterestin

tendency ofterrorismstudiesto be event-driven.In the1970sand early1980s, terrorismassociatedwiththefarleftor nationalistresistancewas thecenterof attention.Inthelate1980sand1990s,interestinterrorismfromtheextreme right

right-wing terrorism exemplifies the

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Psychology ofTerrorism


attractednotice.In theUnitedStates,concernintensifiedas a resultofthe1995

Oklahoma Citybombing andtheactivitiesofthesurvivalist,militia,andChristian

Identity movements (seeBarkun,1995,1996).Internationally, Jewishterrorismin

Israeland right-winganti-immigrant violencein Europe also drewattention.This

focuson current events, whileunderstandablefrom psychological and political points of view, can distractresearchersfromstudiesthatfocuson historical developments overtime.Thisreactive quality has also tendedsomewhattodis- creditthe study of terrorism, whichis seenas trendy andfashionable.

A "New" Terrorism?

Although the prospect ofterrorismfromthe right hadbeen neglected,analysts


ideologies. The phenomenon was not perceived as entirelyunfamiliar,although

far-right violenceseemedtobe growing morevirulentanddestructive. However,

the question ofwhoisa terroristhas lately takenona newdimension.Severalrecent

worksfocusona "new"terrorismthatis motivated byreligious beliefandis more fanatical,deadly, and pervasive thantheolderandmoreinstrumentalformsof

terrorismtheworldhad grown accustomedto

"new"terrorismis thought to differfromthe"old" terrorismin termsof goals,

methods, and organization(see Hoffman,1999). The comparisongoesroughly as follows.Whereasthe"old"terrorists sought

short-term politicalpowerthroughrevolution, national liberation, or secession, the

"new"terroristsseektotransformtheworld.Motivated byreligiousimperatives, they are thought tolackan earthlyconstituency andthustofeelaccountable only

to a deity or to some transcendentalor mystical idea. Conventional left-right

ideological distinctionsare not applicable. Because they do

support,they are unlikely to claim public creditfortheiractions. Also,"new"

terroristsare thought tobe moreinclinedtouse highly lethalmethodsinorderto

destroy an impure worldand bring aboutthe apocalypse. The strategies ofthe"old"

preexisting frameworkofresearchon right-wing movementsand

(e.g.,Laqueur,1999). This emerging

notwant popular

terroristswere discriminating;

message toanaudience.Resultswere anticipated inthehereandnow.Inthe"new" terrorism, unlimitedendsleadtounlimitedmeans.Thusthe"new"terroristsseek

to cause high numbersof casualtiesand are willing to commitsuicideor use weapons ofmassdestructioninordertodoso. Finally, whereastraditionalmilitants


"new"terroristsis decentralizedanddiffuse.Adherentsareunited by common experience or inspiration ratherthan by direct personal interactionwithother membersof the group and its leaders.Institutionsand organizations are less important thanbeliefs. One empirical sourceofthe conception ofa "new"terrorismis radical right violence,particularly intheUnitedStates.Theshockofthe1995Oklahoma City

bombingbrought the largely unknownworldofthemilitiamovementtointernational

terrorismwasa formof communicating

a specific

tight,centralized, structured conspiracies, the organization ofthe

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attention.Barkun (1996) has argued thatbeliefina genericconspiracytheory is a commondenominatorinthediffuseand splintered worldofAmericanradical right groups.Although such conspiratorial beliefsarenotnewinAmerican politics, what distinguishes the 1990s doctrinalframeworkis its specificity andtheease with

whichit can be

conspiratorialright believesnot only thata cabalis promoting a tyrannical "New WorldOrder"underthedirectionoftheUnitedNationsbutthatitiscloseto

victory, thus necessitating an immediatedefense.The violentencountersat RubyRidge

(1992) andWaco (1993) are interpreted asconfirmationofthe conspiracy's sinister

intent.Theincidentsalsodriveanintensesenseof martyrdom. Thesebelief systems

contain apocalypticreligious elements; the"NewWorldOrder"is often depicted as thecreationof theAntichrist. Many extreme rightgroups and leadersare affiliatedwiththeChristian Identity movement. Thus, secularand religious beliefs constitutetwo intersecting and reinforcingconspiratorial visions.The factthat theseideasare rejectedby establishedinstitutionsof societyonly makesthemall themorecredibleto conspiratorialists;they are validated by their rejection.(It shouldbe notedthatviolencefromtheradical right hasalso occurredin Europe, especially violence againstforeigners.However, ittendstolackthe apocalyptic religious overtonesof theAmerican subculture.) It is important to remember, however, thatthe Oklahoma Citybombing is the only act of mass-casualty

terrorism perpetratedby

Anearlierandmoreviolenthistoricalantecedentofthe conception ofa "new" terrorismis anti-Westernterrorism originating intheMiddleEastthatis linkedto


attributedtotheShi'iteHezbollahfactioninLebanon.Inthe 1990s, terrorism using

therhetoricanddiscourseofIslam sprang fromHamasandIslamicJihadin Israel, theIslamic Group in Egypt, theArmedIslamic Group in Algeria, andmost recently theOsamaBinLadinnetwork.Governmentssuchas theSudanand Afghanistan seemedto support thetrend.Alarmoverthe emergence ofradicalIslam (which is

given a religiousinterpretation(see also Kaplan,1995).


theAmericanextreme right.

a small minority oftheMuslim world) was heightenedby a combinationoffactors:

theresorttosuicide bombings inLebanonandIsrael (see Merari,1990), a general willingness toinflictmassciviliancasualties, andanti-Americanandanti-Western targetingpatterns. The bombing oftheWorldTradeCenterin 1993as wellas the bombings of theAmericanembassiesin Kenya and Tanzaniain 1998 further increasedtheAmericansenseof vulnerability. Of course, the generalconcept of religious terrorismis notrestrictedto Islam, howevercommontheassociationis in the popularpress. It includes Jewish, Christian, andSikhfaithsas well, allofwhichhave inspired terrorisminthe1980s and 1990s (see Juergensmeyer,1991,2000). For instance,Juergensmeyer(2000)

employs a cultural approach to explainingreligiousviolence,comparingChristian, Muslim, SikhandBuddhistactivistswhoeitheruseor espouse violence. Focusing

ontheirsharedworldviewsor mindsets,Juergensmeyer findscommon patterns of

imagery and justification. An image ofcosmic struggle, for example,givesmeaning

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Psychology ofTerrorism


to experiences of deprivation and militantmovementsthatare marginalized in termsofmainstream religion.

Against this background of anxiety about religious terrorism, the1995sarin

gas attackon the Tokyosubwaysby theAum Shinrikyo cultwas exceptionally alarming. Itbolstered anticipation of catastrophic terrorismintendedto bring about the apocalypse. Italsointroducedthe prospect of religious cultsas terroristactors,

as opposed tomovementsthatlinkednationalismand religion. Robert Jay Lifton (1999) concludedthatthelinkbetween religious cultsandtheuseof weapons of massdestructionindicateda futureescalationofterrorismto unprecedented and fearsomelevels.Withthecombinationoffanaticismandtheultimate weapon, a


studiesofthe potential forsuch"WMD" terrorismhave proliferated. Intheabsence

of concreteinformationon possiblemotivations, moststudiesfocusinsteadon

anticipation now pervades theliterature.Since 1995,


and capability(see Falkenrath,Newman, & Thayer,1998;Laqueur,

1999;Stern,1999). In governmentcircles,anticipation hasbecomenear certainty.

What psychological evidenceexiststo support the prediction that religious


chemical,radiological, ornuclearmeans?So farthe onlyexplicitlypsychological analysis is thatofLifton (1999), whose findings arebased primarily oninterviews withlowerlevelmembersofAum Shinrikyo as wellas press andotherobserver accounts.The membersofAumtendedtobe people whohad long searchedfor

spiritualcommitment,particularly ofa New Age sort. They hadoftenbeenrestless

membersofother fringecults, not political activists.Thebelief system ofthe group was wildly eclectic, tothe point ofincoherence. Although Lifton's approach was

basicallypsychoanalytic, he

relationships withinthecultandtheleader'scharismatic authority. Once inthe group, obediencetothecharismaticleader (ShokoAsahara) became obligatory and absolute.Ifobediencewas not voluntary, itwas coerced.Lifton compared Aum

Shinrikyo toother religiouscults, suchas Heaven's Gate, theBranch Davidians,


called "revolutionary suicide."YetLiftonconcludedthateven though Aum'swas

the strangest andmostbizarrebehaviorhe hadever studied, stilltheculthada

prosaic side

ofitsmembersandtheir everyday life.

catastrophicdestruction, particularlyusingbiological,

interpreted theircommitmentin termsof social

People's Temple

in Jonestown, all of whichalso turnedto whatLifton

(1999,p. 341). He was struck by the"familiarordinariness"ofmost

The emphasis ona "new"terrorism suggests a numberofissues.Is theAum

genre ofterroristsaboutwhom generalizations about

Shinrikyo cult typical ofa

motivationcan be offered?Is it

Liftonand many others suggest? Orisitunusualintermsof


decentralized movement, and thecultwas a legal organization, notan illegal underground.





Thus, withinthe category ofthe"new" terrorism, evenifa commonmotivation

is assumed,different organizationalstructuresarepresent.What impact will they

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have on

subcultures, the epitome ofthe"new"terrorism,personality characteristics (par-

ticularly thoseof leaders) becomemore important than sociopolitical factors.But is it possible fora charismaticleadertoexert authority overa decentralized group, in theabsenceof personal contactbetweenleadersandfollowers?Charismatic leadership, as foundin Aum, is probably morecharacteristicofclosed organiza- tions.Most past research findings arebasedondatafromclandestine undergrounds:

closed groups thatare typically in competition witheachother,whosemembers

experiencestronggroupsolidarity and peerpressure, feelintense personalloyalty toeachother,merge individual identity inthe group, and display distorted percep- tionsoftheoutsideworld. They arealso fundamentallypolitical, evenif they see theauthoritiesas illegitimate. Whichoftheold findings will apply to groups such as theOsama Bin Ladinnetwork? Although somemilitantsinteractin training camps in Afghanistan, mostseemtobe boundmore bypastexperience(fighting against theSovietUnionin Afghanistan) andsharedbeliefsthan by directcontact witheach other.Littleis knownaboutthe psychology ofmilitantswho operate

independently ofa group andwhoseemtobe motivated byideologicalinspiration

ratherthandirectorders. Moreover,groups classed together as possessingreligious belief systems display differentlevelsofsocialrootedness.Some groups areisolatedfrom society, butothersare part of social movementswithsubstantial popularsupport and outreach programs(such as Hamas). Nor can one inferindividualmotivation

directly from groupideology. Giventhesedifferencesin organizational structureand social context, the assumption ofthe inevitability ofimitationshouldbe questioned. Themechanisms of contagion ofmethodsofviolencearenot fully understood.The 1995 Tokyo subway attackdoesnot appear tohaveestablisheda precedent. Is thedesiretocause masscasualties necessarily linkedto weapons ofmass destruction, ordo they have a uniqueappeal? Whatcausestheviolationofnormsortaboosthat prohibit theuse ofthese weapons? Wouldtheuseof"WMD" requiregreater moral disengagement thantheuse of conventional weapons? Are bombings of greaterpsychological valuethan biological orchemical "poisonings"(see Stem,1999)? Similarly, is suicidalviolenceor the willingness to cause mass casualties necessarily linkedto religiousgoals? The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a resolutely secularnationalist group, has practiced thehumanbomb technique formorethan20 years. In December 1999, for example,during a presidential election campaign, twodifferentLTTE squadsattempted simultane- ously to assassinatethe president of Sri Lanka and theleaderof a competing politicalparty. Theirbombshaveoftencaused large numbersofciviliancasualties.

Hoffman (1999) seestheLTTE as representative ofa newtrendtowarda

sionalization"of terrorism, whereas religious terroristsare more likely to be


behavior? Sprinzak(1995) suggested thatin poorlyorganized radical


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Psychology ofTerrorism


Theabsenceof empirical evidencefor many claimsabouta "new" terrorism, particularly thelikelihoodoftheuseof weapons ofmass destruction, raisesmore questions. Boththe study of terrorismand counterterrorism policy have been

event-driven. Why has thenotionof a "new,"dangerous, and uncontrollable terrorismbecomeso compelling? Is the perception driven by theshockofa series ofevents closely relatedintimebutnot necessarily caused by thesamefactors?Is the perception ofthreatdriven bypublicopinion, thenews media, orelitesinthe

government andscientificcommunities?Stern (1999)

death bypoison andthus experience a special senseof"dread"atthe prospect of chemicalor biological attack.Johnson (1994) argued that exaggeration ofthreats is likely when people fearlossoforderand control, becauseofa needfor certainty

and predictability. The perception of particularly vividorsalientthreats may be

exaggerated,especially whenthereis littleinformationaboutthem.Theassumed potential destructivenessofchemicalor biological terrorism (which is actually the subject ofscientific dispute)may causean overestimationofitslikelihood.Fur-

thermore, therehasbeenlittle psychologicalstudy of public reactionsto"conven-

tional" terrorism, outsideofsomeworkon theIsraelicase (see Kaufman,1991,

whofoundthatthe public tendsto misperceiveadversaryintentions).

suggested that people



The study ofterrorismshould gobeyond a concentrationoncurrenteventsor

speculation aboutthefutureto developsystematicanalyses ofthe development of the phenomenon overtime.Researchersnowhavea wealthofevidenceonthebasis

of which generalizations can be

answering a numberof importantquestions, mostofwhichhave onlyrarely been addressed directly. First, littleis knownabout why theusersof terrorismwouldabandonthe strategy. Researchhasfocusedon the psychological motivationsfor engaging in terrorismratherthanmotivationsfor renouncing terrorism.Yet a numberof

protracted terrorist campaigns haveended by thedeliberatedecisionof participants (forexample, theProvisionalIrish RepublicanArmy orthe Popular Frontforthe

Liberationof Palestine, in thecontextof

generallyaccepted thatterroristsdo not"win"inan

Analysis,however, shouldfocuson terrorist perceptions of goals

effectivenessofterrorismas a strategy. Researchshould try to identify the psycho-

logical incentivesfor givingup violence.For

violence perceive thatterrorismhasfailed (forexample, in causing thewithdrawal

of popularsupport or theonsetofdemoralizationwithinthe

noticenew opportunities for achieving their objectives? Whatarethe psychological

costsof participating in terrorism?Whatleads individualsto

reduced prison sentences (such as the pentiti in Italy) oramnesties?Is thedecision

torenounceterrorismtheresultofanindividualora groupprocess?Does itinvolve

constructed. Psychology could contributeto

wider peacemakingprocesses). It is

objective ormaterialsense.

and of the

example, do groups thatabandon

group), ordo they



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a reactivationof moralself-evaluation, a

processes thatBandura (1990) identified? Governments oftenassumethatterror-

ismcan be decisively defeated through a forcefuland punitiveresponse, butin somecasesa policy ofdeterrence only seemstoreinforceterroristbeliefs.Howdo

terrorists perceivegovernment actions?

A secondareaforfruitfulresearchconcernsthe development of strategies of

reversalof themoral disengagement

terrorism.In particular, whatleads to innovationin terrorist behavior, suchas

hostage-takings ortheresortto weapons ofmassdestruction? Psychologicaltheory proposes thatinnovationsarenot leaps intothe unknown;they arisefromnew ways

of associatingpreviously knownideas or reconstructing familiarmethods (see

Feldman,Csikszentmihalyi, & Gardner,1994;Sternberg,1988). Innovationis the

resultofa graduallearningprocess, nota suddenburstof enlightenment. Whatis

required is a redefinitionor reconceptualization of an old problem, based on

knowledge and experience.According to Holyoak and Thagard(1995),"mental leaps" occurwhenanindividualisconfronted by anunfamiliar situation, whenthe environmentseemsdisorderedandconfused.Pressedtowork quickly, thedecision- makermustmovebetweena "source analog," theknownandfamiliardomainof

experience and knowledge, and a "targetanalog," thenew puzzle.Selecting a specific source analog,however, isnot simple;manypotential sourcesof analogies liein memory and experience, andtheirconnectiontothe present isnotautomatic. Some sources originate when they are "noticed" by a decision-maker through serendipity oraccident (Holyoak & Thagard,1995,p. 192). A variety of psycho- logical factors may makean availablesource salient, suchas events personally experienced orincidentsthatare emotionallycompelling. Aneventthatstimulated

a desirefor revengemight be a significant cue for innovation, for example. It is also likely tobe linkedtothefactorof leadership andthedeterminationtosolvea particularproblem. Anotherresearchareathathasbeen neglected isthe study of decision-making intheareaofcounterterrorism (see also Crenshaw,1990). HermannandHermann

(1990) studiedthe relationship between hostage-takings andstressin presidential

decision-making. The question ofthe psychology of governmentalresponse takes on specialurgency whentheuse of military forceis an option. In particular,

researchshould investigate inconsistenciesincounterterrorist policy andreactions

tothethreatof catastrophic terrorism.For example, beforethe1998 bombings in East Africa, theClintonadministrationhad takena low-key, even minimalist, approach toterrorism.Theissuewas typically mentionedas oneitemina listof "transnational"or "border-crossing"policyproblems,includingepidemics of disease,globalorganizedcrime,drugs, andenvironmentaldisasters.Theadmini- strationhadalso been philosophically aversetotheuseofforcein foreignpolicy. Yet its response to the bombings was to launchcruisemissiles againsttraining

camps in Afghanistan and against a pharmaceuticalsplant intheSudan suspected

of manufacturing chemical precursors forthe development ofchemical weapons.

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Psychology ofTerrorism


The decisionto strikethe pharmaceuticalsplant was highly controversialwithin andoutsidetheadministration. Manyquestions remainaboutthe cognitive andemotionalbiasesthat might have affectedthisdecisionand will likely influencefuturereactions.How do

governments learnfrom pastexperiences in

Clintonadministration learn, for example, fromthe Reagan administration'sbomb-

ing of Libya in1986?Howinclusivewasthe decision-makingprocess? Wasdissent encouraged or discouraged? If terroristadversariesare perceived as irrational fanatics, theirmotives may notbe examined closely. Do policymakersanticipate theeffectsoftheiractionson terroristbeliefsand perceptions or appreciate the adversary's construction of reality? Questions abouthowterrorismendsandthe policymakingprocess areboth related generally totheissueoftheeffectivenessof government counterterrorism

policies. Ina psychologicalanalysis of policyeffectiveness,Ginges(1997)argued

thata strategy ofdenialand punishment tendsto oversimplify terroristmotivations


intoaccounttheterrorists' feelings of rejection andalienation.Likemoststudies

of motivation, his argument is basedon familiar groups ofthe past, suchas the ItalianRed Brigades. Whatis neededis an investigation oftheeffectsofdifferent

policies ona range of groups withdifferent motivations,organizationalstructures, andsocial relationships. Anadditionalresearchconcernisthe public reactiontoterrorism.For example,

if theUnitedStatesshould experience an incidentof chemicalor

terrorism (the scenariosthatareconsideredmost likely), howwouldthe public respond? A common assumption inthe government isthat widespreadpanic would result,necessitatingcostlypreventive and copingmeasures, butthis projection is notbased explicitly on psychologicalfindings oron empirical evidence.Studiesof the psychological effectsof pastmass-casualtybombings wouldbe instructive. Wouldthereactionto terrorismbe moreseverethanthe response to a natural disaster?

dealing withterrorism?Whatdidthe

hardening oftheir resolve, whereasa reintegrativestrategy takes



A focuson the prospect of a "new" catastrophic terrorismshouldnotbe

allowedtodistractresearchersfrombasic questions ortoobscurethefactthatmuch terrorismis stillofthefamiliar variety, with pragmatic and comprehensible aims.

Furthermore,onlybycomparing the present to the past can researchdetermine whatis new.Researchersshouldalsobe cautiousabout drawing inferencesabout

patterns ofterrorismfromsmallnumbersofcasesor

riesof terroristactorsthat lumptogether dissimilar motivations, organizations,

resources,and contexts. Although thereis stillmuchmoreto learnaboutthe

motivationsfor terrorism, particularly thesourcesof escalation, researchshould

not neglectthe questionsofhowterrorismendsorhow governments and publics


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respond.Last, the study of psychological motivationsfor terrorism, as wellas for

endingterrorism, shouldcontinueto be based on a

individual, the gro