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Root Causes of Terrorism

Schmid (2011). The Routledge Handbook Of Terrorism

Research, p. 171

Psychological Theories
1. Psychoanalytic Theories
Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud
(18561939) : assume that much of
mental life is unconscious; that
psychological development proceeds in
stages based on childhood sexual
fantasies; and that psychological distress
derives from unresolved internal
conflict related to these fantasies

a. identity theory
individuals who are prone to terrorism are young, lack selfesteem, and have a strong need to consolidate their
b. narcissism theory
the need of infants to be loved in order to develop normally
failure of the mother to provide the infant with empathy
damages the self-image, resulting in what is known as
narcissistic injuries produce narcissistic rage destroy
the source of the narcissistic injury.
c. paranoia theory
externalization and splitting, black & white, us vs others
people suffering from paranoid personality disorders exhibit
a pervasive distrust and suspicion of others, to whom they
ascribe malicious motives

a. novelty-seeking theory
political violence may satisfy innate and possibly
genetically determined needs for stimulation and risk
at high levels.
b. Cognitive theory
disfunctions of memory, attention, concentration,
language, and the so-called executive functions to learn
and follow rules, to anticipate outcomes, to make
sensible inferences, and to perform accurate risk-benefit
c. Humiliation Theory
humiliation + a passion for revenge is well known and
likely to contribute to many ordinary criminal murders

Psychology Justification
Normal persons have self-sanctions
There are, however, individuals can gradually
remove these self-sanctions, : mechanisms of
moral disengagement :
a.moral justification : when aggressive behavior
is portrayed as serving a moral purpose
b.Collateral damage, which is used to describe
accidental damage to civilians, property, or
territory during violent conflict
c. inhumanities of another : they have no other
means left to defend themselves

We have nothing with which to repel

killing and thuggery against us except
the weapon of martyrdom. . . . It is
easy and costs us only our lives . . .
human bombs cannot be defeated,
not even by nuclear bombs.
Ramadan Shalah, a leader of the
Palestinian Islamic Jihad

Organizational Theory
Terrorism is rarely carried out by individuals acting on
their own. It is instead conducted by members of more or
less identifiable organizations, groups, or smaller cells
that form part of a larger network of groups.
groups may adhere to the same underlying ideology but
may differ remarkably in organizational structure.
Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Al-Qaeda all find justification in
the Koran, but both Hamas and Islamic Jihad
hierarchical and authoritarian
Al-Qaeda has a decentralization of decision making (after
the 2001 US invation)
Survival instict : IRA
Internal decision making

Political Roots of Terrorism

Within Democracy
Transitional Democracy the
immediate response to rapid change
of political system
b. Democracy is ruled by the people
foreign policy is the responsibility of
not only the state itself, but also for
its citizen legitimacy to kill the

Conrad, Courtenay R. (2014), Tyrants and Terrorism: Why Some Autocrats are
Terrorized While Others are Not, International Studies Quarterly

Democracy and Terrorism

Terrorism as a temporal condition in
transitional state :
Reasons :
a.The immediate conditions
b.small entrepreneurial bands whose
repertoire of political actions
c.depends on the behavior of the

Osama bin Ladens November 2002 Letter to

America :
By electing these leaders, the American
people have given their consent to the
incarceration of the Palestinian people, the
demolition of Palestinian homes, and the slaughter
of the children of Iraq. The American people have
the ability and choice to refuse the policies of their
government, yet time and again, polls show the
American people support the policies of the
elected government This is why the American
people are not innocent

Economic Roots of Terrorism

1. Poverty?
Poverty is not a direct cause of terrorism
Lebanon : poverty rate among members of Hizbollah
was lower than the poverty rate among the Lebanese
population at large. Hizbollah fighters were more
highly educated
Jewish Underground (Makhteret) (1980-1984 attacks)
found to be mostly well educated with high-paying
Why ?
Terrorists from a middle- or upper-class background are
better suited to adjust to a foreign environment,
something that a particular mission will often require
To conduct the 9/11 attacks, for example, al Qaeda
placed a terrorist cell in the German city of Hamburg :
to adjust to the Western way of life

Poverty as an inderect cause of terrorism

(1) poor countries often serve as safe havens
for terrorist groups failed state
Afghanistan n Sudan provided shelter to
Osama bin Laden
(2) Countries with poor economic conditions
are more likely to undergo ethnic and religious
conflict, or civil war attract foreign terrorist
elements Afghanistan, Sudan, Lebanon
(3) poverty makes it easier for the terrorist
organizations to exploit the economically
disadvantaged masses

2. The business of terrorism

The FARC has been able to employ a large
number of fighters because of its high
revenuesfrom drug sales and kidnappings
that amount to around $700 million per year
Palestinian martyrdom operations
suicide bombers received cash payments of
at least $1,000 from the Palestinian
Authority, and $10,000 from the Iraqi
government under Saddam Hussein
InMarch 2002, Iraq decided to increase the
payment to families of suicide to $25,000,
there was a steep rise in the number of
suicide bombings

3. Modernization and Terrorism

Modernization polarizes society into
modernizers and traditionalists. This
argument is related to the concept
of relative deprivation (RD)
Modernization introduced
technologies such as dynamite,
modern transportation systems, and
new and more lethal weapons, all of
which terrorists have exploited to
their advantage.

Social & Cultural Roots

of Terrorism
1. Social Root of Terrorism
Cultural Violence political and economic
inequalities between different groups sunnishia
The larger the gap between societies, the
higher the likelihood that they will engage in
violent activities
2. Cultural Root of terrorism : debatable
Culture refers to meanings, values, and
behavioral norms that have been transmitted to
a certain group of people over time