Rape, the attacks in the United States of America on September 11, 2001, abortion clinic bombings and the Ku Klux Klan are all people and events that can evoke strong emotional feelings primarily because they are all forms of terrorism. (Barkan 2001, 64) The definition of a terrorist act varies depending on the situation and the person analyzing it. The various definitions of terrorism typically involve violence, fear, and political change (Barkan 2001, 65).
People opposed to the views of the terrorist often wonder how this act of terrorism occurred as well as what would, and has, driven a person to harm fellow humans in such a way, committing great atrocities. As with all problems, socially or otherwise, there is never just one answer. On a macro level, terrorism is a tool used to manipulate a change that the terrorist wants, most often a political change, as stated in most definitions of terrorism.
Through out history the majority of known terrorists have been male (Barkan 2001, 85). In the past this was believed to be due to the male sperm being more aggressive and moving around (Barkan 2001, 85). As research has improved, scientists have found the increase in male testosterone makes them more apt to be violent (Barkan 2001, 85). As the social roles of females have evolved and changed, females have been involved in more known acts of terrorism than they were before (Barkan 2001, 85-86). This could be because of women being less secretive than previous years, or due to their changing roles in society (Barkan 2001, 85-86). Further studies have also created questions about if the number of females involved in terrorism has really risen and what the reasons for that may be, it is too early to confidently say either (Barkan 2001, 86).
Often the media assists terrorism and encourages it without intending to do so. The various reports about terrorism allow a public megaphone for the terrorists to spread their demands and increase fears throughout the viewing audience, which in some cases is the world (Barkan 2001, 83-84). As the intended victims learn of the terrorist attacks, especially details, wide spread panic and fear often erupt (Barkan 2001, 83-84). The threatened citizens become more informed and scared, therefore often giving in to the terrorist’s demands (Barkan 2001, 83-84).
Media can also promote groupthink. Groupthink is the loss of individual reasoning and morals in a larger group of people (Irving 2000, 31). Victims of groupthink, if one can consider a terrorist a victim, often lose a lot of the judgment and individual decision making processes that they would use. Generally if there is a consensus with other people, those people feel satisfied that everyone else agrees with them so the idea must be right, which is commonly not the case (Irving 2000, 32). Seeing reports on the news, in the newspapers, or through other forms of media, future terrorists find out that other people agree with them, and even that their cause is news-worthy.
Terrorist’s causes and methods vary, but the overall mindset of them is similar. The analysis of the reasons behind why these terrorists commit these acts varies, but the apparent mindset of terrorists is very similar.
Rushworth M. Kidder, a prominent researcher on terrorism, has identified seven
characteristics observed in interviewing well-known terrorists around the world: oversimplification of issues , frustration about an inability to change society ,
a sense of self righteousness , a utopian belief in the world , a feeling of social isolation , a need to assert his own existence , a cold blooded willingness to kill.
(Davis 2004, 23)
The combination of those seven characteristics can be fatal to the victims of terrorism, yet a person with those characteristics is not necessarily a terrorist. The environment can play a factor in who commits these violent acts, as well as the motives. Terrorism is a complex subject, with no easy definition, and no complete accurate way of pinpointing what causes a terrorist and his or her thoughts.
Barkan, Steven E., and Lynne L. Snowden. 2001. Collective Violence. Allyn & Bacon: Boston.
Davis, Paul B. 2004. “The Terrorist Mentality” pp in 22-23 in Violence and Terrorism Annual Editions 04/05 7th Edition edited by Thomas J. Bady. Guilford, CT: Mcgraw-Hill/Dushkin
Janis, Irving. 2000. “Victims of Groupthink” pp in 30-35 in Approaches to Peace A Reader in Peace Studies edited by David P. Barash. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, Inc.