Terrorism as an organizational and social psychology


It has always been a difficult task to define terrorism while distinguishing it from other forms of violence like criminal Violence or military actions. From the perspective of different entities in international system, definition of terrorism varies as per their understanding. This is mainly because of the varying terrorist behavior, the motivation which they have behind their actions and their perspectives. For states, right to use force is limited to them and only they have the legitimate authority to exercise this right. All other ‘non-state’ actors using force are illegal and unjustified by all means. Be it state or non-state terrorism, there is no doubt that during last three decades terrorism has become one of the gravest problems faced in the human history. Attempts have been made to counter terrorism by allocating a big chunk of national resources towards counter-terrorism measures. From fighting global war on terrorism to catering terrorism through strategies at national level, the existing literature lacks in building an understanding of how terrorism operates as a social psychology. Thus, terrorism refers to the ‘use of violent means’ in order to threaten state legitimacy and its ability to protect its citizens. A political scientist Sunil Khilnani says: “Terror is simply a tactic, a method of random violence, as likely to be used by a deranged individual as by a state”. The aim of this paper is to analyze and understand the ‘psychology of terrorism’ while addressing different kinds of terrorism through various case studies. The main argument of this study is to shed light on the fact that terrorism is not an ‘individual psychology’ but an organizational and collective effort to challenge state’s legitimacy in international arena. It also analyzes the psychological impacts of terrorists acts as well as the mindset on the basis of which this mindset is materialized. It lays its foundation on various theoretical underpinning to better understand this psychological phenomenon.

If we look into the pattern which is followed by terrorists then it has evolved over the time. Previously terrorists’ motives mainly revolved around brining revolution, national succession or liberation but now a days this concept has completely altered. Today terrorist seek to transform the whole world their motivation not restricted to political goals and that merely towards state. With evolved agendas the psychology of terrorists has also evolved from individual to ‘collective identity’ building. Modern day terrorists have their shared interest in factors like poverty, discrimination, alienation, unequal economic and political opportunities and much more. As per the socio-psychological explanations of terrorist behavior, they have normal individuals but they are facilitated by different societal conditions which they think are biased towards them. They then combine with other people of the same approach and understanding to form a group against that violence which they think is committed against the. At collective level this ‘collective ideology’ can be aimed against an oppressive regime, or a privileged social group. Another possibility is that at individual level, these individuals might have faced similar circumstances like unfair humiliation which occurred at individual level and then resulted into the development of ‘collective psychology’.  Following are some of the approaches which explain this ideology through case studies of Baluchistan liberation Army (BLA) and Al-Qaida.

Terrorism is motivated by religious causes and individuals are willing to make sacrifice and die for holy cause. Religiously motivated terrorists called themselves as true believers and holy warriors to achieve holy cause by spreading any means necessary-holy terror. Holy terrorist sees world as scared battlefield between forces of light and darkness and regard it as sacramental act. So called true believers dismiss religious views of others, demonize their enemies and equate them with pure evil. Violence is the only way to purity world from non –believers and if they fall, they become inspiration of hope. These extremist and radicalized objectives can also be found in Al-Qaeda, ISIS, Taliban mandates.

For many decades, the policy formulation and action mechanism against terrorism was solely based on strategies to counter actions of terrorists or as a whole their organizations. But the lope hole in the policy making clearly lies in the understanding of the terrorist psychology. For a longer period of time states’ anti-terrorism policies were neglecting the understanding of ‘collective psychology’ of terrorist behavior. They operate on the basis of ‘sense of identity’ which is less understood while making strategies to counter terrorism. The sense of identity mainly provides a group with the ideology on the basis of which they operate. When a group has ideological foundations, one can’t force them to leave that identity as ideology is something rooted in their way of living. A state should formulate policies aimed at catering that psychology by motivating terrorists to leave that collective identity ultimately resulting into the annihilation of that organization. In the case of BLA too, one potential solution to the problem can be that state acts pro-actively to win the favor of general masses there. Terrorists disseminate their organizations by influencing the insights of future generations of terrorists. Manipulating a reactive media, they establish their power and significance and define the legitimacy of their cause. To counter them, effective education and dissemination of objective information are required.

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