The attacks in Paris changed the game of terror because ISIS has proven its ability to recruit from local populations to achieve its goals. No longer can a country stay safe by careful scanning of foreign entries. Social media and mass communication have changed all of that. Today, American mothers are shocked to learn that their wayward child has joined ISIS. But who is at risk, and what is the psychology of the recruiting process?
Surprisingly, the Black Lives Matter group, and college protests of everything from 9/11 celebrations to safe spaces, lend some precious insight to the vulnerable. These seemingly hapless acts of those with underdeveloped brains on college campuses illuminate a truth that is well documented in research on terror. The psychology of such tribalistic activities parallels the tribal behavior that Islam uses to recruit, and it thrives for two simple reasons – collectivism and globalism.
No newscaster will admit this, but research proves it out.
Experts offer a number of answers, including that terrorists prey on those who feel disenfranchised, who see themselves as victims or who have the desire to take action and believe in violence.
One thing is certain: For terrorism to have impact, terrorists must find a regular supply of recruits.
Jerrold M. Post of George Washington University suggests Islam, like communism, uses collectivism to convince victims to sacrifice.
He said the recipe for terror includes a combination of the following:
- a strong sense of victimization,
- fear of group extinction,
- a feeling of a higher moral condition than the lives of the enemy, and lack of political power to make the wanted change.
“Being part of a collectivist cause has always been a hallmark of people willing to undergo personal sacrifices,” said Arie Kruglanski, co-director of the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, or START.
Kruglanski surveyed thousands of Arabs and people from other cultures, and he found that those most likely to support terrorist activities against Americans are indeed those with the strongest collectivist mentality. Kruglanski said the findings suggest that joining terrorist groups may confer a sense of security and meaning that people do not feel as individuals.
Georgetown University’s Fathali Moghaddam suggests globalism and a fear of cultural annihilation has also contributed to the terrorist mentality.
He writes that globalization has forced on many cultures a large-scale neurotic drive to survive. Moghaddam says Islamic terror is a reaction to the fear that the fundamentalist Islamic way of life is under attack.
Moghaddam’s explanation seems to excuse Islam’s use of terror and implies that they are defending themselves and only trying to survive. Perhaps Moghaddam should research the Quran’s teachings on violence and jihad.
Kruganski and others have come up with ideas on how to convince terrorists that they should not use violence.
They are exploring the use of tactics like using moderate Muslim clerics to teach imprisoned detainees about the Quran’s “true teachings” on violence and jihad.
They also suggested showing concern for the families for terror detainees such as funding their children’s education or offering professional training for their wives.
A while back I spoke to my co-author, clinical psychologist Dr. Dathan Paterno, about these ideas.
Dr. Paterno said, “The idea of paying the education costs of terrorists’ children as some sort of ‘peace’ offering is not only upsetting, it is laughable on its face. … Every bully knows he is winning when he extracts more loot from his victim. It isn’t until the victim punches back – squarely and repetitively – that he gains some respect from the bully. The same is true for Islamic terrorists. Peace is non-negotiable. We need to hit back hard each time, and make them feel it. Until they hurt more critically and more consistently than we do, they will never stop.”
Paterno pushes the point further.
“If we are to follow Kruglanski’s idea and teach the truth of Islam’s teaching on jihad and violence, we would certainly open a few eyes, because violence against ‘infidels’ is advised hundreds of times in the Quran. Those probably are faulty assumptions on the part of the professor, however well-intended.”
Aside from the mindset, there are several personality factors that contribute to terrorism.
Sarah Kershaw in the New York Times cites Ervin Staub from the University of Massachusetts, who says there are three things that lead to terrorist expansion and the way it flourishes today:
Idealists – They support the terror based upon their own ability to identify with the suffering of some group that they are not even a part of. This can be misplaced.
Respondents – They support terror based upon personal experience as a member of a group being defended by a terrorist reportedly acting on the behalf of that persecuted group.
Lost souls – They are adrift, isolated and often ostracized. They can find a sense of purpose in a radical group, so they are “ripe for the picking.”
Kershaw cites another psychologist, Clark McCauley of Bryn Mawr College, who names four basic trajectories of a terrorist:
Revolutionaries – They are involved in a cause over time.
Wanderers – They move from extremist group to extremist group, searching for a sense of purpose.
Converts – They suddenly break with their past and become a part of an extremist movement.
Compliants – They convert to the group via persuasion by a friend, a relative or a romantic interest.
According to the New York Times article by Kershaw, experts weed out the mentally unstable, meaning the truly insane (such as paranoid schizophrenia in the case of Ted Kaczynski, the “Unibomber”). Some contend that actual, clinical insanity is not a leading indicator of susceptibility to follow a terror group, nor is it a credible defense after a terrorist crime in most cases. Further, she says, terrorist leaders prefer to select those of highest status for their suicide missions, since they believe sending those with more to lose lends credibility to their mission.
Other professionals disagree with the opinion that Muslims are fundamentally insane. They argue that the Islamic acceptance of rape, the training of children to kill and the severe oppression, even mutilation and killing of women is not the product of a sane culture. They say the claims of a mental imbalance is little more than an excuse to literally get away with more murder.
Psychologist Nicolai Sennals said: “As a psychologist in a Danish youth prison, I had a unique chance to study the mentality of Muslims. Seventy percent of youth offenders in Denmark have a Muslim background. I was able to compare them with non-Muslim clients from the same age group with more or less the same social background. I came to the conclusion that Islam and Muslim culture have certain psychological mechanisms that harm people’s development and increase criminal behavior.”
He said the typical ways the U.S. deals with crime, politics and punishment is a glaring antithesis to what is really needed to stop the war Islamic terror exacted upon the West.
“Far too many people underestimate the power of psychology embedded in religion and culture,” he said. “As we have already seen, no army of social workers, generous welfare states, sweet-talking politicians, politically correct journalists or democracy-promoting soldiers can stop these enormous forces. Sensible laws on immigration and Islamization in our own countries can limit the amount of suffering, but based on my education and professional experience as a psychologist for Muslims, I estimate that we will not be able to deflect or avoid this many-sided, aggressive movement against our culture.”
But disagreement still abounds among mental health professionals around the world. Solutions evade professionals because of cultural, religious and political differences that appear to culminate in the perfect storm of confusion on the matter, even for the most highly trained psychoanalysts in the world.
More and more the trend is to point to the dangerous occupation of Islam and the West’s stubborn refusal to look squarely at the problem and call it what it is – strictly an Islamic problem. Some analysts say until that first step is accomplished, they are pessimistic that true solutions can be found to curb the violence that will likely affect generations to come.