Profile of a terrorist: What makes people blow themselves up

(WND) -- Psychologists affirm that people avoid death at almost any cost. The will to live is strong: Witness the recent case of a little girl who walked miles through a winter forest to safety after her family was killed in a plane crash.

Or the former NFL player who saved himself after falling off his fishing boat by swimming nine miles for more than 16 hours.

So how then does a religious-political system like Islam convince people – especially young people – to commit acts of suicide terror?

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.

‘Warfare of the weak’

Dr. Clark McCauley calls the scenario “warfare of the weak” and notes that those looking for recruits for violence often focus on prisons and gangs. Isolation and alienation are common factors, he said.

John Horgan, Ph.D., of Pennsylvania State’s International Center for the Study of Terrorism, elaborated on the idea.

He said recruits often display feelings of anger and alienation:

  • They believe their current political involvement lacks power;
  • They identify with perceived victims of social injustice;
  • They feel the need to take action rather than talking;
  • They believe violence is not necessarily immoral;
  • They have sympathetic family or friends; and
  • They believe joining a movement offers adventure, camaraderie and identity.

Others paint the picture with a broader brush.

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 and his team tested the role a collectivist mentality plays in terror. The team surveyed thousands of Arabs and people from other cultures. Their work was published in Political Psychology and also reported by the American Psychological Association.

They 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.

Globalism has also contributed to the terrorist mentality, according to Georgetown University’s Fathali Moghaddam. In “How Globalization Spurs Terrorism: The Lopsided Benefits of One World and Why That Fuels Violence” (Praeger, 2008), Moghaddam argues that a fear of cultural annihilation likely fuels terrorist sentiments.

He suggests that globalization has forced on many cultures a large-scale neurotic drive to survive. He says it is that survivalist drive and fear of extinction that psychologically forces smaller, more disparate cultures into a chronic and intense “fight or flight” response, with an emphasis on the former choice.

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