Sociology Index

Analysing the causes of terrorism

Books on Sociology of Terrorism, Terrorist Groups, Abstracts, Syllabus, Sociology of Terrorism

The Causes: Religious, sociological and psychological factors appear to be more pronounced, though economic and political factors also have their impact. According to Paul Wilkinson, the causes of revolution and political violence in general are also the causes of terrorism.

These include ethnic conflicts, religious and ideological conflicts, poverty, modernization stresses, political inequities, lack of peaceful communications channels, traditions of violence, the existence of a revolutionary group, governmental weakness and ineptness, erosions of confidence in a regime, and deep divisions within governing elites and leadership groups.

The political and environmental causes
It is easy to assume that a terrorist is born with certain personality traits that destine him or her to become a terrorist, but the root causes of terrorism can be found in influences emanating from environmental factors. Russell and Miller identify universities as the major recruiting ground for terrorists.

Universities are where many young and idealistic students become familiar with revolutionary ideas and get involved with radical groups. Environments conducive to the rise of terrorism include international and national environments.

We must distinguish between a cause or stimulus that precipitates a particular act of violence and the preconditions to the cause or stimulus. Political scientists Chalmers Johnson and Martha Crenshaw have further subdivided preconditions into permissive factors, which engender a terrorist strategy and make it attractive to political dissidents, and direct situational factors, which motivate terrorists. Permissive causes include urbanization, the transportation system (for example, by allowing a terrorist to quickly escape to another country by taking a flight), communications media, weapons availability, and the absence of security measures. An example of a situational factor for Palestinians would be the loss of their homeland of Palestine.

Various examples of international and national or subnational theories of terrorism can be cited. An example of an international environment hypothesis is the view proposed by Brian M. Jenkins that the failure of rural guerrilla movements in Latin America pushed the rebels into the cities. (This hypothesis, however, overlooks the national causes of Latin American terrorism and fails to explain why rural guerrilla movements continue to thrive in Colombia.) Jenkins also notes that the defeat of Arab armies in the 1967 Six-Day War caused the Palestinians to abandon hope for a conventional military solution to their problem and to turn to terrorist attacks.