Sociology Index

Sociology of Terrorism

Books on Sociology of Terrorism

It is a great irony that humans kill fellow humans in the name of God. It is a greater irony that they hope to receive rewards for such acts of terrorism from such a God. - vpr.

Terrorist rationalization of violence using moral justification imagining themselves as the saviors of a constituency threatened by evil is frightening. Who becomes a terrorist? What kind of individuals join terrorist groups and commit public acts of shocking violence? is a question asked frequently. What Motivates Terrorists?

While analysing the causes of terrorism, religious, sociological and psychological factors appear to be more pronounced, though economic and political factors also have their impact. Joseph Margolin's argues that "much terrorist behavior is a response to the frustration of various political, economic, and personal needs or objectives" in one of the many hypotheses of terrorism.

Defining a terrorist or terrorism is not just a theoretical issue.  Terrorism is no longer a local problem of specific countries. Terrorism is an issue involving a number of international implicatons. An effective strategy requires a proper terrorism definition and definition of a terrorist. There is also the need to define Guerrilla Warfare vs Terrorism. Definition of terrorism related terms is also important.

We need to answer questions like  what is terrorism? or who is a terrorist? in order to impose responsibility on countries supporting terrorism, or combat terrorist groups. The physiological approach to terrorism suggests the role of the media in promoting the spread of terrorism.

Syrian official position that Syria does not assist terrorist organizations but it supports national liberation movements leads to the concept of terrorism for "National Liberation".

There is involvement of States in terrorism, but the September 11 attacks had come from non-state terrorism. The number of victims, in particular, was unprecedented. The media and quite a few public intellectuals like Salman Rushdie have highlighted these attacks as “the worst case of terrorism ever.” Mass-destruction terrorism and WMD use is becoming a huge threat to the world.

Terrorist organizations operate in many countries; the victims of attacks are of different nationalities; terrorist groups receive assistance from different states, receive support from different ethnic communities. What are terrorist group typologies?

International mobilization against terrorism, such as that which began in the mid-nineties and culminated in the international conventions in the G-7 countries, Sharem el-Sheik Conference, will lead to results only when the participants agree on a definition.

What is terrorist's ideology and religious perception?

Speaking about terrorism or the violent world of fundamentalism Dr Salman Akhtar, of Harvard Medical School said "there is the deepest dread of total mortality which all human beings live with. The fundamentalist denies total mortality with fantasies like: you'll go to heaven, you'll get 72 virgins, or that you'll be born again and you'll come back, and if you believe, well you'll have a good next life. It is simply not going to happen."

"It is among the anarchists that we must look for the modern martyrs who pay for their faith with their blood, and who welcome death with a smile because they believe, as truly as Christ did, that their martyrdom will redeem humanity"

"Islamic suicide squads are promised an afterlife replete with gold palaces, sumptuous feasts, and obliging women". - Who becomes a terrorist and why? Federal Research Division, Library of Congress.

Israel occasionally acknowledged the terrorist nature of its strategy, most notably when its Prime Minister (and Defense Minister) Yitzhak Rabin explained that the aim of shelling and bombing south Lebanon was “to make it uninhabitable” and thereby force the Beirut government to repress the activities of the Palestinian liberation movement on its territory.

Terrorism or Revolutionary Violence?

Aims of Terrorism and of Guerrilla Warfare

Individual Terrorism Indiscriminate Terrorism, Rural and Urban Guerrilla Warfare

Terrorist Group and Group Dynamics

“In brief, the psychology behind terrorist violence is normal psychology, abnormal only in the intensity of the group dynamics that link causes with comrades.” - Clark R. McCauley.

The passion with which even socially advantaged group of young people who identify with oppressed groups and the willingness of some fighters to commit suicidal acts in pursuit of a distant goal is mysterious.

Group dynamics explains the reason-result relations within a group and the formation and the functioning of them. Terrorism involves attempts by relatively small groups with claims of mass representation to vindicate those claims by resorting to exemplary violent action.

Pressures to Commit Acts of Violence

Post (1990:35) argues that "individuals become terrorists in order to join terrorist groups and commit acts of terrorism." Joining a terrorist group gives them a sense of "revolutionary heroism" and self-importance that they previously lacked as individuals.

Thomas Strentz has pointed out that terrorist groups that operate against democracies often have a field commander who he calls an "opportunist," that is, an activist, usually a male, whose criminal activity predates his political involvement.

Action relieves stress by reaffirming to these members that they have a purpose. Thus, in Zawodny's analysis, a terrorist group needs to commit acts of terrorism in order to justify its existence. Terrorists may feel that their personal honor depends on the degree of violence that they carry out against the enemy.

Pearlstein points out that other examples of the political terrorist's self-justification of his or her terrorist actions include the terrorist's taking credit for a given terrorist act and forewarning of terrorist acts to come. By threatening future terrorism, the terrorist or terrorist group in effect absolves itself of responsibility for any casualties that may result.

Terrorism or Revolutionary Violence?

Abu Iyad tries to present terrorism and political violence as two different and unconnected phenomena. The implication of this statement is that a political motive makes the activity respectable, and the end justifies the means.

Targeting “the innocent”?

In Terrorism: How the West Can Win, Binyamin Netanyahu states that terrorism is “the deliberate and systematic murder, maiming, and menacing of the innocent to inspire fear for political ends.”

This definition was changed in Netanyahu’s third book, Fighting Terrorism, when the phrase “the innocent” was replaced by the term “civilians”: “Terrorism is the deliberate and systematic assault on civilians to inspire fear for political ends.”

Individual Terrorism, Indiscriminate Terrorism, Rural and Urban Guerrilla Warfare

Rural guerrilla warfare, is “the use of violence against military personnel and security forces in their area of deployment, activity and transport, in order to attain political aims.”

Urban guerrilla warfare involves “targeting a specific urban military facility or attacking a member of the military/security forces, or a political leader at the decision-making level, in order to achieve political aims.”

Indiscriminate terrorism entails “using violence against a civilian target, without regard to the specific identity of the victims, in order to spread fear in a population larger than that actually affected, with the purpose of attaining political aims.”

Individual terrorism entails “using violence against a specific civilian target, or attacking a civilian who embodies a symbol to the public or to the attackers, but who does not function as a political leader at the decision-making level.”

Aims of Terrorism and Guerrilla Warfare

The terrorist and the guerrilla fighter may have the exact same aims, but they choose different means to accomplish them.

Political aims that terrorist organizations and guerrilla movements seek are: national liberation, revolution, anarchism and changing the socio-economic system. An organization is defined as “terrorist” because of its mode of operation and its target of attack, whereas calling something a “struggle for liberation” has to do with the aim that the organization seeks to attain.

Sociology of Terrorism - Abstracts

PURIFICATION AND POWER: THE PSYCHO-POLITICAL ROOTS OF RELIGIOUS TERRORISM - Richard E. Rubenstein, American Psychological Association, June 2002, Chicago, Illinois. Abstract: In the wake of terrorist attacks, the victims of terrorist violence may portray the attackers as acting instrumentally, but within the framework of a political or religious ideology that is utterly alien and divorced from reality.

Terrorism and Freedom: An Outside View
Luis Rubio, General Director, Center for Research for Development, Mexico City.
Nothing is more telling about the recent terrorist attacks in the United States than the nature of their targets. Terrorism is characterized as an incomprehensible destructive activity that implicates the victim only as victim.

Moving beyond the “expressive/instrumental” dichotomy, much modern religious terrorism (like much secular terrorism) can best be understood as the response of groups and individuals to a situation in which (a) they are dominated by expansionist global or regional powers; (b) the opportunities for violent or nonviolent mass resistance are limited; and (c) their oppression is perceived as desecration, demanding purifying action.

State Terrorism and Counterterrorism (PDF)
Paper Number 2002/3Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics (CAPPE) Melbourne
Canberra Department of Philosophy - GPO Box A260.

Anti-Americanisms, Thick Description, and Collective Action
Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom, Professor of History, University of Indiana.