Terrorist Groups, Sociology of Terrorism
Martha Crenshaw observed, "The actions of terrorist organizations are based on a subjective interpretation of the world rather than objective reality." The variables from which their belief systems are formed include their political and social environments, cultural traditions, and the internal dynamics of their clandestine groups. Their convictions may seem irrational or delusional to society in general, but the terrorists may nevertheless act rationally in their commitment to acting on their convictions. Terrorists view the world within the narrow lens of their own ideology (Terrorist Ideology), whether it be Marxism-Leninism, anarchism, nationalism, Islamic fundamentalism, or some other ideology.
Most researchers agree that terrorists generally do not regard themselves as terrorists but rather as soldiers, liberators, martyrs, and legitimate fighters for noble social causes. Those terrorists who recognize that their actions are terroristic are so committed to their cause that they do not really care how they are viewed in the outside world. Others may be just as committed, but loathe to be identified as terrorists as opposed to freedom fighters or national liberators.
Monroe and Kreidie conclude that "fundamentalists see themselves not as individuals but rather as symbols of Islam." They argue that it is a mistake for Western policymakers to treat Islamic fundamentalists as rational actors and dismiss them as irrational when they do not act as predicted by traditional cost/benefit models. "Islamic fundamentalism should not be dealt with simply as another set of political values that can be compromised or negotiated, or even as a system of beliefs or ideology (Terrorist Ideology), such as socialism or communism, in which traditional liberal democratic modes of political discourse and interaction are recognized."
Existing works that attempt to explain religious
fundamentalism often rely on modernization theory
and point to a crisis of identity, explaining religious fundamentalism as an antidote to
the dislocations resulting from rapid change, or modernization. Islamic fundamentalism in
particular is often explained as a defense against threats posed by modernization to a
religious group's traditional identity. Rejecting the idea of fundamentalism as pathology,
rational choice theorists point to unequal
socioeconomic development as the basic reason for the discontent and alienation these
individuals experience. Caught between an Islamic culture that provides moral values and
spiritual satisfaction and a modernizing Western culture that provides access to material
improvement, many Muslims find an answer to resulting anxiety, alienation, and
disorientation through an absolute dedication to an Islamic way of life.
Harold M. Cubert argues that the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), guided by Marxist economic ideology, has misjudged the reasons for popular hostility in the Middle East against the West, "for such hostility, where it exists, is generally in response to the threat which Western culture is said to pose to Islamic values in the region rather than the alleged economic exploitation of the region's inhabitants."
Cliché like, One mans terrorist is another mans freedom fighter, make it all the more difficult to define terrorism. The implications of defining the term terrorism tend to transcend the boundaries of theoretical discussions.