Terrorist Rationalization of Violence
D. Guttman (1979:525) argues that "The terrorist asserts that he loves only the socially redeeming qualities of his murderous act, not the act itself." By this logic, the conscience of the terrorist is turned against those who oppose his violent ways, not against himself. Thus, in Guttman's analysis, the terrorist has projected his guilt outward. In order to absolve his own guilt, the terrorist must claim that under the circumstances he has no choice but to do what he must do. Although other options actually are open to the terrorist, Guttman believes that the liberal audience legitimizes the terrorist by accepting this terrorist rationalization of violence and murder.
Albert Bandura (1990) has described four techniques of moral disengagement or terrorist rationalization of violence that a group can use to insulate itself from the human consequences of its actions.
First terrorist rationalization of violence, by using moral justification
terrorists may imagine themselves as the saviors of a constituency threatened by a great
evil. For example, Donatella della Porta (1992:286), who interviewed members of left-wing
militant groups in Italy and Germany, observed that the militants "began to perceive
themselves as members of a heroic community of generous people fighting a war against
A third technique is to minimize or ignore the actual suffering of the victims. As
Bonnie Cordes (1987) points out, terrorists are able to insulate themselves from moral
anxieties provoked by the results of their hit-and-run attacks, such as the use of time
bombs, by usually not having to witness first-hand the carnage resulting from them, and by
concerning themselves with the reactions of the authorities rather than with civilian
casualties. Nevertheless, she notes that "Debates over the justification of violence,
the types of targets, and the issue of indiscriminate versus discriminate killing are
endemic to a terrorist group." Often, these internal debates result in schisms.
Psychologist Frederick Hacker (1996:162) points out that terrorists transform
their victims into mere objects, for "terroristic thinking and practices reduce
individuals to the status of puppets." Cordes, too, notes the role reversal played by
terrorists in characterizing the enemy as the conspirator and oppressor and accusing it of
state terrorism, while referring to themselves as "freedom fighters" or
"revolutionaries." As Cordes explains, "Renaming themselves, their actions,
their victims and their enemies accords the terrorist respectability."