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Causes of Terrorism

There are as many avenues for radicalization as there are terrorists. The closer you can get to the terrorists themselves, the better your chances for understanding them. Until that day comes, terrorism will continue to express itself. Once something is understood, its control becomes possible.

Jessica Stern and Ashutosh Varshney combine to provide a marvelous description of the terror equation in a pair of timely books. Stern points to Alienation, Humiliation, and the Biblical (or other religious source) promise of land for believers as being among the motives of various terror movements. Varshney studied present day violence in India firsthand. He concluded that integration in all sectors of society, business, religion, and government brings about more peaceful behavior from the citizenry. Each author was personally involved "on the ground floor" so to speak. Their books are must reads for anyone truly attempting to understanding the origins of and means to limit terrorism.

Huge gaps in economic status and education lead to humiliation on both the individual and national scales. Remoteness, naivete, and lack of empathy contribute to individual alienation on the part of those on the receiving end. Separate and different visions of God lead to never ending friction among both the Islamic states and terror groups.

Many terror groups are readily classified as either secular or religious; others are a mixture using whatever motivates for the moment. Still other groups started as one but gravitated to the other.

We can be sure that Monotheism and violence go together. All three are predominantly patriarchal with Islam by far the most extreme; that is a significant factor according to those who have studied the question. Male hormone levels also correlate positively with violence. Some studies have linked high levels of the hormone to aggressive or violent behavior. Men who commit violent crimes often test high in testosterone level. But not everyone with high levels has a tendency toward violence. Those cases need further study since we also know generally that our individual environments affect our behaviors.

Here we provide links and summaries that altogether explore various aspects of this critical issue.

Alienation -- Along with humiliation, alienation promotes the state of mind many terrorists themselves report as being significant to their radicalization. Kerry Noble is an archetype as reported by Jessica Stern in her "Terror in the Name of God." Noble joined a cult full of hope for a better life for all humankind. He was gradually radicalized and became second in command.

Anthropology / History -- It seems to us that the accurate recording of actual events by historians and development of their root causes by anthropologists would be an effective marriage of disciplines in an age of terror. Stern and Varshney seem to be doing just that.

Authoritarians -- If there is a cause for violence, war, and terror in our genes, the authoritarian personality is its manifestation. It is not ethnicity speaking, nor is it religion. Rather it is expressed by personal rigidity, intolerance, and conformity, our jungle heritage. Authoritarian personalities permeate all societies and are often religious. Fundamentalists of any of the major monotheisms are usually authoritarian personalities. So are dictators. As ghastly as terrorists have been and still are, we will err in our strategy against them if we do not account for their humanity and how they develop their inhumanity. In counterpoint:

Authoritarian Personality -- Milgram made a profound discovery. Ordinary Americans will engage in life-threatening violence simply out of obligation to an "authority figure" no matter how superficial. Milgram's conclusion may be restated as a generality: Extreme behavior can be elicited from normal individuals by circumstances imposed by others.

Drums of War -- "Beware the leader who bangs the drums of war in order to whip the citizenry into a patriotic fervor, for patriotism is indeed a double- edged sword. It both emboldens the blood and narrows the mind. And when the drums of war have reached a fever pitch and the blood boils with hate and the mind is closed, the leader will have need in seizing the rights of citizenry. Rather, the citizenry, infused with fear and blinded by patriotism, will offer up all of their rights unto the leader and gladly so. How do I know this? Because I have done this, and I am Caesar." If the average American voter is not well informed enough to make wise choices in the voting booth, s/he can make naive or narrow-minded choices in the guise of patriotism. Therein lies great danger. In this information age, wisdom can not come if our heads are in the sand. It comes not from the gut either.

Ethnic Conflict -- Ashutosh Varshney provides a solid social study of the origins of violence. His kernel observation is that ethnic integration in all facets of society is the key to harmony. In one example, integrated cities were able to stop wild rumors that inflamed the non-integrated comparative cities. See also Social Research.

Extremism -- Extremism permeates all societies and all walks of life. Typically extremism is fostered by the few who believe with passion that they are on the right track. The extremist persona well fits the Authoritarian personality identified as explaining the success Hitler had in swaying the German masses to essentially commit genocide.

Fundamentalism -- Fundamentalism is the religious expression of extremism. As such it is part of the larger picture. Neither Abraham, nor Jesus nor Mohammed was an extremist, except perhaps in a desire to cure the ills of humanity. When their teachings are extended and distorted to fit an individualistic view we have religious extremism, otherwise known as fundamentalism. It is quite an irony that religious fundamentalism can and does produce terror.

History - a Terror Perspective -- Terrorism dates back for millennia. And the written history of religious terrorism dates back to at least the first century of the common era. Terrorism was practiced by the Sicari and Zealots, Jewish groups practicing public executions in CE 66-73. The Zealots were ruthless and dramatic. They relied on daggers, but effectively called attention to their cause nonetheless. They employed very public acts of murder of Roman legionnaires or Jewish citizens they considered guilty of apostasy or betrayal. Remarkably, the Zealots took lessons from the Romans and the Punic Wars with their chemical warfare by poisoning wells, granaries, and the water supply of Jerusalem. All this is very much the model for what is going on today, especially in the Middle East. These early groups failed in their purpose; in fact they motivated the Romans to wipe them out.

Hitler and Mein Kampf --Hitler was more than just an Authoritarian Personality -- He was an original, a archetype of the most violent extreme. He defined the personality in his memoir, Mein Kampf, while discussing the Jews. His racism was most extreme. His propaganda knew no bounds. In genocide, his only peer was Stalin. Both men are well worth study by those who would understand violence and terror in polar-opposite human political systems. Their common denominator was extremism.

Humiliation -- Along with Alienation, an important element of the radicalization process for terrorists is simply humiliation where one person or society lords it over others individually and as groups. A common theme among terrorists is the feeling of humiliation. Unless we can effectively address such feelings, terrorism is here to stay. No amount of "State of the Union" messages, bluster by army brass, marching to the plutocratic tune, a posing in a flight suit will make any difference.

Martyrdom and Suicide -- It was in prison that Sayyid Qutb made his lasting marks. He created a philosophical vision where death, piety, wisdom, and immortality are one and the same. With help from his followers he smuggled five volumes, piece by piece, out of his prison. His "In the Shade of the Qur'an" has been called a gigantic study and one of the most remarkable works to be produced in prison. Significantly, bin Laden studied under Muhammed Qutb (Sayyid's brother) in Saudi Arabia.

Mohamed Atta -- Atta's statements in his will are precise and exact; he invoked Abraham's son; he admonished all who read his will to fear God; any non-Islamist involved in any aspect of his will shall be held accountable [by God]; he asked forgiveness for past sins but not the present act; he excluded women who are pregnant or not clean (menstruating) from saying good-bye; he wanted no woman to "apologize" [mourn?] by animal sacrifice; he wanted no woman to visit his grave at any time during or after the funeral.

Religion [Monotheism] and Violence -- Our findings are consistent with the expert views that the three Monotheisms are more violent than are the Eastern religions or philosophies. This feature leaves a troubling issue for humanity. For example, if monotheism does give rise to violence, would peace result if only one monotheism were left to impose its will after an Armageddon style conflagration? We think not. Look at their histories. Each of the major monotheisms has splintered into sects, and even fought many wars. In effect, "my God is better than your God" is the byline of monotheists. They not only fight with those holding another definition, they fight among themselves. Why do you suppose? Adorno and Milgram put their fingers on it: Authoritarianism. Authoritarians loathe nonconformists with different ways of thinking. It is their nature to look down on such individuals and movements.

Witch Hunts -- Witch hunting is an expression of superstitious times. Attitudes are ingrained. "Malleus Maleficarum" (Hammer of Witches) by Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Sprenger; printed in 1486. It became the bible for witch hunters for two centuries. Is witch hunting superstition born of ignorance? Is it manipulative? Is it an expression of fear? Is it irrational? Does it still exist? Is witch hunting to be feared as a cancer in society? Yes, to all of these! An impression one can get from history is that the poor suffered disproportionately. So also for landed, single women, and midwives.

Myths About Terrorism

The following List is based for the most part on
"No End To War" by Walter Laqueur

Myth Fact
Poverty breeds terrorists Terrorists are typically from the middle classes and relatively well educated.
Oppression breeds terrorism Dictators not bound by human rights issues use brutal means to suppress terrorism successfully even though they may practice it.
Terrorists are crazies of one ilk or another Terrorists are well balanced psychologically and can blend perfectly with a democratic populace.
Terrorists come from the poorest societies Terrorists typically come from neither the poorest nor the richest societies but from those between.
Terrorists are well defined demographically Terrorists come from the extreme right or extreme left, from families of any level of wealth, from any religion but mostly a monotheism; Islam produces the vast majority in our times, but it was not always so.
Terrorists are revolutionaries Many are, but many are not; they staunchly defend the status quo.
Islamic terrorists target Westerners Many do, but many more target other sects of Islam they consider apostates as well as regimes they consider infected with western ideas.
Terrorism can be easily suppressed There is no evidence for that; massive repression works, halfhearted measures do not; this raises an acute problem for America and other nations that have regard for individual rights, freedom, and due process of law.
Terrorists are trained by Islamic Mullahs Many are, but many of the most dangerous have been radicalized or converted.

Terrorism alters history: 911 Report.

Did this report get to the bottom of it?
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