Monday, August 01, 2005

Origins of Terrorism: Part III - Self Selection

I am continuing to read "Origins of Terrorism". In the first section, the Martha Crenshaw discusses terrorism and terrorist acts as logical decisions taken by groups with strategic purposes directly related to multiple factors including politics, economics and time. The next section deals with the development of organizations. In one chapter, the book discussed terrorist organizations as second or third generation radicals that break away from original groups that may be political, non-violent movements that direct or fringe members feel failed to achieve their goals. This chapter focused mainly on western terrorist organizations.

That chapter and the next explored the psyche and motivation of individual members, both founding and subsequent joiners. This section was titled "Psycho-Logical" and clearly stated that most of these members, when captured and interviewed, were not psychologically impaired or "insane" in the legal clinical sense even if mainstream society would classify their fanatical, violent radicalism as "crazy". To these members, it was simply the logical next step in the evolution of their movement or personal growth. These people would also spend time thinking and writing logical rationales, partly based on reality as society at large framed it and partly based on the group's concept of reality.

In a previous discussion regarding Zawahiri's "Knights Under the Prophet's Banner", I pointed out that Zawahiri was not "crazy" and irrational in his writings. The book was well thought out and his points were organized with logic, even if they are disagreeable to a majority of people. It is often these "Psycho-Logical" writings that convince otherwise "sane" people to either join the movement or actively or passively support it. This isn't only seen in communities with direct links, such as Egyptian, Syrian, Jordanian, Pakistani or Saudi Arabian countries and citizens, but in communities of people of that origin residing in the countries the terrorists are targeting as well as born citizens with no ties what so ever to the originating group. An example would be the citizens of non-Palestinian origination in the US that actively join or support pro-Palestinian organizations or front groups for Hizballah, Hamas, Fatah and the PLO. Also, far left (CPUSA) and far right (Aryan Brotherhood) movements that find common cause and call for the terrorist organizations to strike their native country even if the terrorist organization sees them as potential targets as well. This can be seen in Britain with the rise of such elected officials as George Galloway an MP in the British Parliament.

There are a number of other well known "Psycho-Logical" characters in history: Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao Tse Tung and Saddam Hussein to name a few. While each of these people may have exhibited characteristics of depression, paranoia and even schizophrenia, none of these have ever been clinically diagnosed as "insane". There have been several attempts to "retro" diagnos people like Adolf Hitler in an attempt to explain their apparent abberation from "normal" social and moral standards, none have been accepted or successful in making it a mainstream idea. One of the factors is that, while they may each have had experiences in life that appeared to be an abberation from "normal", none of them start out their careers as mass murderers and each of them, usually early on in their endeavors, develops and/or writes a "logical" manifesto for their movement that convinces many others to follow them, often unquestioningly.

From the previous chapter regarding second and third generation radicals, most of the founding members of terrorist organizations were "self selecting". In other words, they all came to the same conclusion on or about the same time and found each other through the original, non-terrorist organization. From their study of succeeding members, many, if not most, of these latter joiners were also "self selecting". In other words, they were not actually recruited directly by the group, but rather determined on their own that they wanted to be part of the movement or any movement and were willing to subsume their existing morality to participate in terrorist acts including mass murder, assassinations, kidnappings, burglary and theft.

Of course, these ideas do not form in a fish bowl, anymore than the originating terror group that self selected. However, the self selection process appears to be in two parts:

1) Failure, disenchantment or disenfranchisement from main stream society with subsequent "projection".
2) Searching for an outlet of expression or for a place to "belong".

The originating group may have a political agenda that drives their terrorist acts, but subsequent members do not always start out at the same political view or even care about the political view except that some of its agenda coincides with their ideas or that it allows them an outlet even if they do not or did not believe 100% in the movement's agenda. As a matter of fact, it appears that the subsequent members may drive the terrorist organizations to commit even greater atrocities as the morality or lack there of of these subsequent members changes the organization over time. Further, and even more interesting, those that join later have often suggested or participated in even greater acts of terror in order to prove their devotion to the movement. In some cases, the organizations themselves asked for this sort of participation in order to insure that the member was not implanted from an outside police force or could not be turned by law enforcement for amnesty or lesser sentencing, having not participated in the worst atrocities.

In the next subsection, I will bullet point some of the characteristics that the author of the Psycho-Logical chapter in "Origins of Terrorism" discussed based on interviews of known or captured terrorists. Everything written in this section is not to evoke sympathy, but to analyze the characteristics that may lend to creating programs to prevent recruiting or to develop a profile of terrorists to use in the over all investigation, tracking and apprehension of terrorists, whether before or after they committ atrocities. It may also be conducive to creating better interrogation methods. As the title points out, "Self Selection" does not mean that society or even political events that play out on the international or national scene "create" terrorists, so much as a multitude of factors, largely personal for the individual, are key to creating the psyche or condition for the would be terrorist to "self select".

Self Selection Part I: Failure, Disenchantment, Disenfranchisement and Projection

  • Failure, Personal or Political, Real or Perceived
    • Many members of western terrorist organizations were white, middle or upper class, with some college education or a degree (also holds true for many Islamic terrorists, including suicide bombers).
    • May have been unsuccessful in school including either failing out or completing their schooling with low grade point average
    • Failure in school may have kept them from continuing on to techinical, Master or Doctoral degree in their chosen field (note: financial situation may have played a part in this as well)
    • Failure in school, such as low grade point averages or graduating in the lower percentile, may have kept them from being accepted into their chosen profession or selected for a job at a prestiges or desired organization
    • Failure during secondary schooling (high school) may have prevented them from attending universtiy at all.
    • Failure at work including being fired, passed over for advancement or taking a job outside of their learned or expected professional or technical ability even if they were successful in school.
    • May have belonged to a non-violent political organization that did not succeed or was not succeeding fast enough for this member
    • May have run for an office and failed or attempted to change government policy unsuccessfully through direct lobbying or even protesting
    • May have been rejected personally by a politician, by the government or by a political group they wished to join or requested assistance from.
    • Personal failure including involved in petty crimes, drug habit, alternate lifestyles (such as underground club scenes, sex, etc), drinking habit, etc

  • Disenchantment, Social, Economical and Political;
    • Cultural Schizophrenia: parents come from other culture or socially traditional background, children exposed to, live in or grow up in liberal culture or society.
    • Find themselves torn between two cultures, may even be re-enforced by parental demands for conformity to some, if not all, traditional norms.
    • Traditional culture or religious requirements may separate them from their more liberal peers such as interruptions from other social activities for prayer, fasting, tight curfews, clothing, etc
    • Political or ideological views keep them from full friendship with more liberal peers.
    • Parents/family may live schizophrenic lifestyle. Parents are traditional at home and in many activities, but work, businesses or other social interaction may have them espousing one idea at home and to children, but living or acting different outside of the home.
    • Parents/family/friends hold or espouse certain political ideas, social or cultural ideas, but confess to helplessness at changing it, may even project problems on others (ie, capitalists, government, or other social or cultural entities; eg, Jews, Caucasions, liberal society, etc)
    • May believe they are socially or economically unable to move up due to their cultural, social or economical background
    • May believe that their community should have more economic or political power based on the size, perceived or reality, and cannot conceive why the community does not take advantage of it or press political issues.
    • May believe they personally should have more social, economic or political power based on their identified community.
    • May have experienced bigotry or other prejudice directly or believe that bigotry and prejudices have affected them or their family.
    • May have expected a political, economic or social change to have alleviated some of their expectations and found that the order remains the same.

  • Disenfranchisement
    • Ostracized by desired peer group due to cultural, social or political views
    • Ostracized by desired peer group due to economic background
    • Rejected by political group for views, youth, cultural/social background or simply because they have no place available
    • Unable to participate in political events due to age, citizenship or lack of power personally or within selected group
    • Person rejects political, social or cultural ideas of liberal or mainstream society and separates themselves from these groups
    • Children or young adults may be shamed or ostracized by family for political, cultural or social views or actions. May have family that refuses to talk about persons political, cultural or social views or actions due to avoidance.
    • Children or young adults family may practice "hands off" policy expecting that their off spring are "just going through a phase"

  • Projection
    • Personal, social, political and economic failures are "not their fault" but some outside entity including peers, social, cultural, political or economic structure, other groups not of their ethnic or cultural identity, the government, some other government or other forces outside of their control, real or perceived.

    These are basic characteristics and do not focus on cultural or religious beliefs and experiences that may lend towards abrogation of moral concepts which the book addresses in a later section.

    This section of the book, Psycho-Logical, also deals with individual's searching for means, outlets or groups to belong to which I will address in the next posting.

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