Post No.: 0165
In ‘the West’, many of us have a highly skewed perception of where the vast majority of terrorist incidents occur in the world (it isn’t in North America or Europe – check out the Global Terrorism Database), and in turn have a highly skewed perception of what we think is the general profile of a potential terrorist. This could, in part, be arguably down to what is classified as ‘terrorism’ because there is no universally agreed definition of ‘terrorism’.
Taking a relatively broad definition of terrorism – so the act must be motivated by attaining a political, economic, religious and/or social objective, must intend to coerce, intimidate or convey some kind of message to a larger audience than the immediate victims, and must be committed outside the context of legitimate warfare activities – terrorists do not tend to be mentally disordered or deranged, they are usually well-educated, not loners but well-connected, not poor but well-resourced, but they do tend to be male and adolescent. Yet this hardly means that most adolescent males should be suspected of becoming terrorists(!) Well over 99% of adolescent males in the world, who are without a mental disorder, who are well-educated, well-connected and well-resourced will never become terrorists. In a similar vein, well over 99% of all Muslims will never become terrorists either.
Despite some ‘Western’ perceptions, biases and fears – most terrorism currently occurs in the Middle East region and in certain countries in Africa and the Indian subcontinent, and is motivated by political or religious reasons (e.g. anarchism, extreme right-wing or extreme left-wing ideologies, extreme interpretations of religious texts). So there is no single cause for terrorism, just like there are many different specific causes for homicide.
Most terrorists are males between 15-30 years old – the same demographic as those who most commit violent crimes in general and who are the least likely to be deterred by the threat of physical force (the adolescent brain lacks full development in the prefrontal cortex, which helps regulates things like emotions and properly weighing out the risks and consequences of one’s actions). Suicide bombers also tend to be unmarried. Other than that, there is no clear difference between terrorists and non-terrorists of the same age, psychopathologically, personality-wise or otherwise in general. For instance, suicide bombers are not known to be more religious, unemployed, fatherless, friendless, ‘crazy’ or irrational – in fact, their friends and social network play a huge influence in their attitudes and actions. Hanging around the wrong crowd (offline and/or online) can therefore be worse than hanging around no crowd at all in this context; although hanging around an inclusive and peaceful crowd is best of all. Meow.
So probably the only way they differ is how angry they are – many join a terrorist group because of revenge for some (perceived) injustice (e.g. foreign occupation or foreign military, financial and/or political support for unpopular regimes – where driving the outsiders or ‘outsiders’ back out and retaliating against foreign policies or systems would restore a sense of group honour, status and control), and the expression of generalised rage can offer some individuals significant gratification too. But vengeance tends to lead to counter-vengeance, and so forth. So one of the worst things to do to a potential terrorist is to make them angry, pressured or desperate. Some of the most dangerous situations, in general, are when people (perceive they) have nothing and thus nothing to lose (hence we must compassionately remind people of what they have or make sure they’re supported, included and not left with nothing but desperation) and/or those who (perceive they) have so much to gain from their goals (e.g. infamy, riches, martyrdom) – thus terrorism is hardly irrational when viewed from this perspective; although the calculation is not always based on material gains and losses (e.g. beliefs of obtaining immense rewards in the spiritual afterlife).
Sometimes terrorists are looking for their enemy to overreact in retaliation or pre-emption, thus they’re manipulating their enemy to ultimately serve their greater political interests. Yet political repression, poverty and a lack of education do not strongly correlate with terrorism. Some terrorist organisations purposely attempt to exploit and groom vulnerable, young, under-educated and/or mentally-disordered people with their own propaganda though, hence the greater need for society and social media platforms to protect vulnerable minds from such messages and groups. Nevertheless, again, mental disorders do not strongly correlate with terrorism. There are by far many more politically repressed, poor, under-educated and/or mentally-disordered people who do not commit terrorist acts than those who do – just like by far many more males do not commit violent crimes than those who do, even though the vast majority of prison inmates are male, which means that it’d be fallacious to be suspicious of most males you meet. (About 8/10 of all prison inmates are male but this doesn’t mean that 8/10 of all males are criminal (not even close). It’s also the case that even if it is true that many terrorists seem to come from one ethnicity, this doesn’t mean that most people from this ethnicity are terrorists or are terrorist sympathisers (not even close).)
The global ‘war on terror’ has worked to eliminate many terrorist group leaders but has failed in stopping acts of terrorism occurring – it has even led to an increase in attacks in some cases. Motives for the ‘war on terror’ often change too (to save face), resulting in a hesitancy to de-escalate a conflict that isn’t achieving its initial objectives (e.g. in Iraq, first it was to stop a (supposed) ally of a terrorist organisation, then to find and stop the use of weapons of mass destruction, then to liberate and democratise a country, gaining more influence in an oil-rich region was an allegation too, then it was to save face and avoid defeat whilst withdrawing – all the while when the conflict was helping to create a new terrorist organisation that became more of a persistent threat than the original targeted terrorist organisation!)
The theories in the field of terrorism and counter-terrorism are still highly debated. No one claims to have the complete answers yet to solve this global problem, but tremendous strides are continually being made in counter-terrorism practice (some arguably acceptable for our liberties and some arguably not – striking the right balance between things like freedom of speech and halting the spread of content that harms will probably be perpetually debated). And we, particularly those of us living in ‘the West’, shouldn’t live in fear – not least because terrorist attacks are so rare and our authorities generally do a good job in keeping its citizens safe. (Counter-terrorism can be a thankless task because a dozen plots could be silently foiled but if just one slips through then it becomes massive headline news for days or weeks. Counter-terrorism only has to lose once to be considered ‘useless’, but it’s not, and should be appreciated.)
If we are to be more rational and if we were to follow the statistics then – if we are to be worried about anything at all – we should be far more worried about things like obesity-related, stroke, dementia and road accident fatalities than terrorists.
Meow. There are overall far more good than bad people, and good than bad things happening, in the world! In fact, inter-group suspicion, hate and division are contributing to the problem of violence and terrorism so don’t be that bad person from any side by feeding such generalised suspicions, hates and divisions. Attempting to fight terror with terror is plainly moronic too.