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ISBN: 978-1-904542-15-5 


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Kevin Brewer 2003 


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Attempting to explain the causes of terrorism, and 
particularly suicide terrorism, is of great interest where such 
behaviour appears quite common. The reasons for such behaviour are 
complex and multi-factorial. In other words, there is no simple 
catch-all explanation, though such an explanation is appealing. 

It is also appealing to see terrorists as different from the 
rest of society. In some ways, they are different to the majority of 
people, but in others, they are just ordinary people doing extreme 
things . 

The aim of this booklet is to make use of psychological 
knowledge generally to try and draw a picture of how ordinary people 
can do such extreme things. 


Page number 


Defining Terrorism 3 

Suicide Terrorism 4 

Explaining Terrorism 6 


Mental Illness 11 

Socially Marginalised Individuals 14 

Personality 14 

Individual Beliefs and Attributions 17 

Fanaticism 20 


Family 23 

Role of "Recruiting Institutions" 23 

Group Conflict and Social Identity 23 

Social Influence 25 


Poverty and Lack of Education 29 

Social Support and Status 29 
Social Construction of "Normal" 

Behaviour 30 

Ideology 30 

Discourses 31 


An Introduction to Psychology of Terrorist and Suicide Terrorist; Kevin Brewer; 2003 
ISBN: 978-1-904542-15-5; Answers in Psychology No.2 



Terrorism is not easy to define. It is also not easy 
to distinguish it from political violence against a 
repressive regime or from "revolutionary violence" (both 
seen as legitimate forms of political violence) (Lodge 
1981) . 

Simply, terrorism is "violence for effect" and "Fear 
is the intended effect, not the by-product" (Jenkins 1975 
pl) . 

Schmid (1983) performed a content analysis on 109 

definitions of terrorism, and found 22 common elements. 

Table 1 shows the most common elements in the 
definitions . 


1. violence/force 83.5 

2. political intent 65 

3. fear/terror 51 

4. psychological effects 47 

5 . reaction 41.5 

Table 1 - Five most common elements in definitions of 

Aron (1966) noted that an "action of violence is 
labelled as 'terrorist' when its psychological effects 
are out of proportion to its purely physical result" 
(pl70) . While Freedman (1986) emphasised the role of fear 
that terrorism engenders in all civilians, through being 
"extreme and ruthlessly destructive" (Wilkinson 1974) . 

The "systematic use of coercive intimidation" can be 
seen generally as "a specific method of struggle rather 
than a synonym for political violence or insurgency" 
(Wilkinson 1986) . This means that it can be used by a 
variety of actors like "a kind of weapon-system". 

Wilkinson (1986) notes five groups of participants 
in the process: (i) the perpetrators of violence; (ii) 
the immediate victims; (iii) the wider target group of 
society who the terrorists seek to intimidate; (iv) the 
"neutral" bystanders in society experiencing the 
terrorism; and (v) international opinion. 

The perpetrators of violence can be sub-divided into 
(Wilkinson 1986) : 

a) Nationalist terrorists seeking political self- 

An Introduction to Psychology of Terrorist and Suicide Terrorist; Kevin Brewer; 2003 

ISBN: 978-1-904542-15-5; Answers in Psychology No.2 3 


b) Ideological terrorists aiming to change the whole 
political, social and economic system; 

c) Religious fanatics wanting to overthrow a prevailing 
religious order; 

d) Single-issue fanatics who aim to change one area of 
policy only; 

e) State-sponsored international terrorists used by 
countries as part of their domestic or foreign policy. 

Other distinctions include "revolutionary" terrorism 
(aimed at political revolution); "sub-revolutionary" 
terrorism (for political motives other than revolution); 
"repressive" terrorism (to restrain certain groups or 
behaviour deemed undesirable) (Wilkinson 1974); or 
"psychotic" terrorism (with uncertain or irrational 
motivation, usually personal) (Bowyer Bell 1978) . 

Schechterman (1987) adds forms of "irrational" 
terrorism based on terrorists' own code of behaviour and 
may be the only means of persuasion used. The "rational" 
terrorist has assessed that violence is the last resort. 

Merari (1978) distinguishes between Xenof ighters , 
who divert their activities against "foreigners", and 
Homof ighters , who focus their terrorism on their own 
people. What is important here is that the first grouping 
has no need of the support of the target population, and 
thus less concern about the scale of injuries inflicted. 


Suicide terrorism is more about the psychological 
effect than the actual damage and injury, though these 
should not be underestimated. It says quite clearly that 
"we are willing to die for our cause". 

This behaviour, the scale of recent acts of 
terrorism, and the apparent willingness to use chemical 
or biological weapons, has led to the phrase 
" superterrorism" (Freedman 2002) . 

Suicide attacks were used by Japan in World War II 
with "kamikazi" pilots. More recently, the Liberation 
Tigers of Tamil Eclam (LTTE) ("Black Tigers") used this 
method in Sri Lanka. The suicide bombing of the US 
embassy in Beirut in 1983 is seen as the beginning of 
it's use in the Middle East ("Human Weapons" 2002) . 

Of 270 suicide attacks between 1980 and 2000, 168 

An Introduction to Psychology of Terrorist and Suicide Terrorist; Kevin Brewer; 2003 

ISBN: 978-1-904542-15-5; Answers in Psychology No.2 4 

were carried out by LTTE, 52 by Hizbollah, 22 Hamas, and 
15 PKK (Gearson 2002) . 

Gearson (2002) distinguishes three main types of 
suicide terrorists: 

i) Groups who only use it on specific occasions, but 
generally are not in favour of it; 

ii) Groups that adopt it as a temporary tactic, and 
establish legitimacy in their group for it; 

iii) Groups that use suicide terrorism as a permanent 
strategy . 

In situations of extreme behaviour like suicide 
terrorism, there is the immediate search for a simple 
answer. One that makes the perpetrators different to the 
norms of the rest of society is very appealing. 

For example, after recent suicide bombings in 
Israel, some parts of the media there have suggested that 
the bombers had taken large quantities of drugs and 
alcohol beforehand. But analysis of the remains of these 
individuals have not found this to be the case (Silke 
2003) . 

Other everyday explanations of such behaviour 
include mental illness and psychopathy. 

To explain the behaviour as a sign of evil or by 
"brainwashed pawns" is evidence of the fundamental 
attribution error (Ross 1977) . This is the tendency to 
explain other people's behaviour in a different way to 
how we would explain our own behaviour in the same 
situation. Usually it involves ignoring situational 
factors for behaviour. Such attribut ional processes 
make "the behaviour of others appear more predictable, 
and apparently enhance our sense of control over the 
environment" (Brewer 2003a p8) . 

It is disturbing to think that such behaviour could 
be performed by "ordinary" or "normal" people given the 
right (or wrong) circumstances. 

Pyszczynski et al (2003) writing about the events of 
September 2001 in the USA point out that: 

at the heart of things, all human beings are fundamentally 
the same, with the same biological and psychological needs. 
We are all members of the same species; our behaviour and 
motivation can, therefore, be best understood through the 
use of the same general biological and psychological 
principles (pxi) . 

An Introduction to Psychology of Terrorist and Suicide Terrorist; Kevin Brewer; 2003 
ISBN: 978-1-904542-15-5; Answers in Psychology No.2 


Research has shown that extreme behaviour is not the 
territory of individuals who are different, but is based 
upon a combination of factors, including social ones. 

Eyad Sarej has interviewed failed Palestinian 
suicide bombers (reported in "Human Weapons" 2002) . A 
combination of factors emerge from these interviews: 

a) Talk of the injustice of the political situation 
in Israel/Palestine; 

b) The "pull" of Paradise as immediate reward for 
the martyr, which includes being attended by "72 black- 
eyed virgins"; 

c) Childhood trauma and witnessing humiliation; eg: 
seeing beating of father by Israeli troops; 

d) Taking a "paranoid position" that divides the 
world into "them" (enemy) and "us"; ie : "they" are very 
different to "us". There is no distinction within the 
"enemy" between those who fight and those who do not. 

Janke (1992) attempts to show the "making" of a 
terrorist as a series of stages: dissatisfaction and 
frustration with society; bonding with other like-minded 
individuals; revulsion, alienation and isolation from 
society . 

Brewer (2003b) has proposed a synthesis model to 
explain aggression, but it can be applied to terrorism. 
The model contains two parts - the general level of 
aggression, which is due to a combination of individual, 
group, and social factors, and then the specific act of 
aggression, triggered by environmental factors, and 
involving disinhibit ion . The model is presented in figure 
1. Figure 2 shows how this model can be applied to 
explain violence in Northern Ireland by the Loyalist 
and Nationalist terrorist groups. 

An Introduction to Psychology of Terrorist and Suicide Terrorist; Kevin Brewer; 2003 
ISBN: 978-1-904542-15-5; Answers in Psychology No.2 






Figure 1 - A synthesis model to explain aggression and 

The model contains five groups of factors: 

An Introduction to Psychology of Terrorist and Suicide Terrorist; Kevin Brewer; 2003 

ISBN: 978-1-904542-15-5; Answers in Psychology No.2 7 

1. Individual factors 

This group of factors relate to the individual, and 
include beliefs and attributions, and their personality. 

Attribution is the process by which the individual 
makes sense of ambiguous situations, including their 
perception of threats. Dodge (1986) talks of the "hostile 
attribution bias" - the tendency to perceive the actions 
of others as threatening and thus must be countered with 
action. For example, accidentally bumping into a person 
in a crowded situation is perceived as deliberate, and 
therefore a challenge. 

2 . Group factors 

These are factors related to the groups that an 
individual is part of, primarily the family and the peer 
group. Here it includes the power of group pressure 
(social influence), social identity, and the role of 
"recruiting institutions" to terrorism. 

3. Social factors 

This group of factors are those causes of general 
aggression that exist within society as a whole; eg: 
social support and status of terrorists, ideology and 
discourses about violence. 

Generally we are talking about the social 
construction of behaviour. Each society will have a 
"normal" or "acceptable" level of aggression. Aggressive 
behaviour is constructed within the "norms" of society; 
ie : there are situations where it is acceptable to use 
it . 

For example, a survey, of 2000 14-21 year olds, by 
the Zero Tolerance Charitable Trust in Edinburgh in 1999, 
found situations where both male and female respondents 
felt it was acceptable for a man to hit a woman. One in 
four men, and one in eight women, thought hitting a woman 
could be justified if she had "slept with someone else" 
(quoted in Brewer 2000) . 

Wetherell and Potter (1989) looked at the protests 
and fighting during the 1981 South African rugby team's 
visit to New Zealand, and did discourse analysis on the 
perceptions of the aggressive response of the police to 
the protesters. The behaviour of the police was justified 
in a number of interviews, and thus not labelled as 
aggressive. For example, when: 

a) the police were antagonised by protesters; 

An Introduction to Psychology of Terrorist and Suicide Terrorist; Kevin Brewer; 2003 

ISBN: 978-1-904542-15-5; Answers in Psychology No.2 8 

b) the police action was seen as a response to 
earlier violence; 

c) the police were seen as only doing their job. 

4. Disinhibitors 

The general level of aggression can be converted 
into specific actions by the presence of factor (s) that 
reduce the likelihood of not being aggressive. These are 
known as disinhibitors, and include deindividuat ion, 
dehumanisat ion of the "enemy", and the "normality" of 
violence . 

Deindividuat ion is the process by which individuals 
feel anonymous, have a loss of self identity, and thus a 
loss of restraint on their behaviour. 

Deindividuat ion has been found with darkness (Gergen 
et al 1973), disguises or uniforms (Zimbardo 1969), and 
in crowds (Mullen 1986) . 

However, deindividuat ion does not inevitably lead to 
aggression. In the Gergen et al (1973) experiment, 
participants were left in groups of strangers in a pitch 
black room. Participants here tended to show a decline in 
inhibitions and touched each other more than in a 
normally lit room rather than becoming aggressive. 

5. Environmental triggers 

In certain situations, the individual's general 
level of aggression will be triggered into specific 
aggression. This will be due to certain things in the 
environment at the time. The most common trigger for 
terrorism is as retaliation or perceived retaliation. 

An Introduction to Psychology of Terrorist and Suicide Terrorist; Kevin Brewer; 2003 
ISBN: 978-1-904542-15-5; Answers in Psychology No.2 



eg history of conflict, 
including past perceived 
or real injustices; 
social construction of 
violence as "required 
response" ; 
fear of "enemy" 


eg community identity 
as Protestant/Loyalist 
or Catholic/Nationalist 


eg personal beliefs 
about "enemy"; 
attributions about 
social world ("just 
world hypothesis") 



eg: "normality" of violence; 

dehumanising of "enemy" 



eg bombing/killing by "enemy" 

Figure 2 - Example of the synthesis model of aggression 
applied to terrorist violence in Northern Ireland. 

An Introduction to Psychology of Terrorist and Suicide Terrorist; 
ISBN: 978-1-904542-15-5; Answers in Psychology No.2 

Kevin Brewer; 2003 




A popular image of the terrorist focuses upon the 
individual, and the idea that they are "crazed", or 
psychopathic. Psychopathy is technical known as Anti- 
Social Personality Disorder. The most important 
characteristics being the absence of guilt or remorse, 
and the lack of concern for others. 


Psychopath is a commonly used term, but the 
technical meaning varies in law and psychiatry. Even 
among professionals, psychopath is a disputed concept: 
"'psychopathy' remains a stereotype or an ideal-type 
personality rather than an accurate description of any 
real individual" (Cavadino 1998) . 

There are three different uses of the term 
psychopath according to Blackburn (1993) : 

i) A general term meaning "psychologically damaged"; 
linked to Personality Disorders generally in the 
classification of mental disorders. 

ii) Anti-Social Personality Disorder in the 
classification of mental disorders. 

iii) Specific personality traits - as measured by 
Psychopathy CHecklist (PCL) . 

Estimates vary as the prevalence of psychopathy. 
Studies from the USA suggest about 3% of the population. 
But the figures vary between 1% for women and 6% of the 
population for men (Robins et al 1984) . 

Not all psychopaths are involved in criminal 
activities. In fact, the vast majority are found in 
ordinary areas of life. In the business world, the 
characteristics of a psychopath can produce a "ruthless 
businessman" . 

Anti-social Personality Disorder is defined as "a 
pervasive pattern of disregard for, and violation of, 
the rights of others that begins in childhood or early 
adolescence and continues into adulthood" (APA 1994 
p645) . 

In the past, Anti-Social Personality Disorder was 
distinguished by the fact that the individual is: 

An Introduction to Psychology of Terrorist and Suicide Terrorist; Kevin Brewer; 2003 

ISBN: 978-1-904542-15-5; Answers in Psychology No.2 1 1 

incapable of significant loyalty to individuals, groups, 
or social values. They are grossly selfish, callous, 
irresponsible, impulsive, and unable to feel guilt or to 
learn from experience and punishment. Frustration tolerance 
is low. They tend to blame others or offer plausible 
rationalizations for their behaviour (APA 1968 p43) . 

Diagnosis of Anti-Social Personality Disorder 
requires evidence of three of more behaviours from a list 
of seven (table 2) . The more behaviours evident the more 
severe the condition. 


Three or more from following behaviours: 

1. Illegal non-conformity 

2. Deceitf ulness 

3. Impulsivity 

4. Irritability and aggression 

5. Reckless disregard for safety of self and others 

6. Irresponsible behaviour 

7 . Lack of remorse 

Diagnosis also requires evidence of the following: 

A. Enduring pattern of these behaviours that deviates markedly 
from cultural expectations 

B. Enduring pattern is inflexible and pervasive across situations 

C. Stable and long term patterns of behaviour 

D. Not due to substance abuse or general medical condition 

E. The individual is distressed by their behaviour 

F. Behaviour not caused by another mental disorder 

Table 2 - DSM IV (APA 1994) criteria for Anti-Social 
Personality Disorder. 

Focusing upon specific characteristics of 
psychopathy. They include superficial charm, a grandiose 
sense of self-worth, a low frustration of tolerance, 
pathological lying and deception, a lack of sincerity, 
remorse or empathy, and impulsivity (Hare 1980) . 

The diagnosis of "criminal psychopathy" makes use of 
a questionnaire known as the Psychopathy Checklist (PCL- 
R) . Originally produced in 1980, it was revised by Robert 
Hare in 1991. There are 20 items (characteristics), and 
during an unstructured interview, the individual is 
scored by the interviewer as 0, 1 or 2 on each item. The 
cut-off point is a score of thirty or above. Table 3 
lists the twenty items. 

Taylor (1988) quotes the example of Nezar Hindawi 
who attempted to use his unsuspecting pregnant lover as a 
suicide bomber on an El Al airliner in April 1986. The 
bomb was discovered at the airport before take-off. The 

An Introduction to Psychology of Terrorist and Suicide Terrorist; Kevin Brewer; 2003 

ISBN: 978-1-904542-15-5; Answers in Psychology No.2 12 




















Glibness/superf icial charm 

Grandiose sense of self worth 

Need for stimulation/proneness to boredom 

Pathological lying 


Lack of remorse/guilt 

Shallow affect 

Callous lack of empathy 

Parasitic lifestyle 
. Promiscuous sexual behaviour 
. Poor behaviour controls 
. Early behaviour problems 
. Lack of realistic, long term goals 
. Impulsivity 
. Irresponsibility 

. Failure to accept responsibility for own actions 
. Many short term marital relationships 
. Juvenile delinquency 
. Revocation of conditional release 
. Criminal versatility 

Table 3 - Items of Psychopathy Checklist (PCL-R) 

girlfriend appears to have been used without knowing it. 
Such apparently callous behaviour is seen as a 
characteristic of psychopathy, but this is a relatively 
rare example. The vast majority of terrorists are willing 
participants . 

Attempting to explain all terrorism through 
psychopathy is unlikely: "Terrorism, like any other 
serious undertaking, requires dedication, perseverance 
and a certain selflessness. These are the very qualities 
that are lacking in the psychopath" (Cooper 1978) . 

But terrorist groups do "generate opportunities for 
those who are prone to terrorist behaviour as a result of 
psychopathic tendencies" (Janke 1992 pl85) . 

Other Mental Illness Than Psychopathy 

For some researchers, the appeal of the individual 
explanation of mental illness, particularly in the case 
of suicide attacks, is obvious. But there is limited 
evidence for this explanation to account for all acts of 

Rasch (1979) found no evidence of paranoia, 
psychosis, or psychopathy among eleven individuals 
suspected of involvement with the Baader-Meinhof group in 
Germany . 

Similarly, Ferracuti and Bruno (1983) could not find 
"a general psychiatric explanation of terrorism" among 
Italian terrorists studied. While Lyons and Harbinson 
(1986), in their study of 106 individuals charged with 
murder in Northern Ireland between 1974-84, noted that 
the political murderers were more psychologically stable 

An Introduction to Psychology of Terrorist and Suicide Terrorist; 
ISBN: 978-1-904542-15-5; Answers in Psychology No.2 

Kevin Brewer; 2003 


than the non-political ones. 

"Difficult though it is to accept, the vast majority 
of all terrorist violence, even suicide attacks, remain 
totally purposeful and, although rarely successful, are 
undertaken with ends in mind" (Gearson 2002 p23) . 

In fact, "recruiters" to terrorist organisations 
would avoid such individuals because they could not be 
trusted to carry out the plans as arranged. 

Post (quoted in Ormsby 2003) studied 35 Palestinian 
militants, and found that "level-headed and mentally 
stable" were key characteristics when recruiting 
terrorists. Planning and obedience to authority are 


One everyday explanation of terrorism is that the 
perpetrators are lone individuals on the margins of 
society, who have no hope to live for. Apart from a few 
exceptions, this appears not to be so. 

This is no evidence that suicide bombers are 
friendless, jobless, or possess suicidal symptoms; nor a 
sense of hopelessness and nothing to lose (Scott Atran 
quoted in Ormsby 2003) . 

Interviews with members of groups in Egypt 
affiliated to al-Qaeda found that most came from "stable 
middle-class homes and were university educated" (Simon 
and Benjamin 2001) . Russell and Miller (1977) noted that 
two-thirds of members of 18 terrorist groups studied 
between 1966-76 had some form of university training. 

However, the Pakistani suicide bombers in Kashmir 
were more likely to be from poorer families (Stern 2000) . 


Studies of terrorist groups have attempted to 
highlight the common characteristics. For example, the 
political terrorists of the 1970s were statistical likely 
to be single, male, aged 22-24, well educated, and from 
middle-class families (Russell and Miller 1977) . 

Unfortunately, this is of limited help because 
terrorist groups are not homogeneous in membership 
characteristics. It is difficult to identify predictors 
of potential terrorists from individual characteristics 
(Taylor 1988) . But it does help to paint the picture of 
the terrorist as "ordinary people" in their society or 
culture . 

An Introduction to Psychology of Terrorist and Suicide Terrorist; Kevin Brewer; 2003 

ISBN: 978-1-904542-15-5; Answers in Psychology No.2 14 

Personality Theory of Hans Eysenck 

Hans Eysenck's theory of personality is based upon 
subtle differences in the central and autonomic nervous 
systems of individuals. These physical differences 
account for whether an individual will conform to social 
rules or not. And it is this that determines who commits 
criminal or terrorist behaviour. Thus the individual with 
a nervous system that is less sensitive and excitable 
will engage in crime. 

For Eysenck's theory, personality is based on the 
dimensions of extravert-introvert , and emotional-stable 
(originally called neurotic-stable) (Eysenck 1967) . 
Everybody is placed along these two dimensions, and they 
combine to give four possible types: stable introverts; 
stable extraverts; emotional extraverts; or emotional 
introverts . 

Eysenck felt that extraverts generally needed more 
excitement and stimulation; thus they were more likely to 
be impulsive and thrill-seeking, which could lead to 
criminal behaviour. 

Also Eysenck believed that extraverts do not learn 
from past experiences easily. Extraverts by their biology 
are thrill-seeking, and then do not learn to fear 
punishment or learn from the past. So this is the way the 
extravert is more likely to be a criminal. 

Eysenck later added a third dimension called 
psychot icism. Putting all the dimensions together, 
Eysenck predicted that the criminal will be extravert, 
emotional, and a high scorer on psychoticism (Eysenck 
1977) . 

There is inconsistent support for the extravert as 
criminal. But there is support from a limited amount of 
research for high psychoticism scorers and frequent 
offending (Brewer 2000) . But once more this theory cannot 
explain all terrorist behaviour. 

Gray (1981) revised Eysenck's theory to focus on 
anxiety and social withdrawal. Gray's theory has four 
dimensions to the personality - extravert /introvert and 
neurotic (anxious ) /stable from Eysenck, and adds 
impulsive/controlled, and sociable/socially withdrawn. 
So, for example, the criminal will be high on anxiety and 
social withdrawal, while the psychopath is high on 
impulsivity and extraversion, according to Gray. 

An Introduction to Psychology of Terrorist and Suicide Terrorist; Kevin Brewer; 2003 

ISBN: 978-1-904542-15-5; Answers in Psychology No.2 15 

Authoritarian Personality Type 

Is there a personality type that is more prone to 
terrorism? It may not be possible to give a simple answer 
to this question, but research has looked at a 
"prejudiced personality type". 

Adorno et al (1950), while testing the personality 
of a large number of people in California, who were 
white, non-Jewish, native-born, middle-class Americans 
(ie WASP - white Anglo-Saxon Protestant), found them to 
be "ant i-everything-except other WASPs". 

The key characteristics were ant i-semet ism. 
ethnocentrism (ie: focused on own ethnic group), 
politically conservative, and authoritarian (eg: belief 
in absolute submission to authority) . These 
characteristics together became known as the 
"authoritarian personality". 

Such individuals had experienced rigid and harsh 
childhood punishment, which made them intolerant of 
anything that was different. 

Psychodynamic Explanations of Personality 

Psychodynamics is based upon the work of Sigmund 
Freud. His explanation of adult behaviour concentrates 
upon childhood experiences, particularly traumatic, which 
are pushed into the unconscious mind. Though they cannot 
be remembered, these experiences will still influence 
behaviour . 

In Freud's theory all children are born with the id 
dominant. This is the part of the personality that is 
concerned with instinctive desires and pleasures. In time 
the ego develops, and comes to dominate the personality. 
The ego is the socialised part of the personality (ie: it 
is aware of socially acceptable behaviour) . For some 
individuals, this process does not occur and the process 
of "latent delinquency" takes over. Thus the emphasis 
is placed upon the early emotional relationships of the 
child, usually with the mother. 

However, Freud did not specifically write about 
criminal behaviour. Alexander and Healy (1935) adapted 
his idea's to explain the criminal as unable to progress 
from the pleasure principle (instant gratification of the 
id dominated person) to the reality principle (with the 
ego dominant) . Furthermore, the criminal may be 
subliminat ing (ie: acting out) in crime their lack of 
early emotional ties. Again the emphasis is upon the 
early relationships of the child. 

Fields (1979) suggests that early exposure to 

An Introduction to Psychology of Terrorist and Suicide Terrorist; Kevin Brewer; 2003 

ISBN: 978-1-904542-15-5; Answers in Psychology No.2 16 

terrorism in Northern Ireland can lead to the development 
of adult terrorist behaviour. But simply childhood 
experiences leading to adult behaviour is not 
psychodynamics . There needs to be a mechanism by which 
the repressed behaviour manifests itself in adulthood. 

Furthermore, Heskin (1980) sees social deprivation 
and more general prolonged exposure to violence in 
Northern Ireland as the causes of social unrest. 

By far the strongest supporter of the link between 
early relationships and crime was John Bowlby. He argued 
that juvenile delinquency was an inevitable consequence 
of the long term separation of the child from the mother. 
In his best known study (Bowlby 1946) of 44 juvenile 
thieves and 44 "disturbed adolescents" (ie: non- 
delinquents), he found that 39% of the former group had 
experienced complete separation from their mothers for 
six months or more in the first five years of their 
lives (compared to 5% of the non-delinquent group) . 

Generally there are many criticisms with this work. 
But specifically, Kellen's (1979) study of four 
terrorists in the 1970s (two German, one Croatian, and 
one Japanese) found no particular pattern of childhood 
experiences . 

Typical psychodynamic mechanisms to explain 
terrorism motivation generally include repressed hate 
from parental abuse (Kent and Nicholls 1977) or the 
"blockage of functional empathy" (Clark 1980) . 

There are many and varied psychodynamic-based 
explanations, but they suffer from a lack of specificity, 
and the problem of "why it is that so few people exposed 
to the presumed generating conditions of terrorism 
actually become terrorists" (Taylor 1988 pl46) . 


Perceived injustice by the "enemy", and the belief 
that they must suffer in return is a strong motivation 
for terrorism. Silke (2003) argues that anger and a sense 
of outrage are key, and many Palestinian suicide bombers 
have had relatives or friends killed or injured by 
Israeli armed forces. Thus the role of revenge combined 
with feelings of powerlessness , particularly in the face 
of overwhelming odds. 

One immediate explanation after September 2001 was 
the USA had it coming: 

Some asserted that American foreign policy, driven by greed 
and the lust for ever-expanding influence and power, wrecked 

An Introduction to Psychology of Terrorist and Suicide Terrorist; Kevin Brewer; 2003 

ISBN: 978-1-904542-15-5; Answers in Psychology No.2 17 

havoc throughout the Middle East and led to the justifiable 
rage that motivated the suicide bombers 

(Pyszczynski et al 2003 pl44) 

Whether this is true or not about US foreign policy, 
it is the belief about the USA that matters in how 
individuals make sense of the world. 

Just World Hypothesis 

Psychologists talk about the "just world hypothesis" 
(Lerner 1980) . This is the belief that the environment 
"is a just and orderly place where people usually get 
what they deserve" (Lerner and Miller 1978) . 

The classic experiment to show the "just world 
hypothesis" is by Jones and Aronson (1973) . They wrote a 
number of scenarios about a woman being attacked by a 
stranger. The participants reading the stories were more 
likely to blame the victim for their misfortune in 
certain circumstances. For example, the woman was 
described as a virgin in one version of the story, or as 
wearing provocative clothes in another version. In the 
latter case, the victim was blamed more for her attack. 

Paradox of Morality 

How the world is viewed allows the terrorist to 
claim moral superiority (or purity) while belittling the 
victim as deserving it. Taylor (1988) calls this the 
"paradox of morality" . Other forms of denial are also 
used. This is known as "guilt transfer" (Tugwell 1982) . 

Sykes and Matza (1957) have proposed five techniques 
of "neutralisation" or denial which allow individuals to 
deny their actions are wrong or harmful: 

i) Denial of responsibility (eg: blaming their 
upbringing) ; 

ii) Denial of injury to victim; 

iii) Denial of victim (ie: victim deserves it); 

iv) Condemnation of condemners (ie: critical of 
criminal justice system) ; 

v) Appeal to higher loyalties (eg: religious 
beliefs) . 

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Cognitive Dissonance 

Another psychological process that aids the "paradox 
of morality" is known as the theory of cognitive 
dissonance . 

Cognitive dissonance is an explanation put forward 
by Festinger (1957) to account for attitude changes. When 
two "cognitions" are inconsistent, the individual is 
motivated to resolve this. 

A well-known example is of a smoker who believes 
that "smoking causes cancer". This is a situation of 
inconsistency, which Festinger argued causes 
"psychological discomfort". The "sensible" option would 
be to stop smoking, but that is fixed, so the individual 
must change their attitudes about "smoking causes 
cancer" . 

This can be done in a number of ways: 

• by belittling the evidence about smoking and cancer; 

• convincing others to smoke; 

• building an image around no fear of cancer; 

• smoking low-tar cigarettes; 

• associating with other smokers. 

Another example of cognitive dissonance is the 
situation where individuals do something in order to gain 
a reward, but the reward is then not given after the 
individual has done that task. This causes inconsistency: 
the individual worked for the reward, but there was no 
reward . 

The fact that the individual worked for the reward 
cannot be changed, so the motivation is what can be 
changed. The individual comes to believe that they worked 
for their own satisfaction, and so subsequently are more 
enthusiastic about the task now there is no reward. What 
this shows is that individuals are quite illogical in 
their behaviour (Brewer 2003d) . 

Festinger et al (1956) first noted this phenomena of 
cognitive dissonance while studying a small group in USA 
who believed that the world would end, and they (the 
believers) would be saved and taken to the planet 
"Clarion" . 

The believers met at the appointed time (as set by 
"prophecies" given to the leader, Marion Keech) , but no 
spaceships came to collect them. After this event, the 
individuals were told (by another "prophecy") that their 
"good works" had stopped the destruction of the world. 
The believers, then, became more enthusiastic to gain new 
members . 

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Logically if an event is proved to be untrue, 
individuals should lose interest. But a lot of effort was 
involved leading up to the "end of the world", and this 
is hard to deny. Thus it is easier to believe that they 
were right, and seek others to bolster their endangered 
beliefs. If lots of people believe the same thing, 
individuals feel that they cannot be wrong. 

Aronson and Mills (1959) call this "effort 
justification" . The more effort it takes to gain 
something, but that something is not as great as expected 
the more cognitive dissonance will exist. To resolve 
this, the individual will increase their liking for what 
they have gained. 

Cognitive dissonance has also been found in two 
other situations: 

1. Post-decision 

Following a decision for two equally desirable 
objects, and the individual is forced to choose one. 
Cognitive dissonance produces the situation where the 
individual highlights all good points of their object and 
all the bad points of the other objects. 

2. Counter-att itudinal behaviour 

If individuals voluntarily perform a behaviour that 
is opposite to the attitudes held, this also produces 
cognitive dissonance. 


Another common explanation for terrorism is that 
they are fanatics. Fanaticism is assumed to be a set of 
undesirable characteristics and an over-riding focus on a 
particular issue or issues that the rest of the 
population do not have. 

But the characteristics of fanaticism are applauded 
in sport speople, for example (Eckman 1977) . However, with 
the sportsperson this behaviour would be seen as 
commitment or dedication because fanaticism is a negative 
term applied "to the state of mind of those who are 
wholeheartedly committed to a set of beliefs and are 
condemned for it" (Milgram 1977) . 

The main characteristics of the fanatic include a 
clear, rigid world-view, and an unwillingness to 
compromise about it. There will be prejudiced attitudes, 
and a particular understanding of the world. 

An example of fanatic behaviour would be self- 

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immmolation (Crosby et al 1977) . This is suicide by 
setting fire to oneself, and is not the same as suicide 
bombing, which aims to injure others. The behaviour here 
is injury to the self only as a form of political 
protest. It is quite rare, particularly in the West, and 
was used on occasions as part of the peace movement in 
the 1960s and 70s in the USA (Taylor 1988) . In a way, 
this is not really terrorism because it does not injure 
others. The same is true for hunger strikes. Thus it is 
possible to be a fanatic without being a terrorist. 

Prejudiced attitudes 

The view of the "enemy" who is to be attacked can be 
seen as rooted in prejudice. 

For Allport (1954), there are five levels of 
prejudice : 

1. anti-locution: hostile talk about /towards the 
prejudiced group; 

2. avoidance: keeping a distance and not mixing with 
the prejudiced group; 

3. discrimination: unfair treatment of group 
members ; 

4. physical attack; 

5. extermination: the ultimate level of prejudice is 
to want to remove the prejudiced group from existence. 
This has sometimes been called "ethnic cleansing" in 
recent years . 

Prejudice is not just about holding particular 
attitudes which lead to certain behaviours. Prejudice 
actually influences an individual's perception of the 
world. In a classic experiment, Hastorf and Cantril 
(1954) showed that watching the same American Football 
match, supporters of each team will attribute less fouls 
to their team, and more to the opponents (even though 
both teams committed the same number) . This process also 
involves the stereotyping of the enemy. 

Stereotyping influences behaviour in a number of 
ways : 

i) recall information better that fits the 

ii) influences how we behave towards others; 
iii) affect the perception of our own group. 

Researchers have shown the same news programme about 
Middle East issues to pro-Israel and pro-Arab students. 
Both groups saw the programme as bias against them. So we 
are talking about a distortion in perception that needs 

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to be addressed while attempting to reduce prejudice 
(Brewer 2003c) . 

The basic principles of learning suggest that 
children observe others expressing prejudiced attitudes 
or doing prejudiced behaviour, and then copy it (social 
learning theory) . This may explain how specific attitudes 
or actions are transferred within families, but not more 
general attitudes or behaviour. 

Other factors are also involved, like the media. 
Pratkanis and Aronson (1991) report how at the start of 
the Gulf War in the 1990s, Saddam Hussein was unknown to 
most Americans, and through classical conditioning 
(associating) his picture with that of Hitler, negative 
attitudes were formed. 


At the extreme levels of prejudiced behaviour, the 
key is that the prejudiced group is dehumanised. The 
psychological erasure of human qualities in others; thus 
misperceiving them as "sub-human" or "non-human". 

Increased aggression against dehumanised groups has 
been shown in a lab experiment (Bandura 1986) . 
Participants had the opportunity to give electric shocks 
to male students during a decision-making task. 
Beforehand, the participants overheard the experimenter 
talk about the students as intelligent ("the humanising 
condition"), or as rotten ("the dehumanising condition") 
The average number of electric shocks given in the 
"humanising condition" were 2.5 compared to 6.0 in the 
"dehumanising condition" . 

A dehumanised group can easily become the scapegoat 
for people's troubles and frustrations. For example, the 
USA is often called the "Great Satan" by some Islamic 
sects, and thus the mere existence of the enemy becomes 
the source of all problems rather than the actual 
political and economic conditions. 

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Many families are not aware that one of their number 
is involved in terrorism. Most would want to stop them, 
but there are cases where the support of the family is a 
contributing factor. Silke (2003) notes a Hamas 
(Palestinian group) video from 2002, where the suicide 
bomber's mother (Naima) appeared alongside her son 
(Mahmoud al-Obeid) supporting the action. 


"Recruiting institutions" are looking for candidates 
to join or use in terrorist groups. There will be a 
training process that encourages commitment and loyalty 
to the cause or better still, the cell (small group) . 
This gives a strong sense of in-group superiority and 
exclusivity within the group. 

Apart from occasions when individuals work alone, 
suicide terrorism is well organised. Thus a structure of 
support is needed: recruiters of candidates, scouts for 
potential targets, guards and drivers of bombers, and 
bomb-makers (including explosive technicians, 
electricians, and metalsmiths) (Vallis 2003) . 


The realistic group conflict theory attempts to 
explain inter-group rivalry and competition. This theory 
by Sherif and Sherif (1969) is based on their work with 
ingroups and outgroups in three projects in the 1940s and 
1950s in the USA. They argue that antagonism arises as a 
result of the conflict of interests; ie : both groups want 
the same goal, but cannot have it. This leads to ingroup 
(own group - "us") favouritism and outgroup 

discrimination ("them") . For Sherif and Sherif, it is the 
immediate social situation that produces the conflict. 

The Sherif s ' research used 11-12 year-old boys at an 
isolated summer camp. The boys were from similar social 
backgrounds. On arrival at the camp, the boys were 
allowed to make friends, then they were divided into two 
groups (eg: "Red Devils" or "Bulldogs") . The researchers 
made sure that best friends were separated. 

The research manipulated two key variables of group 
conflict : 

i) Strong group identity through group name and 

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ii) direct competition for scarce resources between 
the two groups . 

Very clear prejudice and hostility developed between 
the two groups (eg: stealing and burning the flag of the 
other group) . Later in the projects, the researchers 
worked to reduce the prejudice. 

Tajfel and Turner (1979) link group conflict to an 
individual's self identity. The self concept includes 
identification with our social groups and comparison with 
other such groups. The social group may be transitory 
(eg: group standing at bus stop) or more permanent social 
distinctions (eg: gender) . 

The basis of the social identity theory is the 
tendency to classify people and things into categories, 
which leads to an exaggeration of the differences. Tajfel 
and Wilkes (1963) asked participants to judge the length 
of groups of lines either labelled (eg: A or B) or 
unlabelled . 

There was a tendency to judge the labelled lines as 
similar (eg: lines within group A) and exaggerate the 
differences to other groups, even though this was 
inaccurate. Stereotypes can also be involved in this 
process . 

At the same time as categorising behaviour, 
individuals search for positive self-esteem by assessing 
their social groups as "better" than others. It feels 
good to belong to the best group, whatever that group may 
be. What this means is that ingroup bias can occur 
without a strong group identity and direct competition as 
Sherif and Sherif believed there needed to be. It is the 
mere perception of the existence of another group that 
matters. This is known as the minimal group effect. 

The original and main study is Tajfel (1970) . Using 
64 14-15 year-old Bristol schoolboys, they were randomly 
allocated to one of two groups (for example, by 
preference for abstract paintings by Klee or Kandinsky; 
or tossing a coin) . There was no reference to group 
identity: the individuals were anonymous, and doing the 
experiment in individual cubicles. There was no obvious 
self-interest involved. 

The boys were then asked to allocate points as 
rewards to different individuals for no particular 
reason . 

It was found that the majority of boys gave greater 
rewards to individuals in their own groups ie they used 
"maximum ingroup profit" and "maximum difference" 
strategies . 

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Though this study is an artificial experiment, 
Reicher (1984) found that social identity was important 
in explaining behaviour in the rioting in the St. Paul's 
area of Bristol in 1980. 

This approach tends to see conflict as an inevitable 
part of social life. Individuals will form social 
identities, and thus be prejudiced against the outgroup 
to increase their own self-esteem. 

However, Wetherell (1982) has found that cultural 
norms are an important variable. She produced a 
replication of Tajfel (1970) in New Zealand with white 
and Polynesian children. The latter children were more 
generous with their rewards to the outgroup (ie: "maximum 
joint profit" strategy) . This is because generosity to 
others is a strong Polynesian cultural norm. 


Conformity to group pressure 

It is possible to change an individual's behaviour 
through the pressure of others. This does not have to 
involve to force or coercion. The individual may change 
their behaviour because they come to believe in the cause 
( internalisat ion of group norms; Kelman 1958) or simply 
to outwardly conform while privately disagreeing. 

Individuals sometimes conform to the majority when 
they personally disagree. This is normative conformity. 
Here individuals are outwardly conforming because they 
want to be rewarded for doing so or do not want to be 
rejected by the group for not conforming. This is 
"situational conformity" only (Moxon et al 2003) . 

The best known research on conformity was carried 
out by Asch (1951) . Using simple perceptual tasks, Asch 
was interested to see if individuals would publicly 
conform to the obvious wrong answer when they knew the 
correct answer. 

The participants were tested in a small group of 
around six people. In each case, there was only one 
participant, the other members of the group were 
confederates of the experimenter told to give the wrong 
answer at certain times. The participants did not know 
this. There was pressure to conform to the majority 
giving the wrong answer. 

Overall, an average conformity rate of 32% was 
found. Further research by Asch and others have shown 
which factors influence conformity to the majority 
(tables 4 and 5) . 

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size of group 7:1 1:1 

status of group members high low 

difficulty of task lines very similar lines not similar 

"deviant" in group "deviant" changes "deviant" does not 

mind and then conform 


public or private public private; eg: writing 

conformity face-to-face down answer 

Table 4 - Factors found by Asch that influence 
conformity . 


- uncertainty of group task increases conformity 

- individual and the group: greater conformity to the majority if 

the individual expects future interactions with the group; 
or is strongly attached to the group (commitment); and/or do 
not feel completely accepted by the group (ie: insecurity 
about position in the group) . 


- group appears knowledgeable 

- group's attractiveness to individual: greater attractiveness 

means greater conformity 

Table 5 - Factors affecting conformity. 

Conformity to role (identification) 

In some situations, individuals conform to the 
social expectations of the particular roles they are 
playing. This is known as conformity to role or 
identification. This involves a much wider amount of 
conformity. In other words, conformity on all of the 
individual's behaviour (Moxon et al 2003) . 

Conformity to role is best seen in the Stanford 
Prison Simulation (Haney et al 1973) . 

Twenty-two male volunteers were chosen to take part 
in a prison simulation. They agreed to play the role of 
"prisoner" or "prison guard" (chosen at random) for 14 
days in a mock jail built. The volunteers were given few 
instructions on how to behave or what was expected. Those 
volunteers chosen were judged to be most stable, mature, 

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and least involved in anti-social behaviour. This is 
important - the volunteers were "normal" men, and did not 
have psychological problems . 

The "prisoners" became passive and showed negative 
emotions. The "guards" were active in the interactions 
with the prisoners, and, though no physical aggression 
was permitted, but there was verbal aggression. The 
"prisoners" were belittled and humiliated by 
"psychological games", like making the prisoners clean 
the toilets with their bare hands. 

The simulation was terminated unexpectedly after six 
days. Haney et al (1973) note: "The extreme pathological 
reactions which emerged in both groups of subjects 
testify to the power of the social forces operating" 
( P 60) . 

This research is important because it shows the 
power of the situation and role expectations upon 
behaviour . 

Obedience to authority 

This is compliance to the demands of an authority 
figure. There is less opportunity to resist as with 
requests from ordinary people. It is the abdication of 
personal responsibility due to social power and status of 
the authority figure in the social hierarchy (Moxon et al 
2 03) . 

The classic work was by Stanley Milgram, who set up 
an experiment that would involve obedience to an 
authority figure to apparently harm (or even kill) a 
complete stranger. 

Forty male volunteers aged between 20 and 50 years 
were chosen for the first experiment (Milgram 1963) . The 
participants were not aware that the experiment was a 
"set-up", for them everything appeared to be real. 

The participant was shown a machine with gradings of 
electrical shocks of 15 volts from to 450 volts. They 
were told that if the "learner" in the next room failed 
on a series of memory tests, the "learner" should be 
given increasing electric shocks as punishment. 

The participant believed that the machine is real 
because they were given a mild electric shock as part of 
the testing of the machine. So Milgram had set up the 
situation thus: would an ordinary man give increasing 
punishment to a stranger in the next room because an 
experimenter in a white coat told them to do so? The 
maximum voltage of 450 would easily kill a person. 

Psychiatrists predicted before the experiment that 
0.1% of people would obey until 450 volts (ie: 1 in 1000 

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people) . 

In the first experiment, of the 40 men, 26 obeyed to 
450 volts. Nobody stopped before 300 volts, which is 
still probably enough to kill someone. Thus the level of 
obedience (ie: to 450 volts) was 65%. 

Milgram's original findings were a surprise to him, 
so he set about trying to discover the exact variables 
involved in obedience. Over the following ten years from 
the original experiment, he ran another twenty different 
experiments . 

The reason why individuals obey in such situations, 
and do things that they would not usually do, like harm 
to a complete stranger without provocation is due to a 
number of factors in the situation. 

Firstly, obedience occurred in small steps rather 
than one off. Gibson and Haritos-Fatouros (1986) study of 
Greek soldiers who were convicted of torture shows that 
they began slowly. For example, being asked to hold the 
victim down, later to kick them and so on. This easy 
graduation went with dehumanizat ion of the victim, and 
social support of society and the government for their 
behaviour . 

Another key factor in obedience is the presence of 
the experimenter in a white coat (uniform) which 
signalled that he was "legitimate authority". 

Individuals are socialised into obeying "legitimate 
authority", whatever is asked. This produced the demands 
of the situation and social roles established by the 
authority figure. Much of social behaviour is based upon 
fulfilling social roles with "social contracts". 
Disobedience would disrupt this process. 

Finally, the authority figure takes responsibility 
for the outcome. 

An American soldier, William Calley, was tried for a 
massacre at Mi Lai in Vietnam. His defence was based 
around simply following orders (quoted in Kelman and 
Hamilton 1989) . 

The work of Milgram is so important because it 
"challenges the myth that evil lurks in the minds of evil 
people - the bad they who are different dispositionally 
from the good us who would never do such things" 
(Zimbardo 1992 p592) . 

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"Common sense would dictate that there is a direct 
correlation between poverty and terrorism; yet the 
evidence gathered thus far does not lend credence to this 
proposition, and if anything, supports the opposite" (von 
Hippel 2002 p26) . 

For suicide terrorists like September 2001 in the 
USA, they were neither poor nor uneducated. "If poverty 
really were the root cause of terrorism, more terrorists 
would come from the poorest part of the world, sub- 
Saharan Africa; and this, so far, is not the case" (von 
Hippel 2002 p26) . 

Furthermore, Wilkinson (1977), talking about groups 
like the Baader-Meinhof gang in West Germany in the 
1970s, noted that "much of the politically motivated 
terror in liberal democracies for the past decade has 
been committed by the spoilt children of affluence" 
(p93) . 


Behaviour that is supported by a society and given 
high status becomes important in that society. For 
example, in Palestine after a suicide bombing, posters 
of the bomber are put up in the street to honour them. 
The family of the bomber are congratulated and looked 
upon with high status in society. The newspapers announce 
the death in a positive way as a marriage to "72 black- 
eyed virgins". At school, poems are written and read to 
celebrate such events (Ormsby 2003) . 

Stern (2000) found similar elevation of status of 
families of Pakistani suicide bombers in Kashmir, and the 
families also received financial help to start businesses 
or build new homes. These can be called the "mechanisms 
of social approval" (Centre for the Study of Terrorism 
2002 quoted in Vallis 2003) . 

"Al Manar TV" in Lebanon shows the videos of suicide 
bombers in Israel to produce a "culture of martyrdom". 
This is crucial in overcoming the prohibition on suicide 
generally in Islam with that of "heroic martyrdom" 
("Human Weapons" 2002) . 

Practical help in the form of money has been found 
in Pakistan (Kashmir), Eritrea (against Ethiopia), and 
for Kosovar Albanians (von Hippel 2002) . The Iraqi 
Government of Saddam Hussein was said to pay families of 
Palestinian suicide bombers 25 000 dollars in March 2002 
(Keller 2002) . 

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What is acceptable or "normal" is constructed by 
social events and forces. Where violence or terrorism are 
everyday aspects of life, this can produce a new form of 
"normality". For example, a suicide bombing when rare is 
a strong political weapon, but if it becomes too common, 
it can be an end itself. It becomes a normal occurrence 
and part of everyday life. 

The eroding of boundaries between military and civil 
is evident in World War II with the British bombing of 
German cities. Thus the unlimited boundaries of what can 
be done to defend the cause. Robert Lifton calls this 
"apocalyptic violence" ("Human Weapons" 2002) . The fact 
that this example is during an "official" war is no 
different to terrorists who believe that they are 
involved in a war. The justification of behaviour links 
to its "normality" and acceptability. 


A common belief is that strong ideology, often 
religious, has "brainwashed" the individuals into the 
terrorist behaviour. Certainly there is evidence of this 
in some situation - both explicit "brainwashing", and the 
implicit pressure of group members. 

Berthillier and Vaillot (1998) produced a film which 
studied religious cults that committed terrorism and/or 
suicide. One group is "Aum" in Japan, four members of 
which released toxic nerve gas on the Japanese 
underground in 1995. A number of key factors emerge from 
this group: 

a) An ideology that emphasised the constant threat 
(actual or created) from outside, usually the Government, 

which encouraged cohesiveness within the group; 

b) Thus the need for preparation for "war"; 

c) Apocalyptic prophecies that encourage a state of 

d) The denial of death as the end, but seen as a 
means of being reborn; 

e) Overt "brainwashing"; eg: followers locked in 
cells for days with only a non-stop video of the leader; 

f) Punishment for disobedience; eg: "bad" followers 
put into boiling water. 

However, it is important to note that among 

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Palestinian suicide bombers, they are not necessarily 
uneducated individuals who have been "brainwashed" . 
Surveys of Palestinian society shows that middle-class 
and higher educated individuals showed the greatest 
support for "suicide tactics". In December 2001, a 
survey of 1375 West Bank and Gaza Palestinians of 18 
years or older compared the views of educated and 
uneducated. Those of good education (12 years or more of 
schooling) showed 50% more support for armed attacks on 
Israel compared to poorly educated individuals 
(illiterate) . Increasing education was negatively 
correlated with supporting dialogue with Israel (Krueger 
and Maleckova 2003) . 

But wealthy Pakistanis, supportive of attacks in 
Kashmir, preferred to "donate their money than their sons 
to the cause" (Stern 2000) . 

A common misinterpretation is that religious 
ideology, particularly Islamic, is key to the 
participation in suicide terrorism. However, the LTTE in 
Sri Lanka "pioneered" the method of suicide bombing, and 
they did not have religious motivation (Gunaratna 2000) . 

But, for those who are religious, martyrdom is 
exchanged for a place in Paradise directly in some 
Islamic cults . 


Acts of behaviour have to be justified to the self 
and to others. In a sense, discourses are the shared 
beliefs of the individuals and their community or 
society: "some discourses or constructions of the world 
are so familiar that they appear as 'common sense'" 
(Marshall 2002) . 

Language is seen as a social process itself, rather 
than just a means of communication. For example, the 
words chosen are not neutral but tell us something about 
the social world. 

Wetherell and Maybin (1996) give three features of 
language use which challenge the assumption that language 
is neutral : 

i) Language has an "action orientation" - utterances 
state information, and perform an action. In an argument, 
individuals are not just stating opposite facts, but are 
using language to justify their position and undermine 
the other's. We are doing something with our utterances. 

ii) Language is part of the social world - rather 
than language simply telling us about the social world; 
it is a "constitutive part of those actions, events and 

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situations" (Wetherell and Maybin 1996 p244) . 

iii) Indexical property of discourse - all language 
is defined by the context of its use. 

The whole emphasis is away from language as 
referring to objects "out there" to the idea that 
language is about building the social reality. The same 
event can be described in a number of different ways. It 
is always possible to see how the choice of words can 
influence the whole understanding of an event. For 
example, during a news report, the use of words like 
"murdered", "killed", "slaughtered" - all set the context 
for understanding the perpetuators as good or bad. Potter 
and Wetherell (1987) use the example of "terrorist" or 
"freedom fighter". Taken a step further, with our 
language we are also defining ourselves. 

Use of Discourses to Defend Extreme Behaviour 

In the BBC programme "Loyalists: War and Peace" 
(1999), a former Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) member, 
Bobby Morton, justifies the murder of six Catholics as 
retaliation for the killing of the UVF leader in June 

Peter Taylor (interviewer) (PT) : That was cold-blooded 
murder, what else is it? 

Bobby Morton (BM) : I call it retaliation which is not 
quite the same thing. 

PT: But you end up with dead Catholics who are innocent 

BM: In retaliation for dead Protestants who are laying 
on the Shankhill Road. Yes, I can do it. 

PT: But that doesn't justify the death of innocent 
Catholics, does it? 

BM: If you are sending out a message to the IRA that 
if you kill a Protestant someone is going to pay 
for this here, now it may be crude; it's vicious, 
but the end may well justify the means. 

Thus the perpetrator of the killing is able to 
explain the murders as justifiable, and even necessary 
within the shared world-view of his supporters. 

Another example where individuals justify their 
behaviour by referring to the discourses in society for 
support is prejudice. One of the most common discourses 
used is "national identity" or "nationalism" . 

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Cashmore (1987) interviewed a number of individuals 
in the West Midlands, and showed how prejudiced attitudes 
are embedded within the logic of defending "English 
culture". Cashmore quotes the example of a white company 
director who justifies his anti-immigration views through 
such discourses and ideas. The individual's prejudiced 
comments are embedded in arguments that link to the 
shared meanings that are obvious to the listeners. 

The director says, for example, "there's a lot who 
come in just to draw the dole". Here he has linked to a 
number of shared meanings : 

a) England cannot afford to pay everybody benefits; 

b) I work hard for my money and do not want to 
subsidise "lazy" people; 

c) "they" are trying to take advantage of our 
welfare system; 

d) "they" are trying to take what is mine; 

e) such behaviour is not right. 

Thus his prejudiced attitudes appear entirely 
rational by this logic. He says in other words, I am just 
doing what everybody does and protecting myself, my 
family and my country (Brewer 2003c) . 

In the case of suicide bombing in Israel, the 
perpetrators are defining it as an act of national self- 
defence for Palestine or a way of shaping the future for 
their children (Vallis 2003) . These discourses are quite 
"normal" and acceptable to most people, but it is the 
action that follows from this that is not acceptable. 

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