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What makes a terrorist do what they do?

Sultan Ahmed

Issue date: 2/12/10 Section: Opinion
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This March 2008 bombing in Karbala, Iraq killed more than 40 people. Another suicide bombing there last week killed at least 20. Many wonder precisely where terrorists get the motivation to commit such atrocities.
This March 2008 bombing in Karbala, Iraq killed more than 40 people. Another suicide bombing there last week killed at least 20. Many wonder precisely where terrorists get the motivation to commit such atrocities.
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The following conversation took place this past week between a friend and me.

Friend: Hey, what classes are you taking this semester?

Me: Well, I'm taking three independent studies and bio.

Friend: Oh, what are you doing your independent studies on?

Me: Islamic bioethics, Indian philosophy, and the psychology of terrorism.

Friend: Terror psychology, going back to your roots huh?

Me: Yeah, very funny.

Friend: Hey, I'm just sayin' man, it's in your blood.

Another day, another joke about terrorism. This time, however, I thought it prudent to use this conversation to discuss terror psychology with the greater CWRU community. Amidst the modern political climate, it has become vitally important to understand precisely what motivates a terrorist and how a culture of terrorism develops. A feverish conversation has begun among academics and politicians about this very issue, and there are many variables which can affect the psychological development of an individual. Some theories, however, have proven to be particularly common.

One is that the cause of terrorism is the religion, Islam, itself. Proponents of this theory include Rush Limbaugh and Daniel Pipes. The basic argument is that there exist verses in the Quran, in particular 9:5, which condone the killing of nonbelievers. These verses are claimed to inspire terrorism. Upon closer consideration, however, it is clear that this theory presents several problems. First of all, it infantilizes human psychology. Can we really assume that people will effectively do whatever a book instructs them (assuming that it does tell them to kill) without questioning it? How can we attribute this mentality to otherwise educated, intelligent, and wealthy people? Furthermore, that would mean that all Muslims are terrorists, which is clearly not the case. There are scholars such as Zakir Naik and Mohamed Elmasry who interpret those same verses in a different way, arguing that the verses do not condone terrorist actions or unwarranted aggression. If this extreme theory is true, then we ought to attribute the label of 'Catholic terrorists' to the IRA and say that Christianity is the root cause of their actions. It may very well be that incomplete and inappropriate interpretations of the text are used to convince people to commit acts of violence. However, it is not appropriate, in my opinion, to say that the religion is the sole cause.
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    posted 2/11/10 @ 8:06 PM EST

    Robert Pape has researched the subject and written a book called "Dying to win" about suicide terrorism.

    Details   Reply to this comment

    Jason Goodrick

    posted 2/12/10 @ 11:49 AM EST

    Would you be able to recognize potential terrorist activity in the campus community?

    Find out about the 7 signs of terrorism here:
    http://www.neorfc. (Continued…)

    Details   Reply to this comment

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    In This Issue


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