Terrorism is a type of violence used tactically in peace, conflict, and war. The threat of terrorism is ever present, and an attack is likely to occur when least expected. In trying to find out what factors can cause an individual to choose terrorism, it is first necessary to define what terrorism is. The Department of Defense defines terrorism as the calculated use of violence or threat of violence to inculcate fear; intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological. Per the definition, the terrorists are not giving into a whim of random acts, but these individuals are using calculated moves in order to achieve the purpose of the group. Simply put, this suggests that these individuals are making a conscious choice for violence. What motivates these groups to choose terrorism as a means to achieve a particular agenda? The majority of the motives can be broken down into three broad areas: rational, psychological, and cultural.(1) Although some motives are difficult for the majority of the World to comprehend; given a motive, a terrorist group has a purpose for violence.Order now
The rational terrorist thinks through the options and goals that are to be achieved, making a cost-benefit breakdown. This individual seeks to determine whether there are less costly and more effective ways to achieve the objective than terrorism. Risks and capabilities are assessed to determine whether terrorism should be used or not. This type of thought is similar to that of a military commander choosing which course of action should be taken to achieve the missions objectives.
The rational terrorist is more of a strategist, which uses terrorism to achieve an outcome. Sinn Fein can be interpreted as a rational terrorist. In the roots of this organization, terrorism may have seemed to be the only alternative to achieve an audience. Although currently the political party is not directly affiliated with the IRA (Irish Republican Army), past ties gave the appearance of one entity; dealing with Sinn Fein meant dealing with the IRA as well. Now that Sinn Fein has the ability to achieve objectives through political means, it is no longer part of the IRA; although, some still view them to be the political wing of the IRA.(2) This strategy can easily change once again, should the objectives become more difficult to achieve, thus shifting from peaceful means to the need for more abrupt measures.
Psychological motivation for terrorism derives from terrorists personal dissatisfaction with life and accomplishments. This type of motivation is found to be a faith of the terrorist. The individual does not consider the actions taken to achieve the agenda wrong and may tend to project antisocial motivations onto others, creating a polarized we versus they outlook.(3) These members attribute only evil motives to anyone outside the group. The resulting clarity of purpose appeals to those who crave violence to relieve their constant anger.
The other common characteristic of the psychologically motivated terrorist is the pronounced need to belong to a group. With some terrorists, group acceptance is a stronger motivator than the stated political objectives of the organization. Such individuals define their social status by group acceptance.
More often than not the groups goal may be nearly impossible to achieve. A group that achieves its stated purpose is no longer needed; thus, success threatens the psychological well being of its members. When a terrorist group approaches a stated goal, there may be an inclination to redefine it. The group may reject the achievement as false or inadequate or the result of the duplicity of them. When a solution is close to being reached, objectives change.
One effective psychological defense against success is to define goals so broadly that they are impossible to achieve. Even if the world proclaims the success of a political movement, the terrorists can deny it and fight on. The Basque ETA (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna) apparently suffers from the fear of success. No matter how much autonomy is granted to the Basques, the ETA will not be satisfied until they have achieved total independence as a separate nation, this is something that Madrid is not about to do; thus, the goal of independence is keeping the ETA in business.(4)
Cultures shape values and motivate people to actions that seem unreasonable to foreign observers. Americans are reluctant to appreciate the intense effect of culture on behavior, and choose to accept the myth that rational behavior guides all human actions. Such things as vendetta, martyrdom, and self-destructive group behaviors are rejected as irrational belief. Some nations take to ethnic cleansing based on cultural motivations. When the Soviet Union collapsed ending the cold war, it only spiked the opportunity for the ministates to finally rid each other of ethnic impurities. Examples of these are found in Bosnia and Georgia. These terrorists would rather see the dissolution of a viable state for the sake of ethnic purity rather than heal their own starving economy.
Religion may be the most volatile of cultural identifiers because it encompasses values deeply held. A threat to ones religion puts not only the present at risk but also ones cultural past and the future. Terrorism in the name of religion can be especially violent. Like all terrorists, those who are religiously motivated view their acts with moral certainty and even divine sanctions. What would otherwise be extraordinary acts of desperation becomes a religious duty in the mind of the religiously motivated terrorist. This helps explain the high level of commitment and willingness to risk death among religious extremist groups. The Hezbollah view the West as the Great Satan and the foremost corrupting influence on the Islamic world today. This militant group does not view the suicide bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut as an insane act,(5) but as martyrdom against the evil ways of the West. With this underlying holy war against the world, they are forced to use these extreme measures.
With the motives of rational, psychology, and cultural reasoning, the different terrorist groups make a stand for what is believed to be right. The calculation for the next move that a terrorist will make is hard to decipher, but all terrorist do have motives. Although some motives are difficult for the majority of the World to comprehend; given a motive, a terrorist group has a purpose for violence.
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