Terrorism – Describing Terrorist -
Demographic studies from the 1960s and 1970s constructed a profile of the typical terrorist as a well-educated single male in his mid-twenties from a middle-class background but that has changed so much as the social classes have been mingled, mixed, destroyed or otherwise hybrid into different social categories that includes variances in race, religion, gender and ethnicity backgrounds.
It should be mentioned that the relationship between political orientations and socioeconomic factors reveal that during the 1960’s and 70’s, women are gaining more of a significant role in such acts that demonstrates their propensity to be more favored to perform terrorist acts for the left wing more so than the right wing terrorists (46.2 vs. 11.2 percent) according to tabulations performed by the FBI.
Additionally, the FBI tabulations revealed that “college completion was much more common among left- than right-wing terrorists (67.6 vs. 19.0 percent), blue-collar occupation was more frequent among right- than left-wing terrorists (74.8 vs. 24.3 percent), and there was a trend for both left- and right-wing terrorists to achieve low- to medium-income levels even if they had college education.”
The terror-related inclination to be involved in terrorism swung away from Europe in the 1980s along with a relative quiet or dormant existence of American terrorists’ groups and the advent of a rising world profile of radical Islamic terrorists.
This resulted in the recognition characteristic of the Islamic or Palestinian terrorist of that later period who was age seventeen to twenty-three, came from a large family with an impoverished background, and had low educational achievement. But the pendulum has swung again. Middle Eastern terrorists in the late 1990s and early twenty-first century come from a wider demographic range, including university students, professionals, married men in their late forties, and young women.
The most recent development, the recruitment of women as suicide bombers, arises at least in part from the fact that permits females to participate in acts of terror and actively engage in all methodologies listed as a means to fight the cause or mission.This profile holds true today as women are listed as leaders, co-conspirators, assassins or bombers in various terrorist scenarios in the Middle East and part of Southeast Asia.
A poll conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in 2001 among 1,357 adults in the West Bank and Gaza tested the hypothesis that poverty or low levels of education influence attitudes regarding political violence and found that support for terrorism against Israeli civilians was even more common among professionals than among laborers (43.3 vs. 34.6 percent) and more common among those with secondary education than among illiterate respondents (39.4 vs. 32.3 percent)
On the basis of unstructured interviews, American psychiatrist David Hubbard reported five traits of skyjackers:
(1) violent, often alcoholic father
(2) deeply religious mother
(3) sexually shy, timid, and passive
(4) younger sisters toward whom the terrorist acted protectively
(5) poor social achievement.
On the matter of second-hand information, analysts have claimed to have identified nine typical characteristics of right-wing terrorists:
(1) ambivalence toward authority
(2) defective insight
(3) adherence to convention,
(4) emotional detachment from the consequences of their actions
(5) sexual role uncertainties
6) magical thinking
(8) low education
(9) adherence to violent subculture norms and weapons fetishes.
It is interesting that these lists, compiled a decade apart, overlap in regard to sexual role uncertainties and probably low education (if this is a proxy for poor social achievement). Yet apart from this superficial overlap, the two studies do not suggest common features of background or personality.
Neither of these studies used controls or validated psychological instruments creating somewhat subjective matter to deal with and taken with less credibility than any other empirical evidence presented for such studies. Since the tragic events of September 11, 2001, attention has shifted to the psychology of Islamic fundamentalist terrorism. There is a dearth of published literature describing psychological studies of Muslim extremists.
An analysis of this subgroup of Muslim extremist suicide bombers among the Palestinians revealed a profile of individuals described as:
· ages seventeen to twenty-two
Most came from respected families that supported their activism, with 30 percent of the families of religious terrorists and 15 percent of the families of secular terrorists reporting their own radical involvement. Peer influence was cited as the major reason for joining a terrorist group, and joining increased social standing. Membership was described as being associated with a fusion of the young adult’s individual identity with the group’s collective identity and goals.
Prison experience was claimed to strengthen group commitment for most terrorists of both types. Anger and hatred without remorse were often expressed, but there was little interest in obtaining weapons of mass destruction localizing both attacks and methods used weaponry chosen to be small arms or homemade explosives.
Other data compiled of individuals identified as Muslims engaged in terrorism for the new Islamic world order revealed some fragmented childhood trauma and only a few suffered from a personality disorders or paranoia but did have histories of petty crimes committed and most were loners. One appeared to be an al Qaeda leader.
Potentially high-value data were gathered outside the academic research apparatus by United Nations (UN) relief worker Nasra Hassan, based non-scientific or control based interviews with “nearly 250” members of Hamas or Islamic Jihad conducted in Gaza between 1996 and 1999. She reports that the suicide bombers ranged in age from eighteen to thirty-eight, more than half were refugees, “many” were middle class, 2 were sons of millionaires, and none were depressed, although “many” reported that they had been beaten or tortured by Israeli forces.
Unfortunately, Hassan’s lucid and widely cited report does not specify the actual number of terrorist subjects, as well as what proportion of this total subject population were intended suicide bombers, failed suicide bombers, or trainers, and offers no specific demographic, socioeconomic, or psychological data.
Other attempts to account for the behavior of terrorists fall into two general categories: top-down approaches that seek the seeds of terrorism in political, social, economic and evolutionary circumstances bottom-up approaches that explore the characteristics of individuals and groups that turn to terrorism.
These approaches are not mutually exclusive. In fact, approaches such as rational choice theory and relative deprivation/oppression theory combine these points of view, considering interactions between circumstances and actors. While acknowledging the importance of top-down analyses and ultimate causes, this article focuses primarily on bottom-up approaches and proximal causes in sub-state terrorism. The principal approaches are organized into groups for the sake of clarity.
However, it will become apparent that conceptual overlap exists between theories within and between groups. It will also become apparent that a particular fundamental conceptual framework— such as psychoanalysis—may inform diverse theories and that the same theory may be championed from different conceptual frameworks.