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Some cultures may see the classification of terrorism as a crime, as an ethnocentric view. Stevens, relates terrorism to Just War theory in an attempt to eliminate this suggestion. Stevens (2005), states that terrorism does not look for a better future, it does not attempt to find resolutions without using violence, and it aims to evoke the maximum, not the minimum level of horror and fear. Therefore terrorism does not follow the criteria set in the Just War theory, and can be considered a criminal act in the eyes of the majority.
There are numerous definitions to be considered when addressing the issue of terrorism (Moghaddam, 2005). According to Moghaddam (2005), terrorism can be defined as "politically motivated violence, perpetrated by individuals, groups, or state sponsored agents, intended to instil feelings of terror and helplessness in order to influence decision making and to change behaviour." However Cooper (2001), suggests that what one individual may see as a terrorist, another may see as a freedom fighter. Even when considering how a terrorist can be defined issues arise. Despite the dispute surrounding how to define a terrorist, the majority agree that terrorism is a large problem in numerous parts of the world, and therefore efforts must be made to end it (Moghaddam, 2005).
If there is no universal definition of terrorism then it is easy to understand why so many different types of terrorists are discussed within the literature surrounding this topic. The modern era of terrorism dates back to the 1970's, where social-revolutionary terrorists and national-separatist terrorists dominated. Both of these terrorist groups sought recognition for their cause; however their social dynamics were different (Post, 2005). This changed in 1980's and 1990's were no responsibility was claimed for acts of terrorism; these terrorists sought no recognition as they believed they were killing in the name of God (Post, 2005). Even though psychologists acknowledge different definitions of terrorism and different types of terrorism, they still attempt to provide general explanations.
Post (2005), states that terrorism should be discussed as terrorisms, not terrorism, and terrorist psychologies, rather than searching for a general theory to explain all terrorist behaviour. Post (2005), has not found terrorists to have any psychopathological traits. This reinforces the idea that the outstanding characteristic of a terrorist is that they are normal, Crenshaw (1981), and this suggestion is supported by Feracutti (1983), and Horgan (2005). A more recent view confirms that terrorists do not have psychopathological origins, and an emphasis is placed on the importance of social psychology within this area. However this in itself contradicts Post's (2005), earlier suggestion that a general theory should not be used, as it proposes that generally terrorists do not have psychopathological origins. Victoroff (2005), would also be critical of this statement, as the suggestion made by Crenshaw (1981), ignores certain biological factors that may play a part in some acts of terrorism.
Post (2005), states that social psychology is the most effective approach for examining terrorist behaviour. He proposes that most psychologists emphasise factors such as group and organisational psychology, and specifically collective identity. The suggestion here is that collective identity and the process of it forming cannot be ignored. This ultimately provides a socio-cultural view; this determines the balance between collective identity and individual identity. Within this view the leader is extremely important, it is the leader who forms mass movement and provides focus for those unhappy individuals, this focus being put upon an external source for their difficulties, giving them a justification for their aggression, against the particular target (Robins and Post, 1997). Milgram (1974), also provides further evidence to support how important the role of a leader is in deviant behaviours, demonstrating how ordinary citizens can obey dangerous commands that may harm others.
Post (2005), attempts to reveal how the minds of terrorists work by assessing their own words, from a research project he conducted, interviewing numerous terrorist types. These interviews showed several factors that were apparent across the different terrorist groups. Finding that once individuals were recruited there was a clear fusing of individual and group identity. A large number of those interviewed reported that they grew up with low socioeconomic status, that they had a low ability to work, and a restricted ability to travel, and across the groups they were denied the opportunity to advance. They expressed the general opinion that they had been evicted from their own land unjustly. The majority had no personal goals separate to their organisation. In particular the appeal of the Al Qaeda was fairly alienated to youth, who feel they are trapped with no chance of advancement. The individuals interviewed stated that the families of those who had fallen for the cause had improved socioeconomic status and material support from the organisation. Within these communities success is achieved fighting for the organisation's cause, as these individuals adopt this view of success, and have no other way of achieving success, the success of the organisation is vital to the individual's identity, giving them a focus in life. This is how the individual fuses to the group, and is apparent across all organisations, according to Post (2005).
Post (2005), still expresses that these factors found from the interviews are not applicable to every terrorist, contradicting his previous statement. Giving the example of the suicide hijackers of 9/11, these were older, a number had higher education, and most had come from comfortable middle class homes. Showing not all terrorists are from low socio-economic backgrounds. These individuals still responded without criticism to the hatred and destruction of their leader, and gave their individuality to the organisation.
Post (2005), uses his research findings to try to form a counter-terrorist strategy. He suggests that the psychological warfare terrorist's use should be countered with psychological warfare, proposing numerous ways of tackling this. Firstly once an individual has fallen into the pressure of a terrorist group it is too difficult to influence them, and therefore the best way to tackle terrorism is to stop potential terrorists joining these groups. Once in these groups the power of group and organisational psychology will dominate. Post (2005), notes that the central strategy for political terrorism is psychological, and uses violence as communication. Terrorists are able to manipulate their target audience through media, and this strategy must be countered with public education (Post, 2005)
Although Post (2005), suggests that it is easier to stop terrorism by preventing individuals from joining terrorist groups, he still states the importance of facilitating terrorists in leaving these groups. Pathways out of terrorism must be created to reduce the grip the group has. Amnesty programs that have been used elsewhere can assist with this goal. Reducing the support for the group in its local community is also vital. These goals together form an intervention plan to prevent terrorism, although it may not bring a swift end, it is a process that in Post's (2005), eyes must be put in place.
The ideas that Post (2005), suggests can be understood further if they are related to Tajfel and Turner's (1979), social identity theory. Tafjel et al (1971), wanted to identify conditions that would lead members of one group to discriminate in favour of the in-group which they belonged to, against another out-group. Within terrorism this could explain why those in terrorist groups (the in-group), act in the way they do to other groups (the out-group). Tafjel and Turner (1979), state three variables that contribute to in-group favouritism, these are particularly important, firstly the extent that the individual (the terrorist) identifies with the in-group and internalises the group membership as part of their self-concept. Secondly the extent to which the groups differ. Finally, how relevant they perceive the out-group to be, which will be shaped by the status of the in-group. With terrorism the individuals are likely to lose their individual identity when the in-group is the most important part of their self-definition, which Post (2005), suggests is often the case, and when the outcome of favouritising the in-group would provide victory against rivals (the out-group). When considering Post (2005), and Tafjel and Turner's (1979), together, social psychology provides theory and reasoning as to how and why terrorist groups form, and ways of intervening.
Although the ideas of Post (2005), and Tafjel and Turner (1979), support each other, and show how psychological theory has stayed relevant over time. The research methods used by Post (2005), which provide evidence in support of the theory, do not go un-criticised. Post (2005), uses the interview method to obtain information regarding terrorists. The method of interviewing has been heavily criticised. Sarantankos (2004), criticises this method of researching, stating that, as this research method collects narratives, it could be considered qualitative. Using qualitative research methods produces a large amount of critique, bringing into question the objectivity, validity, reliability. If this consideration is taken into account then a number of questions are raised. Can it really be said that Post (2005), provides reliable, valid and objective evidence to suggest that Social Identity Theory plays a part in carrying out terrorist acts? Can the implications suggested for intervention also be considered reliable, valid and objective? If not then does this research really contribute to the field of Psychology as a Science, or does it remain phenomenological? (Sarantankos, 2004).
Further criticism can be given if we compare Russell and Millers (1977), research finding that the majority of those involved in terrorist groups were actually middle/upper class. This contradicts the findings suggested by Post (2005), supporting further the idea that all terrorists are different, and we cannot generalise the findings of either of these studies to every terrorist. Even though Post (2005), states that terrorist's should be considered individually his research findings still result in proposed generalisations.
Both these pieces of research attempt to provide a terrorist profile, giving particular social factors that may ultimately result in the joining of terrorist groups. Howitt (2011), states that this would mean focusing on counter terrorist work, something which Post (2005), also suggests as an intervention programme. Howitt (2011), suggests that this counter-terrorist strategy may actually waste valuable time. If this counter-terrorism strategy was selected, a terrorist leader might aim to recruit terrorists that are different from the suggested target profile. Furthering this Howitt (2011), states that the general features suggested in research like this can actually apply to most young men, and are not just social factors that apply only to terrorists. Howitt (2011), suggests that this failure to find certain psychological characteristics associated only with terrorism, does not mean that psychology cannot be used to explain terrorism, however it suggests a different approach should be taken.
Victoroff (2005), states that little attention has been paid to the possibility that terrorists particular behaviour characteristics, could relate to either cognitive capacity or cognitive style. However there is a wide range of support for the idea that violent behaviour is influenced by cognitive capacity (Ernst et al, 2003). Furthering this, the suggestion has been made that cognitive styles influence the aggressive behaviour of political leaders (Satterfield, 1998).
Victoroff (2005), states that it is tempting to speculate that cognitive styles and capacities may also influence who will join and lead a terrorist group. Taylor and Quayle (1994), made the speculation that those joining terrorist groups make an attribution error, involving a cognitive bias towards those they perceive to be exercising authority in an unjust manner. The attribution error is made when they inaccurately attribute devious motives to these individuals. Even though Taylor and Quayle (1994), make this assumption that in the eyes of Victoroff (2005), seems reasonable, they offer no evidence to support it and no way of resolving this possible issue as an intervention programme.
One study that could be considered important in this area is that by Sidanius (1985). This study examined cognitive factors in different types of extremism, measuring conservatism, cognitive flexibility, cognitive complexity, and intolerance of ambiguity using normed and validated instruments. The sample was 195 Swedish high school students. These respondents were either, extreme leftists, moderate leftists, moderate, moderate rightists or extreme rightists. Extreme leftists and moderate rightists had the highest level of cognitive complexity; moderates had the lowest level of cognitive complexity. Less cognitive flexibility was associated with more sexual repression and greater general conservatism, which is consistent with other views surrounding the rigidity of right-wing values. Victoroff (2005), states that the most useful finding in relation to terrorism was that reduced cognitive flexibility was associated with intolerance of ambiguity, the need for certainty, the need for uniformity, racism and ethnocentrism. From this Victoroff (2005), goes on to suggest that it would be worth exploring whether those who become ethnic terrorists, who are driven by a racial purpose, that do not see the valued characteristics of those in the out-group, will be more likely to show the trait of cognitive inflexibility.
Although Victoroff (2005) states that this finding could be useful, when researching and tackling terrorism. The method of researching is easy to criticise. Sarantakos (2004), suggests a sample should be selected that represents the target population, in this case 195 high school Swedish students, cannot be considered to represent the target population. Although this criticism can be made of the Sidanius (1985) study, it is important to also consider how difficult it may be to carry out psychological research on actual terrorist groups (Howitt, 2011). Brannan, Esler and Strindberg, (2001), also suggest that the use of secondary data is an issue when applying findings to terrorism. Victoroff (2005), provides further criticism of this, proposing that researchers must be prepared to attempt research that involves active terrorists, and those who are at risk of becoming terrorists. When doing this The British Psychological Society's (2009) code of ethics, should still be followed, and voluntary participation and informed consent are still necessary in these circumstances.
Victoroff (2005), acknowledges the limitations and suggests that further work would need to be conducted to investigate whether the different cognitive factors could present a general trait within terrorists. This could be an influential area of research, as findings may prove to have strategic importance (Victoroff, 2005). Victoroff, (2005), gives examples of this, stating that terrorists with intolerance of ambiguity or cognitive inflexibility could potentially be less adaptable, and irrational in bargaining, with regards to negotiation and threat. These factors could be used to the advantage of psychologists in refining security plans, and identifying behavioural markers, that expose terrorists, who are more like to follow suggested paths.
So far this essay has considered theory and research that highlights how Psychology can contribute to the understanding of terrorism, the ways in which psychology can intervene and has provided individual (cognitive, biological) and group (social) explanations. However with the suggestion that terrorists are psychologically normal (Crenshaw, 1981), any psychologist tackling the rehabilitation of terrorists is faced with some difficulty (Howitt, 2011). When rehabilitating a terrorist and releasing them from prison it is hard to know how a psychologist could undertake a risk assessment of the individual. Risk assessment is a key feature for forensic psychologists and little of what is known in this area can be applied to terrorists, as it is based on psychiatric patients and prisoners. Terrorists do not fall into either of these groups, (Howitt, 2011). From this Dernervik et al (2009), argue that psychologists are therefore not appropriate for formulating risk assessments and rehabilitation in this area.
The advantages to Psychologists in studying terrorism are apparent, Victoroff (2005), Post (2005), and Tafjel and Turner (1979), all propose ideas and research that could possibly identify terrorists from others and provide an insight as to how effective interventions could be adapted if further research was to be conducted. Dernervik et al (2009), only consider that psychologists are not appropriate for formulating risk assessments in the area, when terrorism is considered in line with other crimes. If the research and theory considered within this essay formulated the risk assessment, then perhaps methods of cognitive behavioural therapy and social learning theory would form more appropriate methods of risk assessing in the case of terrorism (Victoroff, 2005).
Although clear problems are shown within Victoroff's (2005), views and applying the research he discusses, if this suggested cognitive approach was to be taken, then previous problems suggested when taking a social approach do not arise. Such as the suggestion that counter terrorism may influence a terrorist leader, to recruit terrorists that are different to the target profile, (Howitt, 2011). Furthering this, the research conducted by Sidanius (1985), uses a scientifically accepted method, an experiment, (Sarantankos, 2004). This research however faces problems surrounding generalizability, that were not apparent when using social approach methods, (Sarantankos, 2004). The cognitive view suggested by Victoroff (2005), also includes aspects of the social approach and attempts to explain how cognitive factors may influence the way in which terrorists treat their out-group, whereas the social ideas suggested by Tafjel and Turner (1979), and Post (2005), do not take into account the contribution of cognitive factors. From the research that has been reviewed throughout this essay, it could be suggested that a wider range of research has been conducted and criticised from a social perspective, and Howitt (2011), suggests that a new approach to terrorism should be taken. Perhaps after considering Victoroff's (2005), assumptions and generalisations of cognitive research, it could be proposed that it is the cognitive approach to psychology that should be the predominant focus for future research in this area.
The idea that the cognitive approach to psychology should be the focus for future research also needs to take into account Victoroff's (2005), suggestion that appears throughout the essay, that more than one psychological approach is needed to tackle terrorism. In this essay Victoroff (2005) discusses the contribution of biological factors, social factors and cognitive factors. To conclude he states that terrorist behaviour is more often than not determined by a number of biological, developmental, cognitive, environmental and social dynamics. He takes into account Post's (2005), view that these factors may contribute differently to each individual terrorist and acknowledges the numerous problems that have been faced when researching this topic. The suggestion given is that future research needs to examine one or two of these factors, and empirically examine each factor individually, to form adequate research in this area.