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Determining the factors that motivate people to engage in terrorist activities is a doubting task. According to Korbi (2017), terrorists are reluctant to volunteer information about what drives them into joining terror groups. Moreover, they operate in secret, making it hard for researchers to identify individuals to serve as experimental subjects. The available information regarding drivers of terrorism may not be comprehensive.
As per Korbi (2017), “one group’s terrorist is another group’s freedom fighter, as the millions of Arabs who support Palestinian suicide bombers will attest” (p. 4). The complexity in unraveling the mystery behind terrorism results in scholars relying on opinions and theories. Most scholars admit that there is limited peer-reviewed data regarding terrorism (Korbi, 2017). Presently, psychologists are in the process of gathering information that may help to understand the factors that compel people to join terrorism. They argue that terrorism should be analyzed through social and political lenses (Korbi, 2017).
They claim that universal psychological principles like the desire for fame and fear of death may prompt individuals to join terrorism. The motivation for terrorism can be classified as religious, socioeconomic, and political. Understanding the factors that motivate people to join terrorist groups will go a long way towards combating insurgents. This paper will discuss the factors that drive people to engage in terrorist activities.
Terrorism has been in existence for more than two millennia. According to Korbi (2017), terrorism has been an essential element of social behavior for many decades, and yet people have not come up with a universal agreement regarding what it constitutes. Today, there is no universal definition of terrorism. It makes it hard for law enforcement agencies to come up with practical methods of combatting crime.
Most people regard it as the use of intimidation and violence against society with the aim of achieving specific political goals. The emphasis on political purposes distinguishes terrorism from other forms of violence. It is argued that religious fanaticism led to the rise of terrorism. Korbi (2017) avers, “Before the 18th century and the advent of nationalism, anarchism, and Marxist ideology, religion provided the only acceptable justification for terror” (p. 10). The Hindu Thugs, Muslim Hashashins, and Jewish Zealots were the renowned religious terrorist groups in the 18th century (Korbi, 2017). The modus operandi for the groups included human sacrifice and assassinations.
The rise of Marxist ideology, imperialism, and nationalism led to the transformation of terrorism. Secular motives became the primary drivers of terrorism, with religion taking the back seat. Terrorists started using guerilla strategies, anarchy, sabotage, and political kidnappings. According to Kruglanski et al. (2014), 1968 was the defining moment for terror campaigns. The emergence of leftist movements, the Vietnam War, and the rise of the Palestinian state triggered a new wave of terrorism. It spread across the globe and assumed new motives, which took ethnic and political dimensions.
The modern-day terrorism started during the French Revolution’s reign of Terror. Violent street battles, public beheadings, and bloodthirsty oratory are some of the features that characterized the revolution (Kruglanski et al., 2014). The revolution marked the beginning of the use of massive violence against civilians to achieve political mileage. In the late 19th century, nationalists started to use terrorism to suppress ruthless emperors and fight for their rights (Kruglanski et al., 2014). The Irish National Brotherhood leveraged terrorism in pursuit of independence from Britain. The Brotherhood carried out numerous suicide attacks in England as a way to pressure Britain to give them freedom. In Russia, socialists used terrorism to combat the royalist government.
The 20th century witnessed intensified terrorism activities across the globe. Political, social, and religious activists used violence in their agitation for change (Kruglanski et al., 2014). In the 1930s, Jews launched a terror campaign in their quest for the establishment of the state of Israel (Kruglanski et al., 2014). They staged numerous terror attacks against British occupiers. On the other hand, the Palestinian terrorists started to hijack planes as a way to draw the attention of the international community (Kruglanski et al., 2014).
Environmentalists and animal rights activists also used violence to push their agenda. The 21st century saw the rise of new forms of terrorist groups (pan-nationalists) such as the Islamic States (Kruglanski et al., 2014). The groups use technology to mobilize and recruit new members. They also use social media to spread hatred.
Religious and Cultural Motivations
Terrorist groups, particularly those that subscribe to Islam understand that religion and culture are indivisible. The groups use the connection between religion and culture to operate in two spheres (Olechowicz & Matusitz, 2013). The first sphere leans to religion and views terrorism as a divine responsibility or sacred act carried out in line with specific religious imperatives or demands. The second sphere is related to culture. According to Olechowicz and Matusitz (2013), culture offers the social unity needed to justify religious-driven terrorism. The definition of terrorism does not depict a correlation between it and Islam.
One wonders why the majority of the terrorist attacks are carried out in the name of Islam. Islam as a religion serves as a primary motivation for terrorism (Olechowicz & Matusitz, 2013). Religion offers the necessary foundation that nurtures and promotes terrorism. Moreover, Islamic cultural background gives room for people to embrace and support terrorism. However, it is imperative to appreciate that the majority of Muslims across the globe do not support terrorism.
One can hardly depict the powerful trigger of terrorism between religion and culture. Nevertheless, since religion is a fundamental component of Islamic culture, it provides a favorable environment for the rise of religious-driven terrorism (Olechowicz & Matusitz, 2013). One cannot appreciate the motives that encourage an individual to engage in terrorism without having a clear understanding of the different facets of Islamic culture. Muslims are in constant desire of reviving the great days of Islam because they remind them of the splendor of the old influential Islamic empires (Olechowicz & Matusitz, 2013).
Additionally, Islam upholds the culture of warriors, which has been passed across the generations since the epoch of Prophet Mohammed. Olechowicz and Matusitz (2013) hold, “The culture constitutes concepts of religious punishment in the name of God, blood revenge, honor and respect, and deep-rooted differentiation between Muslims and infidels” (p. 340). The two primary features of Islamic culture play a critical role in the shared identity of most Muslim communities. Thus, the inclination to violence based on perverted religious grounds appears to pervade some Muslim families’ way of life.
A perverted discernment of religious pronouncements, coupled with particular cultural milieu can be perceived in the idea of Shahadah (martyrdom). The concept of suicide has become the primary mode of operation for some Muslim communities (Olechowicz & Matusitz, 2013). They hold that sacrificing one’s life leads to the consecration of God’s name. The majority of the Muslim communities use faith to agitate for martyrdom.
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They establish a culture that worships martyrdom, thus encouraging people to partake in suicide attacks (Olechowicz & Matusitz, 2013). The move creates a grievous problem for Muslims. In spite of the cultural setting embraces martyrdom, the idea of committing suicide contradicts Islamic teachings. Islam holds that individuals who commit suicide do enter heaven (Olechowicz & Matusitz, 2013).
The modern form of terrorism relies heavily on suicide, and therefore requires a kind of religious approval for rationalization. Some religious scholars argue that the violence perpetrated by Muslim youths in the name of defending Islamic religion, lands, and the dignity of Islam signifies a form of jihad (Olechowicz & Matusitz, 2013). They allege that such acts of violence are not suicidal. Instead, they are courageous acts of self-sacrifice, which are utterly different from suicide. Such sentiments result in Muslims believing that even though the religion prohibits people from taking their own life, suicide attack conducted in the spirit of glorifying Allah’s name are tolerable. Individuals who commit such offenses are guaranteed of entering heaven.
Terrorism cannot thrive in a culture that loathes violence. Therefore, individuals who support terrorism strive to establish a favorable cultural environment (Olechowicz & Matusitz, 2013). Yasser Arafat is one of the leaders who endeavored to create a cultural context that promoted religious-driven terrorism. The leader leveraged oratory and religious lingo to encourage people to partake in terrorism. He appreciated the significance of language in any culture.
Thus, he gave all his public addresses in Arabic, thus ensuring that his message is persuasive. In one of the television interviews, the leader asserted, “the dead Palestinian children – Shahids – are the greatest message in the world” (Olechowicz & Matusitz, 2013, p. 342). Arafat even went on the public to congratulate and praise a woman who carried out a suicide bomb attack killing an Israelite. The leader was renowned for using terms like Warriors, a Muslim nation, and Jihad in his statements. It helped to inculcate a culture that supported religious-driven hatred amid the Muslim communities.
Political motivators to terrorism include government repressions, which are assessed through variables like civil liberties. Dictatorial and unsteady societies establish weak governments that contribute to human suffering (Chenoweth, 2013). Violation of human rights and lack of social inclusion characterize such governments. According to Chenoweth (2013), human rights violations like mortification and dispossession lead to people having severe complaints against the government. Research shows that there exists a strong correlation between terrorism and social injustices perpetrated by the government (Chenoweth, 2013).
The government must provide essential services to the public and establish a stable environment for people to do their businesses. Failure to provide services results in the public being aggrieved and creates a fertile ground for terrorist organizations to recruit people (Chenoweth, 2013).
The government should provide medical facilities, schools, and create job opportunities for people to survive. Moreover, people hold that the government has to guarantee political independence. Research shows that there is a link between terrorism and political freedom (Chenoweth, 2013). Democratic and authoritarian regimes are not prone to terrorism. On the other hand, countries that are on the transition from authoritarian to democratic administration are susceptible to terrorism. Such countries are not in a position to guarantee absolute freedom to the public. It creates discontentment amid the public forcing some people to engage in violence.
Subjugation can occur in numerous vicious forms. Abuse of human rights and racism are some of the types of subjugations that motivate people to engage in terrorist activities (Chenoweth, 2013). Countries that do not value human rights compel people to look for alternative ways of enforcing their liberties. In many cases, the public resort to aggression to force the government to honor its obligations and safeguard their rights. Terrorist organizations provide a haven for individuals who engage in violent activities in the name of correcting political mistakes.
There is a common assumption that poverty motivates people to join terrorist organizations. When people are denied access to specific opportunities or resources, they become resentful and resort to terrorism to express their displeasure (Ali & Li, 2016). Terrorist organizations promise to offer financial assistance to individuals and families of those who support their crusade. The deal appears too worthwhile to people who know nothing but poverty. It becomes too hard for such people to overcome the temptation to join terrorist organizations. In the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the Middle East, many families have the potential (Ali & Li, 2016).
However, the majority of households strive to find jobs, therefore turning to terrorism as it offers easy money (Ali & Li, 2016). The increase in social inequality results in some people becoming livid. The individuals do not understand why they are unable to attain what others achieve without a struggle. Internal conflict arises amid the rich and the poor, which paves the ground for the growth of terrorism.
Economic sanctions imposed on nations motivate people to join terrorist groups as a way to earn a living. According to Ali and Li (2016), economic sanctions make it difficult for a government to provide services to its citizens. Also, life becomes unbearable to most people due to the rise in the cost of living. A lot of youths do not have access to education and are left to wander in the villages (Ali & Li, 2016). Such economic hardships give terrorist organizations an opportunity to exploit the dearth in society. Uneducated people are easy to persuade. They cannot deliberate on the consequences of their actions. Terrorist organizations take advantage of people’s illiteracy to convince them that their campaign is justified. Eventually, youths join criminal gangs without knowing their dangers.
Fear of Death
Psychologists argue that an unconscious dread of death motivates people to engage in violent activities like terrorism. According to Borum (2014), instilling a sense of fear in a person may force them to react in a manner that does not reflect any relationship to the cause of terror. In some instances, individuals grip on their cultural identities if they view other cultures as a threat (Borum, 2014).
A study conducted in Iran, Israel, and the United States found that the fear of death is a significant motivator to terrorism (Borum, 2014). The research found that Iranians saw western countries, particularly the United States as a threat to their continued existence (Borum, 2014). Therefore, the Iranians claimed that they supported any form of violence that guaranteed their survival. The fear that the United States may one day decide to annihilate Iran led to most Iranians supporting suicide bombing.
Conversely, Americans were in support of the use of military power to fight Islamic extremism (Borum, 2014). They viewed the extremists as a threat to their life. They did not care if the fight against Islamic extremists would result in the death of millions of innocent civilians. The Israelites claimed that Palestinians posed a risk to the survival of their state (Borum, 2014). Thus, they were hesitant to oppose violence against Palestinians.
Understanding the factors that motivate people to join terrorism is difficult because terrorists operate in secret and are reluctant to volunteer information. Nevertheless, the available study cites religious and cultural factors, fear of death, economic hardships, and political instability as the primary motivators to terrorism. Religion and culture are indivisible. Even though Islamic faith does not support terrorism, criminals use religious grounds to nurture a culture that promotes violence amid Muslim communities. The leaders of terrorist groups use the concept of warriors that is ingrained in Islamic culture to persuade people to join their movements.
Perverted understanding of religious teachings together with specific Islamic cultural settings encourages Muslims to partake in the suicide bombing in the name of martyrdom. Political instabilities and dictatorial regimes deprive people of essential civil rights. In return, individuals resort to violence as a way to correct political wrongs. Terrorist organizations convince the public that they can liberate them, thus leading to many people joining violent groups.
Different forms of dispossession can force people to join terrorism. Economic hardships and lack of education are significant motivators to terrorism. The inability of a government to provide essential services and create job opportunities leads to people looking for alternative ways of earning a living. Terrorist organizations promise to offer them financial assistance if they support their course. Eventually, many people convert to terrorists as a way to survive.
Terror groups take advantage of uneducated persons and lure them into joining their crusades. The fear of death may motivate a person to enroll in a violent group as a defense mechanism. Research shows that individuals in the Middle East join terrorist groups to defend themselves from the threat by Western countries. On the other hand, Westerners are reluctant to condemn violence meted on Muslims because they view them as a threat to their survival.
The United Arab Emirates does not witness many cases of terrorist attacks. It does not imply that there are no terrorist cells in the country. The government ought to address all the factors that motivate people to join terrorism. Without that, Dubai will no longer continue to be a safe place for business people and tourists. The government should encourage Islamic religious leaders to assist their followers in understanding the actual teachings of Islam, particularly the concept of martyrdom.
Moreover, Muslim communities should be encouraged to shun cultural practices that may breed terrorism. The government should endeavor to maintain the political stability of the emirates. Political instability may result in people becoming resentful and joining violent groups to fight the government. The provision of social services is essential to maintaining peace and curbing civil unrest. The UAE government should strive to guarantee social equality across the emirates.
It will go a long way towards ensuring that people do not develop hatred towards the government or families that they deem to be privileged. Extremists groups peddle propaganda that Western countries are a threat to Muslim communities. The government of the UAE should enhance cooperation with the Western nations to demystify this misinformation.
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Borum, R. (2014). Psychological vulnerabilities and propensities for involvement in violent extremism. Behavioral Sciences & the Law, 32(3), 286-305.
Chenoweth, E. (2013). Terrorism and Democracy. Annual Review of Political Science, 16(1), 355-378.
Korbi, W. (2017). Terrorism: Motivation and theory. The Journal of Public and Professional Sociology, 9(2), 1-34.
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