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November 25, 2015 / 13 Kislev, 5776
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A Psychological Look Behind Jihadist Terror


At its heart, the problem of terror/violence is always a problem of displaced human centeredness. Ever anxious about drawing meaning from their own inwardness, human beings draw closer and closer to the herd. In all too many cases this herd spawns hatreds and excesses that make certain forms of killing desirable. Fostering a ceaseless refrain of “us” versus “them,” it prevents each affected person from becoming fully human, and encourages each such person to celebrate the death of “outsiders.”

When, a few years ago, Palestinian mothers and their children crowded into a newly constructed “museum” celebrating the immolation of Israeli mothers and children in a then recently-bombed Sabarro pizza restaurant, it was not fellow parents and children that they recognized. Rather, they saw only “Israelis,” “infidels,” “Zionists” – a set of loathsome abstractions, a despised population so presumptively vile that their longingly hoped for extermination of “The Jews” could carry absolutely no hint of human regret.

Each person does harbor the potential to become fully human, an empathetic possibility that could ultimately reduce corrosive loyalties to the terror group herd and thereby prevent mega-terrorist violence. Significantly, it is only by nurturing this essential possibility that we can now seek serious remedies. Futile as it may seem, our immediate task must be to encourage masses of people in the Arab/Islamic world to discover the way back to themselves, as authentic persons, as feeling and caring individuals.

If we should fail, large elements of this world (large enough to number in the tens of millions) will continue to embrace the openly annihilatory ideals of a homicidal religious collectivism. Our national and homeland security agencies should continue to take heed, and to think “behind the news.” After all, for the aspiring jihadist terrorist, a perpetually dreadful life of conformance and fear could soon render even chemical/biological/nuclear terrorism “sacred.”

Louis René Beres, strategic and military affairs columnist for The Jewish Press, is professor of political science at Purdue University. Educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971), he lectures and publishes widely on international relations and international law and is the author of ten major books in the field. In Israel, Professor Beres was chair of Project Daniel.

About the Author: Louis René Beres (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is professor of political science and international law at Purdue University and the author of many books and articles dealing with international relations and strategic studies.

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One Response to “A Psychological Look Behind Jihadist Terror”

  1. One year after Bin Laden’s death and over 10 years since 9/11, American citizens are still blindly allowing their civil liberties to be taken away one piece of legislation at a time. How much freedom are we willing to sacrifice to feel safe? Under the guise of fighting terrorism, laws have been put in place as a means to spy on our own citizens and to detain and torture dissidents without trial or a right to council. You can read much more about living in this Orwellian society of fear and see my visual response to these measures on my artist’s blog at http://dregstudiosart.blogspot.com/2011/09/living-in-society-of-fear-ten-years.html.

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