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Psychology of Terrorism Essay

In his article, Vaisman-Tzachor (2006) discussed the most common misconceptions regarding terrorist profiling in forensic psychology. True, where effective forensic profiling techniques are absent, there is no place for effective counterterrorism strategies. In this context, the profiling criteria described by Vaisman-Tzachor (2006) are particularly interesting and important when applied to psychological profile of Osama Bin Laden.

From the viewpoint of forensic psychology, and through the prism of Vaisman-Tzachor’s (2006) psychological criteria, forensic profiling of Osama Bin Laden should begin with the profound analysis of his personal background (age, educational background, ethnicity, socio-economic status, national origin and marital status, religious or social affiliations). Contrary to traditional (and probably, outdated beliefs), the national origin of Osama Bin Laden will play important, but not the primary role in creating the picture of his personality.

Of course, “elements such as Arab ethnic or national background […] are highly important in the list of the determinant variables” (Vaisman-Tzachor, 2006), but psychological profile of Osama Bin Laden seems even more consistent with the fact that he is unmarried, possesses sufficient material background and displays negative disposition to the non-Muslim society.

Simultaneously, Osama Bin Laden does not match the criminal profile created by Vaisman-Tzachor (2006), where the likelihood of a terrorist act is inversely related to the age of the potential terrorist; in case of Osama, his age is evidently associated with the growing terrorist experience and the increasing sophistication of his terrorist needs.

Objectively, and truly for many generations of terrorists, Osama Bin Laden is fairly regarded a kind of a mythical figure, “who represents a messianic being to members of those national groups and social entities, who are disenfranchised by political, religious, or ethnic circumstances” (Vaisman-Tzachor, 2006), and this mythical figure works to establish closer ties and strengthen the existing terrorist identifications in his terrorist networks. In this context, Osama Bin Laden is a multifaceted image of the leader, whose criminality and respectability are uniquely combined to shape the new vision of a charismatic terrorist.

Historical and sociocultural antecedents of September 11 The escalation of international violence and the growing anti-American moods have generated a set of questions regarding the historical and sociocultural antecedents of September 11. Objectively, a whole set of factors have contributed into the development of violent attitudes toward American nation, of which September 11 was the culmination; in this context, the continuous political commitment to “low intensity conflicts” and the self-declared pro-American ideology which lacks authoritarian rule and visible religiosity have become the two most important antecedents of the 9/11 attack.

In his book, Michaels (2002) refers to the “low intensity conflict” scenario, to which American presidency adhered over the course of the last decades. The declaration of anti-terrorist ideals and the deceptive need for maintaining low intensity wars in the most problematic international regions was expected to strengthen the military power of the United States, and to ensure that America was able to respond to the most challenging social and military conflicts all over the world.

What the United States had obviously overlooked was that the gradual military expansion might not have been favored by other nations (Michaels, 2002). Increased military spending combined with the overt rejection of treaty opportunities have formed the set of historical antecedents which led to the emergence of the new quality relationships between the two worlds – the Muslim and the orthodox. After the fall of socialism in the world, the rhetoric of the American hyperpower has literally doubled, and all visions of authority and power have since then been projected onto the U.

S. (Werz, 2004). Given historically relevant anti-American attitudes, the multiplying American superiority has frozen the cultural difference between the two worlds. The social development in America has been colored with obvious secularization of the public opinion and the values, which the American nation has treated as its own (Werz, 2004). Thus, the events of September 11 have come as the culmination in the growing opposition against the militaristic attitudes of the United States towards its political and cultural superiority.

Psychology of terrorism In the aftermath of 9/11 attacks researchers and psychology professionals have become increasingly concerned about the origins and the motives of terrorist attacks. The current state of empirical research is pressured by numerous prejudices and misconceptions that have grown as a result of the overt callousness of terrorist attacks. By turning terrorists into a group of abnormally deviant people, however, psychologists have seriously distorted the real image of a true terrorist.

Silke (2004) is correct: we cannot be certain that terrorism is a kind of psychological abnormality, unless we are able to avoid bias and to promote objectivity in our judgments. It is difficult not to agree to Silke (2004) in that the differences in the current research of terrorism have become the results of our inability to explore and document primary information, and the impossibility to access primary sources of information about terrorists.

“The risks involved for the potential researcher are considerable. Academic researchers have been threatened, kidnapped, attacked, and shot for attempting to research terrorism” (Silke, 2004). In our quest for better understanding of terrorist psychology, we frequently become the victims of our own psychological misconceptions. We still operate scarce and unclear (as well as unreliable) data concerning the major emotional and psychological issues terrorists face on their way to a violent act.

Seeking sensations, we tend to neglect the role which primary data may play in developing and spreading a completely new vision of terrorism. With the scarcity of tools of psychological and sociological research which could be readily applied to terrorism, and bearing in mind an almost complete impossibility to access primary sources of data, it is unlikely that we will be able to produce a single relevant and the most objective psychological profile of a terrorist in the coming decade.

References Michaels, C. W. (2002). No greater threat: America after September 11 and the rise of a national security state. Algora Publishing. Silke, A. (2004). Courage in dark places: reflections on terrorist psychology. Social Research, 71 (1): 177-198. Vaisman-Tzachor, R. (2006). Psychological profiles of Terrorists. Forensic Examiner, 15 (2): 6-17. Werz, M. (2004). Anti-Americanism and ambivalence: Remarks on an ideology in historical transformation. Telos, 129: 75-95.


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