Terrorism is a type of violence used tactically in peace, conflict, and war. The threat of terrorism is ever present, and an attack is likely to occur when least expected. In trying to find out what factors can cause an individual to choose terrorism, it is first necessary to define what terrorism is. The Department of Defense defines terrorism as “the calculated use of violence or threat of violence to inculcate fear; intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological.” Per the definition, the terrorists are not giving into a whim of random acts, but these individuals are using calculated moves in order to achieve the purpose of the group. Simply put, this suggests that these individuals are making a conscious choice for violence. What motivates these groups to choose terrorism as a means to achieve a particular agenda? The majority of the motives can be broken down into three broad areas: rational, psychological, and cultural.(1) Although some motives are difficult for the majority of the World to comprehend; given a motive, a terrorist group has a purpose for violence.
The rational terrorist thinks through the options and goals that are to be achieved, making a cost-benefit breakdown. This individual seeks to determine whether there are less costly and more effective ways to achieve the objective than terrorism. Risks and capabilities are assessed to determine whether terrorism should be used or not. This type of thought is similar to that of a military commander choosing which course of action should be taken to achieve the mission’s objectives.
The rational terrorist is more of a strategist, which uses terrorism to achieve an outcome. Sinn Fein can be interpreted as a rational terrorist. In the roots of this organization, terrorism may have seemed to be the only alternative to achieve an audience. Although currently the political party is not directly affiliated with the IRA (Irish Republican Army), past ties gave the appearance of one entity; dealing with Sinn Fein meant dealing with the IRA as well. Now that Sinn Fein has the ability to achieve objectives through political means, it is no longer part of the IRA; although, some still view them to be the political wing of the IRA.(2) This strategy can easily change once again, should the objectives become more difficult to achieve, thus shifting from peaceful means to the need for more abrupt measures.
Psychological motivation for terrorism derives from terrorists’ personal dissatisfaction with life and accomplishments. This type of motivation is found to be a “faith” of the terrorist. The individual does not consider the actions taken to achieve the agenda wrong and may tend to project antisocial motivations onto others, creating a polarized “we versus they” outlook.(3) These members attribute only evil motives to anyone outside the group. The resulting clarity of purpose appeals to those who crave...