New York City. Washington D.C. London. Nairobi. Beirut. Yazidi. Beslan. Mumbai. Lockerbie. These are the locations of some of the world’s worst terrorist attacks, resulting in the deaths of thousands of innocent men, women, and children. The culprits of these attacks were nearly always a relatively small group of individuals that were labeled as terrorists. It has been said that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. This is the problem with understanding terrorism, a word that means many things to different people. Our different perspectives make it a difficult problem to define and solve. These incidents have occurred relatively infrequently but their impact has been long term and far reaching. What could drive human beings to be so destructive of life and property? That is a question many have tried to answer yet few agree upon. Politicians and the intelligence community do not tend to focus on the individuals but on terrorist organizations and the state supporting them because these larger entities have a greater impact on the national interests of a country. Terrorist groups cannot exist without individuals choosing to participate. Understanding what motivates the individual is key to being able to stop them before they commit these heinous acts.
The main conclusions reached by scholars are that individuals are motivated by the external factors of religious zeal, political injustice, and socioeconomic strife. These explanations, along with the consideration of individual psychology create a model under which many terrorists can be categorized. There is limited research on the psychology of terrorism with it being a secretive activity and one that often leaves the perpetrator deceased, but the capture and interrogations of suspected terrorists may open the doors to more information. What remains clear is that individuals who carry out acts of terror do so for the specific purposes of achieving a goal, whether it is political gain, to right perceived wrongs, or to raise awareness for their cause. An examination of known terrorists along with much research creates a model of what path may lead individuals to choose to participate in this activity. This also leaves the question of why the outliers that do not fit into this model choose to participate. For many, involvement of family and friends influence their participation. Some may fall under the less popular schools of thought suggesting that narcissistic rage and even geography can be factors in who becomes a terrorist. Reaching a clearer understanding is key to at least slowing the frequency and devastation caused by terrorist attacks.
The literature review considers opposing viewpoints on the factors that breed terrorism in individuals by discussing the following issues:
1. What psychological tendencies, if any, are present among terrorists?
2. Does religion play a role in influencing individuals to commit terroristic acts?
3. What role do politics...