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The Ethnic, Nationalist, and Religious Roots of Terrorism

Summary and Keywords

Terrorism has been described variously as a tactic and strategy, a crime and a holy duty, as well as a justified reaction to oppression and an inexcusable abomination. Nationalist terrorism is a form of terrorism motivated by nationalism. Nationalist terrorists seek to form self-determination in some form, which may range from gaining greater autonomy to establishing a completely independent, sovereign state. Nationalist terrorism is linked to a national, ethnic, religious, or other identifying group, and the feeling among members of that group that they are oppressed or denied rights, especially rights accorded to others. But while terrorism has more often been based on revolutionary politics, there has also been an increase in terrorist activity motivated by religion. Terrorist acts done in the name of religion typically aim to enforce a system of belief, viewpoint or opinion. The validity and scope of religious terrorism is limited to an individual’s view or a group’s view or interpretation of that belief system’s teachings. There are some researchers, however, who argue that religion should be considered only one incidental factor and that such terrorism is primarily geopolitical. Meanwhile, ethnic violence refers to violence expressly motivated by ethnic hatred and ethnic conflict. The minimum requirement for ethnic tensions to result in ethnic violence on a systemic level is a heterogeneous society and the lack of a power to prevent them from fighting.

Keywords: terrorism, nationalist terrorism, nationalism, autonomy, religious terrorism, belief system, ethnic violence, ethnic hatred, heterogeneous society


Terrorism’s roots are to be found in a triple cocktail of dissatisfied individuals, an enabling community and a legitimizing ideology.

(Richardson 2006)

In contemporary society, terrorism is a strategy used by certain individuals and groups. Definitions of terrorism are many and diverse but, in this essay, the following basic and simple definition is used. Terrorism is understood as the systematic and extortionate use of violence against civilian populations or property in order to achieve political, ideological, or religious goals through the generation of propaganda and fear. This essay presents an attempt to unravel the complex origins of terrorist attacks, conducted during recent decades, which have been organized by ethnic minorities, nationalist groups or radically oriented religious organizations.

Much work, by scholars across many disciplines, describes terrorism and methods of countering its effectiveness, while a comparatively sparse body of literature provides fundamental insights into the phenomenon. In a field where information is relatively rich and yet concrete data is scarce and understanding of the linkages between different approaches is low, it is essential to advance understanding. This is an attempt to bring together and link up many disciplinary perspectives on the issue of ethnic, nationalist, and religiously rooted terrorism.

The phenomenon of terrorism has been present in humankind since the beginning of recorded history. However, until recently, the focus of academic researchers on terrorism has been sporadic. David Rapoport (1984) notes that the 1933 edition of the Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences included articles indicating that the end of the terrorist era was at hand and that, in an age of modern technology, the future would be determined by classes and masses, rather than by small terrorist groups. This was followed by four decades during which there was a dearth of literature on terrorism, despite the fact that terrorist activities had become increasingly prevalent in Africa and other continents that had previously been heavily colonized. Rapoport notes that in the 1968 edition of the Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences the subject of terrorism was completely ignored, giving the impression that it was no longer an important feature of society. It was not until the 1970s that the flow of books and articles on terrorism re-emerged. After the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center, the number of books with the word “terrorism” in the title increased tenfold (Gupta 2008).

Rapoport is among those who, recently, have added much to our understanding of terrorism, both historical and recent. His fastidiously researched article “Fear and Trembling: Terrorism in Three Religious Traditions” (1984) provided the first comparative study of historic religious terror organizations, the Jewish Zealot-Sicarii, the Hindu Thugs, and the Muslim Assassins. Martha Crenshaw (1981, 1990, 1992, 2006) has also contributed many insights in her prolific work on the causes of terrorist activities and circumstances under which terrorist organizations emerge and thrive. In Why Men Rebel (1970), while Ted Robert Gurr’s focus was not specifically on terrorism, his concept of relative deprivation is highly explanatory as a root of organized violence, including terrorism. Among the valuable works that add to the understanding of religiously inspired terrorism is that of Juergensmeyer (2000), whose book Terror in the Mind of God analyzes the disconcerting dissonance within terrorists, who frequently appear to be, on the one hand, moral, piously good, and religious and, on the other, murderously evil. Jessica Stern’s (2003) work, through which she provides remarkable insights into the motivations of religious terrorists, in one of the few available accounts based on interviews with terrorists themselves, complements many of Juergensmeyer’s arguments.

Terrorism is heterogeneous and so are its roots. While some roots may be common to practically all forms of terrorism, the characteristics of ethnic and ethno-nationalist terrorism differ in important aspects from those of religiously inspired terrorism. Victoroff (2006), in an extensive edited volume emanating from the proceedings of the NATO Advanced Research Workshop on Psychology and Terrorism, which took place in September 2005, places emphasis on the interaction and combination of several factors. These include: personal traits; social influences such as cultural, ethnic, and religious identities, educational influences and charismatic leadership; political factors, including power disparities, historic enmities, and systems of governance; and economic factors such as perceived relative deprivation.

Attempts to discern the roots of terrorism in ethnic, nationalist and religious organizations have approached the problem from different disciplinary perspectives, including those of anthropology, history, political science, psychiatry, psychology, sociology and economics. In what follows, first, a general analysis of the roots of terrorism will be offered and, then, individual categories of ethnic, nationalist, and religious terrorism will be examined in light of this analysis. The phenomenon is tracked over the course of history and includes terrorist perspectives, as well as those of victims of attacks. Economic perspectives on the motivations of terrorists discuss the usefulness, or not, of applying the rational actor model, in its traditionally interpreted form, to terrorist choices and behavior. Psychological and psychiatric approaches attempt to unravel the psychology and identities of individual terrorists and, also, the psychological relationship between the terrorist and the group to which he or she belongs. Sociology and social psychology explore the relationships between individual terrorists and terrorist organizations to larger social groups among which they exist and conduct their operations. Victims’ reactions to terrorism are also taken into account, as essential parts of the puzzle in understanding the roots of terror, for it is often the case that inappropriate reactions provoke more, and increasingly violent, acts of terrorism. Economic explanations, in spite of the generally accepted notion that poverty in and of itself does not lead to terrorism, throw considerable light on the problem. Clearly, not all ethnic, nationalist and religiously fervent organizations choose the path of terrorism to achieve their goals. The question remains as to what motivates those who do choose terrorist strategies and tactics. Where and how are they rooted? Those who study the phenomena presented by terrorism and terrorists respond to this question through a great variety of approaches.

Roots in the Individual Psyche

Many attempts have been made to identify underlying psychological characteristics that might indicate an individual’s propensity for becoming a terrorist. While it is not possible to predict with any reliability which psychological factors might identify potential terrorists, certain characteristics are to be found among terrorists.


Psychologists from Freud to Pavlov and Fromm to Skinner have offered theories of aggression that have been used in attempts to clarify the roots of terrorist activities. In his extensive contribution to efforts to unravel the psychology of terrorism, John Horgan refers to Tittmar (1992), pointing to one of the most popular psychological interpretations of aggression, the frustration aggression hypothesis. This hypothesis was originally developed by Berkowitz (1965) and posits that the frustration felt by an individual at the denial or blockage of personal or societal goals may lead to that individual opting for aggression as a perceived way of unblocking those goals. Tittmar’s claims are closely linked with those of Gurr (1970), which identify relative deprivation as a source of terrorism and other violent acts.

Broken Relationships and Personal Trauma

While he by no means sees these, alone, as leading to the dedication of individual terrorists to their causes, psychiatrist and political psychologist Jerrold Post (2007) notes that terrorists, including Renato Cursio, father of the Italian Red Brigades, and Osama bin Laden of Al Qaeda, often have broken relationships with their fathers. He also points to narcissism as a personality trait shown by terrorist leaders such as Abdullah Ocalan, of the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK).

Searching for a Stable Identity

Crenshaw, basing her theories on those of Eric Erikson (1959), sees the search for identity as a motivation for joining a terrorist organization. Post (2007) argues that terrorists have an overwhelming longing to belong to a group, regardless of the nature of the group, and that the group then becomes an essential element of the individual’s identity.

Personality Traits of Individual Terrorists

Louise Richardson (2006) offers an excellent synthesis of terrorists’ oversimplified views of a world in which good is pitted against evil and in which their adversaries are perceived as being responsible for their problems. It is generally agreed upon by psychiatrists, psychologists, and others who engage in the study of the individual mind, that terrorists are not, as a rule, mentally ill (Horgan 2005; Richardson 2006; Victoroff 2006; Merari 2007; Post 2007). An extensive analysis on the psychology of terror by Bongar et al. (2007) reports that there is no evidence of psychopathology, even in suicide bombers, whose minds were examined forensically, and would-be suicide bombers, whose relatives, friends and colleagues were interviewed. Victoroff (2006) points to new information that leads to the belief that certain psychopathology, such as mood disorders, along with post-traumatic stress disorder, usually acquired through witnessing some atrocity against a family or group member, does create, in some individuals, a predisposition to commit terrorist acts. Heskin (1980) asserts that terrorists often have authoritarian personalities and suggests that this is a common trait among IRA members. Post (2007) also takes this stance and adds narcissism as a common trait, especially among terrorist leaders. However, it is not clear that there are psychological traits specific to terrorists, for, while it is true that certain traits are often found in individual terrorists, it is equally true that the same traits are found in a sector of the population at large, that is, among people who have neither terrorist connections nor aspirations to become terrorists.

Acts of terrorism have been committed throughout recorded human history, on every continent of the world, in practically every type of society and by people with widely varying psychological traits, yet the perpetrators are usually considered to be within the bounds of sanity. Moreover, many terrorists are considered to have traits of great inner strength and a very balanced and stable personality. These individuals are able to withstand stress, adapt to new circumstances, show the ability to think clearly, and are extremely well organized. There is no proof that any set of psychological characteristics will predict an individual’s propensity for terrorism. At most, some characteristics, under the right set of circumstances, may act as a trigger or catalyst to violent action. These conclusions show little more, in terms of their predictive value, than those that are derived from everyday job-related aptitude tests.

Becoming Affiliated with a Terrorist Group

The multiple influences that may lead to an individual’s involvement with terrorism are complex and often difficult to isolate. More often than not, it is a combination of factors that draws people into terrorist organizations. But it is evident that individuals join groups due to social pressures and in order to obtain social rewards.

Alonso (2006) claims that “fulfillment of social expectations and reinforcement of a social identity” are among the factors that motivate people to become terrorists. From a psychological perspective, organizational and group psychology appear to have greater explanatory power than individual psychology.

Social Environment and Community

Richard English (2003, 2006), in his exhaustive and meticulously written works on the history of the IRA and on Irish nationalism, provides a thorough and balanced account of the motivations behind Irish nationalism and on what makes a nationalist become a terrorist. He describes the evolution, over time, of a strong, persistent nationalism that is based on the fundamental human drive for survival achieved in large part through belonging to a community. Nationalism involves collective action, movement, and organized struggle, he claims, for freedom, independence, expansion, cultural rebirth, or purity. In any case, this struggle is for power, which is perceived by nationalists as being unbalanced and unfairly distributed. The passionate, highly visceral nature of nationalists’ community attachment, and its thrust for self determination, drive the struggle for survival as a community that possesses the power to right wrongs to which it has been subjected. It is in this combination of community, struggle and power that terrorism is able to take root.

Pedahzur (2005) finds community to be a prime motivator and facilitator of terrorism, even suicide terrorism. He claims that suicide terrorism requires two essential elements: individuals who are willing to die for a cause, whether it is motivated by religious, nationalistic or other types of radicalism, and a community that will support them. He places emphasis on social approval and even pressure. “The societal environment to which the individual belongs […] will significantly facilitate his or her enlistment to the mission. […] this is a social political phenomenon and it has very little to do with personal characteristics.”

Horgan (2005) and Richardson (2007) both insist that it may be as important to look at the how of terrorist actions, that is, the conditions that surround and facilitate such actions, as it is to search for the why. They insist that social environment is an important mainspring of terror and individuals join groups due to social pressures and in order to obtain social rewards. Alonso (2006) goes so far as to say that the fulfillment of perceived social obligations is often a root cause of terrorism. Post (2007) identifies two different types of terrorist groups on the basis of their relationships with their environments. He posits that each type of environment, including family, friends and the surrounding community, may have a different psychological effect on the terrorist. Terrorist groups whose motivations are based on an ideology different from that of the community that surrounds them tend to be alienated from their families and immediate communities. In contrast, members of nationalist groups, such as the Provisional IRA, which had a long historical tradition of resistance against British rule, were not estranged from their families and communities. Furthermore, Post claims that the legitimization of terrorist groups by the people whose interests they claim to represent is frequently seen as a rite of passage. It flows from this argument that community and family complicity form one of the roots of terror, or, at the very least, provide nourishment to those roots. Similar support is evidenced among the religious martyrs from Hamas and other extremist groups, who are held in high esteem by their communities. Richardson (2006) refers to community and family support as a “complicit surround” and includes this among the factors at the root of the formation and thriving of terrorist organizations. This “surround” consists either of a culture where violence is condoned, and even glorified, or a social group in which most of the members see themselves as wronged and give their approval and support to the terrorists who they perceive as acting on their behalf. Observers such as Ann Marie Oliver, Paul Steinberg, and Kevin Toolis have noted that the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and, formerly, the streets of Belfast contain societies in which joining a terrorist group is seen by many as the most natural and honorable thing to do. Within these societies, violence is not only condoned, as a way of supporting the group’s goals, but often glorified. Recent reports of Al Qaeda training children, mostly young boys, in terrorist tactics provide an example of what Post (2005) describes as terrorism “bred in the bone.”

Anthropologists, including Zulaika and Douglass (1996), Aretxaga (2005), and Perez-Agote (2006) examine the social roots of Basque nationalism and the formation of ETA. Zulaika and Douglass argue that Basque nationalism, and the terrorist acts that accompany it, is rooted in issues of symbolism and old mythologies of militarily sovereign nation-states that persist within the community.

Sympathy for or Empathy with the Perceived Underdog

A sense of injustice, real or perceived, is often what leads would-be terrorists to act. Potential terrorists identify with others’ sufferings, share grievances with them, and often see themselves as avengers for those who cannot take their own revenge. Nationalist and ethnically based terrorists feel motivated to become involved in the struggle of their people and are radicalized by their sense of identification with others and the desire to seek justice, or take revenge, on their behalf. Krueger and Laitin (2004) and Victoroff (2006) refer to this as the “Robin Hood Syndrome.” Among those who have justified their own violent actions by identifying with others’ problems and cooperating with them in revenge-taking are Vellupillai Prabhakaran of the Tamil Tigers, Abimael Guzman of the Shining Path, and Osama bin Laden of Al Qaeda. Richardson (2006) observes that, in these cases, the terrorists are selectively empathetic, in the sense that they seemingly identify with oppressed sections of society, but, in fact, have absolutely no empathy with their victims.

Historic Grievances

Some terrorist organizations may have drawn on the experience of historical terrorist groups, such as the Zealots and the Assassins, in order to more efficiently conduct their own acts. Indeed, the basic justification for many terrorist activities is to be found in historic grievances held by one group against another. Zulaika and Warren (2006) and Watson (2008) view the creation of ETA as resulting from a culture and history of political violence.

Influences of Leadership

Some Palestinian families have pointedly remarked that those who sacrifice themselves in suicide missions are rarely the sons of leaders. Motivations of group leaders often differ from those of followers. Leaders, who usually come from relatively privileged and educated backgrounds, are usually the ones who articulate a group ideology, in some cases from within their own beliefs and, in others, by turning the voices of would-be followers into an organized program. Leaders of terrorist organizations usually have exceptionally strong grasps on the reins of their organizations and some, such as Osama bin Laden, Vellupillai Prabhakaran of the Tamil Tigers, and Shako Asahara of Aum Shinrikyo, enjoy an almost god-like status among their followers.

Societal Inadequacies Most Often Linked to Terrorism

At the Root Causes of Terrorism conference in Oslo in 2003, as reported by John Horgan (2005), a list of conditions was associated with the emergence of terrorism. Among the identified conditions are: lack of democracy, failed or weak states, rapid modernization, extremist ideologies, historic antecedents of political violence, dictatorships or occupation, hegemony and inequality of power, illegitimate or corrupt governments, powerful external actors holding up illegitimate governments, repression by colonial powers, experienced ethnic and/or religious discrimination, unrecognized dissident groups and emerging social classes, social injustice, charismatic leaders, and triggering events. However, it must be clarified that the existence of any or all of these conditions does not necessarily lead to terrorism. Furthermore, warns Horgan (2005), it should not be assumed that singling out such situations, and possibly linking them to terrorism, means that terrorists are passive actors at the mercy of social conditions.

The Rational Choice Approach

Some economists, for example Berman (Berman and Laitin 2007), have utilized the “club theory” to define the functions of terrorist organizations, where the group or “club” tries to maximize benefits for its own members. Gupta (2008) refutes this approach, claiming that the problem with this “standard economic model” approach is that it fails to distinguish between ideology-driven terrorist groups and profit-motivated criminal groups. In his insightful book on the life cycle of terrorist organizations, Gupta (2008) approaches the subject from a non-Western perspective. He analyzes the individualistic nature of the majority of Western society and points to the confluence of three great philosophical traditions – neoclassical economics, Darwinian biology, and Freudian psychology – each of which contributed to the acceptance, at least in the Western world, of “the logic of individual utility maximization as the sole definition of human rationality.” Gupta believes that traditional notions of rational behavior, based on narrow assumptions of self-utility maximization, are incapable of explaining behavior as it actually is, not as it ought to be. Leaning on the work of Mancur Olson and that of the economist Paul Samuelson, he explains that, based on the notion of public goods, rational choices may be altruistic in nature. From this, he concludes, we may gain understanding concerning the affiliation of individuals with terrorist groups.

Development and Strengthening of Roots: The Stair Step Theory

The stair step theory has been promoted by several scholars, including Louise Richardson (2006, 2007) and Fathali Moghaddam (2007). The theory holds that people do not suddenly decide to commit acts of terrorism but, rather, they gradually become engaged in such activities, usually over a period of several years. Their introduction to terrorism occurs step by step, from feelings of relative deprivation or sensitivity to the unfair treatment of others, through stages of displaced aggression, moral disengagement, categorical thinking and, finally, the sidestepping of inhibitory mechanisms and commission of terrorist acts.

Ethnic Terrorism

Ethnic terrorism became conspicuous after World War II, when colonies that had gained independence experienced conflict between different ethnic groups that had formerly been politically consolidated by colonizing powers. As one group became dominant, others felt the need to defend themselves against the oppressive dominator.

In her study of American ethnic struggles, Susan Olzak claims that ethnic conflict, and the terrorism that may be associated with it, escalate during peak periods of immigration and the introduction of new identities. Martin Schonteich (2004), in his case study of South Africa, points to the ethnic terrorism that has occurred in that country. When the Boer War ended, in 1902, the British prevailed over the Afrikaners, who were of Dutch origin, and the Afrikaners felt in danger of being dominated by the British and absorbed by the British culture. This led to a heightening of Afrikaner ethno-nationalism and extreme efforts to maintain the Afrikaner identity. Ethnically conscious Afrikaner conservatives believed that their blood should not be mingled with that of other ethnic groups. The ethno-nationalism displayed by Afrikaners was such that it produced cleavages between seemingly homogenous racial groups, and it was these cleavages, according to Smith (1981:19–20), that led to the policies of apartheid, which held South Africa in its grip for 40 years.

Terrorism is far from being the first course of action taken by ethnic groups who perceive themselves as oppressed or relatively deprived. Work by Ted Robert Gurr on Western democracies indicates that decisions to rebel are not taken by minority groups unless a significant portion of the group has given up on other strategies. Gurr found that an average lapse of 13 years occurred between the initial protests of an aggrieved minority group and its final resort to violent protest or terrorism.

Nationalist Terrorism

Since the French Revolution in the late eighteenth century, followed by the 11-month-long reign of terror in which estimates suggest that 40,000 people were executed and 350,000 more held in prisons awaiting execution by the time Robespierre’s “Republic of Virtue” came to an end, those who reject the subjugation of their historic nation under the government of a mislabeled “nation-state” have protested against their oppression, perceived or real. There is a long-standing debate concerning the difference between the state and the nation and the misnomer in the term “nation-state.” Others (Emerson 1964; Connor 1972; Safran 1991) amply discuss this conflation.

Over the past 60 years, nationalist groups on every populated continent have engaged in terrorism and other forms of violence in order to attain their goals, which have varied from simple recognition and egalitarian treatment under existing governments to complete secession from the state under whose government they found themselves. Indonesia’s transition to democracy was fraught with ethnic problems. As the people of East Timor and of Aceh both fought for secession from the new government, terrorist acts were committed on both sides. This society displayed many of the conditions identified by Horgan as leading to terrorism, including a lack of true democracy, a weak state whose legitimacy was questionable, rapid modernization that had taken place in urban areas, and the existence of extremist ideologies as well as historic antecedents of political violence. Indonesia was repressed by a Dutch colonial power, and then by the dictatorship of Suharto and his corrupt government, under which inequality of power was evident. Furthermore, an external actor, the US, under the presidency of Gerald Ford and with Henry Kissinger as Secretary of State, held up this government, which discriminated against Indonesia’s ethnic minority groups, especially the Chinese and the East Timorese. Great changes took place as Indonesians, especially those in urban settings, were catapulted from a feudal society to a modern state in just a few years. As unrecognized dissident groups and emerging social classes clamored for social justice, rather than a single triggering event there were multiple instances of extreme savagery, indeed terrorism, on the part of the government, particularly in its attempts to subdue and oppress the secessionist East Timorese. These sparked the fury, relatively powerless though it was, of opposition groups.

The German government, which has recently become more open to bestowing citizenship on most Turkish immigrants and other minorities, for decades evoked violence and terrorist attacks in protest of its exclusionary citizenship laws. As reported in Gurr’s (1995) Minorities at Risk, in Afghanistan there has been longstanding conflict and violence, including acts of terrorism, between the Pashtun, Tajik, Uzbek, and Hazara ethnic groups. These cases are examples of terrorism rooted in perceived injustices to which the respective terrorist organizations wish to bring attention and, ultimately, effect change. Among those who have attempted to illuminate the ethnic and nationalist roots of terror (Gurr 1970; Horgan 2005; Richardson 2007), all bring attention to perceptions of injustice as being a major factor in inciting relatively powerless individuals and groups to commit acts of terror.

Anthropologists have provided a vast literature dedicated to the analysis of Basque ethno-nationalist terrorism in Spain. Among the most outstanding works on this subject are those by Aretxaga (2005), Perez-Agote (2006), Watson (2003, 2008), and Zulaika and Douglass (1996, 2007). Perez-Agote (2006) claims that Basque nationalism and the terrorism that has accompanied it are rooted in the long-term social experiences of repression that permeate both the individual and collective lives of the Basque people. He states that whereas Basque terrorists flourished during the Franco era on a political level, as an expression of rebellion against oppression, post-Franco modern Basque youth is no longer politically motivated. Nevertheless, even though terrorist attacks are infrequent, nationalism is very strongly embraced by modern day youth in the Basque country. This supports the strategic model proposed by Pape (2005), which assumes that terrorists are motivated by relatively stable aims and that violence will cease when organizational grievances have been satisfied.

Douglass and Zulaika (2007) trace Basque history from prehistoric times to the present and contribute heavily to the understanding of the ETA and Basque terrorism. They point to collective imagination as the crucial element in the survival and success of small militant groups and terrorists and claim that terrorists share a common bond with counter-terrorists because “the collective imagination of whole countries empowers [terrorist organizations] beyond their wildest dreams into a finely honed international network capable of engaging the whole spectrum of world governments in instrumental combat.” For this, ironically, the terrorists count on an army of experts, academics, and journalists whose role it is to convince the general public that, indeed, terrorism is a world threatening force. Begonia Aretxaga presents Basque terrorism as the outcome of efforts to maintain Basque identity and, more recently, in the presence of democratic government, the redefinition of that identity. For her, the root of nationalist terrorism is located in identity struggles. She also contributes heavily to the understanding of women in the violent Basque conflict with the Spanish government. Cameron Watson (2008) presents an account of how images of violence and warfare permeate discourse on Basque nationalism and that it was this discourse of violence that eventually led to the formation of ETA in 1959.

Many of the societal conditions, described earlier as providing fertile ground for the development of terrorist groups, were present in the above societies, including lack of democracy, failed or weak states, rapid modernization, extremist ideologies, historic antecedents of political violence, dictatorships or occupation, hegemony and inequality of power, illegitimate or corrupt governments, powerful external actors holding up illegitimate governments, repression by colonial powers, experienced ethnic and/or religious discrimination, unrecognized dissident groups and emerging social classes, social injustice, charismatic leaders, and triggering events.

In a series of interviews conducted with Irish Republican Army (IRA) members, Horgan (2005) identifies conditions and events that motivated people to become members of this terrorist organization, in order to fight for what they saw as freedom to unite Ireland as one country. During an interview with a long-time IRA member who had risen to a leadership position in the organization, and who identified himself as an activist, rather than a terrorist, Horgan identified the following salient issues:

  1. 1 The events experienced by the IRA member, both traumatic and immediate, such as the sight of serious and deadly civil rights abuses against others in the member’s community and, also, vicariously experienced by way of history, were deemed to be significant enough to act as catalysts for his involvement in the Provisional IRA.

  2. 2 There was a deep sense of personal morality and identification with those victimized.

  3. 3 The circumstances and references to the broad socio-political conditions were described in a very basic, simplistic way.

  4. 4 In relation to the deep sense of personal morality, there seemed to be a sense of urgency for action and also of the inevitability of the action. There was a sense that there was no other choice. (Horgan 2005:87)

Those involved with the Basque terrorist group ETA seem to experience the gradual, step-by-step path toward affiliation with that terrorist group. Clark, aside from noting the gradual socialization of ETA members, notes that there are also some ambiguities related to what being an ETA member really means.

The process by which new members are recruited is usually a slow and gradual one, and it is difficult to say exactly when a young man crosses the threshold of ETA membership. […] the process by which a Basque youth is transformed into a member of ETA is a long one full of detours and the exploration of competing alternatives. Even the actual recruiting process is a gradual one which many potential etarras resist for months or even years before yielding to the call to join.

(Clark 1983)

In contrast with the goals of religious extremist groups, which appear to include the destruction of those in the outgroup, ethno-nationalist terror organizations aim to build up a nation or ethnic group or to ensure its independence. Richardson claims that ethno-nationalist terrorist groups tend to last the longest, because they have close ties with their communities and enjoy their support. In these cases, the goal of the community is identical to that of the terror group, to gain recognition for its particular ethnic group. Richardson refers to this arrangement as a “complicit surround.” She points out that such a “surround” is not enjoyed by terrorist organizations that are isolated from the general community, such as millenarian cults. Isolation results in a lack of security and external sources of information, and the members of such groups have nothing with which to compare their subjective view of reality. According to Richardson, contemporary Islamist groups have a powerful draw on their members due to their ability to combine the transformational aspirations of social revolutionaries with the community ties of ethno-nationalist groups.

Holy Terror: Terrorism in the Name of Religion

Sacred terrorists find their rationale in the past, either in divine instructions transmitted long ago or in interpretation of precedents from founding periods of the parent religion.

(Rapoport 1984)

The vast time-lines of religious struggles also set them apart from secular conflicts. Most social and political struggles have sought conclusion within the lifetimes of their participants. But religious struggles have taken generations to succeed […] There is no need […] to compromise one’s goals in a struggle that has been waged in divine time and with the promise of heaven’s rewards.

(Juergensmeyer 2000)

As is the case with nationalist organizations that commit acts of terrorism, history plays a large part in terrorism conducted in the name of religion. When Post et al. (2003) interviewed a number of incarcerated members of various Islamic and secular terrorist groups that had been active in Gaza and the West Bank, they found that despite their widely different backgrounds there was a remarkable similarity in the pathways that had drawn individuals into terrorism. The terrorists’ boyhood heroes were religious figures such as the Prophet or the radical Wahabi figure, Abdulla Azzam. Their families were, in the great majority, supportive of their terrorist activities, and the perpetrators were seen as heroes. Again, the “complicit surround” of community and family support is a great source of nourishment for terrorist groups.

In recent years, the rise in terrorism in the name of religion, particularly in the name of Islam, has given cause for great concern. According to Bruce Hoffman (2006), of the 11 terrorist groups known to exist in 1968, none had any kind of religious affiliation. By the mid-1990s, of the 50 or so known terrorist groups, 12 had religious affiliations and, by 2004, of the 77 groups identified by the US State Department as engaging in terrorism, 40 had some sort of religious affiliation. Furthermore, of those 40, 37 were affiliated with Islamist groups.

Rapoport (2001) identifies four waves of terror that have emerged since the 1980s. The first three have faded, he claims, but the fourth wave – that of religious terrorism – is now on the rise. In an earlier work, Sacred Terror (1990), he attempts to distinguish the characteristics of “holy terror” from those of other types of terrorism. He bases his argument on a pamphlet written by Abd Al-Salam Faraq, the leader of the group responsible for the assassination of President Anwar Sadat. The group called itself the Islamic Group of Egypt and the document written by Faraq was entitled The Neglected Duty. This document, which Rapoport claims is essential to understanding Islamic radicalism, focuses on jihad, not as an individual struggle toward spiritual betterment but as fighting through bloody confrontation those who do not obey the laws of Islam. The focus of Faraq’s document was not on those who were of other faiths but on lapsed Muslims and apostates. Faraq encouraged faithful Muslims to identify and destroy the near enemy, Muslims who have strayed from the true path, rather than wreaking havoc in non-Islamic countries: “Apostates or unbelievers are the very epitome of evil. Muslims are obliged to wage a jihad against them […] An apostate has to be killed, even if he is unable to go to war. An infidel who is unable to go to war should not be killed.” The emphasis here is placed on the internal enemy for, without apostates, external enemies are impotent. This approach provides at least a partial explanation for the present violence between Shi’a and Sunni Muslims in Iraq. However, many so-called religiously rooted terrorist organizations do not limit their actions to the near enemy. This gives rise to some doubt as to whether religion is a true root of terrorism or is, in reality, a tool used by those who have long-term goals unrelated to religion.

The most alarming feature of groups who commit “holy terror” is their lack of restraint. Where many groups, whose purpose it is to gain publicity for their cause, appear to limit the damage they inflict, religious groups, acting on the authority of God, are not restrained by the moral concern about loss of innocent lives. In cases where religion is used as an ethnic identifier in what is actually a political conflict, especially where the religions involved counsel nonviolence, such as in the Northern Ireland conflict, there appears to be concern about limiting the loss of life. Louise Richardson (2006) refers to the December 1983 incident when the IRA planted a bomb outside Harrods, the famous London department store, killing six people. She points out that, had the terrorists been unconstrained in their desire to cause loss of life, they would most likely have placed the bomb inside Harrods, in the food hall, where they would have killed hundreds of people. Those who took part in IRA attacks feared alienating their constituency by what would be seen as the unnecessary sacrifice of human life. Zulaika also brings attention to the fact that particularly vicious attacks carried out by ETA, and perceived as unwarranted even by the community that had historically shown support, resulted in a great loss of following for the organization. In contrast, terrorist groups that commit violent acts in the name of religion have no such restraints, for God is the one who condones their actions and they have no concerns about alienating him. Because of the lack of constraints and because of the deeply embedded visceral nature of its grasp on followers, religious terrorism is considered to be a very tenacious and virulent form of the affliction. With reference to Hezbollah, Martin Kramer (1990) states: “It is a pervasive sense of divinely sanctioned mission that Hezbollah’s leaders invoke when they insist that their movement is something other than a mere political party.”

Apocalyptic movements, such as Aum Shinrikyo, tend to be especially violent. Robert Jay Lifton (1999) provides an in-depth analysis of Aum Shinrikyo, as well as other cult-like movements such as the Branch Davidians and the Heavensgate group. He claims that it is millennial groups such as these that most seriously contemplate the use of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons, to reach their goal of hastening the coming of heavenly eternity.

Rapoport (1984) provides an excellent comparative study on the history of terrorism in three different religious traditions, the Zealots-Sicarii, the Thugs, and the Assassins. He highlights distinctions among the corresponding religions, Judaism, Hinduism, and Islam, but also makes a point of bringing out their shared perceptions. Judaism and Islam share a belief in the fulfilling of divine prophecies and, also, in an audience that the prophecies must reach. The Hindu religion does not prescribe world transformation but, rather, aims at attaining balance in the world. The Thugs saw their acts as strengthening an established order to promote balance, and, by committing their violent acts, perceived themselves as fulfilling their religious duties. The Zealot-Sicarii and the Assassins both justified their acts in narrowly interpreted ancient religious texts. In contrast to the historic terrorists described by Rapoport, and modern nationalist organizations such as the IRA and ETA, modern religiously based terrorist groups, particularly Islamist ones such as Al Qaeda, are not limited to certain geographic areas. They see themselves and their mission as global. For this reason it is much more difficult to grasp their roots.


The primary interest of the Zealots-Sicarii, Jewish terrorist groups which formed in the first century and lasted approximately 25 years, was generating a mass revolt against the large Greek population that lived in Judea and, also, against the Roman governors of the area. The group’s vision was apocalyptic, focused on the coming of the Messiah, yet, as is still the case with apocalyptic groups, they believed that they could hasten the enactment of God’s will by precipitating disasters.


The Thugs, who committed violent murderous acts for the pleasure of Kali, the Hindu goddess of terror and destruction, persisted in India for well over a thousand years, from the seventh century until the nineteenth century. In contrast to most terrorist organizations, which seek to publicize their activities, Thugs were known to commit their acts of terror in secrecy and through deceit. Indeed, in their interpretation of the Hindu religion, deceit was seen to be not only a necessity but a virtue. It is possible to draw a parallel here, between Thugs and certain modern terrorist organizations where deceit is highly valued as a weapon. Al Qaeda operatives allow themselves to engage in taqiyya, deceit, which is normally considered to be a sin under Islamic law. In order to do God’s will, they claim, they must break God’s laws.


The Assassins originated in the eleventh century from more active elements of the Shi’a Muslim minority group and survived for two centuries. Their beliefs included the eventual appearance of a Mahdi (Messiah) who, through war, would cleanse Islam of worldly ills. Under hostile conditions, this group also allowed its followers to use “pious dissimulation” or taqiyya (deceit), in pursuit of religious aims. They set up their own state as a league of fortress city-states located in mountainous regions (Hodgson 1955). As Rapoport points out, this was probably the first time a state based its raison d’être on organizing international terrorism.

Moghaddam claims that “terrorism is explained by the power of context.” In other words, terrorism is rooted in societal, religious and other contexts that make its existence possible and often preferable to other means of expression. It is much less clear what motivates people to join terrorist groups that are outside of their own social and organizational context.

At the heart of Islamic terrorism is the crisis of identity in Islamic communities. Some terrorists take on the morality of terrorism as part of their personal identity. Becoming a terrorist is more than just taking part in terrorist activities, it is transforming the self to arrive at a particular identity.

(Moghaddam 2007)

Religion as a Tool

Not all observers of terrorism committed in the name of religion see religion as a root cause of terrorism. Rather, it is seen by some as an effective tool exploited by group leaders whose true motives are political and social. Richardson’s claim that terrorism is not caused by religion – in other words, religion is not a root of terrorism, but the true causes are political and economic inequalities – is supported by a number of other scholars (Gurr 1970; Juergensmeyer 2000; Roy 2004; Gupta 2008). In his case studies, Juergensmeyer claims that religious ideas “have given a profundity and ideological clarity to what in many cases would have been real experiences of economic destitution, social oppression, political corruption, and a desperate need for the hope of rising above the limitations of modern life.”

According to some interpretations of religious scripts, particularly the most fundamentalist and radical, violence appears to be rooted in the religion itself. In religions that do spawn terrorists, it appears that only the most radical wings of those religions are responsible for advocating violence. In the case of Islam, Richardson pointedly remarks, fundamentalists differ from traditional Muslims in that the former emphasize the state as a means for religious control and, therefore, aim to take over the state. Since religion and politics are essential and intertwined parts of Islam, this religion is particularly prone to involvement in terrorism, as well as other forms of violent conflict, because it does not recognize the separation of religion and state.

It is doubtful, then, that religion is ever the sole cause of terrorism, even that which is committed by religiously affiliated groups. Other factors, often political or socioeconomic, usually come into play, creating situations where terrorist groups are born and thrive. However, some interpretations of some religions, in certain historical contexts, provide justification for terrorist acts and support terrorist organizations. It is this type of organization that forms a major root of terrorism. In these cases, religion could be seen as an instrument used to bolster terrorist organizations, not, in and of itself, a root of terrorism. Based on a quantitative, large number study of nationalist and religious organizations, Fox and Squires (2001) concluded that nationalism is associated with conflict far more often than is religion. However, their results indicated that when religion was introduced into a nationalist or ethno-nationalist conflict the violence increased considerably.

Goals of Terrorist Organizations

A dominant paradigm in terrorism studies is the strategic model. This model, embraced by Pape (2003) and Bloom (2005), among others, assumes that terrorists are rational actors who attain political goals by attacking civilians. Terrorists are seen as utility maximizers who weigh the costs and benefits of different courses of action and the way to eliminate them is by making impossible or invalidating the rational choices they make. Max Abrahms (2006, 2008) refutes the claim that terrorists are rational actors. He believes that people join terrorist organizations for social reasons, often connected to individual feelings of isolation, and that once the social ties of an organization are weakened the organization will collapse. Furthermore, he claims that counterterrorism efforts will be successful only if, instead of attempting to cancel out the political utility, they attack the underlying social bonds that join the members of terrorist organizations. Terrorism does not work as a strategy, he claims, as terrorist goals are rarely rational in the traditional sense.

Richardson makes a distinction between primary, or long-term, and secondary, or short-term, goals of terrorist organizations. The long-term goal of fundamentalist religious groups is usually to replace secular law with their particular brand of religious law. The short-term goals, which are shared by other types of terrorist organizations, include revenge taking. For example, the Oklahoma City bombing occurred on the anniversary of the storming of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas. Qaddafi, formerly an opponent of US policy, now an ally of the US, responded to the 1986 US bombing of Tripoli by providing funds to terrorist groups. Individuals who see themselves, either directly or vicariously, as having been violated by oppressive governments are susceptible to terrorist group recruiters.

Publicity seeking is another short-term goal, and one that has been prominent in the terrorist repertoire since the days of the Zealots. The most tragically spectacular event, generating more publicity than any terrorist attack preceding it, was the sight of airplanes crashing into the Twin Towers in New York on September 11, 2001. This image is burned into memories across the world.

Achieving specific concessions, such as the release of fellow terrorists from prison, is a third short-term goal, an example of this being evident in the December 1999 incident when Indian authorities agreed to negotiate with Harakat ul Mujahadin, an Al Qaeda affiliated group. India released three imprisoned high-level Islamic fundamentalists in return for the release of 154 passengers taken hostage on an Indian Airlines airbus.

Another short-term goal is causing disorder in a state with the intention of undermining an opponent’s legitimacy. The IRA frequently stated its immediate goal was to make Northern Ireland ungovernable, and to cause so much trouble that the British would just get out. This example is taken from a journalist’s interview with Terrance “Cheeky” Clarke, a leading member of the IRA who spent 21 years in prison for terrorist offenses, as reported by Louise Richardson (2006).

A further short-term goal is that of provoking governments to retaliate forcefully, often repressively, thereby motivating more recruits to join the terrorist organization. The Basque organization ETA adopted this tactic, believing that, by provoking extreme, often disproportional, governmental reactions to their attacks, they would gain sympathy and, thus, more recruits.

Following from the above, it is the long-term goals of religiously founded terrorist groups that form their tap-root. These goals are fundamental to certain interpretations of the religion and to the very identity of the religion and of its followers. This deeply implanted facet of the human psyche is not easily relinquished, and Steven Kull (1988), in his book Minds at War, indicates that people are more willing to sacrifice their physical integrity than their identities.

Religion and the Three Wants of Terrorism

Richardson (2007) identifies three wants of terrorist groups in general as being revenge, renown, and reaction. Although these wants are common to the great majority of terrorist groups, and can, therefore, be seen as part of the peripheral root structure of most terrorism, they become especially pertinent in cases of religiously based organizations, particularly in those that embrace an apocalyptic view of the world. An organization that seeks change and looks for a better future for its constituents, although fervent in its mission, can be dissuaded from committing terrorist acts once its goals, such as those of equality, secession or independence, have been reached or at least recognized and attended to. An organization whose purpose and mission is to destroy those who do not agree with its (usually religious) beliefs is not so easy to change or overcome. The only way seen by such extremists is to convert as many people on the earth as they can to their particular religious views and to destroy those whose way of life is seen by the religious zealots as an abomination of all the laws and rules they hold fast, and who will not be converted.

Globalization and Deculturation as Roots of Religious Terrorism

Atanas Gotchev (2006) sees globalization, with its increased migration and the emergence of new immigrant minorities, as an important root of terror. Not only might some of the members of new minority populations provide funding to terrorist organizations in their home countries, they could also develop feelings of relative deprivation as minorities in their new countries and, as a result, become much more prone to violence. In relation to the latter suggestion, Oliver Roy discusses a phenomenon that he labels “deculturation.” He claims that if we examine the violent Islamic militants who have operated in Western Europe since the early 1990s, we will see that, even when they have a Middle Eastern background, they do not come from within the Middle East, nor are they sent to commit terrorist attacks by Middle Eastern groups with local agendas, such as the liberation of Palestine.

They are part of the de-territorialized, supranational Islamic networks that operate in the West and at the periphery of the Middle East. Their backgrounds have little to do with Middle Eastern conflicts or traditional religious education, except for the few Saudis and Yemenis who carried out the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States […] [T]hey are based in Europe, fluent in Western languages, and Western educated. None of them underwent a religious curriculum in Islamic madrassas […]. Some were born in Europe: others came as children, students, or political refugees; many even possessed Western citizenship. All of the September 11 pilots and their accomplices, except the Saudis’ muscle, left their countries of origin […] broke with or disassociated themselves from their families […] were never involved in the local Muslim community […] many married non-Muslim Europeans who, in many cases, converted to Islam. […] they were cultural outcasts, living at the margin of society in either their countries of origin or in their host countries.

(Roy 2006)

Most interestingly, remarks Juergensmeyer, continuing with the same theme, they all became born again Muslims and the mosques of Western Europe played a bigger part in their radicalization than the madrassas of orthodox Muslim societies. They were westernized and deterritorialized, implying no links with any country, even that of their origin. The radical Islamists in Europe claim to be globalists, in an Islamic sense, in their mission to convert the world to Islam. Who, asks Juergensmeyer, could conduct their operations more successfully than a deterritorialized, radical, born again Muslim? Again the question of identity comes into play as it is seen that the deterritorialized people are likely to be searching for one of the essential components of humanness, an identity. An insecure identity is what drives deterritorialized individuals toward radical Islam in search of a secure identity. Deterritorialization can thus be identified as a root of religious terrorism. However, this is rooted in globalization which, from the perspective of radical Islamists, is an attempt by the United States to dominate the rest of the world. When globalization is defined in the most usual way, as the increasing cooperation between states and other international organizations in matters of security, commerce, trade, finances, education, migration and health care, to mention a few of the many ways in which societies are becoming intermingled, the ideology of radical Islamist movements becomes strongly anti-globalist. Globalization threatens to introduce external influences to Islamic societies and, thus, lessen the likelihood of a return to traditional Islamic Sharia law. Of course, as Richardson points out, terrorists rely on features of globalization, such as the Internet, to run their organizations.

From the Terrorist’s Perspective

In order to understand terrorists’ actions and to identify their roots, according to Fathali Moghaddam, we must examine terrorism from the terrorist’s point of view. While she insists that to understand the terrorist’s point of view does not mean one agrees with it or condones it, she asserts that, from the terrorist’s perspective, terrorism is a rational problem-solving strategy.

Terrorists, they would claim, are perfectly sane human beings who are just as in love with life as anybody else […] they are not suicidal and they do not see their lives as wasted when they blow themselves up as part of the larger military strategy […] it is the rest of the world that is immoral and in need of reform, not the terrorist group. From the terrorist’s point of view, on September 11, 2001, the Twin Towers in New York City were attacked in daring commando raids […] commandos have been attacking the United States and its forces at home and abroad in a declared world war […] the United States was not aware of this declared and ongoing world war […] because they were not told early enough by the US government. From the terrorist’s point of view, whether the American public did or did not know about the war does not change the nature of the “commando raids” on September 11. From the terrorist’s point of view, suicide bombers are precision guided missiles, the only ones that can be afforded by a desperate and materially poor army […] the goal of Islamic Jihadists justifies everything and anything […] organizations labeled as “terrorist” by the US government are actually social and political organizations often involved in wide-ranging cultural, welfare and educational programs. Most of the groups are well known in their home societies for their tradition of helping the poor, taking care of widows, and providing a safety net for the disadvantaged.

(Moghaddam 2007)

Hezbollah, translated as “Party of God,” is an example of a group that is seen by the West as a terrorist organization but seen by many local people, particularly in Lebanon, as having a much broader social services function.

One root of terrorism, then, lies in the belief that the organization has no other alternative than to resort to terrorism in order to accomplish its goals. In the case of violent nationalist and ethnic groups, whose goals are usually of national recognition, independence, autonomy, or equal rights before the law, the fact that these are potentially achievable goals is good news. Identifying the need-based roots might help to bring governments into alignment with the needs expressed by such groups and, so, diminish their perceived need to commit terrorist acts in order to achieve their ends. In the case of religiously rooted groups, or where religion is used as a tool of motivation, since the aims of the group are usually not to gain recognition of their identity but to destroy those who identify themselves differently, understanding the root causes would not necessarily engender such a change.

State Sponsored Terrorism

From France’s post-revolutionary reign of terror, labeled the “Republic of Virtue” by its perpetrators, until the present time, state sponsored terrorism has been used as a strategy. Byman (2005) offers a remarkable study of state sponsored terrorism. He focuses mainly on the Middle East and South Asia but, for the most part, his observations are useful in understanding the goals and motives, as well as the strategies, of many types of state sponsored terrorism. Some states, he claims, sponsor terrorists for strategic reasons, such as influencing neighboring states and even toppling governments. Other states, while they do not openly support terrorists, turn a blind eye to terrorist activities that take place within their territory and still others show no open signs of acceptance or sponsorship but facilitate money laundering to aid the financing of terrorist operations. Richardson claims that terrorism is used as a weapon against strong enemies by perceived weaker states. The use of terrorism as an instrument of foreign policy has been seen by many states to have advantages. However, as Richardson points out, this is often a political and subjective judgment wherein, just as the US has identified countries such as Cuba, Iran, Sudan, and Syria as sponsors of terrorism, in countries hostile to the US, and even by some of its allies, the US is regarded as a promoter of terrorism. American support for attempts to overthrow Castro in Cuba, for ousting Allende in Chile, for the Contras in Nicaragua and the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan, has been seen by others as state sponsored terrorism. When open warfare is seen as unacceptable, often because its operation would cause an international uproar, many states have conducted operations that could be construed as terrorist in nature. A state sponsor of terrorism that is rarely mentioned as such was South Africa in the 1960s and 1970s. The South African government supported existing terrorist groups in surrounding states, which were opposed to their postcolonial governments, as a means of destabilizing unfriendly regimes and enhancing the security of South Africa. According to Zulaika (Aretxaga 2005), many Basques claim that the present Spanish state, in spite of its claim to three decades of democratic government, is still inflicting terrorism on the Basque people by depriving them of rights, specifically the right to self determination.

Possible Future Scenarios

Abrahms (2008) claims that terrorists behave as social solidarity maximizers rather than political maximizers. His suggestions for minimizing future terrorist attacks include paying greater attention to the socially marginalized rather than the politically downtrodden. He also prescribes a “divide and conquer” strategy that would drive wedges between organization members in order to disrupt the social cohesiveness of the group.

Jamal Nassar (2005), who focuses on state and imperial terror, suggests that the roots of terrorism are to be found in the struggle for power. He claims that state and imperial terror incites individual and group responses. Nassar sees terrorism as a response to the desperation of people who find themselves suffering injustices and oppression, both political and economic. He argues that globalization has contributed to the rise in relative deprivation and, thus, to increased frustration and violence. “The nightmare of terrorism,” he claims, “is a by-product of the dream of a more equitable world.” To repeat an earlier assertion, although the task is daunting, and will require enormous focus, effort, and will, it is feasible that the roots of terror that are found in inequality may be eradicated. Technological advances will advance the courses of medicine and education, and will provide more food and, also, the transportation and communications systems that will allow its distribution, thus improving the material conditions of most of those who are relatively deprived.

The roots of terrorism that are fed on notions of destruction of “the other” present a far more difficult problem. It is possible that with better and more universal communications between peoples of different cultural, ethnic, and religious backgrounds, together with intensive and deliberate educational programs that focus on understanding “the other,” commonalities would be recognized that far outweigh the differences between human beings. Surface familiarity that breeds contempt may be supplanted by a deeper understanding that could breed feelings of common humanity. Also, the building up of an awareness of common interests through the realization that problems common to many countries and peoples are often better solved through joint efforts would make for cooperation rather than conflict. This has been achieved, to some extent, by regional organizations, such as the EU, and is one of the surest paths to world cooperation. An important feature of any integrating system though is the development of a common identity. In this case that common identity might provide a barrier against terrorists who would upset a potentially mutually beneficial situation.


I would like to acknowledge Jonathan Fox for his comments on the essay and Gregory Force for his editorial suggestions. Special recognition goes to Jean Ashford for her patience and editorial skills. I also convey my gratitude to the anonymous readers who provided me with many useful observations.

Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA) (Euskadi ta Askatasuna). At, accessed Apr. 29, 2009. A background report on ETA by the Council on Foreign Relations, in the form of questions and answers. Addresses the beginnings of ETA as an organization, and the evolving interaction between Spain and ETA.

[The] Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence [CSTPV]. At∼wwwir/research/cstpv, accessed Apr. 29, 2009. CSTPV is based at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland. The website includes a very rich set of links. See especially Links and Resources. Also of interest is the Research Desiderata.

Council on Foreign Relations, link to the issue of terrorism. At, accessed Apr. 29, 2009. The Council on Foreign Relations is a nonpartisan nongovernmental organization. Its website is a source for documents, news, interviews, reports, and publications from the Council as well as other sources. Advanced search capability at

Global Terrorism Database [GTD]. At, accessed Apr. 29, 2009. The highly regarded GTD is maintained by START at the University of Maryland. The GTD is a comprehensive open-source unclassified database including information on terrorist events around the world, starting from 1970 and currently extending to 2004.

Middle East Media Research Institute [MEMRI]. At, accessed Apr. 29, 2009. MEMRI is an independent nonpartisan organization. It provides translations of media reports originating in the Middle East, as well as providing its own analyses and reports. Of particular interest are the Subjects and the Archives links.

Middle East Research and Information Project [MERIP]. At, accessed Apr. 29, 2009. MERIP is an independent nongovernmental organization. To gain a wider perspective, the publisher of the Middle East Report often solicits the contributions of authors from the Middle East. Advanced search capability at http:/

National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism [START]. At, accessed Apr. 29, 2009. START is affiliated with the Department of Homeland Security and is based at the University of Maryland. Research areas include terrorist group formation, recruitment, persistence, and dynamics. A number of publications from a variety of sources can be downloaded.

[The] Search for Peace. At http:/, accessed Apr. 29, 2009. From BBC News Online. Addresses the causes of the conflict in Northern Ireland. Contains profiles of political parties and paramilitary groups, important individual players, and some of the events that frame discussion of the conflict.


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