Psychological Analysis of Terrorism and Terrorists

Bakhtawar Mushtaque

“Terrorism in Pakistan: why people are involved in terrorist activities – a psychological approach”

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“Everyone worried about stopping terrorism, well there is really an easy way: stop participating in it.”, (Noam Chomsky). A person scarifies his life to claim a few more lives, is an extreme sorrowful situation of terror act. Terrorists are the ones who cause terrorism. It is not very simple to define terrorism but literature says “terrorism is an unlawful act, mass violence directed particularly at civilians, resulting in widespread fear. Such violence is often motivated by social, religious, or psychological ideals and intended to induce societal and national changes”, (Taylor and Fancies 2014).

I am interested in this topic because I want to know the reasons which impact on the psyche of individual that insists people to opt for terrorist activities. Else, the relation between the causes of terrorist acts with psychological construction. The most importantly, I want to structure some strategies through which we can overcome this situation.

The point to ponder is what thing had such an impact on one’s psychology that persuaded him to be completely hypnotized in a way that he does not think even once before doing that? This is a fundamental question that revolves in our minds whenever we hear any news about such activities. Terrorism is recorded as a major violence in Pakistan in recent years. According to (Taylor and Francis 2014), “There were 13,721 incidents in Pakistan from 2001 to 2013. From 2001 to 2005, there have been 523 terrorist incidents in Pakistan but from 2007 to November 2013, the total number of incidents has risen to 13,198.” “Pakistan is both an ally in the war on terror, and in some sense, a battleground in the war on terror”.(Stephen Hadley) With the feeling of disappointment we have encountered a very high rate of terrorism in Pakistan. The number of terror acts (suicide bombings) between 2001 and 2007 stood at 15 only, but from 2007 to 2013, Pakistan jumped to 1,404 terrorist attacks. It is deliberately increasing day by day and the data shows the highest rate anywhere in the world.

Terrorism have three main perspective such as macro sociological, psychosocial and psychological. In this paper we will discuss third approach which has been a major problem in Pakistan recent years. This approach mainly include the teaching of religious extremism and wrong social practices which impact on individual’s psyche. There are many social problems but we will focus on few of them including poverty, illiteracy, injustice and unemployment. These are highly prevalent in Pakistan; developing a disease of making psychological errors between right and wrong and encourages a feeling of jealousy and ignorance. . Identifying the causes would be a major help in providing the remedies for these unwanted acts.

What ISLAM teaches us about peace and humanity?

The religion of Islam advocates peace and mutual agreement and admonishes aggression.

“ Don’t aggress; GOD dislikes the aggressors”. (Quran 5:87)

One of the main themes elaborated in Quran is peace, unless there is injustice that cannot be resolved by all the peaceful means available. According to Tellis 2014, “Peace have direct link with psychological construction, if there will be no peace around, effect will be the astounding violent activities which ultimately leads psychological disturbances like anxiety and depression.”. Violent behaviors may be terrorism, target killing and so on. In reality, love and compassion is the real antidote for every act of terrorism.

Religious causes:

A famous analyst Richardson proposed behavioral model in 2011 he states that “In operant conditioning we repeat the behavior when we get positive reinforcement. With this concept the religiously defined reward in eternal life and military outcome of the suicide bombings could be some factors positively reinforcing the behavior”. The conspiracy by some of our ancestors provoking a fake concept of allowance in religion to practice such extreme activities has resulted to mass destruction in today’s world. These practices have lived their lives for many years and passed to every generation. The true image of Islam is also breached and presented as a religion of extremists. A feel of hatred has risen in the world against Islam and the Pakistanis. This has resulted to seek for revenge and vengeance against the world in one’s psychology. According to Yousafzai 2007 “One of the motive in religiously motivated terrorist is “revenge” and it paired with the sense of altruism as many of them always had relative who has been killed or abused in the holy war”. Violence has strong religious endorsement and approval in Pakistan. In one of the psychoanalytical theory of violence namely drive theory it is written that to understand the cause of terror act, it is necessary to know about the frustration_agression fold. This fold is complex due to psychological disturbances like rage and hopelessness. Through the religious teachings this fold get stronger by scholars and they think that there is no other way to get success in religion. (Bajoria 2011) Teachings of these practices are still carried out in rural areas and areas where lack of sense and knowledge is found. These practices are usually conducted in the local religious schools and involve developing psychology in a student to charge against those who neglect or argue in any law they imply. One research conducted in 2010 by Patric Hadin proved that in Pakistan 70% of terrorists are being prepared in schools. He states that “It is very easy to set the mind (brain wash) of school going students and build their psychology according to once own desire.” In one of the Pakistani drama “KHUDA ZAMEEN SE GAYA NAHI” I saw that youngsters were taught by the scholars that this is JAHAD and this is the sacrifice on the name of GOD. In Pakistan, religious factor have a great support of MEDIA which are making changes in psychology of youngsters because they are more towards media. One of the case study was conducted in Pakistan where it has been observed that independent media played a role in spreading these acts in Pakistan. Study shows one institution where the teachings was conducted and influenced the suicide bombers through mass media. Result shows that 80% Pakistanis were grabbed through this strategy”. (Sarhandi 2011) These heinous acts create a fear and instability in the society and mostly people surrender. The feel of this power changes to extremism leads psychological disorder which mainly include aggression. In addition, their minds are modified and are persuaded in a way that encourages these activities, so called JIHAD, will grant them a fruitful reward in their Hereafter. To explain the religion terrorism within a psychodynamic framework, we need to focused on the trait of NARCISSIM which produce a sense of self damage. Terrorist’s intellectual will show the grandiose view inside the GOD. (Randy Borum 2004) This view will make him a victim. Moreover, The mind setting (brain wash) is the common finding among the majority of the terrorist in Pakistan. In one of the swat operation against terrorism in Pakistan in 2009, many of the adolescents who were to be FUTURE SUCIDE BOMBERs in Pakistan were psychologically educated. Before inducting them in the community for such activities, they prepared them wholly in almost 6 weeks and they do work to change their psychology through different stages in Madrassa. This religious fanaticism for the love of martyrdom and its reward is a major cause of the terrorist attacks like suicide bombings in Pakistan.

Social issues:

For a common man, our social environment is full of injustice, illiteracy, insecurity, poverty and unemployment. Till today, these issues are at peak in Pakistan which also insists people to opt for activities like terrorism. This is also known as emotional terrorism because terrorist think of their children and families emotionally. They think to give them quality of life by providing money to them and they don’t think about thousands of innocent lives victimized due to their act. This seems to be all due to unemployment and poverty. Taylor and Francis 2014 states that this act of thinking end up the people in psychological problems which mainly include depression and anxiety. A study conducted on 1,031 terrorist incidents in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa found that 80% of the perpetrators were unemployed and were motivated by changes in psychology. (Assad Nizami & Tariq Hassan 2014).

Furthermore, Pakistan is listed in one of the strongest developing countries; struggling to improve the rate of literacy. It has always remained a big problem and a major cause of terrorism in Pakistan too. People are not enough educated, particularly in rural areas. They do not have eligible sense of right or wrong. Taylor and Francis 2014 also witnessed in their study that “7 out of 10 terrorist are from rural areas and are under privileged and stalking of illiteracy”. Such people easily become a victim of anti-social ideas. They apply what they are taught without any remorse or guilt of the results. According to Jeff Vencatramen 2007, “scientific psychology reveal that poverty and illiteracy produce suffering and frustration and this breads aggression against others that translate in terrorism.”

Moreover, injustice and inequality play the role of a catalyst while in the execution of the plans of the terrorists. Social injustice and unfairness burden other instabilities and inequalities that ultimately lead violence. According to Jeff Vencatramen 2007, “personality traits are not irrelevant to terrorism. Political oppression of inequality lead many negative personality traits in individual like impulsivity and obnoxious.”

Although terrorist do willingly these acts, they know their bond with family and relations are going to be over. This leads to anxiety, stress and many other problems. These problems grab their actual perception, awareness and judgment. According to Horgon 2008, “Terrorist’s psyche view their own actions as rational and purposeful, driven in response to their own perception of social, religious, and other realities. They see their own selves as good and victims as bad. These are some main factors which are accountable for terrorism. There are many other factors which are responsible for terrorist activities. For instance, in tuberculosis the main cause is mycobacterium tuberculosis but there are many other factors which cause the disease. According to Jeff Victoroff 2006, “Many of the individual terrorist across the Pakistan have mainly no more causes oppressed than religious and social like poverty, illiteracy and so on and it is claim that this escort to the psychological distress.”

Now this is the time to take a step forward and think how to eradicate this problem. Attempts are still way in Pakistan. Scenarios are going to be complex and may worsen the situations. In the very low level, we can give knowledge to the adolescents in school and colleges which are at high risk. According to Testas 2014, “we should educate our young generation and teach them the consequences of terrorist activities. This education carry two aspects. First, to build the safe psyche of young generation so they can make the best decision for themselves and the second is to reduce the illiteracy which ultimately bring the positive influence.”

At the state level our political leaders should take step ahead. They should eliminate injustice, poverty and other social instability to prevent population from these activities which are taking lives from irreproachable families. According to Newman 2014, “Our common goal to eradicate terrorist activities should be to reduce the poverty and promote social justice, to bring the marginalized into the mainstream of the psychological health, economy and society.” With the contribution of political leaders, these acts can be eradicated at the community, national and international level. Definitely, we hope that our initiatives will make some positive changes in our country.


Definitely, terrorists have some major psychological distress which push them further towards those terrorist activities. With the religious perspective, mind setting was seen in most of the Pakistani terrorists. There were social issues like poverty, injustice and many more which were highly common in Pakistani terrorist. These both major causes lead many psychological problems like aggression, anxiety and distress. Killing or delivering punishment on the grounds is not going to solve the issue but would promote such unwanted activities. State needs to review the impact of terrorism in the past decade and develop a policy to combat terrorism socially and psychologically. It is also a responsibility of a common man, towards humanity and our country, not to be ignorant. The ignorance may lead to a fine destruction of our society. Our youth will suffer. And when youth suffers, the future suffers.


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