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Nation states have resorted to terrorism to control their own, conquered populations. The historical dispersion of the Jews by Assyria in the 7th century BC was an example of a deliberate policy of terror intended to subjugate a population. State terrorism is also reflected in the actions of the German State Secret Police (Gestapo), endowed with nearly unlimited powers of arrest and detention; backed up by courts which actively supported their work, the Gestapo routinely used terror to achieve state goals.
Still under the umbrella of State Terrorism is State-Supported terrorism, usually externally directed. States have international goals which they may elect to pursue with extreme and violent means while avoiding the constraints of war. Terrorism, not officially sanctioned by the state, may still exist to support the goals of that state. Several Middle Eastern states have supported terrorists whose target is Israel. These states cannot engage in declared war (or even official attacks) for fear of reprisals or international condemnation but instead support terrorist attacks while denying responsibility for them.
most common category of terrorism is sub-state, or non-state terrorism. Its
perpetrators are not members of an organized or recognized state. The nation in
which they live, and the nation in which they hold citizenship has no knowledge
of and subsequently is not responsible for their actions. This form of terrorism
has five subtypes:
Single Issue Terrorism: Some terrorists and terrorist groups tend to focus on one or several related issues such as gun control, abortion, or deforestation. This breed of terrorist employs traditional terrorist tactics such as bombs and explosives in an attempt to achieve a political agenda. Single Issue terrorist attacks have traditionally been small scale attacks but certainly, as in the case of the Atlanta Abortion Clinic bombing, not any less capable of evoking terror.
Extremist Political Terrorism: Although some have divided this category into Right Wing Terrorism and Revolutionary or Left Wing Terrorism, both categories exhibit striking similarities. Those with beliefs at the extreme edges of the political spectrum are, by definition, marginalized in their political power. Their constituency is small; their political power is similarly small. Without a radical change in the political climate, their chance of increasing their power remains correspondingly limited. Terrorism, for them, becomes a means of driving some of the population from participating in governmental elections and other political activities. Typical terrorist-related fear tactics are used to intimidate citizens affiliated with mainstream political parties. Governmental attempts to suppress these intimidation tactics may be viewed by politically neutral citizens as an attempt to limit the scope of their political options and may drive once politically ambiguous citizens into the arms of the extremists.
Separatist Terrorism: The ambition to establish a separate state can be independent of extreme political views. While left wing or right wing ideology may be a component of the dogma of separatists, the overwhelming drive is for the creation of an independent state. Terrorism may be directed internally within the region: at the government, or it may be directed at allies of the government with a goal of creating diplomatic pressure in support of the separatist state. Additional terrorist acts may target the commercial sector in an attempt to exact economic pressure. Separatist terrorism cannot operate successfully in a vacuum: the common strategy is to create a legitimate political organization which pursues separatist goals, and a parallel terrorist organization which can be disavowed.
Terrorism: The two fringes of religion, that is, the conservative fundamentalist
and the more radical contemporary spiritual groups, are each capable of embracing
terrorism as a means to an end. Though many contemporary religious faiths are
perfectly docile and the majority of fundamentalist conservatives are equally
peaceful, there still exists the possibility for terrorist activity. Single issue
terrorism and religious terrorism often coexist:
Pathological Terrorism: Terrorism must be executed by individuals: The planners, the trainers, the actual bombers and killers. The German army in World War II found that its soldiers became ineffective after they were ordered to execute 75 civilians with rifle shots; the Holocaust required the establishment of concentration camps and a bureaucratic structure to depersonalize the effort to kill noncombatant human beings for the very reason that most of the soldiers in its army did not have the requisite pathological, disturbed emotional condition that would allow them to engage in the required killing. The Holocaust leaders, those who did direct and participate in gross human rights abuses, were inarguably possessing of some degree of this pathological antisocial condition, however enhanced by culture, background, education, training, or conditioning.
fly a passenger airplane into a world icon such as the World Trade Center, killing
thousands of civilians, unquestionably mandates a pilot-hijacker with a dysfunctional
emotional composition. Certainly political and religious factors provided these
men with what they perceived to be pragmatic rationalizations for their actions,
but it was a pathological terrorism that led this devastating mission to its deadly
Psychology of Terrorism
- Borum, R. (2004). Psychology of Terrorism. University of South Florida.
Reflection Exercise #2
Online Continuing Education QUESTION 9: What sets Religious Terrorism apart from other forms of terroristic activity? To select and enter your answer go to CEU Answer Booklet.
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