Books of origins

Origins of Terrorism: Psychologies, Ideologies, Theologies, States of Mind


This book is structured into five parts with each part being written by at least two authors. The book is about the origin of terrorism and within it psychologies, ideologies, theologies and states of mind are looked at. The book though authored at a time when terrorism activities were relatively inactive is quite relevant at the present time when the terrorist activities have literary taken over the centre stage. Terrorism activities have advanced and moved from the dry land to the deep seas.[1] Acts of violence with for political ends have become quite rampant in today's world.

This book gives a green light into the act of terrorism. This done by the authors herein explaining the nature and sources of terrorists' actions, goals, beliefs, world wide beliefs and states of mind. Without this knowledge it is not possible to explain why there exist so many suicide bombers. The book helps one to understand the role played by nationalism, ideology and religion in shaping the mind of a terrorist. The paper analyses the situation in which a terrorist is fosters as it developed to full hatred and ability to carry out violence against innocent citizens. The book identifies opportunities for further research in the field of terrorism. The limits of the research are given as well.[2]

Part I

Strategy or Psychology

The first part reviews the origins of terrorist behavior. The part has two sections: the first one is the logic of terrorism whereby Martha Crenshaw has authored on terrorist behavior as a product of strategic choice while the second one is terrorist psych-logic authored by Jerrold M. Post in which he writes of terrorist behavior as a product of psychological forces.

In the first section Martha Crenshaw tries to show that all forms of political behavior including the most crude can follow an internal strategic logic. She argues that terrorism can be considered as a way of pursuing extreme interest. It is among the options available to radical organizations. She argues that strategic calculation is among the factors which activate terrorism. The terrorist must also be using strategic reason in plans. Jerrold M. Post in the second section tries to show that the various radical groups which exist in a society can easily hold the youth. To counter such group he advises that authorities should form outlets from groups and at the same time block the inlets. This can be done by ensuring that such groups do not support locally or even international. This will make the groups weak and help to lose the grip the groups have on is members. He believes that by reducing external support for these groups they will become weak and less attractive to alienated youth.[3]

Part II

Varieties of Terrorism: Ideological and Religious Motivations

This section has six parts authored by different individuals. The first part is about ideology and rebellion authored by Konrad Kellen and views terrorism in West Germany. This author, at full length views the West Germany youths' terrorism activities and how their ideology is hardly cohesive and consistent. The second section in this part is authored by Franco Ferracuti and is on ideology and repentance with emphasis on terrorism in Italy. Another section is the psychopolitical formation of extreme left terrorism in a democracy. In this section Ehud Sprinzak reviews the case of weathermen.

Terrorism in democracy is covered in the fourth section of this part. The author Ted Robert Gurr writes about the social and political bases of terrorism in democracies. The author tries to prove that the campaigns of political terrorists in democratic communities usually come out of large conflicts. The last two sections on this part are on sacred terror written by David C. Rapoport with a contemporary example of Islam discussed. The other one is the moral logic of Hizballah by Martin Kramer.[4]

Part III

States of Mind: How do terrorists think? Which psychological mechanisms enable them to do what they do?

This part is authored by Albert Bandura who writes on mechanisms of moral disengagement and Ariel Merari who writes on the readiness to kill and die in which he expounds on suicidal terrorism in the Middle East. Among the many reason Albert gives on how moral disengagement is harbored unto the heart of men is dehumanizing actions (p. 181). This, he believes makes the victims heartless especially when seeking vengeance. Such dehumanizing actions are usually related to military and political actions which end in involving innocent civilians in the lines of fire. The losses associated with such actions materially and lives make it possible for people to feel hopeless creating a loophole for morale disengagement. Religion also is associated with this as it continuously teaches on hatred directed towards a given group.

On page 193 Merari talks about religion fanaticism which views earthly live as vanity. He quotes the Shi'ite followers to be among those with such views. These kinds of views are common in the Middle East whereby they believe in dying for their religion. Apart from the cultural factors of which religion is among them, political interests have also being associated with suicidal killings.[5]

Part IV

Responding to terrorism: Decision making and the pressure on leadership

This part tackles hostage taking, the presidency, and stress as written by Margaret G., Hermann and Charles F. Hermann. The second section written by Gary Sick is about taking vows. This section talks more about the domestication of policy making in hostage incidents. The first section talks about hostage taking and the associated stresses it brings about with it to the captors, those who are captured and the respective people to who the action is intended to. People under stress are prone not to think clear. This, as the book argues, is not good especially when the presidency is involved as was the case of Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. Hostage taking might be targeted at undermining the presidency or even some policies of a country which is targeted.[6]

Part V

The Psychology of terrorism: what can we know? What must we learn?

There are two sections in this part. The first is authored by Martha Crenshaw and is about "questions to be answered, research to be done, and knowledge to be applied." The second section is about understanding terrorist behavior authored by Walter Reich. Here he talks about the limits and opportunities of psychological inquiry.

Walter Reich in the last part in trying to depict the terrorist behavior talks about hatred, revulsion and revenge as terms which characterize the feelings and motivations of many terrorists (p.272). He argues that these terms are quite appropriate because they make it possible for people to understand the psychological states of terrorists. He further argues that these terms help to explain the continuation of terrorists' activities even after their demands are satisfied. As opposed to the psychologists and psychiatrists, Walter argues that the use of strong terms will enable the understanding of the way in which terrorists are likely to react and how their attacks can be responded to. Walter also writes that most of the people who study terrorism usually take in the reasons. One of the common reason used by terrorist to justify their actions is that terrorism is the only the weak forces can use to fight the powerful regimes.

On the future research, the book suggests that the researchers should not make an assumption that all the terrorists have got the same motive. Another suggestion is that there will be a need for a strong acquaintance with the history of terrorism.[7]


This book is quite informative. Reading through the book, one gets to understand the minds of the terrorists and why they behave the way they do. It was written before the 9/11 but effectively explains the vengeance and suicidal willingness before the attacks. The authors of the various sections are disciplines making this literature herein one which can be relied on. It is a good book and I recommend it to both casual readers and to serious readers who wish to understand terrorism in depth.


Walter, Reich. Origins of terrorism: psychologies, ideologies, theologies, states of mind. New York, NY: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 1998.

[1] This is illustrated by the millions of dollars lost in form of ransom every month in the Indian Ocean to the Somali pirates.

[2] Walter Reich, Origins of terrorism: psychologies, ideologies, theologies, states of mind, 1998, New York, NY: Woodrow Wilson Center Press.

[3] Walter Reich, Origins of terrorism: psychologies, ideologies, theologies, states of mind, 1998, New York, NY: Woodrow Wilson Center Press.

[4] Walter Reich, Origins of terrorism: psychologies, ideologies, theologies, states of mind, 1998, New York, NY: Woodrow Wilson Center Press.

[5] Walter Reich, Origins of terrorism: psychologies, ideologies, theologies, states of mind, 1998, New York, NY: Woodrow Wilson Center Press.

[6] Walter Reich, Origins of terrorism: psychologies, ideologies, theologies, states of mind, 1998, New York, NY: Woodrow Wilson Center Press.

[7] Walter Reich, Origins of terrorism: psychologies, ideologies, theologies, states of mind, 1998, New York, NY: Woodrow Wilson Center Press

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