The Psyche Behind Terror

May 5, 2010

A Play of Religion, Politics and Youth?

Ajmal Kasab’s days seem to be numbered. His final verdict is due on May 6. But is his capture, trial and execution in any way going to end terror plots of Extremists? “All iz well,” sang the trio in the film ‘3 Idiots.’ But I doubt it to be the reality today.

Today the world can be described in one word – ‘BUSY’ as never before. People have no time to sit and think of anything, even good things even about themselves. People in the same flat, apartment or society do not know the one staying next door. To add to all the fears and phobias, there seems to be a new phobia emerging, namely ‘terror- phobia’ that still remains to be cured. This is a greater phobia than all others.

On April 17th, few burka-clad bombers killed many in Peshawar. A suicide bomber in Afghanistan killed 7-8 CIA officers. A Nigerian terrorist tried to blow himself up on a plane bound to Detroit on Christmas day. Two suicide bombers killed over hundreds in a market place in Pakistan. Which country is safe from terror? Can anyone be sure where a bomb may be planted or a suicide bomber is walk? Could anyone find out beforehand, that there would be bomb blasts before the IPL match in Bengaluru? Still graver the suicide bombers today include even women.

For me, one question that remains unanswered till today, is Why do people feel less guilty these days? What is that which motivates the terrorists to harm themselves and kill innocent by-standers?

Ordinary mundane violence of gone by years have today unexpectedly transformed themselves into graver face called ‘terror.’ Terror is nothing but violence in a larger scale. Over the years violence has been fuelled under the garb of religion and politics. Because violence at a minor scale has been taken for granted, it has today got a grander look and easy outlet for humans into create confusion, insecurity and fear.

Elements or characteristics of their strong psyche:

The path to radicalism of a terrorist is difficult to predict. Some analysts blame it on politics, others on religion and power. Some say it is because of sociological and psychological problem that leads people to become terrorists. Whatever it may be. But why do such people kill and die readily for abstract goals? Is it more attractive to them than any other adventure or is it in the garb of religion that makes them volunteer?

The mystery of the mind of terrorist is very traumatic. At times they are brainwashed into evil. Ten of thousands of youth are radicalized to be ‘terror messengers’ or terror martyrs’. They find it a sacred privilege to bid farewell to life that way. Most of them are forced into believing that their path is right. They like insects get trapped by the fragrance of the sundew plant called ‘terror’, never able to free themselves.

A young terrorist Umar Kundi, was a well educated but unhappy man. He was the pride of his parents. He was the son of a telephone operator, and was ambitious of becoming a doctor. But things went wrong. His degree did not give him a job, he felt it was useless to return home without a job. Instead of healing the sick, he went to become the most dreaded terrorist. Months of hunting for him ended when he was caught on Feb 19th 2009 at the tender age of 24. He was from a middle class family. As a student he was bright. But during his college days he chose to join an Islamic force. He liked the blend of patriotism and adventure of that outfit. This is clear evidence that it is the lower middle class that is most susceptible to radicalization. 

So then, what makes them stubborn to violence? These possible elements or characteristics of their strong psyche may give us a glimpse.

1. Risk taking

Risk is a must. They get no special lessons about risk-taking. They attend no courses. They learn it by carrying out actual attacks. They make sure to rid themselves of  fear. The very decision to step into any extremist group itself is a greatest risk of them all. Professor Jerald of US speaks of ‘generational transmission’ of Extremist beliefs pointing to their pain-filled early life, a strong sense of victimization and alienation and moral deprivation that may influence their decision to join terror groups. These experiences according to Prof. Jerald make them feel that violence is the best means for retaliation. They desire immediate change. If a Shia group police station is attacked in Pakistan the Shia’s suspect the Sunni’s.

Ervin Staub, professor of Psychology at University of Massachusetts has done great research on “Terrorism and its Conflicts”.  He speaks of three types of terrorist today,

a) Idealists: who identify with the suffering of some group. They are localized.
b) Responders: who react as a result of some experience to their own group. They are localized.
c) ‘Lost souls’: who isolate, adapt and find purpose by joining hands with radical groups. These are dangerous than the above two. When I speak of terrorist I refer to this lot. 

2. Collective identity:

They have been large number of offshoots of larger networks of Al-Qaida over the years. Very few incidents show individual accomplishments in the terror world. Most attacks are done by a group of people. This is strongly evident when different groups claim responsibility for the blasts. Community feeling is very strong among them. They believe in team work. Different people are assigned jobs to carry out one blast each doing his best at a given responsibility using most modern means of communication. For ex: The recent German Bakery Blast was executed by sleeper cell experts like Yasin Bhatkal and his companions, but was planned by many other people.

3. Loss of immoral feeling:

Dr. Morg has studied 29 former terrorists of Al-Qaida and other deflections like Irish Republican Army and has found that terrorists don’t feel it immoral, to attack and kill innocent people. Since they get deeply rooted in a group, they begin to consider that doing a deed for religion or leader would achieve them higher moral conduct than living a pious life.

4. Firm will to secrecy:

Those that become suicide bombers never look back. They call themselves walking martyrs. Once they set themselves on a mission they move on. Muhammad Ismail and Kasab, the Mumbai attackers were so stubborn, that when Kasab was caught, he pretended to be dead in order that he may escape, than reveal any of the secrets. Even when he was asked to reveal, he did not easily budge. They made him feel that his companions had confessed and so he too must to get lighter punishment. They have the feeling that by enslaving themselves, they bear humiliation and shame to their organization and religious mission. They feel it an hunour to dedicate their lives for a better cause of their leader. They feel better satisfaction by this than by material benefits given.  Some do it so that their families receive the benefits in the form of compensation.

5. Rare desire to change:

Very few leave their terror outfit and get back to normal life. Even if they leave, they hold on to the radical beliefs they acquired. At times, their goals may be seem realistic to them. But it doesn’t matter to them at all. Most, who leave the outfit, may not have been able to face the horror of killing innocent children and elderly people.


Violence and crime have increased over the years. Fights, protests and riots have been used as an excuse by different religions and political parties to achieve their goal, seldom realizing that they would only contribute to the enormity of it, in its bloom as terror later. Therefore I feel it is the responsibility of religious leaders and parents to work for a change.

Violence can never be part of any spirituality. All religions have done the fault of instigating violence sometime or the other. If only religious leaders come forward and affirm that no religion is for violence then we can creatively think of transforming the terror stricken world of today. Pakistani Islamic scholar Tahiri-ul-Qadir, few months ago, issued a fatwa condemning terror and suicide attacks, clearing indicating, “What the terrorists are doing is not martyrdom. Al-Qaida is an old evil, with a new name.” But it’s not enough. Much more should have been done years ago. Moreover, many other religions too need to speak out.

Let’s say no to terror today. Terrorists are ordinary humans. But they are trained to be stubborn to give up violence. We all need to understand that violence is not the only and just means to repair and repay the harm done. If this does not happen then violence will continue to flourish under the garb of religion and politics and promote terrorists among us.

Today it is clear that terrorism cannot be equated with Muslims alone. It may have been as a result of the neighboring west border and their sleeper cells in India. But tomorrow it may sprout from our neighbourhood or from our own kit and kin.

Another very important element is the youth that fall prey to these abstract ideals. Most terrorists belong to the age group of 17-28. Let us not let the youth force to go waste in such evil and destructive endeavours. It is the parents who need to do lot more to give better facilities and scope to their youth minds to channelize their energy effectively. Even the political parties with the fundamentalist agenda are fueling violence through the youth. If and only if parents take extra responsibility of their teenage children we cvan to some extent mark the advance of terror in our own little way

What can the rest do? Just as we have “Non Violence day” why not think of having a day set apart as ‘No Terror day’ to pledge together our commitment and response to spread the message of brotherhood without violence? This will grill well into the youthful minds of our children for a better tomorrow.

Violence cannot and should not rule our lives. Only love can give us security not fear. 

Lancy Fernandes - Archives:  

by Lancy Fernandes, Pune
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Comment on this article

  • A.S.Mathew, U.S.A.

    Tue, May 11 2010

    Mr. Bulsam: I do agree with you,
    and now the question how to
    change the mindset of the 5%
    rich people who are pulling
    the trigger of wealth!

    If the poor are trying to take that
    by brute force, that will be a
    bloody confrontation, and the
    consequences will be far worse
    than we can imagine.

    One Banker in Florida, gave away
    the bank to the employees, and he
    was honored at the State of the
    Union speech day in Washington.
    There are only a very few people
    of his caliber in the world today.

    Human beings are born to the
    world with a "folding palm", and
    when they leave the world, they
    leave with an " opened palm".

    If the rich can get any clue that
    they will have to leave everything
    in the world, then only they will
    open their palm and release their
    wealth to help the needy. It takes
    a divine surgery of heart and
    mind. Human compassion is a divine
    nature, and majority of the rich
    have no compassion. " For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God" Luke 18:15 (Bible).

  • Lancy M F , Jeppu

    Tue, May 11 2010

    Dear Nagesh,

    what u say is not true. The party at the centre cannot be blamed for the hike in price. Any govt tries to make things for the betterment of its citizens. If there is global price hike, one has to irrespective of the party bear with it.

  • nagesh nayaK, bangalore

    Mon, May 10 2010





    RICE RS. 14.00 RS. 38.00

    SUGAR RS. 12.00 RS. 40.00

    TOOR DAL RS. 28.00 RS. 88.00

    PETROL RS. 25.00 RS. 50.00

    there is long list & above are just examples.




    JAI HO.

  • Bulsam, Mangalore

    Sun, May 09 2010

    Terrorism is the other side of suppression, exploitation and inequality in the world order. In this new world the most powerful 5% BIG SHARKS who have control over the world economy through 25% of their hunch-men or MIDDLE CLASS control 70% world's POOR vulnerable population.
    The so called terrorists lose reasoning power due to various reasons/mind poisonings and for them revenge is the only purpose in life as per their disturbed minds. If such people come across the MOTIVATORS/TRAINERS they turn into deadly KILLING MACHINES.

    The wealth held by 5% super rich should have a rational re-distribution mechanism and the poor in the world should not go hungry. The world should identify such Training camps & their motivators and destroy them. Those suppressed killers should be identified & rehabilitated.

  • Floyd, Mangalore,Jeppu

    Thu, May 06 2010

    Excellent article.It has exposed the reality that exists in today's world.

  • adshenoy, mangloor

    Wed, May 05 2010

    "Terror" is a scary word, "Terrorism" a scary destruction. Destruction many a times its the innocent caught up and killed.
    The world today is ruled by might. Might in richness. might in military and might in politics.
    The nations who enjoy this status are the nations primarily responsible for todays terrorism.

    Oppression- ideological, financial or military terms bound to create frustration and hatred by the oppressed.
    Al-Qaida is a prime example. Bin laden once associate of US during War against Russia in Afghanistan now the worlds greatest terror movement primalrily against US and its allies.

    This list goes on. In a broad sense terrorism is a weapon of those who do not possess extensive military power.
    Some call it poor mans weapon of destruction.
    Can terrorism be wiped put from this world. I have my doubts. Because, we can not wipe out nations greed to stay in power. No nation will give up its dominence enjoyed.
    Can nations get rid of violence caused by military-direct and indirect? Can they get rid of nuclear weapons-greatest weapon of mass terrorism?
    They are seldom prepared citing of defence.
    The fact every nation should understand is defence is only needed against offence.
    Can we get rid of offence- so called legalised military power of destruction?
    This is the day perhaps terrorism might stop, God willing.

  • Tom Cat, Mangalore/ Saudi Arabia

    Wed, May 05 2010

    In order to study the psyche behind the terrorist one has to study the book the terrorist read, In fact I studied and most verses teach violence in order to attain salvation, and this sway most because in order to owe allegiance to the ideology one has kill maximum unbelievers in order to attain salvation. Therefore this ideology when followed is self destruction which one sees in the world today.

  • A.S.Mathew, U.S.A.

    Wed, May 05 2010

    Great and timely article. The science of " human psychology " has no definite answer, why some people are driven insane and enjoy the  evil act of killing innocent  people to display their anger and
    vendetta towards the society.

    " And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil" John 3:19.

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