TAMU Lecture, Week 3

INTA 657: Terrorism in Today’s World
Enablers of Terrorism, Pt. 1
Dr. James Forest
Causes and Facilitators of Terrorism
I = Individual
O = Organizational
PC = Precipitant
ET = Environmental
OA = Opportunities
to Act
GE = Global
Individual and Organizational
I - Individual characteristics
Personal motivations for action, including
revenge, psychological attributes, belief
systems, personal grievances, and so
forth. One important note: this research
indicates that there is no single,
common terrorist profile.
O - Organizational characteristics
Leadership, membership, history, an
ideology that articulates grievances, along
with strategies to mitigate these
grievances. These frame the lure of
engaging in terrorist activity, joining a
terrorist organization.
Intersection of individual
characteristics and a terrorist
organization’s characteristics leads
to his/her affiliation with (or at least
some support for) that organization
i = Individual influencers like
family, friends, small groups,
clubs, diasporas, religious
beliefs, education, etc.
C = A terrorist organization’s characteristics (leadership, reputation,
history, etc.) that contribute to the resonance of its ideology
among target audiences and influence an individual’s willingness
to embrace (or reject) terrorism as a reasonable course of action
Individual Characteristics
• Terrorism is an individual’s strategic choice
most often driven by combination of:
– Personal attributes (especially when a “seeker”)
– Sense of crisis
– Intense grievances (local or global)
– Retribution for perceived injustices
– Address a power imbalance - empower the
– Criminal/profit motive
– The ties that bind: training camps, extended family, social
networks; trusted networks = key
Individual Characteristics
• Terrorism can also stem from a variety of
psychological motivating factors, including:
- ideological absolutism (us against the world)
- necrophilia (obsession with death)
- self-assertion (fight against marginalization)
- self-identity (search for meaning in life)
- youth romantic appeal and heroism
- giving special importance to the activity
- conformity, standardization, society
- game motivation (“one upsmanship”)
- groupthink (illusions of invulnerability, one-dimensional
- excessive optimism and risk-taking
Organizational Characteristics
Some strategic objectives of terrorism:
Recognition: Gaining national or international recognition for their
cause; recruiting new personnel; raising funds; demonstrating their
Coercion: Force a desired behavior of an individual or government
Intimidation: Prevent individuals, groups, or governments from acting
Provocation: Provoking overreaction by a government to the attack on
symbolic targets or personnel, thereby gaining sympathy for their
Insurgency support: Forcing the government to overextend itself in
dealing with the threat, thereby allowing the insurgency to gain support
and commit further attacks against the government.
Organizational Characteristics
• Some view terrorism as a means to achieve strategic goals driven by
a vision of the future such as:
Political change (e.g., Kashmir, Tamil Eelam, overthrow govt., etc.)
Social change (e.g., France headscarf ban, anti-abortionists, etc.)
Economic change (e.g., stop oil exports; change resource distribution)
Religious change (e.g., fundamentalist interpretations of the faith)
 Many different flavors of ideology:
Nationalists and Ethnic Separatists (e.g., Anti-colonial groups, Chechens, LTTE)
Left-wing (e.g., radical Communists revolutionaries)
Right Wing (often target race and ethnicity; Nazi skinheads, Aryan nations, etc.)
Religious (e.g., Christian militias, Islamic jihadists, etc.- “attack on Islam”)
Anarchists, Environmentalists, Animal Rights Extremists
Others (e.g., apocalyptic, charismatic cults, philosophies of “Man is evil” - Hobbes, et al.)
Environmental conditions
PC – Precipitant Conditions
Socioeconomic, political and other issues
which generate (or give legitimacy to)
grievances articulated in an organization’s
ideology. Examples could include poverty,
corruption, dictatorship, structural
disadvantages for a particular segment of
the population, and so on.
ET – Environmental Triggers
Specific actions, policies, and events that enhance the perceived
need for action within a particular environment; Examples include
a coup, an invasion by another country, a terrorist attack by a
peer competitor, even the publication of offensive cartoons in
Danish newspapers. This category also includes regional events,
like the impact on communities in Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan
when Israel sends troops into the Gaza strip.
Environmental conditions
OA – Opportunities to Act
Facilitators like access to weapons;
freedom of movement; funding; safe
haven/state sponsorship; weak
governments; and porous borders. Events
can also offer new opportunities to act,
especially events that impact perceptions
of security
GE – Global Environment
Ways in which globally interdependent
economies, inter-state conflicts, diaspora
communities, transnational criminal
networks, and the Internet can influence
local grievances and opportunities
Causes of Terrorism:
Unanswered Questions
• Why do the same conditions exist in many places,
and yet terrorism exists in only a few of those places?
• If an individual is motivated by perceptions of
injustice, how are those perceptions formed or
• How do they lead to the kind of humiliation, anger
and despair that animate many terrorists.
• How do personal beliefs about human security relate
to the resonance of a terrorist organization’s
Causes of Terrorism: An Alternate Paradigm
Temporal, Spatial
& Interpretive Influencers
Terrorism as product of choices informed by dynamic interactions
between individuals, organizations and environmental conditions,
influenced by time and space considerations and by whomever
and whatever help us interpret the world around us.
Radicalization as a Process
Radicalization for terrorism is an interactive process that begins with
Radicalization is rooted in information, beliefs and perceptions, and
interpretation (hence the important role of churches, schools)
Terrorism is the product of individual and organizational choices
influenced by complex relationships that are dynamic, fluid and
changing over time.
Using these 2 frames of analysis together as a sort of a bi-focal pair of
glasses gives some structure or at least flexible boundaries to the sea of
research in this area.
This research exercise led me to formulate 7 propositions about the risks
of terrorism that highlight the centrality of ideas, perceptions and beliefs
and how these can be influenced.
7 Propositions
1. Individual choice (even if reluctant or coerced) is the
primary “cause” of terrorist activity. Some individuals
choose direct involvement in actions that kill, while others
choose to engage in support activities like providing
funding, safe haven or ideological support.
2. An individual’s decision to engage in (or disengage from)
terrorist activity is influenced by characteristics (like
psychological traits, gender, age, socioeconomic status,
religiosity, etc.) as well as by their perceptions toward and
interactions with specific organizations and environmental
conditions. These characteristics, perceptions and
interactions change over time.
7 Propositions
3. An individual’s perceptions toward and interactions with
organizations and environmental conditions are
influenced by their family, peers and personal role
models, educators, religious leaders and others who
help interpret and contextualize local and global
4. The members of terrorist organizations influence an
individual’s decisions about terrorist activity by providing
ideological justification for violence, along with training
and expertise, material support, connections with others,
7 Propositions
5. Individual decisions (within and outside the organization)
shape the choices and trajectory of an organization and
the kinds of terrorist activity they may conduct. The
organization swims in a sea of people; without
individuals, there is no organization.
6. The motivations and opportunities for individuals to
engage in terrorism are framed by their views toward
environmental conditions and policies (domestic and
foreign), some of which are used to legitimate the
grievances articulated in an organization’s ideology.
7. And, of course, the actions of individuals and the
organizations they comprise produce a wide range of
effects that impact their surrounding environment.
Terrorism and the means to combat it
requires not only contextual knowledge
and intelligence, but also an ability to
influence beliefs and produce tangible
changes in environmental conditions that
facilitate terrorism.
Please remember that your Case Study
Comparison and your Research Paper topic are
due on Day 1 of next week.