Determining what Drives


Millions of people all over the world have become aware of the disastrous attack that occurred on September 11 in New York. The events inflicted a painfully clear image that we then entered a period of history where states and even superpowers could be challenged in unorthodox ways (Mannik, 2009, p. 151).

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Today, we find ourselves in a world where there is an ongoing War on Terror. Terrorism is an act of violence, whether domestic or international, which is usually committed against non-combatants, and aimed to achieve behavioral change and political objectives by creating fear in a large population (Doosje, 2016, p. 79). In recent years, various terrorist organizations, especially al-Qaeda and ISIS (The Islamic State of Iraq) have threatened world peace by conducting the most heinous actions and crimes, as well as murdering numerous innocent people (Dogan, 2015, p. 71).

Determining what drives people to terrorism is not exactly an easy task. Primarily, terrorists are not likely to volunteer for interviews or as experimental subjects, not to mention access to those deemed terrorists are not accessible to many. Additionally, to some, one group’s terrorist is another group’s freedom fighter (DeAngelis, 2009, p. 60). It is also a very complicated task to define terrorism, but absolutely necessary in order to progress an understanding of what it entails and to deal with it effectively (Mannik, 2009, p. 151). Broad connotations of politically, nationalistically, and religiously motivated organizations have claimed to have been involved in terrorism over the years, including but not limited to, right-wing and left-wing political groups, religious institutions, and revolutionaries. There are over 109 different definitions of terrorism, but along most lines it is an imbedded intolerance towards all views other than their own and intolerance is the hallmark of extremist belief systems and terrorist behavior (Martin, 2016, p. 25).

The word terrorist was first used in 1794 by a French philosopher who wanted to denounce Maximilien Robespierre’s Jacobin regime as a dictatorship. During the reign of Terror, which then began in 1793 and lasted a little over a year, Paris was governed by a committee who oversaw mass executions and public purges as part of the regime It was thereafter, often used when discussing the royalist rebellion and even in the description of the new French government called the Directory (Kellner, 2004, p. 44). However, although this term was often applied frequently in history, there is a distinct difference between revolutionary terror during the French Revolution and the terrorists from the attacks on September 11. The violence that ensued in 2001 was intended to annihilate Americans. There was no intention to attempt at changing our regime or politics. Revolutionary terror is aimed more at liberty and regime change (Wahnich, 2016, p. 108).

What encompasses the thought process of those who see it valid and right to commit heinous crimes and inflict pain on others? Most people do not realize or are puzzled to find out that terrorists who commit violent acts are not psychologically disturbed or brainwashed in the sense that we would believe. Generally, terrorists are not mentally ill, but rather a result of a component called radicalization, a process that can happen to anyone (Doosje et al., 2016, p. 80). Studies of terrorists are difficult to conduct do to a variety of differences between militant, political, and religious organizations, and are often comprised of very small sample sizes. Research has shown that there are customary psychological factors, which can lead people to join these organizations and take action (Penman, 2015, p. 1). Radicalization is a process by which an individual or group comes to adopt increasingly extreme political, social, or religious ideals that reject or undermine contemporary ideas and expressions of freedom and choice (Dogan, 2015, p. 71). When examining the role of radicalization, it is important to focus on the idea that although there are many different forms of radicalization who use varying methods to achieve their goals, these groups share significant characteristics (Doosje et al., 2016, p. 79).

This study is important to the field of criminology and criminal justice due to its violent and inevitable nature, as well as the large-scale security threat it imposes on society. By learning more about how this problem is affecting our nation’s criminal justice system, we can work towards solutions and bettering of this field. In the time period since 9/11, scholarly publications regarding terrorism have increased immensely by 400 percent (Aly & Striegher, 2012, p. 849). Within this trend, the process of terrorist activities has been developing focus, as well as various explanations of how individuals become involved in terrorist activities. There is an abundant of resources involving terrorism, but there needs to be more research done specifically on radical terrorism, in order to incorporate more advancements on battling this phenomenon.

I plan on conducting research to further understand the radicalization process and how this emerges into terrorism actions. Radicalists become increasingly motivated to use violent means against defined symbolic targets or out-groups, in order to fulfill political goals (Doosje et al., 2016, p. 79). Through my research, I want to express the fundamentals of emotional and psychological impacts that lead to radicalization and then towards terrorism. This study will investigate how an individual becomes a radical extremist and who is recruited. In addition, this study will explore how the process begins, including different psychological factors, as well as how radicalization and religion correlate. Finally, this research will incorporate information in regards to whether radical terrorism actually works and if radicals actually accomplish their goals in the form of terrorist activities. The implications of radicalization and how radicals become terrorists includes various entities and is fundamental to society’s understanding of violent terrorist activities.

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