The narrow selfishness of these terrorists then relate to the well-being of their families in either the positive or negative sense. They engage in suicidal terrorism to either protect their families from the threat of harm, or to provide them with comfort by means of money.
On the other hand, Caplan also notes that suicidal terrorism is extremely rare, and is therefore a greater indicator of self-interest among terrorists than engaging in suicidal activities. The author concludes that it is probably more rational not to wish to commit suicide for the cause of terrorism than it is to do so. Available statistics appear to confirm this.
Caplan cites terrorist beliefs as one of the main reasons for the perception of their actions as irrational. One of these improbable beliefs is the example of the 72 virgins mentioned above. This is the reward promised for suicide bombers. Furthermore, extreme predictions regarding the dire future of the United States are called a "certainty," while these have clearly not been realized. Caplan argues that such beliefs cannot in any reality be considered rational. Indeed, religious beliefs by nature are often irrational when the rational expectations paradigm is applied. The author notes that there is no rational grounds for Bin Laden's belief that there will be 72 virgins on the other side of a suicide attack, or indeed that he will be victorious over his enemies. Indeed, history has proven the latter to be decidedly unlikely. The persistent belief in such victory is therefore irrational in terms of what could realistically be expected.
In terms of their belief system, therefore, terrorists tend to be decidedly irrational. According to this assessment, all terrorists, including sympathizers, are irrational, as they disregard the facts of their situation: there has been no historical victory for Islam, yet adherents continue to believe in ultimate victory. On the other hand, however, terrorists believe in their cause with complete religious faith. In this way, their belief system itself serves as the basis for assessing adherents as rational. They make a choice on the grounds of what they believe the outcome of their actions will be. This relates back to the narrow selfishness assessment of terrorist actions.
Caplan attempts to solve the paradox between narrow selfishness and irrationality in the face of evidence with his model of rational irrationality. Although irrational, terrorists prefer to maintain their fidelity to beliefs that they cherish. They do so even when all evidence is against them. Benefits derived from this can relate to both a psychological and social advantage. In terms of psychological advantage, the belief in something higher and more meaningful than oneself provides a person with a sense of meaning and identity. Socially, beliefs serve as a binding force for social groups. Discarding these beliefs, even in the light of new evidence, may result in expulsion from the social group. The advantage derived from maintaining the belief, however irrational, therefore outweighs the disadvantage of altering it. Ultimately this means that maintaining such beliefs is rational.
Caplan further considers the irrationality of terrorists and their beliefs in terms of the consequences of such irrationality. According to his rational/irrational model, terrorists choose to believe what is irrational in terms of the world of reality, or the world as it is. The author further expounds that these beliefs are not necessarily only made on the basis of social or psychological benefit, but may also be based upon the material cost of being wrong. According to the author, there is seldom any cost to the terrorists themselves, while the price of their incorrect beliefs is paid by others, except perhaps in the case of suicidal terrorism. Hence the terrorist has the luxury of continuing in the false belief, while causing destruction for the rest of the world.
By considering terrorism by means of the rational choice model, one could argue that, in the minds of the terrorists themselves, they are rational to make the belief choices that they do. They do not believe simply for the sake of doing so, nor do they engage in their activities simply for their sake. Indeed, there are reasons behind the choices that terrorists make, and from this point-of-view, they can be seen to be rational. Furthermore, terrorists believe absolutely in what they do, and that it will ultimately benefit them and their families, whether in this life or the next. It is therefore logical to them to proceed in their beliefs and actions. The rational choice model therefore appears to be a useful approach to analyzing terrorist behavior.
Jessica Weisbach (2004) analyzes terrorism from the psychological perspective. She notes that terrorists should not be classified as psychotic, as they do not suffer uniformly from a specific, identifiable pathology that can be remedied by thearpy. Nevertheless, she also holds that it is beneficial to investigate the psychodynamics from which terrorism originates.
Weisbach suggests that terrorism could be explained in psychological terms by considering the terrorist's defense mechanisms and hidden feelings. Terrorism is used to distance the terrorist from his or her hidden feelings, in order to escape the trauma or unhappiness caused by these. Projection is a further manifestation of such escape. By projecting, the concept of the "other" is formed in order to create a convenient scapegoat for the guilt a person finds too heavy to bear. This guilt is projected upon another, who then forms the focus for terrorism. There is no blame for the terrorist himself, as he is simply acting as an instrument to rid the world of the wickedness in others. Religion plays a primary role in this, and provides the scapegoat in the concept of the "infidel," which has to be eradicated in order to honor a deity. This relates closely to the rational choice model, in which religion, although creating false beliefs, also creates a perspective for what can be defined as rational action.
Another psychological theory is the frustration-anger theory, which holds that frustration leads to anger, which in turn can result in terrorism. Terrorists experience frustration with regard to the social, economic, or political system in which they are obliged to live. Social inequality or any other form of perceived injustice is then used to justify violence. Reasons cited for such violence include (Weisbach):
Severe economic problems;
Such factors often destroy basic psychological needs such as a sense of security, a positive identity, and control. The result is mass violence in order to gain the government's attention. And certainly the violence of 9/11 gained the attention of the United States.
Weisbach also notes that childhood and trauma could have an effect on how terrorists view the world and what it offers them. Problematic childhood problems such as abuse, the lack of one or both parents, and the neglect could result in feelings of disconnection from society. Terrorist groups then provide such persons with a sense of belonging, thus mitigating the negative feelings cultivated from childhood. As such, the terrorist organization acts as a sort of surrogate parent, providing what was not available during childhood.
This relates closely to the psychological concept of group dynamics. The hidden fear of being unloved and unworthy of love is mitigated by becoming a member of a group that shares the same beliefs and engages in similar activities. Belonging to a community is one of the basic psychological human needs. Hence, terrorists who have little social connection beyond the group itself tend to be drawn ever deeper into the violence of the group. According to Weisbach, others who do have some social support beyond the group are more likely to leave the group eventually, once they become aware of the destructive violence and its effects upon others in society. In terms of the group identity, terrorist groups meet the basic needs of a positive identity, hope for the future, recognition from others and a sense of social connection. This sense of belonging is also briefly dealt with in the rational choice model.
The power of group consciousness also lies in how people experience fear. Terrorist groups for example explain to their members that the frightening experiences in their lives are due to a certain group of people, who must be eradicated, or at least terrorized until they also experience the fear that they had supposedly been causing. This emotional appeal is powerfully effective, especially when recruiting young people to a terrorist cause. Young people tend to be confused and uncertain, especially during a time of extreme political upheaval. Joining terrorist groups gives a name to the uncertainty; however irrational it may seem to the outsider.
A further psychological factor related to groups as identified by Weisbach is social hierarchies. Particularly in Middle-Eastern communities, children are taught to have respect for authority figures. This paradigm is deeply ingrained in the social consciousness, and young people particularly need strong leadership figures in order to feel safe. This need works concomitantly with the need to…