Terrorism in Perspective: Characteristics, Causes, Control


The term terrorism comes from the word terror, which is a Latin word that means to scare or to frighten. Over the years, there have been disagreements on the actual definition of the word Terrorism.

However, there are various definitions that have been accepted, and these include: “every criminal activity that is set against a state or meant to create fear in the minds of specific people or groups of people or a state”(League of Nations Convention, 1937) and according to academic consensus, Terrorism can be defined as an anxiety motivating way of repeated violent activities aimed towards certain individuals, groups of people or a state for ideological, religious, political or criminal reasons. Moreover, Terrorism should be defined separately from all the other acts of criminal activities. For instance, Kegley (2003, pp. 84-90), defines Terrorism as “the illegitimate use of force to achieve political, religious or ideological objectives”.

Bruce et al. (2007, pp 87-98) also defines Terrorism as a way used by certain groups to solve differences in regard to incompatibility between communities, individuals, religion and states. The main goal of Terrorism is to shake the political and psychological aspects of the particular community, individual or state, which will eventually lead to economic decline, a shift in government, among others.

However, if children are allowed to exercise their power as they grow up, then terroristic activities will greatly reduce. The hypothesis that I have selected to evaluate in the context of these three groups is the Narcissistic Rage Hypothesis, which states that “terrorists are full of rage that develop because of their imperfect psychological development in childhood.”

The authors of “Understanding terrorism: analysis of sociological and psychological aspects,” Suleyman et al. first developed this hypothesis in the year 2007 when they tried to explain why and how individuals commit the act of Terrorism. In their book, they try to explain both the social and psychological behavior of terrorists. However, this hypothesis remains untested.

Terrorism can be classified into various groups depending on the motive of the terrorists, and these may include: ideological Terrorism, nationalist Terrorism, and religious Terrorism.

Ideological Terrorism; refers to a group of people who bring about fear on others for the purpose of imposing their political ideas on them. For instance, the Marxist-Leninist Red Brigade carried out their activities in Italy between the 1970s and 1980s (years of political instability) and whose main activities involved kidnapping and assassination of Italian Government officials and bank robbery (Dugdale-Pointon, 19 November 2007).

The group was formed by Renato Curcio, Alberto Franceschini, and Mara Cagol in 1970 from the University of Trento Department of Sociology. The group consisted of two groups, one from the sociology department of the Catholic University (Communist Combatant Party) and the other was the Union of Combatant Communist (UCC).

Their main objective was to make Italy leave the Western alliance (NATO). In the beginning, the group operated in Reggio Emilia and in Milan, where they sabotaged factory equipment and broke factory offices, and in the year 1978, the group which now had reached 500 members, captured the Christian Democrat Prime Minister Aldo Moro and killed him after 56 days of captivation.

The group was being led by Mario Moretti during the attack (Mahan & Greit, 2008, pp 160-170). This led to the loss of popularity of the group among its supporters of the left-wing and in the year 1979 the support of the factory workers when they killed Guide Rossa.

The police took advantage of the lost support and arrest most of the group members, including their leader. This made the other members flee from the country to other neighboring countries, and thus the group was dismantled. Since 1988 the red Brigades had not conducted any assault and are regarded dormant (Dugdale-Pointon, 19 November 2007).

Nationalist Terrorism; in nationalist Terrorism, the groups are motivated by the need to have equal rights. They seek to be independent and autonomous, and sometimes they want a new governmental regime. According to Kegley (2003. pp. 84-87), the perpetrators in nationalist Terrorism are individuals or groups of people who have steady nationalist opinions and aims.

For instance, the Palestine Liberation Organization formed in the year 1964, and it was lead by Yassir Arafat. In the beginning, its main objective was to secure the rights of the Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon (Kegley, 2003, pp 189-201). In 1967 this objective changed to destroying the state of Israel in the next ten years. The war involved the Palestinians and the Israelites.

This resulted in Palestine and Israel citizen’s massacres. The result was that the PLO lost support from the United States of America and the Arab people at the Rabat conference. The eventual outcome was that Yassir Arafat agreed to come to the discussion table and announced the right of Israel to exist, but he renounced PLO terrorism.

Religious Terrorism occurs when the goals and the aims of Terrorism are based on or influenced by religion temperate of a group. Here, violence is a holy and divine responsibility that should be executed according to the teaching of the church.

The perpetrators are not affected by the moral, political, or physical obstacles that may affect other terrorists, but their actions are based on religion and ethnic affiliation, and they use the Holy Scriptures to support their actions (Bruce et al., 2007, pp 145-150). For instance, the Catholics versus the Protestant war in Northern Ireland or Ulster, which began in 1920.

The war involved the catholic community and the protestant community, where the Catholics wanted Ulster to be part of the independent Ireland country, and the protestant wanted Ulster to be part of the United Kingdom.

This was because the Catholics who were the minority feared to be discriminated by the protestant and on the other hand Protestants did not want to be regarded as the minor group which would happen if Ulster was part of the Ireland state. Due to this war, over 3,000 people died, and political and religious hatred developed between the Catholics. The United Kingdom deployed its Army so as to restore peace in the state.

Processes leading to the cases

The Red Brigade started its activities around the Universities and the main industrial areas. In these areas, they could recruit new members for their group with the aim of having a big force to pressurize the Italian government to leave the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Moreover, they sabotaged factory equipment and destroyed the offices of the universities and the factories.

In 1974 with the support of the Soviet Union, the Red brigades were able to commit their first murder, thus turning into a terroristic group. With Curcio and Franceschini in jail and Mara Cagol dead, the Red Brigade started to demand a semi-official status of “insurgents” in 1978.

This lead to the kidnapping of Aldo Moro (a politician) and his eventual death 56 days after when their demands were put down by the government (Suleyman et al., 2007, pp 90-100).

The Palestinian Liberation organization was formed by the Palestinians so as to regain all the land occupied by Israelites as they felt that it belonged to them.

At the time of its formation, in 1964, its leader Nasser the then president of Egypt did not address the views of Israelites but expressed his views only, and this lead to the formation of various organizations by the Palestinians Students. Later, Yassir Arafat formed the independent Palestinian party, which started a war with Israel.

Unfortunately, the Palestinians lost 67,000 square kilometers of their land (Kegley, 2003, pp 239-250). Due to this, the guerrilla groups in Palestine joined together to support PLO in terroristic activities. To date, the Palestinians fight with the Israelites over the Gaza Strip, which they claim belongs to them, as stated in the Bible.

The Catholic versus Protestant terrorism was initiated when the United Kingdom divided Ireland into two parts and gave islands with the majority as Catholics independence, but in islands where the majority of the citizens were Protestants, the United Kingdom denied them independence.

This brought was between the Catholics, and the Protestants and especially in Ulster, where the Protestants were the majority of citizens and Catholics were the minority. The Catholic community wanted Ulster to be part of Independent Ireland while the Protestants wanted Ulster to be a part of the United Kingdom.

This was because both groups feared that if the opposite of their wish happens, it will be discriminated against by the other group. This brought war between the two religious groups.

Evaluating cases according to the hypothesis

In relation to the narcissistic Rage hypothesis, the Red Brigade Terrorism can be explained in regard to unsuccessful educational reasons where the founders who were university students may have been unsuccessful in their educational careers and thus resulted in Terrorism (Maham & Greit, 2008, pp 295-307).

When one is unsuccessful in what he or she is doing, he or she may feel frustrated and may result to developing an I – versus- them outlook in the self and thus will form groups that will try to defend the “us” from “them” (Maham & Greit, 2008, pp 295-307). The Red Brigade went on recruiting more members to join them to fight the groups that had different ideas from theirs.

In the Narcissistic Rage hypothesis, if one is unsuccessful in his education, vocational, or personal life, he or she will be drawn to Terrorism with the aim of defending himself from them. However, this hypothesis is being contradicted due to the increasing number of educated terrorists.

In relation to Narcissistic Rage hypothesis the case of Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) can be explained in regard to “idealized parental ego” where the parent of a child does not allow him or her to exercise the power that is inside and thus the child grows feeling helpless and defeated and thus keeps a rage inside and a desire to destroy what is making him or her feel so helpless is formed within.

The person feels that he or she need to acquire what he believes belongs to him, but it is in possession of his opponent. People with similar needs or desires may then come together and form a group where they will fight to get what they want. (Combs, 2003, ch 1& 4).

This is well portrayed in the case of PLO, where the Palestinians believe that the Israel land belongs to them, and thus they have come together to reclaim the land.

The main motive for the fighting between the Palestinians and the Israelites concerns land, and once the initial leader of PLO, Nasser, the then president of Egypt, had threatened to push the Israelis to the ocean since they are on their land. In this case, if the Palestinians, in the beginning, were taught to accept the fact that the land of Israel is not theirs, then there won’t be any problems or hatred between the two states.

In relation to the narcissistic rage hypothesis, the Catholic versus the Protestants can be explained in the psychology of “externalizing” and “splitting.” The psychology of “externalizing” and “splitting” is found inside an individual and may involve all the psychological changes that occur during childhood.

The psychological changes may be positive or negative and may involve both the bad and good side of an individual. If the psychological change is negative, an individual may be unable to incorporate the bad side of himself, he sees other people as enemies, and may be divided into “me” and “not me” (Combs, 2003, ch 10&13).

For instance, in this case of Catholics versus the Protestants, both groups see the other as the enemy (“not me”), and thus each group fights for the individual “me.” The Catholics fight so as they are not discriminated against by the Protestants, while the Protestants fight to ensure that they are not the minority group but a major group that has a political influence on Ulster.

The usefulness of the hypothesis in relation to the cases

In discussing the Red Brigade terrorism, this hypothesis is relevant because it explains the possible reason why the group was formed. In this, we assume that the founders of the Red Brigades may have been frustrated by the unsuccessful education at the University.

The narcissistic rage hypothesis, however, may have been relevant in the earlier days when a few people may have been educated and thus resulted in crime to fight the frustration that they may have been having, but today, most terrorists are well educated, some have completed their degree and even master studies and have resulted to Terrorism (Kegley, 2003, pp 161-171). Thus today, this hypothesis can not be used to explain the terrorist activities that are happening.

In Nationalist Terrorism this hypothesis has been very useful in discussing the Palestinian

Liberation Organization activities because the reasons for the Terrorism may have been that the Palestinians may have hated the Israelites since the beginning.

This is because they believe that the Israelites are occupying their land. This hypothesis is relevant because it explains how hatred grew within the people of Palestine to the extent of forming terrorist groups to fight the Israelites.

The hypothesis is still relevant in relation to nationalist Terrorism as it explains how a community or a state may develop hatred over along period of time and eventually attack another state or community (Bruce et al., 2007, 87-90).

In religion terrorism, this hypothesis is relevant in discussing Catholic versus Protestant Terrorism, where it tries to explain why the Protestants fight to make the Ulster a part of the United Kingdom because they concentrate more on themselves other than the whole community, which includes the Catholics.

Their inner parts are divided on “me” and “not me” thus, they do not care about the Catholics. The same case applies to the Catholics who concentrate on themselves only. Today this hypothesis can be used to explain the religious terrorists who only care for themselves and their religion in disregard of the other people.


Terrorism is a well-planned activity that may involve the government or the citizens, different religious groups, and any person who may feel that his or her desires are not met. Terrorism has caused death to innocent civilians who are the main target of a terrorist; for instance, in the World Trade Centre bombing, more than 3,000 people died, and all of them were innocent.

Moreover, terrorisms result in destabilization of a country’s political regime, reduce a country’s economic gains, and brings fear to the citizens (Suleyman et al., 2007, 4-60). Thus all countries of the World should unite their efforts in anti terroristic activities being carried over the entire World, for instance, all countries should prosecute all terrorist or suspected terrorists in their country


Simonsen, E. R. & Spindlove, R. J. (2007). Terrorism Today: The Past, the Players, the Future 3rd Edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall. Pp 3-24, 51-72, 175-222, 389-420, 440-492,495-527

Mahan, S & Griet, P.L. (2008). Terrorism in Perspective, 2nd Edition. Thousands Oaks, CA: Sage Publication. Pp 35-68, 154-179, 191-290, 295-307, 319-337

Combs, C.C. (2003). Terrorism in the Twenty First Century. 4th Edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ. Prentice Hall. Chapters, 1, 3, 4, 8, 9, 10, 13, 14, 15

Kegley, C.W. (2003). The New Global Terrorism: Characteristics, Causes, Control. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall. Pp. 84-150, 160-172, 185-201, 239-252

Bruce, M., Lisa, M., Larry, E. & Philip, G.. (2007). Psychology of Terrorism. Oxford University. Pp. 87- 100, 143-152

Suleyman, O., Ismail, D. & Diab, M. (2007). Understanding Terrorism: Analysis of sociological and Psychological Aspects. IOS Press. pp. 1-62, 85-100

Dugdale-Pointon, T. (19 November 2007), .

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *