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Terrorism: A Psychological Perspective

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Terrorism: A Psychological Perspective

According to the Oxford dictionary of English, terrorism is defined as “the unofficial or unauthorized use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.” It is derived from the French word terreur which means to frighten or cause fear. Terrorist acts have existed from the French revolution in the 18th century to the 1983 Beirut barracks bombings, to the 9/11 attacks on the twin towers in New York and recently, in Spain.

But the question is, why do people cause terror and how does it start? According to the American Psychological Association, psychologists are concentrating on understanding what makes people tend to become terrorists, and using that knowledge to avoid such situations.

Horgan (2008) found the following reasons why people tend to carry out terrorism:

– They feel angry, alienated or disenfranchised.

– Believe that their current political involvement does not give them the power to effect real change.

– Identify with perceived victims of the social injustice they are fighting.

– Feel the need to take action, rather than just talking about the problem.

– Believe that engaging in violence against the state is not immoral.

– Have friends or family sympathetic to the cause.

– Believe that joining a movement offers social and psychological rewards such as adventure, camaraderie and a heightened sense of identity.

We can see that the act of terrorism starts from the individual, to the family, to society, and finally to the country. As the saying goes that every action has an equal and opposite reaction, so the way an individual is treated is a reflection of the other people in society. For instance, weak individuals are bullied by the stronger ones which cause fear, hatred and even revenge. Their need to be accepted and gain power, feeds the desire to harm others. Taylor (2014) summarises this as the “complete lack of empathy which makes it possible for one human being to behead another.”

How to stop these acts of terrorism? It is very difficult and there is no one solution. The government must work at various levels. Politicians and the public have to cooperate to achieve peace. Petrunya (2016) has mentioned the following ways to reduce terrorism

– Poverty alleviation.

– Decrease unemployment.

– Conclude injustice.

– Reduce corruption.

– Encouraging the education of teenagers.


Although not all these solutions can work at the same time, nor can they completely eliminate terrorism, however our governments should take these solutions seriously. This will help in having more peace and safety in the world.


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Garima is from India and lives in Nigeria. She studied Biomedical Science from London and has been teaching science. She loves crocheting, cooking and teaching.

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