The world was shocked by the terrorist attack at the Reina night club in Istanbul on New Year’s Eve. Dozens of people from different countries were killed and injured in the attack. The perpetrator was a lone wolf from ISIS. A girl on a Lebanese television channel asked what the goal was of this random killing and of shooting innocent people while they were dressed up during a party?
The “terrorist’s psychology” may be one of the most complicated terror-related subjects that’s been addressed for about two decades now. At the beginning - in the late 1990’s - as violence expanded, psychoanalysis widely surfaced and came into the picture. The lack of courage to criticize some religious speeches and ideas allowed psychologists to dominate the scene. However, the psychological aspect is important to deepen understanding and look into the terrorist’s psychology and it does not mean finding a certain psychological disease. It’s thus a means to understand and interpret and not to find exits or justifications.
Perhaps, Jerrold M. Post’s book “Leaders and their followers in a dangerous world” is one of the best in this field considering Post’s experience as an “experienced witness” in the investigations which the American intelligence held over the duration of 21 years. Post is the chief and founder of the CIA’s Center for the Analysis of Personality and Political Behavior. He carried out many thorough studies on the world leaders’ characters, desires and mysteries in order to help the American president, secretaries of state and defense and other top governmental officials during summit meetings or during major negotiations. He taught them how to deal with crises and presented studies about late Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, late Cuban leader Fidel Castro, Korean leader Kim Jong-Un and late al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. He was in charge of devising the personal files of late Egyptian president Anwar al-Sadat and late Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and which then-American President John Carter used during the Camp David talks.
There is a wide spectrum of terrorist groups and organizations. Each one has a psychology and motives and different decision-making structure. Indeed, one must not speak about terrorism’s psychology in the singular form, but must address the “psychologies” of terrorismFahad Suleiman Shoqiran
To him, terrorism is not a uniform phenomenon and it does not have a unified definition. There is a wide spectrum of terrorist groups and organizations. Each one has a psychology and motives and different decision-making structure. Indeed, one must not speak about terrorism’s psychology in the singular form, but must address the “psychologies” of terrorism. Perhaps the best description is “terrorists’ minds” as it’s within a spectrum of terrorist groups - the socialist revolutionary terrorism or the separatist nationalist terrorism or the right-wing terrorism or religiously extremist terrorism. Terrorists are pushed to commit violent acts as a result of psychological powers. If we take into consideration the variety of causes they commit to, we’d be surprised by the unity of their rhetoric which is more like: “Us against them.”
Smart bombs and missiles
He then gives an example about one of the leaders he interviewed - Hassan Salameh, the leader of the terrorists who carried out the bomb attacks in 1996 and which led to Shimon Peres losing his post as prime minister and the election of Benjamin Netanyahu. 46 Israelis died in the explosions and Salameh was sentenced to 64 consecutive life sentences. Speaking about suicidal terrorism, Salameh said: “Suicide bombings are the highest level of jihad and they shed light on the depth of our faith. Suicide bombers are sacred fighters performing a faithful act.” Another leader says: “Suicide bombings are what allow one to gain the most respect and elevate bombers to the highest possible level of martyrdom.”
It is said the man who carried out the Reina terrorist attack was disguised as Santa Claus and the murderer of the Russian ambassador in Turkey was formally dressed in order to hide their evil intentions. Post notes a significant point on the matter despite the different affiliations of suicide bombers between al-Qaeda and ISIS or other groups which legitimize suicide operations. During his work as “an experienced witness” in the trials of al-Qaeda terrorists who are convicted in the American embassies’ explosions in Kenya and Tanzania, he had attained a copy of the department of justice files that prove the terrorism of al-Qaeda. The exceptional document entitled “Declaring Jihad” goes far in explaining how the terrorists of the September 11 twin attacks managed to maintain their cover in the US, which is their enemy. Lesson 8 of the document discussed the measures which must be taken by undercover members as their appearances must not indicate they are Muslims and they must be careful and avoid visiting famous Muslim places.
Perhaps he describes the psychology of the terrorist best when he affirms that within the terrorist’s heart, there is a brutal psychological war where violence is a means of communication. Smart bombs and missiles will not win this war as the only way to respond to this psychological war is through a psychological war!
The Lebanese girl has the right to get an answer that justifies why three of her fellow citizens were killed in the recent Istanbul attack considering it does not have any military or religious justification. Terrorism is worse when people are suddenly killed in cold blood in areas that are not related to politics, intelligence or the military but in touristic and entertainment venues. Such attacks prove the brutality of attacks and assassinations. In his book The True Believers, Eric Hoffer describes them as the scum of deviant spirits.
It was a catastrophic attack. A lone wolf targeted individualism while using all formulas of modernity to attack modernity. He checked the bodies in cold-blood to make sure they were dead. It’s such a reactive and vengeful spirit. What happened in Turkey via the two operations from the murder of the ambassador to the Reina night club attack mark a transformation in terrorist acts, and its summary is “there is no safe place in this world” no matter how many barracks and guards there are because modern terrorists creep like black ants on silent rocks in dark nights.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat.
Fahad Shoqiran is a Saudi writer and researcher who also founded the Riyadh philosophers group. His writings have appeared in pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat, Alarabiya.net, among others. He also blogs on philosophies, cultures and arts. He tweets @shoqiran.