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The Terrorist Identity

The Terrorist Identity: Explaining the Terrorist Threat

Michael P. Arena
Bruce A. Arrigo
Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 301
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  • Book Info
    The Terrorist Identity
    Book Description:

    Who would strap a bomb to his chest, walk into a crowded subway station and blow himself up? Only by examining how a terrorist understands his own identity and actions can this question be answered. The authors of The Terrorist Identity explore how the notion of self-concept combined with membership in terrorist and extremist groups, can shape and sustain the identity of a terrorist as well as their subsequent justification for violence and the legitimacy of their actions.The book provides an understanding of identity that draws on concepts from psychology, criminology, and sociology. Notably, the book examines several case studies of various terrorist groups, including: the Provisional Irish Republican Army, Hamas, the Shining Path, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, and racist Skinheads. By making the construct of identity central to this analysis The Terrorist Identity explains how violent and extremist collective behavior emerges culturally, how it informs the identity of group members socially, and how participants assume their place in these groups completely even at the expense of life-threatening harm to others or to themselves.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-0781-4
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Part I

    • 1 Introduction
      (pp. 3-13)

      The tragic events of September 11, 2001, once again thrust terrorism into the international spotlight. Moreover, subsequent attacks in Indonesia, Spain, and England have led to renewed discussions about the nature of violence and the spread of militant extremism around the world. Fundamentally, political and policy pundits, social and behavioral scientists, and security researchers and analysts question what motivates a person or group to commit such heinous acts. Admittedly, over the past several decades, numerous attempts have been undertaken to explain terrorism from a variety of perspectives. Regrettably, however, many of these efforts have been of marginal utility, especially for...

    • 2 The Psychology of Terrorism
      (pp. 14-43)

      The word “identity” is as much a cultural cliché as it is a technical term common to a host of social scientific disciplines.¹ Simply perusing the extant literature on terrorism reveals that identity is frequently mentioned but often taken for granted and treated as though the mere mention of the concept conveys its powerful influence on one’s behavior and on who one is. Indeed, as Jenkins observed, “there is something active about the word [identity] which cannot be ignored. Identity is not ‘just there,’ it must always be established.”²

      In this chapter, we return to the theoretical roots of identity...

    • 3 The Sociology of Identity
      (pp. 44-74)

      Although Erik Erikson’s use of the ego identity construct¹ proved to be a popular innovation in social scientific inquiry, psychology did not (and does not) own exclusive rights to its study nor to its development. In fact, Erikson was not the only social theorist to be influenced by the work of pragmatist and psychologist William James. Indeed, as Weigert et al. observed,

      A small group of sociologists working within a version of American pragmatism were trying to develop a more adequate sociological psychology for understanding human action as essentially social; they knew of Erikson’s work and quickly adopted his term,...

  5. Part II

    • 4 An Overview of Five Extremist Organizations
      (pp. 77-100)

      The definition of terrorism has attracted intense debate over the past several years.¹ In an effort to move past this discussion and to resituate the conceptual understanding of identity as it relates to militant extremist behavior in its proper perspective, we embrace the definition adopted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.² This definition was developed by Alex P. Schmid and Albert J. Jongman. As they indicated, terrorism is

      an anxiety-inspiring method of repeated violent action, employed by (semi-) clandestine individual, group or state actors, for idiosyncratic, criminal or political reasons, whereby—in contrast to assassination—the direct...

    • 5 The Provisional Irish Republican Army
      (pp. 101-126)

      This chapter integrates the conceptual material on structural Symbolic Interactionism and Identity Theory and applies it to membership in the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA). Of particular concern is the way identity manifests and sustains itself through the various social psychological dimensions that constitute the social person. Specifically, these dimensions include symbols, the definition of the situation, roles, socialization and role-taking, and the self. The application of the interpretative and explanatory framework to the PIRA is significant. In short, it demonstrates how culture, self, and society powerfully, though subtly, contribute to the emergence and maintenance of identity, including membership in...

    • 6 The Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas)
      (pp. 127-151)

      In this chapter, the insights of structural Symbolic Interactionism and Identity Theory are applied to the formation and maintenance of self-concept, especially as it relates to membership in the militant extremist group known as Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas). Throughout this commentary, the events surrounding the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001 serve as an important, though mostly underexamined, backdrop for comprehending the construction of identity among Islamic fundamentalists that powerfully contributed to these particular expressions of abject violence. What is prominently featured, however, are the religious, cultural, and political differences that inform the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Reviewing these...

    • 7 The Peruvian Shining Path
      (pp. 152-174)

      Underscoring the interpretive framework central to this book’s thesis is the conviction that the explanatory model extends to all regions of the globe and accounts for all forms of terrorism. Thus far, political and religious forms of militant extremism emanating from Ireland and the Middle East have been examined. In this chapter, however, economic (and social) liberation is showcased, especially as it relates to the violent activities of the Latin American terrorist group known as the Shining Path. As this chapter makes clear, symbols and their meanings, the definition of the situation, role performances, and socialization and role-taking experiences all...

    • 8 The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam
      (pp. 175-198)

      Asia is yet another region of the globe where the construction of a terrorist identity can be noted. In this chapter, the manifestation and maintenance of militant extremist violence off the southeastern coast of India is featured. In particular, the ongoing hostilities found in Sri Lanka are showcased. At issue here is the destruction and discord surrounding the indigenous Sri Lankan Tamils who principally inhabit the northern and eastern provinces versus the majority Sinhalese who dwell mostly on the southwest portion of the island. As we demonstrate, a number of social psychological forces have sustained the presence of terrorism in...

    • 9 Racist Skinheads
      (pp. 199-224)

      Thus far, our efforts to examine the construction of identity among various militant groups have focused on the international scene. In particular, expressions of terrorism in Northern Ireland, the Middle East, Peru, and Sri Lanka have all been investigated. However, militant extremist organizations also exist within the United States. One such collective is the right-wing political group known as racist Skinheads. The antigovernment, antimulticulturalism, and White supremacy ideology of this organization, and the violence perpetrated in furtherance of the group’s cause, is based on intimidation, fear, and hate. Thus, racist Skinheads constitute a legitimate terrorist menace¹ whose collective behavior is...

  6. Part III

    • 10 Conclusion
      (pp. 227-254)

      The conceptual and applied work undertaken throughout this book suggests that selected facets of structural Symbolic Interactionism and Identity Theory can be integrated to fashion an interpretive and explanatory model that accounts for the emergence and maintenance of identity among various terrorist organizations. Consistent with this thesis, the first section of the text emphasized theoretical developments and provisional remarks on militant extremism germane to our overall enterprise. The second section stressed the linkage between theory and practice by systematically reviewing five different terrorist movements from around the globe that featured various types of militant and violent behavior (e.g., nationalist, religious,...

  7. Notes
    (pp. 255-274)
  8. References
    (pp. 275-292)
  9. Index
    (pp. 293-300)
  10. About the Authors
    (pp. 301-302)