The Making of a Terrorist: Recruitment, Training and Root Causes, ed. James J.F. Forest (Praeger Security International, 2005)


Terrorism—a word which comes from the Latin terrere, ‘to cause to tremble’—has become a frightening global reality. [1] While there is no firm agreed-upon definition of the term, it is most commonly used in today’s mainstream press to describe acts of politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents. [2] From New York to Bali to Madrid, ordinary citizens throughout the civilized world are under increasing fear of a deadly attack from unknown individuals, for reasons many of us do not fully understand. National and international security forces are on constant alert, desperate to prevent the next catastrophe, and yet many observers agree that our military and intelligence services are spread too thin and face insurmountable hurdles in the global war on terrorism. The situation calls for greater engagement with the public, as the necessary eyes and ears of the global anti-terrorism coalition. However, to be effective the public must be equipped with the knowledge of how, why and where an individual becomes a terrorist. This is the primary goal of this three-volume publication, The Making of a Terrorist.

            The chapters of this publication revolve around one central question: What do we currently know about the transformation through which an individual becomes a terrorist? From decades of research on this question, a great deal has been learned about terrorism in general. Scholars have observed that terrorism is most often an action taken as part of a broad strategy, not a random act of violence by wild-eyed psychotic misfits as portrayed in the typical Hollywood film. Such a strategy is typically related to a group’s desire for some form of political and/or social change. Islamic radicalists in Egypt or Uzbekistan, for example, want to unite the global community of Muslims under a single Islamic authority, while in Russia and Sri Lanka, the violence is caused by groups (Chechens and Tamils respectively) who want to form their own independent state.

            Based on historical studies of political and revolutionary violence, some scholars have suggested that individuals are drawn to terrorist organizations and violence primarily for pragmatic reasons of contributing to political or social change. Other experts in the field have focused their research on the conditions under which an individual might choose to join a terrorist organization, including socio-economic status, family background, and religious orientation. In many cases, governments are overly oppressive, corrupt or outright illegitimate, while their citizens struggle with a severe lack of civil liberties and economic opportunities. The resulting climate of widespread social despair and humiliating powerlessness is ripe for recruitment by terrorist organizations.

            Another body of research has examined the psychological aspects of terrorism, finding that since most terrorist attacks kill civilians indiscriminately, an individual must develop what Jerrold Post has termed a “psycho-logic,” which involves the ability to dehumanize potential victims and moral disengagement from the act of murder. [3] Religious doctrines, public opinion, and the replacement of a personal identity with a powerful group identity are also contributing factors to the terrorist’s mindset.

            Overall, we have learned that the transformation through which an individual becomes a terrorist involves a variety of complex and intertwined issues. A single contributing factor—such as personal religious conviction, widespread poverty, or an oppressive government—is not likely to result in the formation of terrorist organizations. However, the current body of research on terrorism suggests that a combination of factors will, in most cases, result in some form of terrorism. This combination differs widely by region, and at a minimum involves motivations (political, social and economic root causes), opportunities, contexts, processes (recruitment and training), personal disposition (psychological and religious orientation), and preparation (including family background, education, community history, and criminal record).

            The Making of a Terrorist seeks to provide readers with a centralized and authoritative information source on the most essential topics of terrorist recruitment, training, and root causes. The chapters of this publication are organized in three volumes. Chapters in the first volume address central themes in the recruitment of terrorists, with special emphasis on the psychological and religious appeals of joining a terrorist organization. Chapters in the second volume provide a variety of insights on the training of terrorists (both how and where), and describe these actions within the context of specific terrorist groups. Contributors to the third volume focus on the political, social, and economic factors that contribute to terrorism both globally and within specific countries or regions. Each volume contains a preface and introductory chapter, describing the contributed essays and providing an intellectual background for the discussions that follow.

            By examining in greater detail the processes and contexts that frame the transformation of an individual into a terrorist, we gain clarity in our understanding of terrorism—and how to combat it. Together, this collection of essays in The Making of a Terrorist will help us identify the direction of future developments in terrorism and counterterrorism. The volumes will equip the ordinary citizen with a more sophisticated understanding of terrorist recruitment, training and root causes, and as this knowledge comes to be shared by an increasing number of concerned observers, we can reasonably expect new and innovative strategies to address the short- and long-term causes of terrorism.


[1] Mark Juergensmeyer, Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Terrorism (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2000).

[2] For more on definitions of terrorism, see Raphael Perl, “Terrorism and National Security: Issues and Trends,” CRS Issue Brief for Congress. December 21, 2004. (Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress).

[3] See Jerrold Post, “Terrorist Psycho-logic: Terrorist Behavior as a Product of Psychological Forces.” In Origins of Terrorism: Psychologies, Ideologies, Theologies, States of Mind, edited by Walter Reich (Baltimore: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 1998); Also, for a discussion of moral disengagement, see Albert Bandura, “Mechanisms of Moral Disengagement,” In Origins of Terrorism: Psychologies, Ideologies, Theologies, States of Mind, edited by Walter Reich (Baltimore: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 1998).



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