Is Terrorism the fruit of Oppression?

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Terrorism is a method of creating fear in people, so as to accomplish certain agendas, often by the means of extreme violence. It is one of the global crises that we've always failed to curb. Terrorism springs up in all forms, irrespective of time and space, resulting in massacre and chaos. Often, we look down on terrorists as sick psychopaths or sociopaths. But contrary to our expectations, the reality is that the majority of them are ordinary people like us. And contrary to the group identities of terrorists backed up with a segregation principle like a religious manifesto or racist propaganda, individual members are not necessarily driven by such motives. 

According to researcher Jessica Stern who had interviewed several perpetrators of terrorism across many prisons in the world, these individuals are lured into terrorism because they may be driven by fear, love, hate, idealism, trauma, a search for identity, group dynamics and peer pressure,  a craving for adventure and glamour, or by greed for money, land, power and even in some cases when terrorism is the only way to meet the two ends of their days. Stern identified that in all these cases, there was however an underlying personal humiliation or a triggering grievance. 

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During the 1960s and 1970s, empirical psychological literature like the experiments conducted by Philip Zimbardo and Stanley Milgram depicted to what extent human beings can be pushed to do things they otherwise hesitate to do. Terrorism is a real-life illustration of these laboratory findings and the underlying causes are diverse. A few possible reasons for the emergence of terrorism are as follows:

1.    Terrorism could possibly be due to excessive obedience to an authority figure. In 1963, Stanley Milgram experimentally depicted that people were ready to go to any extent under an authority figure. They were ready to increase the shocks given to a confederate of the experimenter upon orders from the experimenter. 

2.    The group role and group dynamics, shared identity and strong ethnocentric tendencies exacerbate the effect of terrorism on individuals. This is one reason why individuals are ready to adopt extreme measures like suicide bombing.

3.    Oppression and humiliation of any sort, as mentioned before can be a triggering factor for terrorism. Terrorism could be an explosion of suppressed anger or it could be an overblown example of a phenomenon called Psychological reactance, which means that once an individual perceives any threat to his/her specific freedom, they try to restore the freedom. Terrorism might be an extreme means of such restoration. 

4.    Observational learning in children and adolescents is another factor of young people getting massively recruited into terrorist groups. Children observe and imitate the aggressive exemplars they see in the adults and the environment they live in. An experimental depiction of observational learning of aggression was given by Albert Bandura during the 1960s through the famous “Bobo doll experiment."

All of these factors psychologically prime an individual for terrorism and related forms of aggression and reflects the fundamental problem of not being loved. In all of these reasons, terrorism is a fruit born out of oppression and personal humiliation. In that sense, terrorism is not an action, but rather a reaction and as anthropologist Dounia Bouzar, the only way to tackle the rise in terrorism, especially at the cost of expectations of our promising youth is to use methods that tug at an emotional level. Intervention hence is equally or more important than punishment in cases like these.

- Ananda Krishnan

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Is Terrorism the fruit of Oppression?  Is Terrorism the fruit of Oppression? Reviewed by EMN on April 15, 2019 Rating: 5

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