Advancing a Free Society

What Motivates Terrorists?

Monday, January 24, 2011

This article is the first in a two part series on rehabilitating former terrorists and turning them into citizens. In the essay below, Jessica Stern examines why some Muslims join terrorists organization in the first place.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia claims to be able to counteract terrorists’ radicalization—to turn them away from violence and return them to society. A number of other governments, in the Middle East, in Europe, and in Southeast Asia, have initiated their own similar efforts.

In the face of today’s global security threats, these efforts raise a critical question: Is it in fact possible to counter-radicalize terrorists and their potential recruits?

 Terrorists Rehab
Illustration by Barbara Kelley

Any terrorism prevention or rehabilitation effort must be based first and foremost on a clear understanding of what motivates people to join terrorist movements and what motivates them to leave. Terrorist movements often arise in reaction to a perceived injustice, as a means to right some terrible wrong, real or imagined. Yet ideology is not the only, or even the most important, factor in an individual’s decision to join a terrorist group.

Continue reading Jessica Stern at our sister site Defining Ideas