Jessica Stern, a research professor attached at the Pardee School of Global Studies became interested to know why terrorists engage in heinous acts, despite the high risks involved
Accordingly, she set out to undertake a study on the perpetrators of terrorism, extreme violence, and the potential connection between terror and trauma
Jessica Stern, a research professor attached at the Pardee School of Global Studies became interested to know why terrorists engage in heinous acts, despite the high risks involved. Accordingly, she set out to undertake a study on the perpetrators of terrorism, extreme violence, and the potential connection between terror and trauma.
In this endeavor, she visited a neo-Nazi inmate who had been involved in killing several immigrants.
The prisoner had been arrested and was serving life imprisonment at a high-security prison in Sweden. She wanted to understand what motivated the inmate to engage in these heinous acts.
In this study, Dr Jessica Stern spent more than six hours examining the psyche of this neo-Nazi inmate who had murdered several immigrants, soldiers, Muslim civilians and distressed prisoners of war. In 1990s, the prisoner was operating as a mercenary for Croatia in what was by then known as Yugoslavia. It is there where he was involved in killing, maiming and torturing his victims.
The response of the inmate to Dr Jessica Stern is that he simply loved killing and maiming people. He enjoyed seeing as many people as possible die and real in pain. This was his source of joy.
The examination by Dr Stern and the response of the inmate led the researcher to conclude that the inmate whom she identified as just X had been raised in a harsh environment. While as a child, X was frequently beaten by his adoptive Swedish parents. A part from this harsh family background, X was also motivated to become a killer for the “adrenaline and excitement”.
Stern went ahead to assess the role of a deradicalisation program identified as Exit Sweden which made the inmate to renounce his neo-Nazism behavior while in prison. In his interview with Stern, X revealed that he had deep regrets on all the crimes he had committed. He had claimed that “I now feel such a wide distance to crime altogether which makes me to feel castrated at times”
Apart from this interview with X, Stern has also been doing these qualitative studies in different places of the world for more than 20 years. She has talked with Islamic terrorists in countries such as Lebanon, Pakistan, Gaza, Israel, Indonesia, anti-government cults in America, and violent extremists in India.
This extensive examination has led her to conclude that there is actually no set path to extreme violence or singular profile of a terrorist. She has noted through these extensive studies that individuals are motivated to become terrorists or engage in terrorist behaviors by reasons which have nothing to do with religion, or the political affiliations which they spin.
Instead, the key drivers are idealism, fear, a search for identify, hate, love, trauma, acraving for glamour, adventure or just greed for power, wealth, or money. However, the researcher noted that there are others who consider religious zealotry as a means of living simple in a world which is defined by evil and good, with no confusing middle ground. In her work, she noted that perceived humiliation of an individual or a group was considered to be strong risk factors for terrorists.
Nonetheless, Stern believes that in order to effectively combat violent extremism, it is important for stakeholders to know what actually motivates those who are engaged into it. This can only be possible through having a discussion with the perpetrators themselves.
“Whether they belong to established terrorist groups or just lone wolves terrorists have a grumble or a bone of contention and that grievance can be addressed if the individual or group terrorists are listened to” says Stern also adding that “in most cases, their grievances are based on some kind of perceived or real injustice or pain”
Nevertheless, as observed by Stern, their actions which involves deliberately targeting noncombants and innocent civilians which violets not only moral but also legal norms. For example, although Sunni Arabs suffered extreme injustices under the Malaki establishment in Iraq, this cannot justify the blatant killing of innocent civilians that was conducted by the group.
The research by Professor Dr Jessica Stern is published in the journal of Behavioral Sciences & the Law
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