Post speaks on causes of terrorism

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Dr. Jerrold M. Post spoke yesterday on the “socio-cultural underpinnings of terrorist psychology” to a large audience in the Scheuer Room. Dr. Post, a psychiatrist, has worked with many government agencies, including the CIA, and Garth Sheldon-Coulson ’07 described him as one of the premier experts in political psychology in his introduction. Dr. Post’s talk, entitled “When Hatred is Bred in the Bone” touched on the different varieties of terrorism, their causes and aims, and measures that can be taken against them.

Dr. Post said that terrorism first began in the late 1960s and early 70s. His definition of terrorism, a criminal act by a subnational group aimed at non-combatants, often with a symbolic meaning and intended for a larger audience and influence, requires the modern media to be effective. Mass media, Dr. Post said, are not only observers but active participants in terrorist acts because of their efforts to publicize the results through news stories.

Dr. Post then outlined different types of terrorism, labeling the perpetrators casually as “crazies, criminals and crusaders.” It is the crusaders who most interest him. He divided them into several groups by their aims, including groups such as right wing terrorists and religious extremists. Dr. Post emphasized that “The Cause is Not the Cause,” meaning that people do not become terrorists because of their belief in a cause but because of some other social problem.

Dr. Post then addressed the kinds of societies that foster terrorism, focusing on Palestine, where children are indoctrinated to the Palestinian cause and trained to use weapons from a tragically young age. Religious fundamentalists’ aim, he emphasized, is to eliminate modernity rather than create dialogue. He described how Islamic suicide bombers can consider themselves to be martyrs instead of considering themselves to be committing suicide, an act prohibited by the Koran.
He described the structure of Al Qaeda, where any empty spot caused by capture can easily be filled. He called the Bush claim that 75 percent of Al Qaeda leaders have been captured or killed as “nonsense.” Even with the capture of bin Laden, Post argued, Al Qaeda depends on the appeal of Islamic terrorism rather than his personal charisma. For counter terrorism measures, Dr. Post proposed stopping recruiters, promoting dissent in existing groups, reducing external support for terrorist groups, and protecting vulnerable groups from terrorists.

Dr. Post’s somber closing was that the only way to fully eliminate terrorism is to eliminate democracy. Thus the only course of action available is to do our best to reduce it. A short question-and-answer session followed the lecture.

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