It’s About the Group, Not God: Social Causes and Cures for Terrorism
Keywords:Terrorism, Social Causes
This essay challenges assumptions about the root causes of jihadist terrorism that prioritize political, religious, or economic factors. Drawing on the author’s anecdotal experience interviewing hundreds of accused jihadist terrorists, along with survey data collected from subject matter experts in countering violent extremism (CVE), the essay offers an interpretation for terrorism’s causes and cures that emphasizes social factors. Contrary to narratives popular in the U.S. – both in media and government circles – the lure of terrorism is not a result of political marginalization, economic disadvantage, or even religious indoctrination. It is foremost a sociological phenomenon, created by individuals who seek the insulating security of group identity and affiliation. The real reason why people are drawn to join terrorist groups is the innate need for camaraderie, identity, and a sense of belonging – the pursuit of social satisfaction, not the expression of political or economic frustration, much less the fulfilment of a religious imperative. CVE research that exclusively focuses on the political, economic, or religious causes of terrorism will, at best, over-appraise their significance, and, at worst, distract policymakers from understanding more influential motivators and responding to them accordingly. New directions for research lie in further exploring the sociological underpinnings of jihadist terrorism, as well as validating the effectiveness of social-centred CVE policies already in place.
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