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The Metapolitics of Terrorist Radicalization

by Roger Griffin

About the Author

Roger Griffin is professor in Modern History at Oxford Brookes University. He is the author of over 100 publications — and is considered one of the world’s leading authorities on Fascism. Read more about him on Wikipedia.

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By the Author, Roger Griffin

Terrorist's Creed: Fanatical Violence and the Human Need for Meaning

Author: Roger Griffin
Paperback: 280 pages
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0230241298
ISBN-13: 978-0230241299

Terrorist's Creed casts a penetrating beam of understanding into the disturbing and murky psychological world of fanatical violence, explaining how the fanaticism it demands stems from the profoundly human need to imbue existence with meaning and transcendence. Drawing on sociology, psychology, novels and films, it shows how the need to defend or create a territorial or purely cultural 'home' in an unforgiving universe can precipitate a process of 'heroic doubling'—which in extreme circumstances legitimates murder and suicide for the sake of a 'higher' cause.

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Terrorist radicalization Stage One: Nomic crisis

We have encountered two artificially polarized ‘ideal types’ of terrorism, Zealotic and Modernist, and sampled some of the ways the mindsets of terrorists involved in planning or executing acts of violence have been presented in European and US fiction. This has put us in a position to suggest that a fundamental psycho-social syndrome is at work in the process that transforms a non-violent, non-militant, ‘normal’ individual, perhaps with feelings and values which are too inchoate, confused and contradictory to be dignified with the term ‘worldview’, into a fanatical devotee of a creed which demands the execution of an act of destruction that sends a message wrapped in terror to a target audience.

Any syndrome postulated as being common to each process of terrorist radicalization is, of course, another ideal type. It thus involves reducing infinitely complex sequences of behaviour to a single pattern or dynamic model for the heuristic purpose of increasing their intelligibility and accessibility to researchers and policy-makers.

There is no suggestion here of applying a reductive ‘one size fits all’ approach to the individual trajectory that produces each terrorism, since the constellations of historical, socio-political, and personal factors involved in the genesis of terrorism have been extremely variegated, and are unique to each one of its manifestations, so that the act of violence commited can only be fully understood in terms of that uniqueness.

Nevertheless, building on the first four chapters, a sustained exercise in ‘idealizing abstraction’ will be attempted here to identify the key steps in the radicalization process formulated as a generic ‘syndrome’, one which will hopefully illuminate and be illuminated by the individual examples of terror encountered in the subsequent chapters.

The first premise for this model was established at some length in Chapter 2, the innate need of human beings to feel their lives have a self-transcendent dimension and suprapersonal purpose. This dimension or purpose is variously described in the Human Sciences in terms of religion, culture, totalizing value system, narrative arc, transcendence, sacred canopy, nomos, or in some other formula which indicates they experience a meaning beyond, and hence of greater significance and duration than, their own brief, and, within a cosmic perspective, infinitesimally small and insignificant personal timeline.

The corollary of this need is an instinctive, visceral fear of anything that threatens the coherence, vitality, or self-evidence of the nomos if it is already integrated within an individual’s experience of the world, or the drive to generate a new nomos as the basis of such meaning if it has been destroyed or has always been missing.

A second corollary is that growing up in the absence of a fully-fledged, ‘solid’ nomos – as so many modern individuals do – can make them, especially in the presence of objective forces of emotional, social, economic, or political deprivation or oppression, susceptible to the powerful negative emotions (affects) evoked by terms such as distress, dread, angst, terror, and ontological exile, loneliness, and homelessness.

These may be experienced only fleetingly when the protective force-field provided by such factors as religious belief, ideological convictions, socialization, distractions, work, routine, obsession, or addiction breaks down. Yet even the occasional ‘negative epiphany’ that life is being lived out in a meaningless biosphere in an indifferent cosmos where everything passes may be sufficient to infiltrate liquid fear into an outwardly secure existence.

To the more empirically minded it may seem excessively speculative or bizarre to take a bleak existentialist premise about the black hole of absurdity that lies at the heart of the human condition as a premise to understanding the process of radicalization. It should thus reassure those of hale and hearty ontological disposition to find that several contributors to terrorism studies endorse this approach by attributing the origins of terrorist commitment at least in part to profound, even desperate, longings for ontological security. Thus the three authors of In the Wake of 911: The Psychology of Terror locate the ultimate roots of the Islamist attack in the threat posed by American foreign policy and by Westernization to Muslim religion, culture, and national identities.

The book analyses the events of 911 and the response of the US government and citizens to it through the unusual lens of Terror Management Theory. TMT’s premise for understanding fanaticism is that it arises from a profound disturbance in the sense of belonging to a meaningful, purposeful cosmos guaranteed by a ‘culturally derived worldview’ that endows the world with ‘order, stability, meaning and permanence’.

Culture imparts to individual lives a sense of purpose deriving from the certainty that they are ‘capable of transcending the natural boundaries of time and space, and in doing so, eluding death’.1 Threats to cultural integrity, whether endogenous or exogenous, can thus create the conditions for extreme violence. Assaults on the integrity or self-evidence of the nomos, for example, the challenge of radically conflicting conceptions of reality or insidious cultural colonization by another society or other ethnicities, ‘threaten to release the anxiety from which our conceptions shield us, thus undermining the promise of literal or symbolic immortality afforded by them’.2 This, the authors add, can lead to the response of ‘trying to annihilate’ those who embody divergent beliefs, an impulse fully enacted in ethnic cleansing (which frequently involves terrorism) and genocide (which cannot, since there is no third party to be terrorized by the killings).

A similar conclusion is arrived at by Jessica Stern in Holy Terror as the result of numerous in-depth interviews with ‘religious’ terrorists to establish patterns in their motivation:

Because the true faith is purportedly in jeopardy, emergency conditions prevail, and the killing of innocents becomes, in their view, religiously and morally permissible. The point of religious terrorism is to purify the world of these corrupting influences. But what lies beneath these views? Over time, I began to see that these grievances often mask a deeper kind of angst and a deeper kind of fear. Fear of a godless universe, of chaos, of loose rules and loneliness.3

Modernity, she realizes, ‘introduces a world where the potential future paths are so varied, so unknown, and the lack of authority so great that individuals seek assurance and comfort in the elimination of unsettling possibilities’.4

‘One-worlders, humanists, and promoters of human rights have created an engine of modernity that is stealing the identity of the oppressed’. Extremism is a response to ‘the vacuity in human consciousness’ brought about by modernity.5 In The Blood that Cries out from the Earth, James Jones stresses how modernization and globalization have failed to create a satisfying culture for millions in developing countries, such as Indonesia and the wider Islamic world generally, and has thus created a ‘spiritual vacuum’ which is the source of the appeal exerted by religious extremism.6

In the anomie of our postmodern, global society with its smorgasbord of options and lifestyles, a religious conversion provides clear norms, a preordained answer to the postmodern dilemma ‘who am I?’—and a sense of rootedness in a timeless tradition that transcends and feels more substantial than the ever-shifting kaleidoscope of contemporary communities of reference.7

It is significant that none of these authors distinguishes between the nomic crises emanating from the breakdown of an existing nomos and inspiring what we have termed Zealotic forms of defensive aggression, and the type of nomic crisis into which the denizens of modernity are born and which they sometimes go to extreme lengths to resolve by converting to violent forms of programmatic Modernism. Nevertheless, there is a significant degree of convergence between our approaches.

The fruitfulness of this line of inquiry into the roots of fanaticism is further reinforced by Eric Hoffer’s slim but ‘classic’ treatise on political and religious fanaticism, The True Believer, written in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War when the memories of the mass rallies of Hitler and Stalin were still vivid. This offers a number of insights into the intimate relationship between anomy and blind faith in mass movements and in their leaders—that apply just as well to the commitment of disaffected individuals to terrorist causes also.

For example, he writes that when ‘people who see their lives as irremediably spoiled’ convert to a movement ‘they are reborn to a new life in its close-knit collective body’.8 The drive to belong to a community of faith, secular or religious, which provides a sense of ultimate purpose missing from an atomized, anomic individual existence leads to the ‘selfish altruism’ described by Dipak Gupta as intrinsic to the terrorist persona, and epitomized in the members of the jihadi movement whose ‘acts of self-sacrifice transform them into god-like creatures, much beloved by God himself’.9

Hoffer goes so far as to relegate the importance of ideology to a secondary factor, stating ‘a rising mass movement attracts and holds a following not by its doctrine and promises, but by the refuge it offers from the anxieties, barrenness and meaninglessness of an individual existence’.10 He sees all forms of self-surrender to a political cause as ‘in essence a desperate clinging to something which might give worth and meaning to our futile, spoilt lives.’11

In the more clinical discourse of the post-911 social sciences, Arie Kruglanski endorses Hoffer’s assumption by arguing that extremist ideologies exert a particular fascination on individuals suffering from inner confusion and a troubled identity because they are formulated ‘in clear-cut definitive terms’ and offer a sense of ‘cognitive closure’.12

They thus provide an antidote to what we have called the liquid, liminoid quality of modernity. In an era where all certainties are in meltdown, extremism offers a protective shelter from what Walter Benjamin called ‘the storm of progress’. Kruglanski also contributed to an important multi-author paper which views ‘diverse instances of suicidal terrorism as attempts at significance restoration, significance gain, and prevention of significance loss’,13 a phrase that contains the embryonic distinction between Zealotic (‘significance restoration’ and ‘prevention of significance loss’) and Modernist (‘significance gain’) terrorism.

Janja Lalich’s study of the dynamics of the fanaticism generated by cults is also relevant here, since it highlights the role played in the process of radicalization by the need for ‘cognitive closure’ and ‘personal significance’ in an age of reality’s permanent tendency to liquefaction. She carried out in-depth case-studies of two modern US cults, the New Religious ‘Heaven’s Gate’ and the New Left ‘Democratic Workers’ Party’ – of which she was a dedicated member before her voluntary de-radicalization and metamorphosis into a professional sociologist.

On the basis of this field work she provides a sophisticated reconstruction of ‘the intense reorganization of the person’s inner identity, or sense of self’ this process demands to transform a ‘normal’ person into a fervent adept, even (as in the case of the Heaven’s Gate members) to the point of death.14 She shows little interest in the initial state of anomy or personal life-crisis that may serve as a necessary but insufficient condition for what she sees as the twin process of conversion and commitment to a cult. However, she is highly lucid (perhaps because of her own experience) about what identification with a cult offers the convert.

At the heart of the new-found sense of belonging lies a discernible ‘world-view shift’ which endows life with ‘meaning and purpose’ combined with an ‘activist stance’ on everyday life underpinned by a ‘transcendent belief system’. This is a world-view which offers a ‘total explanation of past, present, and future, including a path to salvation’ (a ‘mazeway resynthesis’, a creed) based on ‘an exact methodology, or recipe, for the personal transformation necessary to qualify one on that path’, or what we have called a ‘totalizing nomos’.15

Echoing the observations of Luciano Pellicani concerning the total certainty hungered for by God’s orphans,16 she calls the ‘inner knowing’ and ‘true consciousness’ which are ‘necessary for salvation’ a ‘Gnostic’ form of knowledge deeply bound up with dualistic ideas of good and evil.17 The correspondence of her phraseology and Pellicani’s concept of ‘activist Gnosticism’ is striking.

Lalich finds that what sustains the increasingly intense psychological commitment to the cult is its ability to satisfy the adepts’ craving for ‘personal transformation’ which is subjectively fulfilled the more they feel they are being initiated into a new world of transcendence. It is an experience accompanied by a powerful sense of metamorphosis, of living on a new level of consciousness.

This experiential ‘opening up’ is of necessity the concomitant of the closing down of the ‘old world’ of ambivalence, ambiguity, complexity and plurality. The liquid turns solid. This insight leads Lalich to talk of achieving ‘personal closure’18 within a ‘self-sealing’ system. It is a system made up of charismatic authority emanating from a ‘guru-like’ leader figure, 19 ritualized procedures of control imposed by the group or cult, and an overarching belief-system, producing a transformation in world-view which may eventually come to take over the inner and outer lives of initiates to the point of fanaticism and violent action.

The freedom with which the ‘gurus’ in Lalich’s analysis cannibalize various ideologies and beliefs to create the unique syncretic vision and ritual adopted by the cult has obvious resonance with Wallace’s theory of ‘mazeway resynthesis’ as the basis for cultural revitalization. In short, conversion to a cult puts an end to what has been for the convert a distressing experience of anomy and the liminoid.

It is clear from Lalich’s approach that the shift from a modern world of cognitive ambivalence to febrile, fanatical certainty is not brought about as the result of ‘brainwashing’. It is due to a symbiosis between an inner drive towards transcendence and forms of external reinforcement or cognitive coercion which can be experienced as a sensation of ‘freedom’.20 Hence the paradox of ‘bounded choice’ which is so central to her analysis.21

Though few cults are terroristic, or even violent, Lalich herself refers to the cultic dimension in the Ku Klux Klan, Timothy McVeigh’s attack on the Oklahoma Murrah Building, the Aum Shinrikyo attack on the Tokyo subway, the Symbionese Liberation Army, the Weathermen, and the eco-terrorists of Earth Liberation. I would go further and argue that there is a cultic dimension to all radicalization, even if the charismatic authority and cultic community to which terrorists belong remain virtual and no violence ensues, and even if there is no other member of the cult than a single fanatic.

Stage Two: Splitting and the Manichaean world-view

If the initial situation of terrorist radicalization is one of nomic crisis or exile, then the path to total commitment can be seen as one of increasing psychological investment in defending, restoring, or regaining a nomic home (the Zealotic path), or finding a new one to adopt or establish through the realization of a (frequently utopian) project (the Modernist path).

It is an impulse that may be experienced in far less metaphysical terms by the actors themselves as a process of overcoming a deep experience of humiliation, 22 of exacting revenge through retributive violence, or of transcending a sense of worthlessness and emptiness by finding a specific cause which seems self-evidently important and ‘real’.23

Except in the rare cases of someone creating a terrorist movement ex nihilo, the Modernist variant of the process is usually initiated when a disaffected individual predisposed to search for total solutions comes into contact with extremists (or their ideology) with whom (or with which) there is some sort of cultural affinity. The cell of God’s orphans which formed around Verkhovensky in The Devils is an example. The Zealotic process can be triggered when something awakens a latent or weakened sense of belonging to a lost or beleaguered nomos, the central event in Ours are the Streets.

However, in the age of the Internet, radicalization may occur in the absence of a movement or cell of actual people. Certainly a guru or charismatic leader may be involved in the initiation. Lalich has shown this to be an important component in the most intense processes of cultic initiation that lead to total commitment to a cause to the point of death, but again, this may not be a living presence.24

Especially within a Western context it may equally well be a virtual community made up of websites, pamphlets, and video-clips on YouTube, whose impact is perhaps augmented by sporadic ‘human’ contacts in real time, conversations, or radicalizing harangues by priests or leaders of extremist parties.

However, all that is needed as a catalyst to conversion in some cases may be a revelatory text or group of texts (such as the Nechayev’s Catechism of a Revolutionary, Mao’s Red Book, Julius Evola’s The Revolt against the Modern World, or William Pierce’s Turner Diaries), or alighting upon a website which provides a voice and a narrative for long-held frustrations and hatreds.

We should not expect there to be a regular behavioral pattern in the early stages of radicalization. There must be some ‘Road to the Damascus’ epiphanies of the rightness of a terrorist cause, but many more gradual initiations into the closed universe of a fanatical vision. Nevertheless, whether initial contacts with the cultic milieu of radicalization are serendipitous or integral to the person’s entire cultural background, the prospect of a nomic crisis or spiritual exile being about to end must sooner or later precipitate a powerful, almost alchemical transformation in his or her personality.

Anomy is suddenly and dramatically, or gradually and piecemeal, transmuted to a sense of total nomos. Frustration, impotent rage, humiliation give way to a sense of empowerment. A sense of futility is replaced by a sense of destiny. Rays of light from a higher dimension penetrate the gloom to show a way out of the sense of isolation, alienation, or despair. The individual starts to feel that he or she is the agent of a higher cause or will.

It is at this point that an originally amorphous existence lacking any sort of coherent narrative arc starts to ‘take shape’, a shape that endows a previously anomic existence with distinctive mythic, dramatic, and aesthetic qualities. The feeling of having been born to serve a higher will or destiny, of being ‘sent’ to fulfil a suprapersonal historical, or even supranatural divine purpose crystallizes in the ‘mission’.

This locates the individual life within a powerful living drama in which the ‘enemy’, the source of decadence and evil, is unmasked and identified, enabling the solution to be visualized in a heroic struggle to establish, or to re-establish, purity and good. Jessica Stern alludes to the aesthetic, narrative aspect of radicalization when she comments that the mission ‘must be so compellingly described that recruits are willing to violate normal moral rules in its name’.25 Its psychological function is clear: to lift the previously anomized individual into a renomized or nomized temporal sphere of transcendence which is experienced as religious or secular salvation.

It is this redemptive, soteriological aspect of the terrorist’s creed, the dramatic dimension of commitment that Hafez alludes to when he speaks of ‘the discursive practices that inspire individuals to engage in self-sacrificial terror’, and of the ‘logic of liberation and personal redemption’ that inspire people ‘to make the ultimate leap toward a “heroic” end’.26 His observations are echoed in Robert Robins and Jerrold Post’s study of ‘political paranoia’ and ‘the psychopolitics of hatred’:

The individual whose world is falling apart is experiencing his own psychological apocalypse. From this state of ultimate powerlessness and meaninglessness, some create a world of meaning in their mind, a new world in which they have power and significance. Through this vision they have found personal redemption.27

The intensification of the sense of mission can lead to the point where it becomes a fixation, a primary reality relegating to secondary importance all other aspects, including family and personal relationships and even survival itself, just as Nechayev demanded in his Catechism of a Revolutionary. For this to occur, a well-established process has taken place known in psychology as ‘splitting’. Splitting, a concept first developed in the discipline of child psychology, involves the projection of ‘bad feelings’ and ‘feelings of badness’ experienced by the future terrorist onto out-groups to a point where the contemporary world eventually comes to be seen as a theatre of cosmic war.28

He or she can then become enlisted in a Manichaean29 fight to the death between opposing metaphysical, cultural or (for racists) biological principles on which the survival or death of humanity (or a chosen segment of it) depends.30 From that point on all psychic and physical resources are devoted to achieving the ‘symbolic objective’31 of not just changing the status quo, but triggering the advent of a new era.

James Jones, a clinical psychologist, puts particular emphasis on this factor in his account of religious terrorism, emphasizing how the dichotomized, bipolar metaphysical world portrayed by organized religions predisposes ontologically insecure individuals who show ‘impatience with ambiguity and an inability to tolerate ambivalence’ to ‘a splitting of the world into polarized all-good and all-evil camps and the demonizing of the other’.32

In similar vein in his contribution to The Fundamentalist Mindset he states that the ‘psychological preconditions for religiously sponsored terrorism and violence’ is a preoccupation with ‘purification’. As a result ‘the search for reunion with the source of life can become subsumed into unconscious dynamics such as splitting and a Manichaean dichotomizing of the world’.33

Mazarr makes a similar point when he locates the roots of the need for a culturally created, totalizing identity that dehumanizes others who do not share your world-view in the experience of existential dread, commenting that ethnic and religious strife are ‘ultimately the result of a psychological inability to tolerate those who do not share one’s death-denying illusions’.34

This line of analysis is further corroborated by Daniel Hill in his study of the psychological processes that engender religious fundamentalism. He argues that the ‘mentalization’ which enables a properly individuated person to tolerate ambivalence, embrace otherness, and experience empathy can become blocked in an existentially insecure person, leading to ‘the projection, splitting and Manichaeanism’ which are hallmarks of the fundamentalist mindset and the precondition for religious violence.35

But it is another terrorism analyst, Jerrold Post, an expert on political paranoia, who alludes to an equally important but neglected aspect of the radicalization syndrome when he adapts the term ‘splitting’ to refer not just to the dichotomization of the world, but to a phenomenon within the personality of the future terrorist. Once embarked on his mission he ‘idealizes his grandiose self and splits out and projects onto others all the hatred and devalued weakness within’.36

In other words, splitting is accompanied by the birth of a new personality, an enhanced, aggrandized self, one elevated beyond the impotence, inadequacy, and humiliation of the anomic self. The grandiosity37 of the new self-empowers him to act out the role of hero in the narrative drama of the mission with which he is charged. This new self is thus licensed to commit violence for the sake of the ‘sacred’ cause which they would never have felt morally permitted to perform in their ‘private’ lives and selves.

Heroic doubling

The phenomenon of self-aggrandizement that is the concomitant of splitting has been illuminated by a major writer on the social psychology of extremism and terrorism, Robert Lifton. In language that echoes Zygmunt Bauman’s sociology of modernity’s ‘liquefaction’, The Protean Self warns us in the opening sentence that ‘we are becoming fluid and many-sided. Without quite realizing it, we have been evolving a sense of self appropriate to the restlessness and flux of our time. The Protean self emerges from confusion, from the widespread feeling that we are losing our psychological moorings.’38 One of the solutions to the dilemma which the psyche finds to cope with physically or morally painful situations is a strategy he calls ‘doubling’, a phenomenon he witnessed in Hiroshima victims, Nazi doctors and nuclear scientists.

Lifton portrays it as a form of functional dissociative state maintained by psychic numbing.39 In another chapter he explains that ‘the self can respond to historical pressures not only by opening out but also by closing down’. In doing so it is taking refuge from the torments of identity and the liquid fears which proteanism bring by constricting itself to the point where it becomes a totalizing, simplistic ‘fundamentalist self’ (in the non-religious sense of the term).

Lifton sees ‘doubling’ at work not just in religious fanatics but in other ‘true believers’ such as Nazis, Maoists, and the proponents of ethnic cleansing, all of which tend to conjure up Manichaean fantasies of a world divided into good and bad. The ‘fundamentalist self’ they develop to carry out extreme violence is convinced of precipitating an ‘end time’ which will inaugurate a new era.

His characterization of the Christian conversion experience which leads to ‘the fundamentalist self’ is particularly relevant:

We found that conversion usually followed upon a sense of severe life crisis, often involving a subjective experience or threat of falling apart, of disintegration or fragmentation of the self. That sequence – from the collapse or death of the self to illumination and rebirth – then takes its place at the centre of one’s life narrative and one’s identity as a Christian.40

It seems clear that Christian conversion is one permutation of the reconstitution of the anomic self in a new, fundamentalist self, fuelled by a religious or secular totalizing ideology (often, as we have seen, the product of an intense process of syncretism, of mazeway resynthesis).41 This new self, though ‘psychically numbed’ in terms of conventional morality, can achieve a high level of psychic vitality and intensity within the framework of a terrorist mission.

Experientially the fragmented, anomic, conventional self has often been left as a facade or shell of normality, while behind the mask the psyche has undergone a process of heroic doubling, resolving the existential problems that crippled the earlier persona’s ability to feel alive and purposeful, born again as a ‘new man’ or ‘new woman’.42 In this context it is significant that Gregory Lande and David Armitage, who stress the centrality of the role ‘splitting and doubling’ to the terrorist radicalization process,43 draw attention to the process of heroization and of psychological palingenesis which is integral to it:

How does a person take on the role of terrorist? The psychological transformation of a person who is acutely aware of his frailty, into a person who is a heroic and potentially destructive bearer of an ideological or religious message is a dramatic one. The terrorist group provides the structure for this transformation. It provides a new belief system [creed]; … it defines the terrorist act as morally acceptable; and, it presents a plausible way of achieving the outcome – all of which defines the terrorist act as serving the greater good.44

Seen in this way terrorist radicalization is no more than a special example or species of a much more general phenomenon that occurs whenever someone takes up a cause which implies a radical change in the status quo, even in a pacifist spirit. Thus the activists of the anti-capitalism movement of the new millennium ‘see themselves as soldiers in an existential battle for redemption of the world from the evils of globalization’.45

It is the same psychological process of ‘cosmizing the self’ through the terrorist persona that is explored in fictional detail through the character of Verkhovensky in Dostoevsky’s The Devils and Imtiaz in Sahota’s Ours are the Streets. Mazarr suggests that the need to find an existential home in the world can produce ‘a desperate and sometimes violent search for the zealous embrace of a tightly bound community in service of a heroic cause’ which can drive individuals into a terrorist network.46

However, it is important to note that, in line with Lifton’s theory of the protean self, the original, unfanaticized self is rarely totally replaced or destroyed by the process of doubling: it lurks unredeemed and unconverted in the background, needing constant reinforcement by the ‘self-sealing system’ and ready to leak out in special circumstances and allow a return to ‘normality’ or ‘pre-existing self’ which is, crucially, the key to the possibility of de-radicalization, a theme we shall return to in the last chapter.47

The recurrent magazine and media fantasies of heroic doubles (e.g. in the films Superman, Spiderman, Wonderwoman, Batman, Iron Man, Heroes, and so wonderfully parodied in the cartoon The Invincibles), suggest that through enacting in his life a process of self-heroization within a Manichaean scenario, the terrorist is living out an archetypal compensatory fantasy in which he is at war with an enemy identified by the totalizing myth that frames their lives.

Ruth Stein argues in her Freudian reading of terrorist motivation (which places considerable emphasis on the Oedipal father complex), that the purpose of the letter which the 911 bombers read on the eve of the attacks ‘was to transform a young Muslim into a warrior, instilling spiritual motives that create inner peace, fearlessness, obeisance, and lack of feeling during the killing’, a clear case of heroic doubling.48

This transformation from civilian to warrior is considered by Stein a decisive moment in the radicalization process. Once someone suffering from a nomic crisis feels ‘enlisted’ by a higher cause this way it imbues him or her with a ‘warrior ethos’, thanks to a special psychological process discussed in Christopher Coker’s book on the ‘transformative’ impact of war.

[War] allows a warrior to tap into the vein of his own heroism. It allows him to lead an authentic life. In that sense, his life is never quite the same again. Battle can be akin to an epiphany or a religious experience. When we talk of the warrior soul, we do so because many of us must find a place for the sacred in our lives, and it is more than symbolic that the two words ‘sacred’ and ‘sacrifice’ etymologically share the same root. Sacrifice is the key to the warrior ethos.49

It is by living out and realizing through violence the metaphor of the ‘warrior’ that ‘ordinary’ persons with no prior military training can achieve the mental strength required to fulfil a deadly mission with no thought for their own lives or the suffering they cause. An archetypal account of this process is offered in nineteenth-century tract on the Japanese ethic of Bushido, Hagakure, translated as The Way of the Samurai, which celebrates the fact that ‘it was a requisite for samurais of old to cut off heads before they reached fourteen or fifteen years of age’.50

The manual can be seen as a psychological treatise on how to ‘grow’ a warrior self through a life of sustained stoicism and unpitying military self-discipline. This allows the individual to cultivate an intimate relationship with death so as to transcend the fear of death and death itself and so achieve that state of complete separation from the realm of compassionate humanity advocated by Nechayev in his Catechism of a Revolutionary.

Hagakure teaches the novice that he must ‘die anew every morning and every night’: ‘If you continually preserve the state of death in everyday life, you will understand the essence of Bushido, and you will gain freedom in Bushido’.51 Bushido is thus a total nomos in which the prospect of nothingness is not just glimpsed but stared into with defiant resolution until passive nihilism gives way to a form of vitalism fuelled by the readiness both to commit acts of extreme violence, and to die or commit ritual suicide (seppuku). The result is a state of ‘positive nihilism’ maintainable in everyday life within the elite community of the samurais.

The text makes it clear that the warrior (as opposed to the professional ‘soldier’) can be thought of as existing in a ‘heterotopia’,52 a special ethical and existential time and space which can be imagined – especially in the case of ‘suicide terrorism’ – as an intense microclimate of absolute nomic energy beyond self-doubt and fear. Within it he or she peers into the abyss of mortality and experiences the anguish resulting from the death of the ‘small’ self as transcended by the certainty of living according to a higher set of values accessible only to a small, courageous elite, and the possibility of living on in the collective memory as a hero and martyr.

The heroic double empowered by a warrior ethos is an archetypal fantasy encountered in the many epic cycles of the world’s myriad religions and oral story-telling traditions, of which the Greek legends, Norse myths, and the Hindu Mahabharata are just those better known in the West. But the heroic double also has affinities with the universal religious topos of the believer perfected through faith, devotion, and self-sacrifice, the Nietzschean ‘superman’, and the ‘new man’ who has been the subject of totalitarian utopias of the left and right in modern times.

The self-heroization undergone during the process of terrorist radicalization has a number of important correlatives. One is that as the personality becomes ‘Titanized’, it enters a transformed experience of time-and-space, namely that of an end-time. For the Zealot the final showdown between a beleaguered tradition and its enemies is approaching. For the Modernist the decadence and anomy of contemporary history are seen as the death-throes of an old order which are, simultaneously, the birth-pangs of new one.

The manic mood inspired by feeling part of a movement that is bringing about the transition to a new era is captured in Goebbels’ autobiographical novel Michael: A German Destiny where his fictional alter ego writes, ‘I am no longer human. I am a Titan, a god! If we are strong enough to form the life of our era, it is our own lives that must first be mastered. A new law is approaching’. A new nomos. This passage expresses the profound link between heroic doubling and apocalypticism in terrorist radicalization.
As Charles Strozier and Katherine Boyd observe:

The apocalyptic indulges in dualistic thinking, violent images, and desire for the end of the world. A discourse wherein one’s paranoia and rage are explained, justified and given direction. The apocalyptic provides fertile soil for the violent potentials in the fundamentalist mindset.53

The terrorist mindset can be energized by the fantasy that the dying culture can be protected from its enemies through violence or that the continuum of history can be exploded or broken in two, that into a tabula rasa the present can be made so that a utopia can be realized, but only through heroic acts of purging violence and blood-sacrifice. Jones finds the work of René Girard particularly illuminating for understanding the importance of the archetype of blood-sacrifice to the terrorist mindset.

In Violence and Sacrifice he argued that in tribal societies the ritual slaughter of the scapegoat enabled the community to be reconciled and healed.54 He went on to suggest that instinctively even modern, purportedly rational revolutionaries have followed the mythic logic according to which a holy war must be fought, blood must be shed, and evil in its human incarnations must be purged for a new social order to be established.55

A second correlative of the self-heroization involved in generating extreme violence has been illuminated by Klaus Theweleit in his classic study of the psycho-dynamics of Nazi radicalization, Male Fantasies. The ecstatic Titanization which can accompany heroic doubling is the subjective experience of becoming ‘a new and self-born man within an apparatus which strips [the individual] of his ego boundaries’.56 Such ‘self-birthing’ is undergone by those who are, in terms of mature individuation, ‘not-yet-born’ when they join a redemptive cause. But their new warrior personae can only be a travesty of genuine individuation. In psychoanalytical terms the terrorist has developed a false ‘true self’.57

Such an interpretation is consistent with the observation of Jerrold Post about the motivation to become a terrorist – though he clearly does not have in mind cases of radicalization which occur within concrete situations of enemy or state oppression, and which often involve physical threat and life-shattering psychological scars that have nothing to do with intrinsically unstable or split personalities:
The act of joining the terrorist group represents an attempt to consolidate a fragmented psychological identity, to resolve a split and be at one with oneself and with society, and, most important, to belong.58

The Alice Syndrome

It is symptomatic of the perversion of healthy individuation that radicalization within a terrorist narrative arc is generally accompanied by an acute distortion of the relationship between inner and outer reality, in which the psychic inner world of the ‘new self’ assumes far greater significance than external reality. This can be seen as a special manifestation of condition which is known to psychiatrists as the ‘Alice (in Wonderland) Syndrome’, named after the scene in which Alice first shrinks and then grows after ingesting different sides of a (hallucinogenic?) mushroom.

As the subjective self-splits and doubles in the radicalization process, and the internal fissures are cosmized into an epic Manichaean worldview, the previously threatening, oceanic, amorphous external world is reduced to a miniaturized simulacrum divided between good and evil. By destroying symbols of ‘evil’ some particularly delusional Titanized minds believe they will be able, through the equivalent of sympathetic magic, to bring about the collapse or destruction of the whole ‘bad’ world they represent.59 This fantasy was common among dynamite-wielding anarchists in the nineteenth century.

In his analysis of the absolute lack of concrete, realistic, achievable goals, which he sees as a characteristic of Italian terrorists in the 1970s, Franco Ferracuti cites approvingly Francesco Bruno’s description of their conflict as a ‘fantasy war’, namely ‘a process in which the terrorists believe themselves to be soldiers in a war against society, and in which the struggle to achieve a utopian world fulfils needs the terrorists cannot satisfy through the usual channels of socialization’.60 (However it should be stressed that such an analysis obviously should not be applied to situations where terrorists pit themselves against objective, highly concrete forms of enemy or state oppression, as in the case of the Sicarii, Chechens, and Tamil Tigers, whose war was anything but ‘fantasy’.)

As Robins and Post have pointed out, the demonization of the Other in a Manichaeanized world involves dysfunctional cognitive processes akin to paranoia, no matter how ‘functional’ and technically proficient the cult member or terrorist remains in serving their cause and fulfilling their mission.61

In the paragraph headed ‘On the Spur of Madness’ Hagakure provides the personal testimony of a major samurai concerning the extreme mental state that the terrorist warrior must enter in order to kill efficiently without being paralyzed by the compassion or guilt felt by ‘normal’ people in committing extreme acts of violence. He (or she) feels cut off from the concerns of ‘the world’, but not as a murderer filled with hatred, but as the proud member of a privileged, ascetic elite dedicated to ethical purity and the service of others in spirit of self-sacrifice, effectively anaesthetizing or numbing the conventional human conscience:

Being that you are samurais, be proud of your valor and prowess and prepare yourselves to die with frenzy. Keep in mind to purify your everyday diction, thinking, development, and the like. And try hard to do it. The way to serve is to consult with people you can confide in. And also realize that you are to devote your lifelong services to the interests of others. It is better for you not to know general information.62

Such a passage leads us directly into the peculiar kind of ‘madness’, or ‘frenzy’ which may often be concealed by a sustained façade of calm, icily-controlled ‘normality’ that often characterizes the fanaticism of the terrorist. It is inseparable from the terrorist’s creed, the private nomic universe that makes it possible to transcend the dread of the abyss and dissolution, and instead act on behalf of a higher moral order, one which has its own internal logic and authenticity, no matter how ‘mad’ and contrived it may appear to outsiders. As Mazarr says, ‘The fanatic grabs feverishly for reality by creating unreal, mythologized versions of it, and hopes to become authentic by playing a fabricated role in the myth they have thus authored.’63

It is the distortion of the reality principle by the false process of self-individuation into the hero of an apocalyptic narrative that helps account for what Hoffer calls ‘the monstrous incongruity between the hopes, however noble and tender, and the actions which follow them. It is as if ivied maidens and garlanded youths were to herald the four horsemen of the apocalypse.’64

As Hoffer implies, the recurrent topos of the heroized and fundamentalized mindset, whether in Zealotic or Modernist extremism, is the role of retributive violence and purging destruction as the magic catalysts to revolution. Pedahzur and Perliger observe that ‘in both Jewish and non-Jewish religious terrorism’ – and in non-religious terrorism as well – ‘many perpetrators are driven by some sort of grand vision of a new order, believing their violent act will be the catalyst for this epic transformation’.65

Such a serious misreading of events is yet another symptom of the dysfunctional reality principle and the sustained confusion within the terrorist psyche between the ‘magic time’ being played out in the interiority of the terrorist’s psyche and what Walter Benjamin calls in Theses on the Philosophy of History the ‘homogeneous, empty [anomic] time’ of external reality.

It leads to the fanatical, hermetic imposition of a palingenetic, apocalyptic narrative born of the revolutionary’s longing for Gnosis onto the myriad brute, meaningless facts of a human world under the permanent dispensation of chronos, symbolized in Francisco Goya’s famous painting of the Roman God Saturn feasting upon one of his sons. It is a time which of itself knows no grand narrative, end times, no eschatos, no apocalypse, thus parts of ‘the external world’ come to be ruthlessly butchered by an overexcited metapolitical imagination so as to force it to fit the Procrustean bed of the activist’s utopia.

Dr Günter Rohrmoser, contributor to a government-sponsored investigation of West German terrorists in the early 1980s in the wake of the mayhem caused by the Red Army Faction, stressed this discrepancy between utopianism and mundane reality in their vision of the world, while also referring perceptively to the dualistic, apocalyptic mindset that underpins it:

What do the terrorists want? They want The Revolution, a total transformation of all existing conditions, a new form of human existence … the total and radical breach with all that is, and with all historical continuity. There is no voice that could call them back to reason. For them there is no connection between the vision that drives them and the existing reality. They are fascinated by the magic of extremes, the hard, uncompromising either/or, life or death, salvation or perdition. They are driven by a pitiless hatred for what they regard as their enemies, a hatred fed by disgust with what they regard as a morbid, decadent society.66

It is as a result of the processes of splitting and heroic doubling undergone in the course of their radicalization, that formerly anomic, disempowered, and spiritually exiled human beings find their suprapersonal home. They are thus able to derive ontological meaning and security from the prospect of committing acts of sacrifice of ‘others’ (what the Germans call Fremdopfer), even at the cost of sacrificing themselves (Selbstopfer).

Stage Three: The bliss of completion

The third stage in this ideal type of the radicalization process is the mindset in which the sanctity of the mission has been so internalized that acts of violence against society can be carried out not just guiltlessly, but with a sense of pride, and even of cosmic self-fulfillment. Rohrmoser’s reference to ‘salvation or perdition’ in the context of Germany’s highly secular terrorism in the 1970s is telling, once it is understood that the psyche experiences the nomos as holy even if it is an entirely secular, anti-clerical utopia.

If the inner conversion process is complete, fanaticism is a state of grace, again underlining the significance of the etymology from fanum, meaning a sacred temple. In this final state of extremist consciousness, geared not to mystic contemplation but to violent action – and even martyrdom – on behalf of the cause, ordinary norms and parameters of existence fall away.

Subjectively these modern ‘warrior priests’ are living in an apocalyptic, kairotic time outside linear, chronic history.67 However, time is short.68 It is now that the sacred tradition must be defended, the primordial holy nation created or recreated, the murder of innocents halted, the True Faith restored, the race purged of decadence, the Millennium imposed, the end of History ‘forced’ to its conclusion, the desecration of the planet prevented, the ideal society established.69

History has reached its crisis point, the iron gates of Time are molten enough to be forged into a new shape through violent intervention. For the protagonist of the assault on the ‘enemy’ or the status quo, conviction has taken the place of confusion, partial knowledge has been replaced by redeeming Gnosis, the feeling of being mired in society’s ‘filth’ has given way to being the chosen agent of its purification, the liminoid has been resolved into a definitive narrative, society’s outcast has become the avenging angel of its nemesis, impotence has metamorphosed into complete self-possession, despair into bliss.

To use bliss in the context of terrorists may sound a discordant note, but here is the testimony of Jessica Stern on the basis of her extensive interviews with terrorists:

Although we see them as evil, religious terrorists know themselves to be perfectly good. To be crystal clear about one’s identity, to know that one’s group is superior to all others, to make purity one’s motto and purification of the world one’s life’s work – this is a kind of bliss.70

She also concedes that she has come to see ‘that apocalyptic violence intended to “cleanse” the world of “impurities” can create a transcendent state’ and can understand ‘why the killers [she] met seemed spiritually intoxicated’. She goes on to state that ‘all of them describe themselves as responding to a spiritual calling, and many report a kind of spiritual high or addiction related to its fulfilment’. People join religious terrorist groups ‘partly to transform themselves and to simplify life’, 71 in other words, to change anomy into nomos, thereby simplifying and sacralizing their lives.

Ruth Stein is able to use her psychoanalytical lens to dissect this blissful state further:

The promise of fulfilment is not that of happy beatitude, of sated envelopment and plenitude, but of ascetic overcoming of oneself, transcendence of time and the body, and an assenting sacrifice of one’s will in the service of a higher will. The regressive process of becoming mentally subjugated is both intensely relational and has affinity with the process whereby hate and fear are transformed into a perverted, enthralled ‘love’.72

Nor are Stern and Stein alone in recognizing that the path to terrorism is the path to some form of fulfilment, to transfiguration. In a remarkable aside, Mazarr alludes to the phenomenon we have called ‘heroic doubling’ which allows terrorists in the run-up to an act of murderous destruction committed by their warrior avatar to endure the utter banality of ordinary, anomic reality till their kairotic moment of special time finally comes. They thus resemble spies or secret agents working for a higher power, using their ‘anomic’ self as a cover story for the actual drama unfolding, like a real-life Clark Kent/Superman:

But one is hard pressed not to think of the stolid, brutal authors of September 11, going about their placid lives and smoothly traversing their petty cares – going to the bank, filling their cars, greeting their piloting instructor with a smile and a handshake, brushing their teeth, watching a television sitcom – sustained by the conviction that they had taken their death inside, bought and owned it, and therefore achieved wholeness, achieved greatness, achieved authenticity.73

From his Swiss mountain top Nietzsche announced that ‘The secret of reaping the greatest fruitfulness and the greatest enjoyment from life is to live dangerously!’74 The most extreme Modernists of the deed wrench this principle out of the safety of the philosopher’s snug mountain refuge, put on their boots, and set out along impossible ridges and slopes to create an avalanche, which in their distorted vision, will deluge the world. Meanwhile the Supermen and Superwomen of modern Zealotry carry out their heroic martyr missions to wreak death and destruction so as to save their threatened nomos or prevent the whole world sinking forever into an ocean of degeneration.

Naturally, the precondition for the mission’s completion is that the nebulous Manichaean world-view has undergone a process of focusing which enables the most abstruse, utopian vision to externalize itself as a lethally practical form of terrorism. The totalizing vision has been channeled into producing a practical plan in which a specific material or human target is selected as a synecdoche of the forces of ‘evil’, ‘the enemy’, or ‘the system’ for attack, a target whose destruction will have a particular symbolic or emotional resonance for the intended audience which augments its terror effect on it. At this point we leave the sphere of terrorism’s metapolitical creeds and make way for the many experts in terrorist tactics, campaigns, technologies, and actions to take up the story of specific attacks and campaigns.75


  1. Tom Psyzcynski, Sheldon Solomon, and Jeff Greenberg, In the Wake of 911.
    The Psychology of Terror
    (Washington, DC: American Psychological Association,
    2003), 27.
  2. Ibid., 149.
  3. Jessica Stern, Terror in the Name of God. Why Religious Militants Kill (New York, NY: Ecco, 2004), xix.
  4. Ibid., 69.
  5. Ibid., 283.
  6. James Jones, Blood that Cries Out from the Earth (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 40.
  7. Ibid., 68.
  8. Eric Hoffer, The True Believer. Thoughts on Nature of Mass Movements (New York: Harper Collins, 1966 (1951)), 13.
  9. Dipak Gupta, ‘ “Selfish Altruist”: Modelling the mind of a terrorist’, in Understanding Terrorism and Political Violence. The Life Cycle of Birth, Growth, Transformation and Demise (London: Routledge, 2008).
  10. Hoffer, The True Believer, 41.
  11. Ibid., 16.
  12. Arie Kruglanski (2002) ‘Inside the Terrorist Mind’, in Joshua Sinai, ‘New Trends
    in Terrorism Studies: Strengths and Weaknesses’, in Ranstorp, Mapping Terrorism Research, 37.
  13. Arie Kruglanski, Xiaoyan Chen, Mark Dechesne, Shira Fishman, Edward Orehek, ‘Fully Committed: Suicide Bombers’ Motivation and the Quest for Personal Significance’, Political Psychology, 30, 3 (May 2009); note the critique of this article for its reductionist stress on ‘the quest for personal significance’ in Mia Bloom, ‘Chasing Butterflies and Rainbows: A Critique of Kruglanski et al.’s “Fully Committed: Suicide Bombers’ Motivation and the Quest for Personal Significance” ’, Political Psychology 30, 3 (May 2009), 387–95. I must stress once more that the generic model of radicalization which highlights the role of a ‘nomic crisis’ is neither monocausal, since it acknowledges a plurality of causes besides the need for a metapolitical creed, nor reductionist, since it anticipates myriad unique manifestations of this need and its nomic resolution in practice.
  14. Janja Lalich, Bounded Choice. True Believers and Charismatic Cults (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1988), 16.
  15. Ibid., 15–18, 56–7.
  16. See Luciano Pellicani, Revolutionary Apocalypse. Ideological Roots of Terrorism (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2003), 151–3.
  17. Lalich, Bounded Choice, 35.
  18. Ibid., 259.
  19. Ibid., 137–40, 254–9.
  20. Ibid., 169.
  21. Ibid., 14–19.
  22. See Bettina Muenster and David Lotto, ‘The Social Psychology of Humiliation and
    Revenge. The Origin of the Fundamentalist Mindset’, in Charles Strozier, David
    Terman, and James Jones (eds), The Fundamentalist Mindset (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 71–9.
  23. Arie W. Kruglanski et al. ‘Fully Committed’.
  24. See Lalich, Bounded Choice, 17, 77–80.
  25. Stern, Terror in the Name of God, 261.
  26. Mohammed Hafez, ‘Rationality, Culture, and Structure in the Making of Suicide
    Bombers’, Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, 29, 2 (2006), 181.
  27. Robert Robins and Jerrold Post, Political Paranoia. The Psychopolitics of Hatred (London: Yale University Press, 1997), 113. My emphasis.
  28. For a sample of specialist literature on this topic see J.R. Gould, N.M. Prentice,
    N.M. and R.C. Ainslie, ‘The splitting index: Construction of a scale measuring
    the defense mechanism of splitting, Journal of Personality Assessment, 66, 2 (1996), 414–30. On the importance of cosmic war in the imaginary universe of the religious terrorist see Mark Juergensmeyer, ‘Cosmic War’, Terror in the Mind of God. The Global Rise of Religious Violence (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2003), 148–66.
  29. The term alludes to the Zarathustrian cosmology of ancient Persia which polarized the spiritual world into the forces of light and dark.
  30. See Juergensmeyer, ‘Martyrs and Demons’, Terror in the Mind of God, 167–89.
  31. Ibid., 123.
  32. Jones, Blood that Cries, 141. Cf. 128–37.
  33. James Jones, ‘Eternal Warfare: Violence on the Mind of American Apocalyptic
    Christianity’, in Charles Strozier, David Terman, and James Jones (eds), The Fundamentalist Mindset, 103.
  34. Mazarr, Unmodern Men, 85.
  35. Daniel Hill, ‘Fundamentalist Faith States: Regulation Theory as a Framework for the Psychology of Religious Fundamentalism’, in Charles Strozier, David Terman, and James Jones (eds), The Fundamentalist Mindset, 84–5. Cf. Robins and Post, Political Paranoia, 141–3.
  36. Jerrold Post, ‘Terrorist psycho-logic: Terrorist behaviour as a product of psychological forces’, in Walter Reich (ed.), Origins of Terrorism: Psychologies Ideologies, Theologies, States of Mind (Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson Centre Press, 1998), 27. Post is a professor of ‘psychiatry, political psychology, and international affairs’.
  37. ‘Grandiosity’ is a technical term often used in the study of bipolar disorder and paranoia, where it refers to the manic, narcissistic distortions in self-perception, but it has an obvious relevance to the sense of ‘mission’ and of having the power to change history that accompanies some forms of ‘paranoid’ politics.
  38. Robert Lifton, The Protean Self (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1993), 1.
  39. Ibid. Cf. 208.
  40. Ibid., 172.
  41. See Lalich, Bounded Choice, 224. For the importance of syncretism in resolving liminoid crises through a ‘mazeway resynthesis’ see Griffin, Modernism and Fascism, 104–7.
  42. Lalich, Bounded Choice, 169.
  43. Gregory Lande and David Armitage (eds), Principles and Practice of Military Forensic Psychiatry (Springfield, Il: Charles C. Thomas, 1997), 428.
  44. Ibid., 417. For an account of terrorism’s psychodynamics that covers similar ground to the one in this chapter, see the chapter ‘The Psychology of Terrorism and Human Evil’ in Steven Bartlett, The Pathology of Man. A Study of Human Evil (Springfield, Il: Charles Thomas, 2005), 189–208.
  45. Charles Lindholm and José Zúquete, The Struggle for the World. Liberation Movements for the 21st Century (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 2010), 3.
  46. Mazarr, Unmodern Men, 87.
  47. See Lalich, Bounded Choice, 184–8, 211–18 for fascinating testimony to this.
  48. Ruth Stein, For Love of the Father. A Psychoanalytical Study of Religious Terrorism (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 2010), 21. Stein’s book is central to any attempt to produce a Freudian reading of the syndrome of ‘God’s orphans’ emphasized by Pellicani.
  49. Christopher Coker, The Warrior Ethos. Military Culture and the War on Terror (London: Routledge, 2007), 4–5. Cf. Juergensmeyer, ‘Warrior’s Power’, Terror in the Mind of God, 190–218; Klaus Theweleit, Male Fantasies (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1989).
  50. Tsunetomo Yamamoto, Bushido. The Way of the Samurai (New York: Square One,
    2001), 73.
  51. Ibid., 14.
  52. The term was first expounded by Michel Foucault in the article ‘Des Espaces Autres’ published by the French journal Architecture /Mouvement/ Continuité in October, 1984.
  53. Charles Strozier and Katherine Boyd, ‘The Apocalyptic’, in Charles Strozier and
    Katherine Boyd, ‘The Apocalyptic’, in Charles Strozier, David Terman, and James Jones (eds), The Fundamentalist Mindset, 37.
  54. Jones, Blood that Cries, 144–5.
  55. Ibid., 151–5.
  56. Theweleit, Male Fantasies (Vol. 2), ‘Male Bodies and the White Terror’, 242–3. For a parallel theory of the development of the terrorist persona as the product of ‘distorted individuation’ in the context of Islamism, see Farhad Khosrokhavar, Jihidist Ideology. The Anthropological Perspective (Aarhus: CIR, 2011), 179–82.
  57. For the concept of the ‘true self’ see Jones, Blood that Cries, 126–8.
  58. Post, ‘Terrorist Psycho-logic’, 31.
  59. It should be noted that abnormal psychology has studied the ‘Alice in Wonderland Syndrome’(or ‘Todd’s Syndrome’) and acute confusions of inner and outer reality in some detail in psychotic patients. See, for example, J. Kew, A.Wright, and P.W. Halligan (2010), ‘Somesthetic aura: The experience of “Alice in Wonderland”’,, first accessed 5 December 2011. Here I am postulating a subjective confusion of demonized and utopian projections with objective reality and the power to change it through violence in those ‘fanatically’ committed to a cause without suffering from psychosis, unless their fanatical, emotionally locked-in state is considered a special form of self-induced psychosis.
  60. Franco Ferracuti, ‘Ideology and Repentance’, in Walter Reich (ed.) Origins of Terrorism: Psychologies Ideologies, Theologies, States of Mind (Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson Centre Press, 1998), 60–1.
  61. Robins and Post, Political Paranoia. On the paranoia in cultic dynamics see Lalich, Bounded Choice, 225.
  62. Yamamoto, Bushido, 60.
  63. Mazarr, Unmodern Men, 88.
  64. Hoffer, The True Believer, 11.
  65. Pedahzur and Perliger, Jewish Terrorism in Israel, 165.
  66. Günter Rohrmoser, ‘Ideologien und Strategien, in Bundesminister des Innern (ed.), Analysen zum Terrorismus (Opladen: Westdeutscher Verlag, 1981–1984), Vol. 2, 87, in Konrad Kellen, ‘Ideology and Rebellion: Terrorism in West Germany’, in Reich, Origins of Terrorism, 43–58. James Jones also draws attention to the significance of this passage in Blood that Cries, 42.
  67. Strozier and Boyd, ‘The Apocalyptic’, 30.
  68. On the crucial role played by perceptions of ‘running out of time’ and the ensuing
    ‘temporal panic’ in revolutionary movements see Richard Fenn, The End of Time. Religion, Ritual, and the Forging of the Soul (Cleveland, OH: Pilgrim Press, 1997); and Time Exposure. The Personal Experience of Time in Secular Societies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000).
  69. Lalich, Bounded Choice, 140–1, 193–5.
  70. Stern, Terror in the Name of God, xxviii.
  71. 71. Ibid., 280.
  72. Stein, For the Love of the Father, 40.
  73. Mazarr, Unmodern Men, 84.
  74. Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, section 283.
  75. Bale, ‘Jihadist Ideology and Strategy’ provides a convincing account of the relationship between these two spheres of terrorism.

This essay is an excerpt from Chapter 5 of Terrorists Creed: Fanatical Violence and the Human Need for Meaning (2012). New York: Palgrave Macmillan.