Throughout human history there have always been waves of violent terror attacks, from the Jewish zealots after the birth of Christ, right up until the attack of September 11, 2001.  This terrorist violence confronts the world with a great many questions to which there are no easy answers. What is the motive that would make a man willing to give up his life to kill others and wreak mass destruction in society? In other words: what makes a terrorist? What makes people adopt extreme views and turn to terrorism? What are the factors that lead to adopting these extreme views?0

In order to understand why some people choose to engage in terrorist activities, an analysis of existing research has here been conducted, using five major sets of explanatory factors as its basis: political, economic, socio-cultural, psychological and religious factors.0

There are many reasons for my interest in undertaking this study on the subject of terrorism. The foremost reason is that I belong to the Middle East; a region affected and branded with terrorism in general, and is considered the generator of the phenomena of terrorism and terrorist groups. The second reason is that terrorism has become the most significant obstacle globally, and especially in this region, to democracy, peace and respect for human rights, and economic development. Other motivating factors include the confusion and extreme differences in opinion that arise in any discussion about which groups can be labeled as ‘terrorist’; the relationship between the Islamic religion and terrorism; and the need to distinguish between terrorism and liberation movements against foreign occupation.0

This study will begin by providing a definition of terrorism that can account for a wide variety of causes. The word ‘terrorism’ has an emotional and political charge that makes the concept to which it refers controversial, and for which it is difficult to find a catch-all definition. This difficulty stems from many reasons, but mostly from the nature of the terrorist act itself and the different views or practices of the states involved, since what some see as terrorism, others see as lawful (Yahya al-Faqih, 1993: 4). In addition, some of these difficulties are due to the complexity and multiplicity of forms of terrorism and its objectives, and the multiplicity of motivations for committing these actions. The United Nations (UN) has tried on several occasions to arrive at a definition that the international community can find consensus on. This has proved impossible given that different states have different interests and different perspectives. The UN Secretary General Kofi Annan stated in Autumn 201l that one man’s terrorist could well be another’s freedom fighter (Kumm, 1997: 24).0 

Having reviewed a wide range of definitions of ‘terrorism’ I found one definition that resonates particularly with my own research about the causes and motives behind terrorism. This definition comes from the Swedish terrorism specialist, Magnus Norell. He defines terrorism as follows:0

The systematic use of illegitimate violence by non-state, sub-state, or state actor using “clients”[…] in order to achieve  pecific targets where the victims are intentionally selected so-called “non-combatants” and / or civilians. These goals can be  olitical, social or religious depending on the group in question. Terrorism goes or becomes international when the deed is erformed  utside the boundaries that define a specific group / individual country of origin, or when citizens from the same country are  bjectives of the terror and murder carried out in a third country (Norell, 2002:5). [My own translation]

 One sees here that Norell takes up a wide operational definition of terrorism, since he views both the individual and the state as potential perpetrators of terrorism, and mentions the political, social and religious motives behind it. But one should note that he omits the threat of violence from his definition, whereas others consider it as a part of the definition of terror. He instead goes directly to the use of violence. The strength of Norell’s defintion lies in its breadth, and it is for this reason that I believe it works well with the research presented here.0

Another important aspect of the concept of terrorism is the distinction between different categories of terrorism. One main distinction is whether we are talking about state terrorism or terrorism from individuals and groups. It is my view that the two are two sides of the same coin.0

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Studies and Research Unit

The Studies and Research Unit is responsible for producing scientific, intellectual, social and economic research materials, based on an original and solid research effort, which contributes to creating a better understanding of Middle East region, its societies and history. The unit can assign researchers outside Maysaloon Foundation to produce studies and research according to its work plan. The unit also supervises the arbitration of research, studies and books that are received by Maysaloon without assignment. It is also responsible for selecting books and providing critical and analytical reviews for them and can receive reviews from outside Maysaloon if they meet the institution's criteria for selection and analysis

Andie Flemström

A Swedish researcher of Syrian origin, researcher at the Maysaloon Foundation for Culture, Translation and Publishing, specialized in the study of terrorism and extremism around the world, bachelor’s degree in media and Communication Science at University of Stockholm, Master of Arts - International Relations at University of Stockholm, Bachelor of Arts - International Relations at University of Stockholm, Bachelor of Arts - English Literature at University of Damascus. She worked as a Journalist at Swedish Radio, Arabian Editorial Department and at Al-Kompis